The first time I meet my friend’s friend, we’re out on his Regulator in Charleston and I’m talking about the urge to take a trip. This fun-loving guy with an adventurous spirit say, “seriously, I’ll go. And I bet my buddy in New York will go, too.” And that’s how the Istanbul-Beirut trip was born.
What to expect from Istanbul in 2011?
Istanbul in 2009 was mysterious and romantic. Many elements of culture and landscape are constant, yet no two trips are the same. I expect this week’s visit to be very different from the last. My travel companions are raring to meet locals and join the Taksim Square nightlife, a place we avoided last time for safety reasons.
Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey, so surely there are plenty of wonderful things yet to experience. Tomorrow my two new friends and I depart from NYC to spend Thanksgiving in Turkey and Lebanon. Will Istanbul be as welcoming as it was before? Will I remember how to navigate the city? Will memories come flooding back? Let’s find out…
The temperature is colder than we anticipated – around 50°F. Traffic is vast like the city, hectic like usual. With no regard for lanes, our taxi races toward Crowne Plaza in the Sultanahmet district.
A wander reveals that some areas of this grand old district can be unwelcoming – it’s enough to be concerned for safety – something to keep in mind at any time in any city. We’re only steps from beautiful monuments of ancient history. We’ll explore those tomorrow.
Where’s the nightlife?
A quick nap and we’re off to Taksim. A nice, traditional dinner near the base of Galata Tower reveals that Turks are still as jovial as they were in 2009. Our server, Çelik, brings shots of clear liquid to our table and warns that the contents may be quite strong. At first we are hesitant to take down an unknown beverage, but quickly go with our motto for the night: just do it. Çelik laughs hysterically as we realize we’ve just taken shots of water! This trick is his favorite thing to do to Westerners, he explains. Then he serves the real deal: Turkey’s national drink, Raki. If you like licorice, you’ll like Raki.
Literally running down the street, hopping from pubs to posh rooftop clubs, we dance all the way and stop only to mean mug for the camera. Most establishments aren’t too crowded – prime rooftop clubbing season has just passed – yet there’s plenty of partying happening.
The day after…
It’s time to try a little breakfast hookah in one of the colorful shops, and then retrace last night’s adventure. Following our trail of receipts, we find our way through a maze of alleys. Things look a bit different in daylight, but the locals remember us. Several older gentlemen hug my Charleston friend, playfully patting the bill of his cap. Apparently our antics were well received.
Let’s hope this luck continues!