Tag Archives: Turkey

Bookish Istanbul

Took a little break from blogging. On Friday, I spent a few hours with a friend, discussing our nascent business opportunity and touring the Alderwood/Mimico landscape of her childhood (and first novel.) On Saturday, Zouheir and I kinda lazed around, attempting to get over the jetlag and digestive disruption that are still present after our return from Istanbul. We also took a trip out to the consignment fabulousness that is The Singing Lady to look at a couple of round tables for our study.

Today, I spent most of the morning organizing my outstanding TIFF schedule, namely, queueing online for tickets to the Jason Reitman Live Reading of Boogie Nights, and preparing my list for placing my Daytime Ticket Package order tomorrow morning.

But back to Istanbul.

In most European cities where English is not the first language, you can get by with basic English and some hand-waving. I was a little surprised to find that, in Istanbul, very few service workers seemed to speak any English.  I ascertained from Turkish friends that students learn English in school, but typically not from particularly well-qualified teachers. So in was lovely to run across some English bookstores.

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At Galeri Kayseri, the charming young shopkeepers were excellent salesmen. One noted me browsing a series of mysteries set in Istanbul (Barbara Nadel’s Inspector Ikmen Mysteries) and quickly pulled out the first of the set, Belshazzar’s Daughter. The other fellow grabbed a copy of The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin, saying that I might enjoy a historical mystery. Finally, as I was at the cash, the first guy hands me a copy of Portrait of a Turkish Family by Irfan Orga, exclaiming that customers had emailed them to rave about this autobiography. It had been blurbed by Harold Nicolson and Sir John Betjeman, so I kind of HAD to buy it. As I finally protested that I could not possibly buy a large coffee table book on Istanbul, he took my credit card and while it was processing, asked me “Are you a teacher?” I replied, “No, I just like to read.” He grinned back at me.

The other bookish outing was a trip to the Book Bazaar. Adjacent to the Grand Bazaar near the Beyazit metro station, vendors have new and used books, antique and reproduction prints, and other paper items.

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I picked up a novella by Orhan Pamuk (The White Castle) and a print that humoured me.

The one other bookish purchase I made was after the visit to the Topkapi Palace, the home of the Sultans for more than 400 years up to the time of the move to Dolmabahçe Palace in 1856. In particular, I was rather intrigued by the harem (family living quarters) and picked up the exhibition catalogue which had been reduced from 100 TL to 25 TL ($13) at the museum shop.


In preparation for my trip, I picked up a couple of novels set in Turkey. Before we left, I read The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael Lukas. Set during the tenure of Sultan Abdul Hamid II (late 19th century), it’s the story of a young Jewish girl from Constantia (on the Black Sea in what is now Romania) who travels to Istanbul with her father and discovers that she has a special gift. A charming novel of magical realism, it served as an excellent introduction to the period.


I’m currently finishing up The Flea Palace by contemporary Turkish author Elif Shafak. Each chapter, some of the very short, are all titled with the flat number and names of a family living at the Bonbon Palace, a rather run-down apartment building in modern Istanbul. Their stories intertwine as they seek a solution to a common problem: people dumping garbage in their garden. We learn their stories, what has brought them to Istanbul and to their current circumstances. She is an important voice in modern Turkey and I will certainly read more of her oeuvre.

Istanbul – How we got there

We’ve wanted to travel to Istanbul for a number of years, but it was always second to Beirut, Zouheir’s home town, and we hadn’t managed to get there either, mainly due to security issues that would arise every time we got serious about booking travel.

Earlier this year, we traveled through Istanbul on our way home from Malé and decided to get serious about spending some time in Turkey. So we booked our flights to Istanbul and told Zouheir’s siblings that we were planning to be there and would love to see anyone who wanted to join us. Our boys were unable to join us on this trip due to academic responsibilities.

Zouheir’s younger brother, Jacques, who lives in Brest, France, and some of his family decided to join us for the week. His sister Marie-Louise and her family (who live in Lyon) were spending time in Lebanon this summer and joined us for a few days, as did Zouheir’s cousin Pierre who lives in Beirut, but who I knew from his days in Montreal.

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Most of our group in front of Blue Mosque

We travelled on Air Transat which is unusual for us. Normally, we fly Air Canada because Zouheir has frequent flyer status which provides for excellent amenities, but the difference in ticket price was too great to justify. We opted to pay $200 (total) to upgrade ourselves to Air Transat’s Options Plus program which helped us get through check-ins quickly, book seats in advance, and get some on-board amenities. They were direct flights, stopping in Montreal each way, and the long leg averaged 8 hours flying time.

We booked a three-bedroom apartment in the Şişli area that was satisfactory but not without it’s problems, including lack of basic supplies (bath mats, coffee maker) and terrible wifi. On the plus side, it allowed us to walk to the metro, shops, restaurants, and cafés, and so was very convenient.

Living area of apartment
Living area of apartment

Our flight there was uneventful, and we had pre-arranged transportation to the apartment from the airport. This was an unknown (at the time) godsend as it turned out that the taxi drivers that we encountered had great difficulty finding our apartment, and most other places that are at all off the beaten path. Coupled with language issues and what appeared to be a stubborn streak in these men, our experience with Istanbul taxis was uniformly negative. (Even when presented with a GPS map on a cellphone, they preferred to stop the taxi, get out, talk to another driver, and continue on, circling helplessly around.)

Turkish word-of-the-day: taksi = (you guessed it) taxi

Our flight home was delayed by six hours because of this happening on the incoming flight. (For the first time in my life, I stretched out over three seats at a relatively empty gate waiting area and napped.) We arrived at 1:30 am yesterday morning, and Alex picked us up at Pearson. We got into the express lanes on the 401, not knowing that there was road work going on and we weren’t able to get off the highway until Leslie, a long, slow 45 minutes later. It was just us and a lot of tractor trailers. It felt like we’d been travelling for days by the time we hit our beds.

Istanbul was a fantastic experience, and I’ve got lots of posts and pictures to come. It’s truly a timeless city, from the Roman aqueducts and cisterns, through Byzantine mosaics and palaces, to a thoroughly modern transit system and textile industry.  European and Asian. Religious and secular.

I’ll leave you with a couple of shots of a lunch we had on the rooftop of the Cozy Pub, overlooking the Bosphorus and the Blue Mosque.

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L to R: Me, Marie-Louise, Cecile, William, Chrisophe, François, Joan, Solveig, Eli, Jacques, Ann-Dominique
The view from the roof at the Cozy Pub.
The view from the roof at the Cozy Pub.

Making a travel diary

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve purchased an online class to learn how to make funky diaries/journals/commonplace books. In particular, I’m excited about our upcoming trip to Istanbul in mid-August and want to have this done by then.

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Pattern (eventually inserted between front and back covers) will produce journal approx 6″x9″ with a front flap.

Mary Ann Moss blogs and teaches at Dispatches from LA, her online schoolhouse/kitchen table/photo studio and her images are simply inspiring. I made myself finish up a framing project that I’d started some time ago so that I could proceed with this with a clear conscience. Unfortunately, in a major purge, I got rid of much of my fabric stash, so took a trip to Value Village and picked up a red and gold sari, some red an gold moiré fabric, and a piece of upholstery fabric with a paisley pattern. I have a bag full of leather scraps from another project.

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It’s very much a scrappy, plan-as-you-go project. Here I’m laying out some scraps on my inside and outside covers to see how it’ll look.

The next few steps will involve rough appliqué, sewing the inside and outside covers together, and ironing. Then more appliqué!
I’ll post again when I have my cover done.

Summer Reading

There’s a new Goodreads summer reading challenge coming up at the Bookish group. These are tough challenges and I’ll be starting on my second one since I joined. Some of the basic requirements are that books must be at least 250 pages long and can be nothing remotely smelling of Young Adult or …sniff… junk. (And I am not in any way implying that these are synonymous, although there is some overlap.)

The challenge involves reading tasks (as I think I’ve explained before) that are worth different point rewards. Bonus points are also involved. The tasks were just announced and I’ve started my planning. The actual reading must happen between July 1 and September 30, 2013, but challenge groupies get planning well in advance. I admit to staying up until 3:30 this morning searching for books (when I should have been reading my book club selection due tomorrow….).

Summer is one of my favorite times to read, and I have fit a number of my must-read books into the challenge parameters. For example, we’ll be reading Wolf Hall for book club so it’s there. I’ve got a couple of novels set in Turkey as I’ll be in Istanbul for a week in August. I received Arlene Dickinson’s book Persuasion for Christmas a year and a half ago and very much want to read it, so it’s on the pile.

If you enjoy Goodreads and like to discover new and sometimes challenging books, consider joining the Bookish group. If you’re a Bookish member and planning to join the challenge, feel free to use my spreadsheet. Otherwise, have a look at what I will be (trying) to read this summer.

Reality check: this is something of a fantasy list. I only read half the books I planned for in the last challenge, but at least I’m never scrambling for ideas.

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Our new favorite soap – Dalan Antique

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We picked up a five-pack of this soap at our local Turkish grocer (Marche Instanbul) on Dufferin north of Lawrence. It appears to be almost pure olive oil and has a wonderful creamy texture, a sort of neutral scent, and appears to last a long time. At 5 large bars for $5.99, it’s a good deal too.

[Marche Istanbul has great “bagels”….a difference experience from our usual Bagel House bagels (Montreal-style) but a nice change. The pastries are good as well.]