We came, we saw, we ate.

We weren’t expecting Turkish food to be so varied, and so good. Neither of us have much experience with Turkish food, it’s not something we have a lot of in San Francisco- or at least not that we know of or frequent. We knew it would be good, healthy, and fresh – or so we’d heard, but our expectations were absolutely exceeded. Some of you will love this post loaded with photos of food. Others may roll your eyes and imagine us doing the thing where no one can touch the food until someone properly snaps a cell phone photo. Yes. We did that. A lot.

Our first mezze plate in Istanbul. And our first meal of three at this restaurant, The New Hatay, where we also made new friends- hi Sue and Peter!
Our first documented restaurant cat. It started to feel as if you were never further than 2 meters from a cat in Istanbul, which I was fine with. Feeding the cats with tidbits from your meal was quite usual.

We don’t have photos of every meal, or every restaurant cat (or dog). And I can’t tell you what each dish was, but overall the food was fantastic. Were there awkward moments when we stumbled through a menu with no English translation with the help of Google translate – yes, many! Did we have waiters bring us English language menus that seemed to have no relation to the Turkish menu? Yes. There was some pointing at other table’s food. We muddled through and enjoyed a lot of good meals.

That chef’s special salad in front of me at the Daphne restaurant in Istanbul was a non translated item on the menu. Always a fun choice! It was perfect.

Most of the restaurant dining we did was outside, or by large open windows, but always, always, in the shade. It wasn’t too hot anywhere yet, but I am notoriously sun adverse.

No, that carton of popcorn was not our dinner, the glass of wine and giant beer were followed by hamburgers which I failed to document. This was in the Beşiktaş neighborhood of Istanbul which was noisy and crowded and so much fun.
Oh look! Here we are back at the New Hatay Restaurant for lunch. Why so many visits? It was on a lovely quiet side street, the staff were so friendly and helpful, and the food was good. Pide, which is described as Turkish pizza.

Our one complaint about Turkish dining is the cigarette smokers. Before we pick a table we carefully judge the prevailing wind direction and eyeball the other diners – who’s got cigarette packs on the table, who’s almost done eating and therefore likely to light up? We come from San Francisco which has some of the strictest rules in the world – no smoking at outside tables, no smoking near doors or windows – and it’s lovely to be able to live your life rarely inhaling secondhand smoke. In Turkey you are closer to a smoker than a cat at all times and you will usually be inhaling someone’s smoke. If no one is smoking near you right now, just wait a few minutes. Someone will light up.

Snack break in Izmir on our walk to the shopping mall. Fuse Ice Tea and pastries. In the shade.
Lunch at the mall! That’s Iskender Kebap, döner and tomato sauce on a bed of bread or potatoes. After it comes to your table a lady comes by with a huge pot of clarified butter and pours it on until you say stop.
Kebap in Selçuk.
Cat coveting kebap in Selçuk.
Two fantastic salads, lentil soup, yogurt with dill, cucumber, and garlic oil. Selçuk.
Still in Selçuk, chicken shish kebab for me, I think Rich had beef and mushrooms. The wait was long (we were warned) but the food was delicious.

We rented an apartment in Bodrum and cooked for ourselves for five nights, so no food photos from that town. We also had an apartment in Datça, with minimal cooking facilities though, so we had breakfast and lunch in, and dinner out.

Datça cafeteria style lunch on our first day there. It can be a bit intimidating when you have very little idea of what anything is, but one of the young servers walked us through the line of food. Zucchini fritters and Aubergine casserole, lentil soup, yogurt with dill and garlic oil, rice pilaf and something else yummy. More Fuse Ice Tea.
A small restaurant in Datça that serves only one thing, meatballs, or köfte. Easy ordering, they have one type each day. Two please.
Please please please, says the dog who woke up just as we were served.
One of the most delicious mezze courses. From the right, yogurt with spicy oil, celery heart with strawberries and I think pomegranate syrup, beets with mint and mulberries, red peppers in oil and other delicious things, and I cannot remember what the last dish was. The restaurant made five different mezze each day and you got what they had. All fantastic.
Rich stunned by size of the fresh hot lavash in Fethyie.
Restaurant cat stunned that I shared almost half of one chicken shish with them. Friends for life.
Simit elevenses in Fethiye mid bike ride. A simit is the circular bread which you could be forgiven for thinking is a bagel. Similar, and chewy delicious.

One thing we fantasized about during the long months of stay at home pandemic were hotel breakfasts. Remember that one, we’d say, in Kuala Lumpur? Or that one in Sweden with the fish? We like our breakfasts. A hotel breakfast buffet done well is a travel memory created.

This hotel in Antalya created breakfast memories, for sure.
The second morning we knew to go for a walk first and arrive very hungry.

Turkish breakfasts are huge. Loads of greens and veggies and olives, breads and cheeses, fruit, eggs in spicy tomato sauce. Dried fruit, nuts, yogurt, and as many cups of çay (black tea) as you can handle. And coffee of course, Turkish coffee.

Dinner at the pension at Lake Eğirdir. They would have three options on offer, all cooked fresh on site. With a fantastic view over the lake. Kofte for me and chicken for Rich. And again fantastic mezze. I am on the hunt for a cookbook of Turkish mezze written in English.
Hey, how about a dish that was developed to use up dry stale bread and leftovers bits of butchered animals? Another restaurant that does one thing only. Two please.
Tirit, broken open to reveal the yogurt and bread under the meat. Delicious. This was in Konya, a more traditional city. Oh, that little dish of peppers? Spicy. Very spicy.
Into every trip some comfort food must come. Pancakes in Izmir at a woman owned cafe whose owner also walked me over to her hairdresser for a haircut.

I hope this trip down food memory lane was as fun for you to browse as it was for us to eat. Any restaurant choosing squabbles we may have had are forgotten. Any long treks up and down streets considering and rejecting places to eat only helped sharpen our appetites. To all the restaurant cats I didn’t manage to share meals with, I’m sorry. I did my best.

Me? I got very few tidbits.
The happy well fed travelers on our last full day in Turkey. Overlooking the harbor of Izmir and thinking about lunch.

Ancient sites and a cozy neighborhood.

Like many tourists/travelers, we really enjoy visiting places that are not so clearly tourist attractions. Selçuk is one of those, the town nearest to Ephesus, a 10th century BC settlement. What, you ask? Ephesus is obviously a big attraction, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015, with impressive ruins and ongoing archeological work. How is that not a tourist place? All right, it is. But these days many of the visitors seem to arrive for the day, bused in off a cruise ship.

Once again we timed our visit to have some alone time in the ruins.

The town of Selçuk is charming. Some of the cruise ship buses do stop at the Archeological Museum in town, where you can view the most impressive treasures uncovered at Ephesus, but the town itself is a lovely, relaxed, and friendly place and once again we felt like the only non Turkish tourists in town.

Rich at the upper gate of Ephesus. See, this look says – no one else here yet.
Looking up the main road of Ephesus. I am always fascinated by the paving stones. Some of these bore the initials of the workers who laid them in place.
Rich walking down the main road of Ephesus. The harbor used to be very close, but as it silted up the town struggled and eventually failed.
Quickly waylaid by a friendly Turkish cat.
The Library of Celsus, the most recognizable and amazing structure of the site.

The trick to having this site to ourselves was actually setting an alarm clock (something we rarely do these days), arranging for a quick 7:30 am breakfast at our hotel, and being in a pre arranged taxi at 8:00. The taxi dropped us at the upper gate, and with our tickets already bought at the museum the day before, the Selçuk Pass, good at four sites and well worth the price, we waltzed right in to an empty experience. Empty for about an hour, then a few others started to arrive.

The terrace houses. We were equally impressed with the amazingly engineered shelter over the houses.
Plexiglass walkways and a roof to keep the rain and sun off the terrace houses. I’m sure the grad students who are painstakingly piecing together walls and floors appreciate it too.
The amphitheater. Capable of holding 21,000 spectators.
Amphitheater greeter kitty.
Green hills and blooming poppies made for a lovely and slightly heart wrenching view. How terrible it must have been to give up this city.

About two 1/2 hours later as we headed to the lower gate to walk the 3 km back into town, the cruise ship buses had started to arrive. Perfect timing.

Happy travelers in Ephesus.
The travel planner enjoys his well executed plan.

Selçuk has a neighborhood charm we hadn’t experienced yet in Turkey, having only been to big cities before this stop. After returning from an outing earlier than expected, our innkeeper was out running an errand and not there to let us in. Seeing our plight, a neighbor quickly walked over with the innkeepers number already dialed on his cell phone to help us out.

One of the 15 cats adopted and cared for by our hotel host, this one blind, greeting a neighbor.

We slept through it our first night, but on our second we heard the drummer who walks the town beating their drum to wake residents for their “sahur” meal, the first meal of the day eaten before observing the fast of Ramadan. And that night we saw dozens of tables set up in the street so neighbors could share iftar, the meal that breaks the fast.

Storks nesting on the ruins of the aqueduct in Selçuk.

The white storks are referred to as pilgrim birds in Turkey, and one man told us you can set your calendar for the date of their return in March each year. The 15th, he claimed. Always the 15th.

You see the big stork nest cages around town, giving the pilgrim birds a spot to build a nest which can weigh up to 250 kilos/500 pounds.
The top of this mosque will do for these stork parents.
Şirince is known as the ‘Greek village’ about 8 kms from Selçuk.

Our host dropped us off for a lovely walk around Şirince. Although its main street is mostly catering to day trippers, once you walk above town it’s rural rhythms quickly reveal themselves and a frequently running mini bus took us back to town.

Getting the goats home in the afternoon.

On our last morning with one final site on our Selçuk museum pass, and an 11:45 am bus to catch, we walked up above our hotel to the Castle and the Basilica of St. John – a 6th century site which is the believed burial location of John the Apostle. Once again arriving early we had the site to ourselves – well, us and quite a few cats enjoying their breakfast, provided by one of the groundskeepers.

A very common sight, communal cat breakfast.
The model of the Basilica gives you detail of what you’re seeing.
The size of the Basilica, and the amount of carved marble, is amazing.
Heading to the castle, past what we called grad student alley. Piecing together even some of these fragments would take an entire career.
One town, four amazing attractions.
From castle hill looking towards Ephesus.
Off to catch that bus. Quick detour through the Saturday market.
Bus snacks being acquired.

We considered staying longer in Selçuk, but the coast and swimming beckoned. After some holiday traffic induced bus stress, and some luck with a bus connection, we made it to Bodrum to enjoy the holiday ending Ramadan, the three-day Ramadan Bayram, also known as Eid al-Fitr. More on Bodrum in our next post.

The happy travelers looking forward to more of what Turkey has to offer.

Istanbul. Have we landed in a huge cat Café?

Kitty takes advantage of a micro mobility device to take a bath.

We were ready for the cats of Istanbul, having watched the fantastic documentary from 2016, Kedi, about the cats and the peoples relationship to the many, many, many cats.

Treat for me?

Did that stop me from being bowled over with enthusiasm for each and every cat I saw? No. I’m sure Rich got tired of hearing me announce ‘kitty’ every time I spied a cat. But he is a good sport. Even when I assured him that the cats won’t jump up on the chairs at the restaurant – right before a cat did just that to get access to his lap.

Rich is allergic to cats. Therefore cats love him and seek him out.
Not all cats wanted our attention, many looked like they had places to be, as they trotted along the sidewalks.
Or rested in a slightly out of the way place.
Or did whatever the cats were doing up there. Cat stuff?
The first of many cat photos I took. I got used to this look of mild interest. Many shied away from a petting, but not all.

It warms my heart to see how so many people care for the cats, and stop to give a scratch behind the ears if possible, and how many little cat houses and cat food dot the urban landscape.

At the old train station, now a subway stop since high speed rail has come to town.
Surveying the station.
Museum cat accepts a pet. The blue mosque in the background.

It wasn’t just cats that caught our attention over our five days in Istanbul. The tulip festival was also a delight to see.

Gülhane Park was a riot of tulips.
Sunday was the day to be out enjoying the sunshine and photographing the flowers.
What a lovely way to bring joy to the city.
The Happy Travelers, jet lag almost gone.

There is much more to see and do in Istanbul than we managed to squeeze in, so I hope we’ll be back again sometime. The ten hour time change was tough – we hadn’t had a shift like that in quite a while and we both felt it pretty acutely. We were lucky to have a friend of a friend to meet up with, and made new friends thanks to a charming kitty at a charming restaurant. Hopefully Rich will time to write more about Istanbul, there were a lot things to appreciate from an urbanist transportation point of view.

It’s getting awkward…

Hello empty restaurant, we will be your only lunch customers.

Morocco welcomes about 6 million tourists a year, per 2019 numbers. That’s an average of 17,000 per day. When we arrived in November to Tangier we could tell that numbers were low, tourism was just picking up, but there were other tourists. Other folks at our Riad, other slightly stunned faces getting lost in the Medina, other tables at restaurants occupied by non locals.

Rich enjoying a lovely meal in Essaouira. One other group showed up at what is, according to reviews, a very popular and busy farm to table restaurant.

When the travel ban to Morocco was announced and the borders closed to incoming flights on November 30th, the numbers of other tourists started going down, and of course was not replenished. We were in Meknes when that news came, and we could tell the mood soured at the Riads and restaurants which had made themselves tourist friendly, only to be told once again they would be without tourists, without a livelihood.

The proprietor was very gracious and explained the limited menu being served. We were the only ones again.

Moroccans are some of the most welcoming and friendly people you will meet. It hurts us to see the numbers of travelers going down and down as folks find flights out, like a lovely Canadian brother and sister we met, or the nice guy from the UK who was on a 10 day trip. It’s more noticeable in a town like Essaouira, which is a very popular town with travelers and tourists.

The Medina is always interesting, and people were only kind and helpful.
The smart Medina cat sleeps by the large bags of cat food.

There is a sweet spot of travel which we seek out and love – not too crowded, off peak or shoulder season, places are open but not busy, locals aren’t overwhelmed with visitors – this is not that time. This is too empty. Restaurants not opening because why bother? Vendors with no tourist customers and no tourist money coming in. It feels awkward to be the only customers in a restaurant, the only non locals strolling the shop lined Medina streets. We feel so bad for the economic hit being taken and wish we could somehow make up for the missing thousands of tourists, but of course we can’t. So we are extra nice, we tip extra large, and inside we cringe.

This one looks like they take no nonsense from anyone, cat or human.
After six days in Essaouira Rich had committed the “grid” to memory. I just followed him.

We feel totally safe here, COVID numbers are low, vaccination rates are high, but we do hope that our planned December 14th flight out will happen, and Morocco will be down two more tourists. We’ve already decided that if for some reason we don’t get out, we’ll go to Rabat again, which is a city that doesn’t depend on tourists and where we could just live life without feeling so awkward.

Awkwardly happy travelers.

It’s an interesting and challenging time to be traveling. We knew that COVID wasn’t done with the world yet, and we had discussed a scenario such as this. Stay safe all, we’ve left the coast and are heading for the Atlas Mountains.

Essaouira easy life.

The travel planner leaping into the sunset.

Easy but not completely stress free. Although we have no jobs or children to get back to, and our friends and family will understand if we miss Christmas in the UK, it’s an odd feeling, not knowing if things will ease up or tighten down. Will we go or will we stay.

Horse and hounds and kite surfing.

We’re in an apartment in the Medina with a gorgeous view and a treacherous staircase. We go up and down saying big step, little step, medium, big, medium, medium, small – oh, big! It’s almost but not quite spiral to add to the fun. We look out to the ocean and the ramparts which were used in Game of Thrones. The rooftop terrace offers another stunning view, but the wind which makes Essaouira a windsurfing hot spot also makes terrace life a bit tricky. My glasses almost got swept off the table and out to sea.

Wine glass holding firm against the wind on the rooftop terrace of the second apartment.
Somewhere along these ramparts the Mother of Dragons did her thing.
Sunday morning at low tide there were so many Football games going on. The wide beach at low tide is a great games field.
Another beautiful sunset.
We spend some time watching the tides.
We spend time on the beach.
We spend time greeting kitties in the Kasbah.
The view from our living room where we sit and read. Rich’s feet added for scale.
Essaouira. Sure is easy on the eyes, say these happy travelers.

We head to Marrakech in a few days, and maybe on a flight on to the UK a few days after that. Rich is busy figuring out what the current requirements are, and where and when to get our COVID tests. But for now we are happy here in Essaouira, eating good food, going on beach walks, and enjoying our little apartment.

Why so blue Chefchaouen?

A view of the blue city from a hike out of town.

When you get to Chefchaouen you will hear and read various reasons for the blue walls, blue walkways, and blue fences. The color was brought with the Jewish refugees from Spain, the color keeps the mosquitoes away, it was discovered in the 70s to be a tourist draw – but I know the real reason. It’s a fantastic backdrop for photographing cats.

Grey and white tabby stripes look good against periwinkle blue.
Vibrant blue makes this little black kitten stand out.
White is dramatic.
A calico, a blue door, and colorful hardware.
Cats colonized every comfortable spot.
Blue blue blue – cat!
Who is fascinated with who?
Some are petable.
They sit on boxes.
They sit on trash cans.
They relax and enjoy life.
Happy travelers above the blue city.

We’re currently in Fes, headed to Meknes.

Kitty Heaven

Owning the room. Lounging on top of the mini fridge.

We found my favorite pub in the entire world. Yes, we’ve been to cat cafes around the world – oh, we’ve seen some things.

Cats gotta box sit.

A cat cafe in Thailand with color matched cats. A resort in Malaysia with dozens of well behaved rescued cats who happily lounged at the pool, in your room, and under the tables at the restaurant. A San Francisco cat cafe where you could adopt the cats. We’ve discussed the absence of cat bars and what you could call one. Suds and Siamese. Pints and Pussies. Ale and Alley Cats.

A pint of milk please.

But here in Bristol we visited The Bag of Nails. Going forward always referred to as Kitty Heaven. Cats for me, beers for him. Kitties on the bar, kitties on your lap, at one point eight cats were visible in this not large pub. Oh, did I not mention that my wonderful travel guy is allergic to cats?

So of course the cats love him. First lap sitter goes right to Rich.

Cat cafes tend to be very controlled environments. More so in California due to health regulations. Here at Kitty Heaven the list of amusing but serious rules includes one definitely aimed at me “no squealing.”.

A Siamese scans the room.

We only stayed for one pint, but what a happy pint it was.

Sit at the bar for more cat access.
Besides the cats being adorable, you can be fairly confident that you have at least one thing in common with the other patrons: you all like cats.
The rules.

Vinyl on the sound system. Beer in hand. Cat on lap. Heaven.

The boxes are labeled.
Little black kitty on the move.
Oh yeah, no idiot pub crawls!

If you’re a cat lover and in Bristol, it’s a great place to visit. Review the rules first and do not squeal.

Riding to Regensburg.

The ride was worth it. A lovely warm evening in town.

The ride to Regensburg was an initial steep climb out of the Beilngries area to the continental divide area of the two drainages, the Altmuhl into the Danube, versus the Aisch ultimately into the Rhine. Oh, divide. That sounds flat. Nope. Rollers up and down all day. With sweeping views. And a shifting headwind.

When there is a headwind, this is my view. Tucked in behind the wall of Rich, drafting happily.

We met another cycle tourist at our afternoon tea break and rode the rest of the way into Regensburg with him. Hi Tobias, so great to meet you!

I fill my Kleen Kanteen with hot tea at breakfast and by early afternoon it’s perfect drinking temperature. Something sweet and caffeine gets us through the afternoon.
Rich was happy to have someone not only keep up, but challenge him on the hills. They waited for me.
Oh yes, we did spot a few cats.

Since we’ve been bumbling a bit on this trip, no firm itinerary, we don’t read up a lot on our destinations. In this case that resulted in a lovely surprise- Regensburg is amazing! And we arrived on a lovely warm afternoon, the first day of school for most kids, and a population determined to enjoy the lovely summer weather. Fall is in the air, I know because I got smacked in the face with a fall leaf on a decent yesterday, so there is a felling of enjoy this weather while you can! We’re here for two nights so we get time to really embrace the city.

The Danube splits into canals, making two or three distinct islands.
The canals mean swimming out of the strong currents of the main river. And slack lining.
We had our first river swim of the trip.
And our first dog rescue attempt. Sienna, a four year old lab, was pretty sure Rich needed help.
Sunset with a happy selfie.

Next stop is a 3 night cat sitting gig through TrustedHousesitters. We’re very excited to get to spend some down time taking care of a kitty. Happy pedaling!

Cycling while cat spotting.

Ready for cat pics? Germany has been a cat bonanza. Usually I confine my cat posts to Instagram, but the last two days cycling in Germany have been so cat rich I can’t resist sharing.

This cat in old town Memmingen was very fond of Rich.
This farm cat in Kißlegg was very interested in a cuddle.

First we had a six cat day, which we considered a lot, and then today we had a fifteen cat day while riding almost 70k to Landsberg am Lech.

Calico cat warming up in the sun.
This cat was enjoying the last rays of sun outside old town Wangen im Allgäu. Up for pets? Yes.

Many of the cats spotted were in fields hunting or sleeping, not close enough for decent photos or interaction.

“There’s one.” I think this was #12.

It makes the miles/kilometers pass. Happy pedaling.

Cat mechanic.