I lived in Istanbul for six months, working as an English teacher. In general, I didn’t have a great time, largely due to my landlord, but I chose to live in Istanbul because during my first visit I was caught in the magic of the city. Oh, and they also allow both Americans and Brits to get a residence permit quite easily. Here are a few of the things that I very much enjoyed about living in this city of 14 million people.
Turkish cuisine is amongst my most favourite cuisines in all the world. Especially as a vegetarian. In certain countries there are similar variations of many dishes, but in Turkey I was blown away by certain dishes, looking at them and thinking ‘what the hell is that?’ Many of these curious dishes were delicious and never make it outside of Turkey, nor do the ingredients, such as İsot, which I used almost every day in my Turkish cooking. Çiğ köfte is one of the my favourite food in the world and I miss it – why does nowhere else have this? Drink it with ayran. Yum.
Istanbul is an outdoor museum. Wherever you go, you will find twisted streets, ancient buildings, and fantastic grandeur (as well as the not so nice bits). It really is entertaining to walk through the older parts of the city without a plan and see what you stumble upon. The market districts are especially attractive and it seems as if the whole city is alive and breathing, people like blood running through the veins of the streets.
A couple of hours ferry ride from the centre of Istanbul are the Princes’ Islands. They are a peaceful escape from the city and I spent many weekends, walking, swimming, or cycling around these very pretty islands. I think all big cities need a peaceful place to escape to.
Kind Turkish People
Many Turkish people I met were amongst the kindest I have ever encountered. Even when we tried to refuse, we were showered with gifts of food and found most people very welcoming. It was great when hitchhiking as well because every time we saw a Turkish truck, we knew they were very likely to stop for us. Once again we always tried to refuse, but even the truckers would give us food on our journey.
Like all places though, there are good and bad people, and we experienced both extremes. My landlord was one of the worst people I have ever met which heavily tarnished my experience of Istanbul. We also go ripped off constantly which became tiring. It was because of these unsavoury characters (that we were unfortunate enough to encounter) that I would not want to live in Istanbul again.
Istanbul is a mad city – it has a life of its own. From the fascinating markets to living through riots in the city centre, there is always something going on. If you can live with this craziness, you just might like it.
A Word of Warning
My overall experience of Istanbul was negative due to the situation I found myself in. It didn’t have to be like this. If you sign a house contract, be very careful what you sign and who you sign it with. If I had lived in a different place (with a different landlord), I think I would have ben much happier. When I left Istanbul, I hitchhiked back to the UK on a tiny amount of money, then started a new adventure, living on a bicycle with a tent. I can imagine how many people would hate this experience, but I loved it, which is a strong reminder that we must all find what is right for us in this life. Istanbul, while having many positives, just wasn’t right for me.
If someone was to ask me would I go back to live there again, I would say no. My image of the city was tarnished by my negative experiences, I found myself always struggling financially, and there is a great big world for me to see that I haven’t visited yet.