Istanbul, Turkey

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Istanbul, Turkey – by ChrisGeary.com

The 5th largest city in the world and the European capital of Culture 2010
A mad city of kebab’s, pomegranate’s, simit’s (a Turkish bagel), carpets, lamps, material & fake clothing, spices, traffic jams and of course mosques, which are located on nearly every corner of every street.

Turkey’s location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia makes it a country of significant geostrategic importance. This important location, its amazing history and Islamic culture, are what makes Istanbul such an astonishing city.

Its history goes back ages as Greek settlers first founded a colony on the present-day Istanbul around 660 BC calling it Byzantium. Then in 306 the Roman emperor “Constantine the Great” regenerated the city and it became known as Constantinople (the new Rome) the largest city of the Roman Empire and of the world. There are many theories attempting to explain why the city was renamed Istanbul. The one that seems to be most accepted is that the name Istanbul derives from a Medieval Greek phrase” is tin ‘polin” meaning “to the city”. Located in northwestern Turkey, Istanbul today is the 5th largest city proper in the world (over 3 times the size of Greater London) with a population of 12.8 million.
The famous Bosphorus is a strait, which connects the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea and divides the city into a European side, comprising the historic and economic centers, and an Asian side. As such, Istanbul is the only bi-continental city in the world. The city is further divided by the Golden Horn, a natural harbor bounding the peninsula where the former Byzantium and Constantinople were founded. When you first arrive into Istanbul the Golden Horn is a great place to start your adventure and is the centre of the tourist and historic hot spots.

Galata Tower is a great thing to venture up and get your bearings, it offers a unique panoramic view of the city, with all the famous mosques, the Bosphorus and Golden Horn: such a beautiful sight.

The main street İstiklal Caddesi (İstiklal meaning Independence, Caddesi meaning Avenue) is one of the most famous avenues in Istanbul visited by nearly 3 million people per day. It’s an elegant shopping street, approximately three kilometers long. The nearer you get to its top end Taksim Meydanı (Taksim meaning Distribution, Meydani meaning Square) the gayer it gets, although don’t expect to see a gay scene comparable to that of what we have in the UK as it’s very different.

There are no laws against homosexuality in Turkey since the beginning of the republic period (1923). In fact, there is not any law at all concerning homosexuality. The number of the gay venues has increased rapidly especially during the last 15 years. Taksim district of Beyoglu town (on the European side of Istanbul) is the centre of almost all major gay venues. In fact, this district is the centre of local night life. There are many modern or traditional gay clubs, bars, saunas and hamams (Turkish baths) near the Taksim/Beyoglu area.

The two main gay cafe bars to start with and meet the locals are:
Chianti Cafe Pub http://www.istanbulgaybar.com/
Sugarcafe Club www.sugar-cafe.com
Most gay bars & clubs in Istanbul don’t get busy till after midnight. The price of a drink ranges from between 5-8 Euros for local drinks, 10-15 Euros for “imported drinks” (such as Whiskey, Malibu, Safari, cocktails etc.) Some bars will accept Euros, but it’s cheaper to pay with Turkish liras.
The best clubs are:

Otherside Club This was the club that booked us to dance and flew us out there. It’s a great club, check out the Rakkas (male belly dancer) shows. www.othersideistanbul.com
X-Large. The biggest gay club in Istanbul located in a former cinema. Well known for its big stage shows and great music.
Tekyon Club  www.tekyonclub.com
Club Prive is the oldest of the gay bars in Istanbul. It is a small yet very busy venue playing Turkish pop music.
Cub Ekoo  www.ekooclub.com
Club Magma  www.club-magma.com
Sahra Club is a 5 storey bar/club with a very eye-opening atmosphere. Go check it out at least once because it’s a one of a kind, either a fun house or horror show according to your opinion.

Along with the traditional Turkish kebab restaurants (which are everywhere), many European and Far Eastern restaurants and numerous other cuisines are also thriving in the city. Most of the city’s historic winehouses (meyhane in Turkish) and pubs are located in the areas around İstiklal Caddesi. The 19th century Çiçek Pasajı (Flower Passage) on İstiklal Caddesi has many historic meyhanes, pubs and restaurants. The famous Nevizâde Sokak which has rows of historic meyhanes next to each other is also in this area. Istanbul is also known for its historic seafood restaurants. The most popular ones are generally found along the shores of the Bosphorus and by the Marmara Sea shore towards the south of the city. There are no gay-exclusive restaurants in Istanbul but these come recommended:

Besinci Kat Restaurant – a roof restaurant-bar is on the 5th floor with breathtaking view of Bosphorus straight and Asian part of Istanbul. www.5kat.com
360 Restaurant – referring to a 360 degree view, the sea view is breathtaking. Located on the top (8th) floor of historical building. www.360istanbul.com
Cok Cok Thai – the fresh spices and herbs used in the cooking, purely Thai and South East Asian, relate back to the Silk Route that once connected with Istanbul. www.cokcok.com.tr
Cooking Alaturca – a very gay-friendly lunch time restaurant. www.cookingalaturka.com/
Istanbul is surrounded by the sea but because of the pollution caused by its massive population, there are very few beach areas left to swim which are close to city center. Please note that the local people living in Istanbul would go to the Southern part of Turkey for there beach holidays. There are no beaches in Istanbul visibly frequented by gay people, but there are some swimming areas where it’s more likely to meet other gay people. These are Kinaliada, Florya Beach and Sarayburnu. Research them on the internet to find when and where they are most busy.

Other tourist attractions and historic places you must visit are:
1) The 7 massive mosques – Istanbul has been called “The City of Seven Hills” because the oldest part of the city is supposedly built on seven hills, each of which bears a historic mosque. I personally think the Blue Mosque is the most impressive, if you can only see 1 go see this one.
2) The Grand Bazaar – is the oldest (1461) and one of the largest covered markets in the world, with more than 58 covered streets and over 1,200 shops.
3) The Hippodrome – once a huge stadium for chariot racing. The surviving monuments of the Spina, the two obelisks and the Serpentine Column are many thousands of years old.
4) Topkapı Palace – the imperial residence of the Ottoman Sultans, now a museum.
5) The Spice Bazaar – the center for spice trade in Istanbul.
6) The Galata Tower – the apex of the fortifications surrounding the Genoese citadel (fortress) of Galata and has amazing panoramic views of the city
7) Bosphorus Tour – a tourist boat ride taking you along the Bosphorus, under both bridges and great views of the city.
8) Shopping Malls – the best ones are Akmerkez and Cevahir which have awards for being 2 of the biggest and best in the world.

Istanbul Gay Pride is at the end of June www.prideistanbul.org
A good gay web site with info about the gay scene and tourist guides: www.istanbulgay.com
It is very common in Turkey to see two men arm in arm while walking on the street (Turks tend to touch much more than us Westerners). This does not mean they are homosexual, they are just good friends.
Turks tend to stare at people (especially blond hair, and even more if you have a Mohawk like me) more than us Westerners are use to. If you don’t like to be stared at, dress less like a tourist and wear a hat to cover any unusual hair styles.
If you see someone holding their hand with palm up and bringing fingers in toward thumb, this is a compliment and generally means something is “good.” It can be done when they like a food, clothing, or any object. It can also mean they are attracted to you.
Raising your chin, moving your eyebrows up and simultaneously clicking your tongue means “NO.” (Try it. It is fun!).

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