Getting Istanbul All Wrong – Again!
Our cunning flat plans don’t go entirely, ahem, to plan – there are any number of reasons why a flat might appear as available on the internet and not be, not least among them that the owner has forgotten to update its availability and/or gone on holiday – and we spend our first night in the city of emperors in what is best described as a garret.
A nice garret, mind. A clean garret. A clean garret with a central location, lovely staff, fast wifi, a laundry service, free breakfast and a big screen for gaming on. And, at 33 euros per night, you don’t get much cheaper in central Istanbul.
The fact remains, however, that it’s a garret. An excellent value garret, and a guesthouse whose dorms and family rooms I wholeheartedly recommend to any larger family or solo backpacker in Istanbul on a budget, but a garret, nonetheless.
What with the one bed (eek!) and the wardrobe, there’s barely room to swing the proverbial cat, and by the time we’ve burrowed ferally through our backpacks in search of clean clothes, I can no longer see the carpet. (Yes, I know.)
First priority is the internet, and Wimdu, where I do the best I can on short-notice apartments in Istanbul during a holiday while berating myself for my own stupidity.
“Look at the plan,” says my spawn. “Look at the plan! It’s way bigger than it looks in the pictures.”
“Mmm…” I say darkly. “It’s really expensive! I should have started this process a fortnight in advance.”
Still, the landlord is answering messages, and it’s available, so I book it with a heavy heart. And, our garret not inspiring lingering, get out and about.
We stop at a lokantasi, one of the local restaurants that serve an endless array of meat and veggie stews from big metal dishes, which improves my mood. Lokantasis always do. As does okra, for that matter.
Life’s feeling quite good. In fact, it’s feeling remarkably good given we arrived in town before 6am and spent hours in quest of decent internet.
Then we get to Taksim Square, and my mood deteriorates. And then we turn down Istiklal, Istanbul’s answer to Oxford Street.
In case you were wondering, “Istanbul’s answer to Oxford Street” is not entirely a compliment.
Once an iconic shopping street, now pedestrianised and a route for cutesy trams, it has a TopShop, an Accessorize, a Starbucks and any number of shops selling clothing one could unkindly yet accurately categorise as “cheap ethnic”. It caters almost entirely to international and domestic tourists and folk from the most outlying suburbs of the ‘Bul.
In a different mood, I’d watch the suburban teens strolling the street on their adventures in the great metropolis and remember my own suburban trips to Oxford Street, because, as a twelve-year-old in Tooting, life didn’t get more exciting than Oxford Street.
As it is… Well…
“I want to ride on the back of a tram!” says Zac.
Of course he wants to ride on the back of a tram. What eleven-year-old wouldn’t?
“Not now,” I snarl.
I look in a shop. “Oooh!” I say, holding up a pretty vest top with lace flowers around the neck. “What do you think of this on me?”
“Noooooo!” Zac says. “You CAN’T wear that. It’s FAR too small.”
“Really?!” I say.
“Really,” he says. “I won’t be seen with you if you buy that.”
I look, dejectedly, at my muffin top and conclude he may be right.
Zac looks in a shop. “Will you STOP looking at computer games?” I snarl.
“I’m not,” he says. “I need new headphones, REMEMBER?”
“Sorry,” I say. “Yeah, look at the computer games too, if you want…”
Headphones safely purchased, we do what we tend to do in times of crisis. Which is to say, we find an English language bookshop, buy a stack of books and some print news, and then pop down a side street and fill our faces with local street food (stuffed mussels), and our brains with improving literature on Istanbul (me) and Asimov’s Foundation (Zac).
He has bought The Second Book of General Ignorance, but has the wisdom not to inflict it on me.
I am, let there be no misunderstanding, in an absoutely stinking mood. I am rising forty. A working mother. Amongst other things, a professional bar reviewer and occasional travel writer.
This is a big, cool, cosmopolitan city I’ve been longing to visit, and I’m staying in a garret and meandering around a tourist street not knowing my arse from my elbow.
This is not, I think, how life is supposed to be. This is not how I want either of us to experience Istanbul.
I don’t at any moment think that Istanbul is the problem. It is, I’m afraid, 100% me.