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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