It seemed like every restaurant in Istanbul [at least around Sultanahmet] had special New Year’s Eve menus and entertainment planned, at unbelievable prices. I wasn’t interested in a €100 per person dinner, and so Mum and I decided that we’d hit up one of the places on the main street that had a window full of mezze.
We intended to have a fairly early dinner, but back at the hotel we got chatting to a pair of young American girls and the guy working there, Yildirim, for hours. It wasn’t until almost 10pm that we got around to going to dinner, inviting the two girls – Alison and Holly – to join us, as they seemed a little nervous heading out alone.
The entertainment started as soon as we walked in the door. The waiter, Mustafa, like just about all Turkish men that work with tourists, was ridiculously flirtatious [translate: sleazy] – to the point that had I been alone I probably would have just left or slapped him. However, we decided to have a little fun and be a bit lighthearted about it all. Mum and I had actually been in the shop earlier that day and bought some lokum [Turkish Delight] and of course he recognised us, grabbing me immediately upon entering to dance around the restaurant. After I managed to extract myself he grabbed Holly and then Alison, whisking them around the place to the laughter of everyone else there.
We did manage to sit down, and decided that we’d get a big plate of mezze to share. As I was the only one who had any idea about Turkish food they basically told me to pick things, and pretty soon we had a giant plate of deliciousness with items ranging from stuffed peppers to mushroom salad to sarma to cacik, as well as a couple of hot dishes, rice and couscous. Throw in a basket of bread and there was a crazy amount of food in front of us.
The food was great, and Mustafa kept coming over and flirting outrageously with Alison – I’d made it pretty clear that I wasn’t interested and I was not going to let him get away with much. However, Alison and Holly were having a great time and playing it up as much as possible. Mustafa must have thought that he had a chance with Alison as he hardly ever left her alone, and went through the usual rubbish about buying her for so many camels. You couldn’t deny his persistence. As soon as we’d finished our meal, and then eaten a few pieces of baklava and kadayif, he’d whisked her up from the table and was trying to get her to dance again. It was at that point that Holly grabbed a napkin and asked if I had a pen.
She then decided that she was going to write down some rules. Unfortunately the rules didn’t get too far. The first rule was that we required unlimited amounts of lokum, and Mustafa proceeded to grab a plate, head to the giant display of Turkish sweets and pile the plate up for us. Holly, Mum and myself were satisfied. Mustafa was then allowed to dance with Alison for four minutes while Holly tried to come up with another rule. However, as we were all too busy laughing we couldn’t really think of anything, so Holly wrote down ‘Your father says NO!’.
Mustafa then pulled his phone out, dialled a number and started talking. According to him, his dad said YES. I had to correct Holly’s mistake and write ‘HER’ over ‘YOUR’ to get Alison out of that one. Things kept on going for a few minutes until we decided that it was really time to go and get Alison out of his sleazy clutches. Of course, he followed us down the street and grabbed Alison to do some ‘traditional’ Turkish dancing with him and a couple of guys from the kebab shop down the road. That was entertaining for a minute or so, and finally we managed to escape. The most disappointing thing about it all was that, although I’d brought my camera with me, I didn’t have a memory card in it – I’d been copying photos to my computer and had forgotten to put it back. So I only have a couple of terrible quality pictures on my phone.
On the way back to the hotel, Mum and I introduced the girls to sahlep, a delicious hot thick drink made from milk, vanilla, orchid tubers, cinnamon, spices and all sorts of things. The cheap stuff you buy on the street won’t be made with actual sahlep flour [the price is extortionate], and so the claim that it contains orchids is false, but either way the stuff tastes delicious. Perfect for winter, it’s thick enough to almost be a pudding but thin enough to drink.
Back at the hotel, we told the guys working there about our interesting dinner, and they knew straight away where we’d been. One of the guys got quite angry and told us about how Mustafa is a sleazy bastard and we should stay away from him, how that restaurant belongs to one of his friends and how he’d set Mustafa straight. Out came his mobile and he was soon calling the guy who owns the restaurant to complain about Mustafa – despite our assurances that it was all a bit of fun, no one was hurt or offended or upset in any way and it was all quite entertaining. His reaction just made it all even better! It seemed like everyone in Istanbul is insane – or at least love to overreact!
While he was on the phone, we heard the sound of fireworks. I raced upstairs to get my memory card and umbrella, and met Mum, Holly and Alison at the top of the street. We could see the fireworks through the alleyway, but within a couple of minutes they stopped. We were disappointed until we heard fireworks starting elsewhere. Raincoats on and umbrellas in hand – it was raining after all – we started running up the hill to the Hippodrome to catch the fireworks. Mum, at a day under 51, was the instigator of this and was quite a bit ahead of us. I was looking out for Holly, who was trailing behind, but I probably couldn’t have kept up anyway. Upon getting to the Hippodrome we had, of course, missed those fireworks too! We continued our fireworks-chasing for a while without further success. Alison insisted she saw some, but they were actually just flashing fairy lights. Our fireworks hunting was a bit of a failure, but we did have fun running through Touristville like crazy people.
Walking back, we saw a mini marching band carrying their equipment but they didn’t play anything for us. Probably a good thing as we didn’t have any money anyway. We took a few pictures in front of the Blue Mosque in the rain, and it just looked magical. It’s funny how a bit of rain can completely change the feel of a place!
We ended up chatting away into the early hours of the morning. It might have been alcohol-free, a very unusual experience on New Year’s Eve, but I’m pretty sure that we all had a good time.