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Posts Tagged ‘Istanbul’

Ten important lessons you’ll learn by traveling alone

In behavior, cities, culture, life, travel, urban life, women on July 30, 2012 at 12:01 am
GranBazar Istanbul

GranBazar Istanbul (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I enjoyed this column in The New York Times about the distinction between tourist (arguably incurious) and traveler (insatiably so):

For the most fortunate among us, our travels are now routine, devoted mainly to entertainment and personal enrichment. We have turned travel into something ordinary, deprived it of allegorical grandeur…Whatever impels us to travel, it is no longer the oracle, the pilgrimage or the gods…We urgently need to reclaim the etymology of restlessness — “stirring constantly, desirous of action” — to signal our curiosity toward what isn’t us, to explore outside the confines of our own environment. Getting lost isn’t a curse. Not knowing where we are, what to eat, how to speak the language can certainly make us anxious and uneasy. But anxiety is part of any person’s quest to find the parameters of life’s possibilities.

I’m intrigued that every single day — for three years or so — readers of Broadside seek out my post about women traveling alone and whether X place is actually safe.

Kids, nowhere is safe if you’re stupid or careless! If you insist on drinking heavily/drugging/wandering off with total strangers to their (lockable!) home or vehicle and/or at night and/or dressing sluttily, seriously...

Would you take those risks in your home neighborhood?

It’s provincial and dumb to assume X is dangerous only because it’s unknown to you, and “foreign.” You’re missing a whole pile o’ world out there!

I took my first solo flight, from Toronto to Antigua, when I was about seven. I traveled alone through Portugal, Italy, France and Spain for four months when I was 22. Since then, I’ve chosen to be alone in places as far-flung as Istanbul, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia — and Los Angeles.

Ironically, I’ve only been the victim of crime at home, in Toronto, Montreal and suburban New York.

Some lessons I’ve learned you might find helpful as well:

A passport is a mini magic carpet

Once you have it in hand, literally, you can go almost anywhere. I’m still awed by the power of one small document to open the world. Which is maybe one reason I so love (yes) all the Bourne movies, where Jason Bourne always has a collection of passports and identities. So cool!

A current, detailed map is a wondrous tool

I’m old school. I have, and adore, the Times World Atlas, which weighs a bloody ton. I love flipping through it and dreaming about where to go next. I have maps of all sorts of places I haven’t even gone yet, like Morocco, but which allow me to study them at leisure and think about what I’ll do when I get there. Maps offer lots of intriguing possibilities and ideas for exploration.

Don’t play it too safe

Yes, you need to stay healthy and un-molested. But it doesn’t mean sitting at home terrified to leave the cosy and familiar boundaries of your town/state/province/country. Travel to a place that’s really challenging is an excellent way to discover what makes you deeply uncomfortable — and why.

When in Rome….

Do your homework and dress respectfully, paying close attention to local customs and taboos. I didn’t look a man in the eye in rural Portugal for three long, lonely weeks. Nor in Istanbul. I knew the rules, and played by them. There’s no ego battle involved, no need to “prove” that your country’s ideas are better. You’re in their world for a while, and it works just fine for them. In a global economy, we need to remember this, every day.

Dream really big, then find a way to make it happen

My Dad’s current partner is 77 and such an inspiration to me. Just before she met my Dad, she had committed to move to Mongolia and work in the Peace Corps; luckily for all of us, she picked my Dad. There are many avenues to creating, and funding, a domestic or foreign travel adventure: a fellowship, grant, temp on contract jobs, fruit or vegetable or tobacco-picking, farming, volunteer work, missionary work, finding work aboard a freighter or cruise ship, study abroad, au pair jobs.

The world is filled with kindness

Sappy, huh? I would never have seen this as clearly had I not taken the terrifying risks I did to venture off alone. I met some British Reuters reporters in Madrid who suggested I look up their freelancer in Barcelona, a German woman married to a Briton. In my two visits there, she: let me take a bath (it had been months of showers only); lent me her typewriter so I could write and sell some stories; paid for a cab to her home when I was really sick and broke, arriving from Italy by train late at night, and lent me her weekend home. This from someone I barely knew.

Being alone is work

It means you’re the only one in charge of all it: where to go, where to stay, where to eat, when to leave and how to get there. You have to change currencies and languages. If you get sick, you’ll have to find a doctor or hospital or pharmacy and explain the problem — something I’ve done in French and Spanish, sometimes in tears. I once had an allergic reaction, alone in Istanbul, that I thought might kill me; I’d totally forgotten I’m allergic to dust and mold, and had spent a wonderful afternoon looking at old rugs in the Bazaar. Every time the dealer flipped the pile, a cloud of it was filling my nostrils…I could barely breathe or swallow all night. Eating alone, especially in good restaurants, is another challenge; I always take a book or magazine, and I usually sit at the bar, where conversation is easy and often fun.

How capable you are! (or not)

Once we’re on the road of responsible (sigh) adulthood, with student loans and bills and a spouse and/or children, the challenges are often financial and emotional, but routine. Travel, by forcing us into unfamiliar surroundings and dealing with dozens of strangers whose motives we don’t know and may find confusing or opaque, forces us to up our game and sharpen our wits — never a bad thing! Trusting your intuition can save your life. Being resourceful is like lifting weights; you have to actually put things into motion to see results!

Total strangers will really like you

Seems obvious, right? Not if you’re shy or your family or work has been confidence-sapping. I’ve been amazed and delighted and grateful to find, and sometimes keep, friends in the oddest of places, whether standing in a post office line in Antibes or at a conference in Minneapolis or sharing a truck for eight filthy, tiring, crazy days with Pierre, a trucker who spoke not one word of English. I did that journey, from Perpignan to Istanbul, to write about trucking in the EU. We couldn’t shower for eight days, and one day — a sunny, windy day in March in some Romanian or Bulgarian parking lot — I begged him to help me wash my (short) hair, which he did, pouring water from a jug he kept in the cab while I lathered up. It’s been the most life-changing of choices to fling myself into the world and find, every single time, that I am often met with open arms. You don’t need to cart along the usual security blankets and identity markers: the right school(s), family, skin color, cultural preferences or clothing. Just be your best self.

The natural world awaits

Travel by canoe, kayak, dinghy, bike, mo-ped. Lace up your hiking boots. Take binoculars, tent and sleeping bag, backpack, camera, pen, sketchbook, watercolors and your willingness to be there, un-plugged. The happiest five days of my life were a trip I took, alone, to Corsica in June 1995. I rented a mo-ped down at the port in Bastia, and zoomed around La Balagne, the northern end of the island, reveling in the impossibly gorgeous fragrance of sun-warmed maquis, sleeping in lovely small hotels at the sea’s edge, riding (shriek!) through a pelting rainstorm wrapped up in only in a couple of garbage bags. I stopped at the Deserts d’Agriate, gaping in wonder at the moonscape before me. I have no photos. But oh, the memories! Here’s my Wall Street Journal story about it.

Bonus lesson:

Do something you normally do at home, or have always wanted to try, that makes you really happy.

Alone, I took a ballet class  in an 18th-century studio in Paris, a watercolor class in Mexico City, danced to live blues at Harvelle’s, a club in Santa Monica, ate some great barbecue in San Angelo, Texas, bought textiles in Istanbul and went horseback riding — through L.A’s Griffiths Park at sunset, galloping along snowy train tracks in the Eastern Townships and through arroyos near Taos. When you’re out there all alone, it’s comforting to do something familiar that you enjoy, but somewhere new.

Here’s a wise and helpful blog post from a couple who have been traveling fulltime for more than a year, with their seven lessons learned.

Here’s a great essay from a young woman at Salon about her experiences of travel alone, and why (I agree!) every woman must do it.

What’s a solo travel moment you enjoyed?

Twelve Tips For Women Traveling Alone

In behavior, cities, Crime, Health, life, travel, urban life, women on May 24, 2011 at 11:35 am
Waikawau Bay in the Coromandel Peninsula

The Coromandel, in New Zealand...Heaven on earth! Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been alone in many places: D.C., Vancouver, Istanbul, Ko Phi Phi, Palermo, Key West, Tunis. I live to travel and, many times, there’s no one with the same budget, interests, schedule or passions with whom to share a journey.

So I happily go alone.

My mother traveled the world alone for many years — all throughout Latin America in her 40s, the South Pacific, overland from London to the Mideast, India. She taught me not only to be (safely) fearless, but to keep a current passport and a passion for using it.

Here are twelve tips for solo women travelers of all ages:

Know where you’re going. What are their underlying beliefs, customs, rituals, dress? The countryside of Portugal, for example, was even tougher than urban Istanbul for relentless male attention or harassment. Even catching someone’s gaze was unwise. Some cities have their own codes of dress: wear Easter egg pastels, baggy sweats, white athletic shoes or nude hose in downtown Manhattan (or Paris!) and, yes, you’ll be viewed as a tourist and treated accordingly.

Do your homework and decide how much you want to stand out or blend in; as a woman alone, blending in is usually the wiser, safer option. (Headscarves, long sleeves, a salwar kameez, etc.) It shows respect for where you are, which will often be returned with more welcoming treatment. Speaking some of the local language is also a key way to signal this.

Do your homework. There are many ways to determine which areas, streets or neighborhoods are more or less safe for a solo woman. One of my favorite resources is The Thorn Tree, an online bulletin board on the Lonely Planet website. When I and my then best friend, two blonds from NY (albeit savvy and well-traveled) were heading off to Venezuela for a week, we posted some specific questions there and found fantastic, detailed answers (even a local travel agent we used) from a British ex-pat then in Mexico.

Read the local newspaper. Find out what’s happening, and not just on-line. Read the editorials and op-eds; what are people talking about there and why? Read letters to the editor. What sort of fun events are listed for the weekend? Key: if you’re in a part of the world where men are relentlessly going to try to catch your eye and chat you up, hiding behind a spread-out broadsheet is a great choice. Worked for me in Spain and Portugal.

Unplug from technology. For several reasons. If you’re in a poorer, rural environment, be sensitive to the lives of people who may be living on $1 -2 per day. If you’re going somewhere to see, smell, taste and hear it, be there. Remain open to it in every way possible.

A set of earbuds shuts you off from potential conversation, advice — and warnings. I would never ever walk around plugged in, alone, in many parts of the world. You must remain aware of your surroundings to stay safe.

Pay attention. This will make your trip more social, fun and interesting, but will also keep you safe. Look around — are there other women there as well? Are they safe? What are they wearing? How are they behaving? In many more socially conservative parts of the world, women don’t leave their home without the officially sanctioned accompaniment of a child, husband or parent.

A woman alone there, to the larger culture, often reads: looking…sexual…naive. Even if you’re not.

Do some of your favorite activities. I took a ballet class in Paris, and mid back-bend, stared up into hand-painted 18th-century ceiling beams. In Coayacan, a suburb of Mexico City, I took a watercolor class and finally learned how to work more effectively on larger pieces. In Los Angeles, I galloped through the dusty hills of Griffiths Park at sunset, then danced to live blues at Harvelle’s, an 80-year-old nightclub in Santa Monica. Heaven!

Take a yoga, spinning or dance class. Attend service at a local church or synagogue.

Take a hike! Get into nature, wherever you end up: walk along the river or lakeside; rent a canoe or kayak or sailboat; go for a bike ride. Pack a pair of running shoes and some comfy workout clothes so you can take advantage of the great outdoors wherever you are. Great way to meet locals — and their dogs.

Plan your evenings. I admit it, evenings can be tougher when you’re alone and female. Do you really want to venture out alone, for a meal, a show, a concert? Yes! But use your hotel concierge — or even a youth hostel’s evening group events — to help you make safe, wise, fun choices. I always search for concerts and museum shows at every city I plan to visit, and build in time to enjoy what the locals love. Splurge on cabs when necessary.

Sit at the bar. That’s where people on their own are often happiest and most comfortable, not just boozers chatting up the bartender. I had a great conversation in a dive bar in Atlanta with a young man working in finance as we whiled away the early evening. Many of a city’s best restaurants serve meals at the bar, where you can feel less obvious and self-conscious as a woman out alone, and a good barkeep will keep an eye on you.

Plan for the beach. I always take a small plastic case I can tuck into my bathing suit, which will hold my credit card/debit card/cash, freeing me to swim or snorkel without worrying someone is nabbing my stuff. If you like to sail, kayak, canoe, snorkel, surf….check out local facilities and build them into your trip; always take a bathing suit, windbreaker and golf or baseball cap to protect your head.

Stay sober. Seriously. Only once in my life (boring, but true) have I gotten really drunk, at a bar in San Francisco (not on purpose  — long day, empty stomach) and was able to stagger safely the few blocks back to my hotel. Insanity. True insanity.

No matter how lonely, depressed or vacay-ish you’re feeling, getting drunk or stoned around strangers is a profoundly stupid and potentially life-threatening choice. You’re alone. Who’s going to offer your medical history to the EMTs or ER? Or the police?

Be open to meeting people. I’ve enjoyed meals and even overnight stays in the homes of strangers I’ve met along the way, from the Cote d’Azur to the Coromandel Peninsula. One of the greatest pleasures of traveling alone, as a woman, is how many people are happy to welcome you into their lives and homes. I met a flight attendant from Paraguay at Honolulu airport, shared a cab with her and, realizing how cheaply she got her hotel room, buddied up with her for the week. In New Zealand, four lovely kids in their 20s met me at the youth hostel, adopted me, took me to a beach house, then home to a hill-top mansion outside Auckland. When they all waved goodbye to me at the airport, it was terribly hard to leave!

Not every man is out to get you or jump you! Not every friendly conversation is some sort of trap.

But some are.

Learning to quickly and accurately suss out the good ‘uns will keep you safe and send you back home with indelible, amazing memories.(My very worst experiences, i.e. criminal ones, happened in my suburban New York town. Maybe because my guard was down?)

Here’s a great website with resources for solo female travelers and here’s a list with six other smart tips.

What tips have you found helpful in your journeys?

Istanbul Cleans Up Its Act, Threatening to Close Famed Street of Brothels

In politics, women on July 18, 2009 at 4:41 pm
Istanbul Birds in Flight

Image by Oberazzi via Flickr

You might have missed Giraffe Street if you’ve ever visited Istanbul, shut behind a thick metal door in the city’s historic center. If you were a tourist, your ID would have forbidden entry into one of the city’s most famous streets, reports Le Monde in tomorrow’s edition, housing about 40 brothels. Now, mayor Kadir Topbas says it’s time to renovate the city center, close the street and turn it into a public garden with small artists’s studios. The 150 prostitutes who live and work there will have to move.

The announcement, reports Le Monde, has reignited a debate about prostitution, which is legal in Turkey, and even provides sex workers with health care, access to social security and retirement benefits. Belgin Celik, a transsexual spokesman for the sex workers, asked “What will become of them? If you throw them into the street, they’ll face violence and illness.” The street has long been notorious, run in the 1990s by Mathilde Manoukian, a well-known local figure who was one of Turkey’s wealthiest businesswomen. After her 2001 death, business there declined.

At least one woman interviewed by reporter Guillaume Perrier was delighted by the closing. Ayse Tukrukcu, a former sex worker who retired in 1996, and one of the few to break silence on the issue, said she’d been raped by a policeman for a week.”If I’d complained, they would have killed me and you would have found my body underneath a bridge. In the brothels, there’s drugs and AIDS. I’ve seen decapitated bodies and forced late-term abortions. The closing of the brothels is great news. These girls must be given the choice to live another life.”

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