Our last day of the trip in Istanbul was a rather interesting day, to say the least. We woke up and had our usual semi-Turkish breakfast where I had a small bowl of olives to myself. I couldn’t get enough of the olives. Olives in Australia aren’t very good, so I was getting as much in as I could. Anyway, today we had a briefing with Today’s Zaman, an English newspaper, visited the Spice Market, went to a cooking class and then spent our night out on the town.

PROPAGANDA

Let’s start with “Propaganda”. Today’s Zaman, as I previously stated, is an English newspaper. They are a subsidiary of “Zaman”, which is a Turkish newspaper that is notorious for their very conservative, religious views. I was interested to see what the editor we were speaking to had to say on topics such as the government, freedom of speech and civil rights in Turkey. The presentation was very…illuminating. The editor we spoke to gave his spiel about how wonderful Zaman and Today’s Zaman is, giving us the number of people that take the papers, the rankings of the paper since inception (900,000 subscribers to Today’s Zaman, making them the top English paper in Turkey…out of 2). He gave us the spiel about how they have so many contacts in the world of journalism, being that they are affiliated with the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, etc. Woop de do. I wanted to get onto the good stuff. They claim to be so successful because they seperate opinions from the news. But somehow, they manage to do this while sticking with their very conservative, religious values. They CLAIM that they don’t sensationalise the news. So basically, they don’t print something if it’s pointless and is only used to sell papers to say…celeb addicted idiots or people who freak out when they hear a rapist is in court despite the fact that they are already in prison.

One of my big questions was “How does Turkish journalism  affect Europe’s perception and how does it affect entrance into the European Union?” OH THE DIPLOMACY! I heard so many answers to the question of how does ____ in Turkey affect entrace into the EU. It was always the conservative’s who are very much in line with government policy and give very diplomatic answers, and Today’s Zaman was no exception. They also like to put the blame on other countries that they don’t get along with. When I asked my question the response was that Greece is blocking Turkey’s negotiations because they are very close with parts of Europe with a significant weapons dealer presence. The EU, the editor claimed, is essentially a peace project  and major corporations don’t want peace, because it’s bad for business. They don’t want people from Turkey coming in either because they feel that there is an “Asian problem” in European countries. The issue of freedom of speech as a basic human right and the questionable actions of Turkey in regards to derogating from this human right did not seem to be an issue for Today’s Zaman. They claim that there are very few journalist communication issues with Europe and Greece is simply using the derogation of free speech as an excuse.

Well that was interesting. We then arrived at the topic of a government referendum on the constitution when elections are held in June. There is an interesting thing most people don’t know about Turkey. The Government and the State are 2 completely different things. At this point in time I’m not entirely sure how it works, but I fully intend on looking into it over the uni holiday when I have the chance and may or may not update this blog to explain it.

Supposedly the government is beginning to hold the state accountable on this issue. I’m not entirely sure this is the case. Today’s Zaman claimed that journalistic integrity in Turkey was previously an issue and journalists were products of the State, however there are now over 10 papers in Turkey that are “pro-democracy”. Interesting, considering Turkey is already democratic as per the principles of Ataturk, who essentially handed the Turkish people democracy. Our tour guide, Özçan, thinks that the reason “democracy” in Turkey is so all over the shop is because the people were literally just handed it and so don’t really know what to do with it or what it’s like to fight for it. Anyway, Today’s Zaman claimed that they were really big into investigative journalism because they believe in justice, despite the fact that journalists can be jailed for exposing state “circumstances (whatever those are) and secrets”. All this, but they don’t lend legal support to their journalists who face the courts. Hmmmm….

Here’s the one we were all dying to know about. Insulting Turkishness. It is actually illegal to insult “Turkishness” in Turkey. You can go to jail for 3 years for it. When we asked the editor about this he basically said that it was up to the journalist to “carefully word” what they are writing and to not criticise Ataturk. They said that things are much better than they used to be, so people should stop complaining, for the most part. I find this very interesting as there is a case at the moment where 3 journalists are facing trial and it’s being heavily debated whether they are facing trial for things they have written (which haven’t even been printed or published anywhere yet) or if it’s because of alleged links to a terrorist group. The indictment’s haven’t even been released yet while these journalists are in jail. I have also noticed after browsing through Today’s Zaman that they are a major fan of the current government. I don’t think I’ve seen a single positive article on any other political party regarding the coming election. The Editor himself stated that everyone who works at Today’s Zaman is very pious and favours a religious state. But they are pro-democracy. Bit of an oxymoron if you ask me. Needless to say, I was not impressed with Today’s Zaman.

PANDERING

Oh the Spice Market. It was awesome. I love the markets. In Turkey they are called bazaar’s. In the Arab countries they are called souks. Regardless, I love them. The markets the tourists all go to, mainly the Spice Market and the Grand Bazaar, contain much of the same thing. I didn’t buy anything except sunflower seeds to eat at the Spice Market, but it was a fun experience anyway. I happened to have my usual red bull in my hand due to the fact that there are no bins inside the Spice Market and I refuse to litter, even if it is common practice in Turkey.Waiting to toss my empty can aside seemed to be a mistake though. Every single shop I passed I heard “red bull girl! Hey, red bull girl!” followed by some reason to come look at what they were selling. So where does the pandering come in? The number of times I was told that I was “so beautiful” and “gorgeous” and “most lovely woman I have ever seen” was enough to make me skeptical whenever anyone says that to me in the future. The shopkeepers would say “hello” to me in whichever language they thought I spoke. I was spoken to in Italian, Spanish, German, English, French and Turkish. Turkish was a common one. Apparently I look Turkish. But these men would use any means of flattery they could think of to try and get me to make a purchase. I looked at a pashmina and one man said to me “Normally 35 Turkish Lira, but because you are so beautiful, for you I make it 25 Turkish Lira”. 25 Turkish Lira is INSANELY overpriced for a pashmina. That’s about $20 US and Australia. While it’s about a quarter of the cost of what they are in those countries (for the exact same thing), it’s still at least twice as much as you should be paying in Turkey.

There was so much to see in the market. There were stalls of tea and spices where you could buy not only ground spices and traditional Turkish Black çay (tea) or elma çay (apple tea), but you could buy whole spices to grind yourself and tea sets containing dried spices that you could grind for fresh tea. You could buy little ceramic bowls with beautiful (though mass produced) paintings of tulips and swirls and evil eyes and flowers to put the spices in. In Turkey, at every meal, rather than a salt and pepper shaker or grinder they have little bowls of spices, which often contain sea salt, paprika, oregano and chilli. There were Turkish tea sets with all sorts of designs and colours. When in Turkey, unless you go to a tourist area and are obviously a tourist, it is common courtesy to offer tea. Every time we entered a shop we were offered tea served in a beautiful little glass that is (in my opinion) shaped similar to an hourglass, is served on a matching glass plate with a tiny spoon and two sugar cubes. Even elma çay was served with 2 sugar cubes, though I don’t know why as it was certainly sweet enough. I saw so many tea sets that I would have loved to own. I wanted one that had little evil eyes on it, one with silver designs, one with tulip designs. Ah well, maybe one day.

Following on the mosaic tile motif that is EVERYWHERE in Turkey there are also stalls of candle holders that have beautiful patterns of coloured glass tiles covering them that reflect wonderfully. These were often sold alongside the most beautiful lantern/chandelier type hanging things. These hanging lanterns also had beautiful glass tile patterns in numerous colours and designs. You could buy them as a single hanging light cover or several smaller ones all attached to make a lovely stepping pattern. I REALLY REALLY REALLY wanted one of those, but unfortunately I rent and probably couldn’t have gotten back even if I did have a place to put it. Next time.

While I’m aware it is called the Spice Market it is becoming increasingly obvious that they sell more than spices. They also sell jewelry. Jewelry in Turkey, much like everything else, is much cheaper than it is in Australia and the US. Sterling silver necklance chain? $15 maximum. At one point I bought a sterling silver pendant and a pair of sterling silver earrings and I spent about $15. Love it. I wasn’t terribly interested in the jewelry other than the evil eyes though and was much more interested in the pashmina’s. I ADORE pashmina’s. They are the most comfortable scarves and have some of the most beautiful patterns. I love walking in to look at them and just running my hands along them while admiring the colours and patterns. If I could have afforded to I probably would have come home with an entire suitcase full of scarves. I think I only came back with 5 or 6 though.

Between all these stalls were stalls filled with random touristy knick knacks and items like snow globes and magnets and hanging ornaments and jewelry boxes and nargilahs (or hookahs). Outside the Spice Market there was a makeshift food market where you could buy all sorts of nuts, fish, fruit and veggies or olives. I really wanted to buy olives, but didn’t want to carry them with me from town to town so just bought sunflower seeds (1 pound of sunflower seeds for about $1!). The Australian’s thought it was funny that I ate them because they don’t eat them here, but for my American friends who know me well, you’ll understand how excited I was about this as we don’t have sunflower seeds (in the shell) here in Australia.

PETULANCE

From the Spice Market we went back to Sultanahmet for a cooking class at Cooking A La Turka Cooking School and Restaurant. I wasn’t really looking forward to this much as I don’t like cooking and believe there are other things I could be doing with my time, but the one thing that really turned me off from this class is the fact that the woman who runs it isn’t Turkish. She’s actually Dutch and has been living in Turkey for 8 years. Her employees were Turkish, but she wasn’t. It started out nicely enough, with everyone having fun (and everyone had fun throughout the entire experience) and you will have to excuse my language here but the woman who owned and ran the place was a wretched bitch. She was a horrible, two faced woman who acted like a petulant, bitter old hag. She was nice to us as she sort of had to be, and everything she said in English was perfectly polite and friendly, but whenever she spoke to her chefs who pretty much only spoke Turkish she was yelling at them, cursing at them, calling the names, saying they were idiots and stupid. I didn’t even have to speak Turkish to understand this because you could tell just by the tone of her voice. I asked Sara, my roommate who is Australian-Turk and speaks Turkish, what the woman was saying and she confirmed what I had thought she’d been saying. Not only was she being horrible to her employees, she was also bad-mouthing us while we were there saying how we were loud and annoying and ruining the meals and what not. It was a bit of a nasty shock for her when she found out at the end of the night that Sara understood everything she had been saying.

Personally, I was not a fan and I would definitely recommend people NOT go to that particular cooking school. I would recommend finding a lovely Turkish woman who runs cooking schools locally and speaks some English and go there because from what I understand those make for a lovely experience.

This was our last night in Istanbul and as such, we went out to a little street off of Istiklal caddessi that is lined with bars. It’s a very narrow street that always seems to be busy, no matter what time of day or night it is. We ended up in a little bar called “Lala” to sit and watch one of the European league matches. I was planning on having a quiet one, but somehow one shot turned into another, which turned into a beer or two or three or four. We got back to the hotel around 4 am and I still wasn’t packed and passed out. It made for an exciting next morning.

Pictures of our last day in Istanbul can be found in this album here. It also contains photos from Ankara, but that will come in another blog.

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