Inside Out In Istanbul – The People You Meet

Come meet my former Istanbul students!

In my many years of living and travelling throughout Turkey, I’ve met a lot of different people, all of whom called themselves Turks. I’ve written about some of the most memorable people in a piece called “The People You Meet”. It’s in my book, Inside Out In Istanbul: Making Sense of the City, available here. The following are extracts from the story

“Working here as a teacher has given me a great opportunity to meet a vast range of Turkish people. I once worked at a private college teaching English. Most of my students came from the same companies and I taught them in evening classes, but I had one morning class of all women. They were mainly well-to-do mothers wanting to help their school age children succeed and get a good place at university.

Duygu was an Istanbullu, someone who was born and bred in Istanbul. At fifty six she had the heart of a teenager and the mischievous nature of a small child. It was her heart’s desire to dance with Ricky Martin, but she told me that she couldn’t take dance lessons because the neighbours would gossip. She was learning English because her daughter and granddaughter lived in England, and she wanted to make sure she would always be able to talk to her newest granddaughter Çiçek, her delicate little flower.

Duygu had grown up in the area, but said Istanbul was a vastly different city from the one of her childhood. She spent her early years by the water at Erenköy, playing hide and seek in the trees and staying out late on the beach until her mother called her from their house on Bağdat Caddesi to come home and eat. This would be impossible to do today. A modernisation project to reclaim the waterfront was completed in the 1980s and the beaches where Duygu used to play are now lost under Sahil Yolu, a major road leading all the way up the coast to Bostancı and beyond. At some points along the coast it’s now a ten minute walk back up to Bağdat Caddesi so you’d need a loudspeaker to call your children home. Apartment blocks built around the time of Duygu’s childhood still dot the coastline and make up some of the most expensive real estate on this side of the Sea of Marmara.

One day my morning class was talking about the tradition of the Turkish bath. I hadn’t been to one at that stage, and was more than happy to divert from our scheduled grammar lesson while the women talked. Duygu told of going to a hamam with her grandmother. She thought it was when she was quite young, maybe only about three or four years old. Her grandmother wore all her usual jewellery, including diamond bracelets with matching earrings and smaller diamonds in her hair. The chief hamam woman came into the bath and carefully helped her grandmother take off all her baubles which were then placed in a lacquered wooden box and securely locked.

Her grandmother always took her own bathing equipment to the hamam. Duygu remembers the hamam tası, the bowls for scooping up and pouring water over the body, being gold or gold-plated. She said they were very heavy, and when she looked into them she could see a fish on the bottom with bright green emeralds for eyes. There were stone couches built around the sides of the hamam, covered with a special cloth they always brought with them. The best part, she told us, was that she and her grandmother would lie in there for hours talking and sweating and relaxing.

Duygu also had an aunt who owned a large konak house on the hill leading down from Sultanahmet, near the houses owned by the old money Köprülü family. Her aunt’s house had a hamam in the basement, and the top floor was taken up by one large room used for entertaining guests. The family had a servant, a large African woman with a ring in her nose. This woman played a huge role in disciplining Duygu, as her mother and aunt frequently told her the servant would whisk her away from her family, never to return, if Duygu were bad. One day, all the women and servants of the household were engaged in cleaning the top room. First they removed all the Persian rugs from the floor, and took them outside to be beaten and aired. Underneath were squares of woven matting used to provide warmth which were also removed. The floor below was wood and had to be scrubbed with soap to clean it. After lunch, while all the grownups were otherwise engaged, Duygu created a new game for her brother to play with her. The soap for washing the floors was bought in bulk and kept in large sacks. Duygu discovered that if she rubbed it onto the wooden floor they could have endless fun sliding from one side of the room to the other. She and her brother did this for hours, only ceasing when the women came back to clean. When work started again there was a huge hullabaloo because all the soap Duygu had rubbed into the floor, combined with what the women had added, resulted in gigantic waves of suds which took forever to wash away. Hearing the annoyance in the voices of the cleaning women, Duygu hid in a cupboard for hours in fear that her mother and aunt’s threats would come true. When she was finally discovered any punishment was forgotten in the relief that she was all right.”

 

I’d love to reconnect with the students from this class, so if anyone recognizes these women, please get in touch with me.

Posted in Inside out in Istanbul, Women | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Orhan Pamuk and the Museum of Innocence

Fusun’s dressThe idea for this museum in Beyoğlu, Istanbul, based on Orhan Pamuk’s novel The Museum of Innocence, was conceived at the same time as the idea for the book. They simultaneously came into thought in the 1990s, and the novel was published in 2008 while the museum was opened in 2012.

For those of you unfamiliar with the novel of the same name, all I will say is read it, as I don’t want to tell you more for fear of spoiling the experience. What I will provide are my impressions of this exhibition covering four floors of this five storey house that was once home to the actual Keskin family.

Step into another dimension in the Museum of InnocenceThe entry way is covered by the Spiral of Time, a floor design representing Pamuk’s view of memory. The golden dots that form the spiral are moments in time, which seen as a whole provide a pleasing and calming image. Unlike Aristotle who thought of time as a line joining moments which became the present, Pamuk sees the story as a line joining the objects described in the novel. When time is linear, the overall memory can be one of disappointment, but when it is understood as a series of moments, some joyous, some less so, the final memory is one that can be treasured.

I walk up the creaking wooden stairs, gliding my hand up the darkly burnished rail, and stop when I hear a bird tweeting. Slightly above me I see a tiny window, half open and complete with a curtain blowing in the breeze. There is a miniature canary in its cage, whittering happily away, and from outside I can hear simit sellers calling out their wares and the more distant the honking of car and ferry horns. I am immediately transported back outside to the streets of Istanbul, nostalgic for a lost past I am too young to have known.

This level, and the ones above, are crammed with artefacts that are proof of Kemal’s love for Füsun, souvenirs of his lost love. Everywhere I look there are references to sights, sounds and smells that relate to the story, but more significantly, quintessential symbols of Istanbul and Turkish life more generally.

Here, in no particular order, is what I remember most from the museum.

“Of all the traditions that say Turkey to me, the use of lemon cologne is the earliest and strongest memory I will always have”.

Lemon cologne - the essence of TurkeyHow do you choose just one bottle of lemon cologne?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ways we measure time ...

 

 

The agony of love is this...I'd wait a million hours for my one true love.Do you remember your first kiss?

 

 

 

 

 

Movie memorabilia – Kurban

Sacrificial ramsNew Year’s Eve

Try your luck on the tombola board!

Raki and                                                                                                      Attitudes to women

In Turkey any time's a good time for raki.Good girls or bad women? Who can tell?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cigarette wall contains 4213 cigarette butts collected by Kemal. Each butt tells a story of his longing for Füsun.

Museum of Innocence - Evidence of love

Museum of Innocence - I’ll wait, of course

 

 

Museum of Innocence - A happy summer, very happy

I was very moved by my visit to the Museum of Innocence, and seeing a visual interpretation of Orhan Pamuk’s writings. I’ve read all his book, and while I enjoyed The Museum of Innocence, the book which speaks to me most is Istanbul: Memories and the City. It reads like a sorrowful missive to a long lost love, full of melancholy and yearning for the one who remains imprinted on his soul. Füsun is Kemal’s Istanbul.

I have been greatly inspired by Orhan Pamuk’s work so if you’d like to read my account of the way Istanbul feels to me, click here

Posted in Discover Istanbul, Turkish Literature | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Ramazan* Dos and Don’ts

Come and celebrate Ramazan in Istanbul!The Holy Month of Ramazan has started here in Turkey and over this thirty day period devout Muslims fast during daylight hours. This means not eating, drinking, smoking or even chewing gum, from early in the morning until the evening. Once it’s no longer possible to distinguish a piece of white string held up to the sky, it’s time to break the fast. It’s also a time to reflect on one’s life, to examine whether you have been compassionate, generous and honest.

As a visitor you’re exempt from fasting, but to make the most of your travels during this month here are some useful tips.

DON’T

  • Forget that outside of cities like Istanbul and Ankara, restaurants might be closed at lunchtime in smaller towns and villages, because not enough people are eating out. Grab a snack or a sandwich before you leave your hotel to keep you going.
  • Be afraid if you wake up at 3am to loud noises. It’s just a man playing a drum called a davul, making sure everyone is up in time to prepare and eat the pre-dawn meal known as sahur.

DO

  • Remember to wish people “Iyi bayramlar”, a good or happy festival.
  • Go to an evening meal to break the fast, called iftar, if you’re invited. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get together with new friends and enjoy Turkish hospitality.
  • Take candies to give to your host if you’re invited to someone’s home. Baklava is always welcome.
  • Be discreet if you decide to drink water during the day, especially in summer. No one will think badly of you but imagine how thirsty any onlookers will feel!
  • Do go to Sultanahmet or Eyüp in the evening. Once there, join in with the families, couples and young lovers exploring the delights of the Ramadan fairs. Sample manisa macunu, a sweet sticky paste dating back to Ottoman times, have your name written in Arabic calligraphy or laugh at the antics of the Karagöz, the Turkish shadow puppets.

Join in the fun of a traditional Turkish Ramazan fete!Most important of all, enjoy taking part in traditional Turkish life!

* You can find out more about Ramazan, and life in Turkey in general, by reading my book “Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries”. Get your copy here

Posted in Culture & Tradition, Living in Istanbul, Religion | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Faces in the Street – less well known Turkish crafts

Discover some Turkish trades before they disappear!In my library on Turkey, I have a lovely little brightly coloured pamphlet style book filled with the kind of garish photos I used to see on postcards when I first travelled in Turkey in 1990. This book dates from about a decade before that, and features crafts the author deems to be dying out due to progress. It includes water sellers, tailors, quilt makers, and water pipe makers. Despite the man’s dire predictions, when I moved into my lovely apartment in a quiet leafy street on the Asian side of Istanbul nearly six years ago, mine and all the surrounding streets were abuzz with the sounds of traders and craftsmen working from small shops at the base of most of the buildings. The regular rhythms emanating from their doorways were punctuated by the sporadic cries of passing watermelon sellers, simit vendors and boza men.

Add to this the sounds of my neighbours. Not the other apartment owners but the characters who inhabit the bowels of the buildings. Most visible are the kapıcı, the men who live rent free in exchange for various duties, such as cleaning, paying bills and running errands. Most of the new buildings won’t include an extra apartment for them. While this will mean an end to the sometimes invasive gossip grapevine, it will also result in less security for home owners as the ever present kapıcı see and know everything. They also come in handy during an emergency and can help if you need a plumber, electrician or any of the other tradesmen who can be found working under the old apartment blocks.

Our kapıcı Kamil is a simple man but very moody, unlike the every friendly Selim, a short solid man always wearing one of two nearly identical striped polo shirts, who delivers my water. You can’t drink the water in Istanbul, and the most economical way to buy it is in nineteen litre bottles. I’m still curious as to the volume, I mean why not twenty litres, but I’m yet to ask. His shop is under our living room and it’s my practice to lean out the window and call down to him. When his door is shut I know he’s probably sleeping, so I’ll ask a passerby to knock until he wakes. If this fails I have to ring him. These conversations are always short but ridiculously formal. I identify myself and ask Selim how he is. After he tells me he is fine, he asks after me and I tell him I am well. Only then can I ask him to bring up a new bottle of water. Often I tell a necessary Turkish pink lie and say it’s urgent, otherwise he’s prone to first sit down for a glass of tea and a cigarette, in the company of the neighbourhood kapıcı. He gets so carried away in their company that he sometimes forgets about my order entirely. Hence the need for subterfuge. Unlike most Turks who aspire to a university degree for their children, Selim’s oldest son will go to vocational college and learn a trade. In his Dad’s opinion he’s more likely to get a job and start earning sooner than if he goes to university and I think he’s right.

Next door to the waterman is Süleyman the tailor. An upright, white haired man from the Black Sea, he makes men’s and women’s clothes, mainly trousers, and contracts out for blouses. His little shop is chaotic with fabric, cottons and patterns and people constantly stream in and out with repairs and orders. He’s a friendly soul but his accent is so thick I have trouble understanding him. Even harder is when his older brother comes in to work in his place. He looks almost identical to Süleyman, but it’s only when I’ve adjusted to the gloom and noted his more kempt hair and slight tan that I realise he’s the imitation. Five times a day Süleyman’s shop appears to be empty but he’ll be upstairs on the minute mezzanine level, performing his namaz, his prayers. Except for Fridays when he closes just before lunch so he can go to the local mosque and listen to the all important midday sermon.

These are only a few of the people busily making a living at the base of apartment buildings across Istanbul and I fear that in the years to come they will disappear entirely. Back when I first moved in to my apartment, it was seagulls disturbed by the first call to prayer that woke me. Now it is the sound of trucks, hammers and drills, as my neighbourhood undergoes urban renewal. Sadly it seems the predictions made by the author of “Interesting Turkish Trades” are about to come true, as the old style apartment blocks with their small, poorly designed ground floor shops are being replaced by shiny new skyscrapers offering retail rental space far beyond the budget of the local traders and craftsmen of Istanbul. I too have recently had to sign the contract which will see my beautiful apartment, with its real wood honey gold parquet floored living room floor and polished marble corridor knocked down and replaced by something less than wonderful.

Just as wandering lahmacun sellers no longer roam the waterfronts of the city…

Hungry? Why not grab a tasty lahmacun?)And fewer rabbits tell fortunes…

Have your fortune read by a rabbit before they all retire!

Personalize your home with a hand made quilt.I believe one day the dreamy heavy satin quilts handmade with elaborate and personal designs of circles and waves and meanders of thread sewn across the surface, will be completely replaced by commercially produced lightweight alternatives, but hopefully not for a long time.

IMG_2621As for the leech dealers, the last time I saw one was when I lived in Kayseri from 2002 until 2004. I can’t say for sure if the trade of dealing leeches has died out because they’re not something I look for, but I suspect like many of the crafts mentioned in this book, they too are becoming a thing of the past.

Posted in Living in Istanbul, Turkish food | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Turkish Ice Cream – At a stretch

You haven't takes ice cream until you've tried Turkish ice cream!In Turkey, when you a buy a fridge, they don’t tell you how many litres it holds. Instead, they tell you how much Turkish ice cream it can store. Not just any ice cream though. Called dondurma, literally meaning ‘freezing’ in Turkish, Turkish ice cream is made with two magic ingredients, mastic and sahlep, and Kahramanmahraş, in Eastern Turkey, is where the best ice cream comes from.

Find out why Turkish ice cream is so stretchy!I went to Kahramanmahraş on a tour with fifty-two university students and five teachers, of whom I was one. It was four days and three nights of singing, dancing and eating on about twelve hours sleep in total. We ate at every opportunity, and when the bus came to a stop at three in the morning naturally we were outside an ice cream shop. On the point of closing for the night, the shutter was immediately rolled back up as we piled eagerly out of the bus. A man dressed in traditional black baggy trousers, a colorful sash that matched his waistcoat and a fez, came outside and stood in front of a large barrel. He started to mix the ice cream inside it with a large wooden paddle. When it was ready he smeared it on cones for us to eat. He offered one to a student. Once it was in her hand, the man snatched away the paddle, taking the ice cream with it. The mastic in the ice cream is a natural gum giving Turkish ice cream its unique chewiness. Sahlep, a type of flour made from orchids, adds the irresistible texture.

Learn a new use for a knife and fork!On our way back through the same town we had more real Turkish ice cream. This time it was served in slices sprinkled with pistachios and we ate it the traditional way. With knives and forks. We were in Yaşar Pastanesi, a shop established about sixty years ago. Although it was once again three in the morning we met the owner, who still worked eighteen hours a day. Which is lucky for ice cream lovers, because this is where the famous Mado ice cream originates from. You can find Mado cafes all over the country so there’s no need to travel as far Kahramanmahraş for a real Turkish ice cream. However, you’ll have a great time if you do!

Posted in Eastern Turkey, Turkish food | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mount Nemrut

Come to Mt Nemrut and sit with royalty!It’s still dark when I arrive and make my way slowly up a steep path. Although I can hear voices it feels like I am an intrepid explorer on the edge of an enormous discovery. Once I reach the top I stop to catch my breath. All I can see are murky, shadowy figures and the blurred outlines of large free-standing rocks. I crunch my way over small patches of snow that still carpet the ground up here at 7000ft. As the sun slowly starts to slide across the sleeping landscape the murky blacks turn to muted shades of grey. In the far distance a rabbit hops carefully along, unaware of an eagle hovering above.

Do you want to follow in my footsteps?I feel all alone on top of the world until the sun rises and reveals groups of tourists also waiting for the morning light, and the ubiquitous seller of Turkish tea. The rocks have been revealed as the bodies of the nearly 30 feet high statues of the pre-Roman King Antiochus I Theos of Commagene that once stood on either side of this tomb sanctuary. The steep slope I’d walked up is in fact an artificial hill of crushed rock around 160 feet high. The body of the king and some of his relatives are believed to buried inside it but no one is certain. Once upon a time the statues of Antiochus were encircled by seated Greek, Armenian and Iranian statues with the name of each god inscribed on them.

Nemrut 04 HeadsAntiochus believed these gods were his relatives and he had them commissioned to form part of his legacy. Now their 6 foot high heads are scattered across the flat ground. Elsewhere on the terrace is a large slab carved with a lion showing the arrangement of stars and the planets Jupiter Mercury and Mars on 7 July 62 BC. Archaeologists believe this is the date construction began on this monument.

The best time to visit Mount Nemrut is in spring or fall. East of the capital city of Ankara it is well worth the trip which ends when a short climb takes you to another world.

Posted in Eastern Turkey | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Turkish National Public Holidays 2016

Celebrating Republic Day in Kas, 1996

Turkish national public holidays include international public holidays, important dates in the nation’s history and major religious events. On these days banks, administration offices, schools, government offices and some businesses are closed. Although government and many private museums are closed, tourist centres such as Istanbul, Antalya, Izmir and Bodrum can be extremely busy as many Turks take the opportunity to have a short break. This is especially the case when the holiday is being held to celebrate a religious occasion. During the two main ones, Kurban Bayramı and Şeker Bayramı it’s obligatory for family members to visit one another, so interstate flights, buses and trains will be heavily booked. If you’re planning to travel to Turkey during these periods it’s advisable to book interstate flights, buses, tours and accommodation well in advance. If driving, roads are busier than usual. To help you plan your trip here’s a list of Turkey national public holidays for 2016.

List of Turkish Holidays 2016

1 January: New Year’s Day
23 April: National Sovereignty and Children’s Day (1)
1 May: Labor and Solidarity Day (2)
19 May: Ataturk, Youth and Sports Day (3)
6 June – 4 July: Holy Month of Ramazan
5 – 7 July: Şeker Bayramı – a feast of chocolates and Turkish delight
30 August: Victory Day (4)
11 – 15 September: Sacrifice Feast (Kurban Bayramı)
28 October: Republic Day Eve
29 October: Republic day (5)

  1. National Sovereignty & Children’s Day

Solemn ceremonies and children’s festivals take place throughout Turkey on National Sovereignty and Children’s Day (Ulusal Egemenlik ve Çocuk Bayramı), held on April 23 each year. This commemoration of the first opening of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey at Ankara in 1920 sees children take seats in the Turkish Parliament and symbolically govern the country for one day. Elsewhere school children march in unison bearing Turkish flags, people attend local ceremonies or lay wreaths at monuments of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic.

  1. Labour & Solidarity Day

In Turkey, Labour and Solidarity Day (Emek ve Dayanışma Günü), internationally known as May Day, is an occasion for people to celebrate labour improvements and to demand better conditions for skilled labourers and union workers. Unfortunately, in recent years peaceful demonstrations have turned ugly. In Istanbul much of the public transport system is shut down to prevent large gatherings so it’s wise to plan your movements accordingly.

  1. Atatürk, Youth & Sports Day

Atatürk, Youth and Sports Day (Atatürk’ü Anma Gençlik ve Spor Bayramı), includes state ceremonies and sports events throughout the country on May 19 each year. Although the exact date of Atatürk’s birth isn’t known, many Turks celebrate May 19 as his birthday, because Atatürk used to say he was born on that day. Many people lay wreaths on his monuments and hang Turkish flags, some featuring his profile, from their windows.

  1. Victory Day

Victory Day (Zafer Bayramı) commemorates the crucial Turkish triumph against Greek forces in the Battle of Dumlupınar (August 26-30, 1922). The outcome of this battle helped determine the overall outcome of the Turkish War of Independence (1919-1923). Shops, public offices, hotels and people’s houses are awash with Turkish flags, and military parades and ceremonies at monuments to Atatürk are held.

  1. Republic Day

Republic Day (Cumhuriyet Bayramı) marks the creation of the Turkish Republic in 1923. The Turkish parliament proclaimed the new Turkish state a republic after the nation’s victory in the War of Independence. A new constitution was adopted on October 29, 1923, replacing the constitution of the Ottoman Empire. On the same day Mustafa Kemal Atatürk became the country’s first president. On Republic Day people go to theatre, poetry and traditional Turkish dance performances dedicated to the Republic of Turkey. Parades are held in some towns and cities, people lay wreaths in memory of Atatürk and in the evening many cities hold traditional processions with flags and musical bands, ending the night with firework displays.

Posted in Living in Turkey, Practical Information | Tagged | Leave a comment

Kuruçeşme – beauty on the Bosphorus

Come and check out the streets of KurucesmeAnother small suburb tucked away on the edges of the Bosphorus is Kurucesme (Kuruçeşme). The name translates as dry fountain, and it is believed to have been named for a 17th century fountain attached to the Tezkireci Osman Efendi Mosque. At one time the area was an industrial zone where coal and sand were stored. These days it is a quiet, leafy suburb that contains a lovely selection of churches in a very small area. My starting point was Kırbaç Street, which like many of the streets in this area immediately rises inland from the coast road. The Surp Harç Ermeni Kilesi is located on the left hand side a way up the street and I was able to walk through the grounds. It is small but imposing stone rectangular church, built in 1881 by a Master Garabet, a member of the talented Balyan family of architects.

IMG_2572Grounds of Surp Haç Armenian Church

 

 

 

 

 

 

A bit further up the road, opposite a small roundabout that looks lost in a large intersection, is Hagio Demetrios.

Hagio Demetrios, Kurucesme, Istanbul.An Orthodox Armenian Church, it is the original home of the theological college now located on Heyebeliada. The structure I entered was built in 1798 but the janitor suggested the church itself dated back 400 years. It’s quite possible an earlier structure had existed on the same spot.

Interior of tunnel leading to the holy springThe church proper is only open for Saturday services, but I was able to visit the small chapel above. Being forbidden to take photographs did not detract from the room filled with Madonna and child paintings, a large triptych and a basin at the base of one wall with two taps where you can fill your cup with water. I ducked through a low door and walked the length of the 40 metre tunnel to the source of the water, the Hagios Sotiros ayazma or Holy Spring. So much water has run down the walls of the tunnel that they have calcified, making it look and feel like being in a natural formed cave.

When I exited the church, I turned right and made my way up the winding steps leading around and behind the church and came out further up the hill. To my left the road was even steeper, so I headed a little way back down to Alayemini Street. Lined with old konak houses this is where I now want to live.

My new favourite street - Alayemini StreetAnd it has nazar for luck!I wonder what's hidden behind these windows!

I bet this placce has plenty of stories to tell.

Back down on level ground I continued along the coast road, past glorious old abandoned houses. At the point where Kuruçeşme meets Arnavutköy I came to the Church of Ioannis Prodroos (St John the Baptist). Only visible by standing across the road and waiting for a break in the traffic, the church boasts an unusual round wooden turret. A bell tower stands separately to one side of the building.

IMG_2603

I ended my walk by looking over at the famous Galatsaray Island, musing that my seat on the water’s edge will most likely be the closest I ever get to it.

View to Galatasaray Island, IstanbulIf you enjoyed this post, check out my new category “Discover Istanbul” (see drop down Category menu on the right hand side towards the top of this page). I’m sure it’ll inspire to you to go exploring!

Posted in Art & Architecture, Discover Istanbul | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Turkish markets – from A(pples) to Z(ucchinis)

Visit a local Turkish market – You’ll never go hungry!Everyday, in a suburb somewhere in Istanbul, a weekly street market is being held. One of the one of the many traditions brought to the big city from small towns and villages, vibrant, crowded, noisy Turkish markets persist, despite the increasing number of supermarkets opening up every year. Trucks loaded with produce criss-cross the city before light to take up any parking spaces available. Ropes are slung over handy light poles, nearby balconies and shop front grilles so canopies can be raised overhead. Underneath, stall after stall piled high with fresh produce line the streets, and the neighbourhood becomes a frenzy of housewives doing the weekly shopping.

Turkish pickles – what colour would you like?At a Turkish market you buy by the kilo and not by the piece. Everything is seasonal and almost all of it is grown in Turkey. There are plump ripe peaches from Bursa, gorgeously juicy oranges from Demre and brilliantly red tomatoes from Çannakkale. My favourite season is spring where for a brief six week window I can buy brilliantly shiny red Napoleon cherries for only a few dollars a kilo. Strawberries are equally cheap and I still get a thrill when I swing my bag of sweetness from side to side on the walk home, knowing I can gorge myself silly and then go back for more.

Try Turkish salca, it’ll add a zing to any dish!The vendors at Turkish markets vary from smiling fresh faced youths to surly older men dirtied by stubble and years of handling the soil. “Don’t touch” they’ll bark if your hand hovers too close to delicate fruits but they’re quick to offer you a slice to try. “It’s fresh” they’ll say, “It’s cheap” they’ll call, “Buy it now” they’ll yell, vying for the business of women who will pounce when there’s a bargain but hang back if the price is too high. Everywhere you look the colours dazzle, and the cries of the vendors mix with the pungent smell of fresh fruit, vegetables, homemade pickles, spicy pastes, dried fruits and nuts. As you walk along, distracted by what’s on offer, you have avoid men rushing past swinging trays of tea, old men offering to carry your shopping for a fee and an army of trolley wielding shoppers. It’s exhilarating and exhausting and not to be missed.

Turks love to eat nuts day and night.If you want to experience more everyday life in Istanbul and Turkey, read my book “Inside Out in Istanbul: Making Sense of the City”.

Posted in Living in Turkey, Turkish food | Tagged | 1 Comment

Is it safe to come to Turkey?

Is it safe to come to Turkey?A few weeks ago I posted a story about Taksim, urging readers to explore the streets leading off Istiklal Caddesi where they could discover Istanbul’s rich cultural history. This is the same Istiklal Street where on Saturday the 19th of March, a suicide bomber detonated their load, killing five people and injuring thirty six others. This came just a week after a bomb went off in Ankara, killing thirty seven and injuring one hundred and twenty five. Both cities have suffered from several bomb attacks in the last few months, and now as then, the question on everyone’s lips is “Is it safe to come to Turkey?”

A lot of people in the blogging and travel communities wrote posts immediately after each of the bombings, expressing sorrow and dismay at these tragic and senseless losses of life. Each time I scoured the news in English and Turkish, read online debates and talked to friends about it. I chose not to write a blog post in answer to the question “Is it safe to come to Turkey?” It seemed both too big and too personal a question to answer.

What finally prompted me to write an answer was a private Facebook message I received from a women who admires my writing. She had a reservation to come to Istanbul the week after the bombing, and wanted my advice on whether it was safe or not. This isn’t her first visit here, so she knows the lay out of the city, how crowded the streets can be, and that comparing security in Turkey with that on offer in other countries is pointless. After all, national security forces didn’t stop the recent attacks in Paris, Jakarta, Lebanon, Brussels, Iskanderiyah and now Lahore.

One answer to the question “Is it safe to come to Turkey?” would be to remind her she could get hit by a bus tomorrow, so why worry? Given the seriousness of the question this answer is so trite as to be almost meaningless. In the bus scenario, one has the choice to look both ways before crossing. A bombing doesn’t give you that option. The flip side of this answer is to say it’s far too dangerous so you shouldn’t come. Yet I can’t agree this is the best answer because my safe might be your dangerous and my comfort levels your risk-taking.

So, in answer to the question “Is it safe to come to Turkey?” I will reiterate what I said to the woman on Facebook. I can’t really say either way if you should come because only you know how you feel. You should check what your government says and make a decision that way. If you do come to Istanbul, make sure you have registered to receive warnings so you know which places to avoid, and how to keep safe should something happen. I’d feel irresponsible suggesting anything less, but felt I hadn’t been that much help. I was touched and pleased when she got back to me and thanked me for my kindness. She’d considered all the possibilities and made up her mind to come as planned. However she was aware she needed to be able to suddenly alter her plans should any unforeseen dangers arise. Maybe it’s not the definitive answer people are looking for, but it’s pretty good advice.

Posted in Practical Information | Tagged | 1 Comment