This will be my last blog post while I’m on the move. The next time you see me post again will be in the comforts of home. I’m leaving Istanbul in about 6 hours from now…
Before we start… has anyone of you watched/read Narnia? What I’d like to know is whether Aslan is purely a movie/book character, or if there is a real religious or mythical Aslan out there? Because…
If you have not watched/read Narnia, please ignore my question. Okay, let’s begin…
Super Expensive Lunch
Yesterday’s agenda was mainly to catch up on the places to visit within the Sultanahmet area: Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque), and Basilica Cistern. Took me 7 hours to cover these four places, so you can forgive me for having no choice but to have yet another expensive meal in this giant tourist trap.
This time I went into a self service “zhap fan” restaurant that looked somewhat similar to what I had in Taksim last week. Even the dishes I took were somewhat similar. I paid 23 TL last week for 3 dishes and a pilaf rice. So I expected below to be anywhere between 30-35 TL.
Guess how far off the mark I was? Bear in mind these are all small dishes, the same size as what I had last week.
I had to pay 56 TL for these and a small bottle of limonata (lemonade)! And the best part is the food were very tasty. By “very tasty” I mean “overloaded with MSG”. I can totally understand if this restaurant is somehow rated on TripAdvisor as one of the best restaurant in the area. Unfortunately I was too pissed to even take note of the restaurant’s name to do a cross check.
Less Expensive Dinner
I got those tourist attractions covered, then hopped onto the tram to get back to Taksim, to Istiklal to get some shopping done (okay, just to buy a couple more pair of Mavi jeans because I love them so much now). Then I rushed back to my hotel and managed to successfully evade the danger zone and make it back by 6 PM.
So for dinner, I went back to the same place where I had dinner when I arrived a couple days ago. It was just 50 yards from the hotel and did not require me to head back to danger zone. Also, the price there was less expensive compared those restaurants closer to the main stretch, and the food was acceptably decent.
The owner recognized me and went “Hey! My friend! You are back! You love my food? Come come!”.
I told him it was my last night in Istanbul and ordered a plate of mixed kebab. After a little wait, my food was served.
I don’t know if this is normal, but the picture in the menu did not look this impressive and overflowing with food. I guess telling him of my last night in Istanbul actually worked in my favor. Just beneath the pita bread pieces was an overflowing pile of onion salad and purple cabbage salad. This plate of mixed kebab, plus a cup of apple tea on the house costs 30 TL.
Actually the owner isn’t even the cook. An old woman (I presume his mother) was helming the kitchen. The owner mainly sits around chatting people up and goes outside to lure potential customers in. And while eating, I even saw workers from neighboring shops come in to place bets with him on Fenerbahce match and Valencia match. I’m not sure which one’s his side business, the restaurant or the betting. But heck, the food is pretty decent, so…
Now, I’d like to tell you what this restaurant is called, or where it is exactly located in, but I can’t. This restaurant has no names, and because I was just walking without Google Map’s aid, I did not know exactly which corner this was. All I know is that this restaurant is on a corner lot of one of those rows of shops/buildings just opposite the Arasta Bazaar.
Okay, I probably exaggerated by calling this place danger zone. You won’t die here, probably. It’s probably more like, pesky zone or nuisance zone.
First, let me show you a crudely edited snippet from Google Map.
Those blue words indicate the places of interest which you will most likely want to visit in the Sultanahmet area, and the tram station. The area within the green box, is where most of the cheap/budget hotels and AirBnb properties are located in. The area within the red box, that’s the danger zone I’m talking about.
You see, because most solo travelers and some gullible couple travelers would stay in one of those hotels in the green area, you will have to cut across the red area one way or another to get back to your hotels, either by getting off the tram at the 2 tram station, or by walking across the public park between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.
Now in the day, when the museums and mosque are open, there would be police patrolling the area, so you are relatively safe.
But… these tourist attractions close their doors for the public by 5 or 6 PM. And the police would leave by then. This is when a lot of those people which I would call 蛇仔明 (Snakey Ming) would suddenly pop up and loiter around the area.
What they would do is identify their targets, like I mentioned usually solo travelers or gullible couple travelers, and then they would walk up to you and start to chat you up. They dress up just like tourists do, so sometimes it is hard for you to tell them apart from the real tourists. In fact, there’s one bugger who hangs around the Sultanahmet tram station wearing a suit, carrying a briefcase and having a name tag going around telling people he is an Information Manager.
So far, the standard mode of operation that I’ve encountered is: they ask where you’re from, then ask you for help to take a picture of them, then wants to buy you a beer as thanks. I don’t know what happens next because the few times I’ve been tricked to help them, I backed off the moment “Come I buy you a beer” is uttered and bailed at the speed of light. I suspect they will probably bring you to a pub and make you order expensive wine and then let you pay or something like that.
That Information Manager though, he will target those lugging around their big luggages. He will give you directions, then ask if you have booked any tours, then try to lead you to his travel agency to book 100€ tours (which you can get elsewhere for 60 TL). I was led all the way into his shop before I realized what type of Information Manager he actually was, but I was able to get out by claiming I have already done all those tours and was just meeting my friend.
Usually it is easy to shrug them off and keep walking. But some of them are aggressive. They would grab onto you and go “Hey! Why are you so rude? I just want to make friends!“, and when you try to fabricate a lie by saying you are going back to your wife/friend, they would follow up by asking “Where? Where’s your friend/wife? Come, come drink with me!”
The straw that broke my camel’s back was when I encountered one such fucker who grabbed onto me, then after I glared at him and twisted him off, followed me all the way back to my hotel before he fucked off. That was when I decided that I will NEVER stay in this area again if I ever visit Istanbul again. I’ll stick to Taksim and the Beyoglu area, where I was able to walk in the most crowded street for 2 consecutive nights without anyone harassing me…
I’m not telling you to boycott this area like me, because there are some pros too, mainly how close it is to most of the famous palaces and museums. Just… Practice rigid precautions at all times, especially night time..