Tulip Festival

So who knew?  Tulips probably originated in Persia and were hugely popular with several sultans.  Not sure why but when I think of tulips I think of the Dutch.  Well, we went to a tulip festival on the European side of Istanbul and were blown away!  The festival is held each year in Emirgan Park in Sarıyer (The first weekend in April is a great time to go).

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Spring is always a welcome change in the seasons and Istanbul is no exception!  Flowers are all over the city and everything is green.  The weather here is really great, quickly changing to many warm sunny days.  The girls have loved getting out and going to parks and exploring more of the city.IMG_6450 DSC_4488

Above: We went to visit a friend who is doing his military service in a small town several hours away from Istanbul.  If you squinted a little bit you could have imagined you were somewhere in the midwest of the US!  How are the roads in the midwest?

Above: Flowering trees like this are all over the city right nowIMG_6556 IMG_6579 IMG_6569


Above:  When we ride the city buses sometimes they are packed out but kids are almost sure to be offered a seat somewhere.IMG_6451 IMG_6446 IMG_6427 IMG_6606

Above: Fresh squeezed orange or pomegranate juice for $.50 – $1.00 (US)IMG_6605

Above & Below: Busy streets near the old spice bazar lined with restaurants, shops and lots of people!  It’s pretty amazing some of the things you can find and if you can’t find it someone can probably get it or make it for you.IMG_6603 IMG_6602 IMG_6601


Above:  Down in the market areas you are sure to find people selling sweets!  This guy was selling some sort of sticky doughnut stick (sort of like a churro or funnel cake) – delicious! IMG_6574 IMG_6573

Above:  One of the many underground metro stations you will find throughout the city.  The metro is very modern and a fast way to get around like many other big cities throughout the world.IMG_6612 IMG_6611

Above:  Waiting for the bus!IMG_6545
Above:  Along many of the waterfront areas you will find balloons setup like these (or out in the water) and you can pay a little to shoot the balloons with a pellet gun.  Just some fun to pass the time!IMG_6544

Above:  Why carry all of these kegs down when you can roll them all!IMG_6543 IMG_6539
Above:  The old train stationIMG_6376 IMG_6378 IMG_6691



Above:  The main ferry port to catch a ferry from the Asian side of Istanbul to the European side.IMG_6680 IMG_6683

Above:  The Hagia Sofia IMG_6679

Above:  The Blue Mosque


Above:  Galata TowerDSC_5011 DSC_5006 IMG_6677 IMG_6681 IMG_6609




Above & Below:  Visiting the Friday Market.  This is the largest market that is held every Tuesday and Friday on the Asian side of Istanbul.  You can find everything from spices, fruits and vegetables, material, clothing, antiques, baby items, etc.  Great place to find a bargain!

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Above:  Topkapi PalaceDSC_4495

Above:  Crossing one of the 2 bridges from the European side to the Asian side.  At some times of the day you can expect this to take hours!DSC_4618

Above & Below:  Some folks out enjoying the weather using powered parachutesDSC_4624 IMG_6373 IMG_6385



Above & Below:  I got a chance to go out bowling with a couple Turkish friends and decided it was time to introduce our oldest to the sport.  She had a blast and even managed a strike!IMG_6499


December and January rushed by!  We had a great time with family in town and then had some friends come and stay.  It was great to see familiar faces and catch up – and, we got to play tour guide and brush up on our Turkish skills around town.

IMG_0003Above is a view from Galata Tower.  Just to give a quick comparison – getting around Istanbul can sometimes be a long process because it is split between two continents (Europe and Asia) and has a population of 13-15 million people.  New York City for example has an estimate 8-9 million people and is about 1/5th the size of Istanbul.  That means that New York City is 4-5 times as crowded (based on it’s size) as Istanbul.  There aren’t a whole lot of streets in Istanbul where you walk shoulder to shoulder with a crowd of people.

DSC_3790One of the best walking tours we have found is to walk from Taksim Square down to the historic district.  A friend of mine showed me the route but it is also listed in Rick Steve’s Istanbul book.  From where we are in Istanbul, this requires walking to a bus stop, riding a bus to a Metrobus stop, riding a Metrobus across the Bosphorous Strait from Asia to Europe and then riding the underground metro to Taksim Square.  From Taksim Square we walked down Istiklal Street – it’s a great, busy street with very low automobile traffic, lots of street vendors, shops and restaurants.  Above is a simit seller – simit is sort of like a bagel but usually comes with sesame seeds covering the outside and will set you back $0.40 US (great snack on the run).  Some of the simit sellers have started offering nutella and other spreads.

IMG_0002One of the many famous things on Istiklal Street is the old tram.  It runs up and down the street on rails.  You will usually see kids run up behind it and steal a ride until the conductor hops off and chases them away.  Maybe it’s like this in the US but there is no fencing or rail guards around the tracks to keep people away from the tram rails – everyone just clears a path!


Getting to Taksim on the underground metro is similar to other parts of the world – very modern with elevators and escalators to get down to the metro and signs everywhere.  We use a transit pass called the Istanbulkart that we load money onto and can use it to ride buses, ferries, the Metrobus and underground metro.  Like anywhere in the world, depending on what day, where you board and what time of the day, it may be very crowded.  All over the city they are working on putting in new stops and eventually are hoping to connect the European side and the Asian side.IMG_0008

For the underground metro, trains come ever few minutes.

Above is another shot of Istiklal Street – the architecture is mix of old and new, with many modern retailers to the established baklava sellers and kebab restaurants.IMG_0004

From Taksim Square we made it down to Galata Tower which was built in 1348.  The water way above is the Golden Horn and comes off of the Bosphorous Strait.IMG_0006

Above is a shot riding the Metrobus – these buses have their own designated lanes throughout the city which makes them a lot faster than driving to and from a lot of places.  I have learned this the hard way when it took 4.5 hours to get home from the airport by car one day and it’s only 25 miles!IMG_0011
IMG_0064Above is a shot of Galata Bridge that spans the Golden Horn.  We walked across on the first level of the bridge – the bottom level is all seafood restaurants and the top is for auto traffic, foot traffic and lots of fishermen.  Before crossing the bridge, we stopped off at one of the most famous baklava (a Turkish dessert) places (Karaköy Güllüoğlu) – if you get a chance to go, we highly recommend ordering your baklava with ice cream on top!

After you cross over the bridge (heading towards the historic district) there is  famous area where fisherman bring in their catches and fresh fish sandwiches are served right off the boats.

Like many cities throughout the world there are plenty of street musicians working their craft for pay.  The man above is playing a Karadeniz Kemencesi – think of a very mini cello with 3 strings and no pitches.


In addition to simit sellers (mentioned before) there are a lot of roasted chestnut vendors.


Above a different shot of Galata Bridge and the seafood restaurants.DSC_3946
Above is a shot of the New Mosque (Yeni Camii) built in the 1600s.


A view of the Blue Mosque from Galata Tower.


After a long day of walking, the ferry ride home is a welcomed rest.  Above is a shot of Galata Tower and Galata Bridge from the water.DSC_3629

Above is the Bosphorous Bridge from the ferry going from Eminönü to Kadıköy (The European side of Istanbul to the Asian Side).  These ferries run throughout the day every day of the week.


And, guess who had a birthday this month!  Our youngest turned 4.DSC_4260

The girls are growing up so fast it seems!  Their Turkish is coming along and school continues to go well.IMG_0032

Dad’s shirts for pajamas always works for a smile!  And, they may have watched a little Star Wars too…we’re starting them early!  IMG_0030

Above – the girls at schoolIMG_0041

No the baby has not arrived yet!  Friends of ours came by and brought their new little one.  Our oldest loved practicing being the new big sister.


On another day while family was in town we headed to the European side of Istanbul on the ferry to visit an neighborhood called Ortaköy.


Ortaköy is write on the Bosphorus Strait and every Sunday there is a street market where various arts, crafts and trinkets are sold.  It’s a great low-key place to go with the kids.

Ironically enough (at least to me) Ortaköy is known for it’s baked potatoes!  We have had all sorts of exotic foods here in Turkey so it was a little funny to hear that baked potatoes were the things to get.  There are probably 30 different baked potato stands and restaurants within a 1 block radius.  They’re pretty good (and big) but some of the toppings I can do without – hot dogs (called ‘sausage’) and potato salad?DSC_4157

Of the millions of residents in Istanbul are the much-loved street cats.  There are cats all over the city.  Many people will actually carry small bags of cat food with them as they go out so that they can feed these little furry citizens.DSC_3657

Photo credit – my father-in-law.  Great shot!

IMG_0059Above: While we were in Ortaköy look who we ran into!


After trips to many of the historic areas of the city it was finally time for something just for the kiddos.  Istanbul has many great parks to head to and one of our favorites is Goztepe 60 Yıl Park.

The kids had a blast playing with friends!IMG_0023

Another great outing is to head to the big island.  For about 6 Turkish Lira per person you can catch a ferry out to Büyükada (The Big Island).  While there you can take a ride on a horse and carriage, try some of the local stretchy ice cream and enjoy walking around without any street traffic.

We also finally took a quick trip to visit Topkapi Palace – we could have easily spent a whole day here but with kiddos it gets a little boring pretty quick.  The palace has extensive grounds to walk, a restaurant and tea cafe and many different museum pieces spanning all different centuries and cultures.  Definitely worth a visit!

Above is the Hagia Irene which sits behind the Hagia Sophia in the courtyard of Topkapi.IMG_0036

Above: Inside the Blue Mosque


Above: The Grand Bazaar


Down in the historic district there are hundreds and hundreds of restaurants to choose from but after asking a local we were able to find a small, out of the way place down an alley that wasn’t crowded and was reasonably priced.  One of our favorite foods is the chicken shish-kebab.DSC_3625
Wherever we go, the kids are always warmly greeted with pinches on the cheek, hugs and gifts.


Above: Sweets in the window of a bakery


Above: The girls with a restaurant proprietor and the two adopted cats that frequent the place.


On one of our last days with family we decided to head up to the Black Sea to the town of Şile.  It’s about an hour drive northeast of Istanbul.  During the summer it’s a busy tourist area – in the winter the beaches are closed but there are still some spots where you can find to walk and look for shells and sea glass.IMG_0018


There is nothing like rounding out the end of a cold-rainy day at the Black Sea with a cup of hot black tea!

Dreaming of a White Christmas

We have been learning Turkish for 7 months now. The shiny newness of Istanbul and Turkish have begun to wear off and we needed a break! Someone told us about a little place north of Bolu, Turkey that was great for recharging and relaxing. So this past weekend we packed up and headed out. We didn’t know that it had just snowed up in the mountains (a foot and a half) and had been told that snow chains where very easy to put on your tires 🙂 It looked like smooth sailing on the main highway…


After about 2 hours the snow was everywhere, but as long as we kept the car moving we were fine.


Then, along came a 3-way intersection at a little village and Google Maps didn’t have a clue…so we came to a stop and were stuck. Out came the snow chains and the little picture guide on how to use them. After 20 minutes without any luck in the 15 degree weather, some good Samaritans rolled up. 5 Turkish guys on their way back from the town hopped out and offered their assistance (seriously, Turks are some of the most hospitable people!). One guy took off his jacket and threw it down on the sludgy ground and went to work. After 20 minutes, no luck. We took a look at the chain container and it was for another car! Out came another set of chains. After another 20-30 minutes we were set. It is rude to give money for help here (generally) but I tried – 30 minutes of help in the freezing cold, getting all dirty…but they said no way (in Turkish of course). We gave them a bag of Tangerines and set out.



After slipping and sliding our way up the mountain we finally arrived at Sakintepe. With all the freshly fallen snow it looked like a scene out of an old holiday movie.







Sakintepe was absolutely wonderful – we had a cabin to ourselves and the kids had a great time playing in the snow, sledding and building a snowman (maybe mommy and daddy did most of the work and they helped decorate).