Thursday, May 2, 2013

Turkey 2013 - Istanbul Day 3 - The "Other" Tour

A statue in Arnavutkoy. The main part of the statue commemorated Ataturk but the other figures were interesting.

On Wednesday, I went on this thing called the "Other Tour" of Istanbul. Our guides: twentysomethings Fethi, a native Istanbulli, and Trevor, American ex-pat. Fethi's brother Bulent tagged along and handled logistics behind the scenes. The idea is that they take you behind the scenes in Istanbul to see how people live and work in the city; there's no visits to anything that might be considered a tourist must-see.  They say on their web site etc. not to take the tour just because it is highly regarded on Trip Advisor. Do it because you want to do these things and be challenged doing it. Well, I think we were all challenged, possibly differently for each of us, as you'll see some thoughts on that below.  One of the reasons I wanted to take it is that I knew it would be a good way to meet fellow travelers (not tourists; we were anointed "travelers" by our otherguides at the end of the day).  Besides myself there were travelers from Washington D.C., Chicago, Minnesota, Australia, and some other places.

Fishing boats on the Bosphorus.

They like to pretend that the itinerary is a big secret but the information they sent out and the reviews on Trip Advisor all basically agreed on what was going to be done today. (Which is fine. I am sure the first days of the Other Tour were less organized :-) We were on othertour #201.  After meeting our guides and the rest of the group we headed up the Bosphorus to Bebek and Arnavutkoy, both pretty well-off neighborhoods right on the waterfront.  Water sells real estate everywhere, apparently. We had coffee at a little neighborhood joint, and then walked through a waterfront Starbucks to admire the view from their third floor balcony (and to use their restrooms- the doors have punch code locks but the otherguides knew the codes... I wonder despite their disparagement of Starbucks do they kick back a little to the management to let us traipse through there without buying anything three mornings a week!)

Tulips in the square at the Kanlica ferry dock.

Next up was a private Bosphorous Cruise on a yacht type boat, complete with Turkish wines served. (Not my first experience with Turkish wines on this trip, all of which that I tried were actually pretty good.) This was a nice perk; the cruise was not extensive but saved me from having to do it separately another day.  We took the boat across to Kanlica on the Asian side where we stopped for a traditional honey yoghurt at a waterfront cafe.

Market in Esenler.
Street scene in Fener, Istanbul. 

Went to a couple of neighborhoods that were decidedly underprivileged, with government policy to keep it that way. Felt a little disrespectful to take photographs no matter how "artistic" they may be. Asked Fethi about that. He said that the presence of the Other Tour and its participants in these neighborhoods have actually raised awareness of the situation of the people and the government's policies, so it wasn't so disrespectful that we were there. I am still not convinced on that.

We walked through a local market in the Esenler neighborhood where our guides picked out some fruits and vegetables that would be used for lunch at Fethi's house. His mom and other family members cooked for us. Really yummy especially the zucchini fritters with yoghurt. Actually, I can't believe I am saying that zucchini fritters were the highlight of a meal for me :-)

Students at an elementary school in Esenler, Istanbul.

After lunch we went down the street to Fethi's childhood elementary school. At the school, it was hard to decide whether it was the kids on display or us on display. A little of both. Hard to say if our visits aren't disruptive to their day although we were only in the classroom about 15-20 minutes. Apparently 50 EUR of everyone's tour "ticket" is donated directly to the school, so for our tour of 15 that's 750 EUR. The classrooms are still decidedly undersupplied with things you might expect in American classrooms, like world maps, more computers, etc. Someone in our group asked if the kids had access to computers, and a show of hands showed that all but one or two of the 40-50 kids had a computer and the internet at home. Just not in the school. Which, in retrospect, may not be so bad. I didn't have computers in the classroom in 3rd Grade.

We stopped at a private high school in Fener/Balat that had 57 students - compared to the ~2000 at the other school. Fethi gave us a lecture about Turkey, and how it came to be. My takeaway is that the people of Turkey have a hard time identifying as Turks.  There's a disconnect between identifying as Turk (ethnic) and Turk (citizen of Turkey).  Unlike in America. Here, people have their ethnic background and can still identify as Americans... 

After the lecture we stopped at a cafe/bar sort of place that had gaming tables set up in the back where over a few beers we learned a game called Okey that was a cross between dominos and poker. I wanted to buy an Okey set to bring home-- and found them for sale at a stall in the Spice Bazaar, but went online first and found that in the United States the game is sold as "Rummikub" and was $14.99 for a plastic set. Could have gotten a nice wooden one in Istanbul but the thing would have weighed a ton.  After the gaming it was time for bathing.

This is not our group, I doubt anyone considered bringing a camera into the bathhouse, but I borrowed this picture from the Gedik Pasa Hamam web site, so you can get an idea of the inside of a Turkisk bathhouse. There's also a steam room and a cool down pool which you don't see here.
The Turkish Bath was interesting in the sense that here you have a group of 15 people, somewhat randomly selected but of like mind in many ways (or they would not be there), but essentially strangers even if we've been on the tour together for 10 hours so far. So I think there was a little bit of apprehension for the Turkish bathhouse. You don't need to be seen naked (by the bathers or the workers) but I think it was one of the more challenging things for the tour members. The women are separated from the men at the bathhouse but from what I heard, equally challenging for them! One woman on the group didn't want to do it but the otherdeal was you're here to be challenged, now get in there and get bathed!  In the end she did it and seemed ok with it.

Gedik Pasa Hamam:

As a side note, I saw on TripAdvisor a post from a guy asking for a "gay hamam". Not sure what he was looking for. In the baths, male attendants serve the male customers, and women attendants serve the women, separately... You don't get totally nude. Maybe he meant "gay friendly" in that it accepts gay couples? Well that doesn't matter either since you go in there and each person gets an attendant, again, separately. There's nothing you do with your partner or spouse, really. I guess the guy who asked really didn't know what Turkish bathhouses were all about. Neither did I, I guess.

Dinner was at a traditional "meyhane" restaurant in Beyoglu near Istiklal Caddesi. Live music and tapas-style serving of Turkish meze plates (cold and warm), desserts, and wine.  The musicians were playing Turkish songs and stuff like "If I Was A Rich Man". Weird. A good time was had by all although my only complaint is that our three otherguides sequestered themselves together at one end of the long table rather than inserting themselves in between the various tour participants. So although the conversation among us travelers was lively and interesting we didn't have the chance to talk to our guides during dinner.

I didn't get any good pictures at dinner so I will close with this one of the group learning to play Okey

No comments:

Post a Comment