I promised I’d stop talking about Istanbul and I did, briefly. But I can’t stop/won’t stop so today I thought I’d share with you some things I learned about the city during my visit…
There is a strong cafe culture ¦¦ Ok so I had heard this one before I visited, but I didn’t truly appreciate it until I was there. As the majority of the population is Muslim, they are mostly teetotal. This means that instead of unruly crowds of people spilling out of pubs like you get in most British towns, of an evening in Turkey you will instead see small groups of friends all taking tea together in one of the many pavement cafes around the city. There is quiet chat, the chinking of spoons. It’s just such a civilised way of doing things.
There are lots of stray cats ¦¦ Matched only by the number of seagulls. I was heartened to see little caches of food laid out for the strays and a generally positive attitude towards them. There are a few stray dogs, too, and these all seem to have ear tags, which implies someone somewhere is on top of the situation. Personally, I wanted to take the lot home with me (not the seagulls though… those things are scary).
The shops are laid out in districts ¦¦ We stumbled across the stationery district, the camera district, the bridal district, and the hardware district. That was S’s favourite and we spent quite some time looking at all the displays of tools and equipment. Even the individual shops were specialist; this one sold pumps, that one sold screwdrivers and over there was the power tools shop.
Then there was the time we spent a good 10 minutes walking through the underwear district. I think S got distinctly sick of the sight of frilly bras by the end of it. I mean, it’s very efficient if you just need one thing but what if you need pants and some writing paper? That’s a decent 20 minute hike you’ve got ahead of you.
We even found a shop that sold just the wheels from broken office chairs. Now that’s niche.
Chocolate is hard to find ¦¦ I’m not sure what Turkish people eat instead of chocolate (baklava? All day every day?), or whether we were just looking in the wrong places, but there was a severe lack of chocolate on sale. If you are a chocoholic like me, please bring your own. I may or may not have had a little strop on my 3rd day without chocolate due to withdrawal. It’s serious, people.
That buildings can have personalities ¦¦ I loved visiting Hagia Sophia, not just because it’s a gorgeous building stuffed with history, but because I really felt it was a building with a personality. Call me crazy, but visit yourself and tell me it doesn’t have a strong presence.
You should’t help shoe cleaners if they drop their brushes ¦¦ It’s a scam! We were walking along the Galata bridge minding our own business, when someone walked past me and dropped something. Being the well brought up person that I am, I automatically called after the dropper. I then realised it was a shoe cleaner street hawker, who had dropped his brush. He said thanks, then motioned to S to have his shoes brushed – as we thought, as a thank you. But no. We should have known, nothing in this life is for free when it comes from a street hawker. Sure enough, he then started an elaborate shoe clean on S’s battered shoes that he was about to throw away (bit embarrassing) and then his brother turned up and tried to do mine. I resisted luckily, but of course the conversation turned to how he has a family to feed, etc etc. And then he demanded money. We were pretty peeved so just gave him 5TL (works out to about £1.25/$1.80USD) so no great loss, but it made me cross because it preys on people’s good nature. When people start to penalise common decency that’s when I start to lose faith in humanity.
Butter is not a thing ¦¦ Similar to a lot of continental European countries (I’m looking at you, France) it’s not common to spread your bread with butter. So bread will arrive to accompany your meal, and cast around for butter you may but you will not find it. Sometimes there’s a dipping oil – but not generally. For me this was strange, as gluten free bread definitely needs something to help it down with. Assume all restaurants are BOYB – bring your own butter.
The tap water is safe but tastes weird ¦¦ I am reliably informed by the internet that the tap water in Istanbul is perfectly safe. I tried it and I really didn’t like the taste of it so bottled water it was. It was so cheap that it really didn’t matter, but don’t get stranded with only tap water for company! It also meant my beloved fruit infuser bottle was left sadly unused for the entire trip. Sadface.
There are two types of Turkish delight ¦¦ The kind the tourists buy (gross) and the kind the locals eat (amazing). Post coming soon….
Public transport is good but walking is better ¦¦ The public transport was clean, efficient and cheap. It didn’t go everywhere though, so to be honest it was better for us to just set off on foot. Istanbul is a very walkable city, just bring a good pair of shoes! The exception to this of course is the ferries. Unless you’ve developed the ability to walk on water.
Have you ever been to Istanbul? What did you learn? Do you know any buildings with personalities?