not just kebabs.

Well, Istanbul has been something of a challenge.

I like it, yes, and I’d still rather be here than stinky old Remuera. But my memories of this crazy city may have been somewhat skewed, or at least dated.

I looked forward to Istanbul. I’ve been looking forward to it since I was here for six days back in 2019. I loved the friendly chaos, the crazy good food, the relatively cheap cost of living. And we all know someone who says, “oh, I love Istanbul! The food! The shopping! Oh it’s so amazing!”

Yah, the tourist hubs are fun. Everyone speaks English, everyone wants to offer you Turkish delight and tea and ask you where you’re from and drag you into their shop/restaurant/massage parlor. Everything is cheaper than your home country, even if by only a few dollars. Kahve and pilav and beer and borek and kebaps (not kebabs) are EVERY FEW STEPS and it all smells amazing. Naturally, folks who are only here a short time will buy shit and eat shit and go home and tell everyone how wonderful Turkey is and how much döner they ate.

Being rather underwhelmed by tourist stuff (I just don’t care) I decided to park myself for a month in Kadıköy, across the water from the ‘main’ tourist hub, the Asia side of the Bosphorus. Kadıköy is smaller, more laid back, jammed with cafes and restaurants and bars and funky little boutique-y shops. And there’s a good long waterfront path to run on.

As it tuns out – duh – there’s quite a difference between tourist Istanbul and residential Istanbul.

Obviously, things have changed in Turkey since 2019. Covid, the economy, that dude in power, various grievances re the current/upcoming political situation. People are a bit pissed off. Protests are happening – or trying to happen – and cops are in the city en masse to suppress them, especially in Kadikoy. I’ve never seen so many uniforms and guns in one place at one time.

Anyway, my first week here, I almost wanted to run home. I felt like everyone was frowning (at me), everyone was disgusted at my lack of Turkish, everything cost much more than I remembered, and also, I didn’t know a soul so there was nobody to tell me what I was doing wrong.

It probably doesn’t help that I am, without a doubt, the most uncool human here. Nearly all Turkish women (and many men) are painted, manicured, botoxed, nose-jobbed, groomed to f*ck – and I’m in my crappy old Kathmandu jacket and hiking boots with zero makeup and a big flat nose. They glare at me for my negligence, which I suppose is fair.

But I’ve *sort of* got over that, and learned a few words in Turkish (or, at least, made an effort to look like I was making an effort), and bought some makep (hey, when in Rome) and things got a little warmer. Knowing how to say ‘thank you’ and ‘delicious!’ in the local language really frickn helps. I also met a few nice people and found a nice pub and got right into eating anything I didn’t recognise.

And the people are friendly and they are wonderful. In any case, Kiwis show the same kind of impatience towards foreign visitors who can’t speak English.

And I do like it.

But Jesus, the smoking. My lungs are taking a couple of cigarettes a day. I have adjusted, more or less. Like I’ve adjusted to the smell of cat pee, which is everywhere, because the cats are everywhere.

O, the cats! These are not the strays or ferals or flea-bitten ear-chewed moggies that you see in southeast Asia or India. The cats of Istanbul are fat, healthy, friendly, and very much loved. I’ve never before seen grown men stop in the street to feed or pet a cat. There are kitty kennels, water dishes, and bowls of cat food all over the city. The cats rule this place, and they know it.

There’s so much more to say – about the beer, the bread, the fooooood – but it’s Sunday and late already and probably none of you have read this far, which is fine because I needed to write something.

‘Til next time.

– oh and fuck photos. Photos and WordPress and my lack of skillz equals too much goddamn time and effort, so my photos are Facebook only.


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