Just "Happy Little Accidents" - Travel, Bob Ross Style
Updated: Jul 30
Turns out that Bob Ross, in addition to being a great art teacher with some outstanding hair, had quite a zen philosophy for travel, too. Ross used to say, “We don't make mistakes, just happy little accidents.”
Happy little accidents.
Quite the cheery - and apt - approach to (mis)translation SNAFUs while overseas...
The Importance of Rolling with the Punches on the Road
So yeah, Bob Ross probably (definitely) wasn’t referring to travel when he talked about looking at mistakes as “happy little accidents,” but it’s a pretty great philosophy to adopt while on the road.
And, taking this view definitely goes hand-in-hand with learning to swallow your pride (often a particularly challenging task). It comes down to accepting that, regardless of education, experience, and professional status in the States, overseas in new cultures, we’re really all just little kids.
When you smile and accept this fact, things get much easier - and more fun.
Here are some examples of us having the cultural intelligence/awareness of children during our time in Istanbul. Enjoy!
Still Struggling to Understand Baklava-related Units of Measurement
One of the challenges of ordering food in another language is the inability to express the appropriate unit of measurement for that food, particularly sweets. With baklava, the flaky-while-still-honey-soaked-deliciously-rich Turkish dessert, this is particularly true.
Stopping off at a little bakery for a sweet and some coffee after a long walk, ordering some baklava just made sense. After some back-and-forth with the proprietor, we were fairly confident that we had two coffees and two pieces of baklava coming our way.
Fast forward a couple minutes, and we did have our coffee, but it turns out our “one baklava each” order actually meant one plate of baklava each.
And, Chipp really had no excuse for this one (though it was a delicious mistake). Eight years prior while visiting Istanbul with some good friends, he and his buddies ordered pieces of baklava. But, instead of receiving a plate each, they received a kilogram each, enough baklava to give a small horse diabetes.
“Iki Su, Lutfen”
Here’s a golden rule of travel – learn some phrases in the local language. You definitely don’t need to be a walking Rosetta Stone, but knowing some basic phrases A) has practical value in navigating a foreign city, and B) shows locals that, while you’re still an ignorant foreigner, you’re an ignorant foreigner who cares – goes a long way to establishing some rapport.
Armed with our few phrases, we were pretty confident ordering a couple waters as we sat down at a cool looking street-side seafood spot right in the middle of the Besiktas (region of Istanbul) fish market – neat seeing the cooks grab the fish from right next door.
Iki – two.
Su – waters.
Lutfen – please.
Pretty good, right? Well, either because he knew better than we did, or he just misheard, the waiter chose to brings us two soups, not two su (bottles of water).
Definitely another happy little accident, as the fish soup he brought out was absolutely incredible – kind of like a Greek avgolemono soup, but with big chunks of fish, too.
Raki? Sounds Delicious, We’ll Try That
Though not quite as important as trying the local food, trying the local booze is a close second in terms of experiencing a new culture.
On our first Friday in Istanbul, we tried out a family-owned and -operated Turkish restaurant – kebab over the charcoal mongal, fire-roasted peppers and tomatoes, and some sort of incredible yogurt-based eggplant spread.
Stuffed, the next logical step was grabbing some cocktails and dessert. As we were in a pretty cool neighborhood, there were plenty of outdoor cafes and bars. We found one with some live music inside and snagged a table outside.
Chipp: “What’s a good Turkish liquor?”
Server who spoke a little English: “Raki.”
Chipp: “Perfect – we’ll have two of those and a piece of cake.”
Server: “Okay… With what?”
Chipp, confused: “Uh, I don’t know, what do you normally mix with raki?”
Server, also confused: “You want raki, yes?”
Chipp, looking at the menu and still confused: “How about some lemonade?”
At this point, we had no clue A) what raki was like, and B) whether mixing it with lemonade made even the least bit of sense.
Server: “With lemonade?”
Chipp, borderline slow/loud-English speaking: “Yes, we would like raki and a glass of lemonade.”
Server: “Yes, I understood you…”
Server, what she was likely thinking: “…but I’ve never heard such a ridiculous request.”
We were confident that, however you were supposed to drink raki, it didn’t overlap with the order we just made. But, we were pretty sure that we’d shortly have a couple glasses of raki, some lemonade for Jenna to make a raki-based cocktail, and some Turkish cake.
Five minutes later, our table had a couple huge pieces of cake, a plate of cheese, a plate of melon, a big container of ice, a glass of lemonade, four empty glasses, and a bottle of raki.
No idea where our order went so off the rails, but once again, challenge accepted.
Turns out raki, an anise-base liquor somewhat like ouzo, does go well with lemonade, a conclusion that clearly made our server laugh.
And Chipp, planting a flag, decided that this bottle must be finished.
Great night. Somewhat groggy Saturday morning. Happy little accident.
No Reservations Available? Must Be a Popular Place
It’s an understatement to call Istanbul a beautiful city. Comprised of rolling hills, straddling the Bosphorus Straits between Asia and Europe, and with the Sea of Marmara unfolding to one side, it’s definitely a place you want to see from the high ground.
Fortunately, there was a hotel a few-minute walk from our apartment that towered over our neighborhood – and the city – with a rooftop bar and restaurant. The menu looked a little pretentious, but what the hell, it’d be worth the view.
Trying to navigate a Turkish-language reservation app, we concluded that there were no dinner reservations available for Sunday night – must be a pretty popular place. Figuring we’d just grab a drink at the bar, we headed over anyway.
Turns out there was a good reason why there weren’t any reservations – rooftop was closed on Sundays – a fact we failed to recognize online. But, turning lemons into raki and lemonade, we found another hotel around the corner with a great outdoor patio – albeit not a rooftop one – but with an awesome view, nonetheless.
Few drinks, some Turkish/Latin-fusion ceviche, and an Istanbul sunset later, all was good.
And, we did go back to the original rooftop the next night. Skipped the pretentious-looking tasting menu, had some delicious beverages, and took in some of the most stunning views either of us had ever seen.
When traveling in a foreign country, things don’t always go as planned. But, looking at these mistakes as happy little accidents is quite the approach. You may not be doing something the right way, but as long as you have some fun, it’s still a way.