Pasha Phil joins us in Istanbul – Part 1

IMG_1028This is our first real travel diary post about our visit to Istanbul – delayed in part because we’ve been orienting ourselves in this unusual city, and in part because we were a little distracted by the Taksim protests. The arrival of Pasha Phil flicked the switch. The sun came out and we have had an uninterrupted string of perfect days. “Come and use our spare room in Istanbul” was our 50th birthday present to Helen’s brother Phil, and since his arrival on Monday, we have been going hard. So this then is the tale of Phil’s first fifty hours in Istanbul – Part 1.

Phil arrived at our Istanbul apartment via a visit to London, a truly generous birthday gift from Mary, Pat and Claire back home in Brisbane, so fortunately there was no time-zone jet lag for him.  After an Efes beer and a quick catch up, we were all down to the Kabataş ferry terminal at the end of our street, and off to another continent.

Bosphorus sunset

Bosphorus sunset

With a spectacular sunset over the European side behind us, we crossed to Kadiköy in the Asian half of Istanbul.  We walked through the bustling waterfront district, past dozens of restaurants beginning to fill, and through narrow market streets where the fresh-food stalls were only just beginning to close at 8.00pm.  A long day for the fishmongers and fruiterers; even longer for the cake shops and delis. We headed for Ciya Kebap (Guneslibahce Sk), the often-overlooked younger sister to the renowned Ciya Sofrasi opposite (where we have a booking later in the week).  All the street-level tables were full, but they directed us up to the fourth-floor roof terrace, even better. We looked out across the rooftops and minarets and the street scene below.

Rooftop terrace at Çiya Kebap, Kadiköy

Rooftop terrace at Çiya Kebap, Kadiköy

We had  two simple gorgeous salads (one with minced tomato, garlic and parsley, and one with thyme, parsley and onion), plus a complimentary dish of chilli-flavoured soft cheese, and two kinds of flat bread.  Phil chose the Ciya Kebap (a bread-wrapped minced lamb skewer, flavoured with walnuts), Helen had the Sour Kebap (a flat plate of minced lamb, flavoured with pomegranate and on a bed of eggplant) and John opted for the Poppy Seed Kebap (a minced lamb skewer heavily flavoured with white poppy seed). Everything was superb, and the setting was sublime.  Along with three waters and two ayrans (the salty yoghurt drink that traditionally accompanies kebap) the meal cost the princely sum of 90 TL, about AU$20 each.

One tiny concern we had heading across the Bosphorus, was that by going further afield, Phil would miss the nightly “pots and pans” protest in our neighbourhood.  Oh we of little faith. On the dot of nine o’clock, a group of young people began to wend their way through the now-crowded street of restaurants, chanting and clapping.  Immediately, a huge percentage of the restaurant patrons, including us of course, began to tap their knives on their glasses and plates in support – an astoundingly subtle and atmospheric protest.

Young musicians at Kadiköy

Young musicians at Kadiköy

After dinner, as we strolled back through Kadiköy, we encountered a group of musicians and dancers performing boisterous Turkisk folk songs with full audience participation, while nearby a group of young contemporary artists were doing shadow puppets over a backdrop of short computer animations projected onto a nearby wall. Nothing left for us now but to head down to the ferry for a return trip across the Bosphorus, to the sparkling lights and minaret skyline of Beyoğlu and Sultanahmet.

The second day began with a traditional Turkish breakfast of white bread, tomatoes, cheese, pastirma, yoghurt, fruit and tea.  Then it was off to the treasures of the Old Town. The Kabataş (No 1) tram at the bottom of our street goes straight to Sultanahmet, and then it’s a walk through the Hippodrome, where the scale of the horse and chariot racing track from the Roman days are there if you look carefully.

Sultanahmet (Blue Mosque)

Sultanahmet (Blue Mosque)

The Sultanahmet Camii (the Blue Mosque) is unmissable, pretty much unchanged since 1616, if you don’t count electric lights instead of candles, and a PA system on the minarets to assist the Imam’s call to prayer. It is a truly impressive place, with 20,000 mostly blue tiles (from which the mosque’s Western name derives), a high domed ceiling, and the beautiful Arabic script found in all mosques. Even we infidels found this a profoundly moving place –  providing you can overlook the “cover all flesh” and “stay up the back, behind the screens” rules that apply to  women.

Iznik tiles in the Blue Mosque

Iznik tiles in the Blue Mosque

 

Blue Mosque ceiling

Blue Mosque ceiling

Then on to Hagia Sophia, the world’s fifth largest Christian church (in this, it’s third incantation) and built almost 1500 years ago.  It was also a mosque, converted after Mehmet the Conquerer took Constantinople in 1453.  Remarkably, the conversion was quite modest, almost respectful and, as part of the creation of the modern Turkish Republic by Kemal Ataturk in the 1935, it was made a museum, retaining clear evidence of its former roles for two faiths.

Helen & John at Hagia Sophia

Helen & John at Hagia Sophia

Now it was time to plunge into modern Istanbul, and the chaotic, narrow and steep market-streets that surround both the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar, but are far more interesting (and challenging) for visitors than the more formal covered bazaars. Other than undertaking the most intense version of window-shopping imaginable, the main goal for visitors to the market district is to decide which hole-in-the-wall street eatery you are going to choose for lunch, a task we largely handed over to Phil.  We pulled up some tiny stools to a tiny table on the edge of the street and had great mixed kebabs for 32 TL.  Then more market streets till we’d exhausted ourselves, and home for a relax and freshen up.

Ongoing 'Standing Man' protest, Taksim Square

Ongoing ‘Standing Man’ protest, Taksim Square

In the evening we caught the underground funicular on its short run up to Taksim Square, now without the noisy protests, but still full of people.  They stood silently, showing support for the “Standing Man” silent protest that entrances the foreign media, perplexes the police, and frustrates the government with its simplicity. It’s very compelling.

Phil & John on the roof terrace at Mikla

Phil & John on the roof terrace at Mikla

After paying due respect, we headed off down Istiklal Street to the Mamara Pera Hotel and its rooftop Mikla Restaurant.  The stunning views from the rooftop bar included an amazing sunset, and of course an ideal spot for a g & t.  Then it’s down one level to the restaurant, and an equally stunning seven-course tasting menu (225 TL) with matching wines (120 TL). The first course was the unanimous pick of the night – Balik Ekmek (Crispy Sardines, Olive Oil, Bread, Lemon) – two succulent sardine fillets magically attached to wafer-thin toasts, served sail-like on a slotted stone. The night was long and jolly, the food and wine excellent, and the view over Istanbul brilliant all night.  The view got even better when we were moved to the best table in the place, on the corner of the balcony, when those diners finished early.

Mikla's take on a fish sandwich

Mikla’s take on a fish sandwich

Life is good. More to come.

1 Comment

Filed under Food, Istanbul

Erdogan talks tough… and acts tougher!

IMG_1015The ground has shifted enormously re the Taksim/Gezi protests in the last two days, and PM Tayip Erdogan has once again shown that what he says and what he does are two quite different things.

The negotiations in Ankara with representatives of the protesters appeared to have gone reasonably well, with both sides sticking to their positions, but with the PM seeming to give enough room for the protestors to consider ending the occupation of Taksim Square and Gezi Park. The protesters started dismantling some of the barricades.

Then, on Saturday afternoon, Erdogan reverted to his original hard-line position, and demanded that the protestors leave by Sunday evening, or be removed by force. As people poured into the area for what they thought would be a last show of solidarity with those camped in the Park, the police suddenly announced that the crowds had to vacate the area immediately.

Thirty minutes later, with huge force and rubber bullets enhancing the usual tear gas and water cannons, the police attacked en masse, followed closely by bulldozers and workers to remove all traces of the occupation. The street battles went on all night, and apparently there were many injuries.

Ideas market on Istiklal Street

Ideas market on Istiklal Street

We had been in the Square only about an hour before, to begin the Istanbul Passeggiata, a long walk down Istiklal Street. There were swarms of unsuspecting people going the other way, up to the Square, with the only indication of what was to come being the very large numbers of police we saw all around the area.

Accessories market on Istiklal Street

Accessories market on Istiklal Street

By the time we got home, we were unaware that the police had moved in. However the early and more frantic pots and pans soundscape told us something big had happened, and sent us scurrying to Twitter and Al Jazeera (the only English language TV we have) to find out what was happening. It also sent us to the saucepan cupboard so we could join the solidarity sonata.

Pots and pans, 16 June

Pots and pans, 16 June

The protests continued in many parts of Istanbul today, while for its part the government outed an endless array of absurd conspiracy theories (eg, the substantial coverage of the protests by BBC-World and CNN must have been paid for by some hostile foreign interests, proving that the protests were being run by “outsiders”). They also prepared for their own very large rally of Erdogan supporters on the outskirts of the city.

After returning home this afternoon from a great day Kadiköy on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, we heard the unmistakable sound of a demonstration. Right at the end of our street, on the water’s edge, a huge march went past on its way to Dolmabahçe Palace, and the PM’s Istanbul offices.

Protest at Kabataş, Sunday 17 June.

Protest at Kabataş, Sunday 17 June.

The police were there in force, and for quite a while it looked like they would charge, but eventually things calmed down and the protestors dispersed.

As a backdrop to this confrontation, we could see specially decorated ferries on the water carrying Erdogan supporters to his very successful rally.

What seemed most obvious to us was that this political confrontation is far from over.

Democracy this way

Democracy this way

2 Comments

Filed under Istanbul, protests

More chicken feet

Another post from Phil, this time from London:

Today we just had chicken and chips for lunch…

chook pic

Should’ve taken an after-photo as well. The waitress looked at the remains (including gnawed feet), raised an eyebrow and said “impressive”. It was at a place called Tramshed, which sports its very own Damien Hirst artwork suspended from the ceiling.

Tramshed

1 Comment

Filed under Food, Restaurants

Australian treatment of PM an international disgrace

PM picAl jazeera Newshour here in Istanbul has just run an item about the Howard Sattler incident with the Australian Prime Minister (demanding she respond to rumours that her partner is gay because he was a hairdresser). They reported that this was an example of a string of incidents showing sexism and disrespect for the first female Prime Minister of Australia.

[Hangs head in horror and shame.]

11 Comments

Filed under home affairs

Meat bones tea

While we’ve been acclimatising to Istanbul, Helen’s brother Phil has been eating his way through Singapore and London on his way to meet us here on Monday. Here’s his account of last Sunday and Monday in Singapore. (And just so you know, one SPD is worth about 0.80 AUD).

Can’t believe I failed to notice that the World Street Food Congress was having its last night the very same night I arrived! Nor did I notice The Guardian’s piece on Singapore Cheap Eats just days earlier.

Phil

Phil

That might explain why half of the stalls at Maxwell Rd seemed to be closed that night. Actually I think it’s more likely to be a Sunday thing.

One of those that was closed was Tian Tian, the former best Chicken Rice place whose chef left to start Ah Tai a few stalls down. Which, of course, was one of the places where I ate last night, grateful that the relative quietness meant I only had to queue for about 10 minutes. Marvellous, was the Chicken Rice (4 SPD), as were the chicken feet (boned, of course, which is not too much to expect for a dish costing 3 SPD).

Afterwards, I went wandering further into Chinatown and discovered a place for which I only seem to be able to get understanding nods from locals if I say Chinatown “Level 2”. Wow! Much more down and dirty and busy and clearly the place to go for Chinese style Fish Head. They looked great, but enormous – much more than just the head – braised.

I was intending to go to Little India for Indian style Fish Head Curry the next day, so instead had a thing called Bah Kut Teh (“meat bones tea”). Absolutely delicious pork ribs cooked and served in the most clear, flavoursome, peppery broth you can imagine. Pure, fall off the bone, pork.

Yesterday I made good on the Fish Head Curry intent at Little India. OMG, so good. More expensive than the previous night at 18 SPD but it was enough for two so still ridiculously cheap.

Dinner last night was at Lau Pa Sat food market. Started with the smallest serve available of Satays, 10 chicken plus 10 mutton (12SPD). Delicious. Followed that with BBQ Stingray with Sambal (12SPD) – sweet, juicy wings of fish smothered with a pungent sambal paste. Fantastic. Phil pic1

Then couldn’t resist a couple of charcoal grilled chicken wings (1.50 SPD) with chilli sauce to dip.

Phil pic2

But I digress. Back to the question… Is street food, Singapore-style, a model worth copying?

Yes.

Yes, I do think Britain (& Australia) should copy Singapore. Mind, I have no recollection of a “jealously guarded individuality” in British street food. Nor much recollection of British street food at all. Will find out soon if that’s changed. But if there are any decent vendors, they’ll be able to offer more variety, better quality & cheaper prices if they have a permanent home with decent gear.

An interesting article that one, ignoring the slightly embarrassing mix up on the name of Chicken Rice vs one particular vendor.

A closing thought. I saw a guy last night with a rotisserie loaded with hunks of marinated pork belly cooking slowly over charcoal until they were black on the outside, but juicy and lovely on the inside. Just think about that for a moment…

3 Comments

Filed under Food, Restaurants

Call to Taksim

It’s 9.00pm in Kabatas, not far from Taksim Square, and the now nightly sounds of solidarity burst out – the clanging cacophony of Istanbul residents in the Beyoglu district, leaning out their windows and their balconies, beating pots and pans to support the embattled protesters in Taksim Square and Gezi Park.

Tuesday night, while we were still on our way to Turkey, the riot police charged again, without warning, to try to drive the protesters away with tear gas and water cannon and violence.  Once again they failed.

After our arrival in Istanbul, we walked through Taksim and Gezi yesterday, and the whole area looked like a war zone.

Riot police protecting protesters' hero, Ataturk.

Riot police protecting protesters’ hero, Ataturk.

There were police everywhere around the edges, lounging around and in cafes, but still in full riot gear, and with tear-gas and water-cannon trucks (more like tanks, really) in many strategic places.

Taksim was a shambolic mess of barricades and rubbish and rubble, and signs of fires and fighting.  Gezi Park was like Woodstock on the fifteenth day, with hundreds of tents, mountains of rubbish, and every alternative hawker, healer and haranguer you could imagine.

Barricade at Taksim, 12 June 2013

Barricade at Taksim, 12 June 2013

Many wore light gas masks loosely around their necks, and it was a faction factory, with dozens of groups discussing politics and tactics.  The more aggressively radical groups were in Taksim, while the biggest numbers, and the greatest diversity was in the Park.

Then today, Prime Minister Erdogan threatened the protesters with even tougher language, despite growing international pressure, and some earlier suggestions of a compromise.

The protests, and Erdogan’s intransigence, is the only topic of conversation here, where the parallels for us to Bjelke-Petersen’s Queensland are a bit too close for comfort.

Erdogan enjoys a comfortable majority-support from conservative and religious Turks, largely in the rural areas, and is also a friend to the white-shoe brigade.  However he has alienated and repressed the younger and more progressive city-based Turks, which suits his supporters just fine.

Small section of Gezi, 12 June 2013

Small section of Gezi, 12 June 2013

The problem is, these progressive urban Turks are the ones that are responsible for his country’s positive and contemporary image that makes it attractive to tourists (a massive industry here), and to Turkey’s pet national projects – gaining membership of the European Union for Turkey, and hosting the 2020 Olympics in Istanbul.

The Western media have gone ballistic over the level of violence, now being played out in the mainstream media, not just the twitterverse, and the EU came out today with a statement very critical of Erdogan.

Tonight’s expected attack on the protesters has just been called off, and a second, more-representative peace negotiation has been called in Ankara, beginning shortly, but on past form it seems doubtful that Erdogan will concede anything like enough to satisfy even the moderate elements within the protesters.

After a day of visiting the historic wonders of Sultanahmet, to the ever present soundtrack of the call-to-prayer that occurs five times daily, we are even more moved by the new sound of Istanbul, the 9.00pm call-to-Taksim.

red dress graphic

9 Comments

Filed under Istanbul, protests

First day in Istanbul

First things first.

First beer

First beer

First tea

First tea

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Istanbul

Taksim Square protests, Istanbul

We are a few days away from jumping on the plane to Istanbul, so have been following events on the streets there with great interest. There are continuing large demonstrations in Taksim Square and other areas of Istanbul and across Turkey. Our apartment in Kabatas is not that far from the epicentre of the action in Taksim. At this stage, we are alert but not alarmed!

'Woman in red' pepper sprayed by police becomes symbol of Istanbul's Occupy Gezi unrest against Prime Minister Erdogan

‘Woman in red’ pepper sprayed by police becomes symbol of Istanbul’s Occupy Gezi unrest against Prime Minister Erdogan

For those interested in the background to the direct political action, here is a link to a recent article in the New York Times, When the middle class strike back.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

In short, the AKP with  Recep Yayyip Erdogan as Prime Minister has ruled Turkey for over ten years with a constituency largely based in the conservative regions rather than in the big cities. The commentators suggest that Erdogan has failed to realize that he is dealing with a new Turkey. Many Turks fear the AKP is trying to wind back the  secular nature of the modern republic of Turkey, initiated by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk after the First World War.

The AKP has faced severe public opposition to some of its projects, including legislation that limits the sale of alcohol as well as the catalyst for the protests: his plan to uproot hundreds of trees and turn a park adjacent to Istanbul’s largest square into a shopping mall. Yet in both cases the AKP leadership simply ploughed ahead. For them, steamrolling opposing voices was just business as usual. But when the police moved in to crack down on the environmentalist sit-in  organized in downtown Istanbul to save the city park, tens of thousands of middle-class citizens poured into the streets in the middle of the night.

turkish_plate_01  Nobody seems to know where it will go from here. Next week we’ll no doubt find out more about what’s happening, but hopefully our future posts will be less polemic, and more culture, food and art…

3 Comments

Filed under Istanbul, protests

Welcome

We are in the last week or two preparing to leave Melbourne for a month in Turkey. Check back soon and we’ll start posting about our experiences…

pic-camels-caravan.jpgLoveLane-Caravans_on

2 Comments

Filed under Travel