Eyes on Istanbul’s Rerun Election Today

And may the real winner win. Live news in English at TRT News, although be aware that it is a state broadcaster run by the Turkish government.

Update from the Financial Times:

Mr Imamoglu (the opposition candidate) increased his lead in the city of 10.5m voters from less than 14,000 votes in the initial vote to more than 700,000. Those figures were based on almost 98 per cent of ballot boxes, Anadolu said.

385 more photos from all over Turkey here at EarthPhotos.com.

Travel by Recycling

A nice idea in Istanbul. While ghastly things take place across town, for people with normal lives

“The city is installing “reverse vending machines” at metro stations that allow passengers to add credit to their subway cards simply by inserting a plastic bottle or aluminum can into the machine.”

A 1.5-liter bottle will add 6 cents. Here’s the story.

Visit Istanbul Now

With inflation at 15.4% officially and expected to rise, Turkey is in a tough spot. President Erdogan is feuding with his NATO ally America and his currency is in free fall. In a more political post I’d suggest that having himself elected Super-Extra-Special Potentate means President Erdogan maybe should have been careful what he asked for.

But for visitors, Erdogan’s problems make it just about an ideal time to plan a trip to Istanbul, via the outstanding Turkish Airlines international network, while the Lira stands at fifteen American cents and struggling. So far foreigners haven’t been scapegoated and you can still get a beer in Karaköy and Beşiktaş. And Turkey, while civility prevails, is a fabulous destination.

See a larger version of the Istanbul photo above, and 385 other photos in the Turkey Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.

Photo: At the Gates of the Grand Bazaar

Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. Click to enlarge. 385 more photos from Turkey here.

Turkey, History, Clarity

In front of the fire and across the valley from a wall of snow (previous post), it’s a natural time to do some reading. It’s harder than ever to keep up with everything that needs to be read. The other day I put up a list of recommended reading including  The Dawn Watch, but just now I’m still working through last week’s recommendation of Suzy Hansen’s Notes on a Foreign Country, a memoir of her time in Istanbul.

Ataturk’s trick, she proposes (I think without sarcasm), is to have been “the man who had saved (the Turks) from Western rapaciousness, Islamic torpor, even death itself.” And so, she implies, the Kemalists had the legitimacy to rule the country for the next decades. 

This single sentence has the clarity, all in one go, to explain the breadth of Ataturk’s appeal to a nascent Turkey. Pure, concise, commendable writing. Cheers, Ms. Hansen.


Fan Photos of Istanbul in Huge Week for Turkey

This is a fateful week for the beleaguered Turks. Next weekend Turkey will vote in a referendum on whether to extend significant new powers to President Erdogan. With war on its borders, terror in its biggest cities, a tourism industry in collapse, a tenuous agreement with the rest of Europe over refugees, spats with individual EU governments ginned up for electoral advantage, an astounding 40,000 jailed after the attempted coup last year, well, Turkey has no shortage of challenges.

In spite of it all, Istanbul remains one of the world’s five greatest cities (In no particular order, mine are Istanbul, Hong Kong, Paris, Sydney, San Fransisco. Yours?) So I’d like to reprise a few fan photos of Istanbul in the good old days. Click them to make them bigger. And there are hundreds more photos from Turkey here, in the Turkey Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.


Outside the Grand Bazaar. Through that gate and down in the bazaar, march in and get yourself thoroughly lost. Wander for half a day. I once asked around for the Afghan section and came away with three fine pakols, tailored to my head size, from a milliner from Kandahar.



Again, the Galata Tower in the center back. Ferries like these ply the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus over to Asia, carrying commuters to work at dawn.



The fabled Haydarpasha Train Station in Kadaköy, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. On arrival from London via the Orient Express, from here well heeled tourists could travel on to Ankara, then Kars, then Baghdad and Teheran.



Day labor at the break of dawn. Happening every day in the Grand Bazaar.



The Blue Mosque.



This is seven photos stitched into a 180 degree panorama. Each photo consists in turn of seven exposures combined into an HDR image. We are looking west into the Golden Horn at dawn, the Bosphorus Strait at our backs. See each end of the Galata Bridge on the far left and right.



Here is the Ortakoy Mosque in a trendy part of town some way up the Bosphorus on the European shore, the bridge behind leading to Asia, on the far side.



And Taksim Square, foreground. Gezi Park, a green space and the focus of the protests a couple of years ago, is just below and behind this vantage point. From here you can see past the Golden Horn and out into the Sea of Marmara. From this vantage point the Bosphorus, to the east, is just off to the left.



Here is the fabled Golden Horn, with the Galata Tower across the way. The Bosphorus is out of the frame on the right, the Sea of Marmara behind the photo and the Black Sea at the end of the Bosphorus at two o’clock from here.

And while we’re in the region, here’s a link to one of the chapters in my first book, Common Sense and Whiskey, about a trip through Turkey’s eastern neighbors, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.


“Istanbul’s shoeshiners have a great trick: They drop their brushes in front of pedestrians, and when the more goodhearted pedestrians return the brushes to them, they offer to shine their shoes. The mark, thinking this service will be on the house, readily agrees, and is surprised when he is asked to pay after his shoes are cleaned. Experienced locals see the brush falling from the shoeshiner’s set, and walkover it, as if nothing has  happened. This is what we are learning to do in Istanbul this year.”



For many years the British journalist Matthew Engel kept little red notebooks of random quotes he found interesting, resulting in the compilation Extracts from the Red Notebooks. In the same spirit, this occasional feature shares things I think are worth knowing.

Friday Photo #40, Taksim Square, Istanbul


I’m excited about the upcoming release of A Strangeness in my Mind by Turkish author Orhan Pamuk, promised on my doorstep October 20th. It’s a story of one of my world-top-five cities, Istanbul, as this review puts it, “in all its faded, messy, dusty glory.”

This week’s photo is from Istanbul, taken from the top of a high rise hotel. Here is Taksim Square, up on a hill on the European side, with a view down toward the Sea of Marmara and the entrance to the Bosphorus Strait.

Click the photo to see it better. That’s the Monument of the Republic in the center of the square, celebrating Kemal Ataturk and the formation of the secular Turkish Republic in 1923. At the far end the square opens onto Istiklal (Independence) Caddesi, Turkey’s most famous street and usually a center of protests. Istiklal is a pedestrian street that traverses the Beyoglu district for about a mile down to the Galata Bridge at the Golden Horn, and Eminönü beyond. That’s the Galata Tower in the middle distance.

There are 385 more photos in the Turkey Gallery at EarthPhotos.com. And see all the Friday Photos.

Friday Photo #36 – Outside the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul


Here we have an HDR of a springtime morning just outside one of the many entrances to the Grand Bazaar, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. No one’s places-visited list is complete without a trip to Istanbul.

There are 386 photos in the Turkey Gallery at EarthPhotos.com. See also 578 more HDR photos.

And see all the Friday Photos.

(At this hour we should be roughly somewhere over the Mediterranean en route to Nairobi for a look at the great wildebeest migration. Depending on upload speeds from the bush, watch for photos here.)

Have a good weekend!

Istanbul to Odessa by Overnight Ferry

Withsome of the world’s most important headlines coming from Turkey and Ukraine this week, here is a short look back at a trip a few years back by Ukrainian ship between the two countries.


Today we’d sail on the Yuzhnaya Palmyra, a ship of the UKRFerry shipping company, on once weekly service Istanbul to Odessa. It was to be an approximately 28 hour crossing of the Black Sea south to north, although we’d have to see about the timing.

Departure was set for 9:00 on the web, 10:00 on our ticket (a hard copy they insisted on sending via DHL for $70 from Ukraine to the U.S.), and 11:00 by the people at the hotel, who made some calls on our behalf. So arrival as well, I suspected, ought to be approximate.

We presented ourselves down at the Karakoy docks shortly past 8:00 a.m. “Actual Time,” as the reception clock had it. We had ample time for a spin up and down ship, stem to stern, and an extended goodbye to the mosques filling the Istanbul skyline, lying at anchor, as we were, just meters across the Golden Horn from Topkapi and Sultanahmet. There would be breakfast service before heaving ho, part of the “three meals a day provided all passengers.”

It may have still been Istanbul outside but it was full Ukraine in the песторан (restaurant). Most of the good Ukrainian women were fat as those Americans they worry about on the news, most everyone smoking wherever possible, and a bunch of smoking and horseplay over a 9:30 breakfast of Slavic breakfast staples, cheese and meat slices, an egg dish and a sausage, a tea bag and aching-sweet juice the color of kvass.

Kvass was a Soviet era concoction a young man named Еѵгєлу (Evgeny) once showed me how to sample back in 1986 in a kiosk outside Red Square – served with the nice Soviet touch of a single, shared glass. Here each got our own glass. Mirja and I shared our table with a family of three women, all in print dresses, and a video-taping man.

Even as you gazed out onto working ships with good Turkish names like the Turgut and The Osman, and teeming local ferries of the Tur Yol line, here came women indefinably Ukrainian, with name tags Iruna and big ‘ol Svetlana, slinging plates for six or eight stacked right up their arms. There were pats of butter, and a jug of кетчуп (ketchup) on every table.

Syrupy ballads from the steppes blared straight out of Slavic central casting. They were just enough too loud to notice they were a little too loud.

It took half a year for word to reach the Atlantic coast that gold had been discovered in California. Here, it took three minutes to be jostled by regular, abrupt announcements, way too loud. In the style of receptionists back home, whose announcement echoes across, say, the parking lot of the car dealership, they never thought to put the handset down gently, but instead rattled it around in search of its cradle.

Turkish, Turks will tell you, is useless outside his country’s borders. Even inside in this case, as even at the Istanbul dock, the only announcements were in Ukrainian with just an occasional partial English translation.

Further humiliating, the Ukranian home currency, the hyrvna, and the dollar were just about the only ones in play. I had extra Turkish lira, and while they’d trade in them on the Palmyra, I put them away in the (probably idle) hope I could convert them later at a less usurious rate than on the ship.

Lots of smiles among the passengers. A country crowd, I thought, except for young men, most in sleeveless T’s or undershirts which apparently pass for cool or maybe virile hereabouts, all painted with the permanent scowl of defiance you see on 17 or 20 year olds worldwide.

I wish I could have telepathically conveyed, on behalf of every other man, the simple notion, “We don’t want your (brightly painted) woman.” Continue reading