The Evil Eye and Evil Eye Bead

IMG_1149I’ve looked into these related subjects recently at Think you’ll see the ubiquitous, unblinking ball in a whole new light.

Turkuazoo: Turkey’s First Modern Aquarium

Turtle swimming in the Turkuaz Aquarium in Bayrampaşa, Istanbul
Turtle swimming in the Turkuaz Aquarium in Bayrampaşa, Istanbul

I expected something smaller, something not too impressive, but I was pleasantly surprised with how many fish were exhibited at the Forum’s Turkuazoo Aquarium in Bayrampaşa, Istanbul. According to the Forum AVM’s Turkuaz information page there are 10,000 kinds of fish in the aquarium. I’m not sure if there were that many. Nevertheless, colorful fish, awkward fish, and sleek fish together with bland, white fish, graceful fish and square fish swam in 43 different exhibits. Each fish had interesting features. There were effortless swimmers and those which seemed to struggle in the water. There were big powerful sharks and small helpless, metallic blue fish. There were beautiful fish, and there were ugly fish which somehow made the beautiful fish even seem ugly: as if to be a fish was to be ugly.

The Forum AVM is a colossal mall, complex slightly in its layout, and dwarfing the malls of Asian Istanbul. In many places it is four floors, three floors in others. Often you feel as if you’re walking outside–the ceiling is glass in many places–on some broad avenue in a new shopping district. Forum AVM boasts many stores: big ones like H&M and Boyner and Zara; shoe stores like Kemal Tanca and Nine West and Elisse; clothing stores such as Mango, Oleg Cassini, Gap Kids and U.S. Polo Assn.; and electronic stores like Sony. Fifty-four food restaurants help to alleviate the hunger pains.

The mall is accessible by Metro (M1 line) and Bus (32M) and taxi. We took the Metro because we had our stroller with us, and we were able to roll it right on the train and then into the mall without any stairs to climb up or down.

There are signs inside the mall pointing the way to the aquarium. While the aquarium is part of the mall complex, you have to walk outside through an atrium area to enter it. The entrance is opposite the Starbucks. The aquarium itself is one level below the ticket counter, so you must find the elevator or escalator. This isn’t difficult because workers steer you toward a big blue backdrop with a small toy shark in the corner. Two pictures of you and your group are taken. A normal one where you all look directly at the camera. Another one where you look at the shark. Following this, you proceed toward the aquarium downstairs. After you go through the exhibits, you have an opportunity to shop at a gift store and buy a picture of yourself (and your group) looking at the toy shark in the corner of the blue background.

Yellow boxy fish.
Yellow boxy fish.

Swimming with sharks is advertised all over the aquarium. Apparently, no training is necessary. And the sharks they advertise your swimming with weren’t the little reef sharks we saw. I didn’t see a price for this activity, and I didn’t ask. Has anyone tried this? Of course, the adventurous, throwing-caution-to-the-wind side of me wanted to do it. Then looking at the little boy in the stroller in front of me and thinking of how my wife would go on with a maimed (at best) husband stopped me from pursuing the idea further. I must say, the idea didn’t even come out in the form of “Oh, that sounds like fun!”

Our tickets were free as we got them from some friends. Normally they are 27TL per person. Children three and under are free. Students pay a reduced fee.

The aquarium is worth seeing. In the next post, I’ll introduce you to a few of the aquatic creatures we met.

Belgrade Forest (Belgrat Ormanı): A Breath of Fresh Air

As everyone knows, Istanbul is quite the hectic city. One does not waltz into Istanbul and meet a quaint peaceful town. A person is dropped in at Atatürk or Sabiha Gökçen Airport and must run until he leaves. To paraphrase a friend: “We’re all hamsters.” Whether it is trying to catch a bus or maneuvering around the people on the sidewalk who seem determined to slow your progress, your day consists of trying to do life’s little tasks while the tide of human people is coming in.

Which is why Belgrade Forest (Belgat Ormanı) is such a pleasure. Opened to the public in 1956, it is roughly 5300 hectares of oak, chestnut, and beech trees, six dykes, and several kilometers of trails for walking, driving, running (with exercise stations), or even bicycling along. It is also home to over a hundred protected deer and a variety of mushrooms (don’t eat them!).

Transportation to the forest is easy enough. Bus 42T from Beşiktaş will take you nearly the entire way. Then, there is a ten minute walk from the last stop in Bahçeköy to the entrance of the forest down Valide Sultan Cd. The park entrance fee for pedestrians is 2.50TL per person. Entrance by car is 10TL. Plus, if you drive, there is parking at some of the excursion points (Neşe Suyu for example), without any extra fees. The park is open all day every day. Additionally, as my Turkish friends would want you to know, there is plenty of fresh air, an important commodity in the exhaust-choked urban areas where most of us make our homes.

Bringing your children is workable. There are a few playground areas: there is one at the Fatih Çeşmesi Excursion Area, the Neşe Suyu Excursion Area, and the Bentler Excursion Area. Picnic areas and public bathrooms are available at some of the excursion points: Binbaşı; Falih Rıfkı Atay; Fatih Çeşmesi; Kurtkemeri; Mehmet Akif Ersoy; and Neşet Suyu.

Of course, the trails are beautiful. The paths through the woods are a stark contrast to an Istanbullu’s normal visionary fare of concrete, billboard, bus stop and brick pavers.

Finally, next to the park on the southwest side is the Atatürk Arboretum (Atatürk Arboretumu). This arboretum is home to many species of trees and bushes from places just as diverse: Portugal, Hungary, Japan, Spain, Mexico, China, and America. It is 296 hectares and includes 3 ponds with a surplus of benches where walkers can relax.

The Arboretum is open from sunrise to sunset five days a weekAdmission is 2TL per person. There is parking available (without charge) just outside the entrance to the park.

Unfortunately, the arboretum is in need of some attention as many of the signs for the trees and plants are illegible or broken in half or not there at all. Further, reaching the arboretum by foot is challenging as sidewalks are sparse from the Valide Sultan Road in Bahçeköy to the Arboretum, on Kemerburgaz/Bahçeköy Road. (I should add that when we went to the Arboretum they were in the process of adding some.)

Recommendation: For a full day’s adventure, try going to the Arboretum in the morning and then to the Belgrade Forest for lunch and exploration in the afternoon. Prepare for a picturesque break in your busy schedule!


Kurban Bayram and Bulls, Cows, Rams and Ewes

Kurban Bayram (Feast of the Sacrifice) is a celebration of a well-known event in the life of the prophet Abraham.

The events concern Abraham and his son. God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son as a demonstration of Abraham’s fear of God.* God had promised that Abraham would have many children; in fact, they were to be as numerous as the sand on the seashore. If God asked him to kill his son, the fulfillment of the promise would look rather bleak. As the story goes, Abraham listened to God and took his son to a mountain where he proceeded to tie him down. Then he raised his knife to kill his son. Just then an angel called to Abraham and said “Don’t harm the child.” When Abraham looked around, he saw a ram caught by its horns in the thicket. In the place of his son, he sacrificed the ram. Abraham received his son back, and his sons’ children became numerous. The promise is fulfilled. While many Christians see the act of Abraham commemorated once for all in the sacrifice of Jesus, also called the Lamb of God, many Muslims sacrifice a male or female sheep or a cow or bull to commemorate the act.

About two weeks ago, I noticed that a few open spaces had transformed into cattle grounds. Then having had the opportunity to smell the results, my curiosity was aroused. I decided to visit a cattle market (kurban satış alanı). I went to the market which was across E-5 from Tepe Nautilus AVM.

As I walked around, I saw men feeding, cleaning up after, and waiting for people to come and buy their cattle. I took the opportunity to speak to a few men from Erzurum. There were six or seven men working together. One of the men, Medeni, a friendly man with a ready smile told me that business is down. One of the reasons could be that because they are from Asia, they are only allowed to sell on the Asian side of Istanbul. Only the ranchers from Thracian Turkey are allowed to set up their tents and bring their cattle to sell in European Istanbul. Plus there was lots of competition–I saw around 20-25 different tents selling cattle. This is Medeni’s and his companions’ only job. Every year he feeds his cows to sell them during Kurban Bayram. They had about forty bulls and cows available.

I asked them how much one of their bulls would sell for, and they told me 3200 TL. They also told me that up to seven people could go in together buy one bull or cow and thereby satisfy the Qur’anic command to sacrifice an animal.** If there were eight people, the eighth would have to find some other people or he would need to buy a ram or a ewe. According to another man who I spoke with, one ram or ewe may satisfy the requirement for a man and his wife and their children, if their children live at home.

Of course, as many advertisements in Istanbul showed, the meat taken from the sacrificed animal may be sent to Africa. But, my friends told me that the meat may also be sent to places within Turkey such as religious institutions. Where one sends the meat depends on the person. Typically, though, it is distributed to the poor and within one’s family.

Finally, with the meat, Turks love to prepare a dish called kavurma. This lamb or veal roast is famous all around Turkey.

*The Christian version, which I have followed above, is found in Genesis 22 in the Bible. The Muslim version is found in Qur’an 37:99-111. There are some differences in the account which I have annotated using an asterisk.

**Only those with means to do so are expected to sacrifice an animal.

Capitol AVM’s Piano Man

Every week I go to Capitol AVM (Alışveriş Merkezi) and meet with a friend. We sit and talk for about two hours. During our talks which sometimes fall during the 12:00 to 14:00 hours, a superb pianist serenades us. I decided about a month ago that I wanted to talk to him and convinced my friend to come with me to meet him.

English: Capitol Shopping Center in Istanbul, ...

So, about a week ago we spoke with the accomplished pianist, Mehmet Bey of Capitol AVM. He is 68 years old. He was born in Greece where his mother comes from. However, he grew up in Istanbul. His father was Bulgarian. Both his parents have passed away.

From the time he was eleven, he has played the piano. He has played in venues all over Western Turkey. Due to his success, he has had the opportunity to perform with the likes of Sezen Aksu and Ajda Pekkan among others.

He began his formal training at Istanbul Municipality Conservatory in Beşiktaş. Interestingly, there were 220 people who chose to audition for the Conservatory the same time he did. But since the Conservatory only had 18 beds available, that was the number they had to select. The audition consisted of matching the tune sung by one of the boys in the Conservatory. Those auditioning also had to show that they were rhythmically gifted. Those who saw his audition said most certainly he would be chosen. However, when the names were read, he waited to hear his name. It was the last one called. They had saved the best for last. 

He has played for the Farok Akel Orchestra and has been featured on the radio and television. He has played at Capitol for nearly 20 years. At different times at Capitol he has played with a violinist, flutist, and saxophonist. I asked him if he played for people’s enjoyment or his own enjoyment, and he said that he played both for people and for himself.

Mehmet Bey has also played in hotels, pavilions, casinos, and people’s homes. In the summer he normally played in Bodrum, Marmaris, or Antalya. He worked in Istanbul in the winter. His repertoire is large–over 300–and consists of many types of songs, from foreign songs to Turkish songs. Many of his songs are written for accompaniment, and he plays many foreign songs whose words were translated into Turkish.

He also gives lessons. So if you are interested, take the time to swing by Capitol and meet the piano man, Mehmet Bey. If not interested in a lesson then at least schedule a lunch during 12:00 and 14:00 and enjoy two beautiful hours of piano music.

Barber Shop Stop

One of the enjoyable things about Istanbul life is going to the barber.* Don’t you think? Consider that barber shop experiences are better than a lot of experiences that are forced on you. Going to the barber shop is better than taking the crowded public transportation to pick up someone at the airport, right? It is better than having to try to talk to your apartment manager whose Turkish accent is one you didn’t learn in language school. At least we can say that barber shop experiences are better than going to the dentist. At the barber you can drink tea. All my dentist experiences end with a warning against drinking any beverage, including water. At any rate, almost everyone, eventually, has to go to the barber. I am pleased that this experience can be so enjoyable.

My barber is from Gaziantep. He’s in his mid-forties and has two children. How did I meet him? He is a relative of a former neighbor. I am not sure how close of a relative he is, but like small town America and most of the Middle East, any relative, no matter how distant, is family. And supporting family causes is important. So when I asked my neighbor for his recommendations for a barber, he took me to his  relative. However, after the first time going to him, he asked if his assistant could cut my hair. He has cut it ever since.

He is a young man and is a good hair dresser. He knows my head and my hair and what I want–I don’t have to tell him anymore. He, too, is married and has a little boy. His ambition is to be a good barber. He told me once that he dreams about cutting people’s hair.

Their shop has been renovated recently. Two new barber shop chairs replaced the old, outdated ones. This update happened after the salon was rejuvenated by the addition of some new wallpaper. My barber told me his boss hopes to change the countertops soon. The renovations certainly added a sense of confidence and longevity.


Normally, I only have him cut my hair. No wash, no shampoo. No gel or sculpting. But this time, I decided to splurge. I am glad I did. Instead of having all the cuttings drop out of my head on the way home and in the public transportation, my barber took care of them. Then, after drying my hair, he asked if I wanted gel. Sure; why not? Who wants to leave with the dry, frazzled look? He sculpted it perfectly. I think I will have him do it again. It only cost 15TL.

To finish it off, at my barbershop anyway, my barber always takes out his massage machine and gives me a quick massage on my back and chest and arms. I’ve polled a couple of friends and haven’t found any that have their barbers do that for them. Not to mention it’s no extra charge.

These two barbers are skilled at removing or sculpting any hair from your neck up. I’ve seen my barber take two strings in his hands with the other ends in his mouth and use the strings like scissors to remove the small hairs high on the cheek bone. They also take care of unwanted hair in your nose or your ears or your neck. If you need your beard or Van Dyke trimmed, they are experienced in that as well.

The cultural conclusion to every barbershop visit is “Sihhatler Olsun.” This phrase means “Good health to you.” You might choose to say in return, “Elinize sağlık” which means, “Health to your hands.” Tipping is not required at a barbershop, but if you choose to do so, it won’t be denied.

Finally, if you are feeling adventurous, you might try this tongue twister out during your next visit: Bir berber bir berbere “Gel, beraber bir berber dükkanı açalım” demiş. [One barber said to another barber, “Come, let’s open a barbershop together.”]

*Generally, both male and female hairdressing establishments go by kuafor (coiffeur) in Istanbul.

Street Art in Kadıköy (Article from Gazete Kadıköy)

Recently, I stumbled across an article in Gazete Kadıköy which had an interesting article on Street Art coming to Kadıköy, Istanbul. I decided to translate this article as well as go to view the street art in person. I was very impressed by the artists’ skills. They are certainly masters. However, their art work was a little enigmatic. I wished I could have had the artist with me to explain it. Let me recommend that you look and decide.

Here is the article.

The Walls of the Windmill Neighborhood will be Painted by Artists“*

The “Mural/Street Art Festival” is sponsored by the Municipality of Kadıköy and Çekül Vakfı (The Foundation for the Protection and Promotion of the Environment and Cultural Heritage) and carries a special place as the first time a building’s entire façade is to be painted in Turkey.

This kind of art is becoming more and more popular in the world. In this kind of art a large speechless wall inside the city is turned into a canvass for painting (Mural Art or Wall Art). With the skill of a street artist, what seems to be a big, empty, and (normally) frightful façade is turned into one of the most attractive places in the city.

For one week this year, four artists will join the first organized Mural-ist/Street Art Festival in Windmill Neighborhood, one of the original neighborhoods in Kadıköy. The facades will come alive with paint. These artists will carry the art to the streets.

Here is who will be included in the Windmill Neighborhood Renovation Project, supported by the Municipality of Kadıköy and the Çekül Foundation. The Italian Pixel Pancho will be on Nüshet Efendi Street from September 21st-26th; The French Almose will be on Karakolhane Avenue from September 26th-30th; and the German Dome along with the Brazilian Claudio Ethos will be on Misaki Milli Street from September 22nd-30th.

In addition during the Festival there will be workshops, films and exhibitions, which can be viewed in the streets of Windmill Neighborhood. In the evening of September 28 all those who have come to the Festival, the artists, the neighborhood people and those passionate about street art will meet for a street party on Iskele Street.

In the upcoming years the goal is to spread beyond the borders of Windmill Neighborhood to encompass all the neighborhoods that give support to the Mural-ist street artists, helping these neighborhoods to come alive with color.

Street Art/What is Street art?

In the last few years we have often heard of examples in the world and in Turkey of “Street Art.” This is a trend that has carved its own road out of the graffiti culture and is also known as “post-graffiti.” This term was used in the 1980s in New York and it regards the street as an artistic surface.

Many artists have decided to use the street to rebel against the supremacy of advertising. It is possible to see the work of graffiti and Street Art in the world’s important cities. The work of important artists continues in Paris, Berlin, London, Tokyo, Barcelona and many other cities. However, in Turkey this artistic trend has only come in the last five years, and particularly to Istanbul.

Graffiti and street and mural artists are against the depressing and stagnant advertisements in cities and are against exploitation in the world. Their dreams are big. They have become warriors for not giving free reign to these advertisements and exploitation in their cities, streets and the places where they live.

*(This is an article from Gazete Kadıköy’s article “Yeldeğirmeni duvarları ‘Sanatla’ boyanacak!” Written by Semra Çelebi and translated by permission.)

The Many Splendid Tastes in a Turkish Breakfast (Kahvaltı)

Olives (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember my first couple breakfasts in Turkey after I’d moved. I stayed in a nice hotel near the Kadıköy city center. I remember the excitement of getting up and getting ready to eat the continental breakfast that first morning.

Only it wasn’t a continental breakfast with eggs, sausage, waffles or filtered coffee (Nescafe wasn’t my thing.) It wasn’t false advertising either. I had assumed that “Breakfast served from 7 to 10” meant continental breakfast. I think there may have been pancakes, but they just didn’t look like the ones I was used to. My dream of syrup and peanut butter oozing in a sensational mixture through the pores of a hot pancake was not realized that day.

Small tomatoes
Small tomatoes

I was in Turkey. They do kahvaltı. Among other items, these stand out: tomatoes, cucumbers, hard-boiled eggs, and an assortment of olives and cheeses. To say it bluntly, I was disappointed. So, much for breakfast. I can’t remember what happened, although I know I tried my best to enjoy it. Or rather, get through it.

That was then. Things have changed. I was forced, and I forced myself to try to see things differently. Interestingly, I remember being surprised that Turks would want to wake up to tomatoes and olives, cheese and tea. My surprise has turned into appreciation.

Recently, I began working with a company that offers breakfast and lunch to its employees. I look forward to going to work to eat olives, cheese, bread with butter, honey, and jam. And tea! What is so enchanting about the tea? The bitterness of the olives? the fresh zesty tomatoes? the honeyed bread? the salted eggs? It creates and satisfies cravings. In other words, the best part of the Turkish breakfast, in my opinion, are the many splendid combinations of flavors which complement each other.

Fresh hot crusty bread (Photo credit: Pranav Bhatt)

Some might object and say that Turkish breakfast is poğaça, börek, or even menemen. Or even, Coke, Nutella and hot bread! Of course, there are many options today. However, for the record, according to Wikipedia, the traditional Turkish breakfast includes cheese, tomatoes, honey, jams, bread, eggs, sucuk, and tea.

Finally, many restaurants offer kahvaltı for 14TL or so. But the best option is to try to be invited into a Turkish family’s home for their weekend breakfast where you will enjoy the total package: breakfast and good conversation.

Çiğköfte: The Raw Meatball Meal Made of Bulgur and Other Non-Meat Stuff

Çiğ Köfte or çiğköfte (raw meatballs) is a dish that everyone living in or visiting Istanbul should at least try once. The name suggests a meal that might be for the braver among us. However, these days it is usually served without meat (etsiz). So, the concern of eating raw meat is no longer a concern.

The home of çiğköfte is in the spicy southeast corner of Turkey. This area is also home to the famous Adana kebap, Urfa kebap, and the tasty meats of Gaziantep. Apparently, çiğköfte has a long history, dating back to the time of the Prophet Abraham.

So, today, I stopped by a Çiğköfteci Sait and purchased the meal and asked a few questions to the workers about their signature dish. Here are five things I learned.

1. The main ingredient of çiğköfte is a mixture of bulgur, red and black pepper, salt, and a salsa-paste (salça). Like other southeastern meals, çiğköfte certainly has a kick, thanks to the pepper.

2. The meal is served in lettuce wraps or in tortilla-type wraps. The lettuce version makes the meal a light and pleasant alternative to a heavy bread and cheese or fast-food lunch. The tortilla version is good, if not somewhat heavier.

3. The available condiments for çiğköfte are green onions, parsley, argula, pickles, Albanian peppers, jalapeno peppers, Italian peppers, lemon juice, pomegranate syrup, and olive paste. The guys wanted to mention that you can fix çiğköfte to your specific tastes. I enjoyed çigköfte the way they prepared it: in a lettuce wrap with pomegranate syrup, a pickle, two jalapeno, and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. By the way, I purchased about 12 çiğköfte (one portion) along with all the above condiments for 8 TL. 

4. According to my friends at Çiğköfteci Saitşalgam (a drink made from turnips) or ayran (salted yogurt drink) are the perfect accompaniment to çiğköfte.

5. Some places (allegedly) serve the meat version (etli). If meat is used, it has the fat removed and should be of a higher quality to help it keep longer. Two hours, at most, is the length of time the meat should be exposed to air. After this, it is spoiled. However, according to my friends at Çiğköfteci Sait, the meat version has been outlawed. I queried a few other Turkish friends who confirmed that it has been banned. Nevertheless, they said the meat version is still available in the Southeast. Apparently, the reason for the forbidding of the meat version is that Turkey had to make certain changes to be considered a possible candidate for EU membership.

Question: Which do you prefer, the meat version? the meat-less version?

6 Excellent Websites for Travel, Information, and Eating in Istanbul


In the process of writing several posts about Istanbul, I’ve discovered some very good websites which give clear and help information. 

Of course, aims to  provide you with information on the sights and sounds and tastes of Istanbul that will help your time here as guest or resident to be as fulfilling as possible (see the About Me page). That said, there are other websites that have helped me in writing my posts, and I want to highlight them.

1. Obviously, Wikipedia has a whole assortment of articles about Turkey both in English and in Turkish.

2. Istanbul Eats. This award-winning website (Best-Culinary Travel BlogGuardian’s Travel Blog of the Month) gives detailed information on restaurants as well as where to find your particular craving among the dizzying variety of options that is the Turkish cuisine. Plus, the blog is written with an eye toward explaining the Turkish food culture to yabancılar (foreigners). This fact makes the website a good place for fodder for meal-time discussions about Turkish culinary offerings.

3. The İETT website is the most helpful place for finding your way around town, specifically, How to Go There? However, this particular page could be made better by including comments and suggestions by locals who have tried different and better ways to get from here to there in this complex city.

4. Charlotte McPherson, is an invaluable resource for expats. Her advice in her column in Today’s Zaman is full of local color and demonstrates that she has wrestled with the realities of life in Turkey. She has lived in Turkey and Turkic countries for three decades.

5. Turkey Travel Planner. By far the most comprehensive website on traveling in Turkey that I have found. Tom has put in many, many hours of thought and good writing into this website. I find myself going here often to see what Tom says about the topic that I have on my agenda. This website answers virtually every question about traveling in Turkey.

6. Dos Plumas Travel. Jim Reynolds offers customized tours in Istanbul, the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas and to historical sites throughout the country. He leads the Dos Plumas Travel team from Turkey in order to make sure that all of his recommendations and services are the best available.


What's in Istanbul?

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