Another lesson from my life in Istanbul. I no longer strive for balance in all areas of my life… life is about moving forward.
For 32 years of my life I was a hopeless singledom. Bridget Jones was my idol.
In my twenties, I chose the unavailable commitment phobes like Daniel Cleaver and grieved when it wouldn’t work out. I would rush head strong into relationships that fizzled as the excitement soon wore off, because I had thrown everything about myself to them in the first two weeks. Mark Darcy-types never got a look in because they were ‘safe’ and the Daniel Cleavers of the world seemed far more exciting.
In my early thirties I believed love wasn’t possible for me. Love was a privilege for other people and so I decided to just be with me and love me – and enjoy that. That’s when I met my Mark Darcy and he taught me lessons in love. Years later, these are the 10 things I have learnt about love:
1. Love is taking a risk and changing your life to complement the needs of another.
2. Love is tender, respectful kisses on the forehead.
3. Love is lying in green grass in the sun, with no words – just holding hands.
4. Love is by your side in times of trouble and not walking out the door. Love stays.
5. Love is shedding a tear when the other is in pain.
6. Love is having your absolute worst, most embarrassing moment – that you wish no one would ever witness – and you hear, “I love you!”
7. Love is revealing your beliefs and inner soul, that could be controversial or disliked, and you hear, “I like that about you.”
8. Love is phone calls with some text messages – not text messages with no phone calls.
9. Love doesn’t mean you have to hang from the chandeliers… all the time.
10. Love is revealing one page at a time about yourself to keep them reading.
No one can know what happens next, but these are lessons that will stay with me for life. What are your lessons about love?
Lest we forget, ANZAC Day, April 25.
In memory of those who fought the Gallipoli campaign in Turkey.
Turkish soldiers (the Mehmets) 218,000 casualties (66,000 killed)
Australian soldiers (the Johnnys) – 26,111 casualties (8,141 killed)
New Zealand soldiers – 7571 casualties (2,431 killed)
British soldiers – 119,696 casualties (43,000 killed)
French soldiers – 27,004 casualties (8,000 killed).
May our nations never experience such loss through war again.
Memories of Gallipoli. Present photos by yours truly.
ANZAC Cove 1915, and now.
Lone Pine Australian Cemetery in 1920 (Photo from http://www.anzacsite.gov.au), and now.
The trenches in 1915, and now.
ANZAC war heroes, Simpson and his Donkey, and Simpson’s memorial today, Beach Cemetery, Gallipoli.
Turkish War Memorial, Gallipoli
The words of Ataturk immortalised in stone above at Gallipoli:
Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives…
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours…
you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears;
your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land.
They have become our sons as well.
Spontaneity is the spice of life and Istanbul, located on the old Silk Road, is naturally full spice. When you whip spontaneity and Istanbul together you get an extra spicy life! Or at least that’s what I have learnt.
At the end of my first year here and looking for a job, my Turkish-American friend says, “I have a friend who needs oriental dancers tomorrow morning for the Seda Sayan TV show. There will be other English-speaking dancers. It should be fun. Are you in?”
The quote from Eat Pray Love and my background in oriental dance had something to do with what happened next.
The next morning, giving into this quote and believing this adventure may somehow lead me to my future, I found myself in down-town Balat. Balat is a poor neighbourhood in Istanbul renowned for having a large Roman (gypsy) community. In this community lives a Roman fashion designer.
With my make-up and hair done, complete with false eye lashes and bouffant hair-style, I stand on an urban street. I look around for other dancers. No one arrived and I grew more and more nervous as I watched one loud costume after another being loaded into a truck. Think organza, think tulle, think sparkly gem stones, think bright feathers, think huge hoop satin skirts dotted with glistening sequins, think…am I going to wear that?
Children and teenagers were then loaded into the back of the truck – I thought I was to be next. I grew claustrophobic and thought for an excuse to leave but then,”Haydi, haydi,” (c’mon, c’mon) was said as I was shuffled into the front of the truck where I shared a single front bench seat with two adults and three restless children.
I was beginning to regret my quest for spontaneity and my friend’s reassurances of safety. No one spoke English and I had no idea where I was going or what exactly I should do for this TV gig.
Arriving to the studio, I was ushered to the change rooms where I was met with the stares of 20 young Roman girls aged between 10 and 15. A chorus of whispers of, “Yabanci” (foreigner) broke out. I was out of place. Why was this mid-30 year old, fair skinned, blonde haired woman back-stage? For her quest for spontaneity that’s why!
The awkward moment was broken by an older woman opening the door and placing a large bag of make-up on the counter. A flurry of activity broke out. Whispers turned to screaming and squealing as the girls scrambled and fought over lipsticks, blushes and eyeshadows.
Judging by the level of commotion, I thought it was time to get ready. I opened my make-up case. A few of the girls notice and look at it like it’s a chest of gold. They swoon. Now I’m promoted from yabanci to, “Abla! Abla!” (Sister! Sister!) as they help themselves to my case. Turkish words were thrown at me. I did not understand a word. All I could say was “Pardon, Türkçe çok az biliyorum!” (I know very little Turkish! ). They just giggled and continued to explore the yabanci chest of girly treasures.
The door opens again and the designer himself gestured me to follow him. The girls gave back my make-up and another chorus of, “Bye, bye, bye,” ensued amongst giggles.
I was escorted to the TV station’s hair and make-up studio where I sat shoulder to shoulder with the TV stars. Fantastic! Pamper time! Professional hair and make-up like a star – yes please! Spontaneity was starting to show some fruit.
Pimped and primed – I felt good. Now I needed a costume so I returned backstage. Backstage was chaos. Multi-coloured flouro feathers flew in the air. Sequinned costume bits were strewn from one end of the room to the other.
Someone hands me a purple plume of organza and strips me down and zips me in. Wollah! My costume is on. I am transformed into Ms Ruffles Galore.
The light purple organza bodice with embroidered gold flowers was matched with a light purple organza skirt that came up to my thigh in the front and extended into a long train at the back – completely covered in organza ruffles.
I did not plan on wearing a dress that exposed my legs – oriental dancers wear long skirts – so I had brought black shoes to dance in and, since this was a last minute gig, I didn’t bother to wax my legs.
Horror! There I was about to make my TV début on National TV – one of the most watched daytime TV shows in Turkey – and I was wearing light purple organza ruffles with hairy legs and black shoes! I would give yabanci’s a bad reputation furry legs and poor colour coordination! Needless to say, I didn’t take any full length photos in the costume.
One awkward moment after another made me nervous. Where were the other English-speaking dancers? Why am I getting special treatment? Am I to ‘star’ in the show? Will I dance by myself or will I just walk in show the costume, smile and consider my gig is done? If I exited the building right now would anyone notice?
The music started. It was showtime – but the music was not oriental – it was the Romany 9/8 rhythm. I can’t dance the 9/8 rhythm! I’m clumsy and uncoordinated dancing to it. I’m fair haired, blonde, wearing a plume of organza and now I have to pretend to dance Romany style …did I mention this was live TV!?
Panic stricken, I asked TV program staff, “Do you speak English? Do you know what I am to do?” No English, no answers. HELP! I was about to make a fool of myself on LIVE NATIONAL TV!
The music continues and about 15 girls walk on stage before me. I relax a little. I think I am just a back-up dancer with the young Roman girls…I think. I’ll just follow them and stay behind them so no-one sees that I am an imposter!
But wait! It’s obvious I’m foreign, what happens if Seda takes an interest in me and asks me a question? I can’t say “Türkçe çok az biliyorum!!!” How uncouth! I’ll be on YouTube as a joke! Especially with my hairy legs and black shoes exposed!
Deep breathe…was I about to live a nightmare?
The music builds up and I’m gestured to move on stage. I pick up my train and composure and step out to the cameras. Hello, National TV – I made it…just.
There’s Seda to my left, a live band to the right and a live audience of Turkish housewives in front of a group of Roman dancing girls. I thought to myself – you’ll be fine –just move your hips to the rhythm and pound your fist to your chest couple of times – just like a Roman dancer. No feet – just hips and fists!
The girls all gathered around. This is when I relaxed for the first time that day. I started to dance like a pouting, powerful Roman girl with attitude. I hid behind the younger girls who were hungry for the camera and who thankfully shielded my legs from the crowd. I loved the song so it was not difficult to enjoy the moment. A few more gypsy fist salutes and hip bumps – the music finishes and we go to ad break.
I receive applause from the band, from the designer and my fellow dancers backstage. I had made an impression. I was part of the dancing Romany sisterhood! I felt good! I was smiling and laughing with my new friends. I hadn’t failed – infact I had fun and I had lived a dream many dancers dream of – I danced on National TV (and in a genre unfamiliar to me).
The whole experience taught me that sometimes we get stuck in ground hog day. Sometimes we stop taking risks. Sometimes we forget to laugh at ourselves, we forget to let go and have fun because we fear failure.
Sometimes we should just be spontaneous and enjoy the spice it adds to our life. It certainly makes for a good story to tell your friends!
Today I read a post from a lady moving to Istanbul. She was looking for advice on arriving to Istanbul and what to look out for. It inspired me reflect in my time here and write this piece. These are a couple of my survival tips for those who are fresh off the plane bound for the expat life in Istanbul.
1. Make Turkish and Kurdish friends and accept invitations
Some of the greatest experiences I have had in Istanbul are with my Turkish and Kurdish friends. Invites to festivals, concerts, TV shows, holidays and weddings are all made possible through these networks. Through them, I have experienced the real Turkey and through their genuine hospitality and helpfulness I have become a better person.
2. Get schmoozing online
Facebook pages for Istanbul expats are good resources for asking questions, getting local news and finding new friends. Sites include (to name a few) Expats in Istanbul, Istanbul Expat Centre, Foreign Women of Istanbul (Women only), Expat Events in Istanbul, Istanbul Expats & Internationals Group, Expat @Savers and Cook’s Corner for Expats in Turkey. Send a question out to the world via these sites and your life is often made a lot easier!
We’re also pretty lucky in Istanbul to have a number useful English websites and publications. These tell us what’s on, what’s hot and tell us where all the best places are to eat and drink. Check out My Merhaba.com, TimeOut Istanbul, yabangee.com, The Guide Istanbul and Internations.org. You can register to receive updates or join their social networking pages to keep up to date with all the latest news.
3. Book your appointment for your residency permit
In 2012, the Turkish Government changed the 90-day back-to-back tourist visa conditions which many of us loved for its easy renewal process. Now you can’t get back-to-back visas and if you want to stay long-term you need a resident permit called an Ikamet. Many expats have gone through the Ikamet process in the last 12 months which has bombarded the appointment system making it difficult to get an appointment when you need it most. My advice for any DIY expats (e.g. those who don’t have the support of a large company), who wish to stay more than 90 days, is to book your appointment fast (click on the links labelled E-Randevu).
Be patient as the system is fraught with glitches. For example, when I used it last, I couldn’t log back into my appointment to print out my appointment documents. I had to go through the process again which pushed my appointment out to a later date and I couldn’t log back into cancel my appointment. Facebook and Internations have been filled with SOS calls from expats who were unable to get their residency permit before their visa expired. There are means and ways around this, but I have learnt, what works for one person in this process – has not worked for others. Plan ahead and book ahead.
4. Get an IstanbulKart
This card will be your ticket to the tram, the metro and the bus and provides discount fares. You can buy it from magazine kiosks near bus, metro and tram stations. They cost 10TL and you add credit to the card as needed – which again can be done at any magazine kiosk.
5. Register for Yemeksepeti.com
You’ve had a tiring day and you’re stuck on the couch unable to move. Hello YemekSepeti.com! From your smart phone (yes, they have an app) or laptop you can order food and drinks from many restaurants around town and they deliver to your door. Feel like Turkish cuisine? Ding dong – delivered to your door! In the mood for Chinese or Japanese? Knock knock! Delivered to your door! Or maybe you devoured one too many Efes the night before and need a greasy fast food fix? Hello, Big Mac at my door.
6. Register your foreign mobile phone
Within a couple of days of landing in Turkey, make sure you register your foreign mobile phone with a phone company, otherwise your phone will be locked eventually and it’s costly to unlock it. The regulations on this keep changing so it’s best to visit Avea, Vodafone or Turkcell – the main dealers in Turkey – for more information. A fee maybe payable.
There are more tips I could share but I will leave that for later posts. These are just a few key tips that have helped me assimilate to life here. Feel free to add more tips for other expats below.
In April, the cold grey days of winter make way for the bright colours of spring when over 11 million tulips blossom in the parks and streets of Istanbul.
Istanbul’s Tulip Festival, hosted annually by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, celebrates the coming of spring and honours Turkey’s long devotion for this beautiful flower, known locally as lale.
Originating in Turkey, the tulip grew to be a symbol of beauty, wealth and perfection for the elite Ottomans during the Tulip Era (1718 -1730). Explore Turkey now and you will see the tulip featured in the designs of carpets, on the tiles of grand mosques, on buildings and the logos of businesses and events that are quintessentially Turkish.
The Tulip Festival starts the first week of April and lasts until the petals start to fall – by the end of the month. Colourful displays are found almost anywhere where there is an open space in the city.
The best place to view a spectacular exhibition of tulips is at Emirgan Park. The park is located past the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge (the second Bosphorus Bridge), but the trip is well worth the effort. Other elaborate displays can be found in Sultanahmet Square and Gulhane Park (near touristic Sultanahmet) and Taksim Square.
Sarah Blasko, the multi-award winning, Australian singer-songwriter successfully launched her self-produced, I Awake album and European tour with her band of talented multi-instrumentalist musicians – David Symes, David Hunt, Benjamin Fletcher and Fredrik Rundqvist.
Istanbul’s Babylon music venue provided the ideal setting for Sarah’s mesmerising performance style. Sarah’s angelic vocals accompanied with her talented four-piece band, entwined beautifully with the Byzantine-like backdrop and ‘wow-factor’ lighting.
We were treated to a mix of lyrically sublime songs of love, heartache and motivation. Starting with coveted tracks such as Explain and We Won’t Run, Sarah then launched into the new album with the title track, I Awake.
I Awake, with commanding drums and powerful lyrics, showed the determination of a woman learning from the past and taking charge of her future. The reflective Bury This, accompanied with the evocative vocals of Slavic singers, left the crowd captivated. The frustrations of love and heartache were felt throughout God-fearing and Fool and Sarah had the crowd besotted with an intimate spotlight performance of Illusory Light. Finishing with, Not Yet seemed poetic really for a crowd who, with elated applause, showed they wanted more.
Sarah proved in Istanbul – the city that is a melting pot of inter-continental influences – that her music can transcend a variety of cultures and languages. The people at Babylon who had not heard Sarah’s music before shared comments between tracks like, “Sarah is my new favourite!” and, “She’s amazing!” and, “Thank you for inviting me to hear her!” I also saw Turkish lovers embrace to Sarah’s haunting “ oooooo-ooooos” with eyes closed and smiles of satisfaction. Yes, Sarah conquered the hearts of Istanbul.
For me, I have long loved Sarah’s ability to produce honest soundtracks for life and have followed her since her first album, The Overture & the Underscore (2004). Her new album is no exception – in fact today in Istanbul is no exception too. From atop a hill of a sunny, breezy Istanbul, the tracks of I Awake are playing out across the Bosphorus from my home. The soaring violins of Here and An Arrow choreograph the birds sweeping in the Bosphorus breeze. The softness of All of Me and New Land remind me of why I am here and I Awake and An Oyster, A Pearl motivate me to overcome my fears and make the most of what’s ahead of me in this foreign land. (Thank you Sarah, you inspired me to awaken this week).
I Awake is Sarah’s 4th critically acclaimed album and was recorded in Stockholm and Bulgaria with the 52-piece Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra. To celebrate the release, Sarah will perform 14 shows in April across Europe in the UK, Germany, Belgium, France, Switzerland and Poland. Buy your tickets here.
I Awake is Sarah’s most brilliant masterpiece of lyrics and music yet. A tribute to her past and a celebration of where she is going. I Awake and her début in Istanbul is perhaps a sign that Sarah has just began …and I can’t wait to see what she produces next.
When visiting Turkey there is one experience not to be missed – the Turkish Bath (the hamam).
I admit it. I’m a self confessed hamam junkie – I go at least every two months to have my skin ex-foliated, soaped and oiled. There is something so unique about the hamam – I’ve never felt so sparkling clean and relaxed. I’ve tried hamams in Istanbul, Fethiye, Antalya, Damascus and Selcuk. I’ve had interesting experiences like having the hamam attendants break out into operatic musical, sharing a hamam with a nude Hollywood celebrity and I’ve survived the greatest error of taking a hamam with Turkish men in a country town – so I have learnt a thing or two about what to expect and what not to expect since my first hamam many domes and scrubs ago.
Here’s my guide to enjoy one of the best tourist attractions in Turkey.
1) Most hamams have separate male and female baths, whilst others are unisex. Find a hamam that will suit you. If you’re unsure, always ask the reception if the attendant will be a male or female so you know how to ‘dress’ (or not).
2) Hamams can be over 600 years old, with bathing methods just as old. Don’t expect modern staff uniforms – underwear or towels are it. For the ladies, female attendants are often topless and hanging low so don’t expect a glamorous attendant like your day spa back home.
3) Hamams were once where business deals were made and mothers sought wives for their sons by checking out the goods of local girls. Bathing is therefore for all ages, shapes and sizes. Leave body hang ups at the door – the hamam is quite a liberating experience if you allow it to be.
4) Bring a hairbrush and anything else you use after bathing. Hairdryers are available. If you use your underwear in the hamam be sure to bring a dry spare…the tram ride home commando style could be awkward!
5) On arrival, you will be given a locker, a scrubbing glove, tokens for your treatment and a towel. Make sure you lock your belongings and (if provided) take the key with you.
6) Wear what is comfortable for you under your towel – bathers, underwear or nudity is acceptable. Some hamams like Çemberlitas will provide underwear which everyone wears.
7) Enter the hamam wrapped in a towel and wear slippers provided to avoid slipping in the wet.
8) Be prepared, the hamam is warm, so before lying on the dais, drink water to hydrate and pour water on yourself.
9) Take your time. Lie on the dais for 10 – 20 minutes. An attendant will gesture you for your scrub, but it’s ok to tell them to wait if you want to relax longer.
10) The hamam will usually include a 10 minute scrub with splashings of water, followed by a lathering of soap and bubbles combined with a massage for about 10 minutes – finishing with a wash down. You can exit the hamam sparkling clean and radiant in your own time. If you purchase additional treatments you will be shown where to go next.
If you’re a resident of Turkey, ask your favourite hamam about memberships – there are significant savings for us locals. Relax and enjoy!
On the 21 March, I climbed the Galata Tower to see if a 470 year old Istanbul love story was true.
When Mihrimah was 17 two men wished to marry her: Sinan and the governor of Diyarbakır, Rustem Pasa. The Sultan chose the younger Rustem Pasha, but Sinan’s love for Miramah did not die on her wedding day in 1539. Sinan’s love for Mihrimah is said to be reflected in two of Istanbul’s finest mosques.
Sinan was commissioned to design the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque near the Bosphorus in Uskadar in 1548. Take a look at the design and it mimics the silhouette of a woman in a skirt. Later, after Rustem Pasa died, Sinan designed a new mosque without palace approval. He built the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque on the highest hill of Istanbul in Edirnekapi (1565), near the old city walls in the West.
‘Mihrimah’ in Persian means the ‘sun and moon’ and so the love story says that Sinan designed the Uskadar mosque with less windows to symbolise the moon. The Edirnekapi mosque has many windows to symbolise the sun. The Edirnekapi mosque also has one minaret to symbolize Sinan’s loneliness and longing for one woman.
The love story suggests that on 21 March (Spring Equinox and Mihrimah’s birthday), the sun will set over the single minaret in Edirnekapi and the moon will rise over the mosque in Uskadar.
Is this story real or just an urban legend? You can see both mosques from the Galata Tower. For hopeless romantics, the story is just a great excuse to climb the medieval tower during a springtime sunset.
We’re all guilty of saying these phrases as we navigate through the expat life of Istanbul!
- How do you say that in Turkish?
- I loooooove Istanbul!
- How’s your Turkish?
- Tea sugar lar…teasugarlar…teşekkürler – is that right?
- Canım, canım, canım
- Ne kadar?
- I’m never going to be fluent in Turkish! It’s sooooo hard.
- Hey, can you come with me to get an ikamet?
- How do I get the ‘@’ key to work on this keyboard?
- Do you know any English speaking hairdressers?
- Do you know anyone who speaks Turkish that can help me get an apartment?
- Cihangir is soooooo expensive now.
- Hey, have you been to…?
- Can anyone recommend a good…?
- Do you know where I can buy…?
- Take a Turkish friend with you – it will be cheaper.
- Are you a teacher too?
- Where do you teach?
- Are you going to pub quiz?
- Bir beer luften.
- Why is alcohol so expensive here?
- Let’s meet – is Cihangir good for you?
- YemekSepeti.com is awesome!
- Where are you going for summer break?
- Does this website have an English option?
- Ha! I forgot my English.
- Google translate is so baaad.
- Do they speak English?
- I wish I could wear stilettos here.
- How long have you been in Istanbul?
- Should I feed that cat?
- It’s hot on this bus, can someone open some windows.
- I’m not sure I can ever leave Istanbul for good.