Steffy is life long traveler and Cameroonian native that loves and is inspired by photography, though she does not allow it to dictate the way she travels.
Salut! My name is Steffy Fogain. I currently live, work and study in Toronto but I’m originally from Cameroon. Travel has been a part of my journey before I ever became a proud passport owner. I witnessed my parents’ nomadic tendencies through my father’s globetrotting adventures and my mother’s urge to move to a different home every two years. As I grew up, it became clear that I had inherited my parents’ inability to stay put and their abiding desire to collect travel anecdotes.
How does photography influence the way you travel and see the world around you?
Photo-sharing platforms like Instagram, Flickr and Tumblr have made travel photography accessible and they have instilled a curiosity in the masses to see what is out there. Before I downloaded Instagram, I was completely unaware that places like Angkor Wat, Huacachina or Sossuvlei even existed. The photographs that I have come across have inspired me to discover places that would’ve remained undiscovered had it not been for photography. On the flip side, it’s important to note that photography doesn’t dictate the way I travel. It plays a pivotal role in the inspiration phase but beyond that, it takes a backseat. It can be easy to get caught up in trying to get the perfect shot which can lead you to miss out on the key moments that encapsulate a heartwarming travel memory. There needs to be a balance between being in the moment and immortalizing said moment.
What sparked your interest to travel to Turkey? Which cities did you visit?
The opportunity to travel to Turkey fell into my lap when I stumbled upon a $500 flight deal to Istanbul (shoutout to SecretFlying). Since a roundtrip ticket from Toronto to Istanbul usually costs $1000, my sister and I couldn’t pass this up. We agreed to spend nine days in Istanbul and an additional three in Cappadocia.
What has been your favorite approach to photography while there? Did you generally strike up a conversation with your subjects or just candidly capture the moment? How did people react to being photographed?
I have a very conflicted approach to travel photography. In a world where selfies are deemed abhorrent because of their self-serving nature, I often find it selfish and intrusive to capture strangers that I don’t know or who haven’t directly expressed their consent. Although my intent isn’t to profit off of this individual, the act of taking a picture of a local and then sharing it on the web or framing it in my home seems self-beneficial. As a result, I rely on stills of scenery, landscape and architecture. On certain rare occasions, my introversion will subside and I will engage with locals before proceeding to photograph them, but that typically occurs when I've consumed a glass of wine.
How did you plan for your trip? How did you navigate between each city?
Like most millennials, I make use of self-serve platforms like Booking.com, Expedia and GetYourGuide to plan my trip. After booking our flights to Istanbul and Cappadocia, I proceeded to booking our airport transfers – it’s a great way to avoid being frazzled or confronted with a language barrier right after a long haul flight. As someone who massively relies on to-do lists in my day-to-day life, vacationing means zeroing down on structure so we avoided jam-packing our days. Every morning, my sister and I would ask each other if there was something specific that we wanted to do and we would just go from there. Istanbul is a big metropolis and navigating it by foot can be taxing. We mostly relied on taxis to navigate from one end of the Galata bridge to the other but we also wandered around the narrow streets of Beyoglu, Karakoy and Sultanahmet by foot.
What would you say differentiated each city and region you explored from each other?
Istanbul is bustling and full of life while Nevsehir is more tranquil and slow-paced; it’s a perfect break from the movings and goings in Istanbul. While in Cappadocia, we were woken by the chirping of birds as opposed to the blaring sounds of cars honking during early morning rush hour in Istanbul. Both regions truly have an essence of their own. In Cappadocia, you feel like you’ve landed on another planet; its landscape composed of fairy chimneys and intriguing rock formations is out of this world. In Istanbul, you are captivated by the engineering and creativity behind structures like Hagia Sophia and the Süleymanique Mosque. There’s also an undeniable convergence between Western and Eastern cultures in the cosmopolitan city that you won’t necessarily find in Cappadocia. Having a Shake Shack burger with beef bacon in the middle of Beyoglu is an example of how Istanbul adapts to the waves of growth while still staying true to its beliefs and traditions.
Did you have any expectations or preconceived notions about the culture you would be exposed to? How did they differ from the way the culture actually was?
As a non-Muslim living in a Western country, I imagined Istanbul and Cappadocia to be very censored and restrictive. It was quite the opposite. I didn’t realize until I got to Istanbul how progressive and inclusive it is. The city boasts a concentrated LGBT arts scene, with film, design and even gay pride marches. You’ll come across women wearing traditional hijabs or burkas, but you’ll also find women dressed in crop tops and distressed denim. Unlike what is typically disseminated in the media, there was an apparent coexistence between people from different walks of life, religion, sexual orientation, race and gender.
What kinds of people did you encounter? Did you have any favorite culinary experiences?
We were blessed enough to encounter people from all walks of life over the course of our trip to Istanbul and Cappadocia. We met successful entrepreneurs who had left Turkey to pursue higher education but returned to their home country to start businesses. We met young adults who shed light on the economic, political and social struggles present in Turkey as well as the reasons why they could never leave their country. We also met expats who fell in love with the essence of Istanbul, the way the West meets the East with an apparent ease. We also engaged with Syrian refugees who were beginning their journeys to Canada, and upon meeting them, I was incredibly proud of being from a country that has provided safety and resources to over 35,000 refugees. However, there's still an immense amount of work to be done in order to provide assistance for people who are fleeing their homes due to persecution and war. It shouldn't take a picture of a young Syrian boy who has drowned to ignite action and compassion. As fellow citizens of the world, it's our responsibility to be there for those who are in need, whether that is through petitions to the government, donations or speaking against xenophobic acts.
Regarding food, Turkish meals consist of a panoply of meat dishes (luckily for me). My sister and I indulged in the most flavorful kebabs, lahmacun, fresh mezes, künefe and authentic Turkish baklava. Most of our culinary experiences were exquisite but nothing out of the ordinary as I had already indulged in Turkish delicacies back home. I will say that once you have hummus in Turkey, store-bought hummus is pure blasphemy. I did have a mild case of food poisoning after dining at a seafood restaurant on Istiklal Caddesi. After speaking to my hotel concierge, I discovered that Istiklal isn't the best location for seafood; it's best to head over to the upper side of the Bosphorus or the Anatolian side for succulent seafood dishes.
How did this trip differ from trips you’ve taken in the past? What surprised you most about your experience?
Most of the trips that I’ve taken were to modern places like New York, Dubai and Paris, cities that are viewed as paragons in the travel world and where your comfort isn't really put to the test. It was my first time visiting a place that was seen as a haven for terrorism, where I didn’t know anyone and where I didn’t speak a word of the official language. I was surprised at the ease with which I was spellbound by Turkish culture. Diving head first into the unknown allows you to discover parts of your personality that you didn’t know existed. The language barrier that had previously seemed daunting became a minuscule obstacle and the absence of relatives or people I knew made me eager to meet and engage with locals.
What recommendations can you share for future travelers also interested in exploring the region?
- Although we didn't get a chance to visit this region, you should consider hopping on a flight from Istanbul to Denizli to admire the white travertines and hot springs of Pamukkale. Flights within Turkey are incredibly cheap and the must-sees go beyond Istanbul. Other cities to visit from Istanbul include Bodrum, Ankara and the ancient city of Ephesus.
- Turkish hospitality is incomparable. If you're offered a cup of tea, don't even consider refusing it.
- The Hamdi Restaurant atop the Radisson Hotel in Beyoglu serves succulent baklava. The kitchen staff is very generous with the pistachio and walnut fillings.
- The Istanbul Big Bus Tour is a great way to cover all the major landmarks in the city. It offers two routes that take you through areas like Beyoglu, Old Sultanahmet, Fatih and the Asian side. You can get off at any stop to visit a specific area and hop on the next bus to continue the tour.
- If staying on Istiklal Street, bring earplugs. The bars and clubs do not close until 6-7 AM.
- Hot air balloon rides in Cappadocia go for $250-$300 per person. If your budget is a bit tight, you can witness the balloons going up right before sunrise. I would recommend staying in Goreme instead of Uchisar if you’d like a chance to see the balloons up close.
Travel has a tendency to look very glamourous, though that is not always the case. What types of challenges have you had during your travels and how did you overcome them?
On our last day in Istanbul, while in a taxi to the Ataturk airport, a car bomb detonated in an area near the Grand Bazaar, killing 11 civilians. Texts, calls and tweets started coming through, from relatives and friends who were alarmed and worried. Although I was miles away from the place where the attack took place, it was the closest I had ever been to a terrorist attack. At that moment, the selfish part of my being was grateful that we would be flying out of Istanbul in the next few hours. At the same time, my heart ached for the victims, for their families, and for the millions of people across the world who have been displaced due to war and terrorism. The juxtaposition of these two emotions is what many travelers feel. We don’t want to give into the fear of terrorism by supporting the hurting tourism industries but at the same time, we fear not being safe. Is there a happy medium or should we stick with one extreme? Pilar Guzman, Conde Nast Traveler’s editor in chief shared some helpful advice on this topic: “If we give into our fears and never leave our homes (because as someone who rides the New York City subway every day to 1 World Trade, that’s really what we’re talking about) we give into the terrorists’ goal of crippling tourism in a city wholly reliant on it, of undermining its economy and governance. As we know from recent events in Syria (or Libya or Yemen), it’s precisely this instability that becomes fertile ground for ever more radical forms of terrorism. And round and round we go. By continuing to claim our collective citizenship of the world, we play our part in short-circuiting this vicious cycle.”
What would you like people to know about your experience within the country that is little known?
Given the recent occurrences in Turkey, many view the country as a hostile place harboring insurgents and rebels. But violence isn’t endemic to this nation. Turkey is one of the most hospitable countries that I have ever traveled to. Strangers will offer you tea and will be willing to sit down for hours to get to know you, regardless of your race and gender. In moments where you’re lost, Turks will try their best to get you where you need to be despite the language barrier. It’s a country where they value hospitality, charity and generosity. It’s important to remember that despite what is being broadcasted in the media, there’s always another side to the story. I urge Westerners to go out there and seek the truth.
What is your favorite memory from your trip? Is there a particular moment you would relive given the opportunity?
Upon entering the Grand Bazaar, we were accosted by many shopkeepers, each of them attempting to outshine the other with their pickup lines: “Are you from Atlanta, Georgia? Are you real or are you a dream? Can I get a photocopy?”, the list goes on. Their humor and lightheartedness was contagious; one could not be mad at their attempts to get the vindicated tourist into their shop.
After buying souvenirs for friends and coworkers, my sister and I were looking for a tea set for our mother. Çay (tea) is a national treasure in Turkey, and for tourists, a tea set is the quintessential souvenir to offer a loved one. We entered a shop where a Turkish salesman showed us an array of tea sets. Ever the convincing salesman, he proceeded to lighting a silver tea set on fire and standing on a teacup made of glass to convince us to purchase his ware. I was amazed at the lengths he was willing to go for us to buy that tea set. Back home, you often come across people who aren’t passionate about their jobs and that reflects in their work ethic. My encounter with this shopkeeper was a reminder that regardless of your position and role, you should always be fully committed to what you signed up for. As we all reap what we sow, it’s important to lay a foundation of hard work and perseverance in order to reap the benefits we long for.
What’s next for you? Do you have any final words of advice?
I typically avoid answering questions about future plans because life has a funny way of thwarting them. But in the spirit of good etiquette, I am planning on visiting Havana in the upcoming year as it has been on my radar for quite some time now. I'm also hoping to practice more film photography and eventually purchase a Rolleicord. If there's one advice that I can give to anyone reading this, it is to live your life to its full potential because once your time is up, there's no do-over.
To keep up with Steffy and her travels, be sure to follow her at @steffyis.
Images Courtesy of Steffy Fogain
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