Yes, I know, I haven’t written here for a long while. I’m sorry, I’m ashamed and I promise (to you and to myself) that I will do better. I really have many ideas (personal stuff, migrating, Turkish and Canadian matters [yeah, something new!]..ahh..) but somehow I can never get round to actually writing down all that I have in my head (and on hundreds of notes)…
Thanks to talks with my family, I started thinking how it is that some place, even the most breath-taking one, can become so disgusting when you actually start living in it. And how it is possible that one place can be regarded so differently by people who are supposed to have similar viewpoints – they all live in it, they’re all immigrants, maybe they also don’t know the local language that well…
I’m talking about Istanbul, of course – the city that has been mine for 1,5 years already. But is it really that mine…?
Of course one regards the City of the Cities differently if they’re only tourists in it – only passing by, and quite differently when they live in it on a daily basis. Also, we would have quite different feelings towards it depending on whether we work, whether we have local friends or even whether…we have a car (I’m not joking).
I’ve prepared a list which will show you various “shades” of Istanbul from the insider’s point of view and maybe it would help people considering coming here in making a decision.
NOTE: you should take it into account that I’m living on the Asian side of the city so the below information refers mainly to those less “expat/immigrant” areas. It’s also worth remembering that the opinions here are my private ones or resulting from my observations of the foreign women of Istanbul FB group (over 6k members) – thus, sometimes they may not be objective. 😉
Is Istanbul a place…
Turks are very warm and they love kids.
Shopping malls are overcrowded on the weekends because where else could you take your whole family if not shopping and then to a fast food restaurant for a lunch/dinner, right? Oh, and maybe also a cinema and a playzone.
Restaurants: kids’ areas are not that popular but (unfortunately haha) it’s normal that kids sit at the table with their parents (and keep on screaming like hell ;p).
Sports: not practiced here.
Trips outside the city: one can go to e.g. Polonezköy (some 3-hour car ride from me), to the Sapanca lake (a 2-huor train ride), to the Istanbul seaside (yup, 2 metres from a highway) or maybe to the islands (taking a ferry to one of the Adalar). Generally: not too many options available. There aren’t many (big) parks or forests here. And as for barbecues, people use every square meter of grass at the seaside for it.
Women will soon have enough of interactions with the other sex lol (due to hundreds of friends invitations on FB or those super smart messages like “Hi, how are you?” or equally bright “Hi, wanna meet?”). Generally, surprisingly, it’s comparably difficult to find a “serious” guy but if one just wants to meet people, then it’s super easy – there are plenty of meetings everywhere all the time (e.g. CouchSurfing, InterNations) and one can also simply have fun with Tinder.
I’ve heard that men find it difficult to meet girls as most of them are so fed up with those messages and all those men hitting on them and “just leave me alone already” so it’s often difficult to get through it all.
But, generally speaking, there are possibilities to meet people – both on the European and Asian side.
Hmm if you’ve always dreamt of learning a new language, then yes 😉
Ok, now on the serious note, Istanbul has a couple of really good universities and I see that there are many students from Europe here – they come on Erasmus or even for the whole programme of studies. The best schools (Sabancı Uni, Istanbul Uni, Boğaziçi Uni, Istanbul Technical University and Koç Uni) even let you study in English, althooooough I’ve heard that some you need to be very assertive on some faculties so that the professors don’t speak Turkish because it’s more convenient for them. But, as everything in Turkey, it can also be arranged 😉 Other universities may be more difficult about English.
Türkiye Bursları is an interesting option – it gives young people an option to apply for interesting scholarship programmes.
As for student life, the European side surely has a lot to offer when it comes to hanging out, studying places, meeting people. Asian side: that would mean commuting to Kadıköy as this is where most of the fun stuff happens. Oh and check on Google Maps where your campus is (e.g. Sabancı is veeeery far from civilisation so one needs to become dependant on the service buses).
…for animal lovers?
It’s hard to say. One needs to remember that many people think (mistakenly?) that according to haddiths cats are nice and dogs are dirty and bad. Supposedly, it’s not exactly like this in haddiths, but many people still believe it. So, as per rule, people don’t have dogs in their houses (Really! When I saw someone walking a dog here, I was shocked as I got so unused to this view) and some kids also don’t treat them too well. But on the other hand, there are enough people who take care of the stray dogs – they bring them food and water regularly, put out “houses” for the winter, let them inside shops when it’s freezing outside… And this is beautiful as, frankly speaking, I haven’t seen much of such care on “ownerless” dogs in Poland.
As for cats, sometimes it feels like an epidemy here. Everyone loves cats, everyone is in awe about the stray ones and most people have at least one cat at home. Sometimes it actually feels stupid that..well..I don’t really love them… 😉
When it comes to other pets, you do see rabbits (aww) and birds in per stores but I don’t know anyone who would have them.
…for pet owners?
Some of the answer is above – as for people’s attitudes towards animals.
From what I know, Turkey doesn’t have any super strict rules regarding transporting animals but it’s always best to check the up-to-date information before departure anyway (at airlines’ websites, e.g. Turkish Airlines and e.g. Pet Travel or YellAli When it comes to living with a dog in Istanbul, I see two possible problems here: many fla owners don’t allow to keep a dog in the flat (because: see the point above) and sometimes it may not be safe to walk the dog in your area (because: almost each block has its “dog pack” and they may not necessarily be friendly towards a new dog “in da block”). Cats are easy as everyone loves them (you only need to be aware of the lovemakers that will show around in numbers) 😉
For occassional sportsmen – yes. For professionals – no.
Joggers have a lot of places to practice – that is ok.
Skaters/bladers may try on sidewalks or bike routes. I’ve never eard of any skating rink in Istanbul.
And ok, there are some bike routes along the coast and one can have a long ride there (along the whole coastline), a pleasant one (thanks to the views) but not necessarily a peaceful one (due to hundreds of people who don’t notice it’s a bike route and walk on it all the time). But usually people don’t want to waste the 3-45 mins to get to the coast with their bikes. Ok, it’s possible to rent a bike. There are points for this every couple of km but, frankly speaking, I have no idea how it works and how much it costs (though I’ve heard it’s not too much).
You are strictly discouraged from trying to ride a bike (or anything else) outside bike routes. Even my Turkish friend, a big fan of cycling, once stated: don’t even think about it if you’e not a Turk (so that you can properly fight with car drivers who’ve tried to kill you) or a strongman (so that you don’t get lost and survive close endavours with crazy cars).
…for fitness/swimming/other sport fans?
Yes and no.
They say there are some fitness centres there but the big ones only take Turkish credit card payments (and immigrants cannot have that) and there aren’t too many of the smaller ones. Each district, however, has its district sport centre and that is an awesome solution. The only thing one needs to do is find such a centre, register, have medical tests (around 10 TL) and pay for a month in advance (around 55 TL). The choice we have in ours (and it’s not a popular/big place) is: football, gym, tennis, aerobic, kick-boxing and pilates. But this choice will be different depending on the district.
Swimming pools are, unfortunately, a small shame on Turkey (or maybe only on Istanbul). Imagine that Turkey, as you know, has 4 seas and yet, really only a few Turks I know can swim. Surely the situation is different in seaside resorts but here seriously not too many people had any contact with water. Because there is no “swimming pool culture” here that I know from Poland. Families or friends don’t go to swimming pools on the weekends (I atually still don’t know if there is any swimming pool in my district) but always only shopping malls – meeeh.
…for football/volleyball/basketball fans?
Yes and no.
Football (or soccer) is Turkey’s national sport. It’s impossible to live in Turkey and not become a fan (or, in case of natives: a fanatic) of some football team (usually Beşiktaş, Galatasaray or Fenerbahçe). I think this is also one of the reasons why there are so many sport centres here (as mentioned above). Football pitches are visible at every corner. Plus: kids play wherever they find a small area of grass.
Volleyball and basketball are an entirely different thing. Volleyball is not too popular, even though the Turkish female volleyball team is (was?) pretty successful. No one is interested in it. Some people are interested in basketball but it’s still not as popular as it should be. And it really should be popular as the Beşiktaş basketball team is very good and has been pretty successful for many years already. My friend was writing a thesis about the marketing of Turkish team sports. And unfortunately, apart from football it doesn’t really exist…
…for fans of less popular sports (rugby, American football, ice hockey…)?
No. We’ve never come across any sport centre that would offer to practice them. Although, once we were shocked as we saw ids playing rugby on the field next to the mosque (and it was quite professional, with proper shirts and all!). It was a very weird view. 😉
I don’t think I need to remind anyone that Istanbul is a beautiful and historic city so obviously there are beautiful archistectural sites everywhere, as well as many museums, exhibitions, events…
Street markets next to Eminönü are famous for having everything one might want (paints, brushes, fabrics, threads, beads…) and generally the European side has a lot to offer in terms of artistic needs. When it comes to the Asian side, then Kadıköy also has some interesting shops to offer (crafts shops, school articles shops, hobby shops) and even the pretty conservative district of Pendik has a really nice shop Kaplan with all kinds of threads, fabrics, ribbons, cequins, and even sewing machines.
If one reads in English, then yes.
Many expat women recommend Book Depository (apparently the [free!] delivery can take some time but all is ok). It’s also been confirmed that Amazon UK delivers to Turkey.
There are a couple of bookstores in all of Istanbul: Greenhouse, D&R i Remzi Kitapevi.
On the European side: Pandora just off Istiklal Caddesi, Galeri Kayseri on Sultanahmet.
On the Asian side: a passage (Akmar in Kadıköy, next to the Nezih bookstore) and one small area of tiny bookstores selling used books (up from the bull in Kadıköy, the entrance is next to the shop with big sizes).
Books in other languages can be obtained either through international deliveries from your country’s big bookstores (but you need to check beforehand if they deliver to Turkey and what the shipping cost is) or through other people of your nationality (there are many meetings of people of specific nationalities – it’s advisable to join some of maaany FB groups for local communities of Istanbul – both to see the ads and to learn about meetings).
Generally, as it usually happens amongst immigrants, many people turn to ebooks so it’s worth buying some ebook reader (e.g. Kindle <3) before leaving your country. Electronics is comparably expensive in Turkey.
Oops, the list came out a bit long but…it’s still not the end! There will soon be the next part of it which will help you to better understand what kind of place Istanbul really is and make a decision: is it really a place for me?
And here is the small positive side of living in Istanbul – such beautiful views in March 😀