Istanbul & Beyond: Exploring the Diverse Cuisines of Turkey

Get cooking with Istanbul & BeyondAs most of my friends know, I love eating but I’m not so big on cooking. I have a lot of tried and true recipes that don’t require much thought to put together, and I’m usually reluctant to dip into cook books. Istanbul & Beyond: Exploring the Diverse Cuisines of Turkey is the exception. Reading it, using it and travelling through it is pure joy. Robyn Eckhardt knows Turkey and its cuisine inside out and back to front, and has put that knowledge to good use.

The book is divided into food types according to their geographical origins. Fish is to the Black Sea what hot colourful spices are to the South East and so on. Each chapter is accompanied by achingly beautiful photographs by David Hagerman. He’s not above lying in the middle of the road to get the perfect shot. Just looking at the photos of the dishes is satisfying enough but if you want to make them yourself, Robyn has left nothing to chance. From what to use and how to substitute certain ingredients, through to easy to follow step-by-step instructions, you’ll give the most exacting Turkish home cook a run for their money.

I love that Istanbul and Beyond goes way beyond kebab but includes the humble toasted sandwich, much beloved by Istanbul residents. Many times I’ve indulged in one on days when I’ve been too busy to stop for lunch, or in the early hours of the morning on my way home from a night out. If you love Turkey and want to recreate the enticing tastes and aromas of Turkish food at home, or just look at the gorgeous photographs and daydream, this is the book for you.

Happy dining and Türkiye’ye hoş geldiniz!

 

Title: Istanbul & Beyond: Exploring the Diverse Cuisines of Turkey
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Date: October 10, 2017
ISBN: 9780544444317

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A Five Star Toilet: Bathroom Tales in Turkey

Needs must - a Turkish squat toilet.

Back in 1990 when I first visited Turkey, toilets, whether squat or what we think of as ‘normal’ but the Turks call Ala Franga, were a constant topic of discussion among tourists visiting the country. There were plenty around, in mosques, restaurants, bus stations and even in free standing facilities in parks, but the question was, would they be something you’d actually want to use? At that time they were rarely supplied with toilet paper. After paying the entry fee you were usually given a few pieces of thin tissue, which I think were meant for drying your hands. Everyone was expected to use the worn out looking jug or hose next to the toilet for personal bidet style ablutions. Often the toilet flush didn’t work and so the jug has a dual purpose.

I’m pretty tough and when needs must, nothing stops me. In 1990 I used outdoor drop toilets in the Black Sea region, whose contents were regularly cleared out to be used as fertiliser on the nearby fields I could see through the gaps in the slat door. After having to hold my breath to use a stinking facility in an old bus station in Ağrı in 2001, I discovered there wasn’t even any water connected to fill the jug. I walked out and refused to pay for the service, despite a small boy harassing me for money even after I climbed back on my bus. In 2004 I had to use a cigarette lighter to find my way into basement toilets of a restaurant in Kahta. Despite the lack of electricity they were surprisingly clean, but that, I found out later, was because the restaurant had only opened three days previously. Give it time my Turkish friends said.

Yet had I gone to Giresun in 2000, I’d have discovered one of Turkey best facilities, at least according to the man who made it possible.

Turkish Daily News, 18 December 2000

As it was I was lucky enough to visit Gulhane Park in Istanbul in 2001, the former gardens used by the ladies of the harem. In keeping with the palace theme, the ladies toilets were tastefully furnished with lush maiden hair ferns, chirping canaries, cosy chairs and a full-length chaise lounge. An ironing board and iron stood ready in one annexe while a double tiered tea pot simmered quietly in another. I can’t remember what the actual toilets looked like, but it was a memorable experience, for all the right reasons.Waiting area outside the toilets in Gulhane Park, Istanbul, 2000.

I’d love to hear your toilet stories from Turkey, both good and bad. If you’re brave enough, please share them in the comments below.

 

 

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Eminönü

  Eminonu crowded? Not at all@South of the Golden Horn, west of the Bosphorus and north of the Sea of Marmara, Eminönü has long been the meeting point of traders, sailors and people looking for a bargain. Back in Ottoman times, it was home to the Empire’s official Customs Office and numerous private customs houses. It’s believed that the name in part stems from the word emin, meaning the officials tasked with controlling the taxation, storage and record keeping for all goods being traded. “Önü” means “in front of” in Turkish, suggesting that the name Eminönü refers to the area where the custom houses once stood. These custom houses formed the entry point for newly arrived goods, people and ideas. Located on yarımada, the peninsula housing Topkapı Palace, the country’s seat of power, and Sirkeci Station, which connected Turkey to its lands in the east, Eminönü was once an important place.

Automated dolma rollers going cheap!

 

This warren of narrow streets, housing mosques, working han, sacred tombs and people hiding from justice, was fed by a constant stream of new arrivals coming on the sailing boats, and later steamboats that docked nearby. Daily the air rang with the cries of tea vendors, water sellers, hamal (porters) and the myriad of vendors selling wares from all corners of the vast Empire. But at night, then the city gates were locked tight, Eminönü remained outside on the outskirts of civilisation.

Over the years the strategic importance of Eminönü waned. First Dolmabahçe Palace was built in 1853 and the royal court moved away from the peninsula to the other side of the Bosphorus. Then Ankara was established as the capital in place of Istanbul in the 20th century. Nonetheless, Eminönü continued to evolve as the growing nation needed more goods to supply its voracious demand.

Today this waterside area is a vibrant, noisy, dirty, messy sprawl of streets. On any given day they’re packed with people out shopping and you’ll be deafened by conversations held in Turkish, Arabic, Kurdish and English. Women hunting down the best deals on ceyiz items (things for a bride’s glory box) and pardesu (long coats worn by modest Muslim Turkish women). Mothers after the finest sunnet (circumcision) outfits. Arab tourists on honeymoon or hair implant trips (link to moustaches) looking to buy shoes, handbags and jewellery. Porters bursting through the crowds carrying impossibly heavy loads. Itinerant vendors selling novelty kitchen items like dolma rollers (small machines used to automatically make dolma) and narmatik that take the hard work out of deseeding pomegranates. Syrian refugees making a living working in small shops.

The word emin also means certain, and when you enter the streets of Eminönü you can be sure you’ll find a bargain, have an adventure and see something new.

I bet you weren't expecting to see these little critters!

 

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Turkish National Public Holidays 2018

Get ready for Turkish national public holidays in 2018.It’s the start of another year and time to makes plans, organise your life and if you’re like me, look forward to the next holiday break. Once again there are lots of Turkish national public holidays coming up, and 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, Şeker Bayramı and Kurban Bayram, 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 you’re coming to Turkey from overseas, click here to learn what information you need to buy an e-visa online and instructions on how to get one (my post includes a link to the official Turkish government evisa website). If you do plan to drive, remember the roads are busier than usual so take care.

My list of Turkish national public holidays for 2018 includes international public holidays, important dates in the nation’s history and major religious events. While it’s mostly business as usual on religious days in Turkey, during the Holy Month of Ramazan it can be difficult to find restaurants open for lunch, in daylight hours, outside of the major city centres. To help you work around possible complications I’ve included religious dates in italics.

1 January: New Year’s Day
22 March: Regaip Kandili
13 April: Miraç Kandili
23 April: National Sovereignty and Children’s Day1
30 April: Berat Kandili
1 May: Labour and Solidarity Day2
16 May: Holy month of Ramazan begins
19 May: Commemoration of Ataturk, Youth and Sports Day3
10 June: Kadir Gecesi
14 June: Şeker Bayram Arife Günü – Religious half day holiday before Şeker Bayramı. This is a gazetted half day off but most employees in private businesses work the full day.
15 June – 17 June: Şeker Bayramı (also known as Ramazan Bayramı) – a feast of chocolates and sweets.
15 July: Democracy and National Solidarity Day4
20 August: Kurban Bayram Arife Günü – Religious half day holiday before Kurban Bayramı. This is a gazetted half day off but most employees in private businesses work the full day.
21 August – 24 August: Sacrifice (Kurban Bayramı) Feast
30 August: Victory Day5 (Zafer Bayramı)
20 September: Aşure Günü
28 October: Republic Day Arife. Half day holiday before Republic Day. This is a gazetted half day off but most employees in private businesses work the full day.
29 October: Republic Day6
19 November: Mevlid Kandili

  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 and 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 and 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.

You can find out more about life in Turkey in my book “Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries“.

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Turkish Films

In these days of films on demand, streaming and Bluetooth, it’s easy to forget just how important the film industry once was. It took a while for Turks to become producers and directors, but once they embraced the idea, there was no stopping them.

Zeki Murem film showing at Sans Sinema 1959Less than a year after the Lumier brothers showed the first ever film in a café in Paris in 1895, one Sigmund Weinburg began to screen films in a beer hall in Galatasary, Istanbul. It proved very popular so from about 1908 many minority group Istanbullu, such as Rum (Turkish born Greeks) and Armenians, began to open cinema halls. It wasn’t until 1914 that two Turks, Cevat Boyer and Murat Bey opened one. The first Turkish film, a documentary, was made by the army, and subsequent films, mainly comedies, by the War Veteran’s Association.

In 1922 Kemal Films was established, based in the Feshane building on the Golden Horn, by Kemal and Şakir Seden. Harnessing the talents of theatre actor Muhsin Ertuğrul as director, they produced a film called Ateşten Gömlek (The Ordeal), based on a novel by Halide Edip. It starred the first ever Turkish Muslim actresses, Bedia Muhavvit and Neyyire Neyir and was also the first movie to deal with the War of Independence. It was shown in Istanbul in 1923, when it was still occupied and run by the Allied forces.

Over the next two decades Muhsin Ertuğrul put Turkish cinema on the world stage, participating in the Second Venice International Film Festival in 1934. By the end of the Second World War he had been joined by many more directors and production companies, which began to organise themselves by forming professional organisations and film studios. The post war years saw directors who had no theatre background, such as Faruk Kenç, start to make films. The domestic market received a boost when taxes on Turkish-made films was reduced by 25%, in comparison to internationally made films. This gave local cinemas more incentive to screen local products.

Yesilcam Studios - makers of Turkish classic filmsDuring the 1950s and 1960s the Turkish film industry began to experiment and expand its focus. They took important moments in Turkish history and captured them in dramatic form on celluloid, women and children began to take lead roles, and social issues, viewed through the lens of social realism, were portrayed on screen. However, by the second half of the 1960s quantity had begun to outstrip quality. Nonetheless some films were produced in this period that made stars who still draw audiences today, such as Türkan Şoray and Kemal Sunal. They emerged from Yeşilcam (Green Pine) Studios, named after Yeşilçam Street in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul where many actors, directors, crew members and studios were based.

By the 1970s, television had seriously affected the number of cinema goers, yet this decade saw Turkish directors produce internationally acclaimed films. In particular Yilmaz Güney, Lütfi Akad and Tunç Okan made films that looked at the lives of people living outside big cities, and documented their everyday hopes and failures in films such as Zavallılar (The Poor Ones), Düğün (The Wedding) and Ötobüs (The Bus).

Films looking at the effect of migration on the thousands of Turks who left their villages for Istanbul, and then Istanbul for Europe where they were guest workers, continued to be made in the 1980s. At the same time, films looking at internal unrest, the plight of workers in the south east and centre of the country, and other social content, were made. By the 1990s the number of films being made dropped significantly, as more privately owned television stations opened up, rerunning old films and producing their own very popular mini-series.

Have you seen Head On, by Fatih Akin?By the turn of the 20th century, local film makers and actors such as Yilmaz Erdoğan turned the spotlight onto the way traditional Turkish life was changing with the advent of modern technology. In his immensely popular film Vizontele, Erdoğan used the real life stories of villagers in Yıldıztepe in Erzerum to explore how the coming of electricity and therefore television, changed daily patterns, challenged friendships and disrupted lives. European born and influenced Turks such as Fatih Akin, Ferzan Ӧzpetek and Kutluğ Ataman brought a very new and challenging gaze into the Turkish film world. Their works such as Gegen die Wand (Head On), Cahil Periler (His Secret Life) and Lola und Bilikid (Lola and Billy the Kid) introduced non-Turkish audiences to a culture far removed from simple village life. They paved the way for directors such as Nuri Bilge Ceylan and his focus on the individual and existentialism in films such as Uzak (Distant) and Bir Zamanlar Anadolu’da (Once Upon a Time in Anatolia) and Semih Kaplanoğlu’s  Yusuf Trilogy, Yumurta, Süt, Bal (Egg, Milk, Honey).

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief introduction to the history of cinema in Turkey. It’s far from complete and does reflect my own tastes and interests, so if there is anything you think I’ve forgotten, please feel free to add it in the comments below.

If you’d like more indepth information on Turkish films, I highly recommend Turkish Cinema: Identity, Distance and Belonging by Gönül Dönmez-Colin.

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2017 Christmas Gift Ideas

Have you bought all your Christmas gifts yet?With Christmas fast approaching it’s time to think about presents that leave lasting memories. To me, that always means a book, and if it’s connected to Turkey in some way, even better. I’ve read hundreds of books on Turkey so deciding on titles to include in this list was hard work. In the end I decided to include those I’ve reviewed and really liked, as well as others with writing and scenes that have stayed with me. And as my present to myself, I’ve included the books I’ve written on the list too.

Fiction

I love Istanbul and reading a good crime story that’s full of intrigue rather than gore. If you’re the same then Barbara Nadel is the author for you. I suggest you start with Belshazzar’s Daughter: Inspector Ikmen. I guarantee you’ll be hooked.

If you’re looking for a good laugh, follow the adventures of Lei, as she sets out on one final quest to find Mr Right, and a few thousand vodkas along the way in The Final Summer of Vodka: the Marmaris Diaries. You can read my review here.

In The Pull of It, the main character of the book is Laura, a wife and mother who finds herself living a life she never planned on.  Through her the author Wendy Fox explores the idea that we can find ourselves by getting lost. Here’s my review. What do you think?

Yashar Kemal became internationally famous when he became a candidate for the Nobel Prize of literature for his book Mehmet My Hawk. He championed the plight of agricultural workers, and created many memorable characters in his books.

Memoir

I have been reading Orhan Pamuk since forever, and know people either love him or hate him. Many of his books are hard to read, but if you only ever read one, make it Istanbul: Memories and the City. It reads like a love letter to the city, full of loss and longing, written by an inhabitant who suffers from the very Turkish, untranslatable state, huzun.

At the opposite end of the scale are the rollicking adventures of Jack Scott who moved to Turkey in search of sun, sea and something more. Read about it in my review of Perking the Pansies: Jack and Liam move to Turkey.

Just as Jack belongs with Liam, Perking the Pansies is incomplete without the sequel, Turkey Street: Jack and Liam Move to Bodrum. Find out more in my review here.

Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul is my real life look at what it’s like to reside in modern Istanbul. Here’s what one reader had to say.

Politics & History

Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds is an engrossing look at Turkey, the people, politics and contradictions. The author, Stephen Kinzer, is one of those foreign correspondents able to get straight to the heart of the matter, and write about Turkey as it is, rather than through the eyes of an outsider.

In his book, A Fez of the Heart, Jeremy Seal explores the Turkish world of Arabesque, questionable political practices and the sheer joy and energy that always captivates the hearts and minds of visitors to the country.

Alev Scott arrived in Istanbul just before the upheaval of the Gezi Park protests and major changes to the governance of the country. Turkish Awakening is her attempt to make sense of the country where her mother was born, and to better understand herself. Read my full review here.

Back in the early 18th century, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu accompanied her husband to Constantinople when he was appointed British ambassador to the Sublime Porte. Lady Mary was given unprecedented access to the world of the women in the Ottoman court and revealed all in her book, The Turkish Embassy Letters.

Culture

Click here to read what Natalie Sayin of the informative Turkish Travel Blog thinks of my book Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries.

Tales from the Expat Harem: Foreign Women in Modern Turkey  – eds. Anastasia M Ashman & Jennifer Eaton Gökmen. Anyone who wonders what it’s like to be a foreign woman living in Turkey should read this classic collection of stories.

In Turkey Culture Smart – Charlotte McPherson, you’ll realise there’s a lot more to Turkish customs than drinking lots of tea. Click here for my full review.

Other

My first collection of essays, Inside Out In Istanbul: Making Sense of the City came about because I wanted to people to understand the things they see hear and experience when they spend time in Istanbul. Not the places tourist goes, but the real everyday streets where ordinary Turks live. Here’s what someone who’s read it thought.

Anyone who knows me is aware of my views on cooking. I can do it, but I much prefer to eat. I also love to travel which is why I’m including Istanbul & Beyond: Exploring the Diverse Cuisines of Turkey on this list. I’m in the middle of working on a review of Robyn Eckhardt’s wonderful selection of recipes, but keep getting stuck in daydreams brought on by the mesmerising photos by David Hagerman. You will be too.

To get to the heart of Istanbul you have to walk the streets, and there’s no better guide to use than Strolling through Istanbul by Hilary Sumner-Boyd & John Freely. It was first published in 1973, and goes into extraordinary detail of the marvellous sites Istanbul has to offer. I’ve followed many of the walking routes outlined in the book and have never been disappointed.

More than a coffee table book, Ara Güler’s Istanbul: 40 Years of Photographs is an exquisite collection of life in the city of Istanbul as it appears in our dreams. Using his unique perspective, Güler captured the everyday routines of fishermen, shoe shiners, street vendors and all the men and women who peopled the streets of the city. If you love Istanbul this book will immediately take you back there.

You can buy all these books online using the links I’ve provided, or order them from your local bookshop. And once you’ve bought all your presents this year, don’t forget to buy one for yourself.

Have a very merry Noel Bayramı everyone!

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The Final Summer of Vodka: The Marmaris Diaries

The Final Summer of Vodka - have you had one?Louise Bell’s novel The Final Summer of Vodka is a light-hearted romp through the alcohol fuelled nights and hangover daze of 30 year old single Brit Lei who lives in Marmaris, Turkey. Having already met, split from, got back together with, broken up with again The Turkish One (aka Mr Wrong) about a zillion times, she’s looking for Mr Right, but no matter how much vodka she consumes, The One stays in her heart and mind. As a result, she’s decided to give herself one last summer to find the real Mr Right.

Unfortunately, Lei has the ability to fixate on the wrong type of guy like a well-trained homing pigeon. Even when all the signs are screaming “Wrong Way, Go Back!” in bright neon lights, she goes out on dates with men she knows in advance aren’t her type, don’t turn her on and don’t even speak English, desperately trying to make them into the man of her dreams. Even when she realises she’s met her match, he’s Mr Wrong too.

The Final Summer of Vodka is written in diary form, full of spelling mistakes, half-finished sentences and lots of swearing, which make the reader feel they have a privileged glimpse into Lei’s private life. There are some brilliant lines like “We ended up snogging on the sofa like a pair of mentally disturbed teenagers filled with angst”, and “After consuming enough alcohol to have powered a village for three years we headed down to bar street”, which made me snort with laughter. However I wanted more to know more about the other people in the book. I think The Final Summer of Vodka would have benefitted from the other characters in story being developed more fully so we’d get a better sense of Lei’s motley crew of off again on again friends (think about your teenage BFF relationships – only forever until you fight – and you’ll get the picture).

That said, if you’ve ever found yourself weeping hysterically on the couch at five in the morning after a Saturday night bender, frantically texting the man you call a “Bastard”, with no affection intended, for the last time, ever, really never again, until next time, then this book is for you.

Click here to buy your copy today.

Title: The Final Summer of Vodka: The Marmaris Diaries
Publisher: CreateSpace
Date: July, 2016
ISBN: 978-1535044073

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Gallipoli Pt II – and the band played Waltzing Matilda

In part two of my interview with fellow Australian Craig Roach, he shares his love of Gallipoli and suggests which places should go on your ‘must visit’ list for Turkey. If you missed part one you can read it here.

Another original by Craig Roach - Underwater WreckCraig, what might readers be surprised to learn if they take one of your tours?

I’m a stickler for the saying, ‘A day where nothing is learned is a day wasted’. My Gallipoli, my Anzac is like that. Everyone I bring to the place either has a story, a family connection, a local myth or legend from home, or they know nothing at all about it and have no connection or real interest in the place. Either way everyone leaves with an Anzac Story and those stories become part of my story.

The commentary I use on my tours is anecdotal, lots of stories and yarns. I see historians boring their clients into a catatonic stupor sometimes, and I know that by the end of a long day on the battlefield those poor clients will have forgotten most of the mind-numbing statistics and Quartermaster’s inventory. When you’re guiding people around a place you’re passionate about, you still need to measure their interest and their attention span. Move on to something else when you seem to be losing them.

Hidden French Gun - 2017 Gallipoli Art Prize finalistI like to take people off the beaten track and away from the main places the day tourists head to. Sure, we see Anzac Cove, the Commemorative Site and so on, but when you force them up the track to Plugge’s Plateau or down to The Farm cemeteries, you see the gleam in their eyes, and mine. With me, they’re on an adventure and I let them discover it along the way, like the French Guns or Gully Beach in Helles or some of the shipwrecks along the Gallipoli beaches such as W Beach, Gully Beach and Suvla Bay. The trenches, the bones, the stories.

What other activities are there in your area of Turkey that people might like to take part in?

Living in Thrace opens up a whole different perspective on Turkey. It a part of Europe which has been the stomping ground of just about everyone on the planet, you name them, the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Thracians, Trojans, Macedonians, Bulgars, Macars, Ottomans, the lot. They’ve all left their little marks on the place. One thing they mostly had in common was their love of the grape and its finished product, wine. Grapes have been grown in these parts for well over 6,000 years and they were exported all over the ancient world. Not only that, loads of marble used to build fine ancient cities like Rome, came from the Turkish island of Marmara in the sea named after it. Along the shores of this sea lie ancient ports and cities yet to be rediscovered.

Craig the wine expertCraig at the winery

 

 

I’m a big wine lover so for the last few years I’ve been involved in promoting and consulting to the Thracian wine community.

 

 

 

I know a lot of the people who take your tours are from Australia and New Zealand. It’s a long way from the Antipodes to Turkey, so what other cities and sites would you recommend visitors include in their itinerary?

Having lived in Avanos, Cappadocia, for such a long time, I don’t think any trip to Turkey is complete without a visit there. Its unique mix of ancient, manmade and natural history is astounding. Even after all these years, I can walk down the main street of Göreme and see something I never noticed before. Whether it’s viewed from a different angle, or something has been removed to reveal something else, it’s just amazing. Back in the day there were still people living isolated within the rocks. You’d hear about a local legend or myth, and simply go out and try to find it. For example, in 1996 I heard about a long lost underground city from a local near Ozkonak. He remembered finding the entrance when he was a kid and that when you looked out through an air duct you could see Belhia Monastery. Well, we spent three months looking, only to find it ten metres further than where we looked on the first day! That’s just one example – I can’t give too much away!

Being a bit of an artist, I quickly made friends with a retired schoolteacher and fellow artist Muharrem Hoca, the owner of Sofa Hotel in Avanos. Every room in his place is a unique work of art, along with the many original paintings and drawings by Hoca himself. He’s been a friend for a long, long time, and helped me beyond belief while I spent 12 years restoring my old house in Avanos.

Of course, no trip to the region is complete without two iconic activities – hot air ballooning and an underground folklore show. I helped out the originators of the sport in Turkey and spent many a morning and evening in the presence of Kaili and Lars from Kapadokya Balloons. In those days they were the only ones doing it, alongside the occasional cowboy start-up. Now there must be a hundred operators and a couple of hundred balloons. I have to say I preferred it when you could quietly glide to a halt in someone’s garden without 200 balloons following you and destroying the garden forever.

Turkey is fascinating from east to west and north to south. The ancient sites of the east and southeast are stunning, the ancient Armenian capital of Ani, near Kars, the obsidian hills of Kağızman, the wildflowers of the steppe-country, the Kaçkar Mountains, Mardin, Diyarbakır, Urfa, Gaziantep, the list is endless. It’s a country I’ve fallen in love with and haven’t finished exploring yet. There’s still so much to see.

What’s up next for you?

Hmm, what’s next for me? Well after all the stress of upper management in tourism around the world, and the trauma of cancer and treatment in the last 12 months, I seem to have lost my stupid, false sense of immunity, from being shot at a few times, being in wrong places at the wrong time and getting away with it. After being attacked and left unconscious in a Bangkok canal, then going through the whole cancer/chemo thing, I’m now happy to spend my time painting and exploring Gallipoli, learning more about the place and taking people there. As I’ve stated before, everyone has an Anzac Story, whether they came with one, have a family connection or they leave with one, they all become part of my Anzac story, my legacy. Promoting and learning more about the Turkish wine industry will also play an important part in my future. I love the wine! I want to see out my days with my wife and daughter, see peace and tolerance sweep over the land like a tsunami. I also want to highlight the risks that this fragile, natural environment is in. Nature may be winning the war in Gallipoli but unless a serious long-term policy on sustainability is developed and implemented, the whole place will collapse.

A traditional Anzac Day celebration - with a beer of course!Talking to Craig has made me want to go on one of his tours because I know I’ll get the true story of Gallipoli, of the men and women whose lives were changed by the momentous battles that took place, and not the glossy nationalist version I was taught at school. If you’ve been thinking of visiting Turkey, why not contact Craig and take one of his battlefield tours?

You won’t regret it. Well, you might when you wake up with a hangover after too many beers or glasses of wine, but the enjoyment will make the headache worthwhile!

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Gallipoli Pt I – all around the green bush far and free

I’m pleased to welcome fellow Australian Craig Roach. Like me he’s passionate about Turkey and has a lot to share about his life and adventures in the country over the last thirty years. Here’s part one of his exclusive interview with Inside Out In Istanbul.

Craig's take on the shipwreck at Suvla Bay.What first brought you to Turkey Craig?

I was backpacking with some friends. We’d driven around the US then came to Europe, then the Mediterranean. We had this idea, seeing as I loved history so much, to sleep in as many ancient places as we could get away with. We’d slept in the Anasazi ruins in Colorado, old ruined castles in England and Germany and of course wherever we could lay our heads in Greece and the Greek Islands. We were talking about this while on Samos to a Canadian guy who said “You should go to Turkey! It’s totally amazing!” We thought seriously about a plan but considered the paranoia at the time, especially as Turkey was still reeling from the 1980 coup, and the movie ‘Midnight Express’ was fresh in our minds.

Craig back in the day camping near Anzac CoveWe threw caution to the wind and caught a ferry to Kuşadası. Kuşadası fascinated me. Turkey was a whole generation away from what it is now, there were no cruise ships with lycra-clad Brits. Unbelievably, I was instantly in love with this place. People looked at us as novelties. Can’t say I’d met friendlier people in my travels thus far.

It was June or July and in 1984 we had to actually hitchhike to Ephesus. In mid-summer the place was deserted. We wandered the marble streets, the theatres, the ruins, nobody else but us. We settled in for some rest time at the gate and chatted with the locals as best we could, waiting for our chance.

As it got closer to sunset, we bid them farewell and quietly wandered out towards the road. We passed the ancient Hippodrome, then outside the main site. We quietly slipped through the broken arches and found ourselves in an ancient and isolated realm, you could almost sense and hear the spirits that inhabited the place. We settled in for the night with our meagre supplies, totally immersed in an ancient universe no Australians back home could imagine.

We continued our journey by local bus, tasting ayran for the first time, along with local food we couldn’t have imagined. Naturally we hitched out to the Anzac sector of Gallipoli. Little or no tourist infrastructure existed at the time. It was then that I found my calling, my life’s work.

And so, here I am, 33 years later.

What’s it like to be an expat in Turkey? Tell us a little about where you live and your daily life.

From about 1989 onwards I dreamt of owning and running a pub or cafe in Turkey. My first idea was to open something in Eceabat and help those who wanted to visit the battlefield with transport and guiding. Unfortunately the state of Eceabat at the time was pretty sad. It was either dry and dusty or wet and muddy, and the water and electric supplies were sporadic at best. In 1995 I settled on opening a small bar in Göreme in Cappadocia. ‘Roachie’s World’ was born. The 1996 season was fantastic. We opened the bar just after Anzac Day and attracted 120 punters on the first day, 140 on the second and too many to count by the end of the first week. That was when I attracted the ire of local bar owners and it was the first of many times I was carted off by the Jandarma. Most weeks we did more business than all the other bars combined and it didn’t go down well with the other bar owners.

When I returned to Göreme the next year I decided it was time to be a part of the community, but the pressure on me to mind my own business was pretty tough. Luckily a tour leader who frequented my place often told me his company needed a freelance leader for the ‘97 season. I travelled to Istanbul and met my new boss, my future brother-in-law, and I began my career as a tour leader. I was based in Turkey and specialised in the entire country but mainly Gallipoli and Western Turkey and also Eastern Turkey, Syria, Egypt, Morocco and eventually India. Turkey was always my base though and I decided to buy and restore a 900 year old house in Avanos. I restored that beautiful house for 12 glorious years.

Working for the ‘Best little adventure travel company in the world’, the Imaginative Traveller, was great. It was then that I met my beautiful wife Sevilay, our office manager in Istanbul. I was surprised at how open and secular her family were and this tied the knot for me. We eventually became husband and wife.Craig's beautiful wife Sevilay

To cut a long story short, after some years in Southeast Asia we returned to Istanbul for the first time. I worked for a couple of travel companies and my wife managed a small boutique hotel in the Old City. At the end of 2010 or early 2011, I returned again on a short contract as the Director of Operations for a Dutch travel company. Sev, my wife, decided to go back to government school teaching so we moved to Tekirdağ.

Tourism hasn’t been too successful since then, so apart from my own occasional clients who meander through Turkey, I’m also part of a group of ex-Imaginative Traveller colleagues who started Experta – Tours & Events. In the lead up to the Centenary at Gallipoli I was asked to come on board as an historian for Mat McLachlan Battlefield ToursI get to hang around with lots of Aussies and Kiwis and take them to visit my favourite people like Mesut, the owner of The Boomerang Cafe in Eceabat or Enver and Cecilia at the Tusan Hotel in Guzelyali.

Tell us about the tours you lead to WWI sites in Turkey.

Since returning to Turkey and moving to Tekirdağ, I try to spend as much time as I can at Gallipoli. I’ve enjoyed working with Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours and have made some great friends with Mat, Gil, Karen, Bianca and the rest of the team. After working in the higher echelons of international travel, for some unscrupulous characters, it was refreshing to find a company with such integrity and attention to detail, that treats everyone involved with them fairly and openly.

Craig the artist - no photos please!The second part of my Gallipoli Story is my art. I’m a great traveller but a horrible photographer which led me to sketch and paint my way around the world. I don’t know how many times I sketched the City Gate of Ugarit, the Growing Nandi of Mysore or camels in Egypt, India and the Sahara. So I decided to try and incorporate my art with Gallipoli and WINE! The painting has been a fabulous distraction through these dark periods of tourism and war in our neighbourhood. I was thrilled to enter one of my favourite paintings in the prestigious Gallipoli Art Prize in Sydney and even more chuffed to have made the finals! I’ve sold a few pieces and even though my style is improving, some of my earlier paintings have been my most successful and favourite. You can follow my painting exploits on my website or Facebook page.

You can read Part II of this interview here.

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Review of Not Constantinople

Have you read Not Constantinople yet?The story in Not Constantinople follows a young American couple who come to Istanbul planning to work for a few years, save money and then go back home to buy a house. Fred and Virginia’s dream comes to an abrupt halt when they return to their rented Istanbul apartment one night to find a family of Greek squatters have moved in. Due to an anomaly in Turkish law they’re claiming ownership of the property, and Fred and Virginia, the paying tenants, are unable to evict them. What follows is a tense stand-off that evolves into an uneasy alliance.

I found Not Constantinople an unsatisfying read partly because the main character is an immature and half-formed boy/man who isn’t that likeable. He lives on the edge of other people’s lives and it’s almost as if he hopes a stint somewhere ‘other’ will fill in the blanks of his personality. Virginia, like most of the women in the novel, is incompletely written and quite two-dimensional.

Istanbul is the backdrop to their story, based on carefully selected places, people and moments in time. The European side of the city features heavily, home to foreigners who prefer to experience Turkey with a Western flavour. Most of the Turks Fred and Virginia meet are American educated wealthy hipsters who like to dabble in the dark side of city life by attending gypsy gatherings while remaining safe in the arms of family money. Mention is made of the 2013 Gezi Park protests, but here they are a form of initiation for young expat men fighting for democracy armed with and protected by their foreign passports, in a kind of Boys’ Own adventure story.

Unfortunately, Not Constantinople adheres to the myth of Istanbul as an exotic city in which everyone speaks a version of English and daily life fits into a recognisable Western paradigm. The author, Nicholas Bredie, wants us to believe the city is seductive and glistening but never really backs this up with scenes in the book. He tries to ramp up the notion of the city as a strange and somewhat primitive foreign place by using literal translations of local neighbourhoods so that it reads a little like a fairy tale. The aim is for the reader think of the city as somehow alien and unknowable but it comes across as bland and mundane.

Had the author taken the time to explore just what makes Istanbul so alluringly different through better developed versions of Fred and Virginia, and written that into the pages, Not Constantinople would have been a more compelling read. As it is, the flow of the story isn’t helped by the insertion of an unfinished script intertwined with their experiences. The people in these scenes are half described and the scenes they play out confuse, rather than add to the main story.

Although it won’t join my list of favourite books set in Istanbul, Not Constantinople is far from the worst book I’ve ever read and I’m curious to know what others make of it. If you want to be one of the first to comment, click here to buy a copy of Not Constantinople by Nicholas Bredie, and then let me know your thoughts.

 

Title: Not Constantinople
Publisher: Dzanc Books
Date: June, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-941088-75-3

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