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All Turk, no play

Kebab addict Owen Thomson goes cold Turkey in Istanbul

Rug addicts

WITH a population of 13 million, Istanbul is home to countless best friends I never knew I had, and they all seem to be shifty blokes called Mehmet. They all own carpet shops and they leap out at me as I walk down the street, exhibiting creepy behaviour that verges on stalking as they offer the best carpet deals ever. Nothing deters them – not even the fact I couldn’t give a toss about carpet. To the Turks, a man who hates floor coverings is as inconceivable as a bloke who thinks Amanda Vanstone is hot.

 

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Been there, doner that

A GOOD kebab is hard to find these days. It’s 5pm on a Tuesday as I search for the relief that only finely sliced pieces of lamb rolled in bread can provide. Then the unbelievable happens: I stumble upon a kebabless kebab stand. It’s as sad as a pub with no beer. “You can only get doner kebabs at lunch,” says the resident kebab technician. The situation gets worse the next day when I learn most Turkish doners are severely underprivileged. Thin, under-filled, often completely lacking in chilli sauce and packing less flavour than an old boot, their plight is a tragedy demanding UN intervention. I resolve to sponsor one of the poor blighters when I get home – in exchange for monthly pictures and reports on its progress, of course. It’s fair to say that such a disaster would never have occurred in 330AD – the year the city was named Constantinople and declared capital of the Eastern Roman Empire.

 

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The kebab strikes back

BEER has been brewed in this region since 2000BC, but for some reason most Turks prefer drinking tea. Luckily there’s trusty Efes Pilsen to skoll, which is like Turkey’s answer to VB. But it’s not all good news. At one point I ingest a dodgy Efes Pilsen/kebab/yoghurt combo that quickly puts a jihad on my digestive system.

 

Mosque-see attractions

KEEN for a bit of culture and stuff, I head to the famous Blue Mosque, which was slapped together by Sultan Ahmet the first back in the 17th Century. Worryingly, all footwear must be removed before you can enter. Tourists in Istanbul risk catching bird flu, but that’s nothing compared to the hazard posed by a possible tinea outbreak courtesy of 100 stinky tourists.

 

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Bunny business

BACK outside the Blue Mosque, I pay good lira to have my fortune told by a white rabbit. At a special command from its Turkish rabbit master, the clever bunny uses his teeth to select a folded paper strip from a heap of folded paper strips. It says I’m just about to achieve something I’ve been working towards for a long time. I hope it’s a decent kebab, and that my quest is almost at an end.

 

Shop ’til you drop

ISTANBUL’s legendary Grand Bazaar is like a flea market on steroids, transforming it into an angry monster capable of scaring even the hardiest consumer. Brilliantly, it’s a one-stop shop for all the stuff I don’t actually need, like carpet, leather jackets, gold bling, giant bongs and even more carpet. With 4000 individual shops and several kilometres of shopping isles, I quickly become more disorientated than Kate Moss after an all-night binge.

 

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Highway to hell

WITH parkland at a premium in Istanbul, Turks love nothing more than picnicking next to busy highways or taking afternoon “safety naps” in the middle of grassy median strips as maniac drivers whiz by metres from their heads. Rather than sleep in the middle of a busy road, I instead try to walk across one. I nearly get run down by some local police who don’t seem to care that they’ve nearly killed me. A holiday in Iraq would probably be safer.

 

FAQs

ARE there any actual turkeys in Turkey?

Yes. There’s also a lot of chickens. Why the country wasn’t named Chicken instead is anyone’s guess.

 

So Turkey really was named after a turkey?

As far as I can tell.

 

Is Istanbul a good place to be after a huge night out?

Sadly, no. Expect to be woken from your alcohol-induced coma at about 5am by calls to prayer, which emanate from loudspeakers hanging from mosque spires all over the joint.

 

I’m worried that going so far away will bring on a severe case of Eddie McGuire withdrawal. Does Turkey have its own version of a bloke whose face pops up everywhere?

Yes. Pictures and portraits of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the soldier-statesmen who commanded the Turkish defence at Gallipoli and subsequently turned the country into the place it is today, are everywhere. He might have died in 1938, but his image is all over stuff like posters, banknotes and cigarette boxes.

 

Are all the kebabs in Turkey bad?

Thankfully, no. The best ones are actually served on plates with the bread underneath the meat. I eventually found the kebab of my dreams in the south coast city of Antalya. Turns out the white rabbit was right.

 

Is Turkish delight better than an afternoon delight?

No.

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Owen Thomson

A regular contributor to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age for over a decade (sections include Good Weekend, Sunday Life, (Sydney) Magazine, Drive and My Career), Owen Thomson's journalistic work has also featured in newsstand publications including The Bulletin, GQ and Men’s Style.

The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author(s) and not necessarily those of Homeloans Ltd.