LOST IN THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE

I have to admit I was quite scared of going on business travel to Turkey given the recent events that took place in the country over the past year. We all remember the explosion at the Istanbul Atatürk Airport, the open fire at the Reina Nightclub on New Year's of 2017 in the the Ortakoy area, and the multiple protests following the recent rather controversial referendum. Therefore, it is with a great deal of self-reassurance that I finally decided to grab my blue passport - faithful witness of my adventures - with two hands and hopped on the plane in direction of Istanbul - ancient capital of the Ottoman Empire formerly known as Constantinople.

The Arrival

I could have had a smoother start to this trip. My week at work was actually pretty rough and I was hoping things would turn around before I left for the Old Ottoman Empire. My phone had suddenly decided to surrender during my sleep and my laptop decided to follow the same pattern on the next day. Luckily, I managed to replace both items prior to my departure. But, as soon as I landed and stood in line for passport control, a civilian police officer berthed next to me in the most subtle way while discretely flashing his badge. He said: "passport control". He looked at every page to finally ask me to follow him. I have to admit, I was scared that he was an impostor just wandering around the terminal trying to get a hold of a foreign passport for his benefit on the black market. Ladies and Gentlemen, the craziest thoughts go through your mind when in the middle of such a stressful situation. I am quite used to the police asking me to present my documents. However, they normally let me go within seconds when they see the color of my Canadian passport. But, this time, it was different. The civilian policeman sat me in a tiny room surrounded by six Turks, each of them with the good old 'Thick mustaches + cigarettes' combo right under their nose. One asked me to open up my luggage while another asked to unlock my cellphone so he can browser through it. Obviously, they did not find anything abnormal. Although one of them thought I had quite a lot of clothes an shoes for a five-day business trip. But, hey! Don't I work in the fashion industry after all?

About thirty minutes after the altercation I was still shaking, noticed one of my colleagues. But, we still made it smoothly to the hotel. Later that evening we all decided to go for dinner as a group to a fish restaurant nearby called Fener. Fresh fish on the grill with no seasoning whatsoever but a pinch of salt and a splash of lemon juice accompanied by a variety of traditional salads - Now that's a meal! As we learned later on during the trip from one of our colleagues based at the Istanbul office, that restaurant is one of the best ones in the city as far as fresh fish meals. We knew we had an early start the next day so most of the group went back to the hotel. But, a small group of happy campers still decided to go to a near by café for some cocktails and a few narguile pipes to share.

Beysehir

The next day, we had a scheduled shuttle to the airport departing from our hotel at 03:45am. Needless to say we all looked like absolute zombies while driving to the airport to catch our early flight to Konya - a city south of Ankara in Turkey's Central Anatolia region. After the flight, we still had a two-hour drive to the small village of Beysehir to reach the factory for our meeting with one of our suppliers. The road through the countryside was absolutely stunning. Some nice farmlands, the peaceful Beysehir Lake - the second biggest lake in Turkey - and a stunning skyline drawn by the Dedegol Mountain where we can still catch sight of snow on its top. Of course, most of us had only contemplated the area's beauty on the way back as we were pretty much sleeping throughout the bus ride.

The whole day was focused on learning about the fabric production process from plant collection to single jersey fabric knitting. The second day was focused on garment production from cutting to packaging for shipment. It must not sound very appealing to most of you, but put me in a factory environment and I turn into a kid in a candy store. I'm that much of a geek. Plus, I think there is something playful about understanding how our clothes are made. It is definitely something everyone can relate to (unless you're a creep!). The two-day training closed in a charming way as we were asked to plant our own tree on the forefront of the factory building. It reminded us that garment production starts with a tree and that it is important to give back to nature what she was merciful enough to give us.

Konya

Back in Konya for the evening, first stop was at the Mevlâna Museum to learn a little bit more about  Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi who's sarcophagus is exposed right under its green dome. Rumi was a 13th-century Persian Sunni Muslim poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic. His influence transcends national borders and ethnic divisions: Iranians, Tajiks, Turks, Greeks, Pashtuns, other Central Asian Muslims, and the Muslims of South Asia have greatly appreciated his spiritual legacy for the past seven centuries. The whole building and its architecture was very impressive as much on the outside than on the inside. The museum had several historical artifacts including a 1268 edition of the Holy Koran!

After the museum visit, we moved on to a typical Turkish restaurant where we had nothing less than a feast kicked off with an okra soup for appetizer. Then, fur different kinds of pide presented on a meter-long wooden plate elevated by two wooden blocks placed on each extremity of the table were brought as a main dish. Of course, this delicious meal was accompanied by a fresh glass of ayran - a salty yogurt-based beverage. To conclude, a cup of traditional Turkish tea and baklava. After the meal, some of us decided to enjoy a digestive walk to the hotel. A short four-kilometer walk under a clear sky and facing a refreshing breeze. We checked in at the Dedeman, a luxurious hotel located right in the center of the city. The price was quite reasonable for its class. I think we paid around 85 euros for the night. If find it quite cheap for what it was, if you ask me. 

Istanbul

Back in Istanbul for two nights. We spent the first evening driving around the city with a limo-style van listening to some late 90's/early 2000's R&B music. You can imagine how this limo-van turned into a karaoke booth within seconds with the whole crew singling along some early hits from R. Kelly, Sisqo, Ginuwine, Usher, and many more. We stopped a few times here and there around the Bosphorus to experience the most typical street food this city had to offer: rice-stuffed mussels, a giant potato stuffed with literally everything (cheese, corn, olives, peppers... you name it!) and a hot milk beverage topped with cinnamon powder. A true delight! On the next morning, the plan was to visit a world-renowned t-shirt company. For that, we had to cross continent from the European side to the Asian side of Istanbul. The day started with presentations from the founder and CEO of the company, followed by another presentation from the recipient of the most prestigious awards of the imaging industry - The “Hall of Fame” Award. This factory was so impressive that I found myself once more like a kid in a candy shop as I snooped around all the types of machinery they used. You would not believe the level of automation of this garment assembly line from the cutting process all the way to packaging. This factory was producing t-shirts and t-shirts only. Given their positioning and low diversification of product groups, they were able to reach a high level of productivity and standardization through automation at almost every step of the line. We're talking knitting mills for a tubular single jersey fabric, pattern cutting machines, seam sewing machines and printing carousels. All of this: automated!!! Am I the only one getting excited around here???

Back to the hotel, some of us have decided to cab to the downtown area for some sightseeing. We have walked through the famous Grand Bazaar - one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. We then made it to the Sultan Ahmad Camii - also known as the Blue Mosque - and Hagia Sophia - a former Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal basilica... later an imperial mosque... and now a museum. We then walked around until we found a nice restaurant which featured traditional Turkish living rooms as dining areas. The menu offered something that suited every taste around the table. Of course, my choice was the best to my eyes as it came with a small show at our table. I ordered a slow cooked terracotta pot filled with lamb meat and all sorts of vegetables. The waiter then came to our table with the pot on coal caught in fire. He then broke the pot with a stick and ran to my table to pour the sizzling meat and veggies over my plate. As you can imagine, it was absolutely delicious!

We ended the evening on a patio on the edge of a small paved street where we had different kinds of coffees and teas including Blue Jasmine tea and two pipes of narguile. On the next day, we headed to the airport and headed back to Nuremberg. Thanks a lot Turkey for a business trip which scared me quite a bit and turned out to be an amazing journey.

PS: Teşekkürler!