Gülhane Park and the virtue of lostness

Half the fun of the travel is the aesthetic of lostness. –Ray Bradbury.

Note: I wrote this a long time ago and forgot to post it.

One of my rules for travel is that if I don’t think to myself “I am lost” (or some more profane variant) at least three times while exploring a new place, then I’m probably not trying hard enough to explore. Getting lost, and finding your way back, is the best way to learn in any discipline, but particularly in navigating a city.

I discovered Gülhane Park in this way. While meandering along the Bosphorus I realized I might be very far away from where I needed to be for the next program meeting in an hour, and I had no specific idea as to how to get back. While my brain repeated the mantra “Where the fuck am I” at a consistent hum, my instincts told me to turn right as soon as possible, so I did.

In doing so, I came upon some gates guarded by a police and labeled with a sign saying something about a çay bahçesi. A garden of tea sounded delightful, if not exactly what I was looking for, but finding the unexpected is the benefit of getting lost, so I pushed on. Passing through the gates, a green world unfolded in front of me: shrubbery, trees, rolling hills, benches, trellises, a public fountain, and a laid-back atmosphere with mercifully few tourists and people. As a nature-loving hippie, seeing this green space made my heart flutter with joy. Not knowing if I would ever make it back to my group, I decided to push on anyway.

Walking up a hill there was indeed a cluster of cay bahcesi with a lovely, lovely view of the Bosphorus. Although I did not know this at the time, cay bahcesi is the generic name for an outdoor tea house. Whereas cay evi are more male-dominated spaces, cay bahcesi are touristic or family-oriented (but someone please correct me if I am wrong in my impression).


Leaving the tea garden, I found that the few people in this mysterious park were mostly native Turks relaxing. There was a children’s playground and people napping on benches. You could find cuddling couples lounging on a bench or against a tree, which was heartwarming, as I am a strong supporter of P.D.A. The trees, fountains, benches, playground, pond, and everything else was enclosed on one side by some stately-looking old walls with decorated windows. It was a lovely and relaxing walk, exactly what I needed to balance out the stress of the city streets.

In fact, this place turned out to be not mysterious at all. I got all the way to the other end and realized I was in Gülhane Park, a public nature space located directly adjacent to Topkapı Palace, which, if you’re not aware, is a huge tourist draw in the vicinity of Hagia Sophia, Sultanahmet Mosque, the Hippodrome, the Sublime Porte, and, crucially, our hotel. I gave myself a pat on the back for trusting my instincts and not being afraid to get even more lost than I already had been.

Gülhane means “rose garden” and historically it was a flower garden associated with Topkapı Palace, but like most sites in this area of Istanbul it has significant historical connections. For instance, it was here that in 1839, Sultan Abdülmecid I proclaimed the Gulhane Edict, which launched the Tanzimat period of reform and reorganization of the Ottoman Empire. Today the park is a fantastic and essential place to refresh and unwind after the concrete push-and-shove of the city.

It’s just a small example, but I hope you will consider embracing lostness in your life, because you never know what you will find.

P.S. There is a lovely and little-frequented bit of a Bosphorus boardwalk right outside the back entrance to Gulhane. If you’re in Istanbul and desperately in need of a run/jog to stretch your legs (as I and a few of my classmates did) then this is the place to do it. Note that most Turkish people in Istanbul think that running is a loopy thing to do and will openly tease you about it, resulting in an complete and amusing failure of intercultural communication.

EDIT: An article in Scienceline about the psychological benefits of nature, just to prove that I am not a big fat hippy and there is actually a measurable benefit to visiting the park.

In green spaces, for example, people’s heart rates decrease, their muscles relax, and they become calmer. It’s the difference you feel when you leave behind a busy city street for a peaceful park.


2 thoughts on “Gülhane Park and the virtue of lostness

  1. Kahraman Sakul September 16, 2010 / 6:52 pm

    I have never thought about the (assumed) distinction between cay evi and cay bahcesi as a Turkish person. Kahvehane (Coffee house) is absolutely male-dominated but I don’t see any difference between cay evi and cay bahcesi. The latter connotes that it has a garden and is a peaceful place while cay evi really sounds like touristy and cheesy.
    As for jogging/running, it amuses me whenever I remember this certain scene in Back to the Future II where the crazy professor was orating in the saloon to an audience of cowboys that their grand-children would walk and run in the future just to keep their body in good shape. Unsurprisingly, his audience made fun of this comment and it seems that modern Turkish society (including me) is no different than the conwboys about jogging. It is unhealthy in a humid climate! I just teased the students today by remarking that many athletes barely see their mid-40s due to the overgrowth of their heart to their amusement!


    • C. Puls September 19, 2010 / 8:10 pm

      Kahraman Bey, thank you for visiting my blog! And thank you for the clarification regarding tea-drinking establishments in Turkey. I knew there were some distinctions but did not understand what exactly they were.
      Regarding running, I simply do not share your viewpoint. The other students and I think running keeps us physically and emotionally healthy. To follow your Back to the Future analogy, maybe Turkish people are just stuck in the past? 😉 haha. Anyway, when running I am less afraid of the humidity and more afraid of the crazy drivers on the road.


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