5 events you can’t miss this winter in Istanbul

The outdoor events on warm summer nights have come to an end, and the evenings are getting colder and longer. The temptation to stay at home, cooped up in your onesie to binge watch HBO TV shows…is… well…tempting. But alas:

Winter is coming!

And, there’s some fantastic events  in Istanbul that you must check out to warm the cockles of your heart.

Ladies and gentlemen,  I present the five events you can’t miss this winter in Istanbul.

1. Spoken Word

SpokenWord

Spoken Word‘s promotional image for the November 11 event.

 

Spoken Word is where words happen. It’s where writers, poets, stand-up comedians, musicians, actors, activists – anybody and everybody – can take to the stage to recite creative works of their own, or of others.

The rustic setting at Arsen Lupen (Miss Sokak, 15/4, Taksim) provides an intimate setting for people to perform for up to eight minutes, in any language, to an uber supportive crowd.

The open-mic format kicks off around 8pm and promises a few laughs, some intrigue and thought provoking performances by Istanbul’s bravest souls (a.k.a. public speakers).

The last two events were graced by some impressive orations. One of which was by Mariah K. Hamang, a poet with an enormous talent for crafting words that touch the heart. She, like so many of the performers, captured our interest and fascinated the crowd from the get go.

I won’t publish all her work here because it’s worthy of publishing in a medium far greater than my little blog! But, here’s a few lines from one poem – an example of the talent at Spoken Word, and a snippet of Mariah’s touching work that sticks with me even today.  To read more of Mariah’s poems visit BlazeVOX or Otoliths.

Screenshot (115)

For details of the next event, follow Spoken Word on Facebook: www.facebook.com/SpokenWordIstanbul

(Get there early for a good seat!)

 

2. Take Me Up The Bosphorus

Take me Up the Bosphorus

Asli Akbay, stand-up comedian and creator of Take Me Up the Bosphorus

 

“Take me where?” you may ask inquisitively.  Yes, this quirky, mischievous and somewhat suggestive title offers a tease of what’s to come at Istanbul’s newest stand-up comedy night.

There’s plenty of fun and frivolity to be had and the good news is (for us expats who are yet to master Turkish) – it’s in English. And, if the stand-up acts at Spoken Word by creator, Aslı Akbay are anything to go by, the comedy nights will certainly tickle your fancy!!!

Aslı started doing stand-up comedy when she lived in London and thankfully, for us comedy-cravers of Istanbul, she continues to tread the stage here.

Take me up the Bosphorus brings Aslı, and fellow rib-tickling Turkish and international comedians together in venues around the city. As Aslı confesses: “Stand-up really is something that you cannot shake off when you start.” On reflection, I think that statement goes for the crowd and performers alike!

Those interested in English stand-up comedy in Istanbul can follow the event page at: www.facebook.com/takemeupthebosphorus

 

3. IWI Christmas Charity Festival

Christmas Charity Festival

The International Women of Istanbul (IWI) have once again prepared a Christmas extravaganza of activities that will take place on November 29, 2015 at the Hilton Istanbul Bosphorus, Harbiye. The festival is open from 10am to 5pm to anyone and everyone seeking some pre-Christmas cheer.

Go along and do a spot of shopping, keep the kids amused with children’s entertainment, and indulge in the international food court, raffles, and other activities. There’s even caroling, gifts for kids from Father Christmas, and a mistletoe to tug your Christmas heartstrings right in the centre of Istanbul.

Christmas Charity Program

The  loveliest gift of all is, the IWI Charity Christmas Festival raises money for those in need. All net proceeds go to the IWI supported charities. For more details and to buy tickets for the event visit:  www.facebook.com/events/1655445834731049/

 

4. Cheese & Cheers

It’s back! The Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahmet have recommenced their popular Cheese & Cheers wine tasting night every Friday, from 7pm to 10pm.

Hotel guests, Istanbul visitors and residents are all welcome to chill out in this five-star hotel’s elegant lounge that’s set against a lush winter garden.

Over several hours, you can gastro-travel through a selection of Turkey’s best local and imported wines accompanied with a buffet of cheeses produced from the far reaches of Anatolia.

A different winery is featured every week, and a wine expert is on stand-by to explain the wines you’re drinking and the regions they’re grown in. And, for a very reasonable price of 65TL per person, it’s the ideal setting to enjoy a little indoor luxury on those cold wintry nights.

For more information visit: www.fourseasons.com/istanbul

 

5. Internations

Expat only

The next Expat-only Internations event is at The Raffles Hotel Istanbul, Zorlu Centre on December 8, 2015

 

An old faithful, and responsible for creating many new friendships, Internations has a plethora of socialising opportunities – all advertised on their website. The free-for-all Internations party is a huge gathering for all nationalities and walks of life, though if you’re an expat, the expat-only Internations events offers a quieter vibe.

Internations also has a range of special interests groups you can connect and mingle with. Groups for bowling, running, eating, partying, travelling and more are available. Take a look. There will be a group just for you to discover more of this amazing city and the people in it.

Visit www.internations.org for more information.

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Don’t forget events around town are also published on reliable websites such as The Guide Istanbul, Timeout Istanbul, MyMerhaba and my personal favourite, Yabangee.com. Biletex is also a great site to browse and buy tickets for major events in the city.

If you have an event you think the expat community need to hear about in Istanbul this winter (or next year) then do drop me a line:  expatinistanbul@gmail.com

 

Ha Ha Hayyy – it’s Hidrellez!

Is a society’s happiness and sense of freedom directly related to how much ice cold beer, sizzling kebabs and spontaneous dancing you can fit in a neighbourhood street without police or a permit to party?

The Hidrellez Festival in Sultanahmet on May 5 made me think: Yes, it could be!

(Now click here to play a song to accompany this blog)

In a week where May Day brought Istanbul to a standstill and social media was flooded with concerned comments about the city, the Hidrellez Festival was a much needed reminder of how modern and spontaneous Istanbul can be.

Nice day for a swim. Istanbul, May Day 2013

Nice day for a swim. Istanbul, May Day 2013

Strolling along the Old Istanbul waterfront on May 5, we followed the sound of drumming in the distance. Weaving through Sunday picnic goers and their smoky charcoal BBQs and dodging the hooks of fishermen casting into the Marmara Sea, we eventually stumble upon a large crowd of people behind the Kalyon Hotel.

Musicians, playing the zurna and davul, were providing the soundtrack for a lively street party. Fists were proudly punching in the air, a woman danced freely on an upturned drum and hairstyles, tied with flowery bandannas  were bouncing to the beat of the 9/8 Romany rhythm. The Hidrellez Festival was in full swing.

Dancing to the beat of the drum on a drum

Dancing to the beat of the drum on a drum

Hidrellez (or Hidirellez) is a festival signifying the start of Spring. Traditionally, it is believed to be the day when the two prophets, Hizir and Ilyas, met on earth.

On May 5 and 6, many rituals are performed to celebrate Hidrellez. People will spring clean their homes and leave windows and pantries open with the belief that Hizir will visit in the night and bring abundance to their lives.

In rural areas, young girls will wear white dresses to signify they’re ready for marriage and people will jump over fires or bath in chilly rivers to cleanse their soul of sins.

A popular ritual throughout Turkey, is to write down your dreams, pin it with an evil eye and tie it to a tree or throw it into a river believing Hizir will collect it and grant you your wish.

In Istanbul there’s a more modern entrepreneurial touch to the Hidrellez celebrations. Opportunistic street sellers set up shop along narrow cobblestone streets with their makeshift picnic tables and BBQs.

As we push our way through the crowded street of dancers and musicians we’re offered $1 fish sandwiches, 50c bags of roasted walnuts, BBQ kebabs and sweet corn, bottles of $5 wine and $2.50 cans of ice cold Efes beer. There’s so many people here and it’s dinner-time – why not try to earn a little cash on the side if you can!

Other money-making savvy locals have tables set up selling flower headbands, small wedding veils and other novelty items that promote the merry mood of the crowd.

I am certain there is no formal approval from authorities to host BBQs on such a crowded street and there are no police around preventing what could go wrong in such a confined area. But we’re all adults here and people partake peacefully and respectfully in the offerings of cheap food and dancing.

The streets are filled with talented musicians playing favourite Turkish tunes for tips and the rhythm of an attentive crowd spills out down the street like an avalanche of contagious dance moves. When one band finishes you simply swarm to the next duval or zurna player nearby. Everyone is smiling and welcoming people of all walks of life. It’s liberating and a total, “only in Istanbul” spontaneous moment that leaves you besotted with the hospitality of the Turkish people.

This is happiness, this is freedom and – with our wishes tied to a nearby tree – this is a night of hope that life will continue to be full of  happiness and fun  in Istanbul!

Hidrellez occurs every year 5/6 May – ask the locals in Sultanahmet for details of next year’s festivities or travel to Edirne and celebrate among the Romany community.

Tip toe through the tulips

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.

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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.

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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.

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Rubba-dub-dub it’s time for a scrub: The Hamam How to Guide

hamam

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!

A tower, two mosques and a love story

Galata Tower

On the 21 March, I climbed the Galata Tower to see if a 470 year old Istanbul love story was true.

The 16th Century story involves Ottoman Architect, Mimar Sinan and Mihrimah Sultan – the daughter of the famous, Sultan Suleiman and Hurrem Sultana.

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.