Devorah Lev-Tov

Writing ⋅ Editing ⋅ Consulting

Devorah Lev-Tov is a writer and editor with 12 years' experience. She writes about food, travel, luxury, and lifestyle for multiple publications including The New York Times, Saveur, Travel + Leisure, and National Geographic. An ex-pat from the publishing world, she is also an illustrated nonfiction book editor, with expertise in developmental editing and cookbook/recipe editing. In addition, she has several years' experience in event marketing and nonprofit copywriting. She's eaten her way through Central and South America, Europe, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Oceania, and much of the United States.

Filtering by Category: Culture

India: Our first week in Bombay

I was last in Bombay five years ago, and since then the city has been going through a construction boom. Just looking out the window of our 6 AM taxi ride from the airport to our new Bombay home, the boom was already evident: new overhead walkways, large buildings, bridges, etc. Advertisements for cement companies are everywhere. The pace of development puts New York to shame. I have noticed a few other changes in the city as well. There is an emerging green movement and a new "Clean-Up Mumbai" initiative. Aside from improved garbage collection, "Clean-Up Mumbai" includes fines for littering, urinating, washing a car, etc. on the streets. There is also a fine for defecating in the street, which, of course, is the smallest fine. More importantly, fines are levied on street vendors that don't provide garbage bins. This is a huge change for a city that I used to say had thirty public trash cans for 20 million people. It was difficult having to teach myself to throw garbage on the ground because there was often no other choice. On the other hand, the lack of trash cans gave me an appreciation for the fact that India is a spitting rather than a nose blowing culture --where would all those tissues go? Anyway, the new policy seems to be working--the city is certainly cleaner than I remember.

Another change is the way women ride on their husband's motorcycle. Five years ago, the iconic image of an Indian family--a man on his motorcycle, with his wife sitting sidesaddle behind him and one or two children sitting up front--was fairly common here. Almost all the couples/families on motorcycles had the women riding sidesaddle. Now, it seems like four out of five women on motorcycles sit normally, straddling the seat, and I've even noticed several women driving their own bikes. I'm not sure how much of this change is because we are are in the more modern neighborhood of Bandra or because of a change in the city's culture, but it's definitely noticeable.

We spent our first week here adjusting. The adjustment took longer than I thought. When I left here five years ago, I really missed the city. I felt at home here and that feeling came back to me every time I was in a place even remotely like Bombay. I expected to have that same feeling the moment we landed here, but the combination of not volunteering for the first week, exhaustion from three weeks of intense travel, and the heat and humidity which made being outside unbearable throughout most of the day made me anxious about our choice to live here. Once I started working and a semi-routine emerged, things improved. The heat has yet to improve.

Our first few days in Bombay were during Diwali, the Hindu new year. I've read that traditionally this is a time when Bombay sees lots of firecrackers, but the city has been urging people against that. The efforts have not been very successful. From the moment the sun went down until the early hours of morning, there were firecrackers everywhere, including right outside our apartment. It was amazing to walk down the street and see fireworks in every direction.

In our first week, we already started to get a feel for typical Indian culture. Many Indians, especially in Bombay, are obsessed with Bollywood stars, and our neighborhood (Bandra West) is famous for being the home of many of those stars. One day we went for a walk along one of the promenades in the area. On our way back we saw a crowd of people staring at a building, but we couldn't tell what was so special about it. As we passed it, Devorah tried to ask someone what they were looking at: "Is there someone famous in that building?" The interaction was not productive--the man she asked did not speak any English. (We found out later that it was the home of Shahrukh Khan, one of India's most famous actors). A few minutes after we started walking home, as we waited to cross a major road, the man Devorah spoke to showed up behind us. He gave me his cell phone and asked that I take a picture of him with Devorah. Apparently, having a foreigner talk to him was more exciting than getting a glimpse of a celebrity.

We also got a taste of some genuine Indian hospitality. One afternoon, after we waiting on a very long line to buy tickets for a local train, we got to the counter, only to find that we did not have enough small bills to buy our tickets--we were 20 rupees short and the cashier did not have change for our 1000 rupee note. We got out of line and started talking about how we were going to get home: go and find change somewhere, find a taxi, etc. As we were trying to figure this out, the guy that was behind us in line tapped on my shoulder, asked me how much we needed, gave me the 20 rupees, and went off to find his train. It may have been Diwali that caused him to do it, but it was a touching gesture nonetheless.

Turkey: Kirazli Köy

When we decided to go to Ephesus, I began to look for places to stay. There are a few surrounding towns with accommodations in the area: Kusadasi, which is on the water and popular with the cruise crowd; Selçuk which is the town where Ephesus is actually located but lacks character; and Şirince, a charming town that is famous for it's fruit wines, and apparently, expensive hotels. After poking around lots of hotel websites I decided to check out AirBnB. For those who have never used it, AirBnB is a site that lets home owners rent out all our part of their homes for as little as one night or as long as they wish. The owners have the power to accept or reject any guest applicant and can decide how much to charge.

On there, I found the adorable and affordable Artists Studio in the village of Kirazli, about 15 minutes away from Ephesus. I liked this option because we would have our own studio, completely separate form the owners' house next door so we would have complete privacy, and at $60 a night it was the cheapest thing I'd seen that wasn't a hostel. Plus, Kirazli looked like a very interesting and traditional village, which was more along the lines of what we were interested in.

As we approached Kirazli (which is accessible by a Dolmus that drives from Selçuk to Kusadasi, but we had rented a car), after driving through it's neighbor-village, Gokcealan, we could hardly contain our excitement. This seemed to be the real deal: a traditional Turkish village complete with stone houses and tractors. Not only is Kirazli a traditional Köy, or village, but it is an organic one at that. All the farms are organic and the village has begun working together to market their cottage industry products of jams, preserves, and oils.

There is a farmer's market every Sunday and a small stand set up everyday (where we bought some homemade pasta that we later cooked in India, which was fabulous), and several excellent restaurants serving traditional village food, like koftë (meatballs), manti (meat-stuffed pasta triangles in a tomato sauce and topped with yogurt), and gözleme (thin pancakes with cheese filling).

The most popular restaurant is the Köy Sofrasi, right on the main road as you enter the village, and it did not disappoint.

Our other favorite meal was at what appeared to be someone's home. We sat outside as the wife/mother worked away in the kitchen right inside, serving up possibly the best köfte in Turkey.

Not to mention, everyone in the village is incredibly friendly. The village itself is beautiful. Kirazli means cherry in Turkish and the surrounding mountains are filled with cherry and pine trees, although it wasn't cherry season when we were there, unfortunately. (Although I'm pretty sure it was grape season) There are several hiking trails leading out from the village and it's very easy to be outdoorsy there.

Our hosts at the Artist's Studio were wonderful. Karyn, originally from Wales, built the stone house in the traditional village style five years ago and has become a real part of the community. You can read her blog here. She and her friend Nick know everything about Kirazli and the surrounding area, and they also serve excellent breakfasts and snacks, of course using mostly local ingredients. The Studio was the perfect base for us to explore Ephesus and beyond and we were sad to leave after only two nights.

Turkey: The Bosphorous and Its Environs

One of the greatest things about Istanbul is the Bosphorous River that runs through it, dividing the European and Asian sides and leading out to the Black Sea on one end and the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara on the other. It's a beautiful body of water and provides a great place to take boat rides!

I'd already gone on a Bosphorous cruise the last time I was here, but I was excited to go again. A highlight is stopping for the famous yogurt made in Kanlica, on the Asian side.

And this time, we stayed on the boat almost until the last stop, right at the entrance to the Black Sea. On the way, we passed beautiful sites, like the Dolmabahce Palace and the Rumeli Hisari fortress, as well as chamring neighborhoods like Ortakoy and Bebek.

There are many opportunities to disembark the ship but we ended up being thrilled we stayed on until the neighborhood of Rumeli Kavağı, a small fishing area right near the Black Sea that felt very far away from the hustle and bustle of downtown and the old city.

From Rumeli Kavağı , we took a Dolmus (shuttle bus) to nearby Sariyer, another, larger fishing area. It has less charm than Rumeli Kavağı, but we were able to sit outside on the water and drink some of Turkey's famous apple tea at a café, and have a deliciously fresh seafood lunch. We also happened upon the fish market and an impromptu outdoor prayer service.

My lunch was battered and fried sardines. Yum!

Turkey: Magnificent Mosques of Istanbul

Istanbul is definitely one of my favorite cities in the world. It's beautiful, with so many ancient structures from the Ottoman period juxtaposed against super modern and sleek new buildings. It's also surrounded by water, which in my book is what any good city should be. There are lots of people, but not too many that it overwhelms you, and most of them are helpful and friendly. Before we embarked on our journey some of our family members were wary about us going to Turkey, especially from Israel, due to the conflict they've had with Israel lately. But as we suspected, the average Turk has no such prejudices, and Manor even ended up entering the country on his Israeli passport because the visa was free, unlike the American on which was $20. One of the most remarkable highlights about Istanbul are it's many beautiful and elaborate mosques. There are of course two very famous ones that sit across from each other in Sultanhamet, Istanbul's old quarter: the Aya Sofya (ask Hagia Sofia) and the Blue Mosque. I've been to both before, but they were no less majestic this time around. The Aya Sofya was especially different because last time I was there they were doing renovations so there was a lot of scaffolding up. The building also has a fascinating history, originally being dedicated as a church in 360 CE, and then turned into a mosque in 1453. In 1935 it was secularized and turned into a museum by Ataturk, the man generally credited with secularizing Turkey and bringing it into the modern world. While it has many of the markings and installments of a mosque, beautiful Christian mosaics have also been uncovered. You can easily spend a couple hours exploring the gigantic building and we did just that.

The Blue Mosque is quite different, in that it is still a functioning mosque that people actually pray in. You can't walk wherever you want (i.e. into the prayer section, which is most of the room), but you can still get a good sense of the beauty and majesty of the building. It was extremely crowded the day we went, which was a bit frustrating, but we managed to carve out our own little spot.

We also visited the New Mosque (or Yeni Camii, in Turkish), which is not that new, but being built in 1597 is comparatively so. It is in a different part of the city, perched above the Galata Bridge and the Golden Horn (the part of the Bosphorous River that divides the city and forms a strait leading to the Sea of Marmara). Also a functioning mosque, it was full of people praying.

There are many more mosques in Istanbul, and we awoke each morning to the muezzin's call to prayer, often coming from multiple places at once. As a Jew and an American, being in an Islamic country, albeit a more secular one, allows a new understanding for the religion and its people. There are obviously many prejudices about Muslims, and while there are many in Israel we were mostly shielded from them. Being in Turkey allowed me to be more immersed in the culture and appreciate it as a valid culture and religion.

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Turkey and Israel: Kicking Off the Journey

The three week journey from New York to Bombay was a bit hectic. It seemed as though big news stories had been following us around.  Our second week in Israel, the whole country was consumed with constant updates on the release of 5-year Hammas prisoner Gilad Shalit, who finally reached Israel the hour we left it.  Make of it what you will, but on the day of Shalit's release, both foreigners in Israel and Turks asked us the same question: "A THOUSAND prisoners for one soldier?"

A couple days after we arrived in Turkey, news broke of the Kurdish missile attack and subsequent Turkish incursion into Iraq.  A day later, as we returned from an all day trip, we were told by our hosts of the terrible earthquake in eastern Turkey several hours earlier.  Needless to say, our families were worried while we had no idea.

Israel was a whirlwind of family and friends. We went from the center to the north and back several times.  Having been in Israel and experienced the inflation there first hand, I have a much better sense of the cause of the protests several months ago.  I'm not sure how  people survive there financially. Also interesting was Yom Kippur.  We were in Hertzilya for the holiday and it was different than anywhere else I'd been.  To be fair, I'd only previously experienced Israeli Yom Kippur on Kibbutz, where everything comes to a hot standstill for a day.  This was truly different.  People go out and enjoy the day, taking advantage of the lack of cars.  The evening of Yom Kippur, there were tons of people walking and riding bicycles, even on the highway.  The biggest beneficiary of the holiday seemed to be dogs, who could be walked without leashes, free to roam about where they please.  Children rode and played on the city streets--a luxury they don't have the rest of the year.   It was pretty incredible to see this somber, quiet holiday turned into a shared lively experience. We arrived in Turkey to find Istanbul's airport to be deceptively chaotic.  As we went to collect our bags, the belt they were supposed to be on was turned off and no one was standing by it.  After walking around the entire baggage claim section, we found my bag as the lone luggage on different belt.  Devorah's bag was nowhere to be found.  This was not a good start to our trip.  Devorah went to the lost baggage office to fill out a claim and afterwards we decided to do one final check for her bag.  Sure enough, it was in a pile of bags that had been removed off of the belts.  Crisis averted. Istanbul was not exactly the East meets West that I'd envisioned, unless the east that's being referred to is the middle east.  Our first day there we took four different types of public transit: tram, trolley, bus, and two very different funiculars (short distance trains that take commuters up and down hills).  To top it off, a couple days later, we added a light rail, boat, and metro.  We took every possible public commuting option in the city, except the suburban train. It was also pretty amazing to walk through the city and see random ancient Ottoman mausoleums and landmarks.  There are so many things to see in that city, so much history, I feel we could have easily spent weeks there and not seen everything.

After Israel, driving in Turkey was a pleasure.  There were no cars driving dangerously fast, drivers used their blinkers to indicate they wanted to pass rather than tailgating for as long as it takes, and there was no unsafe passing.  It was a stark difference from Israel, where I got clipped by a bus driver that cut me off and then proceeded to drive away and pretended he hadn't left a piece of the bus lodged in my car.  Turkey will be the last time I drive a (four wheel) vehicle for a while.

Israel: Sukkot and Jerusalem's Old City

After a week of staying somewhere different almost every night, we finally landed at my sister Adina and her husband Dudu's cute apartment in Jerusalem, in the Katamon neighborhood. They moved here back in May and seem to be enjoying their first real home (outside of Africa!) together. While we were there it was the Jewish holiday of Sukkot (Feast of the Tabernacles), where families build and decorate small huts (sukkahs) and eat all their meals in them. These huts symbolize the huts the Jews lived in when they wandered in the desert after leaving Egypt until they got to Israel. Adina and Dudu had a great little sukkah that we enjoyed eating and spending time in. Dudu loves to cook and he's very good at it. He made amazing challah bread and lots of yummy "salatim" (Israeli salads) for the holiday.

Aside from lots of eating, we did find time to explore the city. I've always loved the Old City; it seems there's always a lot going on and something new to discover. We went to the Kotel (Wailing Wall) and walked through the Arab market. We also did the Ramparts Walk, which allows you to walk along the city's walls. It was great to see the city from that vantage point and fascinating to know you're walking along some pretty old stones!

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