Wednesday, June 27, 2012

My One-Year Anniversary

As of yesterday, I have been in Istanbul for a year! Can you believe it? I certainly can't. I know it's a terrible cliche, but I can't help wondering where the time has gone...

Well, one year down, one to go... :) Pin It

Dale Chihuly at the Dallas Arboretum

Filing this under better-late-than-never, when I was home a couple of weeks ago, I went with my friends Emily and Stephanie to the new Dale Chihuly installation at the Dallas Arboretum. I thought it would be great, but it defied my expectations.

Of course, you can go to the Arboretum during the day -- the 32 pieces are strewn throughout the park's 66 acres -- but it seemed more than likely that the installation would be most spectacular at night, when everything is all lit up. During the summer, the Arboretum is open three nights a week -- Tuesdays and Thursdays feature music (most cover/tribute bands), while on Wednesday, it's just open, but you have to buy a ticket for either a 6pm or 8pm entry. We went for 8pm on Wednesday, thinking -- rightly -- that we'd see the installation in the (waning) daylight, at dusk and at night.

Of course, this is a post better written with photos, though I don't think mine do the installation justice. The combination of the gardens, the warm summer air and Dale Chihuly's glass works was enchanting.

I was curious about whether Chihuly had made the pieces specifically for the Dallas Arboretum (the presence of the blue-and-white ball above called the Dallas Star seemed to indicate yes, though as it turns out, only 15 of the pieces were made for this particular installation) and in looking for the answer, I came across a pretty negative review from Gaile Robinson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. She wrote, "For this traveling body of work, as for all of his pieces, he says, 'I try to make something no one has seen before.' In that he has succeeded, but there may be room on the dais soon, as Chihuly seems to care more about his traveling garden circus and not always in the best way." Ouch, huh? She felt that Chihuly's pieces overwhelmed the flatness of the Arboretum, calling the art "pushy," though from the last paragraph, it also sounds like she went during the day.

That aside, everyone else seems to have enjoyed the exhibit thus far, including us. And it's running through November 5, so there's still plenty of time to check it out. Pin It

Friday, June 22, 2012

Turkleywood in trailers: Taken 2, Bond and Ben Affleck

It seems like October is going to be a prime month for Turkey on film, as the three big Hollywood films shot within the last year in Istanbul are all being released that month. Taken 2 is out October 5, Ben Affleck's Argo October 12 and the Bond film Skyfall October 26. [Update: Skyfall is apparently only coming out in the UK on Oct. 26; IMDB has it slated for November 2 for Turkey and November 9 for the US.]

The trailers for all three are out, and it's interesting to compare the ways Istanbul is featured -- or not.

The plot of Taken 2 once again revolves around ex-CIA agent Brian Mills (Liam Neeson) and his family -- but instead of his daughter Kim jetting off to Paris with a friend, where she was kidnapped in the first installment, this time Kim decides to surprise him in Istanbul, and mom ends up as the victim. (The moral of the Taken stories? Never leave home.) In this trailer, Istanbul starts out looking pretty fancy...and then gets a little gritty:

At minute 1:29, Mills/Neeson is running along a very familiar-looking rooftop, one that was featured quite prominently (and similarly) at the end of the Clive Owen film The International. Apparently, it's the roof of the Grand Bazaar and also used in Skyfall in a motorcycle scene.

Argo is the true-life tale about the attempt to rescue six Americans during the Iran hostage crisis that started in 1979. Since filming in Tehran would be inconvenient, if not impossible -- although ironically, apparently the Americans pose as a Canadian film crew in the movie -- Istanbul is standing in for Iran; according to IMDB, the airport in Ontario, California is standing in for Tehran's airport. Not surprisingly, it's a little hard to identify Istanbul in the trailer, although at minute 1:15, Ben Affleck is standing by the water in Eminonu and then entering Yeni Camii:

But of course, the Bond filming was the really big news here. They filmed in the city of Adana (where some local teenagers snuck into the train station and managed to film an action sequence taking place on top of a train) in the coastal city of Fethiye, and of course, in Istanbul. I believe they were here for at least two months filming and yet, when you watch the trailer, what do you see? It looks like most of the action takes place in either England or Asia. Erm...

Pin It

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Istanbul's tulips: Emirgan Park

And to wrap up the posts about tulips and things that happened months ago...the weekend after we got back from Amsterdam, we headed to Emirgan Park on the Bosporus to check out Istanbul's best array of tulips. The flowers were gorgeous and planted in various patterns, including the Turkish flag and an evil eye. But more than anything, though, it was a huge culture shock after Holland, and it drove home what makes Istanbul most unique -- its CRAZINESS. Which some people love and some people hate. Holland's Keukenhof Gardens were just so orderly, and everyone followed the paths and for the most part didn't walk or sit on the grass, and it was lovely and serene. The flowers were pristine, perfect, like they were plucking out the bedraggled ones after hours.

Not so Istanbul. When we got to the park, it was packed, and people were everywhere -- jamming the paths, walking in and among the beds of tulips, picknicking in the grass... The tulips were gorgeous, too, but it was the third week and there had been a big storm while we were gone, so a number of them had seen better days. Emirgan Park was a zoo, the exact opposite of serene -- but at the same time, it was lively, with children laughing and running around, families all together, and there's an appeal to that, too.

Pin It

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Four things about Amsterdam

We spent four days in Amsterdam so here are, appropriately, four travel lessons I learned about the city:

1. iAmsterdam card: We bought the 48-hour iAmsterdam card from the information shop in Schipol airport, and we were able to activate it when we wanted to (which ended up being on the second day, at the Tulip Museum). But I have mixed feelings about the card -- it was pretty expensive and while we did use the value of it (and a little more) and got to skip the lines, which made a difference at the Van Gogh Museum, I don't know if all of the museums were worth their entry price. They sounded interesting on paper so I suppose we would have gone in anyway (making the card a good enough deal), but I also left feeling like we spent a fair bit of money and saw a couple of good/great museums (Van Gogh and the Amsterdam Museum) along with a couple of so-so museums and a somewhat dull canal cruise. But then, maybe I'm just down on it because the weather was overcast/drizzly and cold the entire time we were there; perhaps I would have been more entranced with everything in the sunshine.

2. Booking ahead at museums: I can't recommend this enough. Every time we walked past the Anne Frank House, the line was around the corner. When we bought our iAmsterdam card at Schipol, we also bought our entry tickets for the Anne Frank House (you can do it yourself online, but we didn't have access to a printer at that point), and when we went to the museum at our chosen time, we were able to go right in. You can also pre-arrange tickets for the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum to skip the lines, though we found that the lines shrunk considerably around lunchtime.

3. Red light district: With all the fumes pouring out of the coffeeshops, I think we got high from just walking through the streets. I've already gone off on how disturbing I found this area to be, so I'll just quickly reiterate by saying there's nothing civilized or progressive about young women selling themselves, no matter how prettified it is. So why is this a tourist "attraction"?

4. Tulip fields: To end on a bright note, a Dutch acquaintance had recommended taking the train from Amsterdam to Leiden (via Haarlem) as the best way to see the flower fields. I had mentioned this a couple of weeks ago to another Dutch acquaintance, saying that I would still love to bike through the area, but he also thought the train was the way to go. So take the train! Pin It

Fourth and final day in Amsterdam

We'd chosen a late flight from Amsterdam, so we pretty had the entire day to spend in the city, and our iAmsterdam City Cards were still valid. We intended to start at some of the canal mansion museums on Keizergracht but didn't check the opening times; when we found ourselves there about 45 minutes early, we headed to the nearby photography museum Foam. The building was beautiful, industrial-chic with high ceilings and white walls, but the exhibits on weren't great.

When 11am arrived, we went into Museum Geelvinck Hinlopen Huis, a canal mansion dating from 1687, followed by Museum Van Loon, down the street. The two are fairly similar; both have lavishly decorated main houses (which are supposed to be reminiscent of Golden Age style, I believe) and a coach house, which are separated by a stretch of precisely manicured gardens. Both were interesting enough, and I had especially wanted to go to see the "hidden" gardens, which you really have no idea of from the street.

After that, we strolled through the bulb-filled Bloomenmarkt and then spent pretty much the rest of our touring time at the Amsterdam Museum, which was AMAZING. (Seriously, why are city museums always so great? Mexico City's is also fantastic, but I digress...) The Amsterdam Museum used multimedia and bold graphics, and the presentation was incredibly arresting. In the first section, the walls were pretty much all painted in a bold red and featured these clever graphics in black; then there were video stations where you could watch a video on a big screen in front of you while listening to the audio in your own language. In the main hall, there was a huge painting on the wall depicting Amsterdam through its famous people; the city itself is portrayed as a naked, tattooed lady, while -- and I loved this -- little Anne Frank is in the corner wearing a Powergirls t-shirt.

Holland and Turkey are celebrating 400 years of relations this year, and in both Istanbul and Amsterdam, there are a number of exhibits at various museums on the other country. So at the end of the Amsterdam Museum, there was an exhibit called Istanbul Contrasts, which was probably the best incarnation of these exhibits that we saw. It was made up of a series of dresses created by designers Ece and Ayse Ege, and each of the dresses was inspired by some element of the city, be it the domes, the tulips or the Spoonmaker Diamond in Topkapi Palace. The dresses themselves were lovely, but a group of them had been set up in this classically furnished Dutch room, and visually, I though the combination was stunning.

And that was pretty much the end of our trip. From the museum, we walked back to Central Station via Dam Square and the carnival going on.

Pin It

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Amsterdam trip, day three

We spent most of our third day around Museumplein...

We took the tram from Central Station to the Van Gogh Museum, where there was already a huge line. But since we'd bought a 48-hour iAmsterdam City Card, we were able to skip the line. (I have mixed feelings about the usefulness of the card, which I'll get to in my last post.)

We liked the Van Gogh Museum, but didn't love it, and I think part of the reason is because while they have a lot of Van Gogh paintings, they have very few of his stellar works (which, incidentally, is the same problem the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe has) and so at no point was I ever bowled over. Cagatay doesn't care much for Van Gogh at all -- he doesn't think he's a technically good artist, which is probably true, but what I like about him is his unique vision and the energy of his paintings...there's been no other artist in the world who's portrayed the world in such a way, and at the end of the day, I think that's more important than technical know-how. Probably my favorite painting that we saw in the museum was "Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette," for its humor. (The museum has an amazing website -- you can look through their permanent collection, either by genre or period, and each of the paintings has at least a paragraph of information accompanying it.)

Actually, I thought the most interesting part of the Van Gogh Museum was the Dreams of Nature: Symbolism from Van Gogh to Kandinsky exhibit, on until June 17, which might be one of the most impressive museum displays I have ever seen.

A number of the paintings had music to go with them. The most overwhelming (in a good way) was Arnold Böcklin's Isle of the Dead, which Rachmaninov was inspired to compose a piece for. (The YouTube video below doesn't even begin to convey the power Böcklin's painting has in person; check out this version.)

After the Van Gogh Museum, we decided to go into the Rijksmuseum, or at least what's open of it. I feel like the conventional wisdom on museum-going is to be at the door when the museum opens to beat the crowds, but that doesn't seem to be true in Amsterdam, since that's what everyone is doing -- we noticed that the crowds and lines thinned out around lunchtime.

I had read somewhere that there was a benefit to having the majority of the Rijksmuseum closed, as the Philips wing -- the only part that's open -- basically provides a condensed, best-of-the-best version of the museum. I'm not a huge fan of Dutch Golden Age art -- it's technically amazing but pretty passionless, in my opinion (see Van Gogh, above) -- so this was probably enough, and I enjoyed what we saw. The Philips wing was made up of a mixture of works, too, keeping it interesting -- in addition to the paintings, some of which are world famous, there were book illustrations, maps, ceramics, sculptures...

I quite liked how Andy Warhol's silkscreen of Queen Beatrix and the angel sculpture lined up. But probably my favorite piece was this faience shoe, circa 1660-1675, mostly for the information that went with it: "Minature shoes were presented as gifts and had a slightly erotic connotation."

We left the museum around 4pm and were absolutely starving, which led us to eat at Burger King -- a poor choice. It was already expensive and so it was a surprise to find out you had to pay extra for ketchup, mayonnaise and the toilet. Plus, my burger was a little burned, the bastards.

After that, we decided to take a canal cruise, which was included as part of the iAmsterdam card. We had about 30 minutes to kill, so we wandered into the nearby Vondelpark, which was a nice oasis in the middle of the city, but it started to rain -- which was the story of our trip (and why most of my photos look so bleak). The canal cruise took about an hour and it was nice enough, though because of the low water level, I think the city is better appreciated on foot.

Pin It

Amsterdam trip, day two

Okay, so back to Amsterdam, and a quick look at how we spent our second day there...

The first thing on our agenda that morning was a visit to the Anne Frank house, which had a line stretching around the corner, as a friend had warned me about. But, we had bought tickets the day before at the tourist office in Schipol airport, for a timed entry, and it was probably the best decision we made the entire trip -- out tickets allowed us entry through a separate door, and we didn't have to wait at all. Unfortunately, you can't take any photos inside the building, so I have nothing to show for it here. I found the visit to be really interesting, but I was suprised by how many people seemingly didn't, just breezing through it, hardly looking at anything.

We had lunch nearby (at the cozy cafe Roem, at Prinsengracht 126) and then headed to the Tulip Museum, just down the street. It was pretty small -- the front area was a gift shop, and the museum was in the back, with about five or six rooms. Overall, I liked it, but I think what I appreciated was the presentation, rather than the information presented. The first room, for example, was this small space with rows of wood cuts on either side, and some of the wood pieces featured little anecdotes or information about the history of tulips -- on one side, the information was about Turkey (the original home of the tulip), and on the other, it was about Amsterdam. There wasn't all that much going on, but I really liked the clever way the information was presented.

After that, we wandered around the area -- particularly around the Nine Streets -- to check out some of the Amsterdam's fun shops. While I can't say that I fell in love with the city or ever need to go again -- I liked it, we had fun, but it didn't capture my heart -- I was impressed by the spirit of creativity that seems to pervade Amsterdam. At the very least, that translates into some great, unique shops.

Left: Light fixture at Pancakes! in the Nine Streets area  Middle: Red Light District's Condomerie window display  Right: The graphics on the wall outside the Tulip Museum's toilets.

We wandered into  DR Wonen (where I bought a votive holder styled as an Amsterdam house),  The Otherist, some of the bookstores, and then Kitsch Kitchen and Nieuw Amsterdam outside of the Nine Streets area. We also ended up, later, in De Bijenkorf, the huge department store in Dam Square, where, incidentally, they had begun setting up a huge carnival.

After that, we continued to stroll and ended up back in the Red Light district, though it wasn't terribly active yet. I mentioned in the last post how much the area disturbed me, but I did think it had some of the best eateries in town. Pin It

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Queen's Diamond Jubilee: Best souvenirs!

When I flew through London two weeks ago, there were a ton of London souvenirs on offer at Heathrow, commemorating everything from the Queen's Jubilee and the Olympics this summer to the general fabulousness of the city. I mean, really, isn't London really the most fabulous place on the planet? (Cagatay and I have been talking about going this summer, and this is the angle I am pushing: How can you not want to go?)

I got back to Istanbul yesterday, just in time to watch the last day and a half of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations in real time. I managed to stay awake until the end of the concert last night (I found the graphics projected onto the facade of Buckingham Palace to be especially memorable, along with the fireworks show, the scope of which was probably more evident on TV.) I watched the thanksgiving service at St. Paul's Cathedral this morning, and after a little nap, the afternoon carriage procession.

But one of my favorite things about these types of events, I have to admit, are the souvenirs that come with them, mostly because they really capture a feeling of a specific time and place. You can buy so many international/exotic souvenirs in the US now at places like Pier 1 or World Market, but it's not half as much fun as when you travel to that place and discover them for yourself, you know?

And without further ado, my favorite Queen's Diamond Jubilee souvenirs, with price (or kitsch) no object:

1. Alessi Alessandro corkscrew, £49  2. Emma Bridgewsater teapot, £75  3. Blue Union Jack and Corgi Cushion, £12  4. Crown fridge magnet, £4  5. Solar Queen, $20  6. Set of four spoons, £40  7. Bloomsberry chocolate bar, £3  8. Limited edition Jubilee astro, £75  9. Henry Holland celebration tea towel, £25  10. Lego minifigure Royal Guard, $3

The only item I own of this group is the Lego minifigure (which wasn't actually intended to commemorate the Queen's Jubilee at all as it came out last summer) though we almost bought a Solar Queen when we saw it in Amsterdam. The mini-Queen waves her hand perfectly, obsessively, when in sunlight, and there's something just so silly and captivating about it. Pin It

Friday, June 1, 2012

Amsterdam Trip: Keukenhof Gardens, day one

I'm finding that when it takes me more than a month to get around to posting something, it's very hard to come up with something to say -- and especially now that I'm home in the US for a couple of weeks for a visit, it's like being in an alternate universe, which is to say, weird. So, uh, we spent four days in Amsterdam in mid-April, smack dab in the middle of tulip season. I don't find an individual tulip to be all that alluring of a flower, but wow, something magical happens when you cram a bunch of colorful ones together.

We arrived mid-morning and got settled at the apartment where we were staying -- it was located across the water, via free ferry, from Central Station, ironically in a Turkish neighborhood. We got there early and to kill some time, we went into the only seemingly open place (besides a hugely popular local "coffeeshop"), and it was like stepping back into Istanbul. They even had the same Pasabahce votive candle holder that I have at home.

Once settled, we went out to find the tulips! From Central Station, we took the train to Leiden via Haarlem, a trip that a Dutch acquiantance had told me would take us right through the flower fields. And it was great advice -- it took about 20 minutes until we got to the fields, but then for about 10 minutes, there were just these colorful strips of flowers on either side of the train, a section here and a section there. But it went by so quickly, and I was dying to get off the train and figure out how to we could walk around or ride a bike through the area (which I imagine would not have been so simple -- actually, another Dutch acquaintance told me today that the view from the train is much better -- but still, it just looked so peaceful and inviting).

From Leiden, which came remarkably quickly, we took the bus to Lisse, home to the Keukenhof Gardens, a massive park home to some 4.5 million tulips. Our Airbnb hostess had warned us not to go, saying it was really overpriced, but I'm thinking she's just jaded from a lifetime of being surrounded by tulips because this place was AMAZING. It's 79 acres with more than 9 miles of pathway, and there are just tulips everywhere -- plus exhibition halls, a baby animals enclosure, a windmill, a labyrinth... I'll let the photos do the work:

Most amazing, though, were the parrot tulips, which feature these Alice-in-Wonderland-esque leaves, which curl in on themselves in bizarre shapes.

We spent hours at the Keukenhof Gardens and while I think we saw everything, it was almost too much to take in in a single afternoon. There was also a 50-minute boat ride we could have taken past some of the flower fields, but by the time we got over there, it was pretty overcast and didn't seem worth it; apparently, we also could have rented bikes (through the shortest route through the bulb fields is 14 miles, and I am not sure I am that kind of biker).

We took the bus back to Amsterdam and we had a little wander around town, mainly just following random streets wherever they took us -- which happened to be, at one point, the Anne Frank house and the Tulip Museum.

We eventually stumbled into Dam Square, where a large crowd was gathered in front of Koninklijk Palace. Like good lemmings, we sort of stood around trying to figure out what was going on, finally asking someone -- and it turned out that Queen Beatrix and Turkish President Abdullah Gul were scheduled to come out momentarily, on their way to the theater. That seemed pretty cool so we joined in...and we waited...and waited...and waited. It even started raining and we still waited. Mostly because the police officers kept gearing up, or a car would pull up, or whatever, and it always seemed like their departure was imminent...and after investing all that time, how could we just walk away? But finally, there was movement, and President Gul came out, amid cheers from the Turks in the crowd. And then it was over. I was pretty psyched, but Cagatay was disappointed -- he only wanted to see the queen.

After that, we decided to head through the Red Light District to have dinner at Bird Thai snackbar, a tiny little place that sits across the street from their larger restaurant and which was in the guidebook. It was pretty good and because it's so small, you just sort of sit wherever and with whomever -- we sat with a very quiet Dutchman, which was a little awkward given our proximity.

Of course, we also got a taste of what the Red Light District was like, and I found it disturbing. I guess I expected it to be more "upscale," for lack of a better word, more Disneyland touristy. And it's not -- it's just seedy, and there's a bunch of young guys wandering around looking to have a good time, and you can practically get high just from breathing the air, with all the pot fumes coming out of the coffeeshops. I was especially disturbed by the "famous" prostitutes displaying their wares in the windows -- a Red Light District website says to "Enjoy the honesty of it all," but those girls were young, and there's nothing "tolerant" or "liberal" about the sex trade and the human trafficking that goes along with it. According to Wikipedia, a former prostitute-turned-councilwoman said: "It's supposed to be such a wonderful, cheery place that shows just what a free city we are. But I think it's a cesspit." It's kind of sick that this is considered a tourist attraction or boys' weekend "fun." WTF? Pin It