A Travellerspoint blog


sunny 22 °C

True or false: if you worked at a kebab shop full-time and were over the age of 25 you would not use that as a pick-up line, or really want to share that information with anyone.

For myself and most of my friends that answer is a resounding TRUE, however in Turkey the answer is opposite, and it is so refreshing! After chats with new Turkish friends on my recent trip down the coast I noticed a theme: in the career department anything goes, and everyone is happy! The loaded question of 'what do you do' that is so common in Canada seems silly to ask here because the answer is what it is - all the implications of a chosen career are gone. You see, unemployment is a real concern in Turkey so that Turks are proud to have a job, period. For someone like me who grew up in a wealthy society, saturated with status and image associated with careers, I found it liberating. The question of what to do with my life has always brought me some angst as the possibilities seem endless and the choice that much harder, but in a Turkish context the pressure is off - having any job is enough. I guess you could say the Turks I spoke with do not have the luxury of my current dilemma.

The best advice on this subject comes from the wisest friend of mine and my Mem's, John, who suggested that following passion will lead to a happy career. He and the Turks know this well, but somehow a lot of us have listened to society or our bank accounts, seeking jobs with status or a few extra zero's. I certainly feel restrained by these considerations, not to mention the slight problem that I feel passionately about something new on a weekly basis. A typical month's worth of inner monologue goes like this: I could TOTALLY go to France and learn French for the summer! Or, for that matter, Spanish in Ecuador! Actually, better to have a trade than a language - think I'll take a mechanics course when I'm home. Or architecture. I really like teaching too, maybe a TESOL course would open some doors? This is my life.

Grad school has succeeded in keeping these demons at bay for the most part, but as my masters inches closer to completion I can feel the dreaded shadow of responsibility looming over my shoulder. Debt is mounting but for now it is justified, I just have to keep moving and stay engaged with trips and friends so I can ignore that big jerk waiting to tap me on the back and hand me the bill. It's going to happen anyway, may as well enjoy it, right? As soon as my last paper is handed in, though, I fear I will be enveloped in a grown-up shit storm of responsibilities. The ironic sucker punch of all this is that even though I will be a master of international affairs I am no closer to choosing a career. So, with a week stretched out before me, a friend by my side, and The Alchemist stolen from a hostel's bookshelf, I put on a Turkish hat and imagined doing anything and everything that would make me happy. Freed from mental vices I gave to pondering my future in earnest. And it worked!

Visions of becoming a tour guide in Vancouver sparkled in my imagination, but as the magic combination of sun, salt and sand worked in concert with the inspiration in my book it became vibrantly clear: I need to write! Ever since I was little I have been writing; it is the one thing that allows me to lose myself. (I have felt so unsure of this as a career-path that I was even thinking of going to a psychic to have her ask some spirits if this is for me, with my own living Grama encouraging me to do so. What makes advise from beyond the grave more important, I cannot tell you!) In the past I have always dismissed it as a career due to how little money is in it and how difficult it is to 'make it' as a writer. Well no more! Upon my return to Vancouver - and where ever else my whims may take me - I will be writing and trying to get paid for it. (And if anyone out there knows of actual writing jobs I would love to hear about them!)

With this in mind, I will be off to Syria bright and early tomorrow morning for a week of reunion-fun with friends from my program. I am already hungry for more experiences to fill my chapters. Stay tuned!

Posted by LeiCran 14:39 Archived in Turkey Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

making friends > remembering guidebook

sunny 23 °C

At long last I would be able to stretch my traveling wings. Feather was coming to visit for two weeks and I had offered to research and plan the whole trip as a treat to her and a test to myself. I am not really the worst traveller ever, just very easy going. Right? WRONG.

A few weeks back we decided to spend a week in Cyprus. I poured my heart and soul into researching and booking cheap travel. Typically, spontaneity overcame my attempt at being organized and we canceled that trip, opting for a week down the coast instead. No problem - we could research on the way! How fun, we would consult the Lonely Planet as needed and play it by ear.

The trip started in much the same way most days of my life start: late. Amazingly we managed to shower, pack, and catch the bus in an hour flat! Yay for us and being speedy! Like small dogs about to go for a walk we were giddy and confident waiting for the E10 bus to close its doors and head to the airport. That moment was when the lightbulb turned on and my stomach sank - the Lonely Planet was exactly where I had left it: in the middle of my bomb-site of a bedroom. Dammit!

Never fear, for as usual hilarity ensued. Fast forward to the airport where I am sitting behind the ticket counter at Turkish Airlines avec credit card printing off 44 pages of downloaded LP insights - disaster averted! (Thanks Bül!)

The flight to İzmir changed the course of our trip, and maybe even our lives. We sat beside a lovely young Turkish man named Kerim who works for Fiat in Italy and passionately made us a water-tight itinerary for the week. Best of all, he told me the Turkish word for Feather: Serce (pronounced Ser-jey). He took us to the İzmir harbour and pointed out where the fires had destroyed most of the city. Despite the warm sun and peaceful chatter along the waterfront I had goosebumps thinking of the horrors of Smyrna in 1923. Fresh green salted almonds and a sandwich with a local İzmir cheese care of Kerim helped bring me back to the present, and soon Serce and I were on our way to Alıçantı on the Çeşme peninsula as suggested by the first of our many traveling friends.

Alıçantı was not in the LP chapter I had printed in the airport so we had no idea where to stay or eat. Instead, we decided to make friends to find our way. Two nice men who worked at Sailors Cafe in the main square gave us directions to a good hotel, another nice young man helped us find it (it was about 50 metres away but somehow we got lost), then the owner of the hotel suggested a place to eat. It takes a village! The night ended with us taking jumping pictures and gut-laughing with every single friend we had made, and to top it off the owner of the hotel paid for our dinner and drinks even though he did not order a single thing! Let's see a guidebook suggest THAT itinerary.

The following morning we consulted Kerim's list and made our way to Selçuk for a day exploring the ancient town of Ephesus. We naively chose a hotel from the book but of course were convinced to stay in a different (cheaper) one once we arrived by a nice man named Ramazan who introduced us to his friend (and hotel-owner) Savaş, both of whom ended up driving us 3km to Ephasus on their TRACTOR. Yes your math skills are sharp - there were 4 of us perched precariously on a bright red tractor driving past buses and awestruck (horrified?) locals. Every time we hit a bump the wheels aka our seats would throw us in the air like ragdolls. Thankfully I was sitting beside Ramazan so had him to hold onto but little Feath was bouncing around like a bobble-head on speed. Screaming, cry-laughing, and holding on for dear life we passed about 6 tour buses full of jealous foreigners. Suckas! Funnest ride of our collective LIVES, especially since we both happen to be partial to tractors / lawn mowers. Ephasus was neat and the house of the Virgin Mary was very cool, but the tractor ride through the back roads of Selçuk was definitely the highlight of the day.

That evening I took Serce into town to teach her backgammon over beers (at a bar that just happened to be recommended by Lonely Planet). The waiter swooned hard and tried to court her by helping her beat me, but thankfully my little red one hates games and was not won over. Ramazan found us there getting quietly wasted and offered to take us to a special place for dinner. Off we went to the Grotto of the Seven Sleepers for a tour at dusk followed by local gözleme at a restaurant nearby. Creepiest tour ever as we wandered through the ancient tombs in fading gray light. Dinner was amazing as the food was delicious, Savaş showed up, and Serce continued to get more wasted. She had Single Ladies blaring from my iPhone speakers in the corner of the half-deserted restaurant seat-dancing like it was normal, much to the chagrin of the other few tables trying to enjoy their meals. One kilo of baklava and a few rakı later we found ourselves sitting on the ancient walls of Saint John's church with our new friends getting drunk off the smell of lilacs at night and Efes. We could not have planned a better day with all the research in the world.

Today we went back to the Church of Saint John after a quick breakfast in the Selçuk market. There we learned the fine art of bartering with strawberries and managed to sample just about everything we wanted with juicy red currency. International trade has never been more delicious. (Historical note: The Church of Saint John is the site of John's tomb and the place where he wrote his gospel and many letters) This being Easter weekend we are preoccupied with Jesus' death, just as John was in this exact place two-thousand years ago. I love this part of the world for the personal connection you feel with history!

This afternoon we headed to Şernce, another extremely cute town Karim suggested, for fruity wine and an afternoon sitting in a beautiful courtyard overlooking the hills of Turkey. Favorite wines were Nar (pomegranate) and Blackmullberry. If my backpack, Marge, weren't already ridiculously full I would be asleep with a smile stained red by now.

So, we are halfway through our week on the road, having a great time with very little help from the pile of paper aka poorman's guidebook in my purse. At this time I would like to take the opportunity to tell Lonely Planet to take a hike. Forgetting the book was the best thing that ever happened to us!

Posted by LeiCran 10:19 Archived in Turkey Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

the bipolar metropolis

sunny 12 °C

Fact: Humans love to define things. Relationships, jobs, countries, movies, personalities - we categorize everything and it makes us happy. That is why Istanbul is such an anomaly: it is both developed and impoverished, rich and poor, liberal and conservative. These subtleties can be boiled down to one singular contradiction: this metropolis is both European and Asian, and it changes every day. For example, today was a particularly Asian day, the result of which is the upside-down tulip on my head. But I will get there.

Since I arrived here at the end of January the part of my brain that defines things has been short-circuiting trying to figure this city out. I would spend a day wandering the cobblestones of Tunel on the European side and feel certain that the city is European. Small cafes, expensive bars full of beautiful people, high fashion, folks speaking European languages, boutiques of every single expensive designer I can think of (which actually does not say a lot as I don't know many!), Burger King, Starbucks, etc etc etc - everywhere you look the charm and hustle and bustle of Europe is visible. Those are good days, the days when you are convinced that people are truly good and the glass is half full. I love going to the European side for the rush of 'this is SO AWESOME' that hits unexpectedly. Common triggers include the fishermen on the Galata Bridge, Istiklal by night, and stumbling upon the Galata Tower while meandering through the winding streets in Beyoglu.

Then there are Asian days, marked by language-based misunderstandings and otherwise known as 'school days.' I spend an hour (each way) on a crowded city bus heading to and from the easternmost edge of the Anatolian side of Istanbul where my university is located. Every day the bus is packed with people, some of whom have yet to learn the merits of personal hygiene, and grinds through honking exhausting swerving budging nerve-racking traffic. At first I loved it because the chaos and sweet smell of diesel exhaust reminded me of my trip to southeast Asia, but I'm over that now. Now I just fight the feeling that I'm choking to death in a big, stinky sardine can. School days are spent at Yeditepe trying to navigate campus and the cafeteria with nothing but Turkish spoken or written anywhere. Ironically its reputation is that of one of the best English universities in Istanbul. I think not! Anywho, these days are slightly more trying than days on the European side, and the chaos of the bus and disorganization of school often has my glass half-empty by the time I return home.

Living in Moda, though, provides a lovely mixture of Asia and Europe. My neighbourhood is quiet and residential with the sea one short block away, including a running track along the Sea of Marmara with views of beautiful keetans and the Princes Islands. Heaven! The Kadikoy street market is a 5 minute walk away and full of fresh veggies, fish, olives, cheese, flowers, soap, coffee, dried fruit - it's like Granville Island on speed. Then the Rexx movie theatre, Mango outlet, and Bar Street are just a few minutes past. People speak enough English for my purposes and don't try to rip me off as earnestly as they do on the European side, but if that's where my mood takes me the ferries are also less than 10 minutes away. I love my little EurAsian village!

Today though, my village was hilariously Asian. I had to pick up my student buss pass (which loyal readers will recall was first attempted on my birthday aka my worstday) and get my hair cut. Once I successfully got to the bus pass building during working hours all I had to do was drop off a form and 5 Lira then wait for my card to be made, total time: 8 minutes. Somehow in this time I managed to strike up a conversation with the family beside me who spoke no English but thought I was hilarious. Once their laughter subsided into smiley blinks the man on my other side took me under his non-English wing so I would not mess up the complicated process of sitting and waiting. He thoroughly explained that I had to sit, which was impressive as it was all communicated with gestures and finger-pointing. I think I freaked him out though because I got up to offer my seat to an older man - that was not in my instructions! Clearly I was a live wire in need of assistance, so he got up and waited with me then walked me all the way back to Kadikoy. I must appear really incompetent in this country.

On the walk we literally had nothing to talk about as neither of us spoke each others language, which of course made it hilarious. I have no idea what the heck he was talking about, but he chatted and gesticulated away, laughing and sometimes pointing at me then laughing some more. He could have been saying anything. I thought for a while he was telling me about how beautiful his wife was (relief! he's not a creep!) but then he said 'donar kebab.' What rotating meat has to do with his wife, I have no idea, but I went with it. The whole experience was so bizarre and funny that I accepted his invitation to go for cay. We sat there for about 15 minutes. How absurd! We were out for tea and couldn't communicate at all! Finally we figured out a fun game of pointing at arbitrary things and saying they were nice. Flowers - guzel. Tea - guzel. Mosque - guzel. Weather (pointing up) - cok guzel. Alas all random things come to an end and we parted ways soon after. I bid him adieu and escaped into the crowds after he asked for my phone number as I don't think his donar kebab would have approved!

On my wander back home I stopped in a bakery to check out the goods. Quickly recognizing my blank stare, an English-speaking baker was summoned and easily sold me on a traditional Turkish dessert. He described it as similar to a cake, but smaller and harder. It was chocolate and covered with slivered pistachios. I eagerly asked for one, justified it as a cultural experience, and soon found myself eating a chocolate pistachio cookie. Dammit! Totally fell for it.

Last on my to-do list was my hair. I was in dire need of both a cut and colour, but terrified of the dye job. You would be too if you could see the number of dye-disasters walking the streets. From the back girls look like pumpkins a few weeks after Halloween: brassy, dark orange, and frightening. I will pay any amount to avoid looking like an accidental jack-o-lantern so decided to go to an expensive Western kuafor this weekend. Today my task was just a cut, so I chose the salon at the end of my block. Following the theme of the day, no one working in the shop spoke a word of English so I showed them what I wanted with magazines and standard miming of the words 'little' and 'cut.' I think the cut itself is good, but the blowdry is straight out of That 70s Show! Is the curl-out coming back or did they play a joke on me? Kudos if they did, I can't stop laughing! I have an upside down tulip on my head!


What better timing to meet Vero and her friends tonight. I really hope my recent flashee is there because I will undoubtedly impress them all as a true ambassador to my hood, complete with bizarre Asian hairstyle.

Posted by LeiCran 08:09 Archived in Turkey Tagged living_abroad Comments (3)

Hot to Trot. (or not)

sunny 15 °C

Living abroad and traveling is about reinventing yourself. You can try on the best parts of people you meet and blend them with elements of your own personality to create a different persona on a daily basis, if you so wish.

On Saturday night as I went to meet Vero and her LSE friends in Sultanahmet I was using my own proclivity for drinking and fun and channeling the elegance and sophistication of career-woman who lives in Istanbul to create my persona. I had all the required elements of a damn cool chick.

Confidence: check.
Tickets to a concert in Taksim: check.
Favorite caramel leather boots: check.
Faded black denim jeans: check.
Recently purchased floral-print tank top: check.
And most importantly, black leather jacket circa 80's MJ: check.

Hair down, face on, drink and iPhone in hand - I was ready to take this city's dance floors by storm.

En route to the ferries I was feeling like hot shit in leather. That is, until my homicidal boots with zero tread threw me down a small flight of marble stairs. Down I went, almost recovering on each step in a slow motion tumble that must have been uncomfortable to watch. The length of the ordeal was such that I had time to think to myself: "the taller they are, the more awkwardly they fall." Tru Dat, inner voice. I landed on my knees, my drink fizzed everywhere, but my precious iPhone was unscathed, praise Allah. A Turkish lady saw and said something which I assumed was 'are you ok' so in my best 'that was not embarrassing at all' tone of voice I explained that I was fine. Realistically she was calling me a fool for texting/drinking/strutting when I should have been focusing on walking. The resulting hole in my jeans was lass painful than the humility of realizing I will never ever be able to fake sophistication at any time ever, hard as I try.

The rest of the way to meet Vero I held fast to the fact that no one had seen me fall down so I could still try to fake sophisticated. For all they knew I had bought those jeans with a hole in the knee. The spell of the leather jacket was not yet broken - I could still trick people into thinking I was cool!

Once I arrived at the hostel I tucked into the loo for a quick pee before making my grand entrance, only to have a guy open the toilet door at probably the most revealing moment possible. A very cute guy. A very cute guy whose eyes popped out of his head before he slammed the door and laughed hysterically for a few moments and all went silent on the other side.

Oh yeah, you're supposed to lock these contraptions called doors. What the hell is WRONG with me?

No problem, I could still be sophisticated. I added a strong sense of denial to my checklist and I was all set. That cute guy was most likely leaving the hostel soon anyway and would never cross my path. Well no, of course that's not what happened. It is me after all, and the universe seemed out to prove that acting sophisticated was a hilarious exercise in futility. Mere seconds after an exciting reunion with Vero and her friends she introduced me to my accidental flashee, who happens to be even cuter when you have more than 1 second to see his face, French, and doing a thesis at LSE on the economic development of gastronomy in Lyon. A food-related thesis! Can you spell Call Me? Too bad he was a puppet in the universe's elaborate plot that night or maybe I would have had a crush instead of wanting to assume the fetal position on Istiklal every time he spoke to me.

In the dolmus on the way back home all I could think of was taking off my suicide boots, transforming back into my unsophisticated self, and getting into bed with Taco, my childhood teddy bear/travel companion. You see, the beauty of traveling and reinventing is this: in the same way that coming home is often the best part of going on a trip, there is nothing more satisfying than stepping back into your own, well-tread shoes at the end of a long night.

Posted by LeiCran 02:45 Archived in Turkey Tagged tips_and_tricks Comments (1)


I'll show YOU conservative.

sunny 10 °C

Turkey's population is 99.8% Muslim. This fact has many implications for daily life, the worst of which is the lack of bacon or pork products of any kind (although sometimes the meat tastes similar, only to be described simply as 'meat.' Suspicious). Culinary misfortune aside, another part of life that has been affected since moving here is dating.

Keep in mind this writer moved to Turkey from Ottawa, otherwise known as Nomenawa, so it is not as if her dating status has plummeted from Hero to Zero by any means. This is not to say she has had no opportunities - to be clear, many Turkish men have expressed interest through comments on the street (the best was, 'I wish I was your horse!'), creepy stalker messages on facebook, and once using a discarded Visa receipt to find my name. Wonder why I didn't call? Creeep!

You would think that after living in a city with little to no attention from the male species and moving to a city where men practically worship me I would become a dating machine, like an Energizer bunny that runs on complements and dinners instead of batteries. I wish! Instead, quite counterintuitively, I have retreated once again from the dating world (by choice this time!) and at best have become a conservative dater.

You are probably laughing and picturing this ironically, a gal who ONLY kisses on the first date. Think again dear reader! For it is so much worse than that. Last weekend I went to see a movie with a nice Turkish guy I had been out with a few times, and some other friends. We snuck bottles of wine into the theatre and drank our way into our own colourful Wonderland. The combination of Johnny Depp in makeup and drinking in public was exhilarating, and in my excitement I allowed the Turkish fellow to advance to the hand-holding stage. Big mistake, it was way too soon for such a bold move.

The thing is, over here there are some common misconceptions about both foreign women and blond women. I am both, cause for celebration in Canada but for a headscarf in Turkey.

To Turkish men blond hair is the mark of an Eastern European woman freshly liberated from oppression and poverty of the Soviet Union and desperate for a better life. Large numbers of these women came to Turkey after the end of the Cold War and soon found that their slim physique and blond hair made them exceptionally desired by Turkish men. It was common for these beautiful, blond, Russian women to enter the sex trade, and thus the stereotype was born.

Clearly though I am not Russian nor a natural blond so that outdated belief is not preventing me from dating. The real reason I become more like a nun as each day passes is because some Turkish men have picked up on a key characteristic of some western women and developed disturbing dating habits as a result.

You see, compared to conservative Muslim women, liberal western gals are seen as morally loose. We are more inclined to sleep with a man we have no intention of marrying, sometimes even after a very brief courtship (if you can call a tall raki a courtship). This belief is so prevalent that social norms have developed that are actually quite horrifying. A Turkish man will date a western woman and sleep with her for practice so that once he marries a good conservative Muslim woman, who has of course been saving herself for marriage, he will be able to better please her in the bedroom. It's horrible - and it's true! I have heard many stories of this happening and was even warned by my Turkish roommate that men think this way about foreign women: 'easy sex.' I heard one story of a German girl who dated a Turkish guy for two years only to hear through a friend that he had recently been married to an unfortunate, oblivious Turkish girl. His parents had met both women and were in full support of his two relationships: one for marriage, and one to practice for marriage.

I suppose the discrepancy between these two groups of women is much the same as it is in Canada: there are the girls who guys try to take home from the bar, then there are the girls who guys try to take home to their parents. In Turkey it is disturbing that the dividing line is based on nationality rather than neckline, and appalling that parts of society condone infidelity and dishonesty as practice for a conservative partnership.

So back to holding hands. The thing is, if anyone tells me to do anything my first instinct is to do the opposite, regardless of how silly it is. It is completely immature but it seems I am hardwired to try to be the opposite of how people expect. This trend began early. Before my age was in the double digits I had shown everyone that I would not conform by inventing bizarre hairstyles, wearing pajamas to school, and performing the role of Prince Charming when my grade 2 class performed Sleeping Beauty. (Side note: technically my first kiss was with Laura Nairn when we were 8, for the sole reason that no one thought a girl should try out for the part of the prince. We weren't told to actually kiss but someone told me it wasn't necessary so of course I deemed it so).

Anyway. You can imagine my reaction to the notion that all western girls are easy but make good practice for the relationships that count. It is almost enough to make me demand a proposal of marriage before I allow any further hand-holding. At the very least all I can think of are ways to show him how un-easy I can be. Case in point, holding hands after hanging out a few times was WAY too soon.

I predict my dating experiences in Turkey will remain similar to those in a nunnery, but I am ok with that. After all, how can a relationship blossom when you constantly wonder whether he sees you as his ball and chain or batting cage? I see myself as more of an antique convertible anyway: flashy, spontaneous, full of expensive fuel, and speeding away from this bizarre dating scene, of course going the wrong way down a one-way street.

Posted by LeiCran 15:33 Archived in Turkey Tagged living_abroad Comments (4)

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