September 22, 2016
I wanted to write about a few things to wrap up this part of my Istanbul trip. This is also a great place for me to post some pictures that have no rhyme nor reason.
Turkey is changing, for good or bad is not my place to say. I had an opportunity to talk to a few people about Erdoğan’s “New Turkey”. One gentleman that spoke no English uttered “crazy” I laughed and said yes, that emboldened him, and he finished the conversation with “hate”.
A gentleman in his mid 20s told me, while he did not want to sound prejudiced, he was tired of seeing women draped in black with their faces covered. He was especially angry that his favorite bar in the airport, where he says goodbye to his overseas girlfriend, had been closed. He was sure it was because Erdoğan is trying to make Turkey a total Muslim country. I could not disagree, it is what I am seeing also.
If you are unaware of Turkish history I suggest you read about the founder of the Republic of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Following WWI Atatürk embarked upon a program of political, economic, and cultural reforms, seeking to transform the former Ottoman Empire into a modern and secular nation-state. Under his leadership, many good things occurred, especially the fact that women were given equal civil and political rights. In 1924 Turkey outlawed the Mogul symbol, the Fez, veiling of women was discouraged, and western clothing for men and women were encouraged.
The headscarf was never officially banned by Atatürk, but with a constitutional principle of official secularism, the Turkish government has traditionally banned women who wear headscarves from working in the public sector. The ban applies to teachers, lawyers, parliamentarians and others working on state premises.
In 2007 Prime Minister Erdoğan campaigned with a promise of lifting the longstanding ban on headscarves in public institutions. This was not a very popular concept.
In June 2008, after much back and forth in parliament, Turkey’s Constitutional Court ruled that removing the ban was against the founding principles of the constitution. The highest court’s decision to uphold the headscarf ban cannot be appealed. Erdogan, however, has managed to circumvent the Constitutional Court by throwing everyone out and appointing his own people. The head scarf is not accepted in government offices and in the military. It will be interesting to see when it becomes mandatory, and how long until that is the only covering women will be wearing.
I feel fortunate to be here at this time. The Turkish people are some of the most accommodating, and kind people. Their economy is suffering and it is not their fault. Tourism has dropped off remarkably. So many places I have visited I was told that, had I come last year I would be in a crowd of thousands, when I visited Troy, I was the only person in the entire park.
I stayed at the Sirkeci Mansion at Taya Hatun Sokak #5. The hotel is absolutely perfectly located, the rooms are just divine and the staff could not have been nicer or more accommodating, I cannot recommend them enough.
My dear friend Bing suggested I lunch at Nar Lokanta on the roof of the Armaggan building, a very, very chic store. I had intended to, but as is common in Istanbul, I got lost. I asked for directions and I got even more lost. Sadly I had a plane to catch. I did, however, make it in time to have the dessert that Bing had recommended, or maybe not, as he couldn’t remember the name. What I did have was Safranlı zerde, that with a cup of Turkish coffee, was absolutely worth the effort to find the place, next time I will leave enough time to do a full meal.
Since I did not get to eat lunch I asked if my driver would stop at the Galata bridge so I could run under the bridge and get a fish sandwiches. If you do not know what I am talking about, on the European side, under the bridge are restaurants, at the end are sidewalk stands selling nothing but grilled fish on a white bread roll with shredded cabbage. There is nothing else on the sandwich and it is such an Istanbul experience I would never leave without having had one. Thanks to my very accommodating driver, and I mean that, what he did was completely illegal, i.e. stopping on the bridge while I ran, I scored my sandwich.
This is my second trip to Istanbul so I had the luxury of time, and therefore the chance to get farther than the Sultanahmet and Beyoğlu. This is when I realized how huge Istanbul is. It is a town of 14 million people, and with that it has traffic and humanity everywhere.
Istanbul has one of the finest, most inexpensive and most understandable transit systems in the world, but you still need to take a bus, driver or cab from the airports and this is where you get to see the traffic situation first hand.
It takes one hour to go from the Sultanahmet to the domestic airport, about the same time it takes to get to the International airport. I realized if I ever wanted to rent a car, I would find someplace outside of the town to do so, as once you leave the city the country is wide-open spaces.
One last comment, after the bombings and the “coup” many people were concerned about my being here. I feel as safe as ever. I walked everywhere as a single woman with a camera around my neck and never felt threatened. Yes the storeowners will follow you for blocks trying to get your business, but that is a completely different type of “hassle”.
It has been raining, but fortunately never enough to be a bother, the temperatures have been hovering in the mid to high 70s, perfect weather.