Thursday, September 13, 2012

Local transport in all shapes and sizes


Local transport in all shapes and sizes

Many visitors to İstanbul are impressed with the different options for local transport, but not with the overcrowding they may experience.
Minibus travel is straightforward. There is a set minibus route. The difference between a bus and minibus is that the latter you can hail and ride; the minibus does not have defined stops, so you can hop on and off where you like along the route. The first time you ride a minibus you may wonder what is going on as the people behind you say something and pass money through you to the front. On a minibus you pay by passing your fare up the row of passengers. Your change will dutifully come back to you from the driver in the same way. Minibus drivers are experts at multi-tasking; you will be amazed at their ability to drive, smoke, take your fare, give change, talk on the phone and fiddle with the radio all at once, while still having a free hand to honk the horn. Be prepared for a bumpy ride.

Letting the driver know where you want to get off is simple. When it comes time for you to disembark all you need to do is say, loudly enough for the driver to hear you, “İnecek var” (I want to get off). But beware! Don’t get confused like some have and say, “İnek var” (There is a cow).

Dolmuş is another way to get around the city. A dolmuş is a special shared taxi. It has a fixed route that it follows, and it departs once full. In fact, the word “dolmuş” literally means “full.” These are a little more expensive than a minibus, but usually quicker. You can say the above phrase whenever you would like to stop.

The ferry can be a pleasant way to travel, if you can get a seat. The ferry is a common mode of transport for crossing the Bosporus in İstanbul, or crossing the bay in İzmir. Entry to the ferry station is by a turnstile; for this you can use an “akbil” digital transit pass or buy a token called a “jeton” from a booth at the entrance to the ferry station. When the ferry docks and passengers have disembarked the gate is opened and you can walk onto the quay to board the ferry.

Be careful when boarding. Experienced ferry travelers may jump the gap between the quay and the boat, but it is best to use the gangplank, even though this is usually just a narrow plank of wood.

Disembarking is similar; many Turks take their lives in their hands and leap onto the quay, sometimes even before the captain has finished his maneuvers. We recommend you obey the signs directing you not to disembark until the ship has berthed. The water is definitely not inviting, even on a hot sunny day!

İstanbul has a network of seabuses (catamaran fast ferries) linking the two shores of the Bosporus and the coast of the Marmara Sea. These run less frequently than the Turkish Maritime Lines ferries, and are more expensive, but the ride is quicker, seating is more luxurious and boarding and disembarking are definitely safer.

Taxis are everywhere. It is best to use licensed taxis rather than private ones. In major cities such as İstanbul all official taxis are yellow and have a number plate beginning with the letter T. If you know where the taxi “durak” (stand) is it is best to find a taxi there, or have the receptionist at your office, hotel or restaurant call a taxi for you. If your group consists of more than two people and is mixed gender try to arrange it so that women sit in the back and a man in the front seat. All taxis should have a “saat” (meter). There are two tariffs: “gündüz” for daytime and “gece” for night, which means midnight to 6 a.m. A light on the meter shows which tariff is being charged, but the taxi driver is able to switch between them when he sees you get in. Check that the right light is lit up. You pay by distance and by time, so the meter will tick over if you are stuck in traffic (common in big cities). If you know the route you’d like to take you can tell the taxi driver; otherwise he may choose a longer route.

Remember these two things: Face saving is an important Turkish trait. If a taxi driver is lost he may not want to admit this and ask a passerby (even if he did, he could get the wrong directions, as the passerby would not want to admit to not knowing, either). The second is that taxi drivers love to talk.

Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey” 2005. Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email:

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Journey to the bottom of Turkey

Yüksekova, a district of Hakkari Province, is situated close to the border with Iran. (PHOTO: TODAY ZAMAN)


Turkey is a huge land mass, with nearly 75 million people inhabiting a space that spans 2,000 kilometers wide.

With a view to explore this great country as much as I could, I had the fortunate opportunity to visit the town of Yüksekova, which is 200 kilometers further east from Van, and located in Hakkari province. It is effectively at the bottom end of Turkey, approximately 60 kilometers from both the Iranian and Iraqi borders.

Getting into Yüksekova after flying to Van proved a treacherous journey crossing mountainous terrain approximately 2,000 feet above sea level. Rivers flowed beside us as we drove on the rocky roads in earnest, finally arriving in the town of Yüksekova, which is on a flat plain surrounded by snow-capped mountains on all sides.

According to recent estimates, the town contains approximately 60,000 people and they are all of Kurdish ethnicity. In effect, I was deep inside “Turkey’s Kurdistan territory.”

I stayed with the family of a colleague from my university, İsmail Hakkı. A well-built man in his late 20s, he is a proud Kurd, as are all Kurds I have met in recent months here in İstanbul. I was afforded the warmth, peace and nobleness of his most generous family, including his five brothers, who range in age between the mid-20s and 40. Their mother and father were kind and gave me the freedom of their home as if I were one of their sons. Steeped in traditional Kurdish and Sunni-Hanafi culture, we ate together on the floor, seated on elegant kilims and cushions. The food I consumed was lavishly prepared by the matriarch and her daughters-in-law.

We all ate together, young and old, and by the third night I had them all trying to speak a little English, while I continued to embarrass myself with what little Turkish and Kurdish I so far amassed. What was comforting was the way in which Kurdish and Urdu have so many common phrases and terms. We drew comfort in trading interchangeable Kurdish and Urdu phrases while I continued to emphasize the culture of my parents and how the ways of my hosts were not too dissimilar to them.

Feeling at home
I sometimes regard myself culturally imperialized, disconnected from my heritage through the migration of my parents to England in the 1950s and early 1960s, and now far removed from the place of my birth, the city of Birmingham. Presently living in a land with its own array of peoples and cultures, unified under the banner of a modern secular republic, all the while keeping the deeply rooted cultural traditions of old alive behind the facade of tall residential buildings, I find myself an “alien.” In Yüksekova, I felt at home, or the nearest thing to it, past or present, real or imagined.

There was one embarrassing moment on the third night, however. In Britain, when eating a meal together, it is normally customary to begin when the host begins and to leave the table only when the host decides to. I realized that here in Yüksekova, while we all began to eat together, it is the host who does not get up until the guest decides to. Not realizing this, I waited for many minutes for the mother and father to get up so that I could, too. But they did not. It dawned on me that they were waiting for me to get up, and I duly did in the end but not until some cajoling from İsmail, who asked as he walked across the room, “Are you still eating?” I had in fact been waiting to get up for many minutes, but I did not realize my mistake. Sometimes I feel that as a BBCD (“British-born confused desi”) I do not belong anywhere. While this helps to keep a critical edge when I am looking at the world around me, it is often a lonely place.

The highlight of the three-day trip was “the picnic.” We piled into three cars, driving first to the ancestral village of the Hakkı family, some 50 kilometers away. A brand new family house, only months away from completion, is situated at the corner of the village, surrounded by rolling fields and mountains in the distance. The house will have everything necessary for life there, even wireless Internet. We then drove further on to a place described as “a garden” by İsmail. When we arrived to a space that had nothing but wild growth to show for it at first, I discovered an orchard, with trees and plants of fruit of every variety and hue. A stream flowed alongside, gently humming in the background at all times. I followed the folk deeper into “the garden” to discover strawberries and cherries so vivid in color and so succulent in taste. I last recall picking fruit from a tree and eating it as I did so in the early 1980s, when all the rage for families in England was to visit places such as Evesham to “pick your own.”

Lunch was eventually served, consisting of the meat of two goats slain earlier that morning. We ate it with glee, washing it down with lashings of tea. As the boys and I lounged around, allowing the food to digest, we decided to go swimming in the river. We walked to a point where it was felt safe to do so, stripped down accordingly and took a collective plunge into the cool water that was fresh and fast as the streams from higher up formed a rapid flow below. It was a lot of fun indeed, and we enjoyed those moments of trying to stay standing as the water splashing flights ensued.

Returning to the flock, and after some further lounging around, we decided to climb the nearest mountain. And we did. I struggled a little as the air was light and I could feel how unfit I had become living the sedentary life of an İstanbulite. We got to a position called Govend Rock, at which point we paused and took in the amazing scenery and looked down at the garden, which appeared now more as a forest from high above. The brothers decided to engage in an impromptu dance. Govend Rock means dancing rock. I noted brotherly love unsurpassed as I looked on.

Getting down was far quicker if not more eventful. Using the groove between two faces of the mountain side, where sand and small stones had collected, I was running and sliding down at the same time. With my trendy shoes full of sand and small stones, we returned to the family to be greeted with great amusement that I had actually come back unscathed. As the unfit alien foreigner, all I could do was to empty the sand and stones from my shoes to emphasize my bravery. They were not impressed.

The next day I had the opportunity to attend a Kurdish wedding. Women, who are not always seen on the streets in great numbers, were dressed in long dresses with such amazing shades of purple, green and blue. Gold was adorned around their necks and wrists, and they sat with confidence and poise. It was not the image I had of the cowering Kurdish woman at the hands of the dominant male. While women often remain in the domestic sphere, they have full authority of their domains while maintaining a hold on all family relations. When it was time for the collective dance, which included all, men and women, young and old, I was encouraged to join in. It was at this moment it was confirmed that I indeed have two left feet as I found it hard to coordinate what seemed an easy routine as an onlooker. The pressure of performance took its toll and I quickly assumed the guise of the foolish outsider who wanted to fit in and failed but should at least be given some credit for trying.

At times I was with other people in various new settings that I found myself in when accompanying members of the family, after pleasantries were exchanged between us through İsmail, who acted as translator, and after they asked where I was from and what I was doing in their town, the inevitable question came. What did I think about the “Kurdish issue”? Of course, I am still learning more about this “issue” myself and so I turned the question back on them. Various responses came back, including the idea that discussions are better than they have ever been and that it is possible to be optimistic at some level and that within a year a solution could be had. Others pointed the finger at the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) itself and said that they are the problem per se. Some were of the view that no solution could ever be achieved. For them, the status quo will remain, as it has since the emergence of the secular Turkish state.

There was no overwhelming consensus. However, what is clear is that the local population had a local Kurdish leadership in place. It certainly felt to me that the Kurds were in charge of their local affairs. Even the Turkish police only roamed the streets in bulletproof machine gun-loaded vehicles. Some areas of the town were described as no-go areas for the police.
My own experience of the wonderful family I stayed with was a sense of charm and warmth. I ate fruit from trees, climbed a mountain to get to a rock where a dance ensued and I swam in a river (or rather floated downstream most of the time). I also attended a wedding where I danced with other guests at the wedding party, albeit with two left feet. Time has another dimension for people in Yüksekova, who are rich in tradition and culture, humble and serene.

While I thoroughly enjoyed so much of my time, I had the feeling that things were not calm. Sadly, just over a day I left the town to return to İstanbul, in the Dağlıca area of Hakkari province, 50 kilometers southwest of Yüksekova, near the Iraqi border, PKK members and Turkish soldiers exchanged gunfire, leaving 26 dead, with casualties on both sides. It was one of the fiercest exchanges between these opposing groups in recent years. It has raised further alarm bells among the political establishment of Turkey. But what remains true is that the spirit of the people in deep Kurdish territory will not be unabated. Theirs is a world far removed from high political drama. Their land is in their blood and it pumps through their collective veins with vigor, and in spite of any attempts to make them think or believe anything else.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

[Living in Antalya] Home to roost

Kaleiçi, Antalya (PHOTO Today’s Zaman, Mehmet Demirci)


“Has anyone seen my purse?”“Where did you last see it?”

“Not sure. Maybe when I was out last night.”
“Much in it?”
“No. Not really. Except the pin code for my new SIM card… Oh, well. Shall I go on a boat trip today or not?”

And so it goes on with daughter number one, who has recently returned from her travels around the wilds of India. I can only assume that during those two months, she exerted so much energy in having to be on her guard against the loss of items such as her passport, money, travelers cheques, etc., that she is too exhausted to cope with the pressures of normal life.

“Oh, it’s so good to be home!” were her first words on arriving back in Antalya. After India, she was not fazed by the soaring temperatures and was impressed by the (comparatively) rubbish free roads, the (comparatively) civilized driving and her ability to blend into the background and not attract unwanted attention from locals.

About seven years ago, after my kids had more or less left home, I packed up all my worldly goods, sold the family house and moved 2,000 miles away to set up my new home in Antalya. This was, of course, a far more drastic step than most of my contemporaries were taking in the attempt to make our children into responsible adults. It wasn’t a deliberate attempt to escape the clutches of my brood or to shirk my responsibilities as a parent, but after many years of single parenting it seemed like the right time to make a life change. And in retrospect I would still maintain that it was the right decision. Not that it was without the pangs of guilt at leaving family and friends, as every expat well knows.

Right from the beginning, I encouraged my kids (actually it would be more accurate to say “paid for”) to visit as often as possible. Obviously free holidays abroad are not something that any self-respecting impoverished student is ever likely to turn down. They have made the journey over for exciting times in the winter, skiing and climbing in the Taurus Mountains and swimming and sunbathing during the rest of the year. In all seasons they have availed themselves -- mostly at my expense -- of Antalya’s finest selection of bars, chilled glasses of Efes and the chance to strut their stuff to whatever type of music takes their fancy in the nearby Kaleiçi (Antalya’s old town). In between these arduous activities, they have learnt to appreciate Turkey’s finest cuisine, even learning to cook a few of their favorite mezes. In other words, they have come to appreciate Antalya as much as I have.

So much so that daughter number one spent a four-month stint here prior to her Indian adventures.

She used the time wisely -- learning Turkish, completing a TEFL course, solving the numerous technical problems aged parents like me have with computers, traveling, writing, cooking, drinking, making numerous friends and generally enlivening our lives with her cheery presence around the house. Despite the constant scattering of her belongings -- clothes, phone chargers, netbooks, bags, etc. -- on every available surface, my long-suffering husband found himself, against his better judgment, looking forward to her return.
“Told you she would be moving back here,” he grumbled affectionately, despite my protestations that she would no doubt be moving on to explore another part of the world.
Meanwhile daughter number two has arrived, bringing with her my gorgeous 1-year-old grandson and her partner. So the conversations now sound like this:

“Can you just hold Lewis for a minute?”
“Has anyone seen the baby wipes?”
“What do you think these spots are on his back?”

As far as I am aware they are only here for the fortnight -- in fact, since I bought their tickets, I’m fairly sure of this fact -- and they don’t harbor any long-term plans for relocating to Antalya. But while they are here it’s great to play the role of generous grandmother, buying expensive wooden toys from Tchibo, garish plastic swimming contraptions and, of course, plenty of babysitting shifts.

My one and only son, however, has his own plans. In a month’s time, he and his partner will set off on a round-the-world bicycle trip, optimistically hoping to work along the way to cover their expenses. This adventure is set to take them up to four years, which seemed a long time to me until I discovered that their first port of call is to be Antalya, where with their newly acquired TEFL courses they hope to find some means of earning money. The rumor is that they will be based here for six months or so.

So despite my best endeavors to free myself from my beloved offspring, it seems that they are all coming home to roost. The fact that they view Antalya, which could not be more different from the small, northern town where they spent their childhood, as a desirable place to live is, of course, fantastic news for me. I hoped that they would all want to visit often and the chance to spend quality time with them would outweigh the long periods of time spent apart, but I never expected that any of them would choose to come and live here.

All expats face pangs of guilt at leaving behind family members, parents, siblings or children, but in my experience, my children have all gained a whole new aspect to their lives. Not only do they enjoy all things Turkish, but they have all made attempts to learn the language, to make Turkish friends and to explore independently more remote parts of this hugely diverse country. Despite the growing trend in the UK, brought on by the current economic crisis and lack of jobs, for young people to return to their parents’ homes to live, I doubt very much that any of my kids would have chosen to move back in with me in the cold, damp, dark environment of my former life.

Now, quite what the next generation, namely the lovely baby Lewis, will make of Turkey is another story. Having been abruptly transported from the cool, wet climate of Britain to searing temperatures of 40 degrees and above, probably not very much at the moment -- but there’s plenty of time for him to fall for his granny’s adopted home.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

FORBES - Why You Should Be Smart And Visit Turkey This Year

Istanbul always dazzles; that’s a given. The combination of iconic landmarks like the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, the maze like Grand Bazaar and Spice Market with up to the minute clubs and restaurants gives this city an undeniable exotic/historic/cutting edge buzz. And it’s always improving.

Click for full photo gallery: Why You Should Go to Turkey This Year

The Four Seasons Sultanahmet was a standout when it opened in 1996, a luxe hotel in a former prison around the corner from Topkapi Palace, and it still is. But in September, they’re opening the terrace, redone in Ottoman sultan style, with its standout views overlooking the Hagia Sophia to non-guests. Having a glass of champagne while watching the lights click on the domes and minarets of this Ottoman/Byzantine beauty is an atmospheric way to start off the night. Tevkifhane Sokak No. 1, Sultanahmet,

Nearby, the most sybaritic way to start the day is in an elegant hamam reopened last year after a $10 million restoration wiped away decades of disrepair and an ignoble stint as a carpet shop. The Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam built in 1556 for a famous temptress, Roxelana, the former slave who became the harem favorite and then the wife of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent , has to look even better than in her time: gleaming marble, gently splashing fountains, a labyrinth of corridors, flickering candles. And an attendant to gently lather , scrub, massage and rinse you with warm water, wrapping you in fluffy towels and taking you by the hand to walk you from station to station. You feel like a five year old being tended by a loving nursemaid. Just be glad that you’re not a prospective bride being examined by her future mother in law, as was the practice originally. (Cankurtaran Mah. Bab-ı Hümayün Cad. No.1; 90-212-517-35-35 )

Down the street from the frenzied 61 lanes containing 3000 shops and stalls of the Grand Bazaar is a shopping experience at the other end of the scale: one of the most exquisite stores in town—or in any city in Europe. Armaggan is a four level emporium dedicated to recreating the finest Turkish crafts and elevating them to an elite level. Buttery leather goods, diamonds in unique, modern designs, hand woven silks, marble, silver and porcelain objets d’art and, of course, carpets–everything is made by their artisans and sold in a store so effortlessly stylish that I wanted to live there. It also has a restaurant Nar, that features daily or weekly changing, market driven menus of classic Antatolian and Anatolian dishes created with artisan ingredients. Food for a shopping break that’s as exquisite as the merchandise. (Nuruosmaniye Caddesi, No:65 +90 212 522 44 33,

Art is also a theme at Casa dell’Arte, a family mansion turned exquisite 12 suite boutique hotel in Torba, near the Aegean resort town of Bodrum. The owners, the Buyukkusoglu family, have a museum quality contemporary art collection adorning the sleek, white spaces. They also recently started an artist in residence program, bringing young artists in from around the world for workshops, in which hotel guests can also participate. The house also has a private beach and three yachts that guests can charter, as well as a separate 37 suite family resort in which children are allowed, the art exhibited is by the young artists and any of it can be purchased. Torba Mahallesi, İnönü Caddesi No: 66 Torba (And while in the area, go into Bodrum to the intimate Campanella Bar but make sure that sultry torch singer Gokce Yildir is performing that night. Even if you don’t understand Turkish, her singing will move you. Cumhuriyet Caddesi, Eastern Bay, 0252 316 5302.)

Turkey is known for its antiquities and ruins of ancient cities but one important one was revealed to the public for the first time on May 20 after years of excavations, restoration and truckloads of sand removal (steady breezes blow the sand from the 7 ½ mile long nearby beach onto the ruins). The semicircle Parliament Building of the Lycian League in Patara, which dates back to 1500 B.C., was the inspiration for the layout of the U.S. Congress, as the system of elected representatives, the first in history, served as inspiration for the framers of the U.S. Constitution and it’s an imposing sight, as are the Roman theater and the colonnaded streets. (The best guide : Tolga Kirilen, an archeologist by education, at Equinox Travel in Antalya,

Historic sights of a different kind are on view in Cappadocia: the jagged stone formations called fairy chimneys —towers, obelisks and needles, some over 100 feet high- created through centuries of weather erosion. The landscape is pure fairy tale, and most of all at daybreak, drifting silently in a hot air balloon over the otherworldly terrain of the Goreme Valley. (One of the best: Royal Balloon, And at night, sleeping in a hilltop hotel composed of caves makes the experience come alive. (Argos in Cappadocia, View slideshow to see 10 top Turkish experiences.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Language consistency


Language consistency

When reading up on the challenges faced by many bilingual and multilingual families, I found that many experts stress consistency.
Some insist that you should opt for one method of communication and stick to it. For me, however, consistency is a sticky issue. At home, my son and I speak English together almost exclusively. My son and husband speak to each other in Turkish. Theoretically, according to some linguists, we should stick to this arrangement in order to maintain consistency.

However, it seems that we break the rules all the time. Although English and Turkish are the main languages of our home, we do have a tendency to slip into other languages. Personally, there are some words that I find express feelings or thoughts better in Spanish or Turkish than in English and I code-switch without even thinking about it. The result of my lapses in consistency is that our son has picked up a smattering of Spanish in the process.

Now that our son is learning German and Mandarin, new words are slowly entering our common language mix at home. I wonder what the experts have to say about this situation. Our solution has been to create our own mix of languages that are often used alongside the home languages of Turkish and English. It may not be the most orthodox method, but it is what seems to work best for us. My feeling is that while linguists can offer suggestions of how to raise a child in a multilingual environment, there are times when the rules need to be thrown out the window when they are not practical.

Growing up in South Texas, we spoke English and Spanish at home, as well as a mix of the two languages, usually referred to as Spanglish. Here in İstanbul, our multilingual household often resorts to using a mix of Turkish and English, or Turklish. When our son was small, we did try to speak only in Turkish and English so that he could pick up the languages easier. However, once he became more fluent in both, we began to add our own language mixes that combined two or more languages. This approach might possibly throw purists into fits of apoplexy because it definitely does not follow the rule of consistency.

Because I grew up in a bilingual culture and have since that time studied other languages, I do not think exclusively in a single language. My mother tongue is, of course, English, but I tend to think in a mixture of languages, depending on the situation and location. When I speak Turkish, I think in Turkish. Long gone are the days when I struggled to translate in my head from Turkish to English in order to understand what was going on around me, straining to translate back from English to Turkish to form a reply. There are times, though, when I find myself searching for a word or phrase in one language, and only coming up with the appropriate wording in a completely different language. Dreams, too, are not immune from the blend of languages that make up my life. Like me, my son also dreams in different languages, flowing easily between Turkish and English and even sometimes using a mix of the two.

I suspect that most multilingual families are like ours -- trying to listen to what experts have to say, but discovering that it is just not at all practical to attempt to rigidly adhere to any one particular school of thought on the subject. Changing languages in mid sentence, code-switching, word mixing and even inventing new words are common in families conversing in two or more languages. From personal experience, I feel that families need to be flexible and adapt to changes when necessary. Even though we started out with the idea that we would follow the one parent-one language method, where each parent only speaks their native tongue, once our son was speaking we found it to be too restrictive for our particular needs.

So, what advice can I offer families who are also juggling languages in the home, at school and at the workplace? Is consistency actually as important as some experts will have you believe? All I can say is that it takes time, patience and a good sense of humor to find how best to cope with living in two or more languages. Read what the experts have to say about the matter, but be flexible and adapt their advice to your own particular situation. Instead of fretting over whether or not we are following the right advice in raising our multilingual children, I think it is more important that a family learn to be flexible and creative to find what works best for their personal situation. Listen to what experts have to say, but, in the end, find what works best for your family.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Welcome tourists and springtime


Welcome tourists and springtime

The peak tourist season begins around mid April and lasts through to September. Turkey has four seasons, but spring to me always seems too short.
Dear Charlotte: I will be visiting Turkey in April. Would you tell me what it is like in İstanbul then? I am so looking forward to it. One of my dreams has been to go to a Turkish bath house. I have read about the different bath houses in İstanbul. My friend and I plan to visit one of the historic ones. I believe it is cemberlitash and was built in the 1500s. I am so excited! From Lucinda (Michigan)

Dear Lucinda: Thanks for your question. April is a great time to visit İstanbul. I am always glad for the warmer weather that brings us many of our favorite things: birds, flowers, butterflies and, best of all, an end to being cooped up inside the house during cold, wet, nasty winter days. In more recent years, the İstanbul Municipality has been going all out every year to plant flowers, especially tulips, since there is a tulip festival for two weeks in April in the city. If you are here then you should be sure to enjoy the festival. People who have not visited Turkey do not realize that Turks believe they have a rightful claim to this wonderful bulb, the tulip! My friend from Holland was surprised to learn that it is said the first tulips to be grown in Europe were in the gardens of Topkapı Palace. In April, you will see tulips everywhere you look in İstanbul. No wonder the local authority has planted so many of them in the parks and along the roads.

I like the wild flowers that grow in the grassy areas along the freeways. Cherry blossoms, yellow wildflowers and poppies are just a few. Unfortunately, mowers come along and mow them down. A friend of mine says they tend to mow so close to the ground that this is the reason why from June onward the green areas along the roads and motorways become brownish or burnt-looking from the heat. I love going for drives outside the city and seeing the wildflowers in pastures, woodlands and along roadways. Here is a lovely poem I found on the Internet for springtime by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

“Kind hearts are the gardens, Kind thoughts are the roots, Kind words are the flowers, Kind deeds are the fruits. Take care of your garden, And keep out the weeds. Fill it with sunshine, Kind words and kind deeds.”

Lucinda, you must visit a hamam if you have time during your visit. “Hamam” is the Turkish word for the traditional bath house. Men and women have separate sections. You will be given the bathing essentials when you begin to undress: a large towel (peştamal), special wooden block shoes and a bowl. You should bring your own soap. In the bathing room, it is very steamy. You sit in front of a traditional water faucet with hot and cold taps and fill your bowl and pour the water over yourself. Turks believe that bath water should be kept running. Some believe to sit in a bathtub of water is unclean. You wash in the steam room and can have a pummel and a vigorous massage by a strong-gripped masseuse while lying on a slab of marble that is heated underneath. Every thing is marble and very hot! The whole bath area has under-floor heating. Don’t forget the göbek taş is hottest! That is where you lie if you really want to sweat.

It used to be that the hamam was not just a bath house, but where people would go to socialize. It was a sort of social center. It may still be for some, but not like it used to be. Certainly during the Ottoman Empire, it was a place for gossip, for women to choose future daughters-in-law and for men to clinch business deals.

You probably have not heard the well-known Turkish Proverb that says it all: “Hamama giren terler” (he who goes into a hamam will sweat) -- if you don’t like the heat, get out! If it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, go for the works (e.g., the rub with rough gloves, the soaping and the facial and foot massages).

It is too bad that springtime does not last longer…
“All through the long winter, I dream of my garden.
On the first day of spring, I dig my fingers deep into the soft earth. I can feel its energy, and my spirits soar.” -- Helen Hayes

Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey, 2005.” Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email:


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Falling over cultural cliff edges


Falling over cultural cliff edges

Where do you think you might experience the greater degree of culture shock -- when moving to İstanbul on the edge of Europe or when moving to Göreme in the heart of Anatolia?
I wouldn’t mind betting most of you went for the second option, which is, I must admit, what I also assumed would be the case when I first moved here. But the strange thing is that I’ve actually been caught out at least as often in İstanbul as I have in Göreme.

Years ago while teaching travel and tourism in Bristol in the UK, I read a book about how to protect against potential safety hazards. One of the snippets of information that wedged itself most firmly in my memory was the author’s suggestion that it was not always the most obviously dangerous things that caused the largest numbers of accidents. The example he cited was a dangerous cliff top. Fencing it off, he said, was not always necessary since most people would immediately recognize the risk and stand well clear (although not after dark and not after a couple of beers, I would contend). It was more important, he said, to fence off the less immediately obvious dangerous stretches where people might be tempted to take greater risks.

It’s a bit like that with culture shock, I think. Göreme being a small Turkish village of about 2,000 people living far from the major population centers and their broader cultural opportunities, I knew that I would need to make adjustments if I was going to fit in, and so it became automatic to dress more conservatively, to behave more sedately and to anticipate difference at all times. There were some horrendous mistakes, of course, and I remember most vividly taking up an invitation to an iftar (post-fast) dinner during Ramadan which was probably offered out of courtesy rather than with any actual expectation that I would show up.

Imagine my horror, then, when the door of the restaurant swung open and inside the room I saw around 70 men and absolutely no women seated at long tables. The friend who had invited me rushed to collect me, and everyone moved up to make space as if it were the most natural thing in the world when it so obviously wasn’t. But to be honest there haven’t been all that many outright clangers like that over the years.

In İstanbul, though, I have sometimes come unstuck because I’m sucked in by the superficial similarity of things and retract the antennae that should alert me to problems in the offing. In Göreme I suppose that by now I know instinctively how different social circles relate to each other, and what it is and isn’t reasonable to expect from them in terms of support. Conversely, I’m probably pretty clear about what it’s reasonable for people to expect of me, too. In İstanbul, though, I’m all at sea, confounded sometimes by demands that seem completely unreasonable but which a Turk, I conclude, must think quite normal.

When I look back over my time in Turkey, it’s clear that the cultural cliffs over which I’ve fallen have usually been the seemingly safe ones with İstanbulites and other foreigners. I’ve done rather better, I think, when it comes to the more obviously treacherous ledges of Göreme.

Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Göreme in Cappadocia.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Germans Learn Turkish to Promote Understanding

Reverse Integration

Germans Learn Turkish to Promote Understanding

Photo Gallery: Learning Turkish in Germany
For years, the focus of the integration debate in Germany has been on the assimilation of the Turkish migrant population into German society. But now some Germans are beginning to consider it their responsibility to integrate with their Turkish neighbors -- and are going to language schools to learn Turkish.  
Ergün Isik is writing on a chalk board in a little classroom in Berlin's southern district of Neukölln. It's a Friday evening in May and sunlight is streaming in through the window. His students have cups of tea and large yellow Turkish-German dictionaries on their desks.

Isik, who studied sociology at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, and later social science at Berlin's Humboldt University, opened the language school in 2011 to meet an increased demand from Germans wanting to learn Turkish. "When I first came to Germany I couldn't even find a partner to do a language exchange with," says Isik, laughing. "But in the last five years there's been a real rise in demand. Business is booming."

The integration of the Turkish migrant population, which stems from the "guest workers" that Germany began recruiting in the 1950s, has long been a hot topic in German public discussion. Today some 2.5 million people in Germany have Turkish roots, but Turkish migrants have been accused of being unwilling to fit into German culture, failing to learn the language and remaining isolated in their own communities. The reverse side of the relationship -- whether Germans make an effort to better understand the migrant population -- has been largely ignored. But now, some 60 years after the arrival of the first guest workers, Germans are showing a new interest in Turkish language and culture.
The students in the classroom in Neukölln, where there is a particularly high density of Turkish migrants, come from a variety of backgrounds. "I enrolled in the course because I have so many Turkish friends," Ulrich, a social worker with a ponytail, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. His classmate, Hendrikje, a secretary, is in the same situation. "I'm from around here so I know a lot of Turkish people," she says. "It's nice to be able to understand more and to know what's going on."

Another student, Constanze, is a teacher at Max Planck high school in Berlin, which organizes exchange programs with Turkish schools. "I wanted to learn enough of the language to get by," she says.

'Bridge to the Islamic World'
Olaf Zimmermann, managing director of the Arts Council of Germany, believes that the debate about the integration of guest workers is outdated. "That issue is a thing of the past. Historically, Germany and Turkey have a lot in common," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Turkey is the most important bridge we have to the Islamic world and we should have the courage to cross it."

For Zimmerman, culture and language are the most direct ways for Germans to connect with the Turkish migrant population. "Germans should learn Turkish," he says. "The very best way to lessen a divide is to learn about the culture of others, and that includes their language." He adds: "In my opinion, educators should have a basic knowledge of Turkish."

Isik, the teacher in Neukölln, also emphasises the role of culture in encouraging Germans to show a greater interest in their Turkish neighbors. He attributes a great deal of the rise in demand for his Turkish lessons to the award-winning 2004 film "Gegen Die Wand," or "Head On," a tragic love story about two Turkish-Germans. "It's about breaking down barriers," Isik says. "Many of my students who have been in Istanbul say that the culture there was not as they expected. They were surprised to see a vibrant night life and fashionable women."

The German Embassy in Turkey has embraced culture as a go-between too. In October of last year, the embassy opened a cultural academy on the grounds of its summer residence in Tarabya, Istanbul, where it provides space for German artists to work on projects related to their experience of Turkish culture.

Social Issue
Turkish-German relations may well be boosted through such measures. But further down the social ladder, barriers remain. "Well educated, left-wing people are more open already," says Isik. "We need to find things that appeal to less educated, working-class people too. We need to find a way into consumer culture."

When Isik first came to Germany, he worked in two low-skilled jobs -- one in a lamp factory and another in a postal sorting office, where he found he had more in common with his German colleagues than they imagined. "They thought of Turks primarily as kebab sellers. But in reality they probably had a lot in common with their Turkish counterparts. I always thought: 'Hey, they should go have a barbeque together, they would probably get along great."

For some, a lack of education presents a significant barrier on both sides of German-Turkish integration. According to Isik, the assumption that some Turks do not want to learn the language is "nonsense." After all, many Germans without higher education are intimidated by the prospect of learning a new language too, he says.

Isik's experience of two men in their sixties, one a German and one Turkish, illustrates the point. The Turk, having been in the country for many years, was desperate to learn German but confessed that he found it too difficult. Conventional language courses, which rely on knowledge of grammatical terminology, do not cater to people with low-level educations.

The German man, on the other hand, wanted to learn Turkish so that he could visit his friends in Alanya, a beach resort in the Mediterranean area of Turkey that is a popular retirement spot for German pensioners. Isik remembers his first encounter with the German man, whose education was also limited. "He came into my class and I was talking about the subject and object of a sentence. He just looked at me blankly. He had no idea what I was talking about. It was really sad. We need new methods."

Starting Young

Some schemes aimed at tackling the issue of Turkish-German divides within the educational system are already in place, though. The Robert Bosch Stiftung, a large non-profit private German foundation, facilitates exchanges between German and Turkish schools. "The children work on a project together," Robert Bosch Stiftung representative Natalie Ferber told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "Often they stay in contact via Facebook or by text message after the exchange."

Some Berlin schools are also offering bilingual education. The Aziz Nesin primary school in Kreuzberg teaches pupils through both German and Turkish and aims to allow Turkish children to master German while continuing to nurture their native language. The Jens Nydahl school nearby, where the vast majority of students come from immigrant families, provides classes in both German and Turkish and also offers German courses for Turkish mothers. But such programs are sometimes the subject of criticism based on stereotypes. Last year, mass-circulation tabloidBild ran a story on the school in which it claimed that most of the families of the children were on welfare and that the school had stopped serving pork in its canteen out of respect for Muslim students.

For Isik, it is all about challenging the status quo. "When people realise you are an English speaker, they are immediately keen to use a few words," he says. "That's not the case with Turkish." His students, who laugh together at a joke their teacher has made in Turkish, are doing their best to change that.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What to know when you visit Turkey


What to know when you visit Turkey

Tourist season in Turkey is from April through the end of September. Since etiquette and customs vary from country to country, the season is ripe for culture clash.
Tammy from Tennessee wrote to me and asked the following:
Dear Charlotte: My partner and I will be visiting Turkey for seven days in late May. I am so excited. The tour we are on includes both İstanbul and İzmir. I read your column regularly and have picked up a lot of cultural tips. Please give us a few tips to help us make the most of our time. I am looking forward to a most memorable trip. Thanks!

Dear Tammy:
So glad you enjoy the column! May is one of my favorite months in Turkey. It’s not too hot yet. Here are seven practical tips to help you during your visit:

ATATÜRK: You will see statues of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk everywhere. You will soon recognize his face from these and the pictures on the walls of shops, workplaces, and government buildings. Atatürk is the founding father of the Republic of Turkey. Perhaps you have heard of the Gallipoli campaign from your reading about Turkey or from a world history class. He was the military leader who won a great victory in the Gallipoli campaign, and the politician who made Turkey into a secular democratic republic. You’ll never see cartoons of him, or hear a joke about him. Defamation of his person or character by any means is against the law. By the way, it is an offense to wear a garment made out of the Turkish flag.

ISLAM: Perhaps you have come across this statement in your reading: “To be a Turk is to be a Muslim.” This is a statement that defines nationality and culture. The call to prayer is five times a day in Arabic. If you visit a mosque, women should cover their heads with a scarf, and both sexes need to be sure to take their shoes off before going in. Be sure and be careful not to wear any socks that have any holes! There are some funny incidents that have happened because of that.

THE MILITARY: There are signs in Turkish warning people not to photograph any military establishment; if you ignore these, you may lose your camera.

TURKS ARE INQUISITIVE: Often foreigners are surprised by some of the direct questions asked by Turks. They are not shy to ask you a personal question if they feel comfortable with you. Don’t feel like you need to answer every question a Turk asks you. If you think it is too personal a question, just learn the art of being vague or answer the question by asking another question. That is what they do.

EATING OUT: There are plenty of safe places to eat, so don’t be afraid of getting ill. Just be careful to choose where you eat. The general rule is go where you see others eating. Turks love eating out, so you can easily find something to satisfy your taste buds. Options range from regional fish to kebabs, pastry shops and even sushi and Western fast food chains. If you don’t understand the menu, don’t be afraid to ask for samples. You may even be invited into the kitchen to choose and point. It is usual to leave a 10 percent tip in cash if you eat at a restaurant.

DINNER: It is possible you may meet some Turkish people who want to treat you. The protocol of Turkish hospitality dictates that the host always pays for the meal. The Western concept of sharing a bill is completely alien. You certainly don’t ask for each person to have an itemized bill like you do in America. It is polite for you to try and offer to pay, but your Turkish host will never allow you to do so.

FOLKLORE AND SUPERSTITION: You will see the “evil eye” charm hanging above the door or on the wall or dangling above the dashboard of a minibus. It is everywhere. Depending on economic and religious status, people can be quite superstitious. The evil eye is considered to be the main cause of many misfortunes and you will see everywhere the large blue and white bead used to protect against it. If you have blue eyes, don’t be surprised if people stare at you -- they are not so common here.

Enjoy your visit! When Turks set out on a trip they wish each other a good trip by saying, “İyi yolculuklar!” (Have a good trip!)

Note: Charlotte McPherson is the author of “Culture Smart: Turkey” 2005. Please keep your questions and observations coming: I want to ensure this column is a help to you, Today’s Zaman’s readers. Email:

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Learn Turkish or else

While trying to work out the qualities necessary for making a go of life as an expat in Turkey, I’ve already poured cold water on the idea that only those with omnivorous appetites are likely to succeed. Flexibility?
 That would have topped my list of the requisite assets even if globalization might be making it less essential than it once was.

So what do other expats think? In my straw poll the answer that came over loudest and clearest was “no matter how hard it is, you must get to grips with the Turkish language.”

Bodrum resident and British author of the comic expat memoir “Perking the Pansies” Jack Scott was quite clear on the matter. “Learning the lingo, at least conversationally, will really help,” he said, a view echoed by Marc Guillet, a Dutch journalist who lives in İstanbul and runs the website. “The absolute number one is, do your best to learn the language. Yes, it is difficult, but whatever your level, when you start to speak some Turkish all doors will be opened for you, because trying to speak Turkish shows Turkish people that you respect their culture and language.”

The same reply came in from all over the country. Duke Dillard, the American author of the blog, recently moved to Çavuşin in Cappadocia with his family after teaching in Ankara. “I have found that the more Turkish an expat knows, the better the experience. When we lived in Ankara finding English speakers was easy, but as we learned more Turkish our relationships deepened and our understanding of what was going on around us, the hidden cues, became more clear.”

A long-time Selçuk resident also listed linguistic skills as essential: “The more and more easily one can understand and communicate, the easier and more fulfilling life is likely to be. Being on the outside of what’s going on is stressful. I don’t know how couples with discordant and low levels of [understanding of] each other’s languages ever survive.”

Gazipaşa resident Estella Saville, who used to lead wildflower tours of the country, said the same thing: “Above all, learn the language. Turkish people are so kind and generous and will excuse all your foibles, but if you learn a little Turkish it will go a long way.”

This won’t come as good news to the many expats for whom learning a new language is akin to taking up brain surgery, or for those who have moved to Turkey later in life when it’s hard to pick up a whole new vocabulary, but there couldn’t be such unanimity of opinion were it not the case that learning Turkish is crucial. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that not knowing the language is the single biggest obstacle to settling in, now that so many of the creature comforts of home are as readily available in Turkey as anywhere else.

No one expects you to become word perfect, and most Turks are extremely forgiving of even the most comical linguistic blunders. But flip the situation over and imagine what it must be like for people living in your own home country without being able to speak the language. Just think how much they miss out on. Of course it’s just the same here.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Turkish food and good manners


Turkish food and good manners

In my piece, “What to know when you visit Turkey” (May 1, 2012), a number of comments were posted offering other points to cover...
Ahmet sent this comment in: “What about the traffic, transportation and especially cab drivers???? They have to be careful!!!! You can give some about Turkish food... Thanks.”

Thanks Ahmet, and other Today's Zaman readers, for your comments. I must admit while I was in the US for the past month that I began to miss certain Turkish dishes. Many Americans asked me about Turkish food, and they wonder what it is like. I explained Turkish food varies some from region to region. Often Americans are not familiar with the rich cultural heritage of Turkey. They do not know that some specialties came from Mongol raiders riding across the plains: yogurt and sucuk, and that southeast Turkey has a more spicy diet. Towns are famous for various things: for example, Susurluk ayran, Bursa chestnut candy and peaches, Black Sea hazelnuts and hamsi, Antep pistachios, Afyon spicy sausage and Turkish delight etc., etc.

The preparation of Turkish food is an art and can be time-consuming. Turks place much emphasis on the presentation of food. In case you are not familiar with the Turkish proverb, it goes like this: “First appeal to the eyes, then fill the stomach.”

Westerners always ask me what kind of meat is available and how it is served. They are surprised to hear that lamb is the most popular meat, and that beef is so expensive. I explain beef is often grilled and that kebab (cubes of meat) is common. Chicken, especially prepared with walnuts, paprika and garlic, is popular. Fish is expensive but a key ingredient. Meat is prepared according to Islamic (halal) rules. Of course, pork, ham, bacon and other pig products are banned in a halal diet. Other dishes are rice, which is served sometimes with currants, pine nuts and other spices, and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables are grown in Turkey. Garlic and olives are used widely, as with much of the cuisine of the Mediterranean region.

One of the things I enjoy seeing in Turkey is the rows and rows of peppers, eggplant, etc. hung out to dry. Women at certain times of the year are busy making tomato paste, pickling vegetables and drying fruit.
A favorite pastime of Turks is eating. Kiosks and buffets are at the roadside, itinerant sellers carry trays of pastries on their heads, or push carts or elaborate mobile kitchens displaying their wares; from sesame seeds to sweet corn, from simit (sesame-coated bread rings) to kokoreç (grilled sheep intestine), from fish sandwiches to meatballs, all are available on the street. A typical restaurant menu will contain the following courses for you to choose from:

Meze (cold starter): Usually a tray with 10 or so varieties will be shown to you. Typical selections include stuffed vine leaves or peppers (dolma), cheese, vegetables such as eggplant or okra in olive oil, spicy tomato paste, eggplant and yogurt paste, chickpea paste (hummus), potato salad and cracked wheat in tomato and chili sauce (kısır). You may choose from the selection offered on the tray.

Ara sıcak (hot starter): Here you can choose from such delights as a deep-fried cheese pastry roll (sigara börekği), deep-fried ball of rice, minced meat with nuts (icli köfte), calamari, fried mussels, etc. Don't forget that the waiters will normally also bring delicious hot, fresh bread.

Salata (salad): Fresh fruit and vegetables are wonderful in Turkey. The two most common types of salads are a “shepherd's salad” of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and onions (çoban salatası) and a “seasonal salad” of lettuce, grated carrots or red cabbage, tomato and cucumber slices, sweet corn and green peppers.

Çorba (soup): It is worth trying lentil soup (mercimek), yogurt and rice soup (yayla), tomato (domates), chicken (tavuk) or mushroom (mantar) soups. Tripe soup (işkembe) has a strong smell and is an acquired taste.

For the main course, you can choose from meat and fish. If you have room, you can finish with tatlı (dessert): This is usually very sticky. While in Turkey, you must try sheets of filo pastry soaked in syrup and sprinkled with nuts (baklava), a similar dish made with shredded wheat (kadayıf), quince in syrup (ayva tatlısı) or pumpkin in syrup (kabak tatlısı) Alternatives to syrupy desserts are milk pudding (muhallebi) or rice pudding (sütlaç).

Good manners can go a long way when wanting to make a positive impression. Etiquette can vary from place to place. It is good when you can dine in or dine out with graciousness. I'll give a few helpful tips for visitors to Turkey and for Turks visiting the United States in my next piece.


Monday, May 7, 2012

"Yes, I Would Love another Cup of Tea: An American Woman's Letters to Turkey" by Katharine Branning

A great introduction to aspects of Turkish culture - including of course Turkish tea 'cay'

This talk was presented at the Rumi Forum

The Rumi Forum presented "Yes, I Would Love another Cup of Tea: An American Woman's Letters to Turkey" by Katharine Branning

About the Book:

Yes, I Would... comprises a series of imaginary letters written to Lady Mary Montagu, whose famous Embassy Letters were written in 1716-1718 during her stay in Turkey as the wife of the English ambassador. The author uses themes dear to Lady Mary, such as culture, art, religion, women and daily life, to reflect on those same topics as encountered during the author's past 30 years of travel in Turkey.


Katharine Branning has degrees from the University of Paris, Sorbonne and the Ecole du Louvre, where she majored in Islamic arts, with a specialty in Islamic glass. A graduate of the Pratt Institute School of Information and Library Science, she has been a librarian at the French Institute of Architecture in Paris, France, at the French Embassy Cultural Services and the Alliance Française in New York City. For her work promoting the French language and culture through the creation of numerous libraries in both France and the United States, she has been awarded the Ordre national du Mérite from the President of France, one of the nation's highest honors.

She has studied the Turkish language and literature at the Institute of Langues Orientales in Paris and with Prof. Talat S. Halman at New York University. As an independent researcher and glass artist, she has conducted annual field work relative to architecture and decorative arts in Turkey every year since 1978.

She currently lives in New York, where she is Vice President of Education at the French Institute Alliance Française.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Learning Turkish the hotel way

In the depths of winter I trudged down to the Belediye building one Sunday to enquire about Turkish classes. The man in the office downstairs looked gloomy. “Is everything all right?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “Everyone has problems with their water. I’m so busy.”

Minutes later and I was upstairs, hunkered down in the back row of the classroom like a naughty schoolgirl who’d forgotten to bring her notebook and hoped the teacher wouldn’t notice.

These Turkish classes are one of Göreme’s most exciting new ventures. All of us know that to really get to grips with the country we need to learn the language but the trouble is that here in Cappadocia we’re hundreds of kilometers away from the language schools. Before settling here I went to a school in İstanbul to make a start with the grammar, but of course if you don’t live in İstanbul and have to stay in a hotel there that pushes the cost of studying beyond the means of most people.
So most Cappadocian expats have had to make do with learning as they go along, which often means knowing lots of nouns but few verbs with which to join them up. Now the authorities have decided to help by providing a free class every week. You pay your money for a textbook from Ankara and away you go.
Sadly, two hours of tuition a week is not really enough to make much headway and it was obvious to me that the absolute beginners were already struggling as the teacher introduced the present tense in its positive, negative and interrogative forms all in the one session. Back in İstanbul we had twenty hours of tuition a week and a whole week would have been dedicated to those three forms alone.
The other inevitable problem is that having only one class means mixed-ability teaching, something that was very a la mode when I was training to be a teacher in the UK but that never seemed to work there either. So on the day that I sat in on the class, it was obvious that there were people there who were well on their way to fluency sitting alongside those who had still to master the alphabet.
This is a problem with no very obvious solution in an area where there are not enough would-be students at the various different levels to justify splitting up the group. For myself, I suspected that coming to class might be good for revision but would soon become very frustrating.
Instead I’m falling back on a novel way of expanding my vocabulary, albeit one that is unlikely to prove useful on my next visit to İstanbul. When the Hezen Hotel opened in Ortahisar I assumed that “Hezen” must be the surname of the owner but oh dear me, no! A “hezen,” it turns out, is one of the tree-trunk-style rafters that I have been staring up at in the ceiling of my own bedroom for the past 10 years without ever thinking what to call them.
Now we have the new Gerdiş Evi hotel in Göreme. Gerdiş? Well, that is apparently the name given to the summer-houses which my neighbors used to use in the past when they wanted to stay overnight near their fields at harvest time.
Pat Yale lives in a restored cave-house in Göreme in Cappadocia.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Discovering İstanbul’s hidden treasures

Ifly journalist Mike Raanhuis notes that İstanbul is still not a very common destination and therefore has many hidden treasures to write about.
Much of any airplane trip is spent killing time in eager anticipation of arriving at your desired destination, sometimes by watching a movie, sometimes by simply flipping through an in-flight magazine.
These magazines usually feature articles on the airline's various destinations, accompanied by beautiful photography and lavish page design, making for a thoroughly enjoyable read. And every so often you gain new insights about a certain location, be it a city or an entire country, as the magazine takes you on a journey to discover the hidden treasures a travel reporter has uncovered for you to find once you touch down. Today's Zaman sat down with one such reporter, Dutch journalist Mike Raanhuis, who concluded such a treasure hunt in İstanbul on Thursday for Royal Dutch Airlines' (KLM) iFly Magazine.

Who chooses the destinations Raanhuis will write about? Does he get to decide himself? “Not really,” he was quick to answer, “Although I did hand in a list at the beginning of this year.” “This time around, the decision to do a story on İstanbul was made by the editorial staff of iFly Magazine,” he said.
When Raanhuis came to İstanbul once before, he did not have the opportunity to get a thorough idea of the city. “I was here for just 24 hours earlier this year, so I didn't get much of a chance to see the city. I did do a Bosporus tour, which was very impressive,” Raanhuis recalled.

The prospect of returning to İstanbul was thus very exciting for the Dutch journalist, as his previous visit left him curious. “In my opinion İstanbul is not a very common destination yet, which means there is still a lot for people to discover here. More so than, say, in Paris, where it is very hard to find those hidden treasures that you look for when you do an article about a city,” he explained. So what makes an article? What is Raanhuis' mission when he sets out on behalf of iFly Magazine? According to Raanhuis, that mission is twofold, as he has to balance the requirements of iFly Magazine's format, which means the article should feature some of a city's cultural aspects as well as featuring a culinary component, while showcasing the modern face of the city, with trying to give readers his personal take. “I want to inspire the readers,” he explains, adding: “I want to be able to show readers something they haven't seen before, or a part of the city they would not have considered going to, had it not been for my article.”

What then is his secret for inspiring his readers? In order to inspire, Raanhuis needs to be inspired himself. “That's why I try and talk to locals,” he tells us. “To get their advice on where to go, to have them guide me through their city. It has taken me to places where not many tourists have gone before, which ties in with one of the things iFly Magazine sets out to achieve, which is to surprise even the more seasoned travelers and visitors of a given city, in this case İstanbul.”

What has Raanhuis been told to go and see by the İstanbul locals? A whole variety of things, as it turns out. It depended, however, on who he talked to. “The manager of my hotel recommended I go to Bebek and have breakfast there, after which I should just stroll along the shores of the Bosporus. Or to roam the streets of Galata, where, apparently, the best hamburgers in the city are served. Another person suggested I visit Moda and check out Bağdat Caddesi in Kadıköy,” he elaborated.

But does Raanhuis solely take the advice of locals? “No, I also do research at home before leaving. You have to, of course, as it helps a lot to get a better understanding of where I will be going. Last night, for instance, I had dinner at a fabulous restaurant [Sunset Grill & Bar] that I had picked myself because of its view and the very good reviews of its dishes.”

In trying to put together his schedule for İstanbul, Raanhuis encountered efficiency's greatest foe in İstanbul: traffic. “I did not expect İstanbul to be so big or the traffic so heavy,” he says, laughing. “But seriously, I did a lot of great things. I visited Moda, where I took some really nice photographs. Dinner was also amazing, as I said. I strolled through Cihangir, had tea there and walked over to Tünel, exploring all those little streets that snake through the neighborhood. I ended up on some roof terrace [Balkon İstanbul], which was recommended to me when I talked to some locals at a bar. Those are the things I look for, suggestions like that. The next morning I went to Sultanahmet to take some pictures at a hamam, which is very unusual and I was lucky to have been given permission to do so. It did mean, however, that I had to be there at six in the morning [sighs]. On the other hand, that meant I had time to visit the fish market in Kadıköy. The afternoon I spent at both the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar.”
We told Raanhuis that the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar aren't really what one would call hidden treasures. Doesn't that conflict with his earlier statements? “I have to balance the known and the unknown,” he explains. “That is why, for instance, I chose not to go to the Galata Tower or do another Bosporus tour. And whatever your opinion on Sultanahmet, tourists are bound to end up there anyway so I might as well try and find some of the lesser known sites there, too, or highlight elements of familiar sights such as the Grand Bazaar, and put them in a new perspective,” the journalist said.

As Raanhuis made for his plane we asked him what, in his opinion, makes a city trip a successful one. “For me personally it would be when a city captures my imagination, when it gets under my skin. On a professional level I would say that my trip is a success if the article manages to surprise even our more seasoned travelers.”

Mike Raanhuis is an independent journalist and photographer. He has written features for KLM's iFly Magazine, various lifestyle magazines and car magazines. On top of that he conducts interviews and does corporate photography. His work can be seen on his website,
iFly Magazine is the largest digital magazine in the Netherlands, published by KLM and available in a multitude of languages. It is read by some 1.5 million KLM customers and strives to offer its readers a “unique and authentic view on the most special destinations, people, cultures, business opportunities and international lifestyle.”


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