Istanbul has an excellent CouchSurfing scene and so I post up a request for information/help on volunteering and accommodation.
After speaking with my good chum Tom from back home I realise not everyone is aware of CouchSurfing. So I'll tell abit about what I consider to be the most valuable internet invention....after porn.
Here's a link for those who want additional reading.
It's basically a database from which you request to sleep on peoples couches. You have a profile which describes yourself, your interests etc. You then search through a list of profiles in your city/town of choice, and send a request to your potential hosts. Not everyone can host, but some offer to show you round a city or meet for a coffee/chat - this can be an equally valuable service allowing one to miss all the tourist crap and get straight to the good stuff the city has to offer. I think of it as a cultural exchange as opposed to just a bed for the night. Though some use it solely for this purpose, I find I get more out of it if I put more in. In bigger cities groups hold meetings for hosts and travellers to meet up, find couches or just make friends.
My first host in Istanbul came in the form of Bashar, my post hadn't even been up a full day before his offer came in. And I jumped at it.
A meal with Bashar and his friend Sinan in Kadikoy
His house is in the Beykoz area of the Province, which is about twenty kilometres north along the Bosphuros on the Asian side. Bashar works in the day. I use the time to explore the city and sort things out (including my first trip to the Uzbekistan embassy).
Cycling north on the European side of the Boshporus is a nice ride, through some very wealthy parts of the city. I cringe at the properity as I ride past Bentley, Ferrari and Lamborghini garages. I guess there are several places in the world where owning a Lamborghini is pretty pointless - I'd say Istanbul is one of them. When you consider that a Lambo Gallardo can do 70mph in first gear before hitting the limiter, and at rush hour my bicycle can beat traffic across the city. Plus there are no areas for slow speed posing. But. I'm of course just bitter. Rant over.
Fairly unsuccessful on the visa front. It seems I can't get an application for over the counter, I have to download one and print it out - what ridiculous logic!! And so I leave empty handed.
Back at Kadikoy I hunt down a local looking place for some tasty Borek. Two guys sit at my table and the usual quesitons are given the usual answers. Sadly the conversation often revolve around money.
"you are very rich!"
I explain my diet to them, and that I drink the tap water (looks of disgust). And that I'm yet to see a millionaire travelling by bicycle. Still, to many, I probably am rich.
The owner Ahmen, treats me to my meal. Top man!
In the evenings we cook and listen to music. Each night Bashar suggests I stay another night, and each night I gratefully accept.
My next host takes the form of Collette. Orignally from America she moved here a few years back and teaches English. This deal is a little different to a typical couchsurfing arrangement. Collette and her partner Nur plan to go on holiday for a few days. My services are employed to look after their dog Rufus while they're away. My payment comes as free accommodation in a flat in Fenerbache with access to a great film/book collection.
I have a blast looking after Rufus (an 11 year old Jack Russell). Like all dogs his requirements are fairly simple – food, love and a little bit of exercise. He becomes my daily alarm clock – jumping up and down on me at eight o'clock on the dot each day. My days are a leisurely combination of dog walking, internet and films. Sometimes I would hang out with Colletes flatmate Sabrina for coffee or beer sessions. But most of the time she was busy preparing for her own around the world travels.
On Wednesday Collette and Nur return home. We spend the evening catching up. I also get to say hello to an old friend of mine – whiskey. Jamesons Special no less. We play boardgames (at which I get creamed) – but the blow to the ego is softened by good whiskey and good company.
I try to make myself useful for the next few days doing abit of handywork around the flat. Some skirting board and new light fittings. It feels good to be able to offer something in return for the roof over my head.
On Sunday I leave Fenerbache. Nur is studying for an exam – and does not need the distraction of a smelly cyclists around the flat. Back to the Big Apple for me.
The alarm clock