Family

How Was Your Summer?

Back in Istanbul after a long summer in the UK, and for the first time since moving here, I was actually looking forward to coming back ‘home’. In this case, home is where our things and belongings are, where my bed is, and where my husband is 😉

It was great to be able to spend the whole summer in the UK, for the most part within spitting distance of my parents, and to be able to be involved in their daily lives, and help out where I could. We were so lucky to be lent cottages in beautiful surroundings so we could enjoy the best of the Hampshire countryside.

  

But I have to be honest, it was not the most relaxing summer, and I felt a fair weight of responsibility in looking after them and getting carers organised, and bullying the NHS to get on with Tom’s treatment, resulting eventually in a week’s radiotherapy course in August.

As I said, it was a long summer, and so whilst it was with some trepidation that I left Mum and Thomas to fend for themselves for a few weeks, until I next go back, there was also a lightness in my step, as I boarded the plane back to Istanbul a couple of weeks ago.

After 11 weeks away, it was wonderful to see the dazzling Bosphorus again, to feel the warmth of the sun on our faces; and of course to reconnect with all our furry friends, both kedi (cats), and köpek (dogs), and make acquaintance with the new cats that have taken up residence with us, mostly outside, but occasionally inside, if they are wily enough.

  

And then back to school for Billy and Daisy, their last year at MEFIS, and at school in Istanbul, new classes to get used to, with several new faces.

It’s a strange adjustment coming back again, as an expat, after an extended period away, as there are holes, that people you have grown fond of over the previous year, have left, and then of course there is the influx of new people.

But it is always lovely catching up with old friends again, and having our first book club meeting.

  

However, I quickly came to dread that inevitable question, ‘How was your summer?’ As I dug around searching for the best way to describe it, I found that I stumbled and stuttered about it being ok, I mumbled something about my parents not being well, and ended up with some awkward condolences all round.

It’s a bit like that question asked to a woman who does not work in a paid job, ‘what do you do all day?’, to which of course the only answer is ‘why, of course, lie around with my feet up eating chocolate!’

So I decided I had or come up with an answer for this question also: how was my summer? I spent good, quality time with my family – and I did.

 

Isle of Wight with the girls chez Sowton

  

Evening river action

  

Fishing in Cornwall

    

Dave

 

Expat world

Whilst we have lived abroad before, I never really felt like an expat, even though we spent our ten years in Cape Town. So, its quite a different experience landing squarely in expat land, here in Istanbul. I guess the main defining difference is language, as all of us who don’t speak the language of the new country, are automatically grouped together as non-locals, and therefore expats. Whereas in Cape Town, our life seem to meld nearly seamlessly into the lives of ordinary South Africans, although of course, the divide there is not local and expat, but white, black and coloured. If I think back to Billy and Daisy’s schools, there weren’t that many different nationalities, but mostly South Africans, and as our friends were mainly South Africans, with a handful of Brits thrown in, we felt as if we merged into South African society.

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So, for the first time in my life, I’ve joined a bookclub and I love it! It is a totally new experience for me and whilst bookclubs are not limited to international communities, they take on an added dimension, by their very ‘internationalness’. Because an expat community is always changing, then the bookclub’s members are also changing. We are busy organising our farewell dinner for those that are going, but have just welcomed two new members.

Our bookclub has so many different nationalities represented – Pakistani, Swedish, French, Irish, Bulgarian, Indian, Dutch, German, Amercan, Russian, Australian. and me, the token Brit – which leads to very interesting discussions with varying viewpoints.

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This week we were lucky enough to be invited to Umbereen’s house, and whilst of course the focus is the discussion of the book, I was particularly looking forward to Umbereen’s Pakistani food. In case you’re dying to know though, this month’s book was a Japanese book called Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami. I have to say that I was not looking forward to reading it as I did not think it would be up my street. However, within a page, I was hooked! I loved the style it was written in and learning about Japanese culture – a good read and highly recommended.

But the highlight of the day, apart from the company of seven wonderful and interesting ladies, was the lunch. Umbereen served us traditional Pakistani food, which I must say, was very different to the Indian food that I know and love. What I particularly liked was that whilst we ate three courses, I certainly didn’t feel overly full at the end, and each course was so well balanced, with different textures and flavours.

We started with some dokhlas, which are made from gram (chickpea) flour. These were served with a coconut chutney and fried curry leaves. Also, there was a wonderful spicy pumpkin on a piece of paratha – all absolutely delicious and interesting flavours.

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Our main course was a Kashmiri-style chicken leg and this was served with a channa chaat – a salad of chick peas and potatoes with fresh coriander, tamarind chutney, yogurt, pomegranate, red onions, and traditional crunchy sev. Again, wonderful flavours and beautifully balanced.

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For pudding we had mango and passion fruit ice-cream served with little biscuits that Umbereen had made by dry-frying on the stove top, as traditionally in Pakistan, they don’t have ovens (I had no idea!) This was accompanied by Jasmine tea, which apparently is drunk a lot in Pakistan, although usually it is very sweet, so untraditionally sugar was optional for us!

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A wonderful lunch – thank you so much Umbereen!

The London Coffee Scene

We just returned from a couple of weeks in the UK for Easter, and for once, wherever we went, we had great coffee! Wow, how coffee has improved. We spent a few days in London, and every day, started our day by looking up a cool new artisan coffee shop in the vicinity of where we were going.

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The Love & Scandal menu

So here are our finds –

Day One – arriving at Waterloo, we had looked up Love & Scandal down on Lower Marsh Street, so having dumped our luggage in the vastly expensive Lost Luggage at the station, we headed off in search. Love & Scandal it turns out, has only been open about four months and is a very urban understated place operated by a couple of cool young guys. It is all rough finishes and chip board and anything that can be recycled has been used – I particularly liked the Golden Syrup tins for the cutlery – reuse and recycle. They had a few yummy pastries and sandwiches and the daily menu was written up on a roll of brown paper, hanging on the wall – urban chic. The coffee was delicious, probably the best flat white we had in the UK – made with skill and care.

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Day Two – was not new to us, as we went to Borough Market, so of course we visited Monmouth Coffee. I have always held Monmouth in the highest regard, and it is the pinnacle at which all other coffee has been measured. But alas, somehow it is not quite what it used to be – just a little too mass market now – all the small artisan houses are just a bit more avantgarde and cutting edge, and have nosed their way in front.

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Day Three – was our Oxford Street shopping morning, so we got off the tube at Leicester Square and walked up through Soho to a place called Milkbar, which is apparently the next shop from the owners of Flat White, also in Soho. There we found a similar retro paired back feeling in a small shop with hip young people making fantastic coffee. I almost don’t even need to mention the coffee anymore as we take it for granted its going to be fabulous in all these places.

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Flat white in Milkbar

 

Day Four – our last day – we mooched around Greenwich Market, and after some deliberation spotted Turnip. A small shop on the side of the main market, with a wonderful Mancunian man who made perfect coffees every time. (We know as we came back several times!) We caused some hilarity as we mistook his accent as being from the West Country! Turnip also sold amazing looking toasties – we look forward to trying next time…

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Turnip

 

Even in the deepest depths of the countryside, there are more and more places selling and serving fantastic coffee.Down in the heart of Winchester, we discovered Black White Red, a relatively new cafe, which specialises in two of my very favourite things – wine and coffee – does life get any better? Black White Red probably make the best coffee in Winchester now, and they use beans from the Roasting Party, a local coffee roastery set up by three Australians in 2013 – let’s hope they stick around!

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Winter in Istanbul

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Sunrise over a snowy Istanbul

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This winter, our second in Istanbul, has been much colder. We have had three separate weeks of snowfall – much to the delight of Billy and Daisy, and I must say, I have also loved it! And because we are lucky enough to have such a wonderful aspect from our apartment, with views across the Bosphorus, there is nothing so beautiful as sitting snugly on the sofa by the window, staring out at a snowy landscape, and watching the snow fall over the rooftops.

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As well as the snow, the last few months have very much been dominated by Billy and his exams, but thankfully, they are now over. Billy sat four exams last week in a bid to get a place at Bryanston School in Dorset, where he will (hopefully) go in September 2016. We are all on tenterhooks now while we wait for the results.

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But as we all know, all work and no play does not make for a happy life, so we sneaked out for a long weekend at the end of January to a nearby ski resort, where Billy and Daisy got their first taste of zooming down the mountains. Needless to say, they loved it, and whilst we expected Billy to be fearless and tackle the slopes head on, Daisy surprised us the most as she took to it so easily and naturally.

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The intrepid trio

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And they’re off….

Kartalkaya is a 3 1/2 hour drive from Istanbul, so perfect for a long weekend, especially as it’s mostly highway. There is a wonderful jaw-dropping moment, when you exit the Bolu tunnel, and suddenly everywhere is white, with drifts of snow all around us. After that there is a final 28km winding ascent up the mountain to the resort, and we had been warned that we would need to stop and put chains on. And of course, this being Turkey, there are men on the side of the road at regular intervals, who are happy to do the job in a jiffy, in return for a few notes.

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Chains going on the wheels…

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The mountain road up to Kartalkaya

Kartalkaya is not like a European resort – there is no village, no shops, no restaurants – it is simply a collection of hotels with ski lifts, and ski runs of varying degrees of difficulty, spreading out behind them like a spider’s legs.

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Kartalkaya

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We had been recommended the Golden Keys hotel (thank you Ebru at Cup of Joy!) and it didn’t disappoint. Whereas the other hotels were eighties relics – old and crowded, they had stained carpets and smelt of fried food and cigarettes – our hotel was just a few years old. Moreover, it cleverly managed to combine both an industrial look – rooms that were quite bare and minimalist – and in contrast, a cozy feel – the main lobby and lounge areas were full of furs and roaring fires providing a wonderful oasis to ensconce yourself in after a hard day’s skiing (ahem!)

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Ski lesson on the first morning

There was also a wonderful spa with a sauna and steam room but the highlight was the outdoor hot tub, where we could relax in the afternoon, gazing out at the snowy peaks and watch the sun go dow. A games room with table tennis, pool and table football was a great addition for us, and provided just the right amount of diversion for hungry skiers waiting for the dining room to open for supper.

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Billy and Daisy in the chair lift

All in all, a wonderful weekend for both skiers and non-skiers alike, and we can’t wait to go back – till next year then! 

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The enigma that is street dogs in Turkey

I think I can speak for the rest of my family, when I say that one of our lasting memories of our time in Turkey, will be the street dogs. Growing up in the UK, stray dogs have a negative connotation of being dangerous and unwanted, but that perception has been turned on its head in Turkey.

Dixie, Sammie and Steffy

 

It is so embedded in the culture here, and is just a part of life, that people take care of the dogs. When we moved into our apartment here in Arnavutkoy, we first saw a dog that used to come and greet us and wag her tail – we named her Steffy. She was soon joined by a large dog with a gentle, yet fearful temperament – Sammi. Whilst he comes up to us and accepts treats, he does not want to be touched, even after 15 months of knowing him.

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Dixie, Sammi and Steffy getting caught up with Dave

 

Apparently, according to some of our dog-loving neighbours, the municipality, who monitor and look after the dogs (it is firmly enshrined in the law here), find places that they think the dogs will thrive, and if it works and the neighbours don’t complain, they bring more dogs. What seems to happen though, is that not only do the neighbours not complain, but they look after and cherish the new additions to the neighbourhood. Hence, Steffy and Sammi were soon joined by Dixie, who is definitely the underdog and quite timid. A few months later, a gorgeous dog, whom we had come across while walking on the Bosphorous, joined the pack – we named him Ziggy, as he has one brown eye, and one blue – a la David Bowie.

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Ziggy

 

Then there’s Waya, who used to belong to a house up the road, but ran away to join the strays – such an interesting enigma that a stray dog’s life here is preferable to a domestic dog, that is kept tied up all day. Poor Waya is a bouncy friendly dog that just wants lots of loving.

We have often thought about adopting one of these dogs and giving them a loving home, and it is especially tempting at this time of the year, when they have to survive in sub-zero temperatures – I remember last year, seeing Sammi lying in the snow, and it breaking my heart. However, the debate we always have is, would they prefer to be adopted or maybe not? For the most part, these dogs have a wonderful life – they are free spirits to roam where they want, they run around on the hillside in front of where we live, they have enough food and plenty of attention and cuddles. Would they want to have their freedom taken away, and be confined to being indoors? Is the exchange of security and love worth the sacrifice of their freedom? The jury is still out on that one…..

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Daisy giving some loving to Ziggy and Steffy

 

Theres one more part-timer in the pack, and that’s King, who’s an incredibly athletic boisterous Alsatian, who loves chasing cars. He is a loner and wanderer and we often spot him down by the Bosphorus. Or rather, he spots us out walking, and then runs at a million miles an hour towards us. Meanwhile most other walkers recoil in horror at the sight of this huge dog running at us, and grab their mini pooches into their arms as quickly as possible. Quite a sight as Daisy and King then embrace and have a big cuddle, much to the amusement and concern of onlookers.

 

But that’s just our little enclave. We feed them and so do lots of our neighbours. One couple built them a big shelter last year, that they regularly use at nighttime and one lovely lady is often in there, hanging out the blankets to dry, and generally spring cleaning their house!

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Daisy and Steffy, who loves her cuddles, as you can see

 

We recently invited ourselves unbidden onto the patch of other dog-loving people. There is a tiny park about a 5 minute walk from us on the way to Arnavutkoy, where several dogs hang out – we have seen them many times. One of the dogs is old and barks but we have never paid him much attention. Until last week. He was the one that I wrote about on FaceBook as I was so affected by this poor old dog lying in the snow, with a coat on! He looked so old and ill and cold and I couldn’t get him out of my head, and so went back and visited him most days. What was incredible is that every time I saw him, he had a new coat and jumper on  – old human ones that had been put over his front paws and body to keep him warm. I have slowly met the ladies who care for him, and his name is Beyaz (white in Turkish) and he is 12 years old and clearly on his last legs.

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What is interesting but strange, is that to me, he looks so ill and uncomfortable, with no quality of life, and barely surviving the freezing temperatures, that I couldn’t understand why somebody didn’t put him out of his misery. I realised it was not my place to interfere, as it was not my ‘patch’ but now I understand that euthanasia is not part of the Turkish culture. This understanding came about yesterday when I met another lady who told me that she had watched Beyaz grow since a puppy and they all loved and cared for him. She said that the vet had been yesterday and given him an injection, and when I suggested that the vet gave him an injection to put him to sleep forever, she looked aghast and horrified. I quickly explained, that in the UK, if a dog is old and ill with no quality of life, then we consider it to be the kind thing, to end their life, but clearly this was not an option for this poor dog.

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So, I shall visit him every day, sit with him and stroke him and hope that his end comes quickly.

Another side of Istanbul

This post is the next one in the series, ‘what I love about Istanbul – different opportunities.’ As I have said many times and told as many people who will listen, it is so wonderful having Billy with us here in Istanbul! We learnt the hard way, but the value of family, however difficult family life is, however many arguments there are, is the most important thing to be cherished.

But one of the more unexpected things I am enjoying with Billy here, is that he is taking us off on different tangents, and I am seeing another side of Istanbul. This is because Billy’s life is very much centred around sport, so now I get to explore whole new areas as we trek to rugby stadiums and sports clubs dotted around Istanbul.

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For example, on the recent public holidays, we made our way to miles away on the Asian side, to Maltepe, which was when Daisy and I made our coffee stop in Kadikoy. Billy played with his club in the Kadikoy stadium at an opening game for the ensuing match for Kadikoy against an Italian team, and it was almost a surreal experience to watch him play with a mosque as a backdrop, and the French ambassador in the audience.

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Billy has joined a predominantly French rugby club, with a smattering of Irish thrown in, and then there is Billy who is English although thinks of himself as South African, and of course, will one day play for the Bokke.

The club does its regular Saturday training not far from us and I stand by the side of the pitch on a Saturday and marvel at our surroundings and in particular, at how incredibly different it is from anywhere Billy might have played rugby before. Its not just the lack of grass, but the entire skyline.

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Obviously, Billy learnt to play rugby in Cape Town, where there were hundreds of grass pitches everywhere and these young whippersnappers played rough and tumble to a beautiful background of Table Mountain. And then in the UK, again, wherever he played, whether a home match at Twyford, or an away match at another school, they were privileged to be running around in these acres of amazing green-ness.

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So, I hope Istanbul will be a memory for Billy for years to come. Not only playing on that sore astroturf but a small pitch surrounded by skyscrapers in a built up inner city suburb.

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Discovering Turkey’s wine routes

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We made our first trip down the Thrace wine route last week, and it was a revelation to try such gorgeous, big, structured, balanced wines that are well-made and have got some age on them.

When I say ‘discover’, I do mean that, as it not easy to find much information about the wineries and vineyards and they are not very well known. This is mainly down to the present government banning any advertising about wine, and even calling wine ‘wine’ is against the law – it is officially fermented grape juice.

However, there has been a new initiative promoting the Thrace wine route – not sure how they managed that – and so we set off from Istanbul and followed the road down the North West coast of the Marmara sea for a couple of hours.

Our first stop was Chateau Nuzun, which is the closest vineyard to Istanbul. It is a state of the art winery that has been purpose built with a huge tasting room overlooking the beautiful vineyards.

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And we were blown away by the wines! We didn’t really know such wines existed in Turkey – and decided, that in a blind tasting, we would not have picked them out as Turkish but as a good Southern French blend. Our favourites were the Chateau Nuzun Cabernet Sauvignon – Syrah blend 2008, and the same label Syrah 2010 – I would go so far as to say they would give your European wines a good run for their money. chateaunuzun.com

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From there we were directed to a small village called Marmaraereğlisi, where we tried the small köfte which the region are famous for. Dave had a wonderful time exploring the nearby beach – the first time he has felt sand under his paws for several years since Cape Town!

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Next stop was Barbare Vineyards which also has a hotel where we had booked to stay for two nights. They have been clever, as they have converted their now illegal wine tasting room, into a hotel, which can therefore legally serve wine. Whilst we will gloss over the hotel rooms (a pre-fab mobile home divided into rooms of a disappointingly low standard), the main hotel was a delight with a big open fire place and large sofas that we were more than happy to sprawl on and taste wine.

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The tasting here took the form of plonking a few bottles of wine on the table before dinner and then working our way through them for the rest of the evening – we didn’t complain! The first night we were treated to the Barbare Elegance 2009 and the Barbare Prestige 2009 – both were delicious, and worked well of course with the bonfile we were served but the Elegance, a Southern Rhone combination of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre just tipped the balance for us. 

The next night we were given the 2007 Elegance as well as the Premier 2007 which are no longer for sale but came from the owners private cellar – again we felt very spoilt to be enjoying such wonderful wines.

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The food was a simple and well-executed Turkish set menu – a tasty shrimp and vegetable soup to start, a Turkish mushroom pasta dish next, then fillet steak served with a gorgeous gutsy cheesy dauphinoise style potato bake.

However, the star of the show was the breakfast – not only presented beautifully on lots of wooden platters and bowls but wonderfully tasty local produce. We eagerly awaited the arrival of the sigare cheese borek on the second morning having polished off a huge pile of them on the first! barbarosbagevi.com

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The whole experience  was very reminiscent of similar trips to the winelands around Cape Town, including a wonderful long walk through the vineyards and across some muddy fields to reach the seaside village of Barbare. 

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On our way home we visited Melen Winery further down the Marmara Sea, where we sat outside gazing out to sea and tasted a dozen wines. It was a very pleasant afternoon, but no notable wines for us. We very slowly limped home after that on our safety tyre, after Peter and Billy had sorted out the puncture….

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School dinners

So evocative, school dinners. Everybody has a (usually not so favourable) memory of school dinners.

I remember loving toffee cream pie and having an extra serving whenever that was on offer – oh, those days were the days when we didn’t worry about sugar!  But mostly school dinners for me was a lonely affair, as most of my friends spent their ‘dinner’ money at the ice cream van. I longed to be able to have a Mars Bar and a packet of crisps for my lunch, but as we qualified for ‘free’ dinners, there was no question of that.

Billy and Daisy have endured the full gamut of school dinner experiences. They are non-existent in Cape Town, so it was packed lunches every day, which I for one, was very happy to be rid of when we moved to the UK. Back in the UK, they had their first experience of school lunches – Billy of course loved the food at his school, whereas Daisy said the daily fare at hers was horrible. Pretty par for the course.

But the international school in Istanbul is a different kettle of fish all together. For a start, as the International school shares its premises with the National school, the canteen is huge, serving more than 2000 meals a day, the majority of which are served to Turkish children. The International school makes up less than a quarter of the children, but of course within that quarter there are more than 50 different nationalities from literally all over the world.

Daisy stubbornly refuses to eat from the canteen, and last year, as they were not allowed to squirrel away any extra snacks or sandwiches in their bags, used to come home ravenous, as nothing had passed her lips from 7am until 4pm. I wrote to the Principal but was mostly told that the food was pretty good in comparison to American schools, (God help the children of the USA) and that it was a taste adjustment, and soon she would get used to it. Guess what, she didn’t.

So, this year, with Billy at the school, and knowing he wouldn’t get through the day without his scram, I took up the opportunity to be on the Nutrition committee and see what can be done to improve the food. It is no easy task, mainly due to the simple fact of whose palette do you aim to please? The many Asian students? Eastern European, Western European? American? Arab?

I suggested that I start by eating lunch in the canteen every day for a couple of weeks so that I could try it out for myself and see if it really is as bad as my children have reported. The results are below – have a look at some of the photos of my lunches from last week.

Day 1 - Meat and potato stew, rice, courgette in olive oil. Tomato and cucumber salad. Melon

Day 1 – Meat and potato stew, rice, courgette in olive oil. Tomato and cucumber salad. Melon

Day 2 – Peppers and courgettes stuffed with meat, rice, tomatoes and spices. Vermicelli soup. Pasta salad. Tomato and cucumber salad. Doughnuts in syrup.

Red lentil soup. Doner kebab and tabouleh. Cold green bean and rice salad. Cucumber and tomato salad. Grapes.

Day 3 – Red lentil soup. Doner kebab and tabouleh. Cold green bean and rice salad. Cucumber and tomato salad. Grapes.

There were some unexpected cool touches like the free-flowing olive oil. Also, the grapes and yogurt come from the owner of the school’s farm somewhere in Turkey.

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Will report more next week….

Beginning of another school year

But this one is so different! For the first time since we left Cape Town, at the end of 2010, the four of us, Peter, Billy, Daisy and me, are living together again in our own home, albeit a rented one. It’s been an interesting journey getting us to this point, where we are all living in Istanbul. When we made the decision to leave Cape Town four years, I don’t think any of us would have imagined that our path would have been quite so circuitous – not uphill exactly, although when is it ever not a challenge?

After our first year back in the UK, when we were indeed altogether, but living in my long-suffering sisters house, Peter took up a new job in Saudi Arabia. Then moving to Istanbul last year allowed us to regain one member of the family whilst losing another.

So after making some tough decisions earlier this year, Billy has come to join us for a year or two in Istanbul, before we (hopefully but who knows?) move back to the UK.

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As I wrote in my posts last year, it was a very difficult time leaving Billy behind in the UK to weekly board and then spend the weekends with many loving and generous family members and friends. In hindsight was it the wrong decision for Billy to stay while we lived in another country? Maybe. But hindsight is a wonderful thing and many people have helped me not to see it as a mistake as we all learnt many things from it.

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Possibly the biggest lesson for all of us, is the value of family. Perhaps we all took it for granted a bit before, but now we all relish it, and when everybody gets on top of each other, then I for one, just pinch myself and remember how lucky we all are to all be together, enjoying life, learning lots, eating well, fishing and rollerblading along the Bosphorus, and continuing this journey together.

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