in: TimeOut Istanbul English
Marc Guillet has just published a walking guide to Istanbul. Fellow guidebook writer Pat Yale follows him around Kadıköy.
“What do you think this used to be?” I’m standing with Dutch journalist Marc Guillet in front of the Kadıköy branch of the chichi small-chain bakery Komşufırın and my eye follows his finger up towards the awning where a small plaque depicts two sheep. “A dairy?” I try. “A butcher’s. See the knives?” I look again and, yes, there, sure enough, are knives hanging down on one side and an axe on the other.
How many times must I have walked past that shop without spotting the sheep but Marc is a man with the keen eye for detail that is the prerequisite for being a good walking guide. Since moving to Istanbul he has made it his mission to uncover all the city’s quirky little corners. Now the fruit of all that pavement-slogging has been published as Walking in Istanbul, a series of extended walking tours that come in the form of an easy to access, print-on-demand e-Book.
As the author of several Istanbul guidebooks myself, including the award-winning Istanbul Select for Insight Publications, I’m keen to see what else Marc can surprise me with. Two of his walks focus on the European side of the city but Marc lives in the Asian side of the city where studenty Kadıköy morphs into more upmarket Moda. It’s a part of Istanbul much loved by locals but relatively unknown to tourists so we agree to meet there and retrace part of his Kadıköy walk just weeks after the opening of the Marmaray tunnel that will eventually make it more readily accessible to them.
Our footsteps take us through the crowded, colourful network of streets that make up Kadıköy market. “Like the Golden Age of Dutch art,” Marc murmurs as he points out the pickle shops, the shops selling mezes-to-go, the fish shops where the redness of the inside-out gills showcases their freshness. Passing Kadı Nimet’s, a much-loved small meyhane tucked in behind the stalls, we pop our heads in to admire a portrait of Rodi, the ex-pet goose that lives on in the logo. After his owner’s death in 2009 Rodi also expired, of a broken heart according to Marc. Master and goose were laid to rest side by side in the Karaca Ahmet Cemetery.
The walls of Kadı Nimet are papered with pictures of Atatürk but Marc draws my attention to the one showing Turkey’s first president nursing a glass of rakı and I’m surprised at how mildly shocking the image now seems after this year’s political squabbles over alcohol.
Later as we stroll past the magnificent Süreyya Opera House on Bahariye Caddesi he points out the circular bollards decorated in blue and white. “Last year was the 400th anniversary of the relationship between Turkey and Holland. These were painted to commemorate it,” he tells me.
When it’s time for a rest Marc leads me into what he describes in his guide as “the Communist tea garden”, officially the garden of the Nazım Hikmet Cultural Centre, where apparently they sell no colas even of the Turkish variety. Here we sit down to chat amid the soaring trees.
Walking in Istanbul only covers four areas. I wondered how you chose which ones to write about?
The main sites – Ayasofya, the Blue Mosque, etc – are well covered in other books. No one needs me for that. I wanted to show tourists my Istanbul and why I’m fascinated by it. I’m planning to add two more walks. One will be “In the Footsteps of Orhan Pamuk” which will be based on his novels, in particular on “The Museum of Innocence”. I will also add a walk from the Süleymaniye Cami to Eyüp that will be an extension to the existing Sultans’ Trail (a long-distance walking trail from Vienna to Istanbul). The advantage of the e-Book format is that I can change and update the PDF every day. It’s a big, big advantage over guidebooks.
What do you see as your unique selling point as an author?
I’m offering a unique product because I’m a foreigner who’s been coming to İstanbul since 1983. I’ve been living here since 2006, which means that I know the city really well.
Your walks all take around six hours to compete. That seems quite long.
I thought they would be shorter but the feedback from users was that that was how long they took to do properly.
How do you feel about the way the city is evolving?
I don’t like the Disneyfication, the gentrification of some areas. Everything is being directed towards one end, towards tourism. (Near Sirkeci) the hamals (porters) are complaining that the old hans are being turned into hotels. As a group I call them “the second oldest profession in town”. Many of them are from Kayseri and they show great solidarity with each other, for example when one of them has to go to hospital. If all such things are gone what will make this city special? What will make it Istanbul? İnci Pastanesi and the Emek Cinema (on and off İstiklal Caddesi) had to close but people want to see history, the things that make the city a mixture of east and west. If it’s all erased it is just a Western, Disneyfied city.
I wonder what your favourite areas of the city are?
I love the grittier parts of Karaköy, Üsküdar, Çarşamba, Fener and Balat, the Eyüp cemeteries, the back streets behind the Grand Bazaar, the neighbourhood behind the Süleymaniye Cami with its wooden houses. My biggest surprise was finding the grave of the horse of Karaca Ahmet (described in the Üsküdar walk). People still pray there. It’s traditional, rural folk Islam. The complete opposite is the Şakarin Cami with its interior designed by a woman. It proves that Turks can do a different kind of mosque. I also love new things if they’re creative.
For me walking in all these districts the thing I like most is meeting people, from artists to artisans. I see here all kinds of things that are absent in the West. In the Spice Market you can still see and touch everything. It’s still authentic. I love very much the authentic things, the basketmakers, the stone carvers. You can meet them here. This is real.
Marc’s e-book contains four walks although you don’t have to download all of them at the same time. The first focuses on Fatih including the ultra-conservative Çarşamba area and its Wednesday market as well as the more familiar Fatih Cami and the woefully under-visited, mosaic-filled Pammakaristos Church. The second takes a look at what’s hidden down the backstreets on either side of the Galata Bridge, while the third focuses on the often-overlooked mosques of Üsküdar with a detour into Kuzguncuk, almost unknown to tourists. The fourth homes in on Kadıköy and Moda.
Marc Guillet is also author of the Enjoy Istanbul website www.enjoy-istanbul.com
Come here to read more about the life of the Sirkeci hamals (porters) and about the street art that is such a feature of Kadıköy.
You can order your copy of Walking in Istanbul by Marc Guilllet via the Enjoy Istanbul website or direct from http://www.odyssee-reisgidsen.nl/magento/wandelen-en-fietsen/wal.html?___store=en&___from_store=nl
Order your walks online here