Posted in the USA, travel

My Trip To San Francisco

I don’t know how many times I have heard “San Francisco looks like Istanbul! You should go see!” Of course this wasn’t the only reason for me to take a 7-hour-long flight to the city: Its colorful outlook, modern and accepting attitude, diversity and vibrancy made me desperately want to see this pretty city. When my mom gave me this trip as a present for my 36th birthday, I was speechless! Not only was I going to see this wonderful city, but also I was going to visit my best friend and her lovely kids who live in Lafayette, SF.

As far as the negative things we know about the city, we all know SF is also famous for its outrageously high housing costs, and a large number of homeless population. But I have also discovered two more things that I don’t like about San Francisco: hills and tourists. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed (almost) every moment I spent there, but would I want to live there? I don’t think so. I’m really happy in Boston, thanks.

Before I started writing this blog, I made a cup of freshly brewed earl grey tea and I took this photo below just to show you my San Francisco souvenir: my colorful and lovely mug which will accompany me while I’m writing! Enjoy reading!

Streets

Mostly wide streets are full of people walking to work, going shopping or doing touristy things. The architecture is a mixture: One moment you see a wonderful historical building with sometimes Spanish, sometimes Victorian, and sometimes French style. Then you see modern and boring homes. Some districts are very interesting and some are average like in any big city. One thing to consider before you go to SF is the anumber of hills. On the map, places look close to each other but it takes forever to walk from A to B due to steep hills on the way.

Lombard Street

Speaking of hills, I should tell you about my Lombard Street experience. It was PACKED with tourists. In order to get a good picture I saw two people at different times almost got hit by a car. Known as the ‘crookedest street’ in the world, Lombard street has sharp turns. Thankfully cars are moving slowly because I saw some crazy people who let their little kids go and play in the middle of the street. There is no way for the car to see the kid before it makes its turn due to tall bushes on the side of the street. Anyway, I climbed 253 steps up and 249 steps down and I should admit it was a good exercise in the summer heat!

Golden Gate

Absolutely beautiful… The view of the bridge, and the view of the city from the bridge both are absolutely amazing. This was the first place where I felt like “Hmm… This reminds me of Istanbul now”. The calm, endless looking ocean divides the lands graciously. I think the red color for the bridge was a smart idea (originally it was going to be painted black and yellow stripes like Maya the bee-Glad they changed that haha) because it brings the blue and green together very well. We were walking on the bridge with baby steps because we were walking with a slow moving group of tourists like a pack of zombies from Walking Dead. They were walking pretty carelessly like zombies as well. I don’t know how many times I had to give the evil look.

Food

Let’s talk about my favorite thing! Food!

San Francisco, like Boston, is famous for its sea food. As a person who is not fond of sea food much, this was a disappointment. But, I had two remarkable experiences: The first one was the Irish coffee and awesome breakfast at Buena Vista and the other one was the clam chowder soup in Boudin Bakery. Boudin was like a bread museum! They make breads in different animal shapes and exhibit them on shelves. I’m on KETO, a kind of low carb diet, so I couldn’t enjoy the delicious alligator bread but if one of you do, please let me know how it tastes! Buena Vista apparently was the first place to bring the Irish Coffee to the USA. It is really hard to find a spot (Guess why? Yes! Tourists!) so I highly recommend you to go there as early as possible.

Oh I almost forgot! The tamales I ate in Sausalito was one of the BEST!

Alcatraz

Alcatraz was used to be a high security federal prison where notorious criminals were held. Because it was located on an island, it would make it impossible for the prisoners to break out. I had mixed feelings walking in the aisles of the prison. Maybe the audio tour is responsible for putting me in that mood as well. I felt the despair, anger, loneliness and mental challenges. The interesting details to take from that was the escape attempts. The prisoners digged holes with a spoon they stole from the dining hall and a drill they improvised from motor of a purloined vacuum cleaner. In an amazing way they created dummy heads looking like themselves by using soap, concrete powder, hair stolen from the barbershop and put these in their beds right before escaping so that the guards wouldn’t understand they were gone at least for a while! So creative! Wow! They left Alcatraz with an inflated raft but it is believed that there is no way they could have made it through.

There are also the dark cells in which the ‘naughty’ criminals are imprisoned for months and years sometimes… In pitch darkness…

Also, the courtyard for the breaktime had a gorgeous view and I thought “Is this a prize for the criminals instead of punishment?” But then the guide said it was intentional: Seeing freedom, the vibrant city that close but not being able to have it was the punishment. Apparently the wind brings the sound of the joyful city especially during the holidays which would become a torture for the prisoners.

When you get outside and see the view from house that used to be the prison warden’s, the beauty of the city of San Francisco and the ocean mesmerizes you. This is why I want to use bigger size photos here. Below you will see the warden’s house, which is pretty much destroyed and has become a host to different kinds of plant species.

Sea Lions

Not seals! Haha. Keep confusing the two. In Pier 39, together with lovely dead fish smells (!), you get to watch these interesting animals resting and talking and maybe, singing? Although most of the time they sounded angry to me, definitely it is something to see while in San Francisco!

Pier 39 and Sea Lions

Mission District

Beautiful district with absolutely amazing murals. The street art was everywhere! energetic, evolving neighborhood with Latino roots and a hipster vibe.  All the street art we saw had a political message in Latino world. I wish there were someone with us to explain the meanings of all. They also apparently make the best burritos and tacos in town. Unfortunately were were too full to eat!

One of the most important things for me when I visit somewhere is to go to a local coffee shop and try their black coffee. My mom and I went into Philz Cafe in Mission and it was so hipster! We chatted with the young couple who were playing chess in front of us (I think we distracted them a little bit, sorry!) and the young man who was sitting right next to us with long brown hair and John Lennon glasses. He was reading a thick book. Basically we bothered everyone in that coffee shop, we were feeling chatty! What attracted my attention was their number one selling coffee: Tantalizing Turkish brew!

Sausalito

This lovely coastal town reminded me so much of the Princess islands in Istanbul. I was so happy to see finally cafes and restaurants located right by the sea in the US. Yet again, it was so hard to walk at a normal pace since tourists were in line in front of the local stores, some were stopping right in the middle of the side walk to take pictures, etc. Beautiful scenery, nice local people and summer vacation vibe. I loved it!

Cable Car

I had a love and hate relationship with SF cable cars. I think if I could go back in time, the only thing I would change in my trip would be going from Union Square (south) up to Fisherman Wharf (north)-where we stayed. When we took the cable car from north to south the line was not bad at all. We waited only for about 5-7 minutes. But for an 8-minute-long trip from south to north, we waited for… Are you ready?… We waited for exactly 1 hour and 23 minutes!!! Unbelieavable! My suggestion to visitors is don’t even try south-north bound, it is a complete waste of time.

Believe it or Not Museum

Because the interesting places to see is fairly apart from each other in this city, unfortunately we didn’t get to go to all the places we had planned to see. The evening before we left SF, with a last minute decision we decided to see a museum near our hotel at Fisherman Wharf “Believe it or Not” (By the way we found a Groupon deal with a $5 discount, just FYI) We weren’t expecting much, we were just going to kill some time there but, actually, it was a lot of fun! There were so many interesting things to see. The creator of the museum had a good sense of humor, as well. If you go, you will understand what I mean. From dinosaur feet to bug snacks, from an Egyptian mummy head brought from Turkey to here (Why?) from interesting and/or weird artifacts to a bridal gown made out of toilet paper, you can find anything here! The mirror maze in the end was also a fun surprise!

PS. Did you know when Charles Alton Ellis designed the Golden Gate Bridge, he wasn’t an engineer yet?

Mirror maze fun

The Other Colors of San Francisco

My 4 days of stay wasn’t enough but I got a very good gist of San Francisco. Here I want to share some more city details that I captured during my visit. I should say I didn’t fall in love with the city, but I can see why a lot of people find it charming!!

University of California Berkeley Library

I hope you enjoyed reading this post! See you soon in another adventure!

-Hoscakalin

Ece

Posted in the USA

What to Do in Chicago

After living in Chicago for 3 years, I could say that despite the severe cold in winter, it was a lovely city to live in. Now that I live in Boston, I can see the differences. Boston has the history, and its historical city structure gives it a home-like soul for me. Also most of the people are either students or entrepreneurs. In Chicago, with high rises and spread out city structure, it is more like bustling city with mostly white collars. There is certainly a lot more to do in Chicago and their restaurants are by far the best I have ever been to. Definitely, Chicago is a foody city.

In my 3 years of experience, of course I had some favorite places to go πŸ™‚ And for the tourists who are about to visit Chicago, or students who are willing to study there or people who are getting ready to move there for work, can benefit from this list. I enjoyed every single one of these and most of the pictures here are from my camera. Sorry if you find Snapchat shots cheesy, but I prefer being more authentic and cheesy to being boring since I find internet photos really stereotyped.

  1.Field Museum

As a science lover and geologist, I LOVE Field museum. Probably I have been there 6 times already. Allow yourselves 5-6 hours to visit 75% of the museum, if you want to read every description and enjoy each exhibition, of course. With “Evolving Planet” you can see step by step evolution of earth and living things. “Inside Ancient Egypt” exhibits real mummies from Egypt and their artifacts are breathtaking. Giant fossils and bones of dinasours, real, taxidermied animals from polar bear to Buffalo and giraffes. Artifacts of ancient American civilizations such as Mayans, Incas and Native Americans. Rocks section is almost perfect, they have real meteorites in exhibit which you can actually touch (I don’t advise licking it though :D)

I can’t help but explain here what is happening in the pictures above: (From left to right) 1st one is Native American clothing and tools, Number 2 and 3 are the taxidermied animals (Real animals are stuffed after dying) 4th one is the minerals and where they are used in real life, number 5 and 6 are meteorites that hit the earth. Number 7 is our great great great….grandmother  Lucy from Africa. Number 8 speaks for itself, Number 9 is a fossil of a fish who died while feeding on another fish! You can see the fish it ate right before dying at the bottom of its belly! Number 10 is a fossil of a turtle which shows and evolutionary fact: They used to have tails! The other pictures also belong the dinasours except the one at the bottom right which shows the mummies exhibit.

     2. Adler Planetarium

If you are interested in astronomy, space and stars, this is your place. Their 3D shows on their dome is absolutely wonderful and very informative. Their lakeview cafe is a place that you won’t mind spending time at. My cover photo for this post is actually from the terrace of the Planetarium. My brother Ege, when he visited me in 2016 gave this pose with too much excitement:

Image result for adler planetarium

3. The Art Institute of Chicago

Such a great art museum with one of a kind pieces. From famous “American Gothic” by Grant Wood to “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island” of La Grande Jatte painted in 1884. The latter painting is exceptionally important because even though the painting has many brush strokes of different color, when you look from far, they look unified in color! “Lincoln in Dalivision” is an original limited edition lithograph created by Salvador DalΓ­ and it must definitely be seen. Also, Van Gogh’s exhibition is still on.

    4. Shedd Aquarium

This aquarium has all the sea animals that you love, from penguins to seals and dolphins. Let’s not forget the scary sharks.

5. Millenium Park

This is the signature place when you think about Chicago. Located in the heart of Chicago, the Loop, it is a nice chilling place… Well… Not really, sorry, it is usually quite busy haha. The ‘Bean’ sculpture, which was originally named as ‘Cloud Gate’ by its creator Sir Anish Kapoor , is the landmark of Chicago. Also, my favorite is the water splitting, face fountains. Especially kids love them! You can see me posing in front of the Bean with my mom and my friend Waithira:

  6. Lincoln Park Zoo and Lincoln Park Conservatory

I know that some people are against zoos. I will not argue it here but I really learn a lot about animal kingdom whenever I visit a zoo. Especially our ancestors, apes fascinates me! Lincoln Park Zoo is free and open all year around. During Holiday season, they light the whole zoo up with Christmas lights. It is gorgeous.

Also, the zoo has one of the best skyline. Here you can see we are trying to get the skyline in the background at the Zoo, I should confess, we kinda failed it.

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Lincoln Park Conservatory is also free and it exhibits all kinds of flowers and plants from all around the world. It is just by the zoo and definitely worths a visit!

7. Navy Pier

One of the most historic tourist attraction in Chicago. Navy Pier is beautiful despite the fact that the tourist crowds really get tiring very quickly. Many places to eat, drink and enjoy the scenery. Some of the cruises sail from here if you want to take a lake tour.

Navy Pier at Night

Navy Pier during the day

Navy Pier is famous for the oldest wheel in the US, The Ferris Wheel. It runs as long as there is no issues with the wind.

8. Willis Tower – Skydeck Chicago

If you are not afraid of height and a patient person in general, definitely you must experience the Skydeck. You can see beautiful Chicago from the 103rd floor of Willis tower, and step on the glass balcony to feel like you are flying. I told you you need to be patient because especially at the weekends, the line gets reallyyyy longggg. But it gives great pictures for instagram πŸ™‚ Here you can see my friend Mehmet and I posing at Skydeck.

9. Beaches

Chicago beaches are amazing. You can take a walk, ride your bicycle, run or in summer you can enjoy the sand and cold water πŸ˜€ They are clean and not terribly crowded. Bring your sunscreen though! Because with the wind, you don’t realize you get sun burned. Trust me on this, experience is speaking.

The most popular beaches are Montrose, North Avenue and Ohio Street ones. Pictured: My friend Ipek and I taking a walk by the lake, walking towards North Avenue beach and my friend Ximena and I at the Montrose beach.

10. River Walk

The only river in the world that its course was manually reversed: The Chicago River. The reason it was reversed is that the sewage was flowing into lake before and the drinking water is supplied from Michigan Lake. So, clearly that was a problem.

“The River Walk” is a very fun late afternoon activity, if you ask me. There are bars and nice restaurants aligned near the river and if you want you can rent a kayak, as well. There are tours taking off from here and showing you the beautiful architecture, the river walk and then the lake. I highly recommend the night tour of the river and lake combined. I have taken one and the skyline at night was magical.

11. Chicago Bulls Game

If you are 80s’ kid like me you know what number 23 means. Michael Jordan’s posters were all over my wall in Turkey, I was a huge fan of Chicago Bulls! It is not quite the same anymore and they are not as successful as they used to be, but this is even better because their NBA tickets are more affordable! If you are going to Chicago, definitely experience a Chicago Bulls game.

12. Broadway in Chicago

Broadway is a must see, if you are travelling to the US. Generally it is expensive, but, trust me on this, it is worth every penny. Broadway originally belongs to New York City. But as the shows tour, they always stop by in Chicago, as well. This one below was one of the shows that I went to. When I used to teach Reading class at Inanc High School in Turkey, I used to teach this book. It was amazing to see how it was turned into a Broadway show.

13. Stand Up Comedy

One of the things I miss the most in chicago is the stand up shows. Zanies and Laugh Factory are the two most famous places to go. I also persoally enjoyed Improv Chicago shows at IO theater a lot. Every Wednesday there was a free show!

  14. Jazz and Blues

Greenmill is one of the oldest Jazz bars in the US and they are still running in Uptown area. I have been there many times, there is a cover charge and I recommend you to go there as early as possible to get a seat. You will see a video below from one of those nights. After music starts, they won’t let you speak, just saying. Literally they hush you. Also, House of Blues or Blue Chicago are among the best Blues bars. Definitely your soul needs some jazz and blues time!

A Jazz night at Greenmill

15. Latin Dancing

If you like or you want to practice Latin dancing, Chicago is the best place. Sunday Evenings there is Salsa night at Cubby Bear Chicago, and I used to go to Lalo’s Mexican Restaurant for salsa, bachata or merenge. They had free salsa lessons on wednesday evenings and their food is great! There is also Nacional 27 which was very popular among my students, but I have never been there. In Chicago, it is hard to find a seat if you go to the place after 7 pm, so plan accordingly!

Here is a short snap of one of the salsa nights that I went to at Lalo’s:

Salsa night at Lalo’s

16. Festivals

There are so many festivals in Chicago during the summer. Most of them are food festivals but there are music, cultural and movie festivals as well. Check www.timeout.com/chicago for current and upcoming events in Chicago. When the festivals start, you can see their schedules here.

FOOD AND DRINKS

  1. Burger at ‘Au Cheval’

This place has been rated as the best burger place in the US. I cannot say it is the best since I haven’t eaten burger everywhere in the States. However, the best I have ever eaten so far. The only annoying thing about it is the wait line. Don’t ever think that you can eat there at the weekends. The kitchen closes at 3 at the weekend and when I went there at noon, they put me in the wait list. My turn didn’t come in 3 hours!! So I had to eat somewhere else. But, once I went there at 4 pm on a Friday, and it was half empty. Again, timing is important. I would say usual wait time is 2-3 hours. That is why it is the best option to wait across the street, at the bar called ‘Haymarket’ because they have delicious beer flights and pretzels. Perfect place to wait for your burger. Once your table is ready, Au Cheval texts you and if you download their app, you can actually see how many tables are in line before you. Definitely worth the wait for me.

You can see here how much my friend Meltem and my brother Ege enjoyed their burger at Au Cheval. Below, you can see Mehmet and I enjoying the beer flight at Haymarket while waiting for AuCheval. Meltem and I were at Haymarket, too and tried their best IPA, Mathias. It was fantastic.

2. Deep Dish Pizza at ‘Pequod’s’

OK pizza is from Italy, we all know that. But deep dish is super American. Lightly burnt crust, fresh ingredients and the homemade taste. Oh and also cheese, lots of cheese. That’s Pequod’s deep dish. When in chicago, you will here ‘Lou Malnati’s’ and ‘Giordano’s’ fans fighting over who makes the best deep dish pizza. You can argue and try all of them but, I will save the time for you, go and eat at Pequod’s. Not only the taste but also the environment is much better.

3. Authentic Korean Restaurant ‘Cho Sun Ok’

One time when I went to Cho Sun Ok with my Korean friend, she had said this was the closest thing she ate to real Korean food that you find in Korea. The food is AMAZING. Especially their seafood pancake and their small plates. They are incredibly cheap as well. Like almost every restaurant in Chicago, it is BYOB, meaning you can bring your own booze to drink. One thing to keep in mind though: They have a very small restaurant and they are popular. So they are not the politest servers you will see. They are racing with time. They are abrupt and quick. Also, expect wait lines during rush hours.

4. Turkish Restaurants : ‘Turquoise Cafe’ and ‘Pera’

Well, of course I needed to fix my Turkish food cravings! Turkish food is not going to be the cheapest, but I swear it will make you feel like in heaven. These two restaurants were my favorite. They both serve Turkish breakfast with fresh bread and unlimited Turkish tea, so please please make sure you try Turkish breakfast if you can.

5. Venezuelan Food: “BienMeSabe”

My other favorite food, Venezuelan cuisine. Their tequenos and arepas are the BEST! If you never tried Venezuelan food, please pay a visit to this restaurant in Chicago, you will be addicted!

6. Geja’s Cafe

This European restaurant is too overpriced for students. But… If you are celebrating an anniversary or a birthday with a special one, definitely this fondue restaurant is the romantic choice. I have been there only once but definitely planning to go back. There are discount coupons available at Groupon. Also, do not forget to make a reservation 3 weeks in advance. I apologize that I can’t use original pictures here since it was dark inside and my photos didn’t turn out good. But I’m using the photos from their website here.

7. ‘D.S. Tequila Co.’ in Boystown

This place has the best margarita bowls and loaded fries. Also in summer, their outside patio is the best place to stay cool.

8. Billy Goat Tavern

There are many locations now but the best one is the original one located at 430 N. Michigan Ave at Lower Level. 3-5 dollar beers and cheap burger and snacks. Wonderful option to get have a quick happy hour with your colleagues or catch up with your friends.

My old colleague Sam and I enjoying after work drinks at Billy Goat

9. Breakfast Places!! : IHOP or YOLK

At the weekend, if you want to have American breakfast: ommelettes, pancakes, waffles, breakfast potatoes, sausage and eggs, bacon, etc. These two places are my favorite. If you can find a local one, that is great. But till you find that, these are pretty good options.

10. Bulerias Tapas with Flamenco Show

If you like Spanish tapas and want to enjoy a live flamenco show while eating your delicious food, this restaurant is for you! I really liked the potato and fried calamari there. And the performance was impressive.

11. “Reza’s Restaurant” Middle Eastern/Iranian Cuisine

They have the tastiest, juciest kebabs. They are definitely one of a kind. Also, the portions are so big that you will have to take some home.

12. ‘Jake Melnick’s’ For the Best Chicken Wings

If you want to try different kinds of flavored wings, this is the place. They have a very good selection of beers and their garlic parmesan fries are absolutely delicious.

13. ‘Emporium’ Arcade Bars

If you want to play old video games and enjoy your drink, this is the perfect choice. There are many other arcade bars but Emporium locations are bigger and central.

14. “3 Arts Cafe” 

Their menu is a little expensive but its atmosphere is so calming, elegant and chic. If you get a nice seat, you can enjoy your book by the fountain or chat with your friend in the middle of the courtyard. This is also a furniture store so you can walk around after and enjoy different selections of furniture. I tried their lobster panini and it was delicious.

15. Friar Tuck

This is a neighborhood dive bar with a fireplace and free popcorn. They have karaoke and trivia nights as well. It is a quiter environment if you want to chat with your friend in not-so-loud environment and still enjoy your drink.

All in all, Chicago is a great place to be. That is why despite the cold, a lot of people cannot give up on this beautiful city. I don’t think I will move back again, but I left my heart there and I’m definitely going back there to visit and EAT!

Hoscakalin!

-Ece

Posted in Turkey

Stray Cats and Dogs of Istanbul

Any tourist that has been to Istanbul, Turkey will tell you the beautiful stray cats they saw. ‘Both the dogs and cats are so friendly and calm’ they would say.

While I was staying at an Airbnb in Cevahir, Istanbul last June, I had the chance of portraying some. These pictures are all from my camera. What is noteworthy is how healthy they look. I think Turkish people constantly feed and build shelters (see pics) for them. I know the dogs look drugged but actually they are not. They are just super lazy. They are everywhere: on streets, on motorbikes, at coffee shops, at restaurants. Here is a picture story of Istanbul’s street cats and dogs during one day.

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