It was touch and go whether I got all my luggage on the plane back to Istanbul on Thursday – when I got on the bus from the rental car depot to terminal 3, the bus driver asked if I was flying business class? I shook my head. First class? Again no. He muttered something about no wonder the handle on my suitcase had broken and good luck getting that on economy.
Still, it all went fine and I managed with Daisy’s violin on my back, a hand luggage suitcase, handbag and duty free plus one incredibly heavy suitcase – thanks to Jed Hewson for carrying up 4 flights of stairs to our apartment in Istanbul 😉
So, one of the consequences of our new life in Istanbul, is that Billy has chosen to remain at school in the UK rather than attend the International School in Istanbul that Daisy has started at this week.
When we came out in late May to show a bit of Istanbul to Billy and Daisy, we timed it so that we could visit Daisy’s International School for their ‘fun day’ – an annual extravaganza a bit like a school fete in the UK but with the added attraction of an international food hall where all the nationalities showcase their national cuisines.
Billy was definitely tempted by the idea of being at school in Istanbul – cool new city, no uniform, so many different nationalities as potential friends (currently 45 with 35 languages being spoken) but then he asked if they play rugby in Turkey and when Peter supplied Billy with the definitive answer of ‘no’, that was mind made up for Billy.
Fast forward to this week and I have had the gut wrenching task of flying over to the UK with Billy in order to LEAVE MY LITTLE BOY BEHIND. Oh, how could I? As Emma put it, when the idea of Billy staying at school in UK was first mooted, ‘Billy will be fine, and you’ve just got to get over it!’
I have spoken to several dear friends this week who have all left a beloved child at a new boarding school and its not easy for anybody. At least for me, I was not leaving Billy at a new school, but trotting down the familiar corridors of Twyford Prep, I felt quietly reassured by the kind and good care I know they will take of my gorgeous boy.
I shall miss him so much and I know its part and parcel of him growing up and the natural turn of events but my heart is sore and heavy – a part of him is gone forever.
Day Two with Emma and Sam was a trip to Sultanahmet which is massively touristy but gotta be done. We started off in 2 taxis but the roads are always jammed down the coast from Ortakoy to the Galata Bridge which then leads over to the old district, so we all jumped out and onto trams instead which were not only faster but much cooler too.
The Hagia Sophia, once a mosque and before that a church, is now a museum and quite stunning. We glimpsed the blue mosque and had fun bargaining in the Grand Bazaar for some Turkish lamps and then had a few rounds of cards while sipping on Turkish coffees.
For lunch we returned to an old favourite of Billy, Daisy’s and mine that we last visited when we were in Istanbul in May, Konyali Lokantasi. It’s a real gem of a restaurant that’s been going for years and years and welcomes both local workers and tourists although when we were there, it was mostly locals. It’s self-service cafeteria but overwhelmed with the choices, we were immediately helped by super friendly staff.
And this is where our first introduction to doner kebabs came in – I don’t think I had ever had one before – and billy and daisy certainly hadn’t but we loved them. Beautiful succulent meat carved from the main spit into what looks like a dustpan but then served either on cubes of bread with a tomato sauce and a large dollop of yogurt, or the ubiquitous chips and rice.
So Emma and Sam have arrived for a ten day holiday with us in Turkey, spending the first few days in Istanbul. We wanted to show them as many different aspects of life in Istanbul – from one of Peter’s high-end Mac health clubs, to a local market, to the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet (the old quarter).
But of course most importantly we had to give them a flavour of what Istanbul has to offer in terms of food.
We were lucky as on the first day we stumbled across our local market in Ortakoy (the suburb where we live and literally 10 mins walk from our apartment) and later found out it was one of the best neighbourhood markets.
Once again fabulous food stalls piled high with beautiful vegetables – but also the most amazing street food. Fantastic Gozleme (turkish pancakes) filled with spinach and cheese and cooked on a sort of enormous skottle which were so light and crispy and absolutely delicious.
And some gorgeous dolmades (stuffed vine leaves) that the lady proudly showed us.
We got some homemade walnut baclava but we took those home for pudding!
I’ve been hankering after making a cake as havent done any baking for a month now and realise that its what makes me feel normal.
So I decided to head down to the supermarket with Peter when he went to work this morning and buy some sugar flour butter but boy, was is it ever difficult? You wouldnt believe how frustrating it is standing in a foreign supermarket with shelves of flour but no idea which one to get. Stupidly, as I had left on a spur of the moment decision, I hadnt brought a Turkish dictionary with me and my Turkish phone is not working at the moment as we have fallen foul of Turkish regulations and not registered it.
Eventually I gathered everything I might need including a cake tin, a purple spatula and some sachets of something I hoped might be baking powder – on literal translation at home I realise I have bought ‘pastry swelling dust’ – sounds about right to me!
After Billy and Daisy raced down to help me lug the shopping 4 floors up (no lift), Billy made us omelettes for breakfast – the first time he has done it on his own after me showing him yesterday and delicious they were too.
It was only after we had eaten the omelettes that I realised we had just eaten the eggs we were going to bake the cake with….
Here is some of the wonderful market produce in season at the moment in turkey.
This photo looks like I’ve styled a still life, but in all honesty, its just everything we bought in the market!
We made a fig, walnut, green bean and sheeps milk cheese salad for lunch which we had with our left over chicken sis kebabs.
Tonight we’re going to make a pasta sauce with the local salami – its quite a wet one and spicy so should crumble down to make a nice sauce with all those fat ripe tomatoes and the aubergine and a large dollop of that delicious local olive paste.
And peaches for pudding that come from trees surrounding the village. Even the olive oil is made from olive groves just half an hour further up the hill from here.
It took me a while to realise this was a play on the Four Seasons Hotel, but they state their four values as their four reasons – serenity, attitude, quality and design – and they pretty much have those in bucketfuls.
High points – gorgeous serenity, peace and a certain retreat-like quality as the hotel is nestled up in the hillside overlooking the small fishing town of Yalikavak about 20 minutes from Bodrum further into the Bodrum peninsula, and of course fantastic views.
The service is wonderful – very personal with Ali, Birol and Serhat doing their utmost to ensure you are looked after to their best ability. Occasionally the service was a tad slow when they were busy attending to somebody else, but their attitude and desire to please are outstanding.
The main low point is the food which is occasionally good – panfried sea bass salad and Billy was particularly partial to their meatballs – but mostly just ok. A bit disappointing but when we asked ourselves why we kept eating in the bistro night after night rather than trekking into town, we realised we loved the setting. So we were prepared to overlook the clumsy cooking and chill out with a delicious glass of Turkish rose. My advice to the chef is simplify – live up to the values of a bistro – simple flavours and let them speak for themselves.
There were a few irritating things like having to pay for water and espresso which frankly should be included in a hotel of this price. Oh, and the beds were very uncomfortable, although slightly improved by a soft mattress topper after the first night but still not great.
Would we come back? Absolutely, loved our 5 days here – definitely 4 reasons to come back.
On our last day in Istanbul before heading off down the West coast on holiday, we had our first Turkish lesson, as I found that as the week went by, I was getting increasingly frustrated at not being able to communicate effectively, especially in shops, even in the most basic way. I realised that in the last 20 or 30 years, I can hardly remember a time when I was in a country where I can not make myself understood or understand what’s being said to me.
So, it seemed to me there was one answer – start those Turkish lessons and get learning! Billy was the star of the class and seems to be able to retain the information well, whilst Daisy got board of the lesson after an hour and had serious attention deficit for the last half hour, but we got the basic greetings sorted plus how to ask for stuff in shops and restaurants and learnt our numbers to 100.
We then persuaded Peter to come out for lunch with us and stopped at one of the many basic cafes where you see tables of mostly men tucking into traditional Turkish fare.
The most popular seems to be a sort of mixed grill where you get a sis (pronounced shish) kebab, a kofte and a piece of chicken with various garnishes of tomato and cucumber salad. We decided to order a plate of chicken, a plate of kofte and and a plate of sis and all share, as well as being adventurous and trying the famous kuru – a Turkish version of baked beans – homemade of course.
And much to all of our surprise, they were delicious and we all love them.
Day two saw us venture down into Ortakoy for a wander and to have our first sample of what is on offer here in Turkey.
We tried borek – fried Turkish pastries stuffed with cheese and spring onions – and some kofte – Turkish meatballs – which have become our staple lunch, especially for the male in the family.
Most importantly, Billy had several firsts – his first game of backgammon, and the first time a random Turkish man has kissed him on both cheeks – am sure that is the first of many as they are a very demonstrative race!