Today, we packed up after six wonderful weeks in Istanbul. Our little neighbourhood, Kuzguncuk, has felt like home. The people have welcomed us, looked after us and opened their homes, businesses and hearts to us. To say that I am leaving with a full heart is an understatement.
Matt and the boys laugh at me because I usually say, “I could totally live here” whenever we arrive in a new country. This time it is different. I have a very good idea of what it would be like to live here and I think we really could live in Turkey (at least in Kuzguncuk) even though I would definitely have to up my game on the Turkish language (it is so difficult and I am quite terrible at it).
It’s all about the people
I could go on for days about the people we have met. We can’t walk down the main street in Kuzguncuk without saying hello or “merhaba” to at least a dozen people. Business owners would greet us as we walked by their shops. The bakery owner, Ezo would give the boys cookies when we bought our daily loaf of freshly baked bread. A local family invited the boys over to play and subsequently had us all over for an amazing dinner. A couple, who we met in Bulgaria but live here, took us on several excursions. There are so many more who played a role in our amazing experience here in Turkey.
Perhaps most special of all has been our incredible Airbnb host, Songul, who quickly became a member of our family. On our second day, she offered to to show us how the public transportation worked. I must say, the public transportation is quite amazing in Istanbul. However, it can be overwhelming at first. We felt very lucky to have our own personal guide. Songul spent many days touring around with us and teaching us about Turkish culture.
Art class in Istanbul
Since we were staying for 6 weeks, we had mentioned to her that the kids would love to do an art class and I would love to take a Turkish cooking class. With little hesitation, Songul introduced us to two very special women within days of our arrival.
The first was Dilek, an extremely kind and talented local artist who offers art classes to children on the weekends. Dilek said that we could just drop in and try the class.
After the first class, the boys were hooked on both the art and Dilek! Once a week, the boys were able spend time with local children while exploring various artistic media.
Before we left, Dilek invited us to her husband’s art studio. Turned out Artin is one of the most well-known painters in Turkey! We spent a few hours visiting with this amazing couple and their lovely daughter (Ayda) and friend (Lara). This is what traveling is about! Meeting new people that will forever be in our hearts. Before we left, Eli said to Artin, “you can do my portrait if you want.” Ayda took a picture of each of the boys for her dad. Eli beamed, “Well I guess we have to come back now.” He is right, we can’t imagine not coming back to Kuzguncuk.
The very first time we went out with Songul, she stopped at a cafe down the street called “Betty Blue”. This cozy little restaurant was like nothing I had ever seen. As you enter, there are 6 tables and a small kitchen right there in the open. Sibel, the owner, cooks while chatting to her customers. Unlike Canada, there are people that eat there everyday! It is like walking into your mom’s kitchen and seeing what she has prepared. The menu is never the same.
As we walked in, Sibel stopped what she was doing and came over to meet me. Songul and Sibel spoke in Turkish and then Sibel turned to me and said, “Okay, you come and I will show you how to make Turkish food.” Just like that.
I will admit that I was a little nervous going there. She was a very busy woman and I didn’t want to slow her down. I finally got the courage to go and I am so glad I did. Over the last month, I have spent many days learning and helping Sibel. She will say that her English is terrible but it is far better than my Turkish.
The language of food
We had no problem communicating over her incredible food. She taught me so much about cooking. I would chop, stir and watch everything she did. Sibel taught me to smell everything! She would say, “You know what to do, trust your nose.” In the past, I would trust a recipe long before I would trust my nose. I kept asking her if what we were making was a “traditional Turkish dish” in hopes that I would be able to google a recipe when I got home. Unfortunately she always said, “yes, traditional . . . but I do it differently.” She is right: she put her own flare on everything! Sometimes I thought she was secretly adding ingredients because I didn’t understand how the most basic ingredients could turn into the most delicious dishes! Throughout the cooking process, Sibel would say, “Lindsay, would you like to taste this?” I always replied, “I really should.” I would be a fool to give up the chance to taste anything that Sibel made.
The more I learned, the more I was able to prepare at home. I have become a very different cook. Matt and the boys would encourage me to go to Betty Blue as much as I could. The kids would even spend days with me there during one week when Matt needed to be away in Belgium. Sibel and her sidekick Tuba insisted that the boys come along. They chatted with them and fed them.
Food, family, friendship
As customers would arrive, I would tell the boys to pack up so that there was room for paying customers. But Sibel would tell the kids to stay. She would split them up and have them sit with the customers. Here’s the crazy part, no one seemed to mind! – another example of how welcoming and friendly these people are. In Canada, this would never happen. If you went to a restaurant to eat, people would expect their own table. They would be upset if all of a sudden the owner sat a couple of kids with them.
I would often hear my name while Sibel was talking (in Turkish) to her customers. Every now and then she would look up and say, “We are talking about you.” I would just laugh because what else could you do?! People were understandably curious about the Canadian girl that was always hanging out in the kitchen at Betty Blue.
My final week at Betty Blue was a difficult one. Unfortunately, Sibel came down with a terrible cold and wasn’t able to work. As much as I missed spending more time with her, I am glad I didn’t have to actually say goodbye. That would have been very difficult and probably tearful!
We’ll be back, Istanbul
When I came to Istanbul, I was hoping to take a cooking class. Instead, I was able to cook alongside one of the best chefs I could ever meet. Sibel welcomed me into her cafe and made me feel like I belonged there. Her loyal customers greeted me and over time learned about our traveling family. I could never have imagined an experience like this.
Now we are moving on to our next destination. As excited as we are, I will never forget the lessons I learned from Sibel, the warmth and hospitality we received from Songul, and the friendships we now share with so many people. We all look forward to the day we can visit again.