Tag Archives: Istanbul

Tourist Trap in Istanbul

I do not feel very comfortable about writing this article, but I want to make public this true story, which was experienced by a Chinese friend of mine in Istanbul recently.

To start with, Istanbul is a wonderful city with many attractions, and visiting only once is not really enough to understand the vibe and culture. In addition, generally speaking Turkish people are very hospitable with a kind attitude towards tourists. Unfortunately, my friend experienced something very different, which does not represent Istanbul and Turkish people.

Since there was a whole week’s holiday in China a couple of week ago, my friend took the opportunity to fly to Moscow and then to Istanbul to spend a few days there. Like any ordinary tourist, he was visiting the usual Istanbul tourist attractions, such as Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque in the Sultanahmet area.

He was travelling alone; since he is Asian, it was not easy to guess that he was a tourist, and he was approached by a stranger initially asking for a lighter. Since he is not a smoker, he politely told him that he did not have one, and then the conversation started. According to the local guy who approached my friend, this area is very touristic, and he offered to give him a lift and show him local places, which unfortunately my friend accepted and the story begins here.

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He was taken to some places, although he does not know exactly where they were, and in the end they sat down in a restaurant and ate dinner together. Given that the local guy had spent the last hour or so taking him to some places, my friend offered to pay for the dinner and did so.

Then, all of a sudden, the local guy offered to take my friend for a night out, and he accepted the offer. They initially went to his hotel, where he changed his outfit, and then he took him to a kind of striptease club, of which he does not know the name or the district (although it is possibly in Sisli).

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After spending an hour drinking and chatting with some half-naked women, they asked for the bill, which turned out to be 12,000 Turkish lira: in other words around USD 4,000. Having travelled and lived in many countries, my Chinese friend was amazed and asked the local guy how this could be possible; he was told that this is quite a normal bill for a night out in Istanbul (in 1 hour).

Apparently a security officer then escorted the local guy outside to an ATM to withdraw money and he came back with 6,000 Turkish lire, so he paid his half. Then my friend was escorted to the ATM, and he withdrew 6,000 Turkish lire and closed the bill.

I was disgusted by this experience, and, with his permission, I decided to publish his stories with his pictures from that specific night out. This guy even continued to SMS my friend even after he had landed in Shanghai.

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As mentioned at the beginning, Istanbul is a great city for tourists, and Turkish people are quite hospitable to tourists, since it is part of the Turkish culture to make sure that foreigners feel at home when they visit their city. Unfortunately, this experience is a little odd.

I hope it will not be replicated with somebody else and that nobody will suffer from it.

Best wishes from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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Handy Guide For Istanbul

After publishing “Handy Guide for Singapore” two weeks ago, I have been asked by many followers to publish an article on my native land, Istanbul.

Thanks to my wife, Dilek Haskan, we managed to bring out our wealth of experience in Istanbul.

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SIGHTSEEING/NEIGHBOURHOODS

Historical peninsula: This neighbourhood should be your first stop in Istanbul. Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, The Basilica Cistern and Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts are the must-see sites.

For shopping and the ultimate eye indulgence, sample various spices from around the world in Spice Market and visit Grand Bazaar for a shopping experience unique to Turkey.

  • Grand Bazaar/Historical Peninsula Shopping:

Iznik Art and Iznik Works for Iznik pottery and tiles

Armaggan for jewellery, objects d’art and homeware. They also have a boutique hotel located in a ‘yali’ on Bosphorus.

Dhoku for great carpets – they even sell to my wife’s favourite stores Anthropologie and ABC Home in the US.

Taksim: Historical street with lots of cafes and restaurants. Visit Galata Tower here. You should also visit Serdar-i Ekrem Street for local designer stores.

Besiktas/Ortakoy/Bebek: You can take a boat from Besiktas and have a tour on Bosphorus, enjoy great views of both European and Anatolian side.

While you’re here, stock Turkish delights at Lokum Istanbul.

Nisantasi: Hip district for shopping, in-demand restaurants and cafes

EATING OUT

Traditional restaurants:

  • Mikla in Taksim district for modern Ottoman style cuisine
  • Hamdi in historical peninsula for Turkish meat dishes; you should try pistachio kebab here
  • Hunkar in Nisantasi
  • Pandeli Restaurant in Spice Market is dated back to 1901 and visited by historical figures and American actors such as Audrey Hepburn and Robert De Niro
  • Karakoy Lokantasi for traditional Ottoman cuisine; try Hunkar Begendi here
  • Ciya Sofrasi if you visit Anatolian side

Modern restaurants:

Turkey doesn’t have Michelin star restaurants yet but we definitely have some restaurants that deserves it such as Nicole and Alancha.

  • Nicole in Taksim
  • Alancha in Nisantasi
  • Colonie and Gaspar in Karakoy with a bar and restaurant
  • Munferit in Taksim (closed on Sundays)
  • Changa in Taksim; this is a very well decorated restaurant (Wallpaper Design Award in 2007) with good food
  • Sunset in Ulus; great food and an accompanying great view
  • While you’re here, you can stop by Ulus 29 which is nearby to have drinks over views

Seafood/Fish restaurant:

You should try one of these while you are in Istanbul

  • Rumelihisari Iskele Restaurant: This is my favourite fish restaurant..
  • Kandilli Suna’nin Yeri: Humble fish restaurant in Uskudar on Anatolian side; you can take the boat from Besiktas and go to Uskudar in 5 mins
  • Kiyi: in Tarabya

Night life (these bars/clubs have restaurants too)

  • Reina on Bosphorus; one of the usual suspects. Not always the best crowd but spectacular view
  • Anjelique on Bosphorus; I like this one better than Reina
  • Nuteras in Taksim overseeing old town
  • Su Ada: If  you are in Istanbul in summer. It’s an artificial island in the middle of the sea with bars and restaurants and a pool.
  • 360 Istanbul in Taksim; 360 degree views of the city

SHOPPING

  • Galata neighbourhood in Taksim is the area that has many Turkish designer shops on Serdar-I Ekrem Street

While you’re here, visit Dogan Apartmani – a spectacular building of Italian architecture built in 1800s and Georges Hotel (a design boutique hotel) for drinks over views

Visit Asli Tunca’s luxury interior boutique which is located in the residence that is decorated with a modernized Ottoman style

  • Nisantasi

Beymen is a very popular high end department store

Haremlique for high quality bed and bath products

Yastik by Rifat Ozbek for hand woven pillows with Ikats and Suzani embroideries

Machka and Yargici are ladies’ favourite Turkish stores, you can find both in Nisantasi. You can have lunch in Delicatessen or Beymen Brasserie while you are here.

If you are into Turkish style decoration items, one store to visit is Pasabahce. There is another great store you should visit called HirefThis store is not in Nisantasi but in a shopping mall called Istinye Park.

Midnight Express is another favourite boutique of my wife carrying a good selection of Turkish and foreign designers.

Fey: A vintage boutique highly coveted by my wife

Modern Museums: Both are on Bosphorus and have great exhibitions all year round.

  • Istanbul Modern
  • Sabanci Museum

WHERE TO STAY

If you want to be close to the old city and museums, you should stay at Sultanahmet and Hotel Amira is the best place to stay here.

They are currently number one on TripAdvisor and they treat their guests like family.

Alternatively, depending on your budget you may like to stay in Kempsinki Ciragan Palace. It used to be an Ottoman Palace and is situated on the Bosphorus.

All the best from Singapore,
Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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A Decade Away from Istanbul

The date of 15 September 2015 marks the completion of a decade away from Istanbul in my native land, Turkey.

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It is always good to look back and analyse your challenges, mistakes and successes to improve yourself.

I am still young but a completely different person from who I used to be.

What has been my experience in the last 10 years?

I would definitely rate my experience as 10 out of 10.

Here are the reasons why.

Once I was out of my comfort zone, I realized what a spoiled upbringing I had had.

Your parents want to give you everything and that’s not really good.

I was living in central London and I had some of my old friends from Turkey and new friends from my courses.

Initially, it was too much fun!

But then I realized that I had to wash my clothes, change my bed linen and even sometimes cook!

I truly wasn’t aware of all these tasks being done by somebody else all those years!

Lesson #1: The first few weeks in London taught me that I had good intellectual capacity, but I was not at all prepared for everyday life.

Even paying the bills on time and keeping track of what I spent was a totally new concept for me.

Once I started to get going with the basics, I was fine but I was not aware that life was about to get tough.

Without being immodest, I can say that my graduate course on international business economics was going very well. I was very confident that I would be one of the very few students who would get a distinction at the year’s end and I did!

In the meantime, I started liking the challenges and most importantly London! And I made the decision to stay there.

So I needed to find a proper job.

Istanbul was my playground and I could reach anybody through my network but London was something new. I did not know anybody except a few friends who were also students.

Lesson #2: I learned that I had to rely on myself to get things done. Nobody would give me a job here as I have no contacts in London.

So I started networking and applying !

This was a great challenge.

And I did it!

Now I had a job and I stayed in London.

New challenges lay ahead.

I enrolled on a graduate programme for new employees from all over the world: Brazil, Greece, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, the UK, Germany, Iran…

While I was a student, I chose whom to spend time with.  A new episode in my life was about to start…

Lesson #3: I understood how important it is to interact with everybody, not only with loved ones!

More importantly, I learned that I have to build relationships with those I don’t like as well!

Having been in London for some years, I had friends now from all over the globe.

Time was ticking by and I was exposed to many different cultures, which fostered my curiosity and confused me as well, sometimes.

Lesson #4: This encouraged me to travel to different countries to understand my friends’ cultures and I also read a lot about them.

I should know the history of people with whom I am dealing and more importantly I should understand their background and what influences their decisions.

And then I discovered that I don’t even know my own background properly. Unfortunately, history lessons in Turkish high schools are not wide-ranging.

I am still learning…

Lesson #5: As Richard Branson famously says, “The more you travel, the more you read and the more you read, the more you travel”. I am in a learning circle right now which I doubt I will ever want to leave.

A Danish gentleman, Peter Klein, was my first CEO and I remember what he told me during my first days of employment.

“University does not teach you much but it does teach one main thing and that is the ability to update yourself continuously”.

Maybe university did not do that but living abroad in the last decade definitely did !

To sum up, I had a really fantastic decade living outside my comfort zone. It became so addictive that I am not sure I want to step into my comfort zone again.

I encourage you all, especially new graduates, to get out of your comfort zone and work abroad.

Unfortunately, the world is not so rosy and the best way to learn is to get out of your comfort zone and mix with different types of people.

All the best from Singapore

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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