Istanbul is a noisy, beautiful, diverse, enormous city. I had the pleasure of living and working there for over a year and I’d never take that time back. I learned how to cook some outstanding food, I made new friends and explored one of the most exquisite regions in the world.
I had a bittersweet time in Turkey – for personal and professional reasons I had to leave – and unfortunately the political environment there was becoming difficult at that time. After all these years I miss the place and am looking forward to going back for a holiday this year sometime.
Here are some of the good and bad aspects of life for me as an expat in Turkey. They may be different for everyone, but I’m delighted to share my views with you, as always.
Now this is the reason to move to Istanbul: the best friends you’ll ever have are your Turkish friends. They’ll stick by you through thick and thin. They’ll be your guides, translators, Turkish teachers, party planners, advocates, therapists and family. I’m still friends with my favourite Turks years later. I couldn’t imagine life without them. It’s true love.
Definitely my favourite meal of the day. There’s nothing like waking up to a feast. I learnt a lot about how to start the day in Turkey.
Far from my usual toast and a banana, a Turkish breakfast usually consists of salads and herbs, olives, white cheese, homemade jam and fresh bread, fruit, eggs. All served with black tea – that I couldn’t stand for, I always order my tea with milk, otherwise the local way is best. In Turkey they give me a funny look and bring me a full glass of milk. This fabulous breakfast can be found at a humble coffee shop – but I am pretty good at making my own by now. Love it. Sometimes I chuck in pastry on colourful Turkish plates and feed it to guests.They’re always impressed. I learnt a lot of fabulous new recipes in Turkey as well.
A wonderful thing, the Museum Pass will make your life in Turkey so much more interesting. Turkey has world-class museums and historical sites that are unlike anywhere in the world and once you’re a resident you can get yourself a Müzekart – the magical pass that give you access to more than 300 of Turkey’s most splendid attractions including Topkapı Palace Museum, Hagia Sophia, the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum and many more in and out of Istanbul. The price is only 50 TL, less than the price of visiting the Hagia Sofia. There is a discount card for students. NB – Museum passes for tourists that last for a few days are good value for travellers to Istanbul. Don’t miss out.
Summer beach season is only a short window of the year (compared to my native Australia) but it’s such a fabulous time of year! Istanbul isn’t exactly on a swimming beach but there are plenty nearby. Only 30 kilometres from Central Istanbul, Kilyos is a popular beach resort. I personally like the Suma Beach Club as they have a bus from Taksim area directly to their beautiful property on the Black Sea. You can relax under the parasols on a deck chair, play sport on the beach, brave the treacherous waters of the Black Sea (it’s good fun, for strong swimmers only) order food or drink at the bar.
If you are so inclined the clubs have DJs (some very famous) and you can continue your party into the night. Şile is a lovely coastal town to spend a weekend away from the city, so is the neighbouring village of Ağva.
I took advantage of living in Istanbul to explore the region: rural Turkey, the ancient city of Ephesus and the countries at surround Turkey. I had the privilege of visiting Armenia, Georgia, Serbia, Greece, Azerbaijan and Syria while I was working in Turkey. It was a wonderful experience for me, and for anyone in Turkey. It’s something fun to do in winter when the flights are cheap.
When you say you were in Turkey people usually tell you how they love Turkish food – it is very good. But not all of the time. I have had the pleasure of living in Japan, Singapore and Australia before Turkey and am used to a wide range of fruit and vegetables in the supermarkets. Turkey was a bit of a shock as I tired of tomatoes, onions, peppers and garlic quite fast. I went on a hunt for a Thai red curry, a fresh mango or a Mars Bar. Mission impossible.
Of course I managed to find a lovely Thai place (the one) and a few “sushi” bars but in general Turkey is not a foodie’s paradise. Avocados are hard to come by. Coconuts? Forget it. Kosher delis are a thing of the past. My Arabic spice mixes that were available around the world were strangely absent from Turkish supermarkets and even the famed spice market despite being a from neighbouring countries. For a proper cut of fillet steak you may have to go to a five star hotel. My favourite (international) Japanese restaurant chain/cool bar, Zuma, has an outlet in Istinye Park. Perhaps things are changing over the years but the majority of locals are happy with the way things are so I guess it won’t change fast. I’m now able to go for a week, fill up on wonderful Turkish fare and leave before I start missing food from home.
Outdoor Lifestyle & Wildlife
Istanbul is woefully devoid of animals and zoos/wildlife parks that you see in other cities – except the odd stray dog and the ubiquitous rodents. It’s a shame, I did feel a little out of touch with the earth in this find city. There are some lovely parks and forest trails on the outskirts of town (such as Belgrad Forest, not too far if you have a car) but urban green space is become less and less.
Turkish winter is the most dismal time of the year. I can’t explain how stark and miserable a Turkish winter makes me feel. It’s rarely sunny and can be rainy and snowy for weeks. Houses and building inside are roasting hot (I was staying in a hotel twice that couldn’t turn off the central heating. I slept next to an open window so my brain wouldn’t overheat. There seems to be no notion of comfortable temperature in Turkey.
On the upside, tourist sights are vacant and flights are cheap so it’s a good chance to explore the (relatively) warmer Southern Turkey. But I don’t think I could stand another Istanbul winter. I’m tropical baby.
The Status of Females
Ahhh, women. Unfortunately I’m one of them, and that can be a problem in Turkey. The first thing I noticed when I entered Istanbul the first time was that everyone was male – everyone working at immigration, at the bazaar, the doctors, the police, the cafes… where are all the girls? Every other country I’d lived in, and most of the ones I’d visited, it was 50/50 male and female. Female participation in the workforce is shrinking – an alarming figure suggests that only around 33% of women make up the labour force in Turkey – it doesn’t look good for the economy. It’s a man’s world in Turkey.
All the cooking I learnt was from Turkish women, in my friend’s families Mum stayed at home to cook and clean – even if they weren’t rich. I’ve seen families go without to have the wife stay at home, even if the children were at school or grown up. This is totally unheard of where I am from and has always baffled me.
The thing that upset me the most was the staff at restaurants/hotels/transport services assuming the male friend/colleague/person standing next to me was in charge and would be speaking on my behalf and paying my bill. This made my skin crawl and was the cause of many angry outbursts in the lobby of beautiful hotels. I think they got the message. I hope things change for women in Turkey, it still needs time.
I’m not even getting into to. It’s just wrong. Bad. Avoid Turkish politics at all costs.