"The evolving Francophile..."

My husband Jack has always wanted to live in Paris and learn French. I thought it would be good for him to achieve his life time dream. Hence, we moved to Paris in 2008. My first year was difficult. I started "missives" to relieve some stress and chronicle my life so friends back in the US could read what I am experiencing. I currently write about my food and travel experiences, which is my passion.

It is definitely a challenge to live here, but each year it gets easier, and quite enjoyable, in large part because I value friendships over locale. I have a love/hate relationship with Paris as do most Parisians, mais La vie est belle (but life is good)!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

September 22-29, 2008

Monday – Wednesday: Monday through Wednesday was sort of an uneventful 3-days in preparation for our trip to Istanbul. I did, however, finally get pick pocketed in, of all places in a grocery store. Two fat women wearing Moroccan garb from head-to-toe, rammed through our grocery line rather than going out the regular much wider exits, and when they left, my umbrella was taken. I think they were grabbing everything they could get their hands on. Oh well, at least my money pocket secured with a lock was safe. Now here’s a little tip, whenever you get bumped or banged into, IMMEDIATELY look at your belongings on your body. If you didn’t secure it tightly than you know it was stolen.

Tuesday night, we met Pablo and Jose for dinner at one of the better French restaurants we’ve been to called, “Aux trios petites couchons” 3 little pigs. We met a fabulous group of people from Maryland and we pretty much partied through the night.

Wednesday, I went and ordered Carole Raisbeck’s linen napkins. They were €10 in April and now they’re €16, hmmm is that what’s called inflation.

Thursday: This is where the fun begins. The flight to Instanbul was uneventful, but if you leave from Zurich or Geneva it’s only about a 2 hour and 20-minute flight. Some of the Swiss airplanes are interesting for European flights. The Business and First class seats are EXACTLY the same as economy. The only difference is that they supposedly get better food and wine, who knew?

When we arrived in Istanbul, the line for immigrations was horrendous. I found another city that doesn’t believe in airconditioning, I bet you can’t guess which one? It was stifling waiting to get through. One woman was wearing the thick black chador that also covered her face, she must have been boiling under that. But once you get through immigration, all is well.

Our driver came to pick us up and along for the ride was a couple from Holland, Bart, who looks like Bart Simpson and also Drew Carrey, and his girlfriend Agnes. Agnes was treating her boyfriend to Istanbul for his birthday. Hmm, I think that sounds familiar. We became good friends really fast, remember we’re not in France, so you don’t have to wait 5-10 years to get to know someone to become fast friends (lol). We planned on meeting later for drinks and dinner.

As the sun-set we heard the evening prayer announcement, it was pretty loud. Our hotel is literally at the foot of the Blue mosque and a block from the entrance of the Asatar bazaar.

We met and basically just went around the corner to this very nice restaurant called Avlu Serberthane where mostly locals go, I wonder why? It was crowded so we told the waiter we’d sit at the outdoor tables and have a drink. His response, sorry no alcohol, since we’re close to a Islamic school and at the Mosque, oh well. So, we had some tea and soda. We asked if all restaurants around here didn’t serve alcohol, he said, yes, methinks Allah is going to punish him for lying, oh well.

Then, we think the owner came by and said a table is now free, we told him we weren’t ready and wanted to wait outside for a while, he definitely didn’t understand us, and he grabbed all our drinks, and basically we had to march in and eat, how weird! It was like the German Gestapo, “You vill eat now!!!! We sat on these very, very low tables, and next to local musicians. They bring out a huge platter of appetizers, and you select which ones you want to start with, and then you get your proverbial kebabs. It was good, but without wine, it tasted strange, go figure?

Then a huge group of about 20-Turkish people got up and started dancing between the tables. I thought how cool is this, so we were all clapping along with them and mimicking what they were singing. They asked us to join them dancing, but I hadn’t had anything to drink and I am basically shy in public, who new eh? It was great fun.

As we were leaving, the 4 of us clapped as we passed their table, and they unanimously clapped towards us to thank us for appreciating their dancing. How heart felt, as in the movie “Wizard of Oz” -- “Toto, we’re not in Paris anymore”. You would never see this in Paris.

We decided to walk around the mosque area. MY God, there were all sorts of stands selling everything from popcorn to candy to food stalls to souvenirs and gifts. It was like the Fairs we have in the states, except it’s after sunset, because of Ramadan. Music blaring everywhere. Tea bars with Dervish entertainers and music, unbelievable. It was like an overload for the senses. We sat at a café and had very sweet tea and watched Dervish dancers. Apparently this goes on til the wee hours of the night, since they eat and enjoy as much as they can before fasting begins again at sun rise, who knew?

About a block further, we found an outdoor café right next to our hotel and guess what, they serve wine and beer, imagine that! After we were told no alcohol is sold during Ramadan around our hotel, Allah is going to punish that man for lying to a bunch of winos. So, we sat out there til about 1 a.m. in the morning and drank to our hearts content and then called it a night.

Friday: Since we are literally under the blue mosque the call to prayer was very LOUD AND CLEAR at 5:20 in the morning, and it’s also the start of the fasting. Talk about a morning wake-up call. Who knew it would be so loud, it jolted me out of bed.

This morning was suppose to be my Turkish cooking class, but it got postponed until tomorrow, the Chef broke his foot or something, and they’re calling in a new Chef. Oh well. So, Jack and I decided to use this opportunity to explore Istanbul. As we started walking, I noticed something very, very unusual, there are a lot of stray cats in Istanbul. They’re everywhere. So, unless you’re a cat lover, this can be extremely annoying. And, as some of you know I’m extremely allergic to cats. And, some of the restaurants feed them the leftovers. The day started pretty well. We first went into the Arasta Bazaar. Now we were warned that the stores will try to convince you by hook or by crook to enter their store, hawk you in other words, and try and convince you to guy something. At one point I told them, “no speak English” and they asked, what you speak? I told them Chinese figuring that they wouldn’t know the language, and then they started to talk to me in what I think is Cantonese, who knew? The joke was on me.

After this market, we went to the Spice market which was quite manageable. The colors of the spices were great, but since I wasn’t planning on buying any, we just basically walked through the other end, which lead us to a bridge that goes to the “Taksim” area of Istanbul, still on the European side but more the business center. We walked across the bridge where there were quite a number of fisherman.

Something very unusual happened that afternoon. Istanbul had these incredible wind storms, if I didn’t know any better I would swear it was like a hurricane without the water. Later that day, I heard on the European news that it was the first and worst of its kind in Istanbul knocking down power lines, trees and roofs. Quite devasting. Isn’t our timing wonderful, go figure?

We walked around some more, then had lunch at a local business restaurants. There were quite a number of people in there. I just assumed that no-one would be eating since it’s still Ramadan, who knew? So I ordered Turkish Pizza and coke.

Then we headed towards the Grand Bazaar, the big daddy of all bazaars in Istanbul. Man was it huge. It was not only big but had all these amazing mazes where you could go on for days. We tried to hit most of them, but after awhile they all start looking alike. It was getting late, so we decided to head back to the hotel and rest before dinner.

I have to mention this cause I’m getting obsessed with it. The toilets in Turkey have a little spout at the back rim that looks like a thin long timble. There’s a little knob next to the toilet and when you turn it, it sprays water, guess where, its almost always a perfect shot, who knew? I want one of those at home. Also, the public toilets in Istanbul are almost always pay as you go, excuse the pun. But I don’t mind paying if they’re clean. They also have an area where you can wash your feet, hands and face in preparation for the prayer.

Got back to the hotel and took a little nap, and afterwards we decided to go to the Fish area and possibly have dinner there. The area is called Kumapali. We walked there from our hotel. It was a lovely walk since you walk right along the bay. As we got closer to the restaurant there were 2-rows of restaurants on a very long block. Each restaurant had a hawker trying to wheel and deal you to come in and eat at there restaurant. A little annoying, but they have to make buck, or is that Turkish Lira, oh well. After a few more attempts to try and peacefully look at the menus, we found one called Kalamar. Jack had the sole and I had the Bonito. What disgusted me was since it’s an open café, they let the cats roam in and some of the Turkish patrons gave them food from the table, gross. The food was just OK, but I met some Filipinos from the US, one was a nurse and the other was an Anesthesiologist, so it was fun chitchatting with them about Istanbul. They had gone to a Hamman (bath house), and recommended we do as well. I don’t like massages, and especially rough ones, so I opted not to. All-in-all it was a pleasant evening. We walked back to the hotel and around 10:30 pm and walked by the café we had the drinks with the Dutch couple hoping that they’d be there. Apparently we had just missed them by half an hour. Oh well. So we went to bed early. By the way, Turkish people eat around 7 or 8 during Ramadan, when the sun goes down.

Saturday: Woke up and Jack reminded me it’s my 39th birthday, who knew? Today is my cooking class lesson to learn how to make typical Turkish meals. We had 2-Russian women, the Dutch couple, a know-it-all British girl and moi, the sweet one !?!?!

The class started late. We basically were taught 5-dishes: Lentil soup, Stuffed Eggplant, cheese pastry, dolmos stuffed with beef, and rice pudding. I was a little disappointed with the menu, not to sound pompous, as some of you know, my cooking repertoire is pretty extensive. I knew how to make what they were teaching and even the various country nuances. Oh well. But I decided to play dumb, not hard to do, and followed along. It’s not a typical cooking class, it was as if the Chef did all the cooking and he had sous chefs or prep chefs (students) chopping, not my thing. So, I taught the Russian woman how to do the dolmas as well as the stuffed pastries, since they’re basically eggrolls, but filled with cheese, who knew? I thought it odd that the Chef never tasted anything. First thing you learn in cooking school is that you always taste along the way to adjust, then Mehmet, the manager told us he was fasting. Who knew?

I highly recommend this class to people who aren’t familiar with Turkish cuisine, and are basically home cooks. If you have prior cooking experience and are familiar with some Turkish dishes, then buy a cookbook. The class is €50 which is quite expensive. In all honesty, although it was a waste for me technically, it was fun to be able to help out in my own little way, without being arrogant, methinks anyway?

After the cooking class, the waiter plated all our dishes and served it to us in the upstairs restaurants. Mehmet the manager joined us, I had assumed he was fasting as well, but apparently not. He told us that in Istanbul just about half of the population fast, the others are bad muslims like himself. He even ordered a glass of beer, don’t assume every one is religious. The only thing that I found odd was the dessert, apparently Turkish people after preparing the rice pudding, stick it in the oven to brulee it (without topping it with sugar); it turns black on top (burnt) and they like to eat it. Being the good guest, I ate it, and it tasted burnt, I later got a stomach ache. I typically don’t do well with charred food, it does a number on my stomach. We are suppose to go to a fabulous restaurant tonight, so after lunch which ended about about 3 pm I rested awhile, then we went out for a short walk and got ready for dinner.

We went to this restaurant called Asitane, an Ottoman style restaurant. It’s far from our hotel so we called for a cab. The cab driver was so funny, he thought I was Korean, and I told him no I’m from the US, then he did a thumbs down and said “Bush”, now I could have been a pro-Bush person and would find this offensive, but I found it fun and charming since I’m not a big Bush fan. BBC recently did a poll of how each country felt about America (go to BBC.com for details), 70% of Turkish people think that Bush, who is associated with policy is evil, but they like the American people. Go figure? That seems about right, since less than 30% approve of Bush’s handling of the US. It seems the local people here have some really strong negative opinions about Bush. I reassured them, not to worry, he won’t be in Office for much longer, and I’m sure Obama will bridge the gap.

Got to the restaurant, and everyone in there was local, albeit they were the “rich” Turkish people, because by their standards going out for a meal for 70 Turkish Lira per person is quite expensive, that’s about $60. And, that’s without booze, go figure? We sat next to a lovely, lovely couple. Their son is a lawyer on Wall Street and they are the moderate muslim Turkish that seem to run the country. They live on the Asian side, but decided to come here for dinner to celebrate Ramadan. Tonight they were having the Ramadan special, so we said we’d go for it. I couldn’t believe the amount of food we had, we must’ve had 10-12 courses. It was unbelievable. Jack had the almond soup as one of his courses which is unusual, but delicious. I did have half a bottle of wine. I was the only one in the restaurant that ordered wine, imagine that! Tuncay, the man next to us explained the different dishes. Apparently, Ottoman style food is prepared different and tastes different then ordinary Turkish food, who knew? I learned more from him about the Ottoman style versus Turkish cooking than I did from the cooking class. Go figure?

We had a truly enjoyable evening. Turkish people, I later found out, are not shy to talk about politics. As a general rule, Americans do not talk about politics, sex or religion. Here they love to talk politics. Not surprisingly, they don’t like what Bush has done in the US and his negative influences in other countries. The Couric/PalIn interview got a lot of press in Europe, and most people here think that Palin is an IDIOT! I didn’t’ know what they were talking about, but I finally got to see the interview they were all talking about, and I watched as an Independent, with an open mind, I couldn’t agree more, she really is STUPID. Be very afraid if she ever becomes President!

They’re very afraid that Turkey may become an Islamic state as the US is becoming a very Christian state. Although this couple is muslim, they truly believe that there should be a separation of church and state, what a concept. I told them that our government is becoming a very Christian based government, so I totally get it. He fears that if the extremist gets into power, that they’ll be another Iran which would halt progress in so many ways. Yeah, I told him we in the big cities in the US also fear that as well, especially on social issues. So, in a lot of ways, there really are a lot of similarities between Turkish and US politics, who knew? But I don’t think they have their equivalent of a Palin yet. Lucky them!

We had a wonderful evening, and Tuncay wanted to drive us home, I said absolutely not, since it was way, way, out of his way.

So far I’m loving the Turkish people, so warm and honest. We’re definitely not in Paris anymore…

Sunday: Other than the fact that we have to get up extra early to take an escorted city tour, it was a good day. The tour started at 9 am and is suppose to end at about 5 pm.

There was a small group of us, 2-women from the US, a Russian family and Jack and I. Mev our guide spoke really good English, but was at times a bit dizzy, apparently she’s fasting.

It was basically a driving tour of the European and Asian sides of Istanbul. Istanbul is a huge city, you cannot walk it like you can Paris. There are 15-million people here, and believe it or not there are 2,000 mosques. Imagine all 2,000 announcing time to pray on their loud speakers. Istanbul is definitely a sensory overload, but in a good way. Lots of color, interesting art, fabulous people, words cannot describe the beauty.

At our first stop we went to the highest point of Istanbul and walked around and took pictures. Afterwards we took the gondola down and then a ferry ride in the inland bay of Istanbul. It’s quiet impressive. It’s a much, much larger seaport than SF Bay Area. And they have a number of bridges crossing the European and Asian side. The European side is mostly commercial, whereas the Asian side is much, much more residential. In fact, the more affluent people live on the Asian side, but work on the European side. It’s like going from SF to Marin county and vice-versa. We saw castles and all sorts of mosques. The water was rough, so I created a scene when I tried to sit on a bench on the top deck, I missed the seat and felt flat on my back. A woman had to help me up. What a scene, such a drama queen. Oh well.

After the cruise, oddly enough we went back to our neighborhood at Sultanahmet and had lunch. Then we went to the Dolmabhce Sarayi Palace. All I have to say, is, wow, wow, wow, and more wow. In my view it was even more impressive than the Versailles. Pictures describe it better than words, check out my flickr site “Randy and Jack Paris”.

Got home and had about and hour to relax before dinner. Bart and Agnes joined us. We went to the Develi restaurant which means Camel. A shuttle bus from the restaurant came to pick us up. It’s a 5-story restaurant and they put all the foreigners on the top 2-floors. It was interesting. It was definitely geared more towards the tourist. The good was OK, nothing spectacular, but none-the-less we had a great time with Bart and Agnes.

Afterwards, we went to our favorite sidewalk café for some night caps. At midnight, we wished Bart a Happy 40th birthday. We drank and spoke some more, and needless to say, we spoke about politics, and we tried to explain American politics to them, but they don’t understand the concept of a secular country publicly praying to God for policy guidance etc. We couldn’t explain it either, oh well.

At about 1:30 am we called it a night.

I thought French was hard, than I found Dutch even harder, my new hardest language has definitely got to be Turkish! It took me forever to learn how to say, “Thank You” in Turkish, which is teşekkür ederim, which phonetically sounds like “Te sucre e a dereem”

Istanbul, güzel ve yaşam iyi bir

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