Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Kötü the Istanbul Kitty

As far as "travel writing" goes, it can be fairly easy to fall into writing in the same style for every post. That is, you're writing about different places in the same way. To avoid that, I occasionally like to think outside the box a bit, and put together a post that is definitively random and surprising. Nobody wants to read the same thing in the same format, over and over and over. I've tried to fight against this in the past. The post I did about Bri and I comes to mind, or the focus on the doors of Granada, or even the video I put together of my time in Korea just recently. It's more fun for me, and, hopefully, more enjoyable for you.

So, today there is quite a bit of snow in Istanbul, and I have the day off. Seeing as it's snowing outside, I decided it was the perfect day to sit down, write, and just watch the snowflakes drift down outside the window. But what to write about? I thought about things that might have had a strong influence on my time in Istanbul that maybe I hadn't thought about as necessarily "blog worthy." Something that might be a little different. Then, the lightbulb turns on - I've got to write about Kötü. 

For those who don't know, Kötü is our adorable, fun-loving Turkish kitten (or at least he was a kitten, he is something closer to adolescence now). And, for the record, Kötü means "bad" in Turkish, so we thought it was appropriate for this mischievous little fellow. And, the most important factor in calling him Kötü was that he came at a bad time, as we literally couldn't have had more on our plate at the time.

But, back to the story. When we first arrived at our apartment in Istanbul with all of our bags, a small, dirty kitten started to cry out and rub up against Bri's leg. At first, we thought nothing too much of it, but we surely appreciated his cuteness and tenacity. We began bringing our bags up the stairs, and we could still hear him crying outside the door, desperately trying to get in. As we came down the stairs to get our final bag, he was still there, looking saddened and helpless. We started bringing the last bag up the stairs but by the second flight we had put down the bag and stopped. We decided we would at least bring him up for 10 minutes. And just like that 10 minutes became five months. And, assuredly, he'll be coming with us wherever we go after Istanbul. We didn't find Kötü, Kötü found us. 

He's a Turkish Van, an appropriate cat to have in Istanbul if I've ever seen one. He has added so much to our experience in Istanbul, and we've created a lot of memories together. I can still recall the first night when he arrived and couldn't figure out where to go to the bathroom because we didn't yet have a litter box. He was meowing like mad as he looked over his shoulder and pooped in the corner of our second bedroom. And now? Now he's the regal kitty I see staring out the window at the snow just to the right of me. He's got a litter box now, assuredly, and he's come a long way.

So, what is this post going to look like? Well, I'm going to tell you the story of Kötü through words and photos, to give you an idea of what a big part he has played in my experience in Istanbul. Who knows if it can be filed nicely into the "travel writing" category, and, frankly, who cares?

Also, kindly note that a lot of these photos are from my iPhone, so my apologies on the quality.

1) From the Mean Streets to Our Loving Arms 

Kötü starts off as just about the dirtiest and scrawniest kitten you've ever laid your eyes upon. In the pictures below, you'll see him as we first found him, and how he adjusted to our home in the first few weeks. He's a character, and a fighter.  

2) Settling In 

Kötü starts to get the routine, and, dare I say, starts to show some love. In fact, from the beginning, this Turkish kitty has always been very loving and sentimental, but, he starts to show even more of that. He cuddles more, he gets a much needed bath, acts as my Turkish tutor, and even becomes adept at using the iPad (please see video below for evidence of that). 

3) Coming into his Own 

Kötü has become a fixture in this household, and, especially during the holiday season, was the star of the show. We had a Christmas party in which he was surely the most popular individual. Also, he figured out how to send mail, how to climb the Christmas tree, pose for family photos, and, generally, continue to look even happier and healthier. And, I should also note, he's even had an international skype call with friends abroad. 

Kötü is not a place, this is true, but he still belongs on this travel blog because of the drastic effect he has had on Istanbul for me. For as long as I live, wherever I live, animals will always be a part of my life (and Kötü is no exception, he's in it for the long haul). So, just maybe, they'll be featured on this travel blog. 

I do hope you've enjoyed getting to know Kötü, and hope to see you back here again sometime soon. 

Iyi günler,


Have any animal stories to share? Write them in the comments section, I would love to hear them.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Glory of Galata (Galata Tower - Istanbul, Turkey)

Istanbul's Galata Tower is downright iconic in this city, and has been since it was built by the Genoese (The Genoese had a colony in Constantinople) in 1348. The Genoese called it 'Christea Turris," or the Tower of Christ, and, that name has certainly not stuck through the centuries for obvious reasons. It has dominated Istanbul's skyline (particularly north of the Golden Horn) for hundreds of years, and surely will continue to do so well into the future. It's a striking medieval tower that was the tallest structure in the city when it was built, and now offers almost incomparable panoramic views of Istanbul, especially the Sultanahmet area and, more generally, the historic peninsula on the south portion of the Bosphorus.

Let's take a sidestep. This weekend we had visitors from Vienna. Katie, a good friend of ours from Korea who is originally from America, recently moved to Vienna to be with her Austrian boyfriend that she had met on a trek in Mongolia during the summer. We met up about a month ago in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and then, shortly after that, they decided to come to Istanbul. Did you catch all that? Such are the joys of the expat life. A complicated web of friendships and encounters that, somehow, work. We hadn't seen Katie since Korea, so about two years, then, all of a sudden, we see her twice in a Europe. Sure, why not?

We had brought Katie and Arnold to the delicious Cafe Privato (one of the best Turkish breakfasts in the city) in the Galata area, and we continued to marvel over the view out the back window of the Galata Tower. Naturally, it became clear that we had to go up to the top, immediately after breakfast. We paid our bill, and off we went.

Apparently the rest of Istanbul had a similar idea.

However, the wait was nothing to worry about because Bri and I had recently taken advantage of Cyber Monday in the US and bought ourselves a fine looking camera (Nikon D3200 and Sigma 17-50mm DC OS HSM lens) off of Amazon. So, we both took the time to take some photos of the tower and the surrounding area while we waited.

Interestingly, there is a sign upon entry that states that Turkish students pay 5 lira, Turkish citizens pay 10, and "foreign people" pay 25. Well, alright, I suppose. Luckily, I'm a Turkish resident so I was able to pay 10, but our visitors had to pay more than twice what we paid. Something about that whole situation just rubbed me the wrong way, but, all in all, it's not that big of a deal.

I checked the time that the sun would set on my iPhone while in line and was pleased to note that it appeared as if we would be at the top of the tower when the sky gained its pinkish hue. We were very fortunate that this was exactly the case. We took the elevator up to the top, then headed outside for our 360 degree lap around the top of the tower.

It was emotional for me in some ways. I found myself pondering how everything had aligned to bring me there on that tower at that particular moment. It was all the more emotional thinking about the fact that, while Katie and Arnold were merely visiting, this was my home. 

This is my home. 

I'm about 6 months into living here now, which seems like a lot, but feels like nothing when I think about all the experiences to be had in a city like this. Yet, I must admit that my life in Istanbul during the first 6 months has also been packed full of new experiences. On some level, it's comforting to know that even if we had visitors every weekend, we would never run out of things to do.

In three weeks time, Bri and I will be heading to Australia for a few weeks, something I am very much looking forward to. However, it's comforting to know that when we return from Australia, as the wheels hit the tarmac, I won't be thinking "I'm back in Istanbul," but rather, "I'm home." And, it's places like the Galata Tower that make that such a sweet thought indeed.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

My Year in Korea Video (South Korea)

Oh, to reminisce.

Well folks,

History has been made. Alright, that's a bit dramatic, but I did decide the other day that it was time to make my first "travel video" as it were. And, in all likelihood, it looks like a first attempt at making a video, but I'll be damned if I didn't have an absolute ball making it. Plus, it's something different, and that's what this blog is all about, after all.

This particular video, my first though not last I am sure, covers moments from my year in Korea from 2011-2012. I very much hope you enjoy it, and I would love to hear your feedback in the comment section below, or on facebook or twitter.

As always, thanks for stopping on by. If you loved the video, that's great news, and, if not, it still puts a glowing smile on my face to watch it.



Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Streets of Piran (Piran, Slovenia)

Piran, suffice to say, is honeymoon worthy. It is, in my opinion, the poster boy for southern Slovenian travel, or perhaps just Slovenia in general. Believe it or not, there is a lot to see in Slovenia, so it's easy to imagine that a town like this could get lost in the fray. Don't let that happen.

While Bri and I were there, it was as quiet as grandma's house. It made exploring this town a real joy because we simply did not run into anybody that did not happen to be a local resident, going about their daily rituals. For me, the treasure was getting as lost as possible with the understanding that with a town that has a population of less than 5000, you really cannot get too lost anyhow. Piran has been around since a few hundred years BC, and has changed hands several times from one European power to the next. And, take into account its vicinity to Italy and Croatia, and you find yourself in a town that is a true confluence of culture. In fact, it reminded me quite a bit of Croatia, and also further reminded me that Slovenia is a distinctly diverse country as far as tourism goes (population wise - yeah, it's homogenous). I kept having to pinch myself to recall this was the same Slovenia I had been in for the past week.

Much like my post in Granada, Nicaragua, which focused on the doors of the city to illustrate what I felt encapsulated the city, I will do much the same with Piran. However, in this case, I will focus on the alleyways. The joy I got from Piran was brought forth after taking left after left and right after right, swerving through the maze of streets and alleys, never knowing what the next turn would bring. Let's see if I can do the emotion I felt there a little justice.


"Silent streets have many things to say.” - Mehmet Murat Ildan


Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Candlelit Cathedral (St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia, Bulgaria)

I have seen a lot of churches and cathedrals. A lot. But none of them looked like the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. 

Located in central Sofia, this cathedral is not only one of the most revered orthodox cathedrals in Bulgaria, but in the entire region. In fact, there is only one church that is larger in the entire balkan peninsula. This is not entirely surprising - the church is nearly 35,000 square feet and, at its peak, can hold a cool ten thousand people. 

For me, the most striking feature of the cathedral was the large golden central dome. We were lucky, when we arrived the sky was bluer than I could have imagined, and the sun's powerful rays brought the golden dome to life. In juxtaposition with the soft white painted exterior and the light pastel green of the cathedral's other domes, the gold was impossible to miss. It gleamed, as gold is wont to do. 

Originally, I had thought the clear blue sky was a blessing, and it was, but in my research I came across a photo that led me to believe that the presence of clouds is capable of adding a dramatic touch to the scene. The overall conclusion? No weather is really going to be enough to ruin the majesty of this church. 

The large open expanse of the interior was not entirely what I expected, but this is likely because my expectations were misplaced. I am more used to the somewhat sterile, symmetric orderliness of catholic cathedrals, but the focus in this orthodox masterpiece seemed to be on the lack of these very things. I wandered from mural to mural in the dimly lit setting, re-configuring my expectations. 

I loved the way that light entered the cathedral. The stained glass windows let in only the light they wanted to, which was, appropriately, the perfect amount. I was awestruck by the enormous candlelit chandeliers in the middle of the room, their light flickering off the nearby walls. The floor was an example of the subtle splendour of marble, and the ceiling contained a fresco of absolutely epic proportions. The cathedral was actually only built at the beginning of the 20th century, but, for one reason or another, it felt much older.  

When I wrote about the Rila Monastery, I spoke about the fact that Bulgaria was full of surprises for me because, well, I simply did not know what to expect. There is a certain beauty (and ease) in doing little to no research until you arrive in a destination, a beauty I rarely experience as I often research quite a bit, doting on the possibilities of upcoming adventures. In this case, I was able to turn the corner and...BOOM, the enormity of the structure (and the moment) struck me like a ton of bricks. 

I've come to the realization that places I have visited that are draped in religious symbolism and built as religious symbols feel special because of the care, effort, and emotion that they were built with. They are built as a flagship of faith, and, thus, rarely spare any expense - sometimes taking decades (or the better part of a century) to build. The finite details are all there. I saw this with the White Temple in Chiang Rai, the mosques in Brunei Darussulam, recently with the Rila Monastery, and dozens and dozens of other places that I haven't had the chance to write about. And there's a continuity in arriving in a new city, and going through the comfortable motions of visiting its prominent mosques, temples, churches, shrines, or cathedrals - a continuity I very much enjoy. In general, there is a continuity in an approach to travel, a method of one's own.  

Hm. That last sentence gets me thinking...

My "travelling self" has evolved over the years. Years ago I used to rush through cities, checking off the cities's sights at a torrential pace, and now I take the time to let things soak in a little more. Instead of trying to see 3 cities in a week, in constant motion, I now am more inclined to plan nothing at all, and stay in a city or destination for as long as it captures my interest. And, that way, I take the time to enjoy the small things without a sense of rush, and enjoy that beer or coffee on the main street (or not so main street), an experience which can often be more revealing about a city or culture than a tourist attraction ever could be. 

I've come to the understanding that I will never see all that I want to see of the world in one lifetime, but, it is enough to embrace the notion that through experience and travel, I can come to know a little more about the world (and myself) than I did yesterday.