Twat on a hot tin roof
Istanbul Travel Blog› entry 1 of 1 › view all entries
As I write this I am sitting on a toilet (with the lid down, obviously) of a guest house in Istanbul. It’s 1am and I’m almost deranged with sleep deprivation. On the roof of this building, wedged between an old Australian hippy and an American who looks like a young Charles Manson, lies my boyfriend Spencer, snoring soundly, and next to him my sleeping bag. Which is why I am here.
We didn’t even mean to come to Turkey; we wanted to go to Thailand. Usually I spend my summer holidays at my mother’s flat in Porthcawl, south Wales, mooning around between the beach, the library and the dole office, but this year I actually managed to save up some money and was looking forward to visiting all my favourite places in Bangkok until we checked the flights on the internet and found out they were all
around 800 quid. Where else could we go that was interesting and cheap?
‘Go to Turkey!’ our Bulgarian friends said. ‘It’s cheap as fuck!’
‘Turkey is very cheap,’ said the Lonely Planet guidebook that I got from the library, only six years out of date. ‘£10 for a double room in Istanbul, cheaper elsewhere. Less than £1 a pint. Etc.’
‘Hurray!’ we said, and booked our flight (£300 each with Easy Jet, which was not cheap at all). And now we are here, and it is obvious that at some point in the last six years something has gone horribly, horribly wrong.
We arrived at Sabiha Gokcen airport at midday, after spending a night dodging the hoodies at Kentish Town station, prowling sleeplessly around Luton airport and then spending the entire flight trying to block our ears to the screams of the child in front of us, who was obviously possessed. He was about two years old and jumping up and down on the seat; eyes bulging bloodshot out of his head and frothing at the mouth. ‘Sit down nicely like your sister,’ his mother said in the soothing tones the middle classes use with their recalcitrant offspring.
‘My mother would have given me a bloody good slap,’ I muttered darkly for the fiftieth time, and set about trying to learn some Turkish. ‘Beer Icky Ooch Dirt Besh...One Two Three Four Five. Test me!’ I urged Spencer, who was starting to look like he’d been exhumed.
After getting a Havas coach across the Bosphorus (the strait which separates Europe from Asia) to Taksim, the main square in Istanbul, and then a taxi over the bridge across the Golden Horn, where scores of Turkish men stood fishing, we arrived in Sultanahmet, which the guidebook assured us is the centre for cheap accommodation as well as being one of the main areas of interest to tourists. We found Akbiyik Caddesi, a street littered with backpacker guesthouses and cafes, and set about finding a room.
‘45 euros,’ the first man said. Hahaha. As if!
But then we tramped around in the searing heat for an hour and everyone said the same thing. My backpack hung on my shoulders and I could feel the sun scoring out facial wrinkles with each step. Finally a man said we could sleep on the roof of his guesthouse for 14 Turkish lira each, which is about £3.50, breakfast included. We climbed up and up and emerged onto a rooftop with a dazzling view of the Bosphorus stretching blue into the distance. The floor was strewn with sleeping bags and a couple sat smoking coolly under an umbrella, looking like proper unfazed travellers while I stood red and sweating before them in my stupid impractical airport outfit.
‘What do you think?’ Spencer asked.
‘Anything, anything!’ I squealed in rising hysteria. ‘Just get this off my shoulders and get me out of the bastard sun!’
And so here we are. Shortly afterwards I discovered that Spencer hasn’t packed the towel (even though I put it in his hands and he said, yes of course I’ll pack it). Now he says ‘Is it really important?’ in a scornful voice while I attempt to dry myself with a checked shirt and have to parade around in front of everyone with it wrapped around my head. We also met some of our rooftop neighbours • the aforementioned Australian hippy, who has long grey hair and tiny neon shorts and has corralled the entire guesthouse’s supply of cushions for himself while everyone else has to sleep on bare tiles, and Charles Manson, who has run out of money and has to sleep on the roof here for a week because it’s all he can afford. They told us that yes, everything in Turkey has at least doubled in price since my guidebook was written. They’re both really nice, as everyone on the roof seems to be • it’s not that I’m worried about being murdered in my sleep. Later we walked around the area, being half-heartedly urged to buy a carpet or an overpriced meal by the occasional Turk; ate a meagre shish kebab at a cafe where they charged us twice as much as the meal just for a plate of chilli and garlic sauce on the side, and then went to a bar on our street which charged £3.50 for a small glass of wine, the same price as I pay in our local, the Boogaloo, which is a rip-off even for London. It was nice though, to sit drinking outside as the sun went down, watching people drift by, and they were playiing an excellent selection of music • Antony and the Johnsons, The Strokes, Manu Chao, amongst others. At around ten o’clock the music stopped for the call to prayer, which blared out from the nearby Blue Mosque • plangent, melancholy notes hanging over the streets long after each call had finished.
Now I sit here on the toilet after trying unsuccessfully to sleep for the last two or three hours. I’m an insomniac even when I’m in my own bed, so hoping to sleep on the floor and without a pillow is a little optimistic. Still, I’m going to give it another try.
I write this on an overnight coach to Selcuk, two days after my last entry. In front of me a TV screen shows a Turkish comedic movie about the
After getting about half an hour’s sleep yesterday morning I was woken at 5 by the call to prayer. The minarets of the Blue Mosque were lit up in the half-light and I could hear the voices of all the muezzins in Sultanahmet ringing in and out of each other in a continuous loop of sound. Tiny boats crawled out of the Bosphorus and into the
Turkish breakfast is lovely – mounds of moist sheep’s milk cheese, tomatoes, chopped cucumber, salty black olives and bread and honey, washed down with cay (pronounced ‘chai’), black tea drunk from small, tulip-shaped glasses held by the rim. After this we visited the Blue Mosque. It is huge, with a silver dome floating above it – the main building is surrounded by gardens, and steps led us up through a series of arches to a vast, tiled courtyard. To enter the actual mosque men were handing out scarves and sheets of blue material to woman who weren’t covered up enough. I was handed a navy sheet to tie around my waist, although I was already wearing a knee length skirt.
Inside the mosque was cool, and decorated with thousands and thousands of tiny blue tiles. The visitors’ area was cordoned off from the rest of the mosque, which was mostly just open space. I’d never been in a mosque before. Next to the entrance, in a little wooden enclosure, Turkish women knelt praying. I watched as a European girl, with a pale blue scarf wrapped around her head and the navy wrap around her waist, gazed with a sincere expression into the distance as if hoping to convey all the wisdom and mystery of Islam in her Muslim-chic pose while her boyfriend took her photo with his digital camera. Only for her to step moments later into the sunlight in her micro-shorts. As I looked round I noticed lots of European women were mooning about, looking pensive and Islamic. It pissed me off. It reminded me of when I went round
‘No, I just felt moved by the incredible atmosphere,’ she breathed.
After visiting the mosque we were at a loss. What to do next? We could go to the
‘Nah, I can’t be jacked,’ Spencer said. ‘Let’s get a ferry somewhere.’
After walking through a park and alongside a terrifying motorway for about an hour we arrived at Eminonu docks. ‘Bosphorus tour!’ a man shouted in our faces.
Never mind, then. Lots of Turkish people were pouring off a ferry bound for somewhere or other. We bought a token for 1.30 lira each and climbed on, finding a seat on the side of the boat beside a Turkish family who all sat neatly with hands clasped in their lap. Huge, transparent jellyfish loomed up out of the water. The boat pulled off across the Bosphorus, past mosques and other boats until we finally arrived at Uskudar, a place of no interests to tourists whatsoever. There was nothing to do except buy a kebab and a can of pop and sit on the grass to eat them. Whilst there we were assaulted by a gang of primary school children. They ran towards us shrieking and tried to wrestle my kebab from my hands. I sat terrified, clinging like grim death to both my lunch and my bag (which holds around £300 in cash because I was scared that my rubbish cashcard wouldn’t work over here) while Spencer tried to swat the children away like flies, shouting ‘Fuck off, fuck off!’ Eventually a Muslim man with a beard muttered something at them and they departed, laughing, with my can of orange Fanta. Shortly afterwards we caught the ferry back.
Yesterday evening we trailed around an endless maze of streets in Karakoy which were full of shops for men, packed with knives and football tops and cameras, which held Spencer captivated for hours and had me weeping with crushing tedium; made our way up to Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul’s main street which has a Parisian air and is lined with shops and cafes; and then finally visited the bars around the side streets. First there was Urban, which our guidebook assured us is ‘very, very cool.’ Who the fuck writes these things? It had some graffiti on the walls, some flyers for gigs, and a few Turkish twenty-somethings looking bored and staring round at everyone. Then Spencer dragged me on his usual quest for a heavy metal bar, which is unfair because he always finds one and I never find an easy listening or jazz or just plain indie bar anywhere. This time he found two – a dark, empty hole called Sin City up twenty flights of stairs which was playing Nirvana but charged us £3.50 each for a half of lager, then another where beer was cheap and which was packed with Turkish rockers but was playing hideous schlock rock. Then, by some happy accident, along an alleyway down the side of a bar called Mojo, we found a marvellous bar which sold giganic steins of Efes (
Now I’m knackered and the