Following life in the massive head fuck of a city that is Istanbul, I have had time to reflect on the unique experience that is living in such an interesting, diverse and downright crazy place. There were days spent feeling lucky to be breathing in the excessively humid, smog filled air. Others were spent rocking backwards and forwards wondering at how I got into this mess. Living there really was an equally balanced game of love and hate, of which I have nicely summarised here for you.
- The social life. There are so many fellow ex-pats in the city, all going through the same things as you, always there if ever you might need it. An interesting, diverse bunch, it is easy to build a network of good friends here.
- The cost of living (scrap that everything). I am definitely not innocent of having the odd complaint about the cost of cheese, but our grocery shop was seriously cheaper than in England. Then there’s the three lira lahmacun (Turkish pizza). Even in the most expensive city in Turkey it is dirt cheap to eat out. Transport too. Yes the wages are lower, but I have still managed to save and travel around the country in the short time that I was there. Not possible in England where it costs 70 quid to make the three hour journey from Birmingham to the Lake District and back.
- The kindness of strangers. Sometimes the natives do surprise you. Going out of their way to walk me to a strange destination, getting off the bus and providing bus fare when stranded on the wrong bus, in a dodgy area with no money (yes I was stupid enough to have this happen). People here will go out of their way asking for nothing in return.
- Never dull. I dare you to try and get bored in this city. Bored is not part of any Istanbulites lexicon. Akin to the woolly mammoth that had no reason to exist once the ice age was over, so Istanbulites have evolved past the feeling of this grating emotion. The snow has thawed to reveal a playground of delights, restaurants, bars, culture, history, sports, dancing, general people filled madness. I can guarantee any otherwise dull or mediocre task is made exciting just by being in this city.
- Yemek Sepeti. KFC delivered direct to your door via a smart phone app. Enough said.
- The Dolmus. The wonderfully frugal shared taxis unique to Turkey known as the dolmus are something of a godsend in a city so huge it would take an unlimited amount of hours to travel from one end to the next. Living as far out as we did, without them, going out on the weekend would be unfathomable. Never mind convenience, the main reason the dolmus has made it onto this list is the fact that each and every journey on it is always going to be unforgettable. I urge anyone to embark at Srineveler towards Taksim (or vice versa) to get THE authentic Istanbul experience in the form of traffic dodging, death defying, speed limit flouting, lane weaving madness. The ensuing adrenaline rush after such a journey is better than any of the subsequent nerve calming tequila shots inevitable after such an ordeal.
- Overcrowded. Oh the humanity. With more Homo sapiens than the whole of Belgium it is impossible to do anything without rubbing up against someone. Personal space is another one of those concepts unbeknownst to dwellers of this city, something uttered in passing on the lips of those still a part of a long forgotten world.
- Public transport. Try travelling for an hour and a half squashed up against sweaty men to get the true Istanbul experience. And if that isn’t bad enough, try then being on the receiving end of a pervert’s crotch in face when you are lucky enough to get your bum on a seat.
- Pollution. With all the humanity and buildings crammed into the space of this vast city it is no surprise that the place is polluted. I always wondered at how people managed to get photos of the Bosphorus under blue skies and rolling clouds. Photoshop foolery?
- Lack of green spaces. Trees are something of a rarity in this city. As someone naturally attracted to all things green, living in Istanbul was something of a challenge. Concrete has won the battle over nature creating a city that comes in a wide variety of grey and off brown hues. There are 6.4 square meters of green spaces per person in Istanbul, compare this with 27 square meters per person in London and 45.5 square meters per person in Amsterdam to see my issue with the place. Picture me rolling around in joy and wonderment upon arrival at one of Istanbul’s few parks. Literally.
- Political situation. I am not going to offer my opinion on the political situation in this country as I am sure I would not do it justice, having not lived there long enough. What I can say is walking out of a friend’s apartment only to have the noxious fumes of tear gas clogging ones throat and attacking one’s eyes is not a pleasant experience. I just want to party dammit! Then there’s the shutting down of all public transport to the center in order to stop people from exercising their democratic right to peaceful protest (OK so perhaps that was a little opinionated I will stop there).
- The roads. So above I mentioned the dolmus as a reason I loved this city. A true representation of life there, crazy, hectic, rushed and without consideration for personal safety. As it so happens all drivers in Istanbul (and in fact Turkey) seem to drive in this way. Let’s put this in perspective; the British foreign office website states that there were 1,296,634 road accidents in 2012 alone. Mostly due to ‘poor or reckless driving’. As a pedestrian you will feel your life in danger on a daily basis. Remember the thing about the most mediocre everyday tasks becoming interesting in this city? Crossing the road is definitely one of them.
All in all I have been lucky to live in this city of ups and downs (not called the city of seven hills for nothing). It is an unforgettable experience that I recommend to everyone, if only to test one’s personal resolve, emerging at the other end, stronger, faster, wiser and glad (or lucky) to be alive.