We were in Istanbul on Saturday. The first time I was in Istanbul, I had made plans with shipmates to see the city. Unfortunately, that turned out to be a miserable fail. This time, I wasn’t taking any chances – it’d be my only night off for the next month and I had to make it count. So I contacted loads of Couchsurfers to see who wanted to hang out. I only got 3 replies – one guy was going to Berlin that weekend, one girl gave me a list of clubs I could go to, and another said that I should go to the CouchSurfing conference. Wait what? Casey Fenton of CouchSurfing is traveling to the 5 biggest member cities to talk about the recent changes with CouchSurfing. (I’ll be writing an article all about the conference on Hejorama.com soon).
Talk about serendipity. I’m a big CouchSurfing nerd so hanging out with CouchSurfers, talking about CouchSurfing and listening to the founder of CouchSurfing talk about CouchSurfing was far more appealing than visiting the Blue Mosque or what most shipmates do when they are in Istanbul – go to an internet cafe.
Anyway, despite my fellow shipmates warning me on the perils of exploring Istanbul alone – it turned out to be surprisingly easy. Taksim, the main square was only 20 minutes walk from the ship. I still had to ask people for directions because road signs seem to be non-existent. People in Turkey are very friendly but it seems like everyone I speak to here tries to convince me that I’m Moroccan. I was almost convinced myself, after talking to them.
Once I got to Taksim square, I must admit that it was almost overwhelming. I thought I was going to have an epileptic fit from the overstimulation of sights, sounds and smells. And there were people everywhere. It was awesome!
One curious thing I noticed in Turkey was the overrepresentation of men. Basically, it was one huge doner fest bromance. It was almost like a post-apocolyptic black comedy, where a biological weapon had accidentally gone off, vaporizing all the females on Earth. Now I understand why Turkish guys have the reputation they have and why every female I’ve met who’s been to Turkey wants to go back!
I made it to the CouchSurfing conference, which was being held at a cinema. I thought was great, not only was it very informative but I also got to hug Casey Fenton. I was gushing like a school girl at an Usher concert. After the conference, I joined a bunch of CouchSurfers at a bar for a couple of pints. It seems like at bars in Turkey you have no personal space, everyone shouts over each other and people are practically sitting on each other’s laps. I loved it. Not the lap-sitting thing though, that was a bit weird.
A few pints later and we headed off to a bar called Rouge, where there was a CouchSurfing party planned. You know how you notice little things when you first go to a city? Well in Istanbul, they have barber shops everywhere, where you can get lathered up with a badger shaving brush and a smooth shave with a straight-edge razor. It like how they did it back in the day before Gillette made razors look like a futuristic weapon.
The bar was packed with CouchSurfers. It took a bit of time to transition from “ship-friendly” (ie. unfriendly) to “couchsurfing-friendly” (ie. instant BFFs). In the end, I found it lots of fun talking to people, especially when I explained that I was in Istanbul for 24 hours. You know, just swinging by. Then someone told me I needed to try raki which is like Turkish absinthe, served over ice with water. It was very tasty but also very strong – you shouldn’t have more than one.
Four rakis later, a bunch of us decided to head off to a club. I have no idea where we were but I soon learned a very important tidbit of information – males can only enter clubs if accompanied by a female partner (unless it’s a gay club, where women aren’t allowed). We were two women short in our group but the others were quick to rush in, leaving me and another behind.
Me: “Don’t worry, I’ve got this.” I walk over to a couple of girls and say “Hey, they won’t let us into this club without girls. Can we join you?”
Girl 1: “What? Why? Are you from Morroco? No.”
This was going to be more complicated. My friend walks up to Girl 1: “Hey how you doin’? I like you.”
Me: “Dude, what the fuck? We don’t have time for this. We need to get into the club to join the others.”
My friend continues to Girl 1: “Don’t mind my friend. Hey, do you want to go in and dance?”
Girl 1 giggles and says “ok”.
Me: “Oh. Oooooh.” I turn to Girl 2 and say “Hey, I want to dance with you. Let’s go.” Girl 2 looks a bit hesitant but agrees. Wow, this shit actually works.
The club turned out to be one of those rooftop places. It was amazing to be drinking and dancing under the stars. But somehow, despite the “couple rule” there were 80% guys in the club. Turkish men possibly replicate spontaneously. Somehow in my head, I interpreted all of this as a good pretense to a dance-off (you know, like that Run D.M.C music video). I’m pretty sure I was winning but I’m not certain if the screams from on-lookers was from delight or terror.
AT 5 am everything shut down, which was a bit disappointing – I had almost won the dance-off. We left the club and I stumbled along, managing to make it to Taksim square where I bought a “Taksim burger” from a street vendor and went on my way. A few minutes later, I found myself walking back to the street vendor. I thought it was imperative that I complimented his tasty burgers. Then I made another purchase and headed back to the ship.