Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Embracing my inner Cameljocky

When we first came to America, millions of years ago, otherwise known as the 1970s, my English wasn't very good. Although while I was living in Libya I did go to a British private school, I was still forced to do the 2nd grade again when we arrived. So it was lost on me when someone in Oklahoma called me a cameljocky, the racist insult for a person of Arabian origin. The reasoning being that when we lived in Libya, we actually lived in downtown Benghazi, in a big city apartment building. I had never seen a camel!

It wasn't until years later when I saw a camel (in a zoo of all places) that I realized how amazingly beautiful these animals actually were. First of all, it was huge! But what I loved most was the skin. I loved the colour of their skin because it sort of looked like my skin colour. It was olive and very different then the white skin of my American friends. I decided to collect these beautiful beings and didn't really care that their name was in half a word that is commonly utilized in a derogatory fashion to describe anyone from the Middle East. I decided to embrace my inner cameljocky.

I found these beauties last week at World Market’s ornament section

Today I found this cutie at Value Village and I put one of the ornaments next to him to get an idea of his size

I'm going to try to take more photos of my collection and post it up here over the next few months.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Mirror Mirror...part ithnan

A few days ago, I started listing my 'Six 1 inch Button Pins' I made for each of the countries that are in the Arab League. I’ve been adding more countries as I’ve been able to list them in my Zibbet shop, and am in the process of adding more. But I did want to share the numbers with you for the new countries:
*Proud Iraqi* 97 views
*Proud Algerian* 68 views
*Proud Amreekan* 39 views
*Proud Moroccan* 37 views
*Proud Dijboutian* 32 views

As with the past listings, I have been advertising them on my Twitter and Facebook pages, but have stopped advertising the previous list to give the new ones a chance to catch up. Here is how the ones listed last week have been doing thus far:

*Proud Palestinian* 150 views (up 32 views)
*Proud Somalian* 106 views (up 7 views)
*Proud Syrian* 85 views (up 2 views)
*Proud Libyan* 55 views (up 8 views)
*Proud Lebanese* 49 views (up 2 views)

Except for the Palestinian set that sold within one minute of being listed, I still haven’t sold any other ones, but it’s nice to see so many people are at least looking at them.

I’ll keep adding more pins and updating this blog until all 24 sets are listed (all 22 Arab League countries and my American and Muslim sets too).

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mirror, mirror...what country is the fairest of them all?

My new exciting products lately are 'Six 1 inch Button Pins' made for each of the countries that are in the Arab League. I've been listing them in my Zibbet shop and advertising them on my Twitter and Facebook pages. What is very fascinating is the numbers that show up on my Zibbet shop to let me know how many views each item is receiving. Here are the numbers as of this morning:

*Proud Palestinian* 118 views
*Proud Somalian* 99 views
*Proud Syrian* 83 views
*Proud Libyan* 47 views
*Proud Lebanese* 47 views

So it looks like the Palestinians are in the lead, followed closely by the Somalians and the Syrians. The Libyans and Lebanese are neck and neck in a tie. I find it most interesting that the Palestinians pins were only listed yesterday! And the first set sold within 60 seconds.

I'm going to be making some more Arab League countries today so it’ll be exciting to see how the new countries do in comparison.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Internet wordage abbreviations

Found this funny list on an Etsy forum of all the abbreviations of letters you find on the internet.

• ACEO - Artist Cards Editions and Originals.
• AFAIK - as far as I know
• ATC - artist trading cards --
• AOP - artist's own pattern
• alphabet people - folks who are 'buyers only' and do not have their own avatar

• beta - a public test version of software or a website.
• BF - boyfriend
• BFSC - built from scratch clothing :
• bling - rhinestones and other shiny stuff, big jewelry. (not specific to Etsy)
• B&M (or BM) - "Brick and Mortar" shop with a physical location. (not specific to Etsy)
• BNA - "Be nice, assholes". refers to threads lecturing or advising on what not to say or do in Etsy fora. (attributed to goat).
• BNR - buy and replace. Buy an item and replace it with one of your own in a treasury or forum thread.
• BOGO - buy one, get one (second item free, usually; sometimes half-off)
• bookmarking - term used when a user wants to track a thread without posting a comment. Note: the word "bookmark" is no longer in use, it's a banned word in the forums.
• brb - be right back; used in chat rooms and instant messengers (not specific to Etsy)
• btw - by the way (not specific to Etsy)
• bump - what someone does when she wants to get a particular thread back to the top of the forum (not specific to Etsy)
• Blue Room - chatroom (see also Green Room, Red Room, R)
• calling out - discussing specific transactions and feedback on the public forums, i.e. "Please do not discuss specific transactions and feedback on the public forums. This is calling out another user and is against our rules. Please email support [!at] privately for assistance." (from
• carp - stuff you make; from a typo in the olden days about all the "crap" that was being sold.
• c.lit - not the obvious (
• convo - Etsy's private messaging system, conversation between Etsy members, initiated by clicking on "contact this seller" on seller's shop site
• D&D - see Do's and Don'ts below
• DBCB - Designers & Buyers of Children's Boutique
• destash - term used when one is selling (getting rid of) a stockpile of supplies
• DIY - design it yourself, do it yourself (not specific to Etsy)
• DH - dear husband (not specific to Etsy)
• DNBF - Do Not Buy From -- a list some sellers have because they don't like the postings, manners, politics or other personal aspect of a particular Etsy seller, usually based on postings from the fora.
• Do's and Dont's - Etsy rules
• Dork - Automatically replaces "dick" in forum titles, even for proper names. Is not RevolvingDork, one of the Etsy four founders & early forum mod.
• Dyno - Etsy seller who provided incredible guides to using Etsy in the Beta days

• E - Etsy
• EDM - Electronic Dance Music, as in raves or desert parties
• Esty - common typo for Etsy. Appeared in the orange box website header on April 1, 2010.
• ETSIANS - everyone in the great Etsy community
• fantastic - a word which automatically replaces the word "ass" when typed in the chatrooms
• flag, flagged - to report an item or shop to Etsy for violating an Etsy rule.
• FP - acronym for the Etsy Front Page.
• frell - a word which automatically replaces the word "fuck" when typed in the chatrooms (originally from Farscape, not purely specific to Etsy)
• FWIW - for what it's worth (not specific to Etsy)
• Green Room - chatroom (see also Blue Room, Red Room)
• GA - Google Analytics
• heart - to put a shop or item into one's favorites. This can be a verb or noun: "I hearted your earrings", "I have 100 hearts".
• HTF - hard to find
• "headdesk" - forum eye rolling on Etsy
• IBTL - in before the lock (specific to Etsy for marking threads destined for closure)
• ILLTWITTERATE - Not understanding social networking
• IMO - in my opinion (not specific to Etsy)
• IMHO - in my humble opinion (not specific to Etsy)
• ITA - I totally agree
• JK - just kidding, joking (not specific to Etsy)
• JFGI - Just Friggin'/Frelling Google It

• KWIM - know what I mean? (not specific to Etsy)
• LMAO - laughing my ass off (not specific to Etsy)
• LOL - laugh out loud (not specific to Etsy)
• Man Knitter - A man that knits (ex. Cubist Literature)
• marking - making a mark to find or follow a thread later
• newbie - new Etsy member, new poster in forums, new member of any online group (not specific to Etsy)
• NPB - non-paying buyer
• NSFW - not safe for work, usually a warning of adult content. When posting a link to a website with nudity or adult content, it's good netiquette to label it "NSFW".
• OMG - oh my god/gosh (not specific to Etsy)
• OOAK - one of a kind (not specific to Etsy)
• OP - original poster; the person who starts a forum thread (not specific to Etsy)
• OSWOA - original small work of art (not specific to Etsy)
• PIF - pay it forward --
• PITA - pain in the ass (not specific to Etsy)
• PLUR - Peace Love Unity Respect, mantra of the rave culture.
• QA - quirky alone, unmarried childfree individual (as opposed to SAHM, for example --
• qnb - quirkynberkeley
• R - Red Room chat room (vote's still out on this one); notorious in Etsy lore for reasons deserved or not (vote's still out on this; join the debate); also site of the first Etsy town hall meeting on (what was the date?)
• RevolvingDork - One of the Etsy 4 founders, made famous by pithy, witty forum posts & closures
• RAOK - random act of kindness (not specific to Etsy)
• RAOGK - random act of glassy kindness (not specific to Etsy)
• ROFL - rolling on floor laughing (not specific to Etsy)
• ROFLMAO - Rolling On Floor Laughing My Ass Off (not specific to Etsy)
• SAHM - stay at home mom (not specific to Etsy)

• SEO - Search Engine Optimization - methodology to getting websites or specific URL's to the top of searches
• sleavy - alternate spelling of sleazy. Born in Etc on 2-11-09, followed by a week of non-stop threads.
• snark - sarcasm, sarcastic remark. Can be either humorous or mean, depending on context and perception.
• SNS - Saturday Night Special, weekly sale promotion (
• sock puppet -- username/account created for the sole purpose of posting, shilling, harassing, promoting in fora without being identified.
• spam - posting too many promotional threads in the forums, posting promos outside the promo section of the forums, posting promotional replies to unrelated topics, sending unsolicited convos or emails promoting one's shop, thanking people for hearting.
• spambot - Etsy's automated program to stop convo spam. If a user sends too many convos in a short period of time, the spambot will mute her convos.
• SRA - self-representing artist
• SRAJD - self-representing artist jewelry designer
• stash - a lot of craft supplies waiting to be used (not specific to Etsy)
• stash-busting - cleaning out, giving away, selling or using up the stash (not specific to Etsy)
• stellaloella - one of the 42 Etsy employees
• STFU - shut the fuck up (not specific to Etsy)
• stoked - (as in stoking a fire) excited or happy. Origin: surfer slang (not specific to Etsy)
• thread - an ongoing conversation in the forums, aka "topic." (not specific to Etsy)

• Thread with a capital T, aka "The Thread" - a series of long ongoing chats in the E

• tc. section of the forums. Participants are called "threaders."
• TMI - too much information, over-sharing (not specific to Etsy)
• TOS - terms of service, often used interchangebly with TOU
• TOU - terms of use --
• treasury - a list of favorites, created by one person, and lasting up to 3 days before it expires. The treasury "limit" is currently 333, but this does not mean there can't be more than that. It means that when the number dips to 332, anyone who is in the treasury has the opportunity to create one. Depending how many people do create one, the number can go as high as 375 or more. Retired Fall '09.
• Treasury East - current unlimited treasury free-for-all of immortal treasuries
• TRIF - trade it forward --
• TTFN - ta ta for now (not specific to Etsy)
• TVP - thinly veiled promotion. thread or post for the sole purpose of calling attention to the poster's items or shop
• V2 - version 2 of Etsy, which was released in November 2006

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Zibbet listing goal

I have a listing goal to get 200 items into my shop. Well, I'm halfway there. In order to celebrate the halfway mark, I'm giving all my Facebook fans a 25% off discount in my store. Just 'like' and get the code to shop!

And check out these beautiful Afghanistan coin pendents I just got in my shop:

Friday, November 26, 2010

Nook Cover

I recently purchased a Nook online, but was having a really hard time finding a cover for it.  Instead of moping about it, I made one!

I couldn't find any instructions for creating a Nook cover, so I had to adjust my measurements from a cover I found for a Kindle.

And for the record, I think my Nook is so much better then a Kindle. The idea of being able to share books with fellow Nook readers was what sold me. So here is the cover I made. I'd love to hear what you think of it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Arabesque Scrabble Tile designs

I love making scrabble tiles pendant necklaces. I have been doing them every since I saw them at a local craft store. I didn't buy the ones there becuase a) a lot of the designs did not comply with copyright laws, b) the glue looks so bad running all over the back of the tile and c) I knew I could figure out how to make them.

I bought a set of "Arabic" designs from someone online but when I got them, they were way too dark! So I made some with generic (and permission granted) owl and monster designs on them. But deep down, I didn't feel they reflected my design style. They are however selling well for me at one of my brick and mortar stores, so I'm happy others like them.

So today I figured out how to make digital college sheets with designs I have from old (and copyright compliant) henna/mehndi books. I spent the afternoon working with Photoshop to make them oh so pretty and yalla, here they are:
If you'd like to purchase them, be sure to check out my zibbet shop!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Teaching at the 2010 Fall WWW

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Women's Wellness Weekend put together by the Greater Seattle YMCA. This event is held each Spring and Fall on Orcas Island at the 104 year old Camp Orkila. I fell in love with the program and started teaching a ring making class to produce these rings:

This year, to try to do something different (and give my poor hands a break from the beat up they got with the wires) I decided to teach a quilling class. These are samples for the cards we made in class:

It was a lot of fun and I really hope to teach it again!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Zibbet recognizes Eid!

I am very happy to report that will be recognizing Eid as a holiday under its choice of categories. For those that do not know, Eid is an Arabic word for 'celebration' and usually represents the two major holidays in the Islamic faith: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al- Adha.

Zibbet has decided to acknowledge all three major faiths and for this I am very grateful and thankful. In celebration of this major event, I'd like to recognize other artists that list on Zibbet and use the Eid tag:

Beadwizzard makes these gorgeous moon and star earrings with all types of stones attached. You can choose from blue, yellow, red or green. But if you can't decide which one will look brilliant on your ears, you might want to get more than one!

If you are looking for a unique gift, how about this Personalized Paper Name Portrait by sitinuriatistudio. Individually hand cut and layered together, the finished piece is then adhered to a white backing board, signed and dated at the back. It's sure to brighten up any room!

If you are creating a craft project and are in need of some Shell Assorted Moon Beads, how about these beauties from YinYangGirlDesigns? Can you believe you get 100 for such a low price? What a bargain!

Thinking of traveling for Hajj? Then you'll certainly need this Eco Yellow Moon and Stars Passport Cover by WrapCycle. This cheery yellow and white checked passport cover is machine-embroidered with a crescent moon and bright star. You also have the option of getting it personalized with a name or initials.

And last but certainly not least, is this beautiful set of earrings by SpiritReflections. These delightful matching celestial elements dangle from gold leverback ear wires. And how cool is it that they are eco-friendly and made from modified and repurposed buttons?

Be sure to check out these sellers and support Zibbet with this historical decision as being the ONLY online craft venue to recognize Eid along with Christmas and Hanukkah.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Turning your Photos into Colouring pages with Photoshop

I took some great photos in Egypt and Turkey (2061 of them!) and there is no way I can show them to everyone here. Next week I will be sitting my children down and making them go through the whole Powerpoint presentation, but you don't have to suffer like that (unless you also didn't clean your room, in which case you'll be invited too).

Two years ago I got Adobe Photoshop and it sat in my computer gathering dust as I just couldn't figure out how to work it. Yes, I went to the YouTube videos, website and even was too much of a dummy to figure out "Photoshop for Dummies." But recently I started going in and playing with only one or two features at a time and I think I'm finally getting the hang of it. I'm not going to be teaching a class or anything, but I can at least get a few things done. One thing I learned is how to take a photo and turn it into a colouring page. So that's what I'll be doing with my thousands of beautiful flower and mosques shots: turning them into colouring pages for my girls (once they have clean rooms).

Here are the steps so you can do it yourself:

1 - Make a copy of your photo and open the copy in Photoshop. Name it something else so you can tell the difference between the original and the copy. Flower1 and Flowercopy works well.

2 - Once in Photoshop, click on Layers and make a Duplicate Layer of your image.

3 - Check to see if your default ink colour is black if you want a black and white colouring page. Then go to Filter, click on Sketch and then Photocopy. Play around with the Detail and Darkness buttons until you get the effects you like. Once you like what you see, click on OK.

4 - This is when you can play around with your image before you save it. If you want to erase some lines, add some lines, resize, add text, etc. There are all kinds of buttons you can play with and discover on the left hand side (I have Photoshop Elements 7, you might have your buttons in a different location). When you're done, save your image as a JPEG file.

Ya'lla, you now have a colour page in four super easy steps. Put a few of them together and make a book, or print them out one at a time (double sided of course) to give to the kids.

Happy crafting!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Top Etsy Shops for Muslims by the MuslimTeam Street Team

Etsy is an online selling community that enables people to make a living making things, and to reconnect makers with buyers.

MuslimTeam on Etsy Logo Proudly carried in each shop.
Here is the group of sellers that created a MuslimTeam street team on Etsy back in December 2008:

A Crafty Arab - A Crafty Arab strengths Arab American heritage and language by creating handmade educational tools that are fun and colourful.
Etsy shop:
Home shop:

Gwendolyns Design - Gwendolyn's Designs creates beaded necklaces, bracelets and hijab pins.
Etsy shop:

Hijabi Shoppe - Hijabi Shoppe by Badra Boutique was the very first Etsy store that catered to the needs of our Muslim sisters and brothers by offering simple, yet beautiful modest clothing. Many of the designs are classics, but with modern and classy fabric.
Etsy shop:

Jujube Hijab Pins – Jujbe Hijab Pins makes unique pins for hijabs, scarves or shawls.
Etsy shop:

Moth Written - moth designs' line of arabic t shirts, tote bags, pins, and handbags strives to create positive dialogue about the arabic-speaking world through bright, gentle quirk
Etsy shop:

Muslamb – Muslamb designs cards, invitations, imprintables, stationary and the occasional silk-screened tee.
Etsy shop: http:///

Soumayyah's Toybox – Soumayyaah’s Toybox creates faceless dolls that are in line with the Islamic faith.
Etsy Shop:

If you are interested in joining this Street Team, your store must contain obvious Muslim or Islamic items to qualify to be in the team.

Your store items must be completely handmade by you and not mass produced somewhere else.

You do not have to be Muslim to join, but we ask that if you are not, that you are at least Muslim friendly.

We ask that you state on your store front page that you are a member of our team. Also put the team tag on your listing tags so that we may include your items in treasuries {updated to add our Pinterest board}.

To join, please contact me.

To read more about the campaign for Etsy to add Eid as a tag, please visit this forum post. You can also join the Facebook group Please Etsy add Eid to your tags.

Friday, September 3, 2010

This is a very crazy story that I need to share

Before we went to Turkey, I asked my dad why there is a photo of me at my 1st birthday in Turkey. I was curious as I had originally thought that my folks were just there on vacation. My dad then told me this story:

When the Italians invaded Libya, my great grandfather was worried they would take his two sons and kill them. This was common back then in times of war. Kill the sons so that they do not fight against the occupying army. So he took them to Turkey and left them in an orphanage. He had hopes that some day, after the occupation, he would go back and get them. He left them at an orphanage because he didn't know anyone in Turkey. He decided to keep his daughter at home and not take her because she would be safer with her parents.

Then tragedy struck and my great grandfather died. So my great uncles grew up in Turkey, got adopted by a local family and proceeded to learn Turkish and adjust to their new home. Flash forward to my own grandmother growing up without her brothers, meeting my grandfather, getting married and having seven kids. Only two of the children survived a childhood illness and this makes my grandmother realize that she really wants to find her brothers. After my parents met and got married, my dad decided to take his mother to meet her brothers. So we all went and that is how I celebrated my first birthday in Turkey. But again, ties were lost and no one kept in touch and sadly my grandmother died years ago.

So I went to Turkey with this amazing story but with no hopes that any family members would be found. Their last name is very common (almost like a Smith here) and they weren’t even close to Istanbul (where DH and I were) last time my folks visited. A week ago, a family member from the Turkish side went to Libya in hopes of finding his family. He tracked down my grandmother’s house and found my cousins who still live in the neighborhood. Of course they contacted my father via Facebook and yesterday my dad emailed me a complete family tree of the two great granduncles that is two pages long. On the second page at the very bottom is my grandmother, her two sons, their wives and me. Since my first birthday is the only contact they had with our family, they have no idea that my uncle has seven sons, one daughter and many many grandchildren. Also missing are my brothers, our spouses and combined children.

Now family members are finding each other back and forth on Facebook and it’s pretty wild. The biggest problem is that we don’t speak Turkish and they don’t speak Arabic or English, so it’s been a challenge to communicate but my dad is beyond ecstatic. I also got a second picture of me blowing out the cake with my grandmother next to me which trilled me since I don’t have many photos of her. When we left Libya,we had to leave all our personal items behind, which unfortunately included all our photos. I only get a few every so often when relatives who can get into the country are able to sneak them out.

So that’s it, I’m blown away that I have a whole extended family in Turkey and I think I need to return someday! I’m still trying to come to grips with it all. Thanks for reading my share.

Oh, and today is my dad's birthday, so Happy Birthday Baba!!!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Day 13 - Istanbul by day and night

Today is the day to visit the Aya Sofia, also known as the Hagia Sophia. One tip we got from friends back home was to get there super early as the place fills up fast with tourists. So again, we had a fast breakfast and walked the few blocks up the hill to get first in line. We got excited about this until we saw that there were actually two lines. One for the tourist and one for the "locals" (which is a loose terms that covers all Turks).

As soon as the 9am bell rang, we ran to the ticket booth, got our tickets and made a mad dash to get into the church/mosque/museum. It was worth the dash once we got inside. It was truly breathtaking once you stand under the dome in the middle of the grand hall alone, save for a couple of guards. We were only there for a few minutes when movement close to the Minbar caught our attention. When we got closer, we noticed it was a gray catwith a bird in its mouth. The guards were at a loss at what to do. In mere moments, the museums would be full of tourist, but on the other hand, this cat was enjoying its breakfast. There were several discussions, in Turkish, about the cat, and the final decision was to leave it alone until the bird was consumed. After the bird was eaten, a guard showed up with a dust pan to quickly clean up what was left of the feathers, while the cat found a sun spot to clear it’s paws.

From the Minbar, we moved on to the two huge marble lustration urns and them made our way around the great halls before heading upstairs to get better views of the gigantic circular-framed disks hung on columns with the names of Allah, Muhammad (pbuh), Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman and Ali, Hassan and Hussain. It's not until you get upstairs that you really get the true size of these massive medallions. We walked around the famous Marble Door and enjoyed all the mosaics that covered various parts of the walls. It was fascinating to see all the crosses in the banisters that had been removed with the building when the church was converted to a mosque in 1453. Having come from a country where hieroglyphics were covered with crosses, it as ironic to come to a location where crosses were removed. My favorite part of the museum was all the patterns in the marble, ceilings, columns, banisters, windows and every where one looked. It's very hard to resist touching everything.

After a couple of hours, we finally felt we had seen everything and headed back downstairs to leave. We had taken a photo in one location as soon as we had walked in the door, so before we left, we made sure to take another photo in the exact same location. Except the second time, there were hundreds of people standing behind us. Before we left, we also made sure to look for the "weeping column" near the imperial door. Legend has it that you place your thumb in the central hole and make your hand go a full 360 without moving your thumb. If you go all the way around, your wish will come true, your aliments will go away and you will live forever. Or something along those lines. Once outside, we peeked through a door that someone had accidentally left open and observed the excavations going on for the churches under the Sofia that were still being excavated.

After the museum, we wandered over to Topkapı Palace, another location that had been highly recommended to visit. But the lines were outrageous and we wanted to keep the Aya Sofia memories fresh in our minds. So we meandered through the archeological museum and leisurely strolled back to our hotel where I got recommendations for a true Turkish Hammam location. The Cagaloglu Hamami got the local nod, so we moseyed down there so I could cross another thing off my bucket list. I must say that afterwards my body felt so fresh and clean, I believe I experienced a rebirth. I was a bit intimidated a bit going in, knowing that I was going to be naked in front of other women, but once I entered the domed hall, I didn't even notice anyone else. They made me wear these super uncomfortable wood shoes that looked better on the wall then my feet. The only thing I was wondering is if my attendant was the same one that had also scrubbed down Cameron Diez? or maybe Kat Moss? While I was in the hamam, DH managed to find the Valens Aqueduct and take some photos of it.

Feeling fresh and renewed, we headed to the Küçük Ayasofya neighborhood, but first stopped to get a Simit from a street vendor while walking trough the Hippodrome of Constantinople. We admired the Serpent Column, the Walled Obelisk and the Obelisk of Theodosius. Once we reached our true destination, the Doy-Doy Restaurant, we stayed put for a couple of hours enjoying the laughter and Turkish conversations of our neighboring tables while watching the women across the alley hang her wet laundry on a clothesline. We didn't know what to order, so had the waiter surprise us with endless plates of appetizers, meat, veggies and desserts. With full happy stomachs we staggered back to our hotel and immediately feel asleep.

We had yet to visit the Beyoğlu neighborhood so we put on our walking shoes and took a short hike to the tram station. Nearly an hour, one dog bite and metro ride later, we finally arrived at our destination where we were in for the shock of our lives. It truly was like walking around Manhattan. There were thousands and thousands of people strolling through the open shops, restaurants and cafes, where live gypsy music blended with djed hip hop while street musicians with open guitar cases trying to compete stood on the corners. Overhead the street was illuminated with lights that were alternating between snowman holding Christmas trees or crystal chandeliers. And the cherry on top was the sweet smells of Doner, wafering the air like a GPS straight to our stomachs that were impossible to resist, so we didn't.

We walked the length of İstiklâl Caddesi, past the various embassies and the Galata Kulesi before we found ourselves in dark alleys with very unusual graffiti painted on the doors. It was blocks and blocks of yellow arms held up in resistance painted alongside eyes. We weren't sure if it had anything to do with the graffiti we had seen earlier that stated "Free Palestina" but it was beautiful and sinister simultaneously. Knowing that a short while ago, the Israelis had attacked a Turkish ship with medical supplies headed to Gaza, we thought it might have been the local resistance to the apartheid that was happening to the Palestinians.

We finally meandered back to our hotel, through the eerie silence that surrounded the Blue Mosque. The only inhabitants at 2am were the garbage men, picking up all evidence that the day before had actually existed.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Day 12 - Prince Island

We decided to head to the Buyuka ada (Big Island - the biggest of the Prince Islands) and had to eat our breakfast fast in order to make the ferry. Of course this means we only spent an hour on the terrace roof instead of longer. We haven't been in Turkey very long, but already my pants are starting to feel a little snug. Time to go walk off all this halwa!

We took the tram to the Eminönü stop to take the iDo ferry to the islands. We made stops at Kabataş (the Asian side) to pick up more passengers before we stopped at Kınalıada, Burgazada, Heybeliad and finally getting off at Büyükada over an hour later. As soon as we got off the ferry, we were greeting by men standing in front of restaurants asking us to check out their prices. We ignored them and walked up the hill to notice a line around the block waiting for the horse and carriage rides. There was also a line for the bicycle rental place. We didn’t want to wait in long lines and decided to start walking up the hill ourselves to the top, where the Ayia Yorgi Church and Monastery are located. I'm so glad we did, since we got to see some of the beautiful architecture of the island and enjoy the quietness of the walk because motorized vehicles are forbidden on all the six islands.

The further up we go, the more breathtaking the views became. Through the trees one can see Istanbul, the blueness of the water and the amount of freight tankers that were going through the ports. We heard the music of a local resort drift up the trees and listened to the sounds of the horse's hoofs on the road. We walked through a local park where families were having lunch and reached the final rest stop before the last major climb to the top. We bought some overpriced ice cream, took a deep breath and started climbing the cobblestone path. The closer we got to the top, the more trees we saw covered in swatches of fabric. These prayers were left by others who wanted to leave a blessing or request.

At the top, my DH had to wear a long piece of fabric to cover his legs that were in shorts. I hesitate to call it a skirt, since this same piece of fabric is the same one that some women used to cover their heads. We walked inside the teeny weeny church (where no cameras were allowed), make a small donation and went outside to walk around and enjoy the spectacular view under clear blue skies. The architecture of the church was telling of its years and I fell in love with the geometric patterns created by the roof top shingles as we walked by. We decided against buying anything at the café and headed back down to enjoy lunch by the water’s edge. We asked about the cost of the carriage ride to the bottom, realized it was more then the cost of lunch and headed back down on foot. We stopped along the way to enjoy the purrs of sleeping cats, the sounds of kids laughing in back yards and the colours of the vibrant flowers that were in full bloom. We made a quick detour at the house of Leon Trotsky, where he lived for four years after his deportation from the Soviet Union in 1929. The house was very hard to find and several locals had no idea what we were talking about. We finally wandered down this no name street where a group of women were leaving a courtyard. One of them understood English and read the guide book we showed her. She pointed across the street at this run down, gated home that was in ruins with over grown trees and no roof.

We continued on our way, having lunch at a restaurant close to the ferry dock. Okay, let me pause here a moment. I have to tell you about this lunch. The food good, as always, tasted fresh and delicious. We wanted to treat ourselves for walking all the way up and down the mountainside, so we decided on dessert. I have to admit I’m not really that big of a dessert person. Yes, I do occasionally enjoy a nibble of something sweet at the end of a meal, but I’ve not one to always devour a full helping of a chocolate cake slice at the end of a dinner. So we got this Kanafeh that sounded good. We sat there for 20 minutes, still waiting when we saw the cook run by with eggs in his hand. I guess they ran out of eggs and had to borrow some from another restaurant. We were a little put off by having to wait so long, but seeing that was very comical. Then the Kanafeh came and we took a bite. At this point, angles started singing halleluiah and the waters parted. I have never in my life tasted anything so delicious. Ever ever. I’m so sorry mom, but this Kanafeh was divine. I didn’t take a photo because I was worried that if I took the time to take the picture, my DH would get an extra bite. He of course tried to get me to take the picture. Reluctantly, we left the restaurant, got on the ferry and headed back to Eminönü.

We landed back and headed for the Spice Market and walked around smelling all the smells. I had no idea it was such a gathering place for animal selling either. We saw dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, pigeons, cockatiels, turkeys and other birds that we couldn’t read the name plates to figure out where they were. The one that surprised me were the number of huge clear plastic tubs with leeches inside. I’d seen leeches before, but not hundreds in tubs and about 10 different vendors selling them.

We walked through the market, taking our time and enjoying more of this fabulous city. You would think that after walking up a mountain top and back we’d be heading straight for the tram or hail a cab? Nope, after the Spice Market, we walked back through the Grand Bazaar, bought some little treats for our girls and came upon a Dervish at a different bazaar attached to the side of the Blue Mosque. It was mesmerizing to watch him twirl.

After we finally headed back to our hotel, I tried to get a food photo for the day. It was the hotel next to us and their meat delivery. But the man at the door started yelling at me in Turkish so it’s a very blurred shot. But at least you can see how the meat is delivered late in the evening to restaurants around town. I can’t wait till tomorrow where I get to taste more of the lamb kebab!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Day 11 - Leaving Europe for Asia and back again

Having spent the last day being very lazy, we were very motivated this morning to do a little sightseeing. We had yet another fantastic breakfast full of melon, bread, tomatoes and much much more halwa and left the hotel with our Akbil in hand. First we caught the tram to the Tophane stop on the black line, walking by the Dolmabahçe Palace. From there we again used our Akbil to catch the Kabatas ferry to the other side. Why did we cross the water you might ask? To get to Asia of course! There are not very many areas in the world were you can be in one continant and take a ferry ride to get to another continent that is connected with the same city. Pretty cool indeed.

Once on the other side, we decided to walk, but got a little ahead of ourselves and didn't realize how far we were from our destination. We had gotten a name of a great restaurant from our Turkish friend in Seattle and wanted to have lunch there. We had no idea we'd be walking 5 miles to the Karaköy ferry before we finally found our right the bus. On the bus, we found a lovely gal that knew English and managed to get our bus driver to let us know where the Kalamis Marina was so we can get off. At the Marina we managed to find the restaurant, Diwali, one of the BEST kebap places in town. The place was huge, but there was only three tables occupied. We basically told them we had no idea what to order, so they just kept brining us food and more food.

After our huge feast, we took a taxi to the Bagdat Caddesi from Suadiye, getting off along the water where the Suadiye Princess Hotel was located. Again, we were super lucky to find another English speaking woman on our taxi who helped us tell the taxi driver were we wanted to land. At the stop, I managed to find my spot to do my photograph of my foot in the water. From the beach we walked about three blocks up to the Bagdat Caddesi and started walking west. What a fascinating caddesi - apparently it goes from Istanbul all the way to Baghdad! It was like were weren't even in the same Istanbul we started in. There were hardly any mosques to be seen, the amount of women in hijab could be counted on one hand and everyone was dressed to the nines! It was like walking through parts of Paris. The stores were all high end shoes, clothing and everything was over priced. We walked for a few miles, hoping to work off our massive lunch before finally giving in and catching a bus back to the Karaköy ferry. From the ferry, we got lazy (or was it exhausted?) and just went straight back to the ferry dock under the Galata Bridge.

We got off the ferry and walked around the fish market before crossing the Bridge, watching all the fishermen staring into the Golden Horn. After we got across the Bridge, we spent a little time at the New Queen Mother's Mosque doing some people watching from the main stairs. Despite the Spice Market being connected to the Mosque, we decided to stop by on a different day. There were rows of shoe shiners all lined up waiting for the workers to get off the tram station and heading home. We made a stop at the grocery store to stock up on more cheese and bread for dinner and called it a day.

I just realized I went through the whole day with no food photo, so here is course 2 from our fantastic lunch:

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Day 10 - Good morning Istanbul

Today is the start of our first day in Istanbul. With all the early wake up calls in Egypt and all the running around we had to do, it was nice to wake up lazy and spend the whole day being lazy. First we started with a breakfast on the rooftop of our hotel, overlooking the Sea of Marmara and the Blue Mosque. What an amazing view. Honestly, if the rest of the trip was going to be anything like it had started today, we were in for some great times and lots of great food. Breakfast took forever because I couldn't stop eating. I was amazed by the freshness of all the fruits and vegetables and ate almost the whole plate of melons myself. I also tried to resist the halwa as long as I could, but finally had to give in. Finally my DH dragged me away from the food so we can start exploring Istanbul.

Our first stop was up the street at the Hippodrome of Constantinople since we wanted to explore our own 'hood before we wandered off too far. I have to point out here at the beauty of the Blue Mosque but we decided to wait to visit it. It looked like it would be a perfect end to our trip to Istanbul and we felt we wanted to save it at the end. Almost like a dessert. But we loved walking by it every morning and enjoying the quietness of the benches that faced it. By the time we got home in the evening, they were packed with tourists, but in the morning, you could actually hear the birds chirping in the surrounding gardens.

It was fitting that we'd take a moment to reflect at the Milion, which was used as a starting-place for measurement of distances. From the Milion, we wandered up the paved, carless road to try to find a location to buy our Akbil. According to our hotel manager, this Akbil is the only way to go in Istanbul. The Akbil is a small stainless steel "button" on a plastic holder. Inside is a computer chip. You basically put down a deposit for this little thing, put cash into the account and then are able to use it on trams, trains, busses and ferries. We knew we had to get one. Not only does this save us from having to figure out the change for each trip, it allowed the both of us to use it together. Of course finding where these little bits of heaven were sold was a challenge, since neither one of us knew how to read Turkish, so most of the morning was wasted walking around with only this purpose.

We finally got an Akbil, placed some cash on it, and found ourselves next to the Grand Bazaar, the oldest and largest mall in the world. Of course we got totally lost walking aimlessly through it's 50+ streets. Since we knew we didn't want to buy anything on our first day, it was interesting to just walk around and check out the various prices from the different shops. The main central area was much higher priced for the same items you find on the less walked streets. We saw a lot of Nazar sellers that were dirt cheap as compared to the ones that had rows and rows of much more expensive protections in the central area. the outside area of the Bazaar also housed much more of the utilitarian shops that the locals would have been buying from, including appliances, jeans, tennis shoes and guns. Yup, we walked right by a gun shop with a full display of every kind of gun imaginable in it's window. Very interesting indeed. Personally, I loved all the bright colors of the tourist dresses, headscarves, toys and shoes.

We also walked by lots of little local mosques and marveled at the details of everything. It was interesting to see the tombstones in the tiny little graveyards in front of these mosques. We keep meandering around the Bazaar and all it's local neighborhoods the rest of the day and ate at a local tourist place. On our way home, we also walked by the Basilica Cistern, but had been warned there really wasn't much to see in it, so we didn't go in. So we just keep moving along to finish up our perfect lazy day.