Thursday, 19 November 2009

Rahmi M. Koç Museum

The estuary that is the Golden Horn is often overlooked when touring Istanbul, though these days it has increasingly more to offer. If you choose to visit the Eyüp mosque complex and Pierre Lotti cafe at the top of the waterway by boat, on your way up the Golden Horn about halfway on the right (or more correctly on the eastern shore) you will pass a submarine at water level with a red London bus dominating the shoreline. This is Istanbul's only museum of transport, the Rahmi M. Koç Museum, stuffed full of Koç's personal collection housed in an old Ottoman navy anchor foundry and also occupying the site of an historic dockyard. With every possible type of transport mode covered there are also reconstructions of craftsmens' workshops and nostalgic apothecary and toy shops. Highlights for me include the steam engine (constructed in West Hartlepool) salvaged from a long-since scrapped ship, which on the press of a button slowly pumps into action again. It was interesting to see two examples of the Turkish Anadol model of car from the 1970s on display as well as a large array of phaetons and a first-world-war British Albion x-ray ambulance which ministered to injured troops on site. The Sultan's sumptuous 19th-century train carriage takes pride of place in the section on trains and trams, where there is even the workings of a funicular railway (visible in the foreground of the photo above). These few examples give an idea of the impressive array of exhibits. Extras include a tour of a second-world-war American submarine, a short tour of the Golden Horn on a steam tugboat and a ride on a diesel locomotive. The museum is good value at 10TL (about £4) and the extras are 5TL (£2) a time; you can easily send half a day there given the range of items to tour.
What it is: Rahmi M. Koç Museum, a great collection of small and large modes of transport, extras include a display showing how olives are pressed mechanically to make olive oil
Where it is: Hasköy Caddesi, no.5. I jumped on a dolmus from Sishane, the journey taking just 10 minutes or so. There are also buses from Eminonu (47) and Taksim (54HT). The boat which runs from Üsküdar to Eyüp stops at Hasköy. As always in Turkey it's best to check with the driver in case routes have changed, they're always happy to assist!

Monday, 24 August 2009

I've just noticed that the Turkish Tourism Board which serves the UK market has just updated its website with a brand new look and updated information. I especially like the news feed which gives a very assorted and mixed bag of news; the new mosaic angel discovered by restorers recently at the Hagia Sophia caught my eye today, looking forward to hearing more. It sounds like it's too high up to get a decent picture of though... Also their downloadable factsheet for those travelling to Turkey is a really useful resource, there's rather a lot of good information there. There are also some unusual ideas for a trip, for example their section on health and spas which covers options over and above the usual Turkish baths.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Shameless self promotion

As I've recently relocated back to London from Istanbul I'm having the chance to sit down and catch up on adminy things. So I'm currently working on a plan for my new personal website which is way way out of date these days. It dates from the time when I was still a manager at the Royal Opera House and doing photography on the side. My 50mm macro lens and a chosen plant would produce something worthwhile after hours of trying out ideas. Now back after my three-year stint in Istanbul, I'll shuttle back and forth between the two cities as interesting projects arise. Recently I've been having great fun putting the final touches to my Istanbul Showcase gallery on Photoshelter which I'll keep adding to from time to time; while in Istanbul last month I was able to get some new shots for my own portfolio as well as the street food I had been commissioned to shoot. The aim of my Photoshelter presence is to gain further exposure for my photography and ultimately to license them for use in books, magazines etc and even better for new commissioned work. Also there is the facility to buy prints and postcards of any of my images. So.... for those of you following my blogs and with a little time I'd love to hear how you find the site. Does the gallery draw you into the site? Would you in theory be tempted to order a print or set of postcards? Is the site straightforward to use and navigate around? Any feedback would be much appreciated. As a thank you I'll send you a set of four of my postcards including the image of Eminonu Square above if you contact me privately with your address (UK only). Thank you!

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Meat lovers only!

I recently returned from a trip to Istanbul where I was photographing for a book on Turkish food which is going to be published in Norway in 2010. Just my sort of project as the slant is on street or 'real' food as opposed to the gourmet side of things so I was able to spend my time touring the city, meeting people and seeing what transpired. Pat Yale, the writer of the book, called me one day to tell me that she'd discovered a place worth documenting in Zeyrek, Siirt Seref, a small eaterie owned and run by the family who had created the 'büryan kebab', an eastern speciality. Not for the faint hearted, the lamb carcasses that have been cooked tandoori-style (tandir in Turkish) in an underground pit that morning hang enticingly in the restaurant window. The chef de cuisine (above), the son of the man who first thought up this method of cooking meat, slices off the lamb according to your wishes, boneless, fatty etc, which is then served up on a piece of round pide bread freshly baked on site and in full view, so often the custom in Turkey. To accompany you can have a çoban salata ('shepherd's salad' of tomato, cucumber and parsley) and a refreshing ayran drink (slightly salty watered-down yoghurt drink). Also on offer is another speciality from Siirt in the east of the country, perde pilav, a fez-shaped pie with a filling of rice and chicken. Zeyrek has lots of places offering the same menu, after all the area does specialise in everything to do with Siirt at least foodwise, though for the real mccoy you will need to come here. Incidentally the family own the patent for the recipes.
What it is: For connoisseurs of Turkish cuisine and meat-lovers something a little different, a no-holds-barred kebab (büryan kebab) from eastern Turkey and an unusual rice accompaniment (perde pilav) served up in a family-owned establishment.
Where it is: Siirt Seref in Zeyrek just a stone's throw from Valens Aqueduct, up a side street off Kadinlar Pazar called Imam Niyazi Sokak. 

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Try out a hookah

You don't have indulge in a tipple to enjoy a weekend night out on the town with friends in Istanbul. Try one of the Tophane nargile, or hookah, cafes within walking distance of both Karakoy and Istiklal Caddesi (just!). In the open air or inside you can lounge on bean bags and drink elma çay (apple tea), regular Turkish çay or a throaty Turkish coffee, try out a nargile which comes in all sorts of flavours (banana even) and play a game of backgammon or catch up on gossip. Oh, and there are also flat screens for football matches. Forget being stuck in an airless smokey Beyoglu club, come and see how the Turkish young enjoy their weekends. It can be packed to the rafters on a Saturday night so make sure you come early and if you're not willing to smoke at least one nargile you won't even be shown to a table.
What it is: A great social spot where you can mingle with the Turkish young and it's off the usual tourist track.
Where it is: Just by the Kiliç Ali Pasha Mosque at Tophane and the Tophane tram stop. Within walking distance of Karakoy and Istiklal (at Galatasaray Square head downhill for 10 minutes and it is across the other side of the main road and tram line).

Saturday, 24 January 2009

The future in a cup

Yesterday I had the privilege of spending some time in the home of a family who live in Beyoglu but are originally from Siirt, in the east of Turkey. I am working on a new book on Istanbul food and needed to get some shots of Turkish coffee being made. And I particularly had my eyes on their coal-burning soba (stove) on which they prepare meals, heat up tea and even hang up their washing. You can see it in the background of this photo. I took some photos of the soba laden with wares while they chatted and prepared the sofra in the background with the television providing background noise. A sofra is a round 'table'which actually has unfolding legs which hold it a foot (30cm) or so above the ground. Once laden with food the diners sit cross legged round it and tuck in. On the menu today was dolmas: stuffed aubergines, marrow and vine leaves, accompanied by home-made börek (layers of baked filo pastry with a mince filling). We rounded off our meal with traditional Turkish coffee and the kids had a go at reading the grinds for any messages about the future.

Friday, 5 December 2008

An Ongoing Affair

Today was a red letter day for me as I dropped into Citlembik's offices and picked up a copy of Professor Heath W. Lowry's just published An Ongoing Affair. It's a candidly written set of memoires of his time spent as a Peace Corps volunteer in a remote mountain village in western Turkey in the mid 1960s. The friendships he made there changed his life. He had virtually not heard of Turkey before he embarked on the trip and now he is Ataturk Professor of Ottoman and Turkish Studies at Princeton University in the USA. 

I edited the book for Citlembik and it was a joy to do so; presented as a set of vignettes there are some really touching and also downright shocking events, Lowry pulls no punches. From the accidental poisoning of the beautiful Emine, who Lowry has to minister to as she lies prostrate with white froth foaming from her mouth, to the blood feud which ends shockingly in the murder of innocent children and the mistaken torching of a villager's house, this book is a gripping read from the start. There are some lighter moments too that Lowry conveys with wit and humour such as in the chapter 'Who's that playing with my butt' – you will need to read it to find out! 

His love for the villagers and respect for their culture and how he is accepted by one and all as yet another villager runs as a theme throughout. The village head Kamil, who becomes a lifelong friend, reminds him before his return to the USA: 'Hit [sic], don't forget, you are now one of us. There are things that you have seen and heard here in Bereketli that no one else need know about.'

For me it was a gripping read, here's an extract that we chose for the cover:

As we approached the house I saw a dim light through the windows and began to hear keening wails and piercing screams echoing into the darkness. Upon entering the door the din increased and I suddenly found myself in the midst of close to fifty women, who, without tempering their high-pitched wailing, parted and I moved forward into the middle of a small room. Before me on the floor was a beautiful young girl lying rigidly with white froth bubbling from her mouth. By this time my initial vocabulary of two hundred words had grown two-fold, but instinctively I knew that it wasn’t going to be adequate to deal with what I was facing.
What it is: Heath W. Lowry's An Ongoing Affair – Turkey & I (ISBN 978-9944-424-53-0)

Where it is: Pop into Citlembik's offices in the Tunel area of Beyoglu (Sehbender Sokak 18/4, Asmalimescit) where they offer a whopping 30% discount on their books. An Ongoing Affair has a cover price of 12ytl. (Citlembik's books are also available in all good bookstores in Turkey such as DNR.) For those in the UK I am distributing Citlembik's books, do send me an email.