Posted by: mollyscafeistanbul | July 22, 2013

molly’s cafe again, or why i came back to stay

Why I came back to Istanbul

I went away and now I am back. I thought I was coming for a hair of the dog to get Istanbul out of my system. Instead, I disappointed (but didn’t surprise) my family by deciding to stay. Most of them understand on some level, but mostly they don’t, or that is at least how I see it.

Why am I so drawn to Istanbul? I know it well, though there are still many places I have not been to. I am fascinated by the fact that if you pick up a stone there is something ancient underneath it. At the same time it is a young dynamic city. This has particularly been shown by the recent protests, largely run by young people of all stripes.

Everywhere I go I run into people I know. Sometimes it is just a nod, but often it is a quick or long conversation, often with offers (taken or not) of tea. Many of my friends have said ‘I told you so! I knew you would be back.’ The Turks in particular are pleased that I would choose their city and country over my own (and that is a whole other topic).

When I tell people I want to open my café again they are very pleased, though people who have had cafés think I am crazy. Maybe so. However, I like the café I had and I totally regret giving it up. I like that people can come and sit comfortably as they would at home. I like that the café can offer various events, the special dinners, the poetry readings, book talks, music, art showings. I like that I can support my friends while they support me. I like that I can help local foreigners and explain things to tourists. I don’t like dealing with the bureaucracy, but it is part of the package and at least this time I know what I am getting into.

Living in Istanbul is a little like living nostalgia. Or let’s say that the way I like to live in Istanbul brings an element of nostalgia. There are still men who push carts selling random things like small hardware, cleaning supplies, fruit and vegetables. There is the yogurt man, the knife sharpening man, the flower sellers. A housewife can call down to the corner market to have them bring her bread. She lowers a basket with money in it and pulls up her purchases. Neighbours watch out for each other, or at least watch them. When the protests were in full swing, the neighbour on the top floor across the way would call out to the protesters to say if the police were coming or not.

And of course I am exotic here. I am foreign, but not in a particularly ostracizing way. For example, one day I had keys copied up the street from where I was staying. The key man knew that I was from Canada and that I had decided to stay. I had never talked to him before! However, he lives in the building across the street, where I know another man who makes cheesecake. Apparently he saw us talking and asked him about me. It makes me feel safe, knowing that the people in the neighbourhood identify me as one of theirs and if I need help, I can ask.

Although my Turkish is not bad, it fails sometimes and as a foreigner I have a sort of bubble around me. I am in this culture but not fully part of it. However, the Turks are welcoming and curious and I don’t feel rejected by them. At the same time, I have to admit that I am a white western woman, as opposed to a black African (basically I look more like Turks than they do), so that also makes a difference. And I am a mature woman, a formerly sweet young thing.

I have to say too that living in another culture is different from travelling. I am steeped in the culture here as opposed to bobbing along on the surface. Other expats I have talked to understand how they are now different from the people they grew up among. We may look like our family and old friends, but we are different inside. Being different in itself becomes a way of life.

I love the warmth of the Turks. They are generous with their time and whatever they have. Of course there are unscrupulous Turks but having been here a long time I can usually read them. So many people have offered to help me as I work to reopen the café. I understand that often it is an offer that they don’t expect to be taken up on but I appreciate it nevertheless. And of course there are many who offer and follow it up.

Galata is a very old area. The buildings on my own street are well over 100 years old, rather new for this ancient place. Istanbul is ancient. The excavations for the new undersea rail line unearthed evidence that this place has been inhabited for 8000 years. I know I am just a blip here, but this is my place.

Staying in Istanbul is personal, cultural, and historical. It is one of the most amazing cities I have ever been to and I know from experience that it is hard to leave.

another former istanbul resident also wrote about why she loves istanbul.  check out her blog:






  1. Well thats great news and welcome back ,where will the cafe be?

    • hi rhonda. it’s on sahkulu sokak in galata. i hope to open late aug. see you there!

  2. Great,will spread the word…….

  3. I am personally glad to see that you are back. Although I only got to experience your cafe one time, now, if I am ever in Istanbul again, I can come back to see you in that setting. The short week I was there was one of the best experiences of my life. What a beautiful and exciting place. I hope you do open another cafe. Besides all the effort it takes on a day-to-day basis, you provide something that should be cherished — a place of expression, a place to coexist, a place to learn — you have a calling that should not be denied. I think you knew that before you left, and now it’s like being home again. Good for you! I am happy for you.

  4. By the way, I have a great photo of the cafe posted on my Google + site.

  5. Dear Molly, I am very pleased to hear again about you. P*** told me he met you weeks ago on Istiklal and that you told him that you were thinking about coming back to Istanbul.
    Please let us know! I promise to leave at your place, as I used to do, my farsi dictionary!
    Please keep me posted!

    • looking forward to seeing you, with or without your dictionary!

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