Is this what it means to be beautiful in Turkey?

A light-hearted reading from Istanbul’s Spoken Word on April 12, 2016.balik etli

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This is a story about one woman’s struggle to come to terms with beauty in the eyes of the Turks.

Well, the truth be known it’s actually my own struggle.

I just spent three months in Australia where I performed in a dancing show. With a month of intensive rehearsals in the heat of an Australian summer I naturally lost weight – about three kilograms.

Though, when the curtains came down on the show, “weight” was definitely not on my mind.  I was, “get in my belly” with chocolate, burgers and biscuits for a few weeks as my dancing feet rested. Binge, binge, binge. Nom, nom, nom. I no longer had to watch my waist line because I am happy with my curves – and I enjoy food!

That said, about a week before flying back to Istanbul I began to feel apprehensive about my weight. Because, I knew I had to face my Turkish friends. And, I knew EVERY TIME I land in Turkey I’d get an honest opinion about my weight:

“Hello my friend? How are you? ………..Have you put on a little bit of weight?”

In Australia, you would NEVER, EVER say: “Have you put on weight?” To say such a thing would be highly insensitive, perhaps even insulting to anyone insecure about their extra kilograms.

But no, no, no – not in Turkey. Apparently to say: “Have you put on a little bit of weight?” could actually be a compliment. (But, more on that later).

I bet there’s a few people right now sizing me up as they read this. Maybe thinking…”it sounds like she’s carrying a few extra kilograms”…is she balık etli!?

What does that mean? Some of you may ask. Well let me tell you.

I was introduced to this term six years ago when I came to Istanbul.

I met a Turkish guy at bar in Taksim. He was in his mid-30s. Had dark long locks and kept himself fit. We exchanged pleasantries – all in English, because my Turkish was terrible. He was kind of cute and charming. I was enjoying the conversation – right up until he started looking me up and down, and said, “You look like…”

He gazes at me with “sexy eyes”.

Sexy eyes (2)

I hold on for a compliment that will make me swoon for this dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty.

Perhaps he will say I look like Reece Witherspoon. Because I used to get that all the time – when I was thinner. Or may be he thinks I look like Ginger Spice – the mid-1990’s, curvier, union jack sporting version of “Ginger Spice” – because I used to get that too.

He repeats himself and pauses, contemplating his words: “You look like….

……balık etli.”

My eyebrows raise. I’m speechleess. I’m stunned as I interpret those two words in my mind to:

Fish meat!

“I look like fish meat!?” Ne! (What!?) I shifted uncomfortably with the anger resonating in my body. My western brain that would never compare a woman to fish concluded this guy was rude and insensitive.

Although, to give him the benefit of the doubt, perhaps I did not hear right, or perhaps my Turkish is more average then I thought. I asked him, “Pardon? Did you just say I look like fish meat?”

I gasped when he answered, “Yes.”

What does that mean?? My mind went berserk as I searched for words to respond. I mean, what fish could I possibly be?

Am I hamsi (anchovies)? Short and slender. I do have pale skin. Maybe I was shining under the lights of the bar?

Hamsi

Am I hamsi (European anchovies)?

 

Am I çupra (sea bream)? Chubby in the face and mid-section. Skinny  in the “legs”.

Seabream

Maybe I’m like cupra (sea bream)?

 

Or perhaps levrek (sea bass)? Sleek and in proportion.

Seabass

Perhaps I’m like levrek (sea bass)?

 

Oh my! Am I turbot!? Flat, round, bumpy and rather unattractive to look at (but pleasant to devour).

turbot.jpg

Turbot, with a face only a mother could love.

 

Seeing the disgust on my face, my new friend at the bar was quick to explain what balık etli meant to him.

Apparently, in Turkey, to be “balık etli” is to be voluptuous. To have curves in the right places, and Turkish men do love curves (he reassured me several times).

His confident explanation soon had me believing that I had indeed just heard the most oddest compliment ever received.

But since then, many people have said otherwise. That perhaps when people say: “You’re like balık etli” it’s actually a warning to avoid that next chocolate, burger or biscuit!

Regardless, given this experience and many others I’ve had in my travels, I do feel beauty is defined by the culture and society we live in.

Do you like your ladies lean, voluptuous or lumpy and bumpy? Like your preference in fish – beauty comes down to personal taste – largely shaped by the society you live in. What’s attractive in one society may not be in another. And, as long as I enjoy my food, and I enjoy my curves, and Turkish men find balık etli  “tasty” I guess I’m not moving to another country anytime soon!!!

…..So….. who’s up for a spot of fishing? <insert cheeky bream grin here>

Skinny-Mirror

(Balık etli kadını sonunda bulduk = Finally we found the balık etli woman)

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Am I safe in Turkey?

It’s a question I get askeTerrorism in Turkeyd often and right now I’m inclined to say:

I’m not safe in Turkey.

I’m not.

What I mean is, I’m not safe from other people’s fears and what they create around me.

The atrocities and struggles we see today – acts of terrorism, restricted freedoms of expression, divisions in society, hatred towards others – they’re products of fear.

People’s fear of losing power, or not gaining power.

People’s fear of the truth being told.

People’s fear of cultures they’ve never experienced, or countries they’ve never visited.

People’s fear of other people they’ve never met, or the religions they’ve never understood.

The truth is, if I ignore the fears of others, and focus on my pleasant day-to-day life in Turkey, I do feel safe – especially in Istanbul. In the very city that just yesterday was devastated by a bomb in the heart of the city’s tourism district of Sultanahmet.

You see, Sultanahmet is a place I call home. It’s where I spend most of my time. It’s one place in the world where I’ve always felt at peace, because it’s where East meets West every day and many friendships are formed.

My favourite thing to do in Istanbul is sit in a cafe in Sultanahmet, savouring a Turkish tea, whilst talking to tourists and locals. I’m always amazed with how easy conversations with strangers start here with anyone from Australia, Canada and America to Algeria, Syria and Saudi Arabia. We instantly have a common topic to discuss – Istanbul and all the magnificent historical attractions of Sultanahmet.

To hear of the bombing yesterday that killed and injured people in “my home” is something that is too difficult to comprehend – as it is for many with an affection for the city.

The fear now is that this dreadful event may tarnish tourism and many businesses may flounder. Inshallah (god willing), it will not be this way. Like New York, Bali, Madrid, Paris – any tourism hotspot that has overcome terrorist attacks and continues to attract world travellers – I intend Istanbul will too.

But, just how can we overcome this?

I believe, you become what you think. You become what you create. However, influencing this are the thoughts and act of others. What other people think and what other people create can shape our reality and collective thoughts are powerful. Another way of looking at this is, positive thoughts bring positive results. Negativity breeds negativity. Fears can breed negativity.

I’m in Australia at the moment and it’s been somewhat trying when the topic of “my home” comes up in conversation. I’m constantly asked to respond to other people’s fears about Turkey with the question: “Do you feel safe Turkey?” Instead of asking about the good things happening in my life in Turkey or what I enjoy about the country, people “auto-reject” within seconds to focus on the negative.

I’m growing frustrated because Istanbul is my home and I believe inflicting negative views, essentially invites further negativity. I don’t want that for my friends in Turkey or Turkey itself. Like a sensitive vampire lifting their cape to doom, I hiss back: “Do you feel safe in your hometown?”

The counter question is always met with silence or a stutter of random comments. “Well, do you?” I poke with my words, hoping they might come to the same conclusion I have. That is, a reality distilled from fears. The reality that threats to our personal safety and lives occur every day, everywhere in the world. We have perhaps become desensitised to many of them, because sadly, they have become to norm.

Alcohol and drug related violence, car accidents, homicides, drownings, falls, electrocutions, deaths by exotic animals and gun violence in America. Scan the morbidity and mortality statistics on these around the world and realise that the chance of succumbing to these issues are far greater than terrorism, but like terrorism, we cannot always predict when these afflictions will strike.

So, what can we do?

Be aware of your fears and how they may impact on you and others.

Question the sources of information around you – are they reliable and unbiased?

Choose positivity over negativity and put the right intentions out to the world for you, for others and the places affected by terrorism.

Mourn those who have lost lives and livelihoods in the terrorist attacks around the world, and remain defiant – never to let another person’s fears stand in the way of your life goals and happiness. (Waleed Aly says it best here)

And, for Istanbul’s sake, be positive. Be like a good friend going through hard times, come visit to help her heal.

Please don’t feed the fears.

Instead….

Love Life Istanbul is it safe in Turkey

My heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of those who were killed and injured in Sultanahmet on January 12, 2016. 

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Other articles on this topic by fellow bloggers and writers:

Don’t hide from Istanbul by  (January 12, 2016)

The New Normal by Janey in Mersin (January 13, 2016)

This isn’t chaos this is my home by Life in Istanbul (January 13, 2016)

Is Turkey Safe from Isis and Terrorism by Turkish Travel Blog (June 2015)

 

 

 

 

Humanity, can you hear me?

I couldn’t sleep last night. The images of the refugee crisis culminating in the lifeless body of little three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed ashore on a Bodrum beach in Turkey weighed heavy on my mind.

The image is distressing to people, but this is the reality of our world right now. Last week there were images of other children, about the same age as Alan, washed up on Mediterranean shores which I chose not to share at the time. I thought it was too upsetting to share. But enough is enough. The world needs to see what their governments are doing and what the people of the world may be contributing to.

The powerful image of little Alan is what happens when governments deny a safe passage to refugees seeking asylum.

Alan’s death and the death of so many other refugees – men, women and children – is not Europe’s fault. It’s not the Arab world’s fault. It’s not Turkey’s fault. It’s not USA’s fault. It’s not Australia’s fault. It’s not Canada’s fault. It’s the whole world’s fault.

It’s not the European migrant crisis. It’s the international refugee crisis – there is a difference. All of those countries mentioned above and beyond are responsible for these deaths.

And it’s not just the heads of these governments to blame. It’s the lay people who support their leader’s nationalist “reclaim our country” rhetoric, or the, “stop the boats,” insensitive clichés, or the millions spent to put up razor wire fences and other blockades. Supporting these political slogans to gain power policies, doing whatever means possible to make a refugee’s journey to safety unsafe is what contributes to our crisis.

Those policies aren’t effective. They kill. They killed Alan. They killed his brother. They killed his mother. They killed 12 people on the same raft. They’ve killed for months now. Years. Because no matter what, seeking safety for your family, for your children, seeking a life where you can feed and clothe them in peace will always be a priority for a mother or a father during times of war. FOR ALL OF US.

We cannot deny refugees a safe passage believing our country will always be safe too. The shoe might be on the other foot one day. I pray not, but remember WW2 Europe, America, and even Australia? Syria was at peace just five years ago too.

We let Alan (and others) die because we stood back whilst the greed for power took over around the world. Because insipid fears were not silenced. Fears by parts of our society that believe refugees and migrants don’t contribute to society. The same insipid fears that politicians thrive on to keep them in power. The same politicians people love to hate. The same fears that makes the media rich, because fear sells these days. The same media people love to hate.

In Turkey, websites – largely Kurdish news – reporting on events near the border are blocked. In Australia, the government blocks the media reporting on refugee boats and the horrendous conditions of refugees in Nauru or Manus Island. Look to other international media and they’re hell bent on calling this the “European migrant crisis”.  Spin doctors are having a field day keeping mainstream society in the dark.

Enough already. What is really happening in Syria? What’s really happening on the borders with Turkey in the last month to cause this escalation of refugees? And why do our governments have deep pockets to fund wars, yet shallow pockets to manage the fall out they create.

Enough already.

Our world is better than this.

RIP in little angel, may your next world be far kinder.

#‎KiyiyaVuranInsanlik‬ #HumanityWashedAshore

Source: Save Kobane on Facebook

Source: Save Kobane on Facebook

Honouring our ANZACs in Istanbul

This is the third installment of my special ANZAC centenary series, acknowledging the importance of ANZAC Day in the lives of Australians, New Zealanders and Turkish people. If you’re an expat in Istanbul or travelling to Istanbul for the centenary then here’s are a couple of commemorative events taking place you might wish to check out.

An Unusual Friendship – Remembering Gallipoli

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Photographer Mine Konakci explores the unusual friendship that has arisen between the Anzacs and Turks since the fighting and anguish of the Gallipoli campaign.  By photographing subjects from Australia, New Zealand and Turkey, this project documents direct descendants of Anzac and Turkish (Ottoman) soldiers who fought in the 1915 Gallipoli campaign during World War I. The subjects are photographed with a projected image of their ancestor in an attempt to illuminate the relationship between the soldiers who fought in Gallipoli and their descendants.

The exhibit is open until May 24, 2015 at:

Buart Gallery

Bahçeşehir University building

Level 4, 24 Kemeralti Cd, Karaköy

Set aside 30 minutes to see the exhibition and read the slide show depicting the subjects’ quotes and information about their ancestors’ role in the Gallipoli Campaign. For more information about the exhibit visit: http://www.rememberinggallipoli.com

Getting there:

The Bahçeşehir University building is on the T1 tramline, between Tophane and Karaköy. The T1 tramline links directly to Sultanahmet – the main tourism precinct – in 10 minutes. Get off the tram at Karaköy and walk on the Bosphorus (water) side of the tramline/road in a north-easterly direction for a few minutes until you see the Garanti Bank. The entrance to the university building is next to the Garanti Bank. The latest Istanbul public transport map can be found here, showing the T1 tramline in dark blue. Walking from Sultanahmet can take 20 – 30 minutes.

Çanakkale 1915

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The İş  Bank Museum (Türkiye İş Bankası Müzesi) near the Spice Bazaar/Egyptian Bazaar is hosting an exhibit called Çanakkale 1915. The exhibit features photos, memorabilia and other artifacts from the Gallipoli Campaign from both the Ottoman and British Empires (including the ANZACs). Çanakkale is the town near the Gallipoli Peninsula that came under fire in the battle over the Dardanelles which led up the Allied landings on April 25, 1915.

Entry is free. The exhibit is in Turkish but ask for your free English audio-guide on arrival. The address in English is:

2 Bankacilar Caddesi (Road)
Eminonu

Getting there: Take the T1 Tram to Eminonu and walk towards the entrance of the Spice Bazaar. Bankacilar Caddesi (road) is the first cobblestone road on your left as you face the main entrance of the Spice Bazaar. You’ll find the museum opposite the New Mosque (Yeni Cami).

poppy_anzac

2015 ANZAC Appeal

Red remembrance poppies are available from Fuego Café & Restaurant in Sultanahmet for you to take to Gallipoli to place against the names of the fallen who lay peacefully on our shores. All proceeds go to the RSL ANZAC Appeal in Australia. The ANZAC Appeal aims to give back to past and present servicemen and women who sacrificed their lives for Australia. For more information visit www.anzacappeal.com.au.

Together in Istanbul

Fuego Cafe & Restaurant is also hosting an informal, “Together in Istanbul for our ANZACS” from 22 – 27 April. The gathering is for modern-day Johnnys and Mehmets to meet and share their ANZAC stories and continue the friendship that started 100 years ago. Go along and enjoy a drink or dinner with new and old mates and soak up the ANZAC spirit. Drop-ins are accepted but bookings are advised to ensure you get a table. More information and how to get there is on the Fuego website.

Previous posts in the ANZAC Series:

16 tips for visiting Istanbul for the ANZAC centenary

A lesson on ANZAC Day

Tomorrow’s post – My ANZAC Day diary at Gallipoli.

16 tips for visiting Istanbul for the ANZAC centenary

This is off the normal topic of writing for expats in Istanbul, but I’ve been dishing out a few tips to Australians and New Zealanders coming to Istanbul for the ANZAC centenary. I thought I would write a blog article summarising the questions and answers given to date.

To know what the ANZAC century is, then check out my previous posts about ANZAC Day and Gallipoli.

Firstly, to those venturing to Turkish shores for the first time, know that Turkey is a modern first-world country full of modern-day conveniences to serve its population of over 70 million. Istanbul alone has over 14 million nestled in its boundaries, so, expect convenient public transport; shops open all day, every day ’til late; an abundance of ATMs; and basically a lot of conveniences that you will wish Australia and New Zealand had themselves.

On the flipside, Istanbul can be like your uber cool, chaotic and often unpredictable friend. They’re not always organised but they’re charming and fun to be around. In other words, don’t expect things to always go to plan. What you might be told, might be different to what you get….and most of the time that’s ok because sometimes plans change for good reasons. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and ask again to validate your understanding.

If you are coming to Istanbul for ANZAC Day (or any other time) then firstly:

Hoşgeldiniz! (Welcome) You’re about to holiday in one of the most hospitable countries in the world!

Here are a few tips that might help you have a great time.

1. Do I take Euro, American dollars or Lira?

There is no need for Euros and American dollars if you don’t want to exchange your Australian and New Zealand dollars. Turkish Lira (TL) is the local currency and is used in Turkey to pay for everything.

In Turkey’s tourism sector, however, “money is money” and most hotels, tour operators, hamams (Turkish baths) and shops will promote prices in Euro or (less often) US dollars. They do this partly believing it’s convenient for the majority of travellers to Istanbul. It’s not for Aussies and Kiwis who don’t use these currencies. Check with your vendor with what they prefer you to pay them in, but know you should be able to pay them in Turkish Lira too. Make sure you’re not losing out on the exchange rate first.

Other than paying for these tourism services, do shop, barter, eat, and pay for transportation in Turkish Lira. Do as the locals do.

2. Shall I take Turkish Lira with me?

Apparently there’s a shortage of Turkish Lira in exchange bureaus of Australia. Don’t panic. Turkish Lira can be obtained from ATMs throughout Istanbul (and the country) using your VISA card. ATMs are everywhere and have English instructions available to make it easy to complete your transaction just as you would at home.

You can exchange your country’s currency into Turkish Lira at exchange bureaus (called, döviz) around the country too.

VISA, Mastercard and often American Express are accepted at most shops, restaurants, bars and hotels so you can earn those reward points whilst buying for goods and services in Turkey.

Avoid using traveler’s cheques if you can. They’re time consuming to exchange in Turkey and should only be used in an absolute emergency. Western Union have branches here for emergencies too.

turkish money

Image: Turkish coins and notes

3. Where are the best money exchange bureaus?

Locals will tell you the best exchange rates are in the Grand Bazaar. But like all money exchange dealings do shop around for the best deal – and look for ones without commission.

4. Is it safe in Istanbul?

Is it safe in your own hometown? It’s a difficult question to answer. Istanbul is a big city and not immune to crime. But one thing that is different is its huge population. There is always a high degree of natural surveillance around you – many eyes on the street.

As a woman, I can usually take public transport at night by myself – which I do not feel safe doing in Australia. Of course I assess the risks and make a judgement call, but being a Muslim country, there is far less people afflicted by alcohol and drugs than Australia and New Zealand which generally makes me feel safer.

Crowded areas can sometimes be problematic, such as peak hour on public transport and in the bazaar areas. Crowds make for easy prey for pick pocketers – as they do in other big cities.

There is a heightened threat of terrorism as the Australian and New Zealand governments have warned. However, as the events in Sydney and Paris recently showed us, sadly terrorism can occur anywhere around the world. The best thing to do, is follow the information from your country’s traveller advice website. Stay vigilant, avoid high-risk areas and ultimately trust your instincts.

Do know that Istiklal Street/Taksim Square are the venues for protests almost on a daily basis. These are usually peaceful demonstrations about a broad range of topics from animal welfare to legal injustices. Armed police complete with sizable guns are normally on stand-by which can be daunting to most, but it’s just precautionary. If you feel unsafe at any time retreat and get a taxi to your hotel or another safe destination.

5. What’s the weather like in April?

Being in the northern hemisphere, Turkey is coming out of a cold winter so expect the evenings to be chilly and the days, inshallah (god willing), to be sunny. It’s possible to get sunburnt on a cloudless day so remember to slip, slop, slap and throw on a hat!

Pharmacies are called Eczane (signposted with a large “E” in lights) . You can pick up sunscreen there. Pharmacies are again located on many streets in the city.

No need to pack bulky umbrellas too. If it rains people will come out on the street to sell them for 5-10TL ($AUD5)! They won’t last a lifetime but they’ll do the trick for a few days…or less.

…and don’t forget to celebrate our springtime and check out the tulips! Gulhane Park is likely to be your closest location.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Photo: The tulip is celebrated in its country of origin at the International Istanbul Tulip Festival every April.

6. What should I wear?

It’s not quite weather for wearing shorts every day in April so pack jeans, a few long sleeved shirts and a winter jacket or two. Scarfs / pashminas are more common than apple tea so make the most of the “2 for 1” deals (I mean the $AUD1:2.02TL exchange rate) and buy up if you get cold. Thermals may be useful on the night of April 24 at Gallipoli – but unlikely to be needed in Istanbul at this time of year.

7. Do I need to cover when entering mosques?

Yes. When visiting mosques, make sure your shoulders and legs are covered and ladies do cover your head with a scarf. It’s respectful to do so. Some of the bigger mosques will have scarfs for you but best to use your own.

Take your shoes off before entering any mosque and take them with you using the plastic bags provided.

Also avoid walking in front of people praying, and know mosques will close for 30 minutes after the call to prayer five times a day for local worshippers. Expect major delays to get inside mosques around lunchtimes when Friday prayers take place.

Mosque

8. What’s the shopping like?

You’ve come to the right place. Turkey is one of the biggest producers and exporters of textiles so shopping for clothes is great. Sultanahment and the bazaar district in the old city is the place for genuine fakes but the range of shops for modern fashions, especially for women, is light-on.

Head to Istiklal Avenue in Taksim for international retailers like H&M, Mango, Zara, Topshop and enjoy other great retailers like Mavi, ADL, OXXO, Koton and Collezione. Istiklal, a street they say millions walk down every day, is two kilometres of shopping and cafes…and a good excuse to venture out of the old city to see another face of the Istanbul.

The neighbourhood of Nişantaşı on the European side or Bağdat Caddesi (Avenue) on the Asian side are where the swankiest shops can be found.

Large shopping malls like Istanbul Forum, Zorlu Centre, and Cevahir are also taking over the city – but will require a few changes in public transport or a taxi ride to get there from the old city.

If you’re in the market for jeans, then I swear you won’t find a better pair than buying them in Turkey. Even designer brands source their denim from here.

Istiklal Street

Photo: Istiklal Avenue, a two-kilometre pedestrian street, runs from Taksim Square to Galata.

9. Do I need a VPN?

People living in Turkey are becoming increasing users of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks). VPNs allow us to tap into servers in other countries to access sites that may be blocked in Turkey. We use them to run our businesses and communications with the outside world if the government blocks Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media sites (which they did in early April). At the moment, these sites are available to access so it is unlikely you need a VPN on your stay here.

Twitter

Cartoon: Turkish humour reacts to Twitter being blocked…

10. What about Turkish SIM cards – should I get one?

You can buy Turkish SIM cards with varying packages (from 29TL) from Turkish phone dealers: Avea, Vodafone or Turkcell. They have dealers in the arrivals halls of the airports. Do be aware, however, that putting a Turkish SIM in a foreign phone can eventually lead to Turkish authorities blocking your phone – unless you register your handset.

At the moment, there is a guide that you can use a Turkish SIM in a foreign phone for up to two months before it becomes blocked. But sometimes in Turkey, what is communicated and what actually happens are two different things. And do you really want to risk having an issue with your phone when there’s so much to see and do in the country?

Speak to the phone dealers in the airport to get their advice. But do know that WIFI is free in MANY places. Cafes, hotels, roadhouses – most places you visit will have reliable and free WIFI available (or somewhere nearby will). Just ask for a password to connect and communicate through apps like FaceTime, Voxer, WhatsApp, Facebook, Viber, Skype – all for free – without the threat of your phone being blocked. Yes, even Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger will now allow you to call your friends for free if they use the app too! Just look for the icon of a telephone handset on the messaging screen.

If you own a business and/or need phone coverage whilst at Gallipoli then also check what your options are for international services from dealers in Australia and New Zealand.

11. What if a stranger approaches me on the street?

In the tourist areas such as Sultanahmet, Gulhane Park, the Blue Mosque etc, would-be-entrepreneurs are on the ready to trip you into unwanted ventures like carpet shopping. If a man randomly approaches you on a street and offers to take you for drink or take you to a carpet shop, decline the offer, unless you wish to buy.

At no time should you hand over money to enter the Blue Mosque. It is free to enter. Donations on exit are appreciated and should be placed in the box marked as such.

Carpets

Photos: Excuse me, would you like to buy a carpet?

12. I heard men can annoy you on the streets? Is it true?

Again in the tourism precincts, expect most restaurant waiters to approach you to dine at their premise. Politely decline unless you wish to eat there. They’re used to rejection and are unlikely to follow you beyond the boundaries of their restaurant.

Ladies, also expect vendors in Sultanahmet and surrounds to try to get your attention by questioning you with, “Excuse me did you drop something…my heart?” and, “Can I ask you something?” or, “Where are you from?” Ignoring them and walking on is acceptable and will save you time and their heartache.

On a side note, do go to Taksim, Galata, the Asian side and other city locations to see the different faces of the city. The old city (Sultanahmet and surrounds) is very much a tourism precinct where many local men work. You may ask, “Where are all the local women!?” They are in Istanbul – you just need venture out of the old city to find them.

13. How do I avoid being ripped off by a taxi driver?

Difficult question to answer but there are a few tips I can offer:

  • When you get into a taxi the flag fall on the taximeter should be 3.20TL – day or night. If it is not just say “problem meter” and if he doesn’t fix it then get out and get another taxi.
  • There is a reliable app for locals called BiTaksi. You can use it to call for taxis using a GPS system, but I’ve used it with limited success in Sultanahmet and Taxim due to the enormity of one-way roads.
  • Avoid taking taxis off the street – unless you want a tour of the city to get to your destination. Instead, ask your hotel or restaurant to order you a taxi from a reputable taxi stand.
  • Avoid using 50TL notes in paying your fare as they look like 5TL notes. A quick switch by the cab driver and your handing over more money than you need. Have 10TL and 20TL notes to avoid this confusion. The government have started issuing purple 5TL to stop this swindle.
  • A taxi to “Topkapi” can lead you to the suburb of that name – not the palace – with the latter costing significantly more. Ask for Topkapi Palace or take the T1 Tram to Gulhane or Sultanamet stops and walk to the palace within five minutes.
  • Use Turkish Lira to pay the price on the taximeter at the end of your trip. Never bargain up front – you’re just asking for trouble if you do!

14. Can I expect discounts?

Yes, it’s possible to obtain discounts on your travels here.

  • If you plan to use public transport than do get an IstanbulKart. Click here for more information.
  • The Museum Pass (MuzeKart) does offer great discounts but make sure you’ll get your money’s worth before purchasing.
  • Turkish hospitality is the best and chances are you’ll enjoy the rewards of being a wonderful guest with complimentary teas and the like. Yes there are dodgy people on the streets, but there are far more considerate local people that are willing to offer you tea and a great conversation.

15. I have food allergies – what can I do?

The Turkish diet is one made from fresh produce, cooked-fresh and rarely uses processed products. Interestingly, in my observations it would seem food allergies are much rarer here. This means most menus won’t be marked with gluten-free or lactose-free meals. When you order your meal always let your host know your allergies and see what they recommend. Also ask your concierge or a Turkish speaker to write a note for you in Turkish to explain your allergies. You can simply hand that over when making your order. Things can get lost in translation otherwise!

And finally my favourite question to answer was…

16. How many Tim Tams do you want me to bring to thank you for your advice?
How many can you fit in your bag? Is there room for champagne too 🙂

(Just joking! On a serious note. Say thank you by donating to the ANZAC Appeal online or in Istanbul at  Fuego Cafe & Restaurant. Fuego has 2,000 RSL red remembrance poppies too. When you make your donation take one with you to Gallipoli to place on the names of the fallen).

tim tam

Iyi yolculuklar (Have a good journey!)

Tomorrow’s post: Honouring our ANZACs in Istanbul – What’s on in Istanbul for the ANZAC centenary.

It’s SNOWstanbul

No words are required to describe how beautiful Istanbul is when snow kisses her softly.

Roof tops of the Grand Bazaar. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Roof tops of the Grand Bazaar. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Rooftops of Grand Bazaar. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Rooftops of Grand Bazaar. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Blue Mosque. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Blue Mosque. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Blue Mosque. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Blue Mosque. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Blue Mosque. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Blue Mosque. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Egyptian Obelisk and Column of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, Hippodrome. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Egyptian Obelisk and Column of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, Hippodrome. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Hippodrome (At Meydanı). By Love.Life.Istanbul

Hippodrome (At Meydanı). By Love.Life.Istanbul

Nuru Osmaniye Sokak, near Grand Bazaar. By Love.Life.Istanbul.

Nuru Osmaniye Sokak, near Grand Bazaar. By Love.Life.Istanbul.

Nuruosmaniye Mosque, Tomb. By Love.Life.Istanbul.

Nuruosmaniye Mosque, Tomb. By Love.Life.Istanbul.

Zincirli Han, Grand Bazaar. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Zincirli Han, Grand Bazaar. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Perfecting the snowman.

Perfecting the snowman.

Zincirli Han, Grand Bazaar. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Zincirli Han, Grand Bazaar. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Şehzade Mosque. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Şehzade Mosque. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Fatih Park and Valens Aqueduct. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Fatih Park and Valens Aqueduct. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Ayasofya in the snow. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Ayasofya in the snow. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Blue Mosque. By Love.Life.Istanbul. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Blue Mosque. By Love.Life.Istanbul. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Ayasofya and Hürrem Sultan Hamamı. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Ayasofya and Hürrem Sultan Hamamı. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Ayasofya and the Hürrem Sultan Hamamı. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Ayasofya and the Hürrem Sultan Hamamı. By Love.Life.Istanbul

No swimming in the pool - especially today - it's frozen over. By Love.Life.Istanbul

No swimming in the pool – especially today – it’s frozen over. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Sultanahmet Park. By Love.Life.Istanbul

Sultanahmet Park. By Love.Life.Istanbul

When the real Miss Turkey stood up

On Friday May 31, 2013 a woman named Ruveyda Öksüz was crowned Miss Turkey 2013 in Istanbul with all the pomp and diamantes you would expect from a beauty pageant. Whilst Turkish TV had eyes only for the pageant, down the road – in Taksim Square – a significant human movement to restore democracy was under-way.

It’s been widely reported internationally how police brutally fired tear gas and water cannons on peaceful protesters working to save Gezi Park – the only green space left in Taksim area and how shockingly, it wasn’t reported  locally by mainstream Turkish media. Residents and friends of Turkey desperate for information flocked to social media instead.

In contrast, in October 2010 a suicide bomber in Taksim Square had local media diverting broadcasts to the incident – just as CNN or BBC do whenever a major event would happen locally. But last Friday, when people demonstrated against the government, Turkish mainstream media stayed away and the pageant paraded on.

Excellent posts like those listed below have since been written and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself has made inflammatory comments about the demonstrators. His comments and actions have resulted in violent clashes with vandalism and regrettably people have been killed, injured and uncomplimentary images had been published that have had an immediate adverse impact for tourism and investments in Turkey.

This week, wonderful images have emerged from the demonstrators in Taksim and beyond. Not only do they dismiss Erdoğan’s very public view labelling demonstrators as extremists, marauders and drunks, they show the real faces of the demonstrators and the real winners of Miss Turkey 2013 have finally been captured on film.

Women have shown outstanding bravery all over Turkey – taking the full brunt of the police force, offering kindness to the law enforcers despite the brutality and they’ve stood up for their country to create a better future for their children and for their loved homeland of Turkey. They are the women who represent Turkey in 2013 and that mainstream Turkish media is worth reporting.

We have seen what damage giving too much power to one can do, so let’s not give out one tiara. Let’s give out many to the women who have stood up and fought to reclaim a secular and free Turkey. Here are the real winners of Miss Turkey 2013 and they don’t need a diamond, pearly teeth or a flashy dress to prove it – they just have an enormous heart and soul for their country – something men and women can all admire and learn from all around the world.

(Note: It is often difficult to find the original source of these photos. Please email me so I can acknowledge the photographer. If you have photos of inspirational women I would gladly add them to this collection, refer to my About page for contact details. More power to the men out there too alongside our sisters!)

Image

Source: Reuters/Deniz Celik

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Source: Anonymous

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Sign says: You said to my son, get your mom and go away. Also you said to my grandson and daughters, Çapulcu! I’m 87 years old I can’t get up from the bed, come next to me for a while, I’ll tell you something. Source: statigr.am

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Source: RUETERS/Osman Orsal

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ImageImageImageImage

Source: Fil'm Hafizasi

Yoga in Gezi Park. Source: Fil’m Hafizasi

My thoughts and heart are with the families and friends of those killed and injured in these protests. I pray with you all that a peaceful solution is found to restore democracy in one of the most amazing countries of the world.

Please watch: TENCERE TAVA HAVASI (Sound of Pots and Pans) / Kardeş Türküler

A tribute to ANZAC Day from Turkey

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

ANZAC Cove 1915, and now.

****

 Lone Pine

Lone Pine Australian Cemetery in 1920 (Photo from http://www.anzacsite.gov.au), and now.

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Chanuk Bair

Chunuk Bair in 1915 ( Photo from http://alh-research.tripod.com/), and now with the statue of war hero and the father of modern day Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk , and New Zealand War Memorial.

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 Trenches

The trenches in 1915, and now.

****

VV

ANZAC war heroes, Simpson and his Donkey, and Simpson’s memorial today,  Beach Cemetery, Gallipoli.

****

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Turkish War Memorial, Gallipoli

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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.

6 tips for the new Istanbul expat

Hello Yemeksepeti.com

Hello Yemeksepeti.com

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.