Date: 22 September 2017
Location: Yeni Lokanta, off Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul. (If you come to Istanbul you must come here. It’s the most Shoreditch thing. Ok, that’s a lazy description, and only London people would describe something as ‘so Shoreditch’ because most cities have their own version. Back home it might have been ‘so Northcote’ or ‘so North Fitzroy’. What I really mean is that it’s cool in a manner that feels casually effortless, and down a heavily graffitied street that feels just on the right side of Oh My God Not Safe. That’s what this feels like. But the food is amazing. Small problem: I think I’ve ordered for two. Maybe three. The dishes just keep coming and I know there’s beef ribs for main at some point.)
I am utterly disoriented.
A whole week off work and my brain is as if I’ve been put in that thing you roll Backgammon dice with.
Tomorrow I fly home from Istanbul. I could have just connected here from the south coast and I’d likely been back at Heathrow by now — but I love the idea of going back to cities and trying them again, getting something different, far too much. But, now I think on it, I rarely do. There are but a few exceptions — New York, Florence, Paris. Just now I actually went to look up my previous entry on Istanbul but didn’t find it. That’s because I last visited in 2013, just before this blog existed. My trip to Turkey with dad was the last I took before I quit my job, went to India and started writing. No wonder this city holds such a cozy little nook in my heart.
Right. See, told you I was disoriented. I’m rambling. I’m sleepy.
Even food coma notwithstanding, the sleepiness is understandable, predicable. For one reason or another I slept badly last night and then realised, abysmally late, that my east breezy hour long flight up Turkey was, in actual fact, no such easy breezy thing. In fact it was actually a 1.5 hour drive to Dalaman Airport followed by an hour flight followed by a 2 hour drive through Istanbul rush hour from the Other Airport to Taksim Square followed by a half hour slog with my suitcase (my infamous luminous green rolly!) up Istiklal Caddesi. That’s quite the travel day for the pleasure of part of a day in this city! About halfway through this little adventure at Dalaman ‘International’ (ie it flues to Greece) Airport, I sat doodling on my iPad in the Gate 40 departure lounge waiting for the 15:25 to Istanbul, doubting whether any of this was worth it and why I hadn’t just saved myself the trouble and gone straight home. I glanced up as I sipped my ayran. I was surprised and a little annoyed by the fact that it was 15:20 and yet there was still no movement at my gate. Also, why was the board now showing 16:25? Delayed? Mother –. That was when I realised I was at the wrong gate. Ayran went everywhere. I sprinted. Dalaman is a new airport (actually, new is kind — it’s still being built) and there are no departure boards that work yet so I sprinted like I was being chased by a crocodile, kind of zigzagging. Mercifully my flight was delayed and only just boarding as I fell, panting, into Gate 21. See, scatterbrained. It was only at the boarding gate that I realised we were flying into an airport that was not the very central, very lovely Ataturk but The Other Airport and suddenly felt even more out of it.
Finally, I get to Taksim Square as it falls dark. I fend off cab drivers with one hand and try to get directions up on my phone with the other. It’s 3km to my hotel and it’s now properly dark but I walk it (sorry, Mum) because I can’t resist the lure of seeing sparkly Istiklal Caddesi — the Regent Street, the Bourke Street, the Rundle Street Mall, take your pick — again. Once at the address Google maps has sent me to I look up, wide-eyed. What on earth? What I’m looking at is — as I later find out — the old US Embassy. It looks just like you’d expect the US embassy to look, right down to the sharply besuited security guards with guns that mean business. This cannot be right.
I walk on a little, Google my hotel again to be sure. It was right the first time. I head back, submit to metal detectors and then um ushered in to the dimly lit, impossible chic lobby of Soho House Istanbul.
In so distracted — by the beautiful people, the tongue in cheek art, the gorgeous rugs, the the wonderful seventies laissez-faire vibe — that I struggle to maintain small talk with the girl at reception who’s Turkish but, you know, thinking of moving back to London. ‘But ugh, the weather! And sharing a flat with three strangers! But it pays so much better — or does it? Like, once you take into account how expensive London is… Oh! Look at that. You booked a normal room, they’ve upgraded you to a mezzanine. You lucky girl.’
She now has my full attention.
The space I soon walk into is without a doubt the nicest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in. Maybe will ever stay in. (Yeah, I’m just saying that, I’m shockingly ambitious and love pretty things.) It’s set on two levels. Downstairs is the living space of my dreams: wooden floors and very high ceilings and two storey windows, a beautiful kilim on the floor, a huge blue velvet sofa with ikat cushions, a Marshall sound system, heavy, silky coffee table books too cool for anyone to read. There’s a bathroom with a rainforest shower and gorgeous Cowshed products. Upstairs in the loft is a giant bed upholstered in red velvet. The TV screen is embedded in its foot and rises on command. There are ten pillows. I run up and down the stairs to a soundtrack of Spotify’s ‘Turkish Summer’ playlist like a total crazy for a few minutes because this is insane.
Photos are forbidden here, as is social media commentary so you’re going to have to use your imagination.
Suffice to say that Soho House is mysterious. There are no maps or a welcome book, it’s very dimly lit, there are surprise rooms like the tall and imposing library I stumble into when trying to find my room later on and tall locked doors leading to rooftops. Everyone looks like they could be a celebrity (one definitely is).
Now, as yet more food arrives on my dinner table, I plan my next 14 hours in this amazing city. Despite that beautiful bed and my mind-bending weariness, much sleep seems unlikely.