I loved Istanbul for many reasons: the rich culture, amazing food, friendly cats and gorgeous mosques. However, what made me fall in love with the city was the Turkish people; I have never felt more welcome in a foreign place than I have this past weekend in Istanbul.
I wandered out of their mess of an airport around four in the morning, and hopped into a cab. The driver didn’t speak a word of English, but he smelled nice and we listened to Smack That by Akon and the Turkish version of I Will Survive. When we reached my friend’s apartment, without me having to ask, he gave me his phone so that I could call her and even waited at her staircase until I was collected, which I thought was very kind and a great first impression of Turks.
For the next few days, everywhere Kristi and I went we were greeted with smiles and an eagerness to help and to give insight into Turkish culture.
One night, we were smoking hookah at a water pipe cafe when we struck up a conversation with two Turkish men, Serkan and Ismail. Within minutes I was seated next to Serkan learning how to blow smoke rings and getting local food recommendations. They later joined us for dinner, and in the spirit of authenticity, ordered sheep intestines and fried mussels, which were surprisingly delicious. After dinner they insisted that no trip to Istanbul was complete without a stop at Karaköy Güllüoğlu, the most famous baklava house in town, and happily drove us there on their way home.
Usually I am rather cautious about the whole getting into cars with strangers in foreign cities thing. But, by that time they were no longer strangers, they were friends, and you could tell that they genuinely wanted us to enjoy and to understand their city.
On Monday, while exploring Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, I wandered into a lamp shop and met Ozzy, who immediately invited me in to have tea with him. The Turkish say that a cup of tea bring fifty years of friendship, and it is very common for shopkeepers to offer you apple tea. We chatted for a while about life and travel, then he took me out for hookah at an incredible 300 year old cafe, filled with only locals. Afterwards, Ozzy proceeded to accompany me on my shopping trip, haggling for the lowest possible prices in Turkish.
Ozzy taught me a Turkish saying that I will never forget, “Çok okuyan mı bilir, çok gezen mi?” which means:
“Who knows more, reader or traveler?”
When I travel, I talk to locals as much as I can because there are things that you simply cannot learn from a book or TripAdvisor. The people of Turkey showed me great kindness, and helped me discover many of Istanbul’s hidden gems, and for that I am forever grateful.