A taste of Istanbul

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The Blue Mosque from our cab window.

With a 22-hour layover in Istanbul, we didn’t have time to visit any of the city’s famous locales. But we did get a taste of the city, literally, making sure we got kofte (a mixed kebab platter) for dinner, Turkish coffee for breakfast and some Turkish delights to bring back for friends.

Istanbul kofte

istanbul stray cats
When I emailed our Airbnb host to ask if he had cats at his apartment (as I’m allergic), he assured me a cat had never been in his place. But, he warned me, there are 150,000 stray cats in the streets of Istanbul! Like this one, just hanging at the local cafe.
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Whatever this delightful bowl is right here, I deeply regret not eating.

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istanbul pomegranate

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istanbul tulips
Trivia: though we associate tulips with the Netherlands, tulips were actually first introduced to the Dutch by way of Turkey.
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Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild

The Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild is a resplendent estate overlooking Nice. Beautiful grounds and gardens styled with plants and landscapes from different climates and countries. We really enjoyed the afternoon here and could definitely have spent even more time wandering the grounds. Truthfully, I didn’t find too much else interesting about the life of Béatrice de Rothschild, for whom the lavish estate was designed. She had wealth, a penchant for porcelain, cute little settees for her lapdogs and, I’m guessing, good landscapers. Her decision to donate the estate upon her death opened the villa for public viewing, and it’s worth a visit if you find yourself in the area!

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Nice, the Côte d’Azur

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Nice is absolutely pristine. It’s remarkable how manicured it all feels — part dream resort destination, part Disney. I suppose Disney is a dream resort destination too, so the mental association makes sense. But there’s something about cities that are too spick and span — they seem to lose their charm, somehow; the quaintness and quirkiness that gives a city character even if it loses a little of its luster. Not that I’m complaining; Nice was gorgeous, walkable and clean, with sunshine warming the rocky beach and reflecting off the Mediterranean.

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And plenty of cultural events, too. (We saw a ballet.)

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Socca, the local fare. It’s a very salty flatbread, with a bit of a mealy consistency and a slightly scorched aftertaste. It reminds me a little of Korean 누룽지, except that the salt was overpowering. We ate a couple bites and called it a day.

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Antibes

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Antibes is a small town between Cannes and Nice where Picasso stayed in a castle on the sea to paint and sculpt. We stopped by the town with its ramparts that now overlook sleek yachts in the azure harbor.

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View from the Picasso Museum

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A sculptural homage to Picasso.

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Nomade, a sculpture by Jaume Plensa, beautifully photographed and explained here.

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A still hardly captures how mesmerizing the glinting reflection of the sun bounces from surface to surface.

Les Délices du Marche

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Google Translate, don’t fail me now: I believe today’s title is the correct translation of what I want to say… but, never having studied French, I can’t be sure.

I did pick up more French on this trip than on any prior visit to France, though not enough to be anywhere near conversant, sadly. Luckily, though, you can close the better part of gap with body language, especially when it comes to shopping.

Points at block of cheese…
No, not that block of cheese; the one behind it….
Yes, yes, thumbs up!
Indicates slice thickness with hands…
Shakes head, pinches to mean a smaller slice…
Nods with a smile…
Hears a bunch of numbers in French, hands over a €20 bill to be safe…

It works pretty much every time. The only downside is, after you do this at a couple stands, you end up with an awful lot of loose change on your hands!

Le Marche
Lavande!

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Incredibly realistic-looking macaron soaps. They look like you could bite right into them, but I doubt they’d taste nearly as good as one would hope.
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A local favorite — candied fruits. Far, far too sweet for my taste, but we did give it a fair shake!
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Salchichas. Wrong language, I know. But I love that word.
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Mmmm… these make my mouth water.
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Jams! The South of France truly produces the best preserves; I wonder what the secret is. Most likely, the amazing quality of the fruit that goes into them, and perhaps because of how delightful it is on a baguette with a bit of cheese! I practically spent the whole week looking for the best fruit preserves and bought quite a few from this stand.

Cassis

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Though I have the fewest photos from our brief stop in Cassis, it remains in my memory as my favorite of the towns we visited in the South of France. Small, unassuming and delightfully un-touristy, Cassis was a gem.

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It probably was my favorite because the markets are a defining aspect of the Provencal experience, and the Cassis market was the most vibrant of those we visited. Bright canopies, local produce, soaps and trinkets nestled under these gorgeous trees….

We bought cheese, charcuterie, dried apricots and raisins, bread and olives and had a picnic on the beach. My favorite low-key afternoon.

Les Calanques

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Spanning the coast from Marseille to Cassis is the Massif des Calanques, a range of limestone formations rimmed by a translucent sea.

Just minutes from Marseille’s old port, the calanques loom large with their craggy white cliffs and gorgeous blue inlets. I wish I could tell you more factoids about them (like how Marseillaise resistance hid out in these cavernous hills in WWII), but the boat tour was entirely in French so I didn’t catch a word. Instead I just focused on taking in the sunshine and grandeur!

My only regret is not swimming in that delicious blue water. I envy those kayakers especially!

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I also spied hikers and rock climbers along these ridges and wished I’d had time to trek. If I ever go back to this area, it’s definitely on my list!

Marseille

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Marseille has been fixed in my imagination as the seaside port depicted in Fanny, a 1961 film about a girl in love with a boy in love with the sea. It’s a charming film that captured my imagination in the way it depicted the coziness of small-town life vs. the tantalizing proximity of the wider world across the sea.

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And here I found myself, sitting on the battlements of Fort Saint-Jean right at the water’s edge, where the rocks below spill into the Mediterranean. It was striking to me how easy it was to climb over the battlements and onto the rocks; there were no railings, no obstruction between the city and the sea.

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Vieux Port

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Marseille was beautiful, quaint and quiet, the sea seeming more magnetic and ever-present than the city itself.

Deja vu in Paris

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paris balcony

I understand now why people fall in love with Paris. I didn’t until this trip; it always seemed a little too… too ornate, perhaps; too romanticized by too many people.

But on my last trip to Paris, I found that the city seemed to remember me — that the street corners I’ve stumbled upon before welcomed me back with a canny sense of deja vu. That’s what’s so amazing about Paris; it both retains the history of the greats in museums and mausoleums, and reignites memories that resonate with just one person in this wide world.

Having had my fill of places and history on prior trips, this time it was the present–the people who make the city come alive–that caught my eye.

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paris canal st martin

paris canal st martin

paris canal st martin

paris pompidou

paris cafe

steps to montmartre