May 242015

istanbul-13our time in istanbul is drawing to a close, on monday we fly to the city of izmir and hire a car to explore the south west coast of turkey. its been a fantastic 2 weeks, staying in europe’s 2nd biggest city has been quite an adjustment from life in nhulunbuy, or even our few months in NZ.

at nearly 15m people, istanbul is not so much smaller in population than the whole of australia! despite that we have really enjoyed our time here, its a vibrant city filled with amazing buildings and constant reminders of a history that dates back to the beginning of civilisation. the greek gods are not far away, neither the sultans of the ottaman empire, helen of troy or the roman’s architecture.

we havent really done too much of the touristy stuff, its enough just to live and breathe in this amazing city, straddled over 2 continents, many religions, and several eons. we did a boat trip out to the princes islands – islands renowned for their peace and tranquility due to the total absence of cars on the islands. sadly we were not really impressed, i am sure residents of istanbul feel like its a tranquil getaway, but coming from arnhem land and piha it didnt feel that way to us! the fact that we accidently chose to go on a tuesday that was also a public holiday for government workers didnt help!

we also went to the istanbul aquarium with kai, it was ok, but to be honest its not in the class of say auckland or melbourne.

i think for us its been the wandering thru the back streets, discovering un described ancient ‘things’ and buildings, wonderful little restaurants and meeting the locals that has made it such an interesting city. we have barely scratched the surface in 2 weeks, only one trip to the asia side – where i suspect there is days of exploring to be had, very little time around galata and taksim and we have not seen the business center at all.

the public transport is outstanding for such a huge city, a great card system for fares, you only swipe on so you pay an average fare whether you go the whole distance or just one stop, it works or buses, trains, trams and ferries. we never seem to have to wait long for anything, there is a very good subway system only opened a couple of years ago and there are apps you can download for your phone to work out how to get anywhere at any time.

finally staying in this apartment has been perfect, its such a great location and a lovely old house made perfect with the balcony overlooking the city. serdar, has been the perfect host, he whips up an amazing breakfast every morning and has been very helpful and welcoming. we have also met 2 of his 5 sisters and a cousin! we took one of his sisters and his cousin out to dinner last week, with the two german guys who had been staying here in the house. stephan & michael were really good fun and so it was fantastic to be able to all get together for a big meal together. we got serdar to choose the restaruant and he took us to a very good seafood restaurant and we ate till we burst, washed down with the turkish firewater, raki, which is an aniseed based spirit.

here a few more images of the city we have loved so much,


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May 222015
street food

typical Istanbul street food vendor

the food of istanbul has been at least as good as expected – which is great because we arrived with high expectations! i have posted lots of images on instagram but i figured some readers may not follow my instagram account so i better throw some foodie pics up for them! so apologies to those readers that have seen all the yummy food already.

eating out here is certainly very cheap, we do frequent the local street vendors, cafes and restaurants, but even the bigger, flasher restaurants are cheap by australian standards. its easy to get a simple lunch with a drink for $4-5 and not much more for a filling dinner. $15 per head will get you dinner and a drink of ayran in a comfortable restaurant with table service.

we have grown accustomed to the turkish national drink, a form of salted yoghurt drink, its called açik ayran and special machines foam it up to give it a frothy head when served in pewter bowls. its actually the perfect accompaniment to the meaty and spicy dishes so common here. the cheaper places just have the ayran in plastic cups like a small yoghurt container, but its still yummy!

we have also grown to love the turkish coffee and the many glasses of tea that are a part of any meal or conversation or opportunity!

anyway, i will let the images speak for themselves!

i realised i need to update with a few more images and words! so firstly dürümzade, reputably the best dürüm in the world, another place made famous by anthony bourdain – and another place in istanbul that doesnt trade on the attention and custom he has brought to the restaurant. it remains a tiny, corner shop, char grill in the window, about 3 tiny tables and a non stop production of one simple dish done really well! two dishes actually, i had a bowl of the mercimek çorbasi (lentil soup) and it too was to die for. the prices are the same as they have been for years, about $3.50 of our pesos gets you the worlds best dürüm.

dürüm is the name of the kebab wrap that is the perfect fast food in turkey, its made with a lavaş a tortilla like flat bread. the lavaş is heated on the charcoal and then the kebab of choice (we had lamb) is grilled, after one rotation of the kebab, out comes the lavaş, the grill master then drapes it over the kebabs cooking over the coals, creating a smoky tent for the meat while keeping the lavaş off of the fire directly.

as the lavaş heats up, the spice rub on the wrap imparts its flavor onto the skewered meat below. While the lavaş is still flexible, the usta (“master” in Turkish) pulls it from the grill and covers it with a bed of chopped parsley, sumac-dusted onions and tomatoes, onto which he lays the freshly grilled meat from the skewer.

no discussion of food in istanbul would be complete without a tip about the best place to eat lahmacun, the amazing dish made with flat bread spread with a paste of finely ground meat, spices and herbs baked to perfection in a wood fired oven, then served on a platter. the customer then adds a handful of fresh parsley and a big squeeze of lemon juice before rolling it up and eating a little bit of heaven, standard cost 4 TL or $2 aussie.

quite by accident sal and I stumbled upon borum taşfirin in kadiköy on the asia side. we went over on the ferry to have a wander round and after a few hours of aimless wandering we happened upon this little shop, again on a corner, it immediatley looked like our sort of joint, not at all touristy, packed with locals, a gaggle of yourng turks in a production line to roll out the dough, spread the secret topping mix and load them in and out of the wood fired oven. we have had lahmacun in many places around the city, but this one was the standout.


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May 172015



panorama of the view from our balcony

the area of istanbul we are staying in is the greek and jewish quarter of istanbul and is a rabbit warren of narrow cobblestone streets overhung with narrow fronted, tall buildings in various states of decay and dilapidation. it is quite reminiscent of our time in havana, cuba.

in the morning we hear the sing song calls of the vendors with handcarts selling hot pastries and breads walking the streets. tourists are few and seldom seen. all are just visiting the area, we havent seen any others staying here. its very much a living local community and a great insight into turkish life in this ancient sity.

the cafes, restaurants and street food vendors have only one price – there is no tourist markup, pretty clearly because tourists are so rarely customers.

because of the narrow, steep and winding cobblestone streets its much quieter here, much less traffic than most areas of the city – you dont drive in here unless you have to and you know where you are going! there are always kids playing on the streets, mainly very young syrian refugees – turkey has about 2 million syrian refugees.

(for australians reading, ‘refugees’ are displaced people who are fleeing violence and persecution in their own country. the rest of the world, even very poor countries like turkey, give these people safe refuge and look after them.)

as far as i know, no other country demonises them, imprisons them offshore, allows the children to be sexually assaulted and then forcibly returns them to the violence and oppression they were seeking to escape. australia perhaps should start pulling its weight and comply with international law on the treatment of refugees.

this is a little video of my favourite street vendor, he has a great call and comes through about 10am each morning, so i know its time to get moving! he is selling Poğaça sade which are hot little, flakey, plain pastries – not unlike a croissant.


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May 162015
ishan's fiat taxi

ishan’s fiat taxi

I had heard about Ishan Aknur, self proclaimed world’s best taxi driver, from my friend annie. I realised he also featured in the episonde of ‘no reservations’ that anthony bourdain filmed in istanbul and we also discovered numerous other media appearances around the world on his website, HERE.

we engaged his services for the day yesterday and he picked us up around 10am and we headed across the bridge and through taksim on our adventure. the day was destined to be drama filled, ishan got a puncture just before picking us up and then outside of taksim we got caught up in a traffic snarl due to an office block being on fire! having negotiated the fire brigade we were then brought to a standstill by a demonstration of some sort by students – forcing us to take an alternative route again.

our first stop was the Çırağan Palace, now a very flash hotel, but originally a sultans palace on the banks of the bosporus. history buffs can read the details HERE.

ishan told us he would drop us at the entrance to the hotel and we should pretend to be guests and walk down to the right until we came to the original palace and have a steaky beak around the palace and its grounds while he waited for us. apparently the subterfuge was required due to some dispute between hotel management and himself. i suspect it was largely all part of the sense of theatre central to ishan’s tour!

its pointless to try to describe ishan and his antics in the taxi, best just to go to his site and watch a couple of videos, you will quickly get the idea! our next stop was across in asia, istanbul is the only city in the world to bridge two continents, half is on the european side, and when you drive across the bosporus bridge to the other side of the city you are actually driving into asia!

we drove up to the top of the highest hill in istanbul which has sweeping views back across the city, it was pretty smoggy so the pics werent the best, but it was worth the visit. after that we headed back into eminonu to find the best turkish delight store in the world, for kai. the shop has been operating for over 200 years and the turkish delight lived up to its reputation!

the final stop before lunch was the fatih mosque and we saw the serious side of ishan as he explained the process and significance of prayer at the mosque. the photos i took inside simply didnt do the structure any justice, they are certainly incredible buildings.

lunch was at sur ocakbasi, a restaurant made famous by anthony bourdain’s visit. they cook whole lambs in an amazing fire pit that the lambs are lowered into and then the pit is sealed up while they cook slowly. the end result is the most tender, melt in the mouth lamb you have ever eaten!

after lunch we finished off the day with a visit to the chora museum in the church that dates back to the 5th century. it is the site of the most incredible mosaics and frescoes lovingly restored to their former glory. history and culture buffs can read more HERE

here is a little homage to anthony bourdain and ishan. (you have to watch the episode to get it) it also gives some insight as to why he is also the craziest as well as the best!


May 132015

bazaar-6one of the great benefits of ‘slow’ travel such as our gap year adventure is that you have enough time in one place to stumble across things that a normal tourist has little chance to observe.

sal & i had lunch at a little restaurant we had discovered on our walk this morning, and after our delicious lahmacun we went for another wander up through the back streets of fener and we came upon an amazing market that stretched for many hundreds of metres along a road that had been closed off.

apparently it was the Çarşamba Pazar or Wednesday Bazaar, held once a week in this area of fatih. the scale of the bazaar was extraordinary and its hard to imagine the amount of work to set up all the stalls and awnings etc for just one day a week.