Büyülü Fener: A Magic Lantern to Istanbul’s Past

A middle-aged man passes under a vivid yet rustic sign that reads BÜYÜLÜ FENER, which fits like a puzzle piece among the colors of cafes and apartments that flood this block in Balat. He pushes open a glass door that rests under a row of rainbow stained glass. Once inside he’s greeted with a welcome from the owner, Gediz, as he scans the walls and shelves. This isn’t your typical antique shop, which pop up all over the neighborhood.

A Unique Antique

Not just because Gediz is the only female owner in the area, but because instead of the other shops where you feel like you’re walking into an old Ottoman tea house, here it’s like you’ve entered the Art Director from Turkish Mad Men’s supply warehouse. On the walls are rows of small tube TVs, record players, and typewriters flashing with vibrant colors. One of the record players spins a song from the 1960s that only the Turks seem to recognize.

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A Piece of our Past

The man’s eyes stop on an unassuming collection of retro cigarette packages. “Can I buy just this one?” he asks. Gediz tells him of course, but that it’s not worth much without the rest of the collection. “That’s fine. They used to sell this box in Cyprus when I was a kid there. So, when I saw it it immediately brought me back to my time there as a child.”

And that’s why people come to Büyülü Fener (magic lantern in Turkish), not necessarily to find the next rare find of the antiquing world, but to bring back a fond memory or experience. Gediz told me that what really separates Büyülü Fener from the other antique stores is that hers isn’t one; it’s a nostalgia shop.


Balat a Microcosm of Praxis

In a city that is rapidly modernizing, the gentrification can be dispiriting. And, when your commute consists of passing block after block of Soviet-style apartment buildings, you want to find the colors, diversity, and romance of the storied Istanbul. That’s what propelled Fener-Balat to become such a hotspot for tourists, expats, and locals alike. Büyülü Fener fits this neighborhood aesthetic perfectly. It’s what drew Gediz here in the first place. Cihangir had become flooded with overpriced housing and Karaköy had been overrun with chain stores, making a small business nearly impossible. But here, every business is personally owned and new people are moving in droves, but they haven’t destroyed the neighborhood’s character. In fact, as long as they adapt to their surrounding culture they can help enhance it. The neighbors across the street are Bulgarian immigrants on the first floor, Syrians on the 2nd, and from eastern Anatolia on the 3rd. Imams walk the street and wave at the employees from the nearby Ecumenical Patriarchate. Women with head scarves will chat with their neighbors in mini-skirts. Gediz says there’s a weird balance where if you don’t judge, no one will judge you. This is why Fener-Balat is where the city on the cusp of two worlds analogy comes alive. When you live in a sterile apartment and work a sterile job, it feels like the old Istanbul is dead, but you can still find it here.

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I always assumed that antique shops were a staple of the neighborhood, but apparently, I was wrong. Büyülü Fener was only the 5th and opened a little over 2 years ago. Now there are 19, with that number changing every day. While the store may be new, Gediz tells me that opening it has been her dream since she was a teenager. After daring the corporate world for many years, while simultaneously filling her apartment to the brim, she decided to pursue her dream to open her own place and live the laid-back lifestyle of Balat.

A Bit of Nostalgia

She began collecting when she was 16. At first, it was anything that interested her, but then it slowly morphed into attaining collections as well. The evidence is on display everywhere. There’s an eclectic record collection with many hailing from Turkey’s rock heyday in the 1970s summed up with a Barış Manço print in the front row.

Turkish and international records. Photo by: Talha Ayar

Apparently records are making a comeback and many people who buy them don’t even own the players. However, she still sells them, and they all work because Gediz and different specialists team up to restore all the gadgets and electronics in the store. She will buy paintings and photos that barely get settled on the wall before they’re sold. Retro gas lamps are probably the highest selling item for locals, but tourists love trinkets because they can fit them in their suitcase. There are collections of old soda bottles, miniature alcohol bottles (still full), postcards, and a slew of things that you didn’t even know would make you feel nostalgic.


The nostalgia bug hits me hard when I see an old tin toy car that looks like a larger version of a Hot Wheels toy. Across from the entrance, you’ll notice a giant one, like a Cadillac version of all those Fisher-Price commercials I saw as a kid where you actually can ride in the car. Not one to show bias, a miniature burgundy stroller, perfect for a toddler to play house in, rests opposite the car and in front of the original signage for Balat Hastanesi.

The Cadillac (or Ferrari) of toy cars. Photo by: Colin Craig

I bee-line my way towards the sign and begin sweeping through the box of Swiss and Turkish postcards underneath it, I can’t help but read all the messages people wrote their loved ones that now live on through the curious eyes that pry into them. It seems every item in the store has a story. A special one sits in the corner of the store on a 1950s era stove top. An old cast iron sauce pan lacquered in floral patterned paint looks banal at first. But, Gediz tells me these were exclusively made in Western Europe and discontinued there about 40 years ago with the development of lightweight cooking materials.

The rare saucepan (bottom-left). Photo by: Colin Craig

She lifts up the top to an engraved “Made in Turkey”. “It’s the only one I’ve ever seen in all my years of collecting that was made here,” she says. So, maybe the rare finds are here as well.

The Business of Antiquing

I finally ask her how she knows what to buy and that it will sell? She says it’s impossible to predict what items people will buy, so she gave up trying. Instead, she buys things that she’d want to decorate her home with and that sometimes that’s beyond just an eye for commerce. “It’s hard for me to sell some of this stuff because I like it and I become sort of attached to it,” Gediz tells me. She then shows me her favorite item, a toy robot resembling R2D2 and when you open its head there’s a cassette player inside. I ask her how much she would charge for something like that. “It’s not for sale. This is still part of my personal collection.”

Robot cassette player. Photo by: Sveta Nekrasova

If you think you can pry it from her, come to Büyülü Fener in Balat from 10-7 any day but Monday and try.

This article was originally printed here on yabangee.com. All photos are the property of the photographers.

Top 5 Destinations from 2015

Every year, around New Year's, it seems the feeling of declinism is strong. But thankfully my year didn't ring out that way. In honor of all the beautiful places, I saw this year I wanted to countdown the five best travel destinations. From coffee shops and clubs in the Balkans to parks in Amsterdam, I wanted to share how experiencing different cultures, history, and environments made 2015 a year I'll never forget.


Zlatna Ribica in Sarajevo

This little coffee shop off Tito Avenue in Sarajevo says a lot about the current city. First off, it's a coffee shop which is essential to Bosnian culture. It's also a pretty modern set up and crowd, with a lot of trinkets from the past. The only things this cafe/bar doesn't encapsulate are the rolling hills and Ottoman feel of the old town. Bosnia was one of the coolest places I've ever been and didn't know much about outside the war. It's also relatively untouched as far European tourist destinations go. To me, the cafe exemplifies the feelings of Sarajevo, a modernizing city with images of its past punctuating every bit of its surrounding.



A city that's so much more than hookers and drugs, Amsterdam is a culturally vibrant and beautiful city. Vondelpark is a pretty famous locale that sits on the edge of Leidesplein and the Museum District. It's probably the best place in the city to ride your bike to and relax after seeing Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. There's a lot of beauty with the various ponds and the rose garden. From there you can hit up the bars or cafes that line the outside or play a game of giant chess in Leidesplein.


Aktepe from Sunset Point

Rose Valley from Sunset Point

Cappadocia is probably the most unique place I've been in the world, and the Fairy Chimneys definitely are the major contributor. However, the most magnificent beauty that I experienced was hiking through the Rose and Red Valleys to end up at Sunset Point. It has a little bit of everything, a few fairy chimneys, frescoed churches, kangal dogs. Thanks to Fevzi at Fresco Cave Suites for showing us old Churches and the best vistas. He knows the trails like the back of his hand and is always looking to practice his English. Finishing an afternoon of hiking with a bottle of wine and watch the sunset from the above view is something that I'll never forget and was the perfect way to end my trip. Go in the fall when it's not too hot but still has all the colors.


I'll be the first to admit I'm not a dancer and usually not one to stay at them till closing, but in Belgrade, I didn't leave till the sun was coming up for three straight nights. And sometimes my group was some of the first people back to the hostel (except for the people who couldn't even make it out). The views are beautiful, drinks inexpensive (if you're a tourist), and people are friendly. There was no elitist vibe at any of the places, and everyone was just trying to have a good time. As you can see below some people had too good of a time.





The Blue Cruise is the coolest thing I've ever done, but I did it in 2014. It's all-inclusive, except for booze - which my brother managed to drink more of than anyone else even drank water. The sea is at around bathtub temperature and crystal clear, the food is fresh, and the crew is always laid back and capable. There's not a single spot on this four day - 3-night trip that isn't worth it.

Berlinale - Berlin is an awesome city in its own right. With a vibrant nightlife that

Potzdamer Platz during Berlinale

contrasts with a macabre history interwoven with a mighty imperial past. But during the winter, the Berlin Film Festival brings in some of the most significant stars and best films to be received in any given year. From Hollywood fare to independents, it's one of the best film festivals in Europe, if not the world.

Walking around Budapest - One of my favorite cities in the world. Budapest is on either side of the Danube and gives you the best of both worlds. The Pest side is flat with tons of great food (seriously Hungarian food is incredible) and tons of bars. You get some history with St. Stephen's Basilica and Parliament. While Buda is much more hilly, it's home to Buda Castle, a hill that has been a significant point of defense for European empires for centuries, and a more traditional town feel compared to the urbanity of Pest. I wanted to put this in my top 5 but felt like choosing an entire city was cheating. It's a pretty walkable city, though you'll want some kind shoes, and the town really glows at night.

View of Buda Castle at night


One of the most beautiful, peaceful, serene, (insert positive adjective here) places I've ever seen. The lake and village surrounding it have a little something for everyone. There are hostels and upscale hotels and villas. On the lake, you can go boating, fishing, and swimming. There's even a warm spring which keeps this alpine lake's turquoise water relatively warm. You can hike and bike through the ridges of the Julian Alps. There's an iconic old church and castle, and a small modern waterpark, restaurants, and bars. The area is starting to get a little touristy, so, if you start to feel cramped, you can head about half an hour away to the pristine Lake Bohinj. Or you can hike up and catch closer views of the mountains and vistas of the lake. Either way, you can't go wrong and to just stroll along the lake and listen to the birds and church bells ring through the valley was almost meditative.

Lake Bled and Bled Church

Hopefully, this helps inspire you to see more of the world and maybe go to a place you never thought of before. I think 2016 will satiate my wanderlust a bit more, but sites like these make that a little more impossible every trip.

History of Ramadan and the Experience in Istanbul

Ramadan in Turkey (or Ramazan in Turkish) is by far the most famous of the Muslim holidays and definitely the longest. The Muslim calendar is lunar and is about 11 days shorter than the Gregorian Calendar. So, that's why you'll see the dates change every year. Ramadan is one month and is a physically and mentally arduous experience. For some, it's also a spiritually enriching one as well.

Some basic facts about Ramadan:

  • 29 or 30 days every year
  • Culminates in a 3-day long holiday of eating everything you can. In Arabic, this is commonly called Eid. Turks refer to it as Şeker Bayramı (Festival of Sweets) or just Bayram in Turkish.
  • Most famously you cannot eat during the daylight, drink water (or anything else), smoke, or participate in pleasures of the body. This practice is called Oruç in Turkish.
  • There are many exemptions: sickness, old age, pregnancy and breastfeeding, prepubescence, menstruation, or traveling all exempt you from having to fast. Though, I believe some of these only mean you need to make up the lost day later, feed someone less fortunate, or give enough money to charity to afford one day's worth of food. This practice is referred to as fidyah in Arabic.
  • Suhur is your morning meal. You can often expect to be woken up for it by people walking down the street banging a loud bass drum.
  • Iftar is the nightly meal, and you can often get it free at mosques (or Camii in Turkish)
  • Niyetliyim - The phrase you say to those who offer you food or drink during the day. The closest translation I've been told is, "I'm intended."
  • It's the fourth of the Five Pillars of Islam. It is mandatory in some countries with punishments ranging from a small fine to imprisonment.
  • Kaffaraah means atonement and that if you deliberately break your fast, you need to fast for 60 straight days or pay for the food of 60 people for one day.
  • Laylatul-Qadr commemorates Mohammad's revelation of the Qu'ran. While meditating, he allegedly was spoken to by the Archangel Gabriel who motivated him to create the holy book.

"Sultan Ahmed Mosque mahya3" by Uğur Başak - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sultan_Ahmed_Mosque_mahya3.jpg#/media/File:Sultan_Ahmed_Mosque_mahya3.jpg

How To Fast

This year is a rather intense year for fasting as June 20th was the third or so day of Ramadan and also was the longest day of the year. So far the meals have been at approximately 3:30 AM and 8:40 PM this year. So, you have about seven hours to eat and have to go through the lengthy hot hours of the afternoon thirsty and hungry. Personally, I'm trying to do it for about a week until I travel back to the States (using that travel exemption!). I'll let everyone know how it goes. I've known a few non-Muslims who have done the entire month a few times.

Why People Fast

Which kind of brings me to the next point and that's why you fast. You see people from other faiths (or no faith) attempt it and while the holiday is intended for Muslims other religions throughout history have employed fasting, and the meaning is similar.

  1. Achieve taqwa (Turkish: takva), and it's mainly the purification of your soul and mind to be closer to God. By being selfless and fasting for Allah.
  2. Shows self-discipline. It supposedly develops one's mind from the physical to the moral and therefore to the spiritual level by suppressing carnal desires.
  3. To help you empathize with those less fortunate than you. By stripping yourself of indulgences, you are supposed to understand the plight of poverty better and thus make you a more ethical person and help you achieve taqwa.

Ramadan in Turkey

With all that said, Ramazan in Turkey can actually be a normal, if not quiet, time. It's a nice change of pace for a bustling city of 16 or so million people. Many people don't fast or try it for a few days and give up. It's business as usual with a lot of places. Offices remain open, as do restaurants. In more conservative areas you probably want to avoid eating, drinking, or smoking in public. Though no one will say much, you may get some stares either because that person is irritable from hunger or because they are just so hungry that they can't take their eyes off your sandwich.

When Ramadan (the 9th month on the Islamic calendar ends) the holiday begins, and that's when most people leave for vacation. It's a public holiday in Turkey and busses and trains are free. There are often big feasts with friends and family. Before you eat you are supposed to donate food to the poor equal to every member of your household before the Bayram prayer (it's worth noting now that prayer is essential during Ramadan as it is in other days in Islam, with Iftar coming after the evening prayer and Suhur before the 1st). The first day of Bayram you wake up extra early to pray and go around in your best clothes. Children will come around and kiss your right hand and press it to their foreheads, and then you are supposed to give them candies or small amounts of money, kind of like Halloween.


It's really an exciting time and a great insight into religious devotion and purpose, as well as just culturally. I'll check back in a few weeks to let you know if I failed or not. Also, I'll admit to not being a religious scholar. I know I'm missing a lot but if there are any glaring inaccuracies feel free to leave a comment.

Ramazanınız Mübarek Olsun!

April Fools Day Come Early in Turkey

Sorry if you think writing about a current events situation two weeks after the fact is too much of a delay, but I was on vacation (thanks, Mom!) and am now just getting back into my daily routine. With that said, I've had some interesting days here in Turkey. With one sticking out as one of the strangest that I've had in Istanbul so far. A nationwide blackout occurred on March 31st from 10 am - 4 pm. And by nationwide I mean pretty much every major city lost power. If you were lucky enough to work in a larger facility your day continued as usual (I wasn't). Otherwise, the country and especially Istanbul was chaotic. Many businesses lack a backup generator which halted production and caused up to millions of dollars in losses according to some estimates. Some people were also stuck in elevators for hours. Outside, the city dealt with its own issues as stop lights and subway lines went out of service for as much as five hours. And in a city spilling over capacity at about 20 million people traffic is already an issue on a normal day. Without work to do and nowhere to go the conspiracy theories began to fly. A conclusive reason has yet to be discovered but there have been numerous ideas ranging from the realistic to the absurd and some preliminary investigations leaking details of a cause, but nothing concrete as of yet. I'll give you a brief overview of the most prominent conjectures and let you make your own decision.

Taksim station on the afternoon of the 31st.

Cyber Attack - The most conspiracy theoryish idea, so of course a lot of people believe it. The idea is that Iran somehow took out Turkey's electrical grid. I have no idea whether this is even possible but one of the reasons I've heard as to why people think it was an attack from Iran, besides geopolitical reasons, is because the city of Van had no outages and they receive their electricity from Iran. Besides the fact that this detail would make this the most conspicuous covert operation I've ever heard of; it defies simple logic. Of course Van would go unaffected if it's not on the national power grid, but I digress.

Employee Error - Probably the easiest to swallow (and most likely) for most people. Someone in Ankara probably fell asleep at the wheel, so to speak, or plugged the wrong what's-it into the incorrect thingy and the next thing you know an entire nation is contemplating the End of Days.

Mismanagement - Another idea partially attributed by the Minister of Energy, Taner Yildiz. A single company, TEİAŞ, is responsible for almost all electrical production and distribution in Turkey. Yildiz blamed people for being careless and taking risks without his knowledge. This is an incredibly vague description. The company's head, Kemal Yildir, took responsibility and resigned saying it was a technical issue and he should've been ahead of it.

Technical Issues - Yildiz also said that simultaneous work at two different plants on the same grid caused a surge which resulted in the events of the 31st. He stated it was an operational fault and not a supply one, however. The stability of the system and its ability to bounce back after a possible future similar event was supported by Yildiz. Even though TEİAŞ was unable to restore power for almost six hours just a week ago. I'm not an electrical engineer, but appears that Yildiz is doing some political posturing instead of giving an objective assessment on the status of the grid.

Potential for Nuclear Energy - The other talked about theory I've heard from a lot of locals is that this is a power move being structured by the government to garner support for nuclear reactors. Just days ago, banners went up all around the capital of Ankara advertising the building of nuclear facilities. A lot people view the power outage as a crafty maneuver to sway those who fear environmental repercussions from nuclear energy to look past their hesitancies because of the fear of instability and perhaps their biggest fear, the loss of revenue. 

On a more serious note, the largest courthouse in Europe, located in Istanbul, less than a mile from my home encountered a hostage situation simultaneously to the blackout. Two gunmen who claimed to be affiliated with the DHKP-C, a banned Marxist political group that is considered a Terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU, and the US, took the prosecutor of the police officer who shot Berkin Elvan hostage with demands of: a public confession from the officer who fired on Elvan, the public naming of four other officers who were allegedly involved, and the gunmen wanting to ensure their own safe exit. After almost a full day of negotiations shots were fired from inside the office. The two gunmen were killed and the prosecutor was shot and died from his injuries at the hospital.

The courthouse where the hostage situation took place in Istnabul

The whole situation, while being sad, raised a more puzzling question. How were these men able to bring guns into such a heavily fortified building? There's the chance that with the blackouts and general chaos of the day the men were able to circumvent security, but this has pushed others to speculate the two events are connected. I'm not going to make that assumption, personally, because I have no way to verify it, but I can say it was one of the crazier days I've experienced in Turkey.

Eskişehir: Turkey's Amsterdam without the Vice and Art Museums

I recently went to Eskisehir, which is a city in Western Anatolia about two hundred miles southeast of Istanbul. Despite Anatolia being known more like a dry grassland plateau, the western section is rugged and green. It's covered in forests and green ridges that contrast starkly with the heavily industrialized Sea of Marmara coastline to the west and the flat urban sprawl of the capital, Ankara, to the east. When I first arrived, I didn't know what to expect, and I was just told it was a fun city and only about a three-hour train ride from my home in Istanbul. It was hyped up by friends as a kind of college town, but I was just looking forward to a weekend away. As soon as we left the train station and made our way down the main street, there was a giant mall. In front of the mall was an, "I 'heart' Eskisehir" sign, much like the famous, eponymous ones in Amsterdam. IMG_1057

At first, I found the structure a cheap imitation. An attempt to make the city seem like a more prominent destination by mimicking a sort of banal tourist stop. I still think about the structures in both towns that way. However, the longer I stayed, the more it accentuated the parallels between the two cities in my mind over the weekend I spent there. Amsterdam's cultural history may be more famous, but Eskisehir's is even more significant. The title means "old city" in Turkish and the founding dates back to 1000 BC. While Eskisehir wasn't home to Van Gogh and Rembrandt or any famous Turkish artists, it does house a Museum dedicated to the artistic glassware that Ottoman art is known for. Amsterdam is probably most well known for its tourist drawing Red Light District, but don't expect anything like that. So, if you want to smoke a joint and buy a hooker, Eskisehir isn't the place for you. For a predominately Muslim country though, you can find a nightlife here that is more open than any other I've seen outside of the typical expat havens and Istanbul. It has a somewhat liberal population, as well as a high number of young people that leads to a pretty big bar scene with quality foreign beers, if like me; you get tired of drinking Bomonti and Efes (The Miller and Miller High Life of Turkey). You can also find pool and ping pong tables at most places, which aren't easy to find in bars in the rest of the country.

Most of these bars run near the Porsuk River. Unlike the iconic Amstel, it doesn't cross every nook and cranny, but still bisects the city. Cafes, restaurants, and various other shops line the river. You can regularly find people sipping on tea or drinking beer or raki with the rattle of dice from a game of backgammon going on. It's an excellent alternative to the packed and expensive tourist trap that is Amsterdam (don't expect to hear people speaking English in Eskisehir as they do in Amsterdam, though). Walking along the river, I couldn't help but feel the same relaxed vibe that I had felt this summer in Amsterdam but with fewer crowds and drunk 18-year-olds.

However, if you've ever been to Amsterdam outside of the Red Light District, you know that much more defines the city than drugs and prostitution. There is an artistic feeling that permeates the air there, and maybe that's what I breathed in while in Eskisehir. Its architecture exemplifies this. When I walked along the river banks, and in the Odunpazari neighborhood I couldn't help but notice the unique houses, similar to the ones that struck me so much when I was in Amsterdam. Amsterdam's homes are noted for their long and narrow style with white trim (seen below).DSC_0960

Odunpazari has a style that is a little different but felt reminiscent of the one in Amsterdam. They looked like inverse images of the typical apartments above. What with them being shorter and broader with inverse color schemes. Nevertheless, I felt like I had stumbled on an older Dutch colony as I walked through.DSC_1378

The structural differences are probably more due to the period they were built, with Odunpazari's neighborhood dating back to about 1000 AD, while the city of Amsterdam was founded approximately 400 years later. There is also more necessity for Amsterdam's tall, thin style because of the need to conserve space, which Eskisehir doesn't have to deal with. Similarly, the Odunpazari neighborhood has numerous mosques dating back to the 1400's and 1500's much like the era most of Amsterdam's classic churches are from.

Westerkerk...tallest church in the Netherlands

Alaadin Mosque. The oldest mosque in Eskisehir

Overall, the cities provide a lot of similarities and contrasts between Turkish and Dutch culture. There's unique architecture surrounding river banks with elaborate bridges connecting the sides. Religious buildings accentuate otherwise unimpressive skylines. There are apparent differences between the Muslim culture that shaped modern Eskisehir and the social democratic doctrine of Amsterdam, but they share common traits. They are two of the most beautiful places to relax, and they embody a friendly and welcoming nature that makes me wish I could go back.

Finally Up!

Welcome! Thanks for reading, it's been a long time coming but I've finally found time to get this little blog off the ground. Even if that means just writing an introductory post. Anyways, as some of you know I moved to Istanbul, Turkey in the beginning of June and plan on staying for the foreseeable future. I'm writing this because it's cathartic in a way, but also to fill my time (especially now that the rainy season is starting) and to inform those back home who are interested in what I'm up to or curious about Turkey as a place a little insight into what's going on over here.

Most stuff in the news in the US, , when not being largely ignored, revolves around the tragic and controversial happenings like: the Soma disaster, Gezi Park protests, twitter ban, government corruption, etc. While I don't want to pretend like these issues don't exist it's unfair to think about these situations as the only things happening. There is the bad, but there is so much more in this unique place.

It's Kurban Bayram (Feast of the Sacrifice) so I have some lamb that I need to watch get got and then devour. So, as I try to make this blog not just a preachy message about understanding a foreign culture I'll answer some questions that I get frequently asked. Before I left and even now I constantly hear, "why Turkey? Why would you ever want to leave the US? Is it safe?". I feel that I could go on for awhile about any of those, the short answers being: why not, see the world, and yes. Instead of expanding on those right now though I'll just leave this video below to show people what I see living here.


güle güle