We were both very excited to finally be visiting Turkey, in particular Istanbul. We touched down late at Atatürk Airport, collected our bags, then jumped straight aboard a bus headed to Taksim Square where we’d lined up a month-long hostel workstay.
When we finally arrived at the hostel we were greeted by some of the other volunteers. We asked one of them, Nicky, if there was anywhere close by for food and he kindly offered to come with us. On the way, Nicky gave us a tour of the surrounding area. We weren’t even in Taksim for one night and already we’d learnt the best places for all different types of food, the main street and shopping district, the must-see sights and even a brief history of the city. It was then no surprise that Nicky had experience as a tour guide, but also that he had a real love for Istanbul.
It didn’t take us long to hit it off with the other volunteers who actually doubled as our roomies in a six-bed dorm. They were from all over the globe. Nicky from Argentina, Kabir from Pakistan, Caio from Brazil, and managers Zeynep and Felipe from Turkey and Brazil. Not only did we become good friends with everyone at the hostel, including more recent volunteers Tebess and Shaun, but Zeynep’s brother Mehmet and his friends Maxime and Ulysse would also pop over on a regular basis. It was a really great mix of people who shared not only similar interests but a mutual sense of humour.
Our work at the hostel wasn’t all that hard, involving such things as breakfast prep and clean up, checking guests in and out, weekly cleaning duties and help with whatever minor incidents reared their head around the corner. It was actually pretty fun, especially being able to meet guests of all different nationalities and personalities.
The hostel also had a rooftop terrace which we loved spending our evenings on, that is before it became unbearingly cold. To the right was an incredible view out across Istanbul, while the left was a bend leading down from Taksim Square. I’d often become more interested in the bend than the view as each day would bring a fascinating collection of new faces, incidents and consequences. We were actually one street away from a pretty dodgy neighbourhood, full of transvestite hookers and drug dealers. You’d sometimes even hear gunshots from feuding dealers at night, but none of it ever came close enough to get us worried.
Our time off from the hostel was spent exploring the wonderful sights and areas of Istanbul, usually with one of the more experienced guys by our side. Sure, we did the more touristy things such as visiting the Blue Mosque, Spice and Grand Bazaars, riding bikes around Princes’ Islands or catching the ferry across to the Asian side, but loved our time visiting the places off the tourist map the most.
We loved eating kumpir in Ortaköy, or visiting Istanbul’s largest flea market in Şişli. Seeing the Mevlevî Semâ ceremony in Fatih, or exploring the colourful streets of Balat. Seeing Turkish rock bands play live at Lelya Teras, or drinking Raki and eating home-style Turkish food in Beyoğlu. These were the things that made us feel that we were really living Istanbul, not just visiting.
I would spend most of my down time at the hostel working on my new website or drinking beers and playing chess, while Anita would be making necklaces and braclets with the guys, or practicing her new found hobby of knitting. In only a few days, Anita had made two sets of gloves, a scarf, and a beanie complete with pom pom. She’s now a knitting machine, but only with thanks to Maxime, Mehmet and Zeynep.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in beautiful Istanbul. It wasn’t only the sights, food and culture that made it great, it was the friends we’d made that we now call family. We’ll miss you Istanbul, but as our friend Mehmet always says: It’s not “goodbye”, just “see you later”.