Every place is a goldmine. You have only to give yourself time, sit in a teahouse watching the passers-by, stand in a corner of the market, go for a haircut. You pick up a thread – a word, a meeting, a friend of a friend of someone you have just met – and soon the most insipid, most insignificant place becomes a mirror of the world, a window on life, a theatre of humanity.
Istanbul, Turkey 15-18 December 2013
My trip to Asia starts here, from the city that straddles between two continents. I landed at Sabiha Gocken Airport on the asian side of town and I reached Taksim Square on the eurpoean side after a one hour and half bus ride. Here I accepted a taxi ride to Beşiktaş for 20 Turkish Liras without realising that I should have asked the driver to use a taxi-meter. I’ve probably paied an extra ten liras but I learned my lesson and got to destination safe. I felt lost and overwhelmed for the first time in ages, finally I am a stranger in a misterious town. My only contact here lives at the second floor of Birlik Apartments. Merve is a freelance videographer and cat lover and Couchsurfing member. My stay at her place was ok, nothing special. I was tired and she was busy working from home with a collegue, this left me with some time to contact some people in Malaysia and read my guidebook.
The following morning I thank her for the hospitality and stroll around town without a map, I walk from Taksim towards the old part of the city and casually end up in a street full of music shops. Here I spent a few hours looking around and talking to shopkeepers about the influences of Turkish music and its instruments such as the Bağlama. This 3 double strings instrument is played with a very soft pick whose harmony and musical scale differ from the western scale. Ayhan Baructu gives me a quick demonstration and let me play around with it. Very good customer service although he didn’t speak any english. The price of a Bağlama varies from 120 to 500 Turkish Liras.
Around 5PM I make my way to the Istanbul Teknik University to meet Professor Orhan Kural. He is an incredibly busy and respected person in Turkey. Head of the mining engineering department, travel books writer (he published 14 books to date and travelled 230 countries), environmentalist, actor on Turskish Tv and honorary citizen of Benin Republic. I got in touch with him through couchsurfing and turned out to be a very interesting host. He didn’t spend any time with me as he was busy with conferences and diplomatic work but on my last night in his house he knocked on my door while I was still awake and asked me if I wanted a drink:
“No thanks I have some water” and he replied “Want some whisky?”.
I jumped out of bed and spent a few hours in company of one of the most interesting persons I’ve ever met. He showed me a series of pictures on his tablet in company of prestigious people varying from Maria Tesesa of Calcutta, the Turkish President, football players, tv stars and school kids in various African countries. In the meanwhile I was helping him placing some postcards about ecosystem awarness in a book I will never get the chance to read (unfortunately he does not publish any of his material in english). After few sips of whisky on the rock I asked if I could pick the photo album dated 1991 (the year I was born) and while scrolling through photos of Syria, Iran and Greece I tried to understand more about his life and the ‘message’ of his books.
What he is trying to convey to his readers and to the listeners of his conferences is that the world is in danger, that we need to stop consuming, exploiting natural resources and damaging the environment. It was clear that we shared strong ideals of sustainibility and alternative economy therefore I told him that I have a dream of living a sustainable life once I reach retirement age… in the countryside with solar panel, permaculture gardens and natural water supply. A life that will not pollute the earth and that would leave as little traces as possible.”You are young, you have the right to dream” he said “but you probably won’t be here in 40 years time. Nobody will” An apocalyptic view you might think but he argued that if the world carries on in this direction there will be no chance for nature to make its course and for humans to survive.
How can the ‘status quo’ be changed? Can consumers stop consuming? Can we create an economy that treats people as human beings rather than consumers? Why are we continuosly being tricked into buying things that we don’t need? Why does western culture equal consumer culture? Are we so lame to deprive the future generations of a healthy planet because of our money-making obsession?
I walked for 30- 40 minutes around the old town market, ate a delicious fish sandwich by the Bosphorous and visited the Sultanameht Mosque, also known as Blue Mosque. If you happen to be there after lunch, don’t miss the free presentation on the history of the mosque and Islamic culture everyday at 2.30pm at Sultanahmet Conference Hall. It is held in english by a very knowledgeable woman called Merve Koka who is an expert in Qur’anic studies; it is easy to follow and rich of interesting information that will make your visit to the mosque, or to any islamic country, unique. (For more info email: email@example.com).
View on Hagia Sophia
Sultanahmet Mosque Interior
It’s Wednesday morning and I make my way to Ataturk Airport. Next Stop Kuala Lumpur.
Goodbye Istanbul. Great energy, strong charisma, various nightlife choice and stunning views.