Turkey: Istanbul

The dodgy hostel

I arrived in Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen in a bright and pretty warm summer day. The first thing I did was to look for a friend who I had met on a language learning site and was working there, with no success as I had no means to contact her and it’s not that easy to find someone at  busy airport.

I decided to go find a way to get to the city center, then to the hostel to leave my bags and go wander around so I took a shuttle which took me close to the Taksim park (the place where the riots happened). To me it seemed that people drive in a similar way as they do in Mexico city, in a crazy one, as the shuttle went pretty fast and the people are kind of aggressive, also I saw one car driving in zig-zags which made our driver a bit more careful for a while until we passed it.

Once I got to my destination I had to find out exactly where I was because they have moved the stop to a different place due to lots of renovations as well as police movement where the original one was. This got me pretty disoriented, therefore I had to ask for directions at a small cafeteria, where I appeased my hunger, and the man there helped me quite a bit to find myself on the map.

I chose a route and walked my way to the hostel passing to very dodgy places where people kept staring at me in weird ways, sidewalks disappeared and reappeared making it a bit dangerous to walk avoiding cars and there were many small streets which made my way a bit confusing. Anyway I wound my way up to the hostel passing through narrow passages and alleys and I found myself in front of a very normal looking building with some junkies and alcoholics sitting on the stairs to the door. My first thought was “damn it! I will probably have to look for another hostel” but then I decided to give it a try so I went in to the reception, the staff were quite friendly, the place pretty normal as well as the people in it to my relief, I just hoped the people at the entrance wouldn’t be my roommates and fortunately, they weren’t.

I met a German guy in my room who had also arrived that day, we exchanged a few words and he said he was there because he was bored of Germany, everything being too perfect and controlled, he just wanted to have some adventures so his plan was to wander around on his own and see what he could find. By that time, I had already arranged a meeting with another friend I met on the same language website and I had to go so we went each on our own then. I met my friend and we had a nice walk followed by a delicious traditional Turkish meal at a restaurant in Istikal street, the main shopping one for the tourists and locals to hang out.

When I came back to the hostel I met the German guy again, I asked him about his day and he said he went to walk around the streets and alleys the opposite side of Istikal and got to a place where there were some women telling him to come and performing suggestive movements with their tongues but he thought “if they weren’t so used, I would have gone with them” so I said “Alright, interesting day” and that was it. On a different day he told me he went out at night and a random guy approached him asking if he liked to dance, he replied “yes” so they man told him to follow him, which with know question he did. After walking for some time and passing through many small and dark streets, the german said “ok stop or I’m going to get lost” the man told him they were near, then they entered a building, where he found out that the man wasn’t taking him dancing, but to a place where naked girls dance in front of you for money. He said it was funny, I could only tell him that it’s kind of dangerous to follow a stranger in the middle of the night, alone and through dodgy streets but it sounded like an interesting experience anyway.

My stay was followed by a meeting with a friend of my friend who was happy to practice his Spanish with me and showed me a lot of places around Istanbul. One time he invited me to a Spanish conversation table event at a restaurant where I got to meet a lot of very friendly Turks who spoke my language very well and told me it would be easy for me to get a job as a personal Spanish teacher there as many other people do but unfortunately I already had my departure prepared to continue with my travels.

One very cool thing was that I was in Istanbul during the same time they had a very big Korean culture festival with lots of free concerts and expositions of both Korea and Turkey so I got to attend to a concert of an amazing Korean singer, some Turkish traditional dance performances and even martial arts shows from both Turkish and Korean teams, all of them in front of the stunning mosques.

What I will never forget are the sunsets while I was on the ferry, watching the stunning landscapes of the city with its impressive mosques silhouetted against the orange tones of the sky and feeling the breeze of the sea on my face. I tried to take the ferry as many times as I could because the price is the same for all kinds of urban transport using the Istanbul card which you can top up in many places around the city and it’s quite reasonable, so sometimes, even if I took a big detour, I chose to go by ferry.

To go out of Istanbul, I took a train from there to Bucharest, Romania, about a 20-hour long trip, the train was comfortable enough but that’s a really long time to be in one.

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