The Other Tour is very much a counter tour that avoids the standard tourist sites and the standard approach of herding tourists with the occasional pointing and a few humorous remarks.
The activities range from a Bosporus cruise (standard) to a lunch at the Fethi’s house in Esenler, cooked by the tour guide’s mother. Indeed the itinerary went well beyond the one stated itinerary of local markets, Armutlu. Balat and Fener, Okey lessons, and the hammam visit.
Our tour included tasting the famous Kanlica yoghurt and comfort drink sahlep while replacing the wine tasting with a night out at the Galata Restaurant & Bar where the raki and wine flowed (other tours will vary). The tour lasted 14 hours.
The tour is iconoclastic (a good Byzantine word) in two other ways.
The energetic but avuncular guide—accompanied by his more sedate brothers—used a mixture of humor and quips to break down the defenses of other participants to get them to bond, making all active participants part of the tour. That all this could occur in the course of a one day tour is no small accomplishment.
Yet the biggest departure is that there is a serious underpinning to what the tour is seeking to accomplish—Fethi’s very personal interpretation of Istanbul and modern Turkey.
His view that contrasts modern urban sprawl and mega-urbanization, inequality, and dislocation that comes from the mass migration of peoples from all over Anatolia to a city struggling to absorb them with the older Istanbul that has largely disappeared.
His remarks at various sites deliver a sharp critique of the forces of Turkization of the modern Turkish republic. He yearns for an era when Constantinople was a truly diverse collection of communities combining Turk, Armenian, Greek (he uses the word Rum), and Jews before nationalism and the policies of founders and leaders created a society that was less diverse and tolerant in terms of ethnicity and religion. For a tour to have a serious underlying message is impressive.
Most of all, The Other Tour is both memorable and fun. Unlike most tours, this one opens eyes and sticks in the mind. Highly recommended.