The cats of Istanbul

 

It’s no secret that Swanson loves cats. He went crazy for the countless kittens of Fez and the strays of Portugal and Spain, but nothing could compare to the well-loved strays of Istanbul.

 

Upon our arrival in the office of our rental apartment’s owners, we were introduced to two cats. The first was their pet, a delicate black and white spotted “cow” cat. The other cat named “Angelico” was their regularly visiting stray, a big orange and white tom. Here’s Swanson’s photo of the cats in the office:

Office cats

Our first clue: Office cats

We soon began collecting evidence that most strays in Istanbul were very well taken care of. All the cats in the city were large and fat, clearly well fed, unlike the scrawny kittens of Fez. Then we started to notice other details: a saucer of milk under our restaurant patio table, random bowls of water wedged behind window bars, trays of cat kibble tucked into doorways. We even saw sidewalk cat houses decked out with comfortable cushions. Cats were not shooed away, but given affectionate pats by passers-by. I watched a guy pull meat out of his doner to feed the cat under his street-side table.

Here are a few portraits, some taken by Swanson, some with Swanson posing with cats.

Cat on the tourist strip

Cat on the tourist strip. In the window behind this beauty is a large grill for cooking Turkish pancakes or gözleme. I’ll bet he’s had a few leftover gözleme in his day.

Swanson petting the cats of Istanbul:

Oh hai.

Oh hai.

If you look closely, you can see the door to a well-built little cat house in background. The door is open and there is a little cushion peeking out.

If you look closely, you can see the door to a well-built little cat house in background. The door is open and there is a little cushion peeking out.

Let me in!

Let me in! After I took this photo, I noticed there was a guy watching TV in his underwear inside. Oops.

Pet me!

Pet me!

Is there a guy in his underwear in there?

Is there a guy in his underwear in there?

Hello, friend.

Hello, friend.

Well-fed outside Topkapi Palace.

Well-fed outside Topkapi Palace.

Blurry cat-house and food.

Blurry cat-house and food.

Cat and bicycle.

Cat and bicycle.

Bikes in Istanbul! We stayed in Beyoğlu, a hip little area full of cafés and antique shops. And bikes.

Bike at antique shop

Bike at antique shop

The same bike at the same antique shop on a different day.

The same bike at the same antique shop on a different day.

Cat on scooter.

Cat on scooter. <3

The lowly ziplock bag

Best packing tip ever, or why I’d make a terrible Amazon affiliate.

Like most travellers, we wanted to bring as much stuff as possible and still have compact, easy to manage luggage. We also wanted to make sure all three of us had carry-on size only so we could avoid baggage fees on discount airlines. But I like clothes. Lots of them. I found it really hard to pare down the wardrobe for this trip. I went looking for a way to maximize the amount of clothing I could fit into my 40-litre pack.

A number of travelling family bloggers I follow extolled the virtues of the packing cube. If you are not familiar with packing cubes, they are lightweight, usually nylon, zippered cubes that you can use to organize your clothes, etc. They also help to save space by compressing your clothing. They are inexpensive and can be purchased at most travel stores. I believe MEC carries them. eBags sells them online for about US$30. But wait, before you go shopping…

I discovered something cheaper and better that organizes and compresses your stuff for easier packing. When we were packing up our house, we used those enormous vacuum sealing plastic zipper bags to pack up and store our clothes. They were brilliant. Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to fit nearly as much stuff into our laundry room.

Behold the plastic zipper bag packing cube:

The lowly ziplock bag

The lowly ziplock bag

Here is a snapshot I took in Portugal of all the clothes I brought. I used 4 32×40 cm bags for all my clothes:

All my clothes for one year.

All my clothes for one year.

 

Here is how it works:

First, I tightly roll my clothing and place them in the bags. I leave a bit of space (about 5cm) at the top of the bag.

All my clothes in ziplock bags

All my clothes in ziplock bags

Then I mostly seal the bag, leaving about 2-3cm of the seal open. Now comes the fun part! Squish as much of the air out of the bag as possible. Nine year olds are particularly good at this. I squish mine by either putting the bag on the ground, using my knees to push out the air or I use my hands on top of the bag to squish the air out. The two methods produce basically the same result (compressed clothing), the difference being that when you squish with your knees the end result will be flat, when you push with your hands the final product will be round. You might use a combination of these two shapes depending on what kind of pack you use. I put a round bundle at the bottom of my backpack and three flat ones on top.

Squishing air out

Squishing air out

Here is the final product:

Et voilà! Compressed clothing!

Et voilà! Compressed clothing!

Why I think plastic zipper bags are better than packing cubes:

  • They are cheap!
  • You can see into them easily so you don’t have to open every bag just to find something.
  • They compress better than packing cubes
  • They are slippery – so you can easily stuff things in between them inside your bag.
  • If your shampoo explodes or you get stuck in the rain, your clothes stay dry and clean.
  • They are cheap!

Downsides:

  • They are not as durable as packing cubes. Over the past three months, I’ve replaced all four bags once. I’d say they last approximately 2-3 months before springing a leak. I bought the generic ones from London Drugs. I think the Ziplock brand ones might be better quality. If you don’t pack replacement bags, you can find them in supermarkets in Spain, Portugal, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey. I haven’t seen any since leaving Europe, but I haven’t been looking for them.
  • Depending on how you roll your clothes, they can get quite wrinkled. I have a method of rolling that keeps things as unwrinkled as possible. They still come out looking like I slept in them. Solution: a) hang your clothes up as soon as soon as you get to your hotel, b) buy clothes that don’t hold their wrinkles, and most importantly c) don’t worry so much about wearing wrinkled clothing.

 

That’s my best packing tip.

I’ll be doing a catch up post on our travels shortly.