Istanbul was the first stop on my sabbatical trip as it was the furthest Easyjet would take me from London towards my eventual intended destination – New Zealand for my cousin’s wedding in February. I had been warned that the weather would be crap in December, that the taxi drivers would rip you off, and about the various scams, including the one where the unsuspecting traveller is lured by the offer of friendship, booze & company of hot women; which had all made me slightly anxious. However, as I found out, there was nothing to worry about… apart from the undercover police we ran away from (more on that later).
Despite the previously mentioned scams, all the Turks I befriended on the street were all pretty nice guys, most of them trying to sell me stuff or get me to eat at their overpriced restaurants. Most of the hostels are dotted around the historic centre, so once you had a chat to one of guys on the street corners, you then had a friend to chat to for the duration of the stay who would give you a high five every single day. One of them happened to be going abroad for the first time, to Thailand of all places, around the same time as me – so we swapped details and we’ll be meeting up somewhere for a beer in a few weeks time.
Apart from the street hawkers, I also met up with a native friend and a bunch of locals I got in touch with through couchsurfing. There were some interesting, heated discussions about the political situation, some people concerned about the lack of press freedom, the current Islamic political trends and the overblown deification of Ataturk, whilst others thought this was all grossly exaggerated. At one of the meetups, there was a suspicion that two of the group in attendance were in fact incognito policemen trying to eardrop in on these conversations so we lost them on the side streets. It may have been slight paranoia, but it makes a good story anyway, plus it made me feel like Jason Borne. My fellow couchurfers (the fountain of all local knowledge and everything that is good and noble about this world) lead to me to a club the name of which I forget, where the DJ spun a really electic mix – think of a flamenco track followed by reggae followed by klezmer and so on. This was followed by a band on stage which blew me away – I’ll upload a video excerpt here soon of them playing which I don’t really think does them justice.
Incidentally, a word about the food if you head to Istanbul – don’t just eat kebabs. Yes they are cheap (4 lira – the equivalent of 1 pound 35 pence) but you’d be a fool to miss out on the rest of the food that Istanbul has to offer – the meze platters I had, which are a mix of cold appetizers, were phenomenal.
A staple of Turkish cuisine in the meze is aubergine – they have numerous types of dishes made from the vegetable, all delicious – even normally I don’t actually like it at all. (the same could be said about beans and when I tried feijoida for the first time in Brazil)