Registering a foreign phone in Istanbul

Register phone in TurkeyChances are whenever the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy are released you’ll want to get your hands on one as soon as possible. But, when you’re living in Turkey, the cost of an unlocked handset for these state-of-the-art babies is likely to blow the budget. Chances are you’ll be buying them duty-free or asking a friend to bring one back from America where the prices are considerably less.

However you procure the phone, you’ll find the unlocked device becomes locked and unusable within days or weeks of putting a Turkish sim card in it and switching it on. Turning it on and off again, won’t solve the problem this time.

To avoid this inconvenience, you’ll need to register the mobile phone within 120 days (as of October 2015) of entering the realm of Turkish telecommunications. It will cost you approximately 165 – 205TL to do so depending on your telecom provider.

So what do you need to do to register a phone? Read on to find out..

1. Decide which telecom provider is for you

Turkcell, Vodafone and Avea are the dealers to choose from to get a pre-paid sim card for your unlocked foreign mobile phone (CEP) in Turkey. They all offer promotional packages (kampanyalar) throughout the year with calls, sms and 3G for as low as 35TL per month. Just shop around to get the best deal. Make sure you get a package with 3G – you’ll need it to GPS your way through the maze of Istanbul streets and to keep in contact with friends when you’re stuck in Istanbul traffic!

I use Avea and for 28TL a month I get 2GB of internet use, 5000 sms and 500 minutes of calls. I got it on a promotional deal three years ago and never use up the credit. Other friends have Vodafone or Turkcell and pay more per month so shop around to find the right package for you.

Know that, whilst the telecom provider websites are not in English, most stores have English speakers. So you don’t need to use their websites to add credit to your pre-paid sim card. After you buy your sim you can top-up credit at stores, or buy “top-up” (kontrol) cards at confectionery kiosks around the city, add credit via your Turkish bank account through internet banking and even (my favourite) add credit to your phone at Garanti Bank ATM/cash machines around the city without needing a TC number (Turkish citizen identification number).

2. Ask the telecom provider for the price to process the registration of your phone

When deciding your telecom provider, ask them how much they charge to process the registration of your foreign phone. In 2014, when I went through this process, Avea charged 35TL, whereas Turkcell has been reported to charge up to 70TL. You don’t pay this until after a trip to the Tax Office. This fee is in addition to the actual registration fee charged by a Tax Office.

3. Visit a Tax Office to register your phone

To register your new foreign phone you need to go to a Vergi Dairesi (Tax Offıce) with your passport and pay 135TL (price as of May 2015) over the counter. If you have an ikamet take that with you. I believe you can also visit Ziraat Bank to register your phone too.  Four things to be aware of at this stage:
1. Your date of entry to Turkey in your passport must be within the last 120 days to be able to register a cell phone bought overseas. If your arrival date is beyond 120 days you cannot register your phone and will have to wait to re-enter Turkey again to complete the registration process.
2. You can only register one foreign mobile phone every two years.
3. If you’re a tourist (i.e. you have no ikamet/resident permit) registering your phone will keep the sim/phone unlocked for six months. If you’re a resident or citizen registering gives you access indefinitely on that handset and sim.
4. The handset is registered to that sim. You can’t easily change telecom providers/sim cards after registration.

You can find the address for your nearest tax office by Googling, ‘Vergi Dairesi adres’ and your district.  Avoid visiting them at lunchtime as they close usually from noon to 1pm.

When you pay the tax office the 135TL they will also take the IMEI number of your phone. Dial *#06# to get this. The Tax Office will give you a receipt / Certificate of Registration to present to your telecom provider. Keep this somewhere safe.

4. Go back to your telecom provider

Once paid up at the Tax Office, go to a store of your telecom provider. It doesn’t need to be the same one you bought your sim card from. The store may say they can’t process the registration for you, but ask for the address of their nearest store that has the authority to do so.

When you find yourself in the authorised store, give them your receipt from the Tax Office or PPT or Ziraat Bank and your passport so they can take a copy of your last entry stamp. Finally, pay the fee they charge for processing the registration for you.

5. Use your phone

The telecom provider will process the registration and usually within a few days your Turkish sim is activated so you’ll be whatsapping and Facebooking again from your new handheld device.

Please note, there’s rumors that the system is changing. If I get any confirmed reports on this I will update the information above which leads to the final point…

6. Know the process can change!

Like any country in the world – bureaucratic systems are prone to change, but in Turkey it can mean a process that works for one person might not work for the other. So please use this information as a guide only. Anyone with a different experience is welcome to leave comments below.

JUNE 2015 UPDATE (WORTH READING):  Many people (who have resident permits) can go directly to PTT and obtain an e-devlet password (cost is 2TL). With this password you can log on to https://www.turkiye.gov.tr pay the tax fee online with a credit card and register the phone as easy as a click. Take your residence permit and passport to the PTT to do this. This also avoids any extra service fees the provider might require.

June update provided by the wonderful and knowledgeable people at oitheblog.com

A SPECIAL NOTE FOR TOURISTS:

Those travelling to Turkey as a short-term tourist need not worry about this process if they keep your foreign phone and foreign sim card on international roaming. It however becomes a problem the moment you put a Turkish sim card in a handset bought outside Turkey. My advice to tourists here on a short stay visas is soak up the free wifi everywhere and communicate for free with people back home via wifi-based apps like Skype, What’sApp, Viber, Voxer and FaceTime. Facebook also now allows you to call friends too via their app or send a voice recording to more than one person. Go to your Facebook inbox and send a voice recording to friends by selecting the friends you wish to message and press the microphone icon at the bottom of the message screen.

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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

Readings from the other inbox

Valentine’s Han SoloIt’s the evening of Valentine’s Day. The temperature outside hangs around eight degrees Celsius and I’m cooped up in the warmth of my own blanket and being at home. I’m sulking slightly with no Valentines in sight to shower with chocolates, a candle light dinner and all the romance that goes along with February 14.

It’s just your average Saturday night in – in lambswool lined pink UGG boots, an oversized woollen jumper and fleecy purple “pazar pantaloons” (pants for the local Friday market) – they offer the ultimate level of comfort thanks to their soft material and low-lying crutch.

(I know! How did I not get a date tonight!?)

Like a little kitten teasing a piece of string, I reach out to my emails and Facebook page poking around for people to play with. There’s not much happening there.  Nothing but photos of loved up couples, red roses and single women professing quotes and statements akin to “girl power”.

I, on the other hand, have a power ballad spooling in my head as I sip from my second glass of wine.

All by myself,” by Jamie O’Neal. It’s a single-dom anthem from a favourite movie, Bridget Jones’s Diary.

A sense of fear creeps over me as I reminisce about the details of the movie. Bridget’s look, her age, her living situation! Seems all quite familiar…had I become Bridget Jones?

When the movie was released I was early 20s and never imagined myself to be Hans Solo on Valentines Day beyond 2005. But here I am. Mid 30’s, blond-ish hair to my shoulders, slightly podgy, a couple of “hello mummy” knickers in my drawers and with, “Absolutely no messages. Not a single one,” not even from my mother!

The illogical urge to Google, “How old is Bridget Jones,” to compare our ages and somehow determine the success of my life is disrupted when I spot messages in my ”other inbox”. The kitten strikes as I open to read what awaits.

You see there’s a reason why I hide my identity on this blog. I like to protect my  “other inbox” on Facebook from unwanted prying eyes. Messages in the other inbox are typically from would-be-if-they-could-be keyboard Romeos of the cyber-world. Fellow bloggers report how publishing their names to posts attract these tragic star crossed “lovers”. Men who believe their cutesy messages will have foreign women swooning to their Facebook page and more. It doesn’t work, it just infuriates many. It does however, somewhat entertain me this evening – or at least give me fodder for this week’s post!

Peering into the box I note the friendly messages discretely disguised as bait to gain a reply. Ismail writes:

“Hello, do you live in Istanbul? I live in Istanbul. We should meet up.”

I consider responding with: Tebrikler (congratulations) Ismail. Look hard no feelings but I lived in the same city as Hugh Jackman and Heath Ledger once…and neither of them wanted to meet me either. Take a lesson from my experience – it’s you, not me. Goodbye and good luck.

Stalker

Then there’s the overly curious Daryoush, who asks:

“What did send you to Turkey? Courage !?”

And inquisitive Yalcin who probes:

“How are u :))) can l ask u something? :)”

No, Yalcin, no you cannot ask me something..no matter how many smiley faces you purge. I fear contact with you would only end up with endless text messages and tears – your tears as I block you from my life forever.

And then there’s the voyeuristic, Ahmed:

“Oooooooo pretty, do u have any videos??”

Yes I doooooooooo, Ahmed. Lots of them. Of cats mainly. Can I send you more than one…daily?

An oddly self-proclaimed, Endoplasmic Reticulum emails:

“A writer could be so beautiful?”

That message left me feeling a little insecure. Is there a stigma that I don’t know about – that writers are unattractive creatures hit by the ugly stick? (I confess, I may have just googled, “good looking female writers,” to prove the stigma wrong …)

There’s even a doctor in the house who writes:

“Hello beautiful lady, How are you doing? I am doctor Sawyer Braschi. I will like to be your friend and come over to your country to set up a clinic. I hope to hear from you soon, Thanks.”

Doctor

Dear doctor, do you say that to all the ladies? I may be inclined to change my country if you are to follow.

But some keyboard Romeos seem to go to a lot of trouble to gain a lady’s attention. Take, for example, poet Semih who confesses:

“I have seen angels in the sky, I saw the snow fall in July. I’ve seen things you only imagine to see or do, but I still have not seen anything sweeter than you. hello. How did you … you have to be an angel.”

If I had consumed more wine by now I may have replied with some poetry of my own:

Roses are red,

Violets are blue,

What drugs are you taking?

Because I’ll have some too!

But I don’t reply. I never do. In fact – newsflash other inbox traffickers – I doubt anyone ever does!

Satisfied I’m not as lonely and desperate as those in my inbox, I log off from Facebook, pour my third glass wine, adjust the crutch of my pazar pants, stretch my UGG boots towards the TV and wonder when the next Bridget Jones movie will be out. I look out to the night sky and ponder this Valentines. I thank my lucky stars. Thank god I’m single and happy (girl power). Thank god I have a home and comfortable clothes…and thank god I’m not dating a man from my other inbox!!

Got some keyboard Romeos of your own? Feel free to share your other inbox below!

A very Turkish Valentines breakfast

ValentinesFoodThis post goes out to the lovers of Istanbul; the ones on the countdown to Valentine’s Day and searching for that special something to surprise their Turkish other-half.

Now, you could shower your loved one with grand gestures and expensive gifts, but, you don’t need to break the bank or go overboard to show someone you care. Keep it real, keep it simple and mix it up with this low-fuss, inexpensive gesture of love.

Kick-start your romantic day the LoveLifeIstanbul way – a shared Turkish breakfast complete with sliced juicy tomatoes, an assortment of white and yellow cheeses, olives, eggs how you like it, jams, bread (don’t forget the bread!!!) and love heart cucumbers.

Yes, love heart cucumbers! I know, I know it’s kitschy but it’s simple, adds a little flare to your Turkish breakfast and is sure to surprise – making your loved one smile from ear to ear on February 14.

Cucumber love hearts 1

Make a diagonal cut through the cucumber keeping the slices even and slim.

Cucumber love hearts 2

Now take that slice and cut diagonal again so there are two slices.

Cucumber love hearts 3

Flip one side over and plate.

Cucumber love hearts 4

Too easy, right!? Kind of cute? Go ahead and practice before the big day.

If you’re feeling particularly proud of your creation and plating technique feel free to Facebook or Tweet it with #lovelifeistanbul to return the love.

Afiyet olsun and enjoy your special Valentines.

10 things I miss about you…Istanbul

As an expat, no doubt you’ve been there. When you set up a new life in a new city, you seek out your hometown comforts in your newtown surrounds. Maybe it’s going on a mission to find the best coffee in your new neighbourhood, or seeking friends who connect with your nationality, or posting pleas online to find the products, the food, or the experiences that once made you hum in your hometown.

Perhaps you seek these things to close the gap between what you know and what you don’t know. Assimilation is simply gentler on the soul when your creature comforts are close by. They provide a steady platform, a familiar base, to dive head first into discovering a new and wondrous culture and its peculiar ways.

As time passes, the gap between the known and the unknown lessens. Your list of creature comforts grows to include the offerings of your newtown. You gain a sense of belonging, and with it, a new lifestyle and perspective emerges. You no longer feel like you’re drowning in the tides of cultural change. Instead, your wading, maybe even riding the waves, and your struggle with the oddities of your newtown, that once left you perplexed, have washed away.

You’re a local now (of the expat kind at least). You know where to find this and that, or how to get from point A to point B with ease. The language, the culture – all start to make sense. You respect it. In fact you no longer judge it, you indulge in it. Your two worlds, once awkward and creating friction, finally get along. Your newtown isn’t new anymore – it’s a place you call home.

I hadn’t realised how much Istanbul felt like home until last year. I packed away my work from home freelancing threads and suited up to return to my former corporate life in Australia. (Note: Hence my absence from this blog). I was immersed back into my old lifestyle and my hometown culture and after living in Istanbul, Australia didn’t feel like the home it once was.

I was perplexed. Had Australia changed? Had I changed? Had I really been that Turkified!?  I had to rediscover my hometown like a newtown to re-create my sense of belonging. I had to reassimilate.

I initially struggled to adapt to the oddities of Australia such as the abundance of space, the swearing, the drinking, the huge houses and other material values. I struggled with the need to be on time, to plan, to drive within the white lines, even to drive! All the things that once seemed familiar were somewhat awkward for me. I began to miss Istanbul. I began to miss…

1. Spontaneity

The traffic, complicated streets, the weather, the “rules aren’t for all” bureaucracy of a city of over 14 million people were factors that taught me I wouldn’t get what I wanted, when I wanted in Istanbul. My inner control freak died years ago as I embraced the city’s manic spontaneous ways which offered a more satisfying alternative to my initial plans.  It became a part of my lifestyle to “go with the flow” and embrace spontaneity.

One evening in Sydney, I was spontaneous. I ran across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to break-up the predictability of my working day. I gazed down to the peach-hued sails of the Sydney Opera House illuminated by sunset. A pearly patriotic smile flashed across my face and I sighed. I thought, this is beautiful, this is unique, this is just…

just…

not…

2. The Bosphorus

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Not to “diss” my country’s beloved iconic landmark. Sydney Harbour is an unmissable destination. But a wave of nostalgia washed over me as I peered down on the waters of Sydney Harbour. I missed the energy and the busyness of the Bosphorus – a waterway that divides Europe and Asia – that had fed my senses daily.  I longed to sit on a rickety wooden bench or a rocky outcrop on the cusp of a continent and feel the Bosphorus breeze on my cheek, watch a sunset silhouette the old city skyline, hear the caw of seagulls hoover overhead and taste the bitter-sweet flavour of a crimson glass of …

3. Çay (Turkish tea)

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A brewed English breakfast could not fill the void in Australia. Neither did an Earl Grey self-served in a shapely glass. I joined the corporate coffee culture instead where the day could not start without the jolt of a barista-style skinny cap, flat white or double espresso. Drinking them glued to the computer in the vortex of consumerism where deadlines were “by yesterday”, I yearned for a tulip-shaped glass of çay served with plenty of…

4. Keyif

Keyif, the art of idle relaxation. An art that brings pleasure, joy and contentment in the company of friends or strangers – without the deeds of deadlines – was lacking from my life.  I missed keyif on a Sunday morning or late into the evening where conversations jumped from global news, to family news, from gossip about the neighbours to truths about friendships and from telling jokes to stories of meaningful matters.  I missed the friends who were masters of this art and the banter associated with such gatherings. I wanted to engage again with people and say…

5. Turkish pleasantries

“Hayırlı olsun,” (let it be with goodness) was something I could not say within the fluidity of English when friends shared good news. “Geçmiş olsun,” was in my heart when, “Hope they get well soon,” flew out of my mouth. Phrases that don’t translate well in English that once left me perplexed were constantly on the tip of my tongue. “Güle güle kullan!” (Use it with smiles), “Kolay gelsin,” (May it come easy) and…

6. Afiyet olsun!

Before dinner. during dinner, after dinner.  My way of wanting to bless everyone I dined with with, “Afiyet olsun,” (enjoy your meal) was the hardest habit to break. “Bon appetit,” would spill from my lips instead, which proved too fancy. After all, when did Westerners ever acknowledge a co-worker dining on a ham sandwich in the lunchroom so formally?  Instead, I said nothing, I put my head down between conversations and ate whilst remembering to …   

7. Appreciate my food

554477_132225386902332_1282653357_n My Turkish friends once said to me, “Why do you eat so fast? Yavaş yavaş!” (Slow down). Eating fast was a by-product of my fast-paced, do everything by yesterday lifestyle in Australia…and I was slipping back into that realm. Life is too short to eat lunch by yourself at your desk.  Turkey had taught me that. Food is to be appreciated.  I now took time to savour the flavours and the keyif served generously on the side. Come to think of it, I missed the cuisine and the fresh produce to make up those meals in Turkey! I longed to swap the long polished aisles of my Australian mega-supermarket for the chaos of my…

8. Pazarlar! (Weekly street markets)

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Twice a week the main street near my home in Istanbul transforms into a fresh food market where I stock up on locally-grown produce. Not only is buying easy on the purse, it’s always entertaining to hustle with the head scarfed housewives and their three-wheel canvas carts to bag a bargain or two from rows of fervent sellers. More importantly, I missed what the markets created – I missed…

9. Life on the streets

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Whether it’s festivities in the streets, kids playing in the lane, remnants of chalk etchings of hopscotch on the path, or seeing wooden baskets lowered from apartments to collect goods from the bakkal (market), I missed seeing all the cues of life on the streets of Istanbul.  Sure, the drone of the eskci (junk collector) that resembles, ”Bring out the dead,” is a nuisance at times but I did miss the morning call from the man peddling pogača (small baked bread) from the street,  the call of, “Buyurun abla.” (Can I help you sister) as I walked through the markets, and the call of, “Bir lira,” (one lira) from the sellers with the yellow and red carts and most of all I missed …

10. The call to prayer

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The call, made five times a day, had become part of my list of creature comforts that tell me I’m in a place I call home. I missed hearing it – reminding me to pause, to “stop and smell the roses” and be present in that moment of life. Most of all I wanted to be where I loved hearing it most; atop a rooftop terrace at dusk, on the edge of the Bosphorus, with a crimson tea in hand, after a spontaneous day out with friends and with the call of a thousand muezzinler echoing across the city.

That same sound etched in my memory eventually called me back to Istanbul. Even though I tried, I could not find the things that made me hum in Istanbul in my hometown surrounds. After all, the things I missed were intangible in Australia. I could not put my finger on them or find them in my neighbourhood. I was somewhat lost without all my creature comforts surrounding me. My soul could not settle and a wave of homesickness for Turkey washed over me. I could have given more time for the feeling to subside, to settle, to become still. But my second home was calling me.

“Be like water,” a friend said to me, and,“Su gibi git, su gibi gel,” (go like water, come back like water) flowed freely from my tongue.

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!)

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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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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

5 reasons why Istanbul is like a lover

Oh BradMany people I meet, who live in distant lands, say to me, “You’re so lucky to live in Istanbul! I wish I could live in Istanbul.”

I’ve comforted visitors who shed tears as the call to prayer plays over the city, because Istanbul has touched their heart like no other city has. I’ve also noticed my fellow expats freely personify the city like their lover: “Istanbul and I have a love hate relationship, but Istanbul is the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Many love stories about Istanbul made me realise – Istanbul really is like a lover! Here’s five reasons why -written in the Oh Brad! style for those who have fallen for this dramatic city.

  1. Oh Istanbul, when we first met you wined and dined me and showered me with compliments – it was love at first sight.
  2. Oh Istanbul, you keep your secrets close to your heart. You’re so mysterious. It keeps me intrigued and when you share your secrets with me I just love you so much more!
  3. Oh Istanbul, you leave me without a car or cash, and I wonder if I am meant to be with someone else but, I’m glad we met – I’ll never be the same.
  4. Oh Istanbul, when you treat me well it is like heaven on earth, but when I start dissing you behind your back, you retaliate and treat me mean.
  5. Oh Istanbul, I know when we part ways, my heart will be broken and I’ll have urges to run back your arms, because I will crave your spontaneity and easy going nature.

Recently, Istanbul and I have had a tough relationship.  Now the sun is out and the days are longer I am appreciating Istanbul more. We have fallen in love again and our future is bright.

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.

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.

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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.

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Memories of Gallipoli. Present photos by yours truly.

Anzac Cove

ANZAC Cove 1915, and now.

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 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.

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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.

A lesson in spontaneity

Spontaneous

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.

Eat Pray Love

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!