Why would anyone leave London for Istanbul? I was asked this so many times when I announced I was doing exactly that. In my humble opinion which you are of course welcome to ignore, Istanbul delivers all that London promises but never quite does.
I lived in London for roughly thirty-five years on and off. I never knew a single neighbour. I never had a shop keeper greet me by name. I never had anyone run out of a shop to chase after me because I’d forgotten my shopping, my change or my mobile.
I’ve lived in Istanbul for less than eighteen months and all of these things happen routinely. I’ve moved half a dozen times and met most of my neighbours. My last landlord even offered to help me move when the time came and regularly brought me back Italian coffee, Marmite and other goodies when he went on business trips to London (and I got my deposit back!)
The cost of living is almost unbelievable if you’re earning a vaguely decent salary or coming with a stash of those beautiful pounds. You can rent a beautiful, spacious two bedroom furnished apartment here for around a third of the price a studio flat in London.
If you’re living alone it’s literally cheaper to eat out than to fuss with supermarkets and cooking. Okay, so I may not be claiming you can eat gourmet food seven days a week but you can get a basic every day meal for less than the price of a dodgy sandwich and a bottle of water from Boots.
Of course, should you decide to go and buy food you can head to one of the numerous fresh markets throughout the city and haggle. There is something strangely satisfying about “arguing” about how much something costs and feeling like you’ve come away with a bargain. This is not like the end of the day quibble over the price in Green Lanes. Haggling in markets here is fun, it’s expected and it helps you form relationships with your local fruit and vegetable sellers. Before you know it they’ll give you a good price, thrown in an extra few tomatoes and offer you a cup of tea.
That’s the good news. I’m not here to lie to you. If you want to buy clothes or shoes this is not the place you dream of. Until I lived in Istanbul I didn’t know it was possible to spend the day shoe shopping and come home sad and empty handed. Stock up on what you need before you come or accept you will be settling for clothes you don’t hate and wearing polyester when it’s 45 degrees.
Oh, and forget ice cream. I’ve searched the city for something passable but I can’t think of a single thing that would make me return to London.