She Took My Soul, Heart & Voice In Istanbul...
Wednesday 14th April
Strange, strange day. But strange is good, right? We like strange. We do. The flight over was fine - for me at any rate: smooth take-off and landing and copious Bloody Marys to even out the bumpy bits. Once I'd worked out I needed to buy a visa, immigration was straightforward enough so before long I was racing to Istanbul proper in a beaten up taxi - complete with broken windscreen and a driver called Saul who kept asking me if I was married (I found out why days later). Luckily he became distracted - it started to snow. Heavily. By the time we arrived in Taksim Square it was a full blown hail storm. The Taksim Square Hotel was fine. But only just 'fine'. The room was too hot and with no view of the city - I guess that's what comes from booking on the interwebnet, I suppose. Minutes later I was having coffee with my German friend Hanko in the coffee house next to the hotel. We consulted The Time Out guide and went in search of what we believed to be the nearest gay café - Sugar Bar Café. For the next 2 hours we walked aimlessly up and down Istiklal Caddesi fruitless looking for fruits. We eventually gave up and headed for the Aga Hamam. Hamams are an ancient kind of sauna cum steam room once very popular in Turkey. They consist of rooms of hot marble slabs, heated rooms (dry and wet) and copious numbers of marble washing bowls. As is traditional both Hanko opted for a full body exfoliating massage - choosing the less sadistic of the two masseurs on hand. It was a stimulating experience. And painful. Later on Hanko and I met up again and aftre a few drinks went to Neo - a rather tacky club. We didn't stay long. While wandering back from there we hit upon an Internet café with two guys so obviously using Gaydar. Strange. Hah! I wandered about a bit more. Had a kebab and went to bed.
Thursday 15th April
What a(nother) strange day! It started off very wet. Rain and more rain. After another Sugar Bar Café hunt proving a no-go, Hanko and I headed off to go sight-seeing. Two Greek girls tagged along for a while too. We seemed to be attracting people - a theme that was to continue throughtout my stay. We got the funicular down the hill and walked across the old Galata (Atatürk) bridge over the Bosphorus to Sultanahmet. There we mounted the, er, mount and paid a respectful visit to the Sultanahmet (Blue) Mosque. Beautiful. Simply beautiful. We inadvertently picked up an inpromptu toothless tour guide on the way who we didn't have the heart to shake. 20 million Lira seemed to keep him happy though. Next we descended into the cavernous Basilica Cistern - a vast ancient underground man-made water tank supported by a forest of 336 pillars. Breathtaking. After all this culture we decided that a bit of self-indulgence was in order so went to another hamam, the Çukurcuma Haman. Not quite as nice as the Aga but certainly busier. I left Hanko to his own devices while I left to meet Onur, a Turkish guy I'd been chatting to before I left for Istanbul. Onur is a super nice guy and we had a lot of fun hanging out together. He showed me round the Taksim area pointing out the best places to eat and drink. Invaluable advice. We all then met up with Andrea and Claudia - two fellow Marc Almond super euro-groupies - for more coffee. By that point Hanko, of course, had a guy in tow and Onur was drafted in as interpreter - poor guy. We also took up Onur's excellent suggestion of eating at the 5th Floor Restaurant. Great food, great view. Then it was time for the gig...
(I'll write about the Marc Almond gig separately tomorrow)
...Hanko and I walked Shira home and then popped into a night club called 2C for a night cap. The way you do. It was OK. But pretty empty and a bit techno for me. We got semi-accosted on the way home by a guy who called himself Albert. Good sense prevailed though and we soon ditched him. We retired to my hotel and stayed up late talking super-groupy nonsense.
Friday 16th April
Another excellent suggestion by Onur found Hano and I at Gloria Jean's for breakfast. We sat in armchairs in the sunshine. Lovely. Over in Sultanahmet we met with Andrea and Claudia again to cruise around the Grand Bazaar - a labyrinthine world of earthly delights. Hanko and I then visited the Süleymaniye Mosque to commute our shopping fever to a more holy calling. Later on I got to see Onur once again before going out with Hanko, Andrea and Claudia for meze and kebabs - how oh so Turkish of us, huh? Onur swung by later with his handsome friend Sinan to take me out clubbing. We danced, we drank, we had fun; I was in bed by 2am though. Did I mention they are both just 23 years old? How can an old guy like me keep up?
Saturday 17th April
I met my German friends at Gloria Jean's once again before mounting the 63 metre high Galata Tower. A breath-taking panorama of the city almost made me forget my vertigo. Almost. Claudia and I then recreated a classic Time Out photo on the Kamondo Steps before we set off back across the Golden Horn one last time to visit one of the (unofficial) 7th wonders of the world - the Kucuk Haghia Sophia Mosque. Quite incredible. Later on Onur's friend, Sinan, and I had a spot of dinner before I turned in early. I was dead beat. What was on TV? Turk Idol! Blimey!
Sunday 18th April
I was up at the crack of noon to do a spot of souvenir shopping in Istiklal Caddesi in the lovely Turkish sunshine. I then took the ride of my life - or should I say near-death - with a ride to the airport. Let's just say the driver wanted more than just the taxi fare... I refused. Due to my refusal he put his foot down on the accelerator. Big time. We might have been killed. But at least I'd have been buried with my dignity intact. As my Turkish friend put it later, "Ahahaha.. Welcome to bisexual Turkey. They don't like being rejected, that's why I never speak with driver in the taxi!"
The flight home was tame by comparison.
What a fantastic trip. I'd definitely go back.