The title of the post got your attention, huh?
Yes, I have a friend with benefits in Istanbul, but not the kind of benefits you might be thinking. You see, my friend Alex works in Istanbul, and as Istanbul is a city I have longed wished to visit I knew that at some point I would be asking to crash on his couch.
Alex and I worked together in Vietnam—in fact he was my housemate for a year there—and one of the things we both loved about living in Saigon was experiencing the city as a resident, not a tourist. It’s amazing the different perspective you get on a city when you have time to explore its every nuance, rather than skim the surface as most tourists inevitably manage.
I know because I have done it myself.
I can’t claim to know Gdansk, or Tallinn—I only saw them for a few days, and I stayed within their Old Town areas. The best thing about visiting a friend who lives in the city is that they can show you what you might not otherwise see.
The first benefit of staying with Alex was having a great apartment to stay in. An apartment with fast WiFi, food in the fridge, a comfortable bed in a private room, and, best of all, not having to fight over the only power socket, or use a locker to store my valuables. Alex lives in a great area called Ortoköy; a busy area in the shadows of the Bogaziçi Köprüsü, better known as the First Bosphorus Bridge.
It is an area far from the usual radius of tourists.
I loved staying in a normal Turkish suburb, including being able to walk down the street without getting hassled by the vendors. Not only that, but Alex could show me the places to get the best and cheapest durum kebabs: he could even order them in Turkish for us. I will be writing a post all about Ortoköy soon.
The second benefit of staying with Alex was being able to borrow his Akbil card to use the public transport. Using this card reduced the price of transport around the city greatly, so that I could explore the length and breadth of Istanbul without worrying about cost. With Alex’s card I visited Taksim Square (remarkably peaceful with no visible marks of the riots that had taken place only a week before), Sultanahmet, Galatas tower, and Galatasaray island; a luxury man-made island in the middle of the Bosphorus.
I also visited the Asian side of the city, something I may not have done otherwise.
But the best benefit by far, was the use of a private residential swimming pool to cool off in after a long and dusty day of sightseeing. Not many visitors to Istanbul can say that they spent time sunbathing by the pool, can they?
Have you ever stayed with friends when you’ve travelled? What do you think the biggest benefits are? Leave a comment below!