Pictures from Byzantium

The Hagia Sophia at night

As I mentioned a few times recently, I spent most of last week in Istanbul, Turkey. It was an... instructive trip, in several different ways. Here are my thoughts about what I observed of the city, the people, the architecture, and the culture.


The Women


Pertevniyal Valide Sultan Mosque near Aksaray metro station

As always, first things first: are Turkish women worth your time?

My answer: maybe.

I have to add one very clear caveat: unlike my previous voyage, I had no need to go gaming girls on this trip, so if you are looking for tips and tactics then I am unfortunately unable to help you. My general observations, however, more or less line up with those of Nicholas Jack, who wrote about his experiences approaching and dating Turkish, Arab, Iranian, and Moroccan women in Istanbul.

The basic impressions that he had line up pretty well with what I observed while I was out and about. Turkish women are definitely a step above most of their compatriots in the Muslim world.

No, I didn't take this picture - it's from an Instathot's page

Istanbul is one of the most cosmopolitan and diverse cities anywhere in the world, sitting as it does at the crossroads of at least five different cultures and many different races. Mediterranean Europe, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Persia, and northern Africa have all left their mark on the city.

As a result, the women are highly diverse in origin, appearance, and of course femininity. You will find women of Arab, European, Asian, African, and Persian extraction all in the same place.

Let's start with the Arabs.

Arab women are generally not attractive. They tend to be on the heavy side, and the fact that they insist on walking around covered in bedspreads does not help matters. This is true pretty much wherever you find Muslim women; outside of Iran, very few of them seem to be particularly attractive.

I am of two minds about the fact that Arab women cover up so much.

They do so because their culture and "religion" demands it. And there are actually some good reasons for it. The "best" reason for doing so is the notion that a woman should only fully reveal herself to her husband, so that her beauty is saved for him, and him alone.

I get that idea. I appreciate it. I even agree with it, up to a point.

Here is the problem: way too many Arab women are seriously overweight. You can see it underneath the blankets that they walk around in - most of the Arab and orthodox Islamic Turkish women that I saw in Istanbul truly were heffalumps. And that is deeply unattractive. There appears to be a strong correlation between the fact that Arab women dress up in voluminous body-concealing clothes - thereby denying them the desire and attention of men - and the fact that so many of them are fat.

Interestingly, in the West, the correlation runs in the opposite direction; in most American and Canadian and British cities, in summer the tendency seems to be that the fatter a hambeast is, the less she wears. (Then again, given the weather in Europe or the USA in summer, this perhaps is not surprising.)

Also - while I support the idea that a woman should preserve the best of her beauty and grace for her man, I also happen to like looking at well-dressed feminine women. A woman does not have to walk around in next to nothing in order to attract attention. Eastern European women manage to do this very easily by simply dressing modestly but well.

So what about the rest?

I didn't take this one either

I do not find African women attractive, as a general rule, so I will not comment about them. There were a lot of Chinese tourists running around Istanbul, but they were an older crowd, and the few young Chinese-looking women that I did see often turned out to be speaking Russian, which indicated that they were from Kazakhstan or one of the other Central Asian border republics of Russia.

Depending on whether you are in the Asian, European, or eastern part of Istanbul, you may or may not encounter women with significant European genetic admixtures. Many of those women are very attractive, and most of them seem to be pretty secular - and more about the importance of secularism in Turkey later on, as it is indeed a major issue these days.

The most attractive women in Istanbul generally look very European or Persian. I remember with particular pleasure the memory of getting off my flight into Istanbul and immediately spotting a quite attractive lady inside the debarkation gate. She was blonde, slim, and had a very nice face and a well-shaped body - and she could have passed for someone from France or northern Italy if she had not been speaking in Turkish to her colleague. There were other similar instances in the metro stations where I spotted young ladies who genuinely looked European to me.

I reckon that if you spend a lot of time wandering through the Beyoglu and Karakoy districts of the city - not far from Taksim Square, basically, the heart of modern Istanbul - then you will be pleased by what you find.

The lady in the picture above looks fairly Iranian, and that also is unsurprising given that a decent chunk of the Iranian exile population lives in Turkey - especially in Istanbul. From what little I could observe, such women also seemed to be common in the European side of the city, whereas I was staying on the Asian side and did not see many of them.

She is a famous Turkish actress, apparently.

One thing you probably will notice about the Turkish ladies, if you get to spend any real time around them, is that many of them have amazing eyes. I enjoy looking into girls' eyes - it is one of the fastest ways to look into and understand their characters - and on the few occasions that I was able to look at a Turkish lady's eyes, I was not disappointed. They do have lively, beautiful, and colourful eyes.

There are lots of Russians in Istanbul and other tourist-friendly parts of Turkey. That is because Russkies get visa-free entry into Turkey, which comes in very handy for them. Since it is close to their country and easy to get to, you will often find quite a few very pretty Russian girls there. Unfortunately they tend to be there with boyfriends and husbands, but if you can find a few single Russian girls in Istanbul - go for it. I honestly do believe that a man hasn't really lived until he has been with a Russian girl and experienced that quite unique mixture of beauty, brains, femininity, and drama that she brings.

Oh, and one last point - you can generally spot the difference between an Arab woman and a more moderate Turkish woman by the way each one dresses. The Arab ladies tend to dress very conservatively and most of them wear the full bedspreads, of course.

The Turkish women, even the more socially conservative ones, dress in a much more feminine way. During my last few hours on Turkish soil at Ataturk Airport, I noticed a very attractive slim Turkish lady walking into a restaurant there with her husband. She was dressed in a long-sleeved blouse and skinny jeans with a colourful head-scarf over her hair - but her clothes showed off a very athletic, well-toned, and well-proportioned figure, while her face was quite pretty, with minimal makeup, and she had striking blue-green eyes.

She was a welcome relief from the large numbers of fat Arab women that I had been forced to observe throughout most of my time in Istanbul.


The Culture


Gardens within the courtyard of the Sultanahment Mosque (Blue Mosque)

As you might expect from a city as diverse and cosmopolitan as Istanbul, there are a lot of different cultural mixtures and this means that different parts of the city have distinct "vibes".

The Asian part of the city, on the southern bank of the Bosporus canal emptying out into the Gulf of Marmara, appears to be home to the more conservative Muslim part of Istanbul. But it is also home to the original footprint of most of old Byzantium and Constantinople. You can still see the walls of the ancient capital surrounding the Hagia Sophia complex and the Topkapi Palace.

Section of the wall of the old city in the Asian quarter, near the Hagia Sophia

It is in the Asian sector of the city that you will find many of the most beautiful architectural and cultural gems of Istanbul - which is not perhaps all that surprising, since the city existed for well over a thousand years before the !@#$%^&* Ottomans came along and crashed the party in 1453.

(Of course, they did get quite a big assist from the active stupidity of the Crusaders, who were idiotic enough to get diverted from their primary mission of freeing the Holy Land from the Seljuks and Kurds during the Fourth Crusade and sacked the city of Byzantium in 1204. The Byzantines never quite recovered from that particular disaster, and 250 years later they were conquered by the Turks. That was a truly catastrophic loss for all of Western civilisation. We got a bit of our own back at Lepanto in 1571, but still... Okay, yes, I know, minor history lesson over, for now.)

The most beautiful of these is of course the Hagia Sophia, which was once perhaps the greatest cathedral in all of Christendom.

Frontal shot of the Hagia Sophia - once a cathedral, then a mosque, now a museum

As a Christian (which I'm not, obviously), or at least as a God-fearing man who holds no truck with the heresy of Islam, it is impossible to look upon the Hagia Sophia without feeling a great and terrible weight of sadness.

That magnificent colossus was created by one of the greatest empires the world has ever seen. It was built at the command of the legendary Emperor Justinian I, on top of the existing site of two previous basilicas, and from 537 until 1453 it was the home of the Patriarch of Constantinople, the head of the entire Greek Orthodox Church.

It was a truly wonderful house of God. And now it's just a museum.

That, my friends, is truly sad.

Walking past it, I found myself thinking, "One day, this will be a church again. Deus vult."

I sure hope that turns out to be the case. And I hope and pray that I am alive to see the day that it happens.

Looking across the Bosporus on a boat cruise at the European side of the city

The European side of the city is of course quite different. It is a bit more liberal and considerably more modern, and it contains the heart of modern Istanbul.

If you want a good place to start looking around at the European side, you must go to Taksim Square - the heart of modern Istanbul - and start walking. Istanbul is a very walkable city, and is for the most part fairly pedestrian-friendly in the Beyoglu and Karakoy districts, which contain a huge number of eating and shopping venues where you and your significant other can spend lots of money buying useless junk.

Taksim Square with the mosque in the background and the monument to the 1923 revolution in the foreground

Walking through Beyoglu District

Around the Karakoy area you will also find a number of consulates of various European powers. I remember walking past the Swedish, German, and even Russian consulates. The Dutch also have a consulate there, and seeing as I was there in June, the Dutchies had insisted on making themselves as conspicuous as possible by sticking a rainbow flag on the gates of their consulate.

Yeah. Seriously. They put a gay pride flag on the gates of their consulate.

In the middle of freakin' Istanbul.

Where the government banned the annual gay pride march and then turned water cannons and tear gas on the people who did show up.

In their defence - they are Dutch, and those folks do take a LOT of drugs.

Turning from sodomite degeneracy to something a bit more uplifting - there is in fact a functional Christian cathedral in the middle of Istanbul. It is called St. Antoine's, and unfortunately it is deucedly difficult to get to - this is an Islamic city, after all, and far be it from them to make it easy for Christians to worship the Living God - but it does exist.

St. Antoine's Cathedral. It really is a very beautiful place, but sadly I didn't get a chance to go inside.

One point to note while wandering through the city, especially the Asian side: problems will occur in dealing with Turkish men.

Make no mistake: Turkish men are aggressively smooth talkers and do not like to hear "no" for an answer. Many was the time that I was walking along the back-alleys of various streets in the Asian quarter and found myself accosted by Turkish waiters outside of various restaurants. They insisted on shoving menus in my face and telling me to come in and try their various specialties.

If they were like that with me - a big tall not-exactly-warm-and-fuzzy dude who is almost always armed with a weapon of some kind - I cannot imagine what a young single white Western girl would go through if she were wandering through there on her own.

All of that being said - Turks are not an unfriendly people, even now. They just aren't a very clean one.

That latter sentiment may come as something of a surprise to you at first. If you drive through Istanbul on the way to a hotel or apartment from Ataturk Airport, you would be forgiven for thinking that it's just like any other big European city - prosperous, orderly, nice architecture, reasonably quiet, well built, charming, etc. etc.

It's just not. You will quickly discover that Istanbul contains some of the worst aspects of the Third World in terms of rubbish on the streets, litter, uncleanliness, and general disorder. Be prepared for this and understand that you REALLY do not want to drink the tap water - bring hand sanitiser and do not skimp on shelling out liras for bottled water. (Which, fortunately, is pretty cheap - a bottle of "mineral" water will cost you 1-1.5 TRL at most.)


The Islamic Goat-Rodeo

Ortakoy Mosque on the banks of the Bosporus

Anyone who has spent more than, oh, about five minutes reading my writing knows quite well that I am not a fan of Islam.

I regard it as a deadly heresy of the true Word - which it is, the evidence at hand makes it very clear that the Koran as we understand it today was once little more than a Christian lectionary written in Syriac and not Arabic. And indeed I was concerned that Istanbul would show strong signs of Islamisation and all of the serious problems that this brings.

I came away from my trip with mixed feelings on the subject.

On the one hand, it is absolutely clear that Islam has a very strong hold on Istanbul now. There is no doubt at all that Recep Tayyip Erdogan's hold on power has shifted even Istanbul's culture significantly, and it is now a much more culturally conservative city than it used to be. There was a time when it was rare to see women in headscarves and bedsheets walking around; today it is common.

On the other hand, it is still a pretty liberal and free city. A Western woman can still walk around in fairly skimpy clothes - up to a point - and as long as she is with a man, she should be fine.

Even that liberalism has its limits, however. On the Asian side of the city, the adhan - Islamic call to prayer - sounded off 5 times a day. And it was extremely annoying.

If you have never heard the adhan, imagine, if you can, a goat being raped by a very messed-up dude. (Yeah, seriously. Good luck sleeping at night with that image going through your head.)

Now imagine the sound being broadcast via loudspeakers from the minarets of a very, very large mosque.

Now imagine every mosque within a three-mile radius doing the same thing, one after another.

Honestly, the best way that I can describe it is "goat-molestation in high-definition surround sound".

If I made you spit your coffee at your computer monitor - sorry, not sorry. Hey, I can't help it if the truth isn't fun!!!

One other off-putting thing about Istanbul from a Christian, or at least Godly, perspective is the sense of heaviness that you get.

This is very hard to describe to anyone who does not try to have a direct relationship of the conversational sort, at the very minimum, with the Big Fella Upstairs. But real Christians will instantly know what I am on about here. When you are in heathen lands, you will feel a sense of something heavy sitting on your shoulders, and a weird sense of wrongness in your head - as if you have radio static filling the space between your ears, but you cannot pinpoint its source.

The reason for this static is simple. You are not in a place where you can have unfettered direct contact with your Creator. You are instead in a place where they spit on His Name and do everything He damns as highest crime.

I never got that sense for one single moment during my time in Russia, and it was never a problem for me in the USA - because there are Christians and churches everywhere in both countries. In Turkey I definitely felt it a little, though I had other pleasant distractions to help divert my attention from it. Here in the old country, it's a huge problem.

There was a time when Turkey in general and Istanbul in particular was highly secular. From about 1923, the time of Mustafa Kemal's revolution to overthrow the remnants of the degenerate and decaying Ottoman Empire, to roughly the mid-1990s, Turkey was one of the most secular nations in the Middle East, if not the most. but today it has swung over hard to the Islamic side. And that is because of Turkey's particular demographics.

See, Istanbul, being as it is in the Turkish west, is in the more secular part of the country, and as such the population growth rate there is considerably lower than it is in the much more conservative and hardline eastern section of Turkey. Not coincidentally, the capital, Ankara, is to the east. Over the last few decades, the conservative Islamist part of Turkey has comprehensively out-bred the secular western part - and now Istanbul finds itself in its current pickle, wherein it has become significantly more Islamised.

As always - all things come down to sex and death. If secular people don't have sex, while religious people do have sex, then eventually the number of secular people will drop relative to the number of religious ones, since everybody ultimately dies.

Simple, really.


Sights, Sounds, Smells


View over the Gulf of Marmara at sunset

There are three things that I strongly recommend that you do while in Istanbul if you have the time.

The first is to take a cruise on the Bosporus at around sunset. There are a number of different ways to do this. I took one that gathered a big-ass group of us near the entrance to the Hagia Sophia at 7pm and then frog-marched us down to the waterside. It lasted about 2 hours and was well worth the price. Do not bother with the full song-and-dance 6-hour cruise with the cultural show and full buffet dinner, it's a waste of your time and six hours on a boat with that many people on it is frankly my idea of Hell.

The second is to take the Big Bus Tour around the city. Now, I only had a few hours to do this, so I went about it in a way that was not good value for money. I bought tickets for the bus tour - and then just sat on the bus the whole time. If you do this, the ticket is too expensive to justify the cost - it comes to like $40.

If, however, you do things the way they should be done, by hopping on and off the bus at various points of interest, it is well worth the price. And you can take both bus lines for the price of a single ticket. And the bus tour gives you a very different, and much broader, perspective of the city than you will get from hoofing around it or taking the metro - which by the way is pretty darn good. Not as good as Moscow's, which for my money is the best I've ever used, but way better than New York's. (Although, of course, it's also a hell of a lot smaller than New York's.)

The Red Line is, in my opinion, the better one to take, as you get to see more of the northern and eastern sides of the city. The Blue Line goes back toward the Black Sea and is frankly a bit less interesting, since its major attraction amounts to a dolphin park at one end of the line.

The third thing to do in Istanbul is, of course, the food.

I love Mediterranean food, so for me Istanbul was a good place to go out and eat well. Turkish food tends to be pretty similar to Israeli, Greek, and some forms of Arab cuisine, but you can find something to suit just about any palate. (Except vegetarians. Those guys are SOL. As they bloody well should be.)

Being an Islamic country, pork not be easy to find, but they more than make up for it by eating huge amounts of lamb and beef. I highly recommend trying out a good Turkish koftecisi (kebab shop) or donercisi (doner/gyro place) while you are there - and you will find yourself tripping over them while you are in the Asian side of the city, they are bloody everywhere.

I don't like Turkish coffee much - I find the stuff way too strong - so I cannot recommend this, but you will definitely find some good coffee places in Istanbul as well.

Just be aware of one thing: WiFi connectivity in Istanbul blows. In nearly six days there, I do not think that I found a single place outside of Starbuck's with decent WiFi. And I hate Starbuck's anyway, so I didn't visit it more than once.


Conclusions

Taken outside the entrance to Istanbul University

So, with all of that said and done - is Istanbul worth visiting for you, and would I go back there?

Let's take the first question. My answer to this is: yes, if you love history and architecture. My deep personal dislike of Islam aside, I'll be the first to admit that many of the big mosques are truly spectacular to look at. And the city itself is beautiful, cosmopolitan, reasonably well-maintained (though not as well as it could be) and offers a very diverse range of great experiences.

All of that said - I would not go back there again, except maybe on business.

First, it is an expensive city. The Turkish Lira currently runs at about 4.5 or thereabouts to the dollar, and on top of that Istanbul itself is damned expensive. I imagine that if you go out to Belek or Antalya, where all the beach resorts are, you would get far better value for money.

Second, as I'd mentioned above, Istanbul is not a particularly clean city and the people are - in my personal view, at least - not that friendly. If you go there with a woman, be prepared for a significantly more conservative set of social attitudes toward public displays of affection than in Europe. You can expect to receive a ticking off for kissing and hugging in hotel restaurants, and you can get some serious grief from Turkish men if you indulge in such displays near mosques.

This by the way is unusual, to say the least, for anyone used to spending time in Eastern Europe. It is perfectly fine in Moscow and St. Petersburg for couples to kiss, hold hands, and touch each other near churches and cathedrals - Christianity is, after all, the source of the very concept of romantic love. Coming to Istanbul can and sometimes does contain some very rude culture shocks for those used to more liberal European attitudes.

This general lack of fun may well be part of Turkish culture specifically and Islamic culture in general. It is their problem, certainly. But neither you nor I have to like it.

And third, beyond all of the mosques and the architecture, there actually does not seem to be all that much to do in Istanbul.

Don't get me wrong, it's a very dynamic and busy city. It just seems to be a bit of a tourist trap - at least, the Asian sector is. The European and eastern sides of the city may well be a bit more interesting in terms of business, finance, and economic opportunities, but the Asian side is basically just a bunch of mosques and bazaars. And since I am not at all fond of shopping, the latter aspect was quite lost on me.

And once you go west past the major tourist attractions on the Asian side toward Otogar bus station, there really isn't anything to see. It becomes kind of a dirtier, more crowded, less pleasant version of... well, Queens, I reckon. Anyone who has ever been to Queens, NY, knows that this is not in any way a compliment.

Despite these negatives, I do recommend taking a trip out to Istanbul if you can. Visit the old city of Byzantium and see what it was like when it was ruled by Christians during the time of the Eastern Empire, and marvel at the wonders of the harbour of the old city. If you know your history, especially the bits involving the Varangian Guard, you will especially appreciate the stories about the giant chain that stretched across the mouth of the bay and stopped the Ottomans from attacking the city by sea - up until they came up with a very clever way of transporting some 70 war-galleys across logs over land and behind the Byzantine lines in 1453.

And that, chaps, is my report on Istanbul. My next trip will not be for a few weeks yet - I'm still figuring out the logistics. But it will probably be somewhere in Europe, and probably in Eastern Europe - though not Russia, sadly. That silly World Cup nonsense is still going on there and I have no desire whatsoever to go back there until it dies down, maybe in August - and that too depends on a number of other factors working themselves out.

Until my next travel report, enjoy the pictures and stay well.

Galata Tower in Karakoy

Comments

  1. I noticed that about the UAE and other predominantly Moslem countries.

    They simply don't seem to understand how to HAVE FUN.

    Sure, they tend to have lots of forms of passive entertainment, but they don't seem to have any concept of DOING things to have fun.

    ReplyDelete

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