Good Bye Shanghai

The movers are here at our apartment as I am writing this, sending all our stuff by sea and by air. Some things like my beloved yarn stash, we won’t see for at least 3 months. Makes you wonder, if you don’t have something for that long, if you really need it at all. Well, obviously, the yarn, I need!

This post also happens to be the 100th post of my blog! It will also be the last post of this particular blog as it seems that I have reached my maximum free capacity for pictures on this blog and must pay a hefty price to get more space. So, if I continue, it will be under a different name. Such a shame, as I had more pictures to show you! Also our vpn disappears in a day or two, so I won’t be able to post from Shanghai, even if I want to.

It seems appropriate at this juncture to reflect on all those things that I will miss or won’t miss as we leave Shanghai and start over in Denver.

Update to this post: Mark reminded me of my experience the first week I was in Shanghai. I had been taken out to lunch by a couple of the mothers from Meredith’s school. They had been in Shanghai 3 to 4 years and both anticipated leaving within a year. I asked them what they were going to miss about Shanghai.

Dead silence.

Finally, after an interminable pause, one replied, “well, I’ll miss being able to send my kids out the door to play and not worry about their safety, because we live in a gated compound. I really feel like my life has been on hold  ever since we’ve been here.”

It was my turn to be speechless. Really? They’d been here for that long and couldn’t think of one, real positive thing about the place they’d been living. It was clear that their world had been either the school or their guarded compound (And really, the crime rate is very low here. I’ve never once felt unsafe.) It was at that point that I decided I would not be one of those expats who stays in my compound for 2 years waiting for it all to be over.

As miserable as that lunch was, I have to thank those women for inadvertently giving me the best advice anyone could have given me: If you don’t stick your nose out your door, you have no one to blame but yourself if you have a miserable time in a foreign country.

I hope I’ve lived up to that. And so…..

What I will miss about Shanghai:

1. The Chinese people. The people we have met have been wonderful and kind and giving, and we’ve enjoyed everyone of them.

2. Chinese babies. They are just too cute and always make me smile. I also love the obvious devotion of their parents and grandparents.

3. My wonderful expat friends, especially those in my book group and knitting group.   How I will miss all of our lively discussions, which are peculiar to expat women. So proud to be part of the “expat club”!

4. The food. In our apartment complex alone, there are 6 fabulous restaurants. We now know what actual Chinese food tastes like, as well–it’s going to be tough to eat the American kind again.

5. The hustle and bustle of big city life. Step outside your door, and you’ll more than likely see something you haven’t seen before. Every day is an adventure here.

6. The beautiful clothes and shoes that Chinese women wear. And, the funny things that people wear, like pajamas and slippers on the street.

7. Our apartment, especially the kitchen. While most kitchens for expats are tiny and non-functional, we’ve had the perfect kitchen here. And, the best refrigerator I’ve ever had.

8. Having a driver. Wednesday, Chen shifu took us to Hangzhou, about 2 1/2 hours away, and it was so great to head home at 9pm and not have to do the driving.

9. The subway system. Even though we have a driver, I rarely used him as I can get almost anywhere I want to go on the subway. It’s fast, clean, and efficient, and nearly everywhere.

10. Chinglish–always makes you smile.

11. The Avocado Lady, who made shopping at a street vegetable market so easy. And cheap!

12. Seriously cheap fruits and vegetables from the markets.

13. The huge, but overwhelming markets for anything and everything. Being able to have things made for you for extremely affordable prices.

14. Really nice yarn for a dollar a ball.

15. No tipping!

16. The elevator flowers and the abundance of flowers around the city.

Things I won’t miss about China:

1. Having to use a vpn for the internet.

2. Tiny waste baskets and super thin, cheap trash bags.

3. Being at the bottom of the food chain, when crossing streets.

4. Chinese electrical outlets. They require great force to plug in to and then snap and pop at you–scary!

5. Stupid Chinese rules, especially at banks. Forget your password on your on-line account–you have to put in an appearance at the bank to get a new one. Take a little too long at the ATM machine, it takes your card. I could go on, but that could be a whole post!

6. Store clerks getting in my personal space and following me, tighter than my shadow, while I’m browsing. Insisting they must personally show me all the laundry detergent options or mascara’s or whatever it is I happen to pause and look at, in rapid Chinese, which I, of course, don’t understand.

7. Air pollution–nuff said.

8. Not being able to read food labels because they’ve stuck an extremely sticky Chinese label over what I want to see.

9. Squatters and bathrooms without toilet paper, and realizing you forgot to bring along tissues.

And finally, I managed to delete enough photos from my media library that I hadn’t used in a post to upload these last mail envelope and elevator flower pictures.

IMG_1824A very folk-arty rooster

IMG_1825Spring tulips that make me smile

IMG_1821My favorite–sunflowers–just happened to be the flowers they used on Mother’s Day!

IMG_1712Good bye Shanghai. Good bye elevator flowers.

Shanghai, you’ll be sorely missed.

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A Three Hour Tour + Eleven Hours, Part 1

Our biggest event of our trip was a 14 hour tour with The Other Tour. It’s a tour group that’s been around for about 2 years–in fact they had had their 200th tour the Friday before.

The tour is run by 2 brothers, although it is mostly guided by Fethi Karatas. About 8-12 months ago, they took on Trevor Brown who had been a participant in a tour and turned out to be an even better tour guide than a guide–ee. He is originally from Aspen, and yes, he looked and acted exactly like any ski instructor you’ve ever had.

This tour took us off the beaten path of the big sites, into the real Istanbul. Fethi and Trevor are boisterous, opinionated and totally in love with Istanbul. But more on that at the end of this tour.


The view down the street toward the Hagia Sophia where we caught the tram.

DSC00189We met up with everyone outside Dolmabahçe Palace–that beautiful palace that I showed you yesterday–and met our fellow travelers who included this cute little gem.


The first leg of our trip was to drive to Arnavutköy by the Bosphorus which has been the center of art in Istanbul since the 1700’s. Here, Fethi, our guide, who is also a successful screen writer, tells us about the history of this area and all the great minds who have lived, and still do live here.


As with any houses located near the water, the houses are quite pricy. Still, artists and writers flock here to get inspiration as so many have before them.


Across the Bosphorus, in the haze, is one of several palaces built by the Ottoman Sultans in the 1800’s.

DSC00196One of many statues of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the father and founder of modern Turkey. According to our guide, he’s treated a bit as a god. For instance, the clock at Dolmabahçe Palace where he died, is still set to 9:05 am, the moment he died.


This lovely neighborhood was originally inhabited by Jewish and Greek minority groups. The bay windows were used to keep a watch out to protect themselves from Sharia law; one woman would be assigned watching duties from her bay window.


Fethi had just recently moved out of the house with the dark brown bay window

What follows are pictures from our walk around the neighborhood.



DSC00203 DSC00204One of the few Greek Orthodox churches in Istanbul



We stopped at this cafe to have a mid-morning snack


This is menemen, basically Turkish scrambled eggs with tomatoes and peppers. It was divine. I was sad we had to share, frankly!


Yes, the water on the shore of the Bosphorous was scummy and disgusting, but look closely–the water was swarming with jelly fish!


This is a “yali”, or waterfront house. We saw a lot of these on the boat tour on the Bosphorous that we were soon going to be taking. In order to be a yali, a building must be associated with water, be made of wood, and be built literally on the edge of land next to the water.

DSC00210Fishing boat on the water. People still make a living by fishing with fishing poles.


The Starbucks had its own Turkish twist.


Another statue of Atatürk.


Down the wobbly gangplank to board our boat


The baby was very excited to be on the boat.


Big transport ships go up and down the Bosphorus


One of the smaller summer palaces of the Sultans


More Yali. There are only 621 of the original 1500 left. Most are now hotels and restaurants, but some are still used as art centers.


One family owns 81 of the yalis. One is being renovated to the tune of $30 million dollars.


Close up of the palace. The builder of the palace never spent the night here. He seemed to mostly use it as a place to change his clothes!


Those are the city walls in the background–very, very old!


Again, more of the city walls.


The new city rising up in the background


We got off the boat in Kanlica


This yogurt place was our destination


Best yogurt and honey ever. Truly amazing.


Very old minaret.

DSC00245 The next place we went to was Armutlu, the poorest neighborhood on the Bosphorus. It was created by Kurdish rebels in 1972 over a period of 3 nights and only during the night, in response to discrimination by the government. It was not until 2007 that they were given their rights.


The school, with something like 2000 students. Istanbul has 85,000 mosques, but only 65,000 schools for a city of 20 million people, of which 65% are under 35. This was a big source of irritation for Fethi.


85% of the homes here do not exist on paper, leaving the residents very vulnerable.



There are so many children in the school, that they have to do split shifts and the kids only go either morning or afternoon. We happened to be there during the change.


So many stray dogs in Istanbul, but everyone takes care of them.



The kids were curious about us and soon gathered around.


This woman was quite puzzled about why we would come to their neighborhood. The reality is that for 14 years this was the most dangerous neighborhood in Istanbul. However, the government has been very proactive. It has stopped the violence and decreased unemployment by half. Anyone over 65 receives retirement benefits.


These girls loved the baby.

Sights around the neighborhood:








Lots of satellite dishes.


Looks like it was laundry day.


nice rugs


nice quilts and a curious resident.


Little houses on the hillside….


Meredith chatting with the school girls. They were incredibly outgoing.


Back in the van on our way to Fethi’s family home for lunch. As you can see, the weather was less than optimal.


Istanbul is apparently a contender for the 2020 Olympics. They are quite excited by this and there are signs everywhere about it–some of which look like they already won the vote!

I’ll continue with lunch and the main event of the afternoon in the next post. Can we say Turkish Baths?


Elevator Flowers

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Into the Watery Depths

The Sunday we were in Istanbul, we decided we would do some shopping in a couple of vintage clothing stores a couple people on our tours had said were amazing.


Ready for shopping!


Had to get a Blue Mosque picture in the bright sunlight!


It was supposedly the “Tulip Festival” in Istanbul, but these tulips in front of the Blue Mosque were the only ones we had seen so far.


We decided we had to see at least one historical site, so we stopped off at this  unassuming building.


This building is where the Basilica Cistern is located, deep underground.


First sight of what we were about to see.


Wow, this place is incredible! And look, there are fish swimming in the water!


It’s like an underwater church.

DSC00095 The Medusa’s Head columns are pictured a little further down.


Weirdly, they had this “look like a Turk” spot set up in the Cistern so you could get your picture taken in costume. How one thing relates to the other, I don’t know! All I could think of was…Head Lice! Body Lice!


These Medusa sculptures make the cistern really special.


Me in the Cistern


This column was different than all the others.




Here’s the first Medusa head, in an eternal yoga headstand.


And the second, with Meredith, to get a perspective on the size.


This is nearby the cistern. So historical, isn’t it?


We decided to check out the place we were meeting for a tour that we had on Monday, so we could see how long it took to get there. The meeting spot is that big palace in the distance. Aren’t these beautiful buildings?


This burger was being advertised all over Istanbul.


It seems that J.K. Rowling has been translated into Turkish!


Having a nap in Taksim square in my red shiny jacket. If you sleep in public, somebody’s going to take your picture!


The first shop we wanted to go to was off a very pretty pedestrian mall on the Asian side of Istanbul. It was hugely crowded with people who were out on a very pleasant, warm Sunday afternoon


Think I had a picture of this place a couple posts back, but it’s just so pretty!



Isn’t this the cutest bookstore you’ve ever seen?


Meredith looking intellectual 🙂


street musician


This guy is selling what are basically round pretzels covered in sesame seeds instead of salt. It’s a national food, with as many vendors in Istanbul as there are Starbucks in the States. They are brought to the carts on a long stick. Our hotel served them for breakfast, but frankly, we didn’t think they were worth the carbs or calories!


We have a few places in Shanghai that sell meat like this. They are made of thin layers of chicken or beef sandwiched between layers of fat. They rotate in front of a hot oven, and as they cook, pieces are sliced off the outside and then served in flatbread. It’s actually quite yummy!


More colorful Turkish Delight


We finally found the first used clothing shop. It was in a basement with a labyrinth of aisles crammed with clothes.


And other old stuff.


It felt like something out of a painting.



It was in this section of fancy dresses that we figured out that a fair amount of the merchandise in the store was for rent, not for sale. Bummer.


I would have loved this doll as a child.


Back out on the street we went in search of food. This guy wanted to be in the picture too.


We settled on this place, because they had yummy, but different things in the window, that we had seen before.


Shredded wheat pastry


I think this was the stuff that we liked the most–shredded wheat in syrup. It’s like the ultimate bowl of breakfast cereal!


This was our lunch. Hehe–on vacation you can just have dessert for lunch!


We found the other vintage store, but it was a bust too. But the walk up and down the street was fun, so it didn’t matter.


To me these guys look like American Indians, but I can’t imagine what they would be doing in Turkey, so they must be something else.


Just saying!


Another mother/daughter picture.

DSC00173 Back across the Bosphorus (we took the subway), with the Blue Mosque in the distance.


And the New Mosque (relatively speaking!) again, which is right across from where we got the tram back to the hotel.


Back in front of the Blue Mosque, the tulips had become a favorite place for people to take pictures (and occasionally pick them!). It turns out that Istanbul only has about 3 square meters of green space for every person, compared to NYC and other cities in Europe which have 20 or more square meters per person. Guess that’s why there were so many people in the tiny park near our hotel and why we really haven’t seen any tulips!


Dinner was street food–some of that “beef on a stick” pictured earlier and roasted corn on the cob, another favorite vendor item.

DSC00182The very impressive graffiti in the courtyard at the back of our hotel.

We ended the day early as we were going on a 14 hour tour the next morning and felt we needed to gather our strength!

IMG_1787One of the flowers currently blooming in Shanghai.

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Across the Bosphorus

The Istanbul Spice Market is right at the edge of the Bosphorus which separates the European side of Istanbul from the Asian side of Istanbul. The Asian side is “newer”, relatively speaking.

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Looking towards the Asian side

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Looking the other direction towards the mosques

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At one point on the trip across you can see the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia at the same time (even on smoggy days!).

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Lighthouse. Don’t know if it’s still in use.

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Happy to get off the boat!

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We stopped for snacks. These were fried mussels–fabulous!

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We stopped in this sweet shop–so many yummy things!

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Quite the variety–the olives on the bottom had been sugared. I prefer mine salty!

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Marzipan fruit

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Can you believe the variety of Turkish Delight? Frankly, the difference in taste was pretty subtle.

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Street performers

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The street on the way to a Turkish towel seller.

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How about this–they make the towels for Williams Sonoma!

Next we went to a huge market where the locals do their shopping.

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Something new I haven’t seen before.

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Next we had a snack of oysters.

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Grape leaves for making dolmas

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More grape leaves, but not rolled up

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And of course, pickles!

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Chatting with a friend over a glass of pickle juice–I’ll take tea, thank you very much!

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Pickle juice, on tap!

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They pickle everything.

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So many olives!

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And, of course, the fish section

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Huge mound of filo for sale

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A much cleaner goat skin for cheese!

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This is where we had a very long and lovely lunch.

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The table was already set with little mezes for us to try.

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They immediately brought out some puffy bread for us–I’m sure this popular bread is mostly flour and water, but it has a distinctive taste.

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We went to look at some of the bread puffing up in their oven.

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The bread maker and the bread baker.

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Samples of drinks to choose from–something red, yogurt, and a “spring” drink.

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All the little mezes on my plate before I dug in–humus is in the middle.

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Lovely lentil soup

Spice market #2 - 41 Spice market #2 - 42

The main course–the big brown blob on the left is stuffed dried eggplant

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Cute little boy who was eating outside, opposite our table.

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Dessert of dried fruits and cheese and sweet shredded wheat with cheese.

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Turkish coffee

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Long lunch over, we headed back across the Bosphorus.

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The guy sitting behind us was throwing bread to the seagulls, hence the huge flock of them following our boat.

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Panoramic of the coast

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Back on the European side, we found that dramatically more people were in the area around the spice bazaar and mosque than had been there in the morning.

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This is the actual building the bazaar is in.

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The date above the entrance arch. I wanted to go back into the bazaar to buy some soap from Bilge at the spice shop we had visited in the morning. The entrance was so crowded at this time in the afternoon that it took about 15 minutes to get through the gate and we were crammed together as tightly, if not more so, than when we’ve been on any rush hour subway in Asia. It was unreal.
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We persevered though, and look, we got to walk past this interesting shop!

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Back outside, you can see all the people who were also going in and out of the mosque.

Spice market #2 - 57 Spice market #2 - 58More ladies, sitting on the bench, resting after their shopping.

Meredith and I were really tired from all the tours and sight seeing, and the call to prayer waking us up at 4:45 am (it seemed like they were doing it in our room!), so we decided to go back to the hotel and have a night in, with baklava and other street snacks.


Elevator Flowers

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Istanbul’s Really Old Spice Market

The Saturday we were in Istanbul, we took a tour that included the spice market that was built, in 1664, to help support the New Mosque, which is right next to it. It is still the center of the spice trade in Istanbul.


The New Mosque


Streets around the Spice Market



The market has leaked out to the streets around the building


Different kinds of feta


Strings of candy


Animal innards and feet for sale


A surprise amongst the innards!


This guy thought our squeamishness of the sheep head was amusing.


Non-feta cheese!


Lot 0′ olives!


Masses of dried vegetables


Perfect mounds of spices




Nuts and dried fruits



DSC09931 DSC09932

Prepared foods for the “meze” or little dishes that are typically served when drinking alcohol, but are often served before a meal as well. These are readily available, so people tend to purchase them ready made, rather than making them at home.


Mezes can be  hot or cold, spicy or savory, or salty. Sometimes most of them will be of vegetables and meat, and other times they will be of vegetables and fish.


The Turks love their pistachios, so it’s no surprise to find that they would put them in their cheese too.


Slabs of the wonderful honey found in this part of the world


Honeycomb, cut off, and ready to go home with someone.


I have a feeling these are dried intestines


I believe these are the little pots used for making Turkish coffee.


We stopped and had a snack of this which is philo dough that has been boiled and then baked, making it kind of chewy.


This place was making their version of a pida


Finished pidas


Big vat of diluted yogurt for drinking. It’s covered in big milk bubbles, like somebody blew into it with a straw.


Fancy shish kebab sticks


Pretty beaded curtains



Paddles for putting bread and pidas into the oven


These little hand sewing machines were a popular item being sold by street people, both in Istanbul and Athens.


Tobacco for “roll your own” cigarettes. Love the sign below the bags!


This is a mold for making a Turkish cookie. The designs are distinctive to various regions and families.



This thing scared the dickens out of me! It is a goat skin bag that is used for making cheese. The cheese hangs in the goat skin for 8 months.

Finally we entered the market itself.


Different kinds of baklava. The one in the middle is called Jennifer lips, because they look like lips


As you can see these are Tulumba which is fried batter soaked in sugar syrup.


Dried mulberries. We currently have fresh mulberries in the markets here in Shanghai.


Another kind of sweet


Dried figs


This store in the market sells every kind of dried fruit you can think of.


The dried fruit was so beautiful, I wanted to buy it all!


Nuts too.


Spices, actually in the spice market.


So many different kinds of Turkish Delight


Here we are at Ucuzcular, store no. 51 in the spice bazaar. This store is run by the newest generation of the family. Both siblings have been educated in the US. Along with spices they also sell the aromatic oils in this picture, teas, skin care products and soap.


Here are Meredith and I with Bilge (next to me), who is the store owner and Taciser, our guide, next to Bilge. Imagine our surprise to learn that Bilge had gone to the University of Rochester and had been to Corning to the glass museum! We had a great time tasting her spices. I can’t wait to get back to the States so I can open up the ones I bought and use them!


Back outside, we walked on an interesting street where you could buy things like pet food.


Or have your feet nibbled on by fish! This was popular in Bali. Unfortunately it’s a great way to get foot or blood diseases, as people’s feet bleed from the bites and often they don’t change the water between customers. Are you grossed out yet?



A very handsome brown pigeon (I think) for sale. Maybe we have brown pigeons in the US, but I don’t remember seeing them. They’re quite common in this part of the world.

DSC09981Ritual cleansing before entering the mosque.

I’ll stop here for this post and finish the tour in another one, as the number of pictures is getting unwieldy.

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You’d Think We Only Came on Vacation to Eat

Meredith and I scheduled 3 eating tours during our trip, the first of which was a street food tour on Friday night. It had been a cold but sunny day all day, until we stepped off the tram and found that it had clouded up, and then a few drops of water came down on our heads.

Unfortunately, within  a few minutes it was raining in earnest and continued until the tour was almost over. But, it was still a very yummy time that we had, as you will see. (Don’t quote me on the names–I may not have all of them right!)

Istanbul street food tour - 01


This is tantuni which is lavash bread with meat and coriander and cumin.

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Cooking the meat

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Our next restaurant was famous for its fish.

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Baby red mullet, eaten with greens and onions and tomatoes and lemon

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Pide Salonu is kind of a Turkish pizza

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Spreading the meat mixture on the dough.

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And into the oven

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Baked perfection

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Thinned yogurt, a popular drink in Turkey

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Greens and tomatoes were put on top along with a squeeze of lemon. It seemed like we ate almost everything that night with greens and tomatoes and a squeeze of lemon. It’s quite wonderful actually! This was our favorite of the night, excluding the sweet things.

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Back out on the street, we stopped at this butcher shop which had chickens cooking outside

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It was so good–and bird flu free!

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We walked down this little street of restaurants on our way to the market

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The market was pretty typical for a non-asian market. Nothing too weird or unusual, except for this giant fish!

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For some reason, we stopped off at this church, so our guide could a light a candle.

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Mosaic lamps at night

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There were a lot of restaurants and stores in this very pretty structure.

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Smoking hookahs is a popular pastime, even with your children around! I was told they only contained tobacco with flavorings.

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Really big rings for sale in the market

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A pickle store! And it was our next stop.

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We were served a drink of pickle juice with pickled vegetables. We had no desire to drink this again!

Istanbul street food tour - 31 Istanbul street food tour - 32 I’m not that big of a fan of pickling, but the colors are pretty

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Back out on the street, we had this very mushy meat wrapped in a lettuce leaf. The taste wasn’t bad, but the texture was kind of repellant.

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However, we got pomegranate juice there, so I was happy!

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Such tidy stores!

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Lots of olives in Turkey

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The things hanging from the ceiling are dried vegetables. The purplish one is eggplant. Mostly these are just used for decoration now, but back in the day it was a major way to preserve vegetables. I think it was the next day that we had some of the eggplant that had been rehydrated and stuffed.

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More meat rolled up with tomatoes and greens and lemon in a different kind of bread

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Oh boy! It’s the sweet shop with Turkish delight samples.

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The store owner

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Pretty candies

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Besides candy and baklava, they also make Helva (which I don’t have a picture of–sorry!) which is made from ground up sesame seeds. They slice off slabs of it from a giant block and it will keep for a year! (And it tastes great!)

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Giant mound of filo dough

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More sweets

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sweet dough with honey and pistachio powder

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Don’t see chocolate pastries a lot, except for chocolate baklava (which is fabulous!)

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Back out on the street on the way to dessert.

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Yes, they do love their hookahs here.

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3 different kinds of pastries–traditional baklava with pistachios on the top left. The green ones are mostly made of pistachios and the ones on the right were made of shredded wheat and honey–this was my favorite one, I think.

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Can’t remember if this was apple tea or Turkish tea, but tea is always served in these cute hour glass shaped glasses.

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Time for us to go back to the hotel, but some people were still out working.

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The Blue Mosque at night.

Istanbul street food tour - 56And with Meredith in front!

Next post–the Spice Bazaar!

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Spring at the Botanical Garden

A brief break from Istanbul and Athens while I share some spring time pictures for you from the Shanghai Botanical Garden to wet your appetite for your own Spring that will be arriving soon, if not already. This post is mostly pictures with a few random comments, because, really, beautiful flowers speak for themselves!

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The entrance with pillars made of flowers.

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Yes, that’s cows next to elephants with a grasshopper in the middle! Note the relative sizing of each statue, compared to reality.

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A park in Shanghai where you’re actually allowed to walk on the grass!

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There were many school groups there.

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This is Jeanne, the wife of the Consul General, here in Shanghai. She’s a wonderful American representative.

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Chair bushes!

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Knitter in the park!

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Lots of wedding photos were being taken

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Another knitter!

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She took off her high heels and put on cowboy boots right after this!

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Can you see the statue of a man fishing?

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Doing Tai Chi or some other form of meditation

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Cinderella, running away from the ball 🙂

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Love the guy’s pink jacket, don’t you? But wait–it gets better!

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He’s wearing shorts!

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The Prince found Cinderella

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Not sure those walking sticks are necessary here!

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shanghai botanical  - 86That’s all for today–next time we’ll be back in Istanbul!

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