Museum of Innocence

For culture hounds who like the nostalgic, the romantic, and the unexpected, check out the beguiling Museum of Innocence. In the midst of the twisty streets of Istanbul’s Çukurcuma neighborhood -- in between antique shops, cafes, and crumbling wooden buildings – it’s just won the title of the 2014 European Museum of the Year. It’s no ordinary museum, despite the focus on everyday Istanbul life between the 1950s and the 1990s.

Why? It’s based on a book of the same name, by famed Turkish author and Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk -- all exhibits consist of “artifacts” and media in displays that each reflect a chapter of the novel. And though the characters are fiction, the detritus of the lives lived feels very real. With sound, film, newspaper clippings, and a myriad of personal objects, it’s as if the characters will appear at any moment to reclaim their cigarettes and half-drunk bottles of fruit soda.

Don’t worry, it’s not imperative that you read Pamuk’s fictional love story between a wealthy Kemal and shopgirl Füsun. Just rent the 5 lira ($2.15) audio guide, a lovely listen unto itself but a must if you haven’t read the book. It’ll give you access to book excerpts and Pamuk’s own narration of inspiration behind the boxes as well as how he acquired the items in them. (If you do have the book, though, there should be a printed ticket for free entry toward the back; otherwise, expect to pay 25 lira.)

While we don’t expect anyone to plan trips around a single museum, we’d say that this is certainly one worth traveling for. Beyond the fact that the museum is a unique form of storytelling, and that it made us want to rush out and read the book, it also made us think of all the things we’ve held onto over the years as remembrances of places and people.

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