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Category Archives: Turkey

The Taksim Starbucks bathroom code is 1237*

…and other things I learned in Turkey.

As you may have heard elsewhere, I’ve moved from Istanbul to DC — a weeklong move via Minnesota that now, at least for me myself, is thankfully over. My stuff is a different matter; hopefully the boxes will start showing up soon or I’ll basically be wearing business suits for everything. It’d be impossible to sum up nearly four years in Turkey in one pithy blog post, but I thought I’d devote some time to sharing a few of the things I’ve learned through painful experience or lucky happenstance while living in Ankara and the ‘Bul.

First, of course, is the titular Starbucks code. Starbucks branches in major Istanbul locations started password-protecting their bathrooms sometime in the past year, and printing the code on their receipts. If you’d rather not quickly down a cappuccino before running off to the Ladies’, though, you can use 1237* at the Taksim branch, and the year of Fenerbahce’s founding, which I believe is 1908 (it may be 1907), at the Kadikoy waterfront branch.

If you’re flying in to Ataturk airport and have a residence permit, you can use either the Turkish citizens or the Other citizens passport line. If you happen to land at the same time as a package tour charter flight, this can be phenomenally helpful. I’d take my advice with a grain of salt though, because while I’ve done this with no problem whatsoever, a friend recently reported getting to the front of the Turkish line only to be told she had to go to the back of the Other line and start her wait allllll the way over again. No good.

Avocados can be found fresh, ready-to-eat, and relatively cheap at the Kazanci Manav year-round except for June and July. If you’re me, the manav will run out into the street in August to let you know the avocados have returned.

Vanilla extract can now be found in some larger grocery stores in Istanbul, but if that’s too easy for you, you can buy vanilla pods on Birthday Street, next to the Spice Bazaar, and make your own with a bottle of vodka. Best start that project a few weeks before you’re planning on making a cake though.

Eminonu’s costume shop district is just west and to the left of its toy shop district, which in turn is just west of Birthday Street. If you’re looking for pirate-type swords, only one toy shop has decent options, but Star Wars-like swords abound. Buy one for all your friends!

Most bureaucratic tasks take three tries to get done. This applies to getting Internet, getting a phone line to be able to then get said Internet, renewing a residence permit (although to be fair, last time it only took me two trips! Wooooooo!), or getting small repairs around one’s flat completed. Burasi Turkiye, yaaaaa?

If you get bitten by a potentially rabid animal in Istanbul, you’ll need to get a rabies shot, which is administered at one hospital in the city, in Çapa. This is unpleasant. Try not to get bitten by a potentially rabid animal.

For all that it has 70 million people, Turkey’s totally a village. Expect to run into people you know in the oddest places, like on a ruined fortress in Van. Or in Izmir. Or basically every time you walk down Istiklal. Keeping with the village theme, everyone in your neighborhood knows your business. When I moved out of Cihangir, a man I swear I have never seen before in my life called out my name, asked if I needed help with my suitcases, and asked after a friend of mine who had moved from the neighborhood six months earlier. I visited another neighborhood I’d lived in a year after moving out, and the restaurateur across the street came out to ask what I was up to and when I’d move back.

Americalife has been on my mind a bit more than Turkeylife the past few days, so I’ll close now so I can start my next post, Things About America That Keep Weirding Me Out. I’ll work on that title.


Ankara’s crazy plan

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Turkophiles have no doubt heard of Prime Minister Erdoğan’s “çilgin projesi” or “crazy plan” to build a canal from the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea in Istanbul, announced several weeks ago to great fanfare and head-scratching. A bit less conspicuous was this week’s announcement of a “crazy plan” for Ankara as well. No, they’re not stretching a canal from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean by way of the capital city.  The prime minister’s plan, as unveiled Wednesday, is to make Ankara a “world capital” with a series of projects, including new defense facilities, a new giant courthouse (perhaps they’ll make it the largest in Asia, to match Istanbul’s “largest courthouse in Europe”?), a new football stadium (they already have a pretty darn new one, built in Sincan in 2008. Virtually no one goes there, and the city’s two Super League football teams play at the old 19 Mayis stadium, because Sincan is fantastically inconvenient) and new top-of-the-line hospitals. Erdo also announced a plan to create a second city in Ankara, similar to the two new cities he announced would be created in Istanbul.

Today’s Zaman has even more of the laundry list of plans Erdo cited for the “improvement” of Ankara. It all seems a bit odd to me, although I suppose if everything succeeds Ankara’s airport will finally start seeing the amount of usage it was designed for. If ever there was an underused airport, Esenboğa’s it.

I understand the motivation behind the announcement is probably in large part the upcoming elections, and I’d be surprised if the entire project comes to fruition, but I do wish the focus was more on improving the city that already exists. What about opening the section of the subway system that’s been nearly completed since before I first arrived in Ankara five years ago? A subway rail link between ODTU and Kizilay would have a direct, immediate positive impact for a lot of residents. Extend the line to Bilkent and the impact would be even larger. Then maybe ODTU could start operating its intracampus monorail, already built but as of my last time on campus nonoperational because it was built to ferry students to the subway entrance, which has been fenced off since at least early 2006.

Or instead of building “the biggest zoo in the Middle East,” how about turning Ankara’s zoo into the best zoo in the Middle East? Just two-and-a-half months ago a tiger escaped its enclosure at the Ankara Zoo and killed a lion. Two years ago, a boa constrictor escaped its cage. Of course, one can compare that with the recent escapades of a cobra and a peacock at the Bronx Zoo, but perhaps Ankara should strive to a higher standard of exotic animal husbandry. Sure, people may flock to a big zoo. But people will really flock, in droves, to a zoo in Turkey that takes proper care of its animals, makes an effort to show animals in their proper habitat rather than in concrete cages and pairs the animals on display with trained naturalists and well-done interpretive exhibits. Maybe a section called “Wild Anatolia,” featuring animals native to various parts of Anatolia and explaining conservation efforts?

Nope, instead Ankara’s slated to go big. I do love the city, and I’m a fan of investment in its infrastructure, but it feels like this particular crazy project was brainstormed mostly as a campaign trail scene, rather than as a considered plan for a healthy, successful city. Çilgindir.