Uncornered Market » Istanbul http://uncorneredmarket.com travel wide, live deep Wed, 27 Aug 2014 19:01:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 The Power of Redirected Negative Energy: A Lesson from Istanbulhttp://uncorneredmarket.com/power-redirected-negative-energy/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/power-redirected-negative-energy/#comments Wed, 29 Feb 2012 15:18:16 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=10598 By Daniel Noll

People who regularly practice a martial art know that sometimes the greatest power for the positive is the redirection of the negative. People who regularly practice travel and human interaction know this, too. This little story is case in point. A man at a corner cafe off a side street in Instanbul’s Taksim neighborhood asked […]

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By Daniel Noll

People who regularly practice a martial art know that sometimes the greatest power for the positive is the redirection of the negative. People who regularly practice travel and human interaction know this, too.

This little story is case in point.

A man at a corner cafe off a side street in Instanbul’s Taksim neighborhood asked me to photograph him.

“Sure!”

I fired off a few shots, showed him the images in my camera’s display and he burst out laughing. We shook hands and had a moment, a friendly non-verbal moment. Then we waved goodbye.

Audrey and I continued our walk and crossed to the other side of the pedestrian lane to check out the lunch menu of a café selling çiğ köfte, our target snack of spiced raw meat.

“It’s expensive there, but if you go a couple streets away, it will be cheaper,” an older Turkish man standing nearby suggested.

We turned to him in agreement, “This seems expensive. Over by us, it’s three lire.”

He nodded in approval as if we’d passed some kind of test.

“Are you living here?” he asked.

“We are here for just a week, staying in an apartment down the hill.”

“Where are you from?”

“America.”

Before I could even finish the last syllable of my response, a young man standing next to him responded in reflex, “I don’t like America.”

Now stop for a moment and put yourself in my position. What would you do in this situation? How would you respond? (It doesn’t matter if you’re American, of course, just fill in your country’s name above.)

I responded immediately. “What matters right now is whether or not you like me,” I said smiling confidently, two thumbs pointing back at my chest. My timing was impeccable, my unintended deflection pitch perfect. The young man couldn’t deny it. He smiled and laughed, the ice was broken and the conversation reset.

I suppose I could have instead become defensive and asked, “Why don’t you like America?” But I don’t take that sort of bait.

I also understand that regardless of the young man’s outlook, I probably wasn’t going to change his mind. But maybe we could have a conversation.

And that we did.

“I don’t have any problem with the people. I just don’t like the politics,” he offered to clarify his emotion, his opening position.

“I don’t like the politics either,” I agreed.

Meanwhile, the older man looked a little uncomfortable, embarrassed, almost disappointed in his young friend’s approach. It wasn’t the most elegant or appropriate way to engage a visitor — after all, Turkish culture is big on hospitality. Or maybe something in his experience told him confrontation was unproductive.

In any event, he genuinely came to America’s defense: “America is a dreamland.”

“I’m not so sure about that. At least anymore,” I replied. “Have you been watching television?” (Occupy Wall Street was in full bloom around this time.)

The young man began complaining about increasing prices in Turkey.

“I don’t know if it’s exactly the same, but we have that problem, too,” I suggested.

“There are no jobs here, especially for young people,” he continued.

Check. “We have that problem, too,” I commiserated.

As the conversation continued, it revolved around the problems our countries both have, the challenges we all share.

Similarities. Not differences. Dialogue.

We avoided a bitch session on America, which was where he was likely headed when the conversation first began.

Instead, it was a rather enlightening conversation for both of us about what life is like for ordinary people on the streets of Turkey and the United States.

The four of us probably spoke for another 15 minutes or so about Istanbul, food, our families, the world — and how “Switzerland was the best place to live in Europe.” (The older man again showed his non-confrontational bias.)

Then we came to a natural break in the conversation. We shook hands and let the men go about their day.

As is often the case, I wanted to make an impression, a different impression. The next time the young man thinks America, maybe just maybe a faint hint of me and Audrey — and his conversation with us — will creep in.

As we travel, I continually like to think that little actions can eventually make a big difference.

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Istanbul Without the Carpet: A Tale of Two Visitshttp://uncorneredmarket.com/istanbul-without-carpet/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/istanbul-without-carpet/#comments Tue, 07 Feb 2012 18:22:48 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=10282 By Audrey Scott

This is a story about two different visits to Istanbul, the utter pointlessness of posing as a Canadian when you’re American, and the secret to experiencing Istanbul without being offered a carpet. “Were you sold a carpet?” “No, not even once.” After our most recent visit to Istanbul, I’m surprised both by the number of […]

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By Audrey Scott

Looking Across River towards Galata Tower- Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul, looking across the Bosphorus to Galata Tower.

This is a story about two different visits to Istanbul, the utter pointlessness of posing as a Canadian when you’re American, and the secret to experiencing Istanbul without being offered a carpet.

Were you sold a carpet?

No, not even once.”

After our most recent visit to Istanbul, I’m surprised both by the number of times I’ve been asked that question and how pleased I am to offer my answer. When buying carpet is not your focus, but discovering the people and neighborhoods of Istanbul is, there’s an art to making it work and choosing strategically where and how you stay.

This time we did it. And we’ll tell you how, but not before we tell you about our first visit to Istanbul when Dan and I attempted, rather unsuccessfully, to pull off being Canadian.

“Don’t Go!”: The First Visit to Istanbul That Almost Wasn’t

It was late 2000. Dan and I had been backpacking around Europe. We’d just poked around Romania and were hanging around Sofia, Bulgaria. Next up: Istanbul and three weeks in Turkey.

Then an email arrived from my mother. She was worried and she asked us to reconsider our visit. The second intifada had just begun in the Palestinian Territories and demonstrations were taking place outside the American Embassy in the Turkish capital of Ankara as the U.S. Congress considered a resolution officially recognizing the killing of Armenians in Turkey in 1915 as genocide.

Conventional wisdom said all of this did not bode well for Americans visiting the region. We hemmed and hawed. But on our final morning in Sofia, we picked up an International Herald Tribune to find news that Congress dropped the resolution.

It’s a sign!!, we thought. In fact, it was just the excuse we needed.

We’re going to Turkey!

I informed my mother of our decision and assured her we’d be careful. “Don’t worry,” I said. “We’ll pretend we’re Canadian.”

Staying in Sultanahmet

After arriving in Istanbul from Sofia via a wheezing 17-hour train, we followed the advice of our guidebook and bee-lined it over to Sultanahmet to find a hostel.

We settled down near the Hagia Sophia. Over the next several days, we’d wake at 5:00 A.M. to a howling call to prayer, struggle to fall back asleep, and head out early to consume Istanbul’s must-see sights.

Aya Sophia - Istanbul, Turkey
Hagia Sofia: A beautiful visual confluence of Islam and Christianity.

Our few days in Istanbul were consumed with the Hagia Sofia (or Aya Sofya if you like), Grand Bazaar, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and the Egyptian spice market. We hung out with fishermen on the Galata bridge, rode along the Bosphorus, and visited Uskudar for a taste of the “Asian side” — and mixed it all with great bits of Turkish food and topped it off with a scrub-down at a Turkish bath. Dan insists to this day that his Turkish massage at the baths remains the most satisfying beating he’s ever received.

Oh, and I almost forgot: the carpet salesmen.

Visiting Istanbul in 2000
Fell off my chair laughing when I found this photo from our visit to Istanbul in 2000.

We have nothing against carpets, really. They’re often works of art, and for many they serve as mementos that last a lifetime. (Yes, I realize I just sounded like a carpet salesman right there. This shows how effective repetition can be.) But when walkabouts in and around the touristy areas of Sultanahmet become an endless echo of “My friend. Where are you from? Do you want to buy a carpet?”, it’s possible to begin bearing a grudge.

“Maybe later.” That was our mantra. Talk about empty promises.

Carpet salesmen can monopolize your visit if you let them. They are friendly enough, they’ll give you lots of tea, their stories can be great — they may even feed you — but their ultimate goal may just get in the way of your experiencing the real Istanbul.

How NOT to Pretend to Be Canadian

Speaking of carpet salesmen, a lesson. One day as we walked down the street minding our own business, a Turkish guy flanked by two westerners approached us.

The Turkish guy jabbed himself into our conversation: “Where are you from?

Canada,” Dan replied.

Where in Canada?

Toronto.”

Really?! I used to live there. Which part?” (At this point, the Turkish guy rattled off a bunch of Toronto neighborhoods.)

Shit. The one guy on the street we decide to lie to just happens to have lived in our Canadian cover city. Insult to injury, we weren’t even swift enough to do our research beforehand to come up with a viable answer.

Dan mumbled something lame like, “The eastern part.

The Turkish guy pressed on with more questions, pulling our proverbial lying pants down to our ankles. Finally, he exploded, “You’re not from Canada, you’re American!! Why are you lying to me?!!

Americans! Liars!” he yelled at full lung capacity in the middle of the street.

In retrospect, we should have moved on as if he were loony. (He was.) But his display was mesmerizing; it paralyzed us. I considered the irony. Had we only been honest about being American, we could have avoided all this.

As we came to and began walking away — the Turkish guy was still ranting — one of the foreigners asked in a feeble voice, “Well, wait. Don’t you want to buy a carpet?

The Turkish guy then broke stride and followed up: “I’ve got some great deals. I can even ship it home for you.

Insane. So this whole display — a ranting Turkish guy and his two flunky backpacker sidekicks — was all about selling us a freakin’ carpet??

Next time, we’re from Labrador.

Since then, we never again suggested that we’re from Canada. (Aside: A big shout out to our Canadian friends. We love you and your country and we are often mistaken as Canadian, but we learned early that faking Canuck-ery doesn’t suit us and that we should stick to being who we are. For those of you following our current journey around the world, you’ll know that we embrace being American and view our travels as a form of citizen diplomacy.)

Istanbul, Take Two

Eleven years later, almost to the day, we returned to Istanbul.

We had changed as travelers. So had the goals of our visit. Instead of revisiting all the big sights, we were in Istanbul to apply for our Iranian visa, pick up some appropriate clothes for Iran, explore some different parts of town and discover more local foods.

Baklava on Istiklal Avenue - Istanbul, Turkey
Baklava on Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul.

Our accommodation this time was a 9 Flats apartment on a side street in Beyoğlu, just down the hill from Taksim Square and Istiklal Caddesi.

As we wandered our street and the surrounding neighborhood, we noticed very few foreigners, only a guest house or two, and absolutely no souvenir stands. People were friendly and life seemed very real. Not to take away from the beauty of Sultanahmet, but this was a different view of Istanbul. One that suggests: this is what life would be like if you lived here. It was immersive. We loved it.

Just up the hill, Istiklal Caddesi was flush with hip Turkish kids sporting the latest fashion trends and traditional women wearing the hijab (Islamic dress). Endless cafes, brands and shops, bustling and modern.

Tram on İstiklâl Caddesi - Istanbul, Turkey
Tram on İstiklâl Caddesi, Istanbul

Is this where Istanbul is headed?

Perhaps, but turn off on any side street and you’ve found where Istanbul has come from, and in many ways remains. Local fish vendors and seafood restaurants, turn-of-the-century covered passageways, and simple family-run shops. The mix was eclectic and reflected all the fascinating layers of modern day Turkey.

Fish Stand Near Istiklal Avenue - Istanbul, Turkey
Fish, colorfully displayed.

Some mornings we would take the tram — just down the street — over to Sultanahmet to run errands (e.g., headscarf shopping) or to catch a few sights we’d missed last time (like the New Mosque).

But then we’d welcome a retreat to our neighborhood in the late afternoon, where the routines of ordinary people ruled the streets.

Borek Man of Beyoğlu - Istanbul, Turkey
Borek Man of Beyoğlu, Istanbul.

We began to feel at home. We knew the guy on the corner pressing fresh pomegranate juice, the sons who’d taken over their father’s kebab and Turkish pizza (lahmacun) shop, the friendly ciğ köfte master who knew just the right amount of spice and lemon to add to a mountain of raw meat, and the soft-spoken man around the corner who made sure to pile our plates with ample servings and fresh herbs.

We’d quickly developed our own routine, so much so that when we departed a week later, we made our rounds to say goodbye to our neighbors and the places where we’d become regulars.

Making Turkish Bread in Istanbul
Time to make the bread…

We left Istanbul this time feeling like we had a better grasp of its living history as well as a hint of the direction its headed.

And to think, we were never once offered a carpet. Maybe next time.

What are your favorite neighborhoods to explore in Istanbul? And if you’ve visited Istanbul, did you buy a carpet?

—–

Disclosure: We’d like to thank 9 Flats for providing us our apartment in Beyoğlu that helped introduce us to a new side of Istanbul, and delivered an experience that made us feel like we lived locally.

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Panorama of the Week: New Mosque (Yeni Camii), Istanbulhttp://uncorneredmarket.com/istanbul-yeni-camii-panorama/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/istanbul-yeni-camii-panorama/#comments Thu, 27 Oct 2011 22:30:10 +0000 http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/?p=9751 By Audrey Scott

Istanbul’s Yeni Camii (New Mosque).  Somehow we’d missed this one during our last visit to Istanbul eleven years ago. Today, while wandering around and outside the streets of Istanbul’s spice market looking for a head scarf (for Audrey, not Dan), we stumbled across and into Yeni Camii (New Mosque).  While the outside is rather stark […]

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By Audrey Scott

Istanbul’s Yeni Camii (New Mosque).  Somehow we’d missed this one during our last visit to Istanbul eleven years ago.

Today, while wandering around and outside the streets of Istanbul’s spice market looking for a head scarf (for Audrey, not Dan), we stumbled across and into Yeni Camii (New Mosque).  While the outside is rather stark gray, the inner courtyard warmed with a bit of late afternoon light.

But it was the inside of the mosque that blew us away.  Carpeted, warm, and almost surprisingly inviting, the interior of Yeni Camii wraps a visitor in mesmerizing colors, designs and Arabic script. Just about anywhere you happen to place the camera frame, a fascinating set of shapes and geometry is revealed.

And it’s here that we’ll leave you.  Open the panorama below.  And be sure to use the up arrow to make your way to the ceiling.  Imagine sitting on the carpet and gazing at the vastness of it all.

That’s what we did.

360-Degree Panorama: Inside Istanbul’s New Mosque (Yeni Camii)

panorama directions

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