October 07, 2011

Discovering Istanbul’s Hidden Treasures

Much of any airplane trip is spent killing time in eager anticipation of arriving at your desired destination, sometimes by watching a movie, sometimes by simply flipping through an in-flight magazine.

These magazines usually feature articles on the airline's various destinations, accompanied by beautiful photography and lavish page design, making for a thoroughly enjoyable read. And every so often you gain new insights about a certain location, be it a city or an entire country, as the magazine takes you on a journey to discover the hidden treasures a travel reporter has uncovered for you to find once you touch down. Today's Zaman sat down with one such reporter, Dutch journalist Mike Raanhuis, who concluded such a treasure hunt in İstanbul on Thursday for Royal Dutch Airlines' (KLM) iFly Magazine.

Who chooses the destinations Raanhuis will write about? Does he get to decide himself? “Not really,” he was quick to answer, “Although I did hand in a list at the beginning of this year.” “This time around, the decision to do a story on İstanbul was made by the editorial staff of iFly Magazine,” he said.

When Raanhuis came to İstanbul once before, he did not have the opportunity to get a thorough idea of the city. “I was here for just 24 hours earlier this year, so I didn't get much of a chance to see the city. I did do a Bosporus tour, which was very impressive,” Raanhuis recalled.

The prospect of returning to İstanbul was thus very exciting for the Dutch journalist, as his previous visit left him curious. “In my opinion İstanbul is not a very common destination yet, which means there is still a lot for people to discover here. More so than, say, in Paris, where it is very hard to find those hidden treasures that you look for when you do an article about a city,” he explained. So what makes an article? What is Raanhuis' mission when he sets out on behalf of iFly Magazine? According to Raanhuis, that mission is twofold, as he has to balance the requirements of iFly Magazine's format, which means the article should feature some of a city's cultural aspects as well as featuring a culinary component, while showcasing the modern face of the city, with trying to give readers his personal take. “I want to inspire the readers,” he explains, adding: “I want to be able to show readers something they haven't seen before, or a part of the city they would not have considered going to, had it not been for my article.”

What then is his secret for inspiring his readers? In order to inspire, Raanhuis needs to be inspired himself. “That's why I try and talk to locals,” he tells us. “To get their advice on where to go, to have them guide me through their city. It has taken me to places where not many tourists have gone before, which ties in with one of the things iFly Magazine sets out to achieve, which is to surprise even the more seasoned travelers and visitors of a given city, in this case İstanbul.”

What has Raanhuis been told to go and see by the İstanbul locals? A whole variety of things, as it turns out. It depended, however, on who he talked to. “The manager of my hotel recommended I go to Bebek and have breakfast there, after which I should just stroll along the shores of the Bosporus. Or to roam the streets of Galata, where, apparently, the best hamburgers in the city are served. Another person suggested I visit Moda and check out Bağdat Caddesi in Kadıköy,” he elaborated.

But does Raanhuis solely take the advice of locals? “No, I also do research at home before leaving. You have to, of course, as it helps a lot to get a better understanding of where I will be going. Last night, for instance, I had dinner at a fabulous restaurant [Sunset Grill & Bar] that I had picked myself because of its view and the very good reviews of its dishes.”

In trying to put together his schedule for İstanbul, Raanhuis encountered efficiency's greatest foe in İstanbul: traffic. “I did not expect İstanbul to be so big or the traffic so heavy,” he says, laughing. “But seriously, I did a lot of great things. I visited Moda, where I took some really nice photographs. Dinner was also amazing, as I said. I strolled through Cihangir, had tea there and walked over to Tünel, exploring all those little streets that snake through the neighborhood. I ended up on some roof terrace [Balkon İstanbul], which was recommended to me when I talked to some locals at a bar. Those are the things I look for, suggestions like that. The next morning I went to Sultanahmet to take some pictures at a hamam, which is very unusual and I was lucky to have been given permission to do so. It did mean, however, that I had to be there at six in the morning [sighs]. On the other hand, that meant I had time to visit the fish market in Kadıköy. The afternoon I spent at both the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar.”

We told Raanhuis that the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar aren't really what one would call hidden treasures. Doesn't that conflict with his earlier statements? “I have to balance the known and the unknown,” he explains. “That is why, for instance, I chose not to go to the Galata Tower or do another Bosporus tour. And whatever your opinion on Sultanahmet, tourists are bound to end up there anyway so I might as well try and find some of the lesser known sites there, too, or highlight elements of familiar sights such as the Grand Bazaar, and put them in a new perspective,” the journalist said.

As Raanhuis made for his plane we asked him what, in his opinion, makes a city trip a successful one. “For me personally it would be when a city captures my imagination, when it gets under my skin. On a professional level I would say that my trip is a success if the article manages to surprise even our more seasoned travelers.”


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