Saturday, September 21, 2013

A little more of Istanbul . . .

Harem, Topkapi Palace (Camp)
Today, we'll take a peek at the Topkapi Palace.

What fascinated me more than the three grand courtyards, each more exclusive than the next that led into the Palace complex, was our short tour of the harem, accessible only through a small gate at the very heart of the Palace.

We entered the harem through the narrowest of halls to discover a tiny, dark courtyard of flagstones and mosaic, and two-three story apartments on each side. Here the least favorite wives and concubines lived.

As we passed through successive halls and gates into the inner sanctum, the courtyards became larger, the decorations more ornate with filigree and the famous Turkish Iznik tiles (brilliant colors in a 'frame and meander' pattern), until we were favored with a stunning view of hanging gardens and the Bosphorous.

Iznik Tiles, Topkapi Palace (Camp)
Our guide confided that the competition for the throne during the Ottoman Empire was so great at one time, that different factions resorted to assassinations to remove potential rulers. So one queen arranged for her son to be put in a 'gilded cage,' a private room he could not leave, located in the very heart of the harem. His mother arranged for every delicacy to be delivered -- music, rich foods, and dancing girls. He remained secluded until he was crowned. The result was disaster.But the room remains, a fascinating blend of opulence and horror.

The prince's 'cage' at Topkapi Palace (Camp)

The prince's cage overlooking Bosphorus (Camp)
Though we spent the day wandering here, I fear I'm not doing justice to the scale of Topkapi or its history of 400 years. It's easy to believe that over 4,000 people once lived here, given this lovely shot from Wikipedia. I would happily return to Istanbul to learn more of this UNESCO World Site.

The Topkapi Palace Complex (Wikipedia)

Did I see a mermaid on our travels? For your viewing pleasure, a Turkish mermaid. I do not know her story -- yet!

Tomorrow, a small, very small corner of the marketplace!

Read a little more:
About Topkapi Palace on Wikipedia
Additional history from the Topkapi Palace Museum

Monday, September 16, 2013

Day Two in Istanbul: Food Alert!

Deniz Bezan takes us on the second day of touring Istanbul. We begin in the Ortaköy neighbourhood. 

All kinds of artists and artisans display their wares along the avenues beside the Ortaköy Mosque, directly on the Bosphorus. You can have breakfast, or brunch if you slept in, at any of the waterfront cafes. Afterwards, you can continue walking along the sea, or hop on a city bus, towards Arnavutköy.

Along the Bosphorus (Bezan)
The Bosphorus ferry leaves from here at scheduled times and stops at a number of neighbourhoods, including Kandilli (famous for its yogurt) and Anadolu Hisarı on the Anatolian side – counterpart to the Rumeli Hisarı on the European side. Both fortresses were built prior to Sultan Mehmet, the Conqueror’s siege of Constantinople in 1452.

You can keep going as far as Emirgan, to visit the Sakıp Sabancı Museum, or check a site like to find other exhibits or events you’d rather see. If your visit falls on a weekend, you could even schedule a full boat cruise of the Bosphorus, either in the morning, the afternoon, or throughout the day, meals included.

Or stop along the way for lunch. If you are not joining a boat tour, then an ideal place for a late lunch is Köfteci Ramiz, in the Levent Carşı neighbourhood. Levent – a once entirely residential district, now featuring bakeries and boutiques circling a public park – is accessible by metro or, if you still have the energy, is about an hour’s walk uphill from Arnavutköy. The view from the top, overlooking the Bosphorus and across to the turreted Military High School on the Anatolian side, is well worth the climb, even on a cloudy day.

Cat keeping an eye on the neighbourhood
Istanbul (Bezan)
The ubiquitous cats and dogs of Istanbul are especially plentiful in this neighbourhood, and gather in groups round the doorways of the houses – and sometimes even appear on the windowsills!

Köfteci Ramiz in Levent is a restaurant devoted entirely to the Turkish köfte, or seasoned meatball, and next door is an ideal place for dessert: Özsüt, featuring rice puddings, chocolate puddings, and various Turkish specialities such as aşure, or Noah’s Pudding. This is one of the oldest desserts of Turkish cuisine and the legend behind it tells when Noah’s Ark landed on Mount Ararat, Noah and his family wanted to hold a celebration to express their gratitude toward God. Their food stores had dwindled, however, so they made a dessert using any and all the remaining ingredients, including chick peas, apricots, figs, raisins, and other fruits and legumes. They’re all mixed up in the pudding, but it tastes great!

Another speciality dessert is tavuk göğsü kazandibi, a type of scalded-milk pudding whose main ingredient is extra thin slivers of cooked chicken breast – much tastier than it sounds!

After all this walking and eating and sightseeing, it is high time for a rest.From Levent, the metro takes you back to Taksim in less than ten minutes.

I don’t mind which cafe I’m in on this street as long as it’s one with rooftop access. I love gazing out over the rooftops of Istanbul toward the Golden Horn, as far as my favourite tower – Leander’s Tower – remembering all those who’ve looked out over this panorama for so many hundreds of years before me.

View of the Golden Horn (Bezan)
Thank you, Deniz, for your guest blog that brings back so many memories of Istanbul and those fabulous palaces along the Bosphorous. Luckily, we have a Greek/Turkish restaurant called The White House Grill, right near Spokane that features those rich rice puddings, köfte and lots of garlic.

Deniz Bevan recently returned to writing romance after a foray into Young Adult and Middle Grade novels. She's currently querying her latest romance, Out of the Water, set in Spain and Turkey in 1492 and editing a second romance set in the same time frame, Rome, Rhymes and Risk. She also has a paranormal romance in the works! 

Deniz writes travel articles and book reviews for the trilingual newspaper Bizim Anadolu and the 100 Romances Blog. Visit her at

Friday, September 13, 2013

Day One: A Mini-Stop in Istanbul . . .

Today's guest post features Deniz Bevan, a well-traveled and enthusiastic writer I've come to admire. Here is your introduction to Deniz . . . in Istanbul. 

Day One: A Mini-stop in Istanbul! 
by Deniz Bevan

 I always wonder what I’d do if I took a cruise – they seem to spend only a day or two in each port. How could there be time to see everything? But then a few years ago, while visiting family in Turkey, I realized our itinerary had only left us two full days in Istanbul! I had to pack in a lot, and now I can share that itinerary with you!

Turkish Breakfast (Bezan)
The first thing to do when you wake up is to have a quick breakfast – nothing too heavy, because this is Turkey, and you’ll probably be eating all day, especially if you’re visiting family or friends or even newly-met acquaintances!

There’s probably a bakery near your hotel, no matter what neighbourhood you’re in, so grab some tea and a cheese-filled pastry called poğaça. Tea comes piping hot in an hourglass, with sugar if you want it, but no milk. You can always add some of the other tasty bits of a traditional Turkish breakfast – sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, olives, and kaşar cheese – to give yourself energy for the long day ahead.

Start your journey in the neighbourhood of Eminönü, on the southern side of the Galata Bridge, by taking a streetcar to the courtyard across from Istanbul University. On your left is the Beyazid Mosque, built by Sultan Beyazid II in the years 1500-1505; the Sultan himself is buried on the grounds.

Directly before you is the Sahaflar Çarsısı, the second-hand book bazaar attached to the Grand Bazaar, and one of the oldest markets in Istanbul. And just a short walk away is the Mısır Çarsısı, or Egyptian Bazaar, also known as the Spice Bazaar. This bazaar is about two hundred years younger than the oldest parts of the Grand Bazaar.

Back in the 15th Century, Egyptians used to sell their spices here, and the bazaar still features an amazing variety of spices, dried fruits and nuts, teas, sweets, honeycombs and aphrodisiacs from Turkey, Egypt, Iran, and many other countries. A number of booths offer “Turkish Viagra”, a supposedly potent mix of figs and walnuts, and each booth offers free samples. As you tread the twists and turns of the bazaar, you can almost eat a complete meal!

In the neighbourhood of the bazaars are the Aya Sofya Museum, the underground Roman cisterns of the Yerebatan, the Topkapı Palace, and the Blue Mosque, among other historical buildings and monuments.

View of Galata Bridge and Tower (Bezan)
If you take the necessary hours to visit all of these, it’ll be dinnertime when you’re done!

Hurry across the Galata Bridge and then up through the Galata neighbourhood to the Tower. Originally built in 1348 as the Christea Turris or Tower of Christ by the Genoese colony in Constantinople, the Galata Tower was later, during the Ottoman period, used as an observation tower for spotting fires.

Up from Galata is Istiklal Caddesi, a long avenue of many landmarks, including the Galatasaray High School, Saint Anthony’s Church, and the Pera Museum, just one block away on Meşrutiyet Caddesi.

"The Tortoise Trainer"
Osman Hamdi Bey
At the Pera Museum, their permanent, and best, feature is Osman Hamdi Bey’s Kaplumbağa Terbiyecisi, or "The Tortoise Trainer". This stunning 19th Century work, with its rich reds and intricate details, portrays an Ottoman tortoise tamer; some have suggested that the painting symbolizes the difficulty, or slowness, of achieving social change.

Careful of the tramcar as you head back to Istiklal Caddesi! If you find your legs beginning to ache from all the walking, you can always hop on the tram as it makes its way up to Taksim Square. There are lots of restaurants and cafes to choose from, and the area comes alive at night!

A recently popular area for drinks is Küçük Beyoğlu Avenue, which was originally a line of old, collapsing Greek buildings but has since been renovated into a quarter of trendy bars and coffee shops. You could even try kokoreç (seasoned and spiced lamb intestines served with vegetables in a half loaf of bread or pita) – very tasty, I promise!

Deniz Bevan recently returned to writing romance after a foray into Young Adult and Middle Grade novels. She's currently querying my latest romance, Out of the Water, set in Spain and Turkey in 1492 and editing a second romance set in the same time frame, Rome, Rhymes and Risk. She also has a paranormal romance in the works! Deniz writes travel articles and book reviews for the trilingual newspaper Bizim Anadolu and the 100 Romances Blog. Visit her at

Plan to return tomorrow for Day Two of Deniz' fabulous tour of Istanbul. Later this week, I'll share a few memories of my own of time spent in Istanbul.

If you have traveled to Turkey, what remains unforgettable?

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Farewell to Sao Paulo . . .

Roadside Fountain, Sao Paulo
What I remember most of this first visit to Brazil is a sense of awe at its tree-lined streets with rich, tropical versions of flowers we thought we knew; its cosmopolitan air of big city bustle contrasting with small neighborhoods, each with its own personality.

We spoke very little Portuguese, and yet our Spanish opened doors everywhere. We walked as much as we could, discovering marks of Brazil's colonial past, even with this small street-side fountain tucked beside a busy road, remembering the past and the influence of Portugal.

In one such neighborhood, passersby sent us to a tiny storefront for the best sushi I have ever eaten anywhere. The exquisitely fresh sushi was served Brazilian style, which means this platter was simply the first, brought to us from an amazingly diverse buffet. We could barely finish and were surprised when the waiter came back to ask, "Are you ready for more?"

Brazilian sushi
Brazil is a largely Catholic country with churches everywhere. The Cathedral of Sao Paulo was no exception, grand outside and in, with a soaring design.

In the great plaza fronting the cathedral, crowds of people went about their business.

The churches I remember best are not always the biggest, but the constant crowds entering and leaving this grand cathedral made us feel as if we were part of this city.

Entrance to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Sao Paulo

Side view of Cathedral of Sao Paulo

The gritty side of traveling can be the unexpected. On our third night in Sao Paulo, we transferred to a small private apartment. The walls were covered with mold. We slept there anyway because we had no other place to go. The next morning, a travel agent wearing a shirt open to nearly the waist with a bright, golden cross, and who worked from a one-room street-side office, apologized profusely in a mix of English, Spanish and Portuguese. Our last two nights in Sao Paulo were spent in an executive studio high rise with sweeping vistas of the commercial district.

But I still remember the flowers.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Touring Sao Paulo . . .

Construction began in 1903 on the Theatro Municipal in Sao Paulo, Brazil. We wandered there early one morning to admire the impressive colonial architecture and the influence of turn-of-the-century Italian art for there's a large Italian population in Sao Paulo even today.

Originally designed to showcase opera, in its first years, according to Wikipedia, over 88 operas were staged. But we were drawn to the sculptures. Despite my best searching skills, and my limitations in Portuguese, I cannot find information about what these sculptures may represent. But here they are, for your enjoyment!

Two massive columns greet the visitor at each side of the building. Perhaps they are Italianate versions of Atlas. Certainly they remind me of Michelangelo's style!

Below: Detail of a medallion over the entrance door. This one looks like the infamous Green Man of Celtic myth.

Finally, an impassive woman graces the base of a column. I've read that Diana, the Huntress, is featured here, but I'm guessing she's one of two massive sculptures atop the building (see first photo). Perhaps below, we see Athena, goddess of wisdom.

While the colonial flavor of the building is marked with Italian style art, I'm not thinking about those glittering receptions or fabulous audiences who come to view performances of dance and music.

Rather, the sculptures seem to speak to the effort, the sheer work, the inner reflection required, and the tenacity (like stone), of making something beautiful.

NEXT: For the next few weeks, I'll post highlights from our trip to Brazil, photos and memories I hope you will enjoy. If anyone knows more about these sculptures at the Theatro Municipal, please comment!

UPDATE: Also, just for the month of September, you'll find my e-book, The Mermaid Quilt & Other Tales, on sale for .99 at Amazon and Smashwords. The Smashwords version features a few of my travel photos.