October 7, 2010 by jessperriam
When anyone asks me about the best place I’ve been to, I’ll always have the same answer, the same enthusiasm.
“Istanbul! It’s the best!”
“Yeah, but Jess… isn’t that the place where the men are dodgy and constantly cracking onto you?”
“Yes, and once you get past that it’s so awesome it makes up for it!”
Nearing the end of a brilliant week in Istanbul, I was walking up the Istiklal with a dorm mate from the hostel. We realised that I knew and loved Istanbul enough to make a list of ten must-do things in Istanbul.
1. Go to Topkapi Palace
The palace is an amazing place to explore and get to know a bit more about Istanbul’s centuries old history. It’s got something for everyone – history buffs and those who like taking pictures of pretty things. Don’t be a stinge, pay the extra $15-ish lira to go into the harem. You’ll be glad you did.
2. Go to a hammam.
When I’ve previously extolled the virtues of Istanbul, I’ve also extolled the virtues of getting partially nekkid in an old Roman Bath and getting a complete stranger to scrub you within an inch of your life. It’s quite possibly the most relaxed moment of the year… perhaps even the decade.
3. Go to the music street
I *heart* aimless wandering. And I aimlessly wandered the streets of Beyoglu for days on end. And the best bit of the Istiklal is that at the very bottom of it, there’s a street full of music stores. You don’t have to play to appreciate the clear enthusiasm for music.
4. Have nargile (shisha/hookah)
Smoking is bad, cigarettes will kill you so therefore I have the sneaking suspicion that shisha is probably also nasty for you too.
But if you are going to satisfy your curiosity for smoking a flavoured tobacco water pipe, do it in Istanbul. Sit down in a cafe, with some friends, watch some sport, talk and smoke shisha while you’re at it. Life is good… and apple flavoured.
But smoking is bad and you should probably do it in moderation.
5. Have Turkish coffee and your fortune told
There’s a fine art to drinking Turkish coffee. It takes a bit of getting used to if you’re an espresso drinker. For the first few coffees, you’ll hit the muddy coffee bit… you’ll really wish you hadn’t.
But in addition to serving coffee, some Turkish cafes serve fortunes for a little extra. There’s a special talent to tipping the coffee cup onto the saucer, swirling it around and letting it settle.
Then a lady will read something into the smudge that’s left behind in your coffee cup.
When it comes to reading your fortune, the Turkish have a saying along the lines of, ‘Don’t believe it, but never discount it.’ – in short, don’t live your life expecting it to come true. But if it does, then hey, they knew what they were on about.
For the record, my fortune teller was creepily accurate about the past. The future however seemed a little more crazy. Apparently I’ll marry an Egyptian archaeologist in 2012 and be blissfully happy with two boys. Unlikely…
5. Play backgammon
I have a personal theory going that every household in every English speaking country has a backgammon set. However, I doubt many people in those households possess the ability to play this boardgame.
Much like shisha and Turkish coffee, backgammon is the third ingredient in Istanbul’s cafe culture. It takes a few goes to get the hang of the rules, but once you do, it’s great fun.
Just don’t play against me, I have a reputation for rolling doubles and pwning the competition.
6. Chase the party tram
I’ve already waxed lyrical about it and I think the party tram is only a summer thing… or perhaps only a 2010 European City of Culture thing. But if you’re on the Istiklal and you see a tram pulling a carriage with a band playing on it, just follow it, dance and let go. It’s the best, funnest thing. Ever.
7. See a protest
This one isn’t too tricky to achieve – in one Saturday we saw at least three protests on the Istiklal. Any cause is good enough to take to the streets of Istanbul, and I appreciate this.
8. Get lost (and hit on) in the Grand Bazaar
All the Lonely Planet maps in the world cannot prepare you for the labyrinth that is the Grand Bazaar. This is where carpet sellers, sleazy offers of apple tea (and then some), and hard bargains reign supreme. You need to go there once to experience it. Although it can get a little unnerving, it can also be great fun… just not when you get cornered by a carpet seller with a different kind of rugs on his mind.
9. See a whirling dervish show
I cannot believe I almost forgot to mention this one. Bad Jess.
Whirling dervishes are quite possibly the most peaceful human beings I have ever seen. Serenely twirling in a 45 minute long trance, they believe it gets them closer to God.
It is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen a human do.
10. Go to art galleries
Turkish banks sponsor art galleries like Australian banks sponsor football teams. This means that the Turkish public and visitors get to see a wide array of art for free or nearly nada!
There’s also the Istanbul Modern with its free day on Thursday.
So yes… while the more-than assertive Turkish man situation sometimes gets a lot more attention, you can see that Istanbul is an amazing city. So there.
This is the fourth outing in Travel Tales Thursday.