Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Hello, and welcome! This is my very first blog posting to this new site for The Collected Traveler, the name of my book series. If you're unfamiliar with the series, allow me to tell you a little bit about it:

Each book is meant to be a companion volume to your favorite guidebook(s), and each one provides more in-depth information than guidebooks can reasonably expect to provide. The main section of each book is a collection of articles and essays that have previously appeared in a wide variety of periodicals -- with a few exceptions, I don't typically feature book excerpts -- and the second part of each book is an A to Z Miscellany of all kinds of interesting and useful information that's unique to the destination as well as my personal recommendations for my favorite things, including places to stay and eat; noteworthy shops and boutiques; culinary specialties; historical personalities; the art of bargaining; special neighborhoods and locales; phrases and expressions; traditional arts and crafts; and museums and monuments. Browse The Collected Traveler website (not available yet but coming soon!) to learn more:

The previous eight books in The Collected Traveler series are now out-of-print, and they covered the following destinations: Paris; Central Italy (Tuscany and Umbria); Northern Spain (from San Sebastian to Santiago de Compostela); Morocco; Venice, the Veneto, and Friuli-Venezia Giulia; Provence, Cote d'Azur, and Monaco; Southwest France; and Athens, the Peloponnese, and the Aegean Islands. My new publisher, Vintage, plans to reissue these previous volumes in revised, updated, and resdesigned editions. New editions of Tuscany & Umbria and Paris are scheduled for 2010, but, my brand new book, and the first to be published by Vintage, features one of the world's most fabulous cities, Istanbul, and it was just officially published yesterday.

Istanbul. I wish I were there right now, looking out over the Sea of Marmara from Topkapi point. Or sitting at the Fez Cafe in the Kapali Carsi (Grand Bazaar) enjoying a Turkish coffee. Or tasting olive oil at family-owned Laleli, a bright and attractive shop in the Bosphorus village of Bebek. Or visiting with my friend Omer Eymen at the outdoor Arasta Bazaar.

If you haven't yet been to Istanbul, you owe it to yourself to go! It is such an extraordinary city, and Turkey (more properly known as Turkiye, with two little dots above the u) is such a remarkably fascinating and beautiful country. I love many, many places in the world, but very few are as remarkable as Turkey.

I first visited Turkey in 1990, with my husband, and at that time we went with both excitement and a little trepidation, and we were completely unprepared for how much we would love the country, the city of Istanbul, and the people most of all. My husband begged me to allow him to write something for this blog, so I agreed, and here's what he wants to share:

"So we had been in Greece for 5 weeks and had to take the ferry from the island of Chios to the Turkish port town of Cesme. Frankly we were a bit nervous. Just about the only image we had of Turkey had come from the drug smuggling Turkish prison nightmare movie “Midnight Express”, not exactly the thing the folks at the Turkish tourist board are shooting for. We didn’t know what to expect, but we forged ahead, disembarked in Cesme, and headed for the bus station. We needed to catch a bus to Izmir, and then change buses to get to Bursa, our first destination. We had to shlep our luggage about a mile to reach the bus station, and not 5 minutes into our trek a bus sees us walking and pulls over. The driver opens the door, gestures for us to get on…..he’s heading to the main terminal. We are traveling on the cheap….cab rides and unnecessary bus trips aren’t in the budget. But he waves it off---“get on, no charge, no problem”. Thus began our experience with the Turkish people. The nicest, friendliest, most polite and accommodating people we’ve ever encountered, in any country.

A few days later, and we are now in Istanbul. We had met another American couple, Sam and Debbie from Washington, D.C., and the 4 of us decided to do the obligatory ‘authentic Turkish bath’. I had read some horror stories of tourists leaving their passports and money in the lockers at the bathhouse, and we were strategizing how to minimize our risk. What the four of us decided is that we’d leave our passports and the bulk of our cash in our hotel rooms, and bring just enough for the bath. Unfortunately, when we arrived about an hour before they closed, we realized we hadn’t brought enough money for the four of us, and we stood outside the entrance debating what to do. Should I dash back to the hotel and get some money? Would that leave us enough time to get the full treatment of the massage, steam room, etc.? Should we try and rendezvous here again a different day? With the clock ticking and there looking like no good solution, an innocent bystander asked our pardon. A Turkish gentleman, the proprietor of a carpet store just beside the entrance to the bath, said he couldn’t help overhearing our conversation. If it would help matters, he’d be more than happy to lend us 10,000 lira for the evening. Try to imagine the look of shock on our faces (especially Barrie and I, the New Yorkers!) that a complete stranger was standing here reaching into his pocket and offering to give us some money, assured that we would return the next day to repay him. And so we met Omer. We had our Turkish bath. We repaid him the next day. He took Barrie and I out to lunch. Sam and Debbie bought a rug. We stayed in touch. For 20 years everyone who we knew going to Istanbul visited Omer to pass along our best wishes. This is the Turkey you should have as your mental image. A place where honor, honesty, trustworthiness, helpfulness, are second nature to everyone."

Start planning your trip! I hope my book will be among the resources you consult. You will have an amazing experince and memories to last a lifetime.

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