The Ottomans and Byzantine Turks in Romania II

Walk in the path of the Ottomans and Byzantines in RomaniaIn my first post “The Ottomans in Romania” I wrote about the way the Turkish language had entered into the Romanian tongue. However words aren’t the only traces of the Turks left in the country today. In most cities and towns there are beautiful architectural and cultural signs of the influence of the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires.

Here’s a small selection from the things I saw.

The black church in BrasovModern day Brasov was located at the intersection of trade routes linking the Ottoman Empire to Western Europe. This, and the fact the city was privy to certain tax exemptions, allowed Saxon merchants to obtain considerable wealth and exert a strong political influence in the region. One of the largest structures still standing, which is a testament to the cities Ottoman past, is the black church. Built between 1385 and 1477, construction of the Marienkirche as it was known to the city’s German inhabitants, was hampered by extensive damage caused during Turkish raids in 1421. Damaged again by fire in 1689 the building was finally completed one hundred years later. Now, 119 Anatolian carpets hang from the interior walls. Thankful to have survived their trips into the “barbaric” lands south and east of the Carpathians, German merchants donated the carpets to the church in the 17th and 18th centuries. This collection is largest of its kind in Europe. Photography is forbidden in order to protect the weavings, but elsewhere in the city I was able to take photographs

Step inside for a Turkish pastry treat!

 

Somewhere nice to grab a snack
The perfect accompaniment for a sweets is a Turkish coffee followed by fal.

 

 

 

Turkish coffee anyone?

Or maybe just some ice cream

You don't need to travel all the way to Kahramanmaras for great ice cream!

 

A predominantly Germanic town, Sibiu, once one of the largest and wealthiest of seven walled citadels built in the 12th century by German settlers known as Transylvanian Saxons, appears at first to have few connections to Turkey. Make your way to the spectacular Orthodox Mitripolitan Cathedral and you’ll change your mind.  Built between 1902 and 1906 on the site of a former Greek church, it clearly shares a similar style with the Haghia Sofia, originally a Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal bascilica, in Istanbul.

The Greeks first entered Romanian through apoikiai (colonies) and emporia (trade stations) founded in and around Dobruja. This part of Romania was once part of the Eastern Roman Empire before coming under Byzantine rule. It then became part of the Bulgarian Empire in the 6th century AD. During this time Romanians were converted to Orthodox Christianity which many people still practice today.

The interior of the Orthodox Mitripolitan Cathedral in Sibiu is dominated by a massive gold chandelier and features neo-Byzantine decorations. It is the second largest Orthodox cathedral in Romania and on the day we visited, was jam-packed with people dressed up in their best clothes to celebrate the feast day of the Assumption of Mary.

img_3937

Orthodox Mitripolitan Cathedral - a must see!

 

 

 

 

 

Dobruja was occupied by the Ottoman Turks in 1420AD and remained under their rule until the late 19th century. Constanta, also once part of Dobruja, was founded by the Greeks as a port on the Black Sea for trading with inland people. It was called Tomis in the 6th century BC. The city was later renamed after Constantina, niece of Constantine the Great (272-337AD) who rechristened Byzantium (modern day Istanbul) after himself.


The Great Mosque, built in 1910, was first public building made of concrete in Romania. It was a gift from King Carol I to the local Muslim community. Built in the Moorish style in honour of Sultan Mohamed II, it is a fairly austere structure with little decoration in comparison to Turkish mosques, although it does boast a luxurious Hereke carpet.

At the beginning of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878, most of Dobruja’s population was composed of Turks, Bulgarians and Tatars, but, during the war, a large part of the Muslim population was evacuated to Bulgaria and Turkey.

If you get the chance I recommend you visit Romania. It has a fascinating history, the people are well educated and have a good sense of humour. You won’t regret it.

 

 

Posted in History & Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Turkan Soray

Turkan Soray - see why she's so loved in Turkey!

Türkan Şoray, Turkey’s own Sophia Loren, was born on the 28th of June 1945 in Eyüp, Istanbul, to parents, Halit, a railway-officer and mother Meliha, a housewife. Along with her younger sister Nazan, Türkan had a normal upbringing until she went to a film set with her friend and neighbour Emel Yildiz (now a champion for animal rights known as Panther Emel). Once there, Inanoglu, a screenwriter, film director and producer who became famous after working at Turkey’s Yeşilçam Studios, recognised Türkan’s star quality and cast her in the lead role in place of Emel.

Aged just fifteen, Türkan’s portrayal of Ayşe in Köyde Bir Kiz Sevdim (I Loved a Girl in the Village) lead to more films and by the late 1960s she was the most desired women in Turkish films due to her beauty and talent. She was frequently cast as the innocent village beauty forced to move to the city in search of work, where she was exploited by unscrupulous bosses and pursued by men of ill intent. Her character never succumbed to either and was extremely popular with the large numbers of Turkish villagers migrating to the cities at the time, where their traditional ways and the patriarchal family model were being challenged in exactly the same ways as Türkan portrayed in her films. Any movie she starred in was bound to be talked about, but due to many of her films having similar plots, some of her movies were made at a loss.

Turkan Soray as a village womanNonetheless her popularity remained high and such was her fame, Türkan Şoray was able to create her own set of expectations, known as the Şoray Rules, which meant she remained free of the usual typecasting of attractive women in stereotypical roles of the time. These rules consisted of constraints about where she would be expected to film, non-nudity clauses in her contracts, reasonable working hours, set penalties for violation of her rules and so on. Producers wishing to work with her and guarantee box office success had to agree to her conditions or find themselves another star.

Turkan Soray in the Yesil Cam film ‘Sultani’Over the course of her career she has received many national and international nominations and awards, and was chosen to be an “Artist of the State” by the Ministry of Culture of Turkey Republic. In the 1980s she began portraying women with problems of female identity in films such as On Kadın (Ten Women) and Hayallerim, Aşkım ve Sen (My Dreams, My Love and You) for which she won her third Best Actress Award from the Antalya Film Festival in 1987. In it she portrays three different women, each of whom is a facet of Türkan Şoray herself.

In the 1990s, Türkan moved into television, starring in the sentimental series Ikinci Bahar (Second Spring) and Tatli Hayat (Sweet Life). In addition she filmed a biographical program for cinema called Sinema Benim Askim (Cinema is My Love) with the NTV channel, which also resulted in the release of her autobiography called Sinemam ve Ben (My Cinema and Me) in 2012.

 

For more on the history of Turkish cinema I highly recommend “Turkish Cinema: Identity, Distance and Belonging”, available here.

Posted in Turkish Cinema | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Kadikoy Walking Tour – Set your own pace!

Want to get more out of your next trip to Istanbul? Come and explore the Asian side of the city with the help of a long term resident. I’ve just released an audio tour called Stepping Back Through Chalcedon: Kadikoy Walk so you can do just that. The tour downloads to your phone and it’s like having a private guide, without the hassle of being in a group and having to wait for people to catch up all the time.

Check out my new Kadikoy Walking Tour

My audio tour Stepping Back Through Chalcedon: Kadikoy Walk takes you on a journey of discovery through Kadikoy’s multicultural past. You’ll see Turkish national architecture, Greek Orthodox churches, former Russian haunts and lots more. To tempt you, I’d like to share a little of what I know about the area here.

“It’s well known that Kurukahveçi Mehmet Efendi is the producer of Turkey’s most famous coffee. He began working in the family shop on Tahmis Sokak in Eminönü where his father Hasan Efendi sold spices and green coffee beans. When Mehmet Efendi took over in 1871 he began roasting the raw coffee beans, a first for the industry.

Meet the locals on my Kadikoy walking tour.Less well known are the innovations his children introduced to the business. After Mehmet Efendi’s death in 1931, the business passed to his three sons, Hasan Selahattin Bey, Hulusi Bey and Ahmet Rıza Bey. The eldest son Hasan Selahattin recognized the importance of the international market and began marketing Turkish coffee abroad as well as in the domestic market. Son Hulusi introduced mass production of roasted coffee and commissioned Zühtü Başar, one of the leading architects of the period, to design an Art Deco headquarters for the company on the site of the original family shop. Tucked behind the Egyptian Bazaar and somewhat obscured by the surrounding buildings, this striking structure remains the company’s headquarters to this day.

At the same time the company began to package its roasted-ground coffee in parchment paper and distributed it to groceries and corner stores all over the city using the firm’s own fleet of automobiles, which was an innovation in Turkey. A popular coffee needed a recognisable logo, and this was the achievement of Ahmet Rıza, the youngest son. He had been educated abroad, and understood the power of advertising. In 1933 he commissioned Ihap Hulusi Bey, one of the leading graphic designers of the period, to design a logo for the company. The eye-catchingly simple Art Deco logo is still in use today. In addition their coffee was also promoted through posters and calendars, which was a revolutionary advertising idea for the period.

The Kadikoy outlet, my local, is also housed in a building designed in the Art Deco style. It was opened in 1966 and is the only other branch in whole country. As well as traditional Turkish coffee, they sell a range of coffee types and styles including Columbian filter, which is my favourite.”

Come join Lisa Morrow on her Kadikoy walking tourIf you’d like to know more about Kadikoy than the guidebooks can tell you, purchase a copy of Stepping Back Through Chalcedon: Kadikoy Walk today. You’ll find all the ins and outs of how to use it on the website.

 

Posted in Discover Istanbul - Asian Side | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nazim Hikmet Ran

The charistmatic Nazim HikmetBorn on the 15th of January 1902, in Salonica, where his father was serving as an Ottoman government official, Nazim Hikmet Ran, commonly known as Nazim Hikmet, was a Turkish poet, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, director and memoirist. Best known for his intellectual pursuits and considered a romantic communist and revolutionary, he was very active throughout his life in pursuit of the values he held dear

Had I been born a lot earlier than I was, he might have been my komşu, that is, my neighbour, when he was a child. His first school was the Taşmektep Primary in the street of the same name in Göztepe, Istanbul, where I live. From there he went to the Galatasaray High School in Beyoğlu for a brief time where he began to learn French. However he was transferred to the Numune Mektebi in the Nişantaşı district in 1913. His school days coincided with a period of great political upheaval, during which the Ottoman government entered the First World War, allying itself with Germany. After Nazim graduated from the Ottoman Naval School on Heybeliada, one of the Princes’ Islands located in the Sea of Marmara in 1918, he was assigned as a naval officer to the Ottoman cruiser Hamidiye. This career only lasted a short time because he became seriously ill and was permanently exempted from naval service in 1920.

Luckily for the world, illness didn’t stop him for long. In 1921 he went to İnebolu in Anatolia with a group of friends including Vâlâ Nûreddin in order to join the Turkish War of Independence. From there he walked with Nûreddin to Ankara, where the Turkish liberation movement was headquartered, and was introduced to Mustafa Kemal Pasha. Atatürk requested that Nazim and Nûreddin write a poem to invite and inspire Turkish volunteers in Istanbul and elsewhere to join their struggle. This poem was much appreciated, and they were appointed as teachers to the Sultani college in Bolu, rather than being sent to the front as soldiers. Not surprisingly their communist views were not appreciated by the conservative officials in Bolu, and so the two decided to go to Batumi in the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic to witness the results of the Russian Revolution of 1917, arriving there on the 30th of September 1921. Then, in July 1922 the two friends went to Moscow, where Nazim studied Economics and Sociology at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East in the early 1920s. There, he was influenced by the artistic experiments of Russian Futurists and Symbolists, as well as the ideological vision of Lenin.

Words of wisdom from Nazim Hikmet

On his return to Turkey, Nazim became the charismatic leader of the Turkish avant-garde, producing streams of innovative poems, plays and film scripts. Due to the political nature of his works he was repeatedly arrested for his political beliefs and spent much of his adult life in prison or in exile. In the 1940s he became a cause célèbre among intellectuals worldwide, so much so that in 1949, a committee that included Pablo Picasso, Paul Robeson, and Jean-Paul Sartre, campaigned for his release.

On the 8th of April 1950, Nazim began a hunger strike against the Turkish parliament’s failure to include an amnesty law in its agenda before it closed for the upcoming general election. This caused a stir throughout the country. Petitions were signed and a magazine bearing his name was published. His mother Celile began a hunger strike on the 9th of May, joined by renowned Turkish poets Orhan Veli, Melih Cevdet and Oktay Rıfat the next day. In light of the new political situation after the 1950 Turkish general election, held on the 14th of May, the strike was called off five days later on the 19th of May, the Atatürk, Youth and Sports Day. Nazim was finally released through a general amnesty law enacted by the new government.

On the 22nd of November, 1950, the World Council of Peace announced that Nazım Hikmet Ran was among the recipients of the International Peace Prize, along with Pablo Picasso, Paul Robeson, Wanda Jakubowska and Pablo Neruda. Despite this honour, Nazım continued to be imprisoned for his beliefs until he moved to the USSR, first escaping from Turkey to Romania on a ship via the Black Sea. Sadly, Nazım died of a heart attack in Moscow on the 3rd of June, 1963, at 6.30am while picking up a morning newspaper at the door of his summer house in Peredelkino, far away from his beloved homeland. He is buried in Moscow’s famous Novodevichy Cemetery, where his imposing tombstone is still today a place of pilgrimage for Turks and many others from around the world. His final wish, never carried out, was to be buried under a plane-tree (platanus) in any village cemetery in Anatolia.

Someof the many works by Nazim Hikmet.

Despite his persecution by the Turkish state, Nazim Hikmet has always been revered by the Turkish nation. His poems depicting the people of the countryside, villages, towns and cities of his homeland, as well as the Turkish War of Independence, and the Turkish revolutionaries, are considered among the greatest patriotic literary works of Turkey. His life and ideals live on in the Nazim Hikmet Culture and Art Foundation located in Kadıköy on the Asian side of Istanbul. Established by his sister Samiye Yaltirim in 1991, it initially housed a collection of books, articles, and other published works by or about Nazim Hikmet, and numerous letters, correspondence and other ephemera pertaining to the poet. The aim was to contribute to the advancement of art, culture and education in Turkey and around the world. Over the years the purpose of the foundation has branched out and now the centre hosts films, recitals, book readings, symposiums and many other events.

To learn more about this great Turkish poet, and to read some of his work yourself, click here.

 

Posted in Turkish Literature | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Ottomans in Romania I

Come follow the Ottoman trail in Romania!I recently went to Romania for a holiday and was pleased to find a lot of the words were familiar to me. The Latin I studied at school came in handy because Romanian is a Romance language but more surprisingly, I recognised a lot of Turkish words too. Looking into the history of Romania, it’s not hard to see why.

Food tastes good in any language.In Medieval Times Romania was divided into three separate entities, Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia. These principalities were under the control of different ethnic groups and countries, but over the centuries skirmishes erupted in Wallachia and Moldavia against the Ottoman Turks. Wallachia, which lay on the border of the Ottoman Empire, was the most fiercely independent, with successful raids carried out by Vlad III the Impaler (also known as Vlad Dracula and the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s novel of the same name). Moldavia also achieved Independence under the rule of Stephen the Great but by 1541 Romania was under Ottoman suzerainty. What this meant was the Ottomans controlled Romanian foreign policy and its international relations, while allowing them internal autonomy to rule the country in the manner of their own choosing.

During the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 Romania fought on the Russian side against the Turks, and gained complete independence from the Ottoman Empire. Nonetheless many legacies of the Ottoman rule remain, including the language.

Here are some words I picked up during my short stay.

bacşiş – bahşiş – tip
çiorba – soup
cuafor – kuafor – hairdresser. I know this isn’t really a Turkish word and comes from French but I first learnt it as part of my Turkish vocabulary.
harta – harita – map
kapluja – kapı – door/gate
masa – masa – table
papuc – pabuç – slipper
simigeria – simit– simit
tarhon – tarhun – tarragon

If you enjoyed this post don’t forget to subscribe to my blog to automatically receive part II of The Ottomans in Romania, and many other fascinating posts about Istanbul and Turkey.

Posted in History & Politics | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Pull of It by Wendy Fox

The Pull of It by Wendy Fox

Wendy Fox’s new novel The Pull of It puts a spotlight on the way travel gives us the chance to start our lives again. To find answers to the questions ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What makes me happy?’ Laura, the main character in the book, is discontent and unsettled in her marriage and life in America. Her worries about leaving her daughter with a baby sitter on New Year’s Eve are brushed aside by her husband, of whom she writes, “Julian, ever practical, told me to stop wondering so much about other people’s lives. Truthfully, this did nothing for me: What kind of person doesn’t wonder about other people’s lives, and do I want to be married to him?”

Soon after she boards a plane for Turkey, and once there she is quickly seduced, coming under the spell of a country I have been lucky enough to call home for ten years. Fox quickly reels us in by using the commonly accepted idea that Turkey is a place full of mystery and dangerous unknowns, which she cleverly weaves in as the backdrop for Laura’s physical and emotional journey. In Turkey Laura finds a familiar home of a sorts, one that echoes her needs and uncertainties, and provides her with a safety net as she grapples with the pull of her past, the present and a frightening but potentially different and better future. Being in Turkey allows Laura to try to work out who she is, separate from her roles as lover, wife and mother, what she wants and where she wants to be.

Fox draws a picture of Laura’s dilemma with carefully chosen words which paint beautiful and at times painful scenes. Sometimes the things we love the most for the security and safety they offer, be it people, a place or a memory, have to be sacrificed in order that we can change to become a new and whole person. Fox forces us to accept this by sacrificing all three, but the outcome is something unexpectedly positive.

The Pull of It is Wendy Fox’s first novel, and I can’t wait to read her next one. If you’re a person who forever wonders about the people sitting opposite you on the train, in front of you on the plane, or eating in the same out of the way restaurant in a small town in a foreign country, then this is the book for you.

Click here to buy your copy today. To learn more about Wendy’s writing journey, check out my interview with her on English Kills.

Title: The Pull of It
Publisher: Underground Voices
Date: September, 2016
ISBN: 978-0990433170

Posted in Book reviews | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Turkish National Public Holidays 2017

Useful Turkish National Public Holiday dates to remember!

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 holiday here’s a list of Turkey national public holidays for 2017.

1 January: New Year’s Day
23 April: National Sovereignty and Children’s Day1
1 May: Labour and Solidarity Day2
19 May: Commemoration of Ataturk, Youth and Sports Day3
27 May – June 25: Holy Month of Ramazan
26 June – 28 June: Şeker Bayramı (end of Ramazan) – a feast of chocolates and sweets
15 July: Democracy and National Solidarity Day4
30 August: Victory Day5
1 September – 4 September: Sacrifice (Kurban Bayramı) Feast
28 October: Republic Day Eve
29 October: Republic Day6

  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 the Turkish flag, people attend local ceremonies or lay wreaths at monuments of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, 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 improvements in working conditions and to demand better conditions for skilled labourers and union workers. In recent years peaceful demonstrations have turned ugly, and in Istanbul much of the public transport system is shut down to prevent large gatherings. It’s wise to plan your movements accordingly.

  1. Commemoration of 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 featuring his profile from their windows.

  1. Democracy and National Solidarity Day

On July 15, 2016 a failed coup took place which resulted in the deaths of at least 241 people, including seven civilians who were shot dead as they resisted the coup forces near the Akıncı air force base north of Ankara. In the immediate aftermath of the coup, a number of structures and public spaces were renamed, most notably Istanbul’s Bosphorus Bridge, which was retitled the “July 15 Martyrs’ Bridge.”

  1. Victory Day

Victory Day (Zafer Bayramı) commemorates the crucial Turkish victory 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.

If you want to know more about everyday life in Istanbul, away from the tourist centres, check out my latest book Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul.

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

New Year’s Eve in Turkey – Red is for Health

Come celebrate new Year the Turkish way!

If you’ve lived here for more than a year you’ll likely have had at least one conversation with a Turkish friend or colleague about Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve in Turkey. Despite your best efforts at explaining that Christmas is celebrated on the 25th of December and New Year’s Eve on the 31st, some of them will still confuse the two. This misunderstanding means that some Turks choose not to do anything special on New Year’s Eve in case they’re celebrating the birth of Christ. It’s probably also why I see Christmas decorations being put up after the 25th. There’s no fear of bringing on bad luck by ignoring the edict of taking down the tree and all decorations by the 12th day of Christmas when you don’t know when Christmas was.

Come decorate your Christmas tree!The festive season can be a hard time for expats, because even if you aren’t religious, it’s a much-loved occasion when we think of family and friends. Understandably, most of us organise our own Christmas festivities which are as close to the way we’d spend the day back home as possible. Being honest, it never is the same, so maybe it’s time to establish some new traditions, incorporating the best of all worlds.

One good place to start is on December the 31st. Although the dates for celebrating Christmas and New Year vary country to country according to the calendar in use, this particular night is on almost everyone’s festive list in some way. In Turkey, most people spend the night with family and friends, either at home or out at a restaurant with dinner and dancing. At home the time is spent eating (of course), watching New Year’s Eve TV specials and playing tombola, a game similar to bingo. Organised parties either end sedately soon after midnight or continue on into the small hours of the morning.

Why not start your own new tradition?There are two different traditions I’ve come across in Turkey that would make interesting additions to any celebration. The first is to open a pomegranate on New Year’s Eve. Doing so ensures richness and wealth, the idea being that as there are lots of seeds inside this fruit, the one becomes many. Some people, especially Armenians, throw the pomegranate onto the ground as hard as they can to break it open. They believe the more pieces there are and the further the seeds spread, the richer they’ll be.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that people give red underwear on New Year’s Eve. I’d always thought fire engine red lingerie was a gift restricted to Valentines Day, but I’ve since learnt red is popular because it symbolizes health. Women wear red underwear on the night and other new clothes to ensure well-being in the new year. The Turkish slang for underwear is don, and is derived from the word donanmak, meaning to spruce oneself up. When combined with the word table it means to have a rich table, laden with bountiful plenty.

However you ring in midnight on December 31st, I hope you have a happy and healthy New Year.

Posted in Culture & Tradition, Inside out in Istanbul | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Tokapi bus station

Topkapi bus station in the 1980s.Anyone who’s spent any time in Turkey is likely to have caught a long distance bus. And if you’ve only ever had to use the Esenler bus station in Istanbul you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s chaotic. Compared to what came before, it’s a oasis of calm. Here’s what I experienced the first time I arrived at the old Topkapı bus station on the outskirts of the city.

“Fourteen hours later, after stopping every two hours so that passengers could visit the bathroom and have a cigarette, even though they all smoked furiously on the bus anyway, we reached Istanbul. In the dim early morning light I could just make out huge thick ancient stone fortifications I later learnt were part of the original wall surrounding the city. To my weary eyes they were mere crumbling ruins that only added to the disorder surrounding us. The Topkapı bus station was overrun by chaos and pandemonium. Little yellow buses packed to the gunnels with people and parcels whizzed past, the drivers frantically honking their horns to make everyone jump out of the way. Large red and blue local buses with rusty sides and bits hanging off the bumper bars belched smoke from their exhaust pipes and turned impossibly large circles, cutting through the crowds of passengers, relatives, touts, food vendors, porters and an assortment of men who appeared to be at the bus station simply for something to do.

We were all milling around to the accompaniment of what seemed like a million voices screaming in my ear at once. “Ankara!”, “Eskişehir!”, “Van!”, “Kayseri!” . . . The words rolled on and over me until I suddenly realised they were the names of towns and the men shouting them worked for the various bus companies going to those places. At regular intervals someone clutching a suitcase or an assortment of sacks and cardboard boxes would peel off from the crowd and be claimed by a bus company tout. The tout would grab their luggage and lead them away at lightening speed through the throngs of people straight to the appropriate bus. It was crazy.”

If you want to know what happened next, you can find out in my book “Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul”.

Posted in Living in Istanbul, Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Visit Kadikoy like a local: five top tips*

Come discover the delights of Kadikoy!

I’m a long time Kadikoy resident and I love it. The maze of backstreets with no names where it’s easy to get lost as you stop and stare, duck in and out of little shops to taste and touch and buy. However when you’ve only come over on a day trip from your hotel in Sultanahmet it can be quite daunting. Many’s the time I’ve seen couples standing at the start of the chaos, the guy insistently pointing at the map while frantically looking for the non-existent street signs, while his female companion looks hopefully at the passing fray for a friendly face to ask for help. To make the most of your time put away your guide book and learn how to visit Kadikoy like a local.

  1. Brunch is the only way to start the day

Discover the hidden houses of Artists' Street.Begin the day out by heading up the hill from the ferry wharf to Bahariye Caddesi, Kadikoy’s answer to Istiklal Street. Ignore the eateries on the main street and turn down Artist Street where you can have a lavish Turkish breakfast of spicy sausage, white cheese, zesty green and black olives, fresh bread and endless glasses of Turkish tea in one of the family run cafes housed in historical wooden konak buildings. Afterwards join the throngs in browsing the small studios displaying the works of the artisans that line the laneways. Here you can buy traditional Turkish crafts, ebru (marbling) paper, earrings made out of felt worked from goat’s wool, glass blown jewellery, or have your portrait drawn by one of the talented caricature artists. If all this makes you thirsty, head for the Nazim Hikmet Cultural centre, built in honour of Turkey’s famous romantic communist poet. No matter the season hardened locals always sit outside under the trees, drinking tea and smoking furiously while making plans to set the world to rights.

  1. Fresh is best

Kalkan - not for the faint hearted!Stroll back down the walking street to the famous statue of a bull at the spot where everyone meets up, and turn left. At the bottom of the hill, just past the 400 year old Osmanağa Mosque, you come to Fish Street. Not its real name, it’s identified according to the Turkish tradition of calling streets by the main trade or business practiced in them. These days the street is crammed full of people and shops. There are butchers with lovingly displayed skinned sheep heads, pickle shops with windows full of jars of preserved bell peppers, aubergines and cucumbers and spice shops with herbal cures for every ailment. Then come rows and rows of carefully laid out and symmetrically arranged fish, watching you with vacant glassy eyes. The species on offer change according to the season and many of them defy description, like the pock-marked kalkan I’m told make good eating. Squeeze your way past women doing their daily shopping trailed by porters with hand woven baskets on their backs ready to carry everything home, to check out the spice sellers, charcuteries, honey specialists, green grocers and restaurants further up the street.

  1. The second most important meal of the day

By now you’ll have realised there’s no such thing as a quiet street in Istanbul, but there are secluded corners where you can catch your breath and recharge your batteries. Moda Caddesi, parallel to Fish St one street up, leads to a suburb of the same name. Follow it along until you reach a set of tram lines running across the street. This is Cem Sokak, home of the aptly names Saklı Kösk, the Hidden Pavilion. Built in 1909 for a Romanian businessman called Miltiadi Patos, and later residence of the famous Turkish caricaturist Cemil Cem, it now houses a wonderful restaurant. You can sit inside or outside in the beautiful garden but make sure you go upstairs and admire the gorgeous hand painted ceilings and walls while you glide across the original squeaky parquet flooring. Take your time to bask in the old fashioned Turkish service while you debate what to eat. Food plays an important role in Turkish culture and the menu here, with its contemporary take on traditional cuisine, deserves careful study.

  1. You always have room for something sweet

My favourite flavour is hazelnut. What's yours?Make sure you leave room for dessert, specifically ice cream  from Ali Usta Dondurmaci. The short walk to this shop near the end of Moda Caddesi should give you enough time to make some space in your stomach. Don’t be surprised if you hear a mix of languages as you walk along. This old established suburb is home to many expats, well-travelled Turks and people seeking new tastes in one of the many specialist cafes and bistros that have opened up in the last few years. When you reach Ali Usta don’t be put off by the queue, there was probably one there when they first opened in 1969. This is one of the few establishments where Turks wait in an orderly line to be served, and having time to decide what you want is essential. Turkish ice cream is made with mastic, a natural gum giving it a unique chewiness and sahlep, a type of flour made from orchids, which adds an irresistible texture. There are so many flavours on offer, like chocolate, hazelnut, pistachio, strawberry, raspberry and coconut and more, that it’s hard to make a choice. It helps that you can have two different types in the one scoop, instantly making your two scoop ice cream into four. If the ice cream alone isn’t enough of a taste sensation, say yes to chopped nuts and chocolate sauce on the top. Take advantage of the outdoor tables and chairs where you can sit and lick away your dessert while lazily watching the passing crowds.

  1. Even when you’re full!

Come try the true delights of Turkey.By the time you’ve completed the fifteen minute stroll back into the heart of Kadikoy you’ll be ready for a cup of Turkish coffee. Go straight to Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir, who’ve been in business since 1777. Haci Bekir is famous for their Turkish Delight, which they’ve been making since the 18th century. It’s well worth taking your time over their mouth-wateringly varied selection of this tasty sweet known in Turkish as lokum. Naturally they offer the famous rose water lokum, along with other classics such as those studded with pistachios, hazelnuts or walnuts, but I adore the newer flavours such as pomegranate or in winter, lemon lokum with a fresh kaymak (clotted cream) centre. It’s wickedly indulgent so you’re expected to be as fussy as the sultans Haci Bekir once supplied. Ordering your coffee is the easy part. Just decide if you want it sade (straight), orta (medium sugar) or şekerli (very sweet). Make sure you take some Turkish Delight home with you too, to give as a gift and for when you get hungry later.

Don’t forget the unofficial sixth way to live like a local by enjoying the ferry ride back across the Sea of Marmara, passing over the spot where the sea meets the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn. And yes, you can get tea or coffee and a snack on board, should you so desire

*for non-Turks or people coming to Turkey for the first time, having a light meal the night before of even skipping dinner altogether is advisable if you want to survive the next day.

Posted in Discover Istanbul - Asian Side, Turkish food | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment