Mussels, mosques and Muslims

Things I learnt on my trip to Istanbul last week.

Salted chickpeas are never going to taste like anything other than sawdust. And oddly, they never taste salty either.

Places that look interesting on a map almost inevitably turn out not to be. Usually they turn into either dead ends or industrial areas, where workmen eye you up with a mixture of suspicion and admiration, especially if you’re blonde, female, wearing anything less than full Muslim-approved attire, below the age of 60, and on your own. Maps also never show how steep a hill is (and you can guarantee that the most interesting places are at the top or bottom of a steep hill.

If you don’t have a corkscrew, all the bottles of wine in the shop will only have corks. And you can’t tell this until you get the bottle home and remove the foil. Why do travellers’ phrasebooks never have the translation for “is this bottle a screw cap or does it have a real cork?”

A cafe whose menu shows 20 pizzas, 5 salads, 5 types of pasta and 5 desserts will inevitably only have available 2 types of pizza and one very boring pasta dish (and no salad or dessert).  The waiter will then make up some arbitrary price for your meal, which will cost somewhere between £1 and £3. However, he will insist on giving you a full printed invoice, with your name and address on top, if you ask for a receipt.

 If a road has a sign with its name on (and I challenge you to find more than a couple in the whole of Istanbul), it will bear no relation to the name of the road on the map.

You can never get lost as long as you learn all the names of the mosques, as you’re never more than 100 yards from one. However, It’s probably easier and quicker to learn to speak Turkish. Don’t make the mistake of asking a Turkish person for directions though. None of them have a clue where any large or important building is. Though they can probably direct you to a mosque should you need one.

If there isn’t a nearby mosque, there’s probably something in the shape of one, like this drinks stand.

Young wealthy Turks somehow all have jobs that only involve them working in the mornings. In the afternoons and evenings, they have time to sit and pose in roadside cafes and bars.

On the other hand, there are not many remaining places in Europe where you can get a decent bottle of wine for £3. And where a bottle of water in a hotel minibar only costs 30p.

Walk up to a man with a big pan of mussels on a street corner, and he will feed you individual stuffed mussels until you beg him to stop. He will then ask you for a ridiculously small amount of money.

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