Silver Scarved Foxes

With my photographer’s eye, I walked the streets of Istanbul, always looking into people’s faces for their genetic story- the high cheek bones from the steppes of Asia, the Roman noses from the Greeks, Hittite and Assyrians, the startling green and blue eyes contrasting with olive skin tones.  

But for all my great observation skills, it took me several days to realize that I appeared to be the only grey haired woman in all of Istanbul.  There were brunettes, black haired beauties, occasional blonds or red heads, and thousands of scarves of every hue.  For all the contentious debate about women’s head covering in France, Turkey and other countries struggling with the role of religion in public life, never have I seen a word about the benefits of never having to publicly acknowledge this inevitable sign of aging.

Foodie Thoughts From Istanbul

Flying east overnight makes for a very tired first day of vacation, but there is nothing like a warm smiling host to guide you through a marvelous first meal in Istanbul.  Several friendly folks kept us on track until we found the Sultanahmet Fishhouse. 

Our gracious host rearranged tables so the five of us could sit comfortably outside and then guided our dinner selection.  The specialties we selected - an Aegean casserole of fish with fresh chard, tomatoes, olives and cheese and sea bass baked in salt. 

While we enjoying our appetizers accompanied by some fine Cappodocian wine, a small wheeled brown table was positioned not too far from our table.  Curious I thought – not big enough for people to sit at, too small to hold a big tray of plates…  In time I understood that this was the stage for our sea bass. It arrived from the kitchen and was placed on this table.  With a grand flourish it was set aflame and then with great care the inch thick salt covering, was chiseled away to reveal the most tender, sweet and succulent fish I have ever had.  No it was not salty at all   It was melt in your mouth perfection.  Seafood lovers should not miss this place -

Creative Land Use

In a city of fourteen million, every piece of real estate is valuable, and unlike our strict zoning laws, nothing so petty as food or fire safety laws gets in the way of the Turkish entrepreneurial spirit.  A new subway stop is being built just down the street from our hotel and at the moment it is nothing more than a giant excavation, where clearly something far more attractive once existed.  But not to worry, the restaurant owners across the street, simply took the opportunity to create some more open air dining space by hanging some rugs and lamps to block the construction site view- and voila- seating for 30 more….

An even more impressive land use is the Galata bridge which crosses the The Golden Horn, a deep bay in the Sea of Mamara.  It’s name comes from the color of the water at sunset.  This bridge doesn’t just provide a connection for cars and buses to reach the two sides of the city, it is also a prime fishing spot for the locals, and the entire area under the bridge is filled with restaurants taking advantage of the spectacular view of the city’s seven hills adorned with its palaces and magnificent mosques. 

While seating eating in one of these restaurants we watched a lure from a fisherman above nearly catch more than one passer by on the restaurant deck.  That was amusing, but what was really great was watching “fish and loaves” restaurants next to the pier.  These are three elaborately decorated small wooden ships that are used as outdoor kitchens for a standing room only crowd of dinners. 

The customers sit at picnic tables on the pier and the chefs cook the fish and prepare the salad in the kitchen boats which do some serious rolling from the wakes of the big ferry boats.  We’re not talking about a  little dip, we’re talking about 5 & 6 foot swells, but it seems to have no effect on the grillmasters who just man the barbeques.  Yelling orders and handing finished orders over across the open water - Turkish style fast food goes on without a hitch – giant pieces loaves of bread filled to the brim with lettuce & freshly fried fish from the rolling kitchen.  Smelled wonderful…

Modern Day Istanbul

While tourists flock to the historic district of Istanbul to see the palaces, mosques and other historic sites, they often miss the chance to see modern day Istanbul. In a country where half the people are under 35 there is a remarkable energy and endless development. The connection of past and present was very evident as we wondered through narrow cobbled streets around Galata Tower filled with hand made clothing stores. 

The aesthetic of this crossroads of east and west could be seen in the beautifully designed dresses and traditional Turkish pants.  Made from fabrics with subtle vegetable dye colors in draping forms – this apparel was both modest and revealing, and unlike anything we see in our world of mass marketing clothing made in China.

We met designers and salespeople, all telling us that their mothers did some of the work. While this not true in every case, it is clear that the artistry and craftsmanship comes from close at hand.  Beautiful handmade shoes can be found in these shops and no doubt you could find someone to make them for you.

Look at the dress on this beautiful dress -
the silver buttons at the shoulder
crochet work in the torso, subtle colors....mmmmmm

All Roads Lead to Rome

My recollection of western civilization was dim at best before this trip and I certainly have had a refresher course here at the end of the silk route in Nova Roma. The Hagia Sophia, the home of the Eastern Roman Empire from 400 AD until the Byzantium fell to the Ottomans a thousand years later, was our first stop of the day.  As we stood on the road outside, I understood for the first time the expression, “All roads lead to Rome.”

Until the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, this was the largest church in the world.  For 900 years from 537 to 1453 it was the center of Orthodox Christianity. 

Marble walls of the Hagia

This magnificent building then became the Grand Mosque of the Sultans.  The frescoes and mosaics of the saints were covered in plaster to comply with Islamic tradition forbidding the visual representation of gods.  This saved many of these works of art.  In 1935 when the building was converted into a museum, the plaster was pulled away to show images that had not seen the light for 400 years.

The Blue Mosque

 The Blue Mosque is massive and was built in 1609.  Inside is decorated with the famous blue Iznik tiles. All of the great mosques that grace the seven hills of Istanbul are alike in their gray stone construction and simple exteriors.  In contrast, the interiors are covered with beautiful tiles and gold calligraphy and carpets.  Our guide explained that the design difference in decoration is a reflection of the belief that it is what is inside that is important, the beauty and spirit of one’s soul is where the emphasis belongs.


Turkish coffee is quite addicting, and a powerful fuel for a busy day of sightseeing, history lessons and lots of eating…. On our way to the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace, we walked through the Hippodrome where chariot races were held 1500 hundred years ago for 40,000 spectators.  Today it is a sprawling plaza punctuated with several monoliths, including at 3500 year old Egyptian obelisk.  It was moved to Istanbul on three barges and then sat at the shore for five years until they engineers of the day figured out how to get the massive piece of granite up the hill.  What they devised was the world’s first conveyor belt to raise it. 

The defeat of Persian soldiers who were defeated by the Spartan soldiers near Troy in 480 BC is memorialized in Serpentine that was constructed  in the Temple in Delphi, Greece.  It’s blue green patina comes from the metal of the weapons of the loosing side, which were melted down and used to construct this ancient monument.  


The Grand Bazaar – is massive with serpentine corridors going in all directions. It is clean, well lit, and feels like a mall that was not designed by a cookie cutter real estate developers.  

We visited the shop of an Armenian calligrapher, Nick Mendenyan who has developed a magnificent body of work, all on diffenbachia and caladium leaves that he imports from a greenhouse in Florida.  He dries the leaves in and then spends two months creating intricate designs in gold leaf and ink applied with brushes made of cat’s hair.  Striking, unique and wonderful…