New Years Day 2016
Arrived in Istanbul a couple of hours later than scheduled but lucky to be within the day, thousands of people had been less fortunate and spent their new years eve in the departure lounge as the airport and the city were blanketed in a couple of feet of snow.
I wasn't especially well prepared for the trip and had forgotten to write down the address of my hostel anywhere and the words 'Stray Cat' weren't enough for the taxi drivers in a city of 20 million people. An embarrassing phone call to mum asking her to look up the address sorted me out and further confirmed her opinion that I am not old enough to be the age I am!
A chain smoking mostly deceased taxi driver just about kept us on the slippery roads up to the cosy and excellently run Stray Cat hostel and so to bed.
The next morning I woke early and headed off to explore the city and get some appropriate clothing and ditch my slippery plimsolls. Istanbul is good: Pretty, historic, lively and there are plentiful tasty kebabs. Sad events a week after I left but I don't think that should put you off, nor should the story you are about to read.
Now to the evening and a scary event. I must've lived through it though as I'm writing this so when you start to worry. Don't. I end up okay. (Apologies to those of you who like suspense or were hoping to read of my arrest/death)
8pm: On leaving the hostel the guy on reception advised me to be careful who I made friends with. I told him I lived in Africa and fight lions and leopards most days so not to worry. As I walked up the busy main street in the Taksim area I was approached by a man who asked me for a light. We got chatting and he seemed like a decent sort, a Turkish Cypriot who was also heading out for a beer, he also had a very plausible story that he was stuck in the city alone for the night as his flight back to where he worked in Dubai was delayed. His name was Borat (or was it? seems a strange one to choose) and he knew the bar I was heading to so showed me the way and joined me for a couple of drinks. He insisted on settling the bill and then asked if I wanted to go to another bar where they had traditional Turkish belly dancing. As this is exactly the sort of high brow cultural tourism one should immerse yourself in when on holiday I agreed. In hindsight this was pretty dumb.
In the taxi I started to think Borat was not such a decent sort after all, not someone to worry about, just a bit of a jerk as we were talking less about our girlfriends and more about how the fact that his wasn't around meant y'know, fuck her... or rather fuck girls who weren't her. Then he followed that up with a chat about the fact that although he wasn't gay, he had no problem with them having rights so I let the first comment slide as a cultural difference.
10pm: We pulled up to a club but there was no evidence that traditional belly dancing might be occurring but there were silhouette lady pictures like you get outside strip clubs or in James Bond opening credits. I'd made my mind up, when we got to the door and they asked for our entrance fees I would politely tell Borat I was off. Only there wasn't a cover charge and nor were there any strippers. Perhaps I'd misjudged Borat, it was just a bar so no harm in a couple of drinks, we ordered a bottle of Raki and the conversation started to flow about Cyprus, Turkey and all the stuff that makes meeting foreigners in the street worthwhile.
Now, while there were no strippers as such there were a couple of tables of girls who one might say looked like high class prostitutes and after half an hour or so an important looking man who looked like Michel Platini had sent two of them over to us. One sat by Borat, one by me. Borat ordered a drink for 'his one' and then the waiter asked if I wanted to buy a drink for 'my one'. I was peeved, I didn't have much money in my pocket but British politeness got the better of me so I said 'go on then'.
The girl next to me was from Belarus, she spoke very little English, about as far as we got was:
Her 'How old are you?'
Me 'thirty two. You?'
Her 'Twenty four'
Me 'Really? You must have had a hard paper round'
Her 'I don't understand'
Several rounds of shots of Raki went quickly down accompanied by some snacks I didn't want or order and then more drinks were ordered at which point I said to Borat that I was going. He asked for the bill while I checked the menu to do the maths myself.
There on the menu, clearish to see: 'ANY DRINK FOR ANY GIRL: 150 TL' that worked out as £40 per Martini.*
According to the menu in front of me I owed £200 for an hour of broken conversation and a few carrot sticks. Then the actual bill came and my worst fears came true. This was a scam. They'd added all sorts to the bill which was written down as 3900 TL - nearly £1000.
I now became rude to the Belarussian and finally decided that perhaps Borat wasn't entirely trustworthy either. He'd taken me there and said he'd been before, if he had why would he be back? Bastard was in on it, either that or he made an awful lot in Dubai, either way, what he did next was massively beneficial as he said we needed to go to a cash point. We were accompanied by a large waiter/bouncer but we were outside and I was now considering my options. I couldn't take the waiter in combat, I couldn't have taken the Belarussian for that matter. I don't know how to do combat.
Out of the club the waiter/bouncer told me to go to the cash machine next to Borat's. Borat couldn't withdraw money but seemed keen that I try, I was not going to go first. He tried another cash machine and once again, no withdrawal. I confronted Borat about whether he was scamming me and he said 'don't be like that man, what can we do? We just have to pay it and we said we'd split it'.
Bollocks to it! As the other two walked to another cash point I dropped back a little took a deep breath in and then legged it as fast as I could across a park, although by legged it as fast as I could I mean carefully sort of danced my way through the snow so that I didn't fall over. I kept dancing/running for a long time, constantly looking over my shoulder, partly through fear but also to keep warm as I'd left my coat in the bar and it was freezing.
Several thoughts ran through my mind like 'Do many Turkish carry guns?' and 'Have I just left a friendly stranger to deal with our problem?' I had no regrets about running though and in hindsight Borat was definitely in on it and it was a well known scam that I'd fallen for.
The adrenaline pumping through my body meant that I wasn't going to be able to sleep so once I found my bearings I tracked down a bar with live music several kilometres from the 'belly dancing' place and drank beer playing over what had happened and what could have happened.
When I got back to the hostel I was asked 'Did you go out without a coat'
'Nope, I had a coat, now I don't, but that's a long story'
Hope this has entertained you, given you a warning story but not put you off a jolly pleasant city.
*What I did wonder was what happens if a girl comes in and orders for herself, surely that's an unfair policy?
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