You last heard from me in Switzerland, at the Lifestyle Design conference. On a whim, I had decided to make my next stop Istanbul, the largest city in the region (and in Turkey). There are plenty of things to do in Istanbul for eccentric, nomadic backpackers like myself.
I planted myself in the Mystic Simurgh hostel, where I met up with an equally eccentric French intellectual named Jeremie whose hair seemed to have a mind of its own. Combined with others, including our friend Adam – a Syrian doctor – we proceeded to figure out just what Istanbul would have in store for us.
Get Rejected From Clubs
One of the first things we experienced was the phenomenon of cocktail bars on weekday nights – that are nearly empty – with large, angry Turkish dudes guarding the gates like Cerberus would guard Hades. To get into these completely uninteresting venues, you need to either pay around U.S. $20 or have a cadre of girls with you. However, once you’re inside, you pretty much just want to leave.
Do the owners think they’re more important than they really are? Or are there back-room mafia dealings happening in the lower bowels? Likely a combination of both. Since many seemingly normal clubs actually run a notorious tourist scam where they inflate prices a thousand-fold after you receive the bill, I assume they need many bouncers to break the arms of poor Europeans unwitting enough to go with strangers into these venues.
That being said, the first risk a tourist runs into are scammers. Never accept any offer by a stranger, especially in Taksim square. Never go with anybody you just met into a nightclub, and don’t accept drinks from strangers.
Eat Ridiculously Good Food
Istanbul has by far the best cheap culinary options I’ve ever experienced, and this includes having lived in Thailand. A barbecued lamb wrap is about US $2.00 and makes a perfect lunch. Meanwhile, the cafe near my hostel had a wide selection of local dishes, most of which I am clueless as to the pronunciations of. A bowl of lamb stew and potatoes is about US $5.00 (expensive for Istanbul) but is absolutely amazing.
Visit Taksim Square, But Don’t Live There
I broke one of my own travel rules by booking all of my time in the “touristy” area of a major city. Compared to areas like Kadikoy, Taksim is more expensive, dirtier, and with more con-artists and sketchy people. It’s good for clubbing on Fridays and Saturdays, but that’s it. Don’t make my mistake. Go stay in Sultanahmet or Kadikoy.
It’s still, however, the busiest central location in all of Turkey. It’s fun and definitely an adventure designed for short time day-trips.
Deal With the Cat Mafia
There are many cats in Istanbul, and they seem to have a grip over the city. Cats often run scams, especially in touristy areas. For instance, they crowd around your car and demand either food or a hefty lira fine until you can use your car again. Stay mindful and also keep your belongings close to you when you are in a feline neighborhood.
Observe the Nearby Middle East Crisis
Turkey borders both Iraq and Syria, and there is no shortage of refugees from both countries. During my time, the majority of friends I made came from war-torn regions of Kurdistan and Syria; fresh from battling the forces of despots and ISIS-caliphate monsters.
Istanbul is not without it’s problems, either. In January, there were two minor terrorist attacks carried out by blonde Russian women who belong to some secret sect of foreign wahabi extremists.
However, despite these strange recent tidings, it’s still a safe, cosmopolitan and “European” style city, remaining a beautiful Middle Eastern safe haven that is definitely free of the problems facing it’s neighbors.
I don’t think a tourist has anything to worry about visiting most places in Turkey, however just to be on the safe side; it’s advised to not hang around at police stations or military outposts for very long – as if there were a terrorist attack – these would be the targets.
My favorite dessert. At my choice cafe, a plate of three large Baklava is about $ 1.20. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Turkish Women Are Beautiful
Turkish women are both the most beautiful in the world, and the most prone to breaking the hearts of Western guys they briefly date (I think I’ll keep my mouth shut…). Objectively speaking, there are some very good looking genetics going on. Turkish fashion is interesting, and on more than one occasion I’ve seen women accenting pale skin with pure black hair, red lipstick and 1920s style clothes like Greta Garbo hats, and / or striking maroon or black dresses. As for the men, apparently Western women consider them quite gorgeous as well – however I don’t have much ability to comment on this matter.
Gotta Love Middle Eastern Music
Call me weird (many do) but I enjoy Middle Eastern pop music; usually a combination of traditional Arabic sounds and some dance or rock infused into it. There’s a wide variety of regional music always in the form of live shows in bars or whatever the nearby DJ is spinning. Below is a great song I’ve heard a few times by a Kurdistani singer / songwriter who reminds me a bit of Tori Amos.
Oh Yeah, There Are Mosques and Monuments and Things
The Blue Mosque… Haga Sophia (Constantine’s proud church converted into a giant mosque after the Ottoman invasion), remnants of Constantinople, the old Ottoman royal palaces, photos from the Bosphorous river on a boat. There’s a lot of touristy things to do, if you care about such activities. Truly though, it’s worth going to the Blue Mosque in the morning when the sun is shining against it, or touring the peaceful royal parks in the afternoon.
As a big fan of history, this alone makes a Turkish expedition worth it. Constantinople was the last bastion of the Roman empire; and the countryside has seen generations of empires rise and fall, with most recently the Ottoman empire collapsing in the early 20th century.
Cheap food, adventure, beautiful girls… There are many reasons to go to Istanbul, and plenty of reasons for me to want to go back there.
Turkey, namely Istanbul, is not without it’s faults; with obvious signs of police corruption all over the city. However, sometimes you just have to take the good with the bad, and enjoy the entire experience for what it is.