We're moving to Istanbul! Tell me what I need to know
August 14, 2014 11:04 PM   Subscribe

Actually, we will be living in Zekeriyakoy, north of the city, but I am guessing a lot of my questions could be answered by Istanbul residents, past and present.

We are a household of three - my husband will be working and I will be homeschooling my 10 year old and studying from home. Things like housing, power etc. are sorted, but I still have a lot of questions

These are the questions that come to mind - anything else you want to mention please feel free!

- I won't be driving - driving freaks me out at the best of times, so definitely not in Istanbul - so what are the best public transport options. Is there some kind of monthly pass? Just use Dolmus?
- Internet - we are being advised to use TTNet at home. Any other suggestions?
- Things to see and do - we have been tourists in Istanbul before (and loved it) and there is a lot of advice for tourists, and I will be going on some food tours. But what are some of the 'only locals know' things to do? Day/weekend trips especially welcome.
- Mail/parcels - I am told that Turkish customs can be very strict about charging duty and it is a hassle to go pay it and get your parcels from overseas. Is this really the case?
- Water - we are told not to drink the tap water. Is it better to get a filter or have water delivered.
- Getting out and about as a woman - I have a 10 year old son that I homeschool, and I like to take daytrips with him. I have rarely had to deal with being hassled before, and am pretty confident walking around areas I don't know (for example - I never had issues walking around Port Moresby, PNG, as a 19 year old as I took reasonable precautions, kept out of trouble and had a confident attitude). And, as sexist as it sounds, I will usually be travelling with my son and/or husband. Any tips or ideas for making my life easier?
- Walking around with a camera - I like to take photographs and have an 'expensive looking' camera. Outside of obvious tourist areas is this going to cause unwanted attention/be a security hazard.
- Cycling - we are very keen cyclist but are told that road cycling is not the done thing in Istanbul. Any suggestions for places to take our bikes? (we have road/'city' bikes and mountain bikes.
posted by Megami to Home & Garden (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I can speak to Turkish customs. I had an iphone shipped there after having my phone stolen earlier on a long backpacking trip. While it made for an interesting story, I spent $500 US, 2.5 days, and 16 hours over three different locations getting it out of customs. Some of the $500 included actual bribes, I have a Turkish tax ID, and it wouldn't have happened if my taxi driver hadn't taken pity on my idiot tourist ass (he didn't speak English, but we communicated with hand signals well enough). While caught in this foolery I ran into some locals who had bought stuff off ebay and didn't realize what they were in for, which was exactly the same thing, so being a local who speaks the language doesn't make a difference.

In short, don't have stuff shipped there.
posted by MillMan at 11:58 PM on August 14, 2014

I used to live in Istanbul, though I never made it up to Zekeriyaköy. From what I can tell (Turkish site), you'll be in a rich, but isolated villa neighborhood. You're near the lovely (and massive) Atatürk arboretum, but you'll be far away from everything else. It could be a great place to live for the right sort of person, but if you're interested in easier access to anything in the city and have some control over where you'll be living, you might want to look at other areas. I see that there is a bus that runs to the metro, which will take you to downtown Taksim and beyond, but that'll probably be a 1-2 hour trip one way.

That said, I'll try to answer your specific concerns. First off, I can't recommend Saffet Emre Tonguc & Pat Yale's Istanbul: The Ultimate Guide enough for learning about the history, stores, sights, and eccentricities of this massive city.

Dolmuş will get you everywhere in this city, and the bus network's not bad either. It can be hard to learn the schedules of both; ask your neighbors about which dolmuş in your neighborhood go where. If you can fiddle your way through the many many menus, bus routes and times can be found here.

There aren't a lot of options for internet. At home, TTNet's probably your best option; many of the few alternatives use TTNet's network anyway and don't offer much for savings.

For sights, again, get The Ultimate Guide that I linked to above. Kilyos (officially Kumköy) isn't too far from you and is pleasant to stroll around. There's also a beach there that's very popular in the Summer, but the Black Sea gets dangerous waves that form riptides. Be cautious about the weather if you go decide to go swimming there. I've enjoyed walking the practically deserted beach in Winter as well. The villages on both sides of the far north Bosphorus have ferry connections to each side. There are still active fishing communities there, and you'll find great meyhane taverns and places to get humongous 22-dish breakfast spreads.

Turkish customs is absolutely as bad as you've heard. I think the duty-exempt limit for goods sent from abroad is something ridiculous, like 75 euros, and anything that might be worth more than that will be held hostage in a location by Ataturk airport that might take you 3 hours to get to. Goods that you bring in your suitcase on a plane will generally get through without any questions asked, unless you're trying to bring in 100 IPhones.

The Istanbul government claims that all city water is drinkable, and I actually think it's not that bad. That said, no one drinks it, and as a result every neighborhood (and sometimes every street) will have bottled water sellers that will deliver, for no charge, huge 19-liter jugs to your apartment. They're cheap, too. Your neighborhood general goods store will sell you a pump. Ask your neighbors for the phone number.

I've never felt unsafe anywhere in Istanbul; it's a shockingly safe city for as large as it is, and the close (often nosy) neighborhood ties do keep crime significantly down. That said, I'm a man. Single women out and about do get harassed by creepy dudes here all the time, and if you look obviously not Turkish you may play into some isolated hick stereotypes about Western women being 'easy'. I've heard a lot of these stories from my female friends in the city, but the converse is that as a man you never ever see it. Walking with your husband or son will, sadly, likely be enough for you not to worry. Learning enough Turkish to yell at these guys will help confuse and embarrass them into backing down, and if you're on a busy street, people will come to your aid.

I would take normal precautions with a camera -- don't let it out of your sight or easily snagged. That said, violent robbery is much less common in Istanbul than in other cities.

Biking in Istanbul is a bad idea due to both the insane traffic (and drivers who are in no way used to driving next to bicycles) and the numerous hills. I have, however, biked on the walking path by the Bosphorus from Anadolu Kavağı in Sariyer to Taksim, taking the road in-between, and it's fairly easy and pleasant. I think you'll be able to take your bike into the Atatürk Arboretum as well.

Feel free to write back or send me a PM if you have other questions.
posted by Theiform at 1:07 AM on August 15, 2014

Hoş Geldiniz!

Turkey is a great place to live (I'm here now, but not in Istanbul). I have lots of great restaurant recs for the city though, so if you memail me I'll pass them along.

Public transit: Taxis are good, plentiful and relatively inexpensive. You might want to double-check with google maps to get a general idea of where you're going so you don't get driven all over town. 9/10 taxi drivers are honest though. Hopefully you won't have any problems. The above-ground people-movers use a "jeton" system, where you buy little plastic coins to get through the turnstiles. This also works for the subways that go up to the top of Istiklal. Since you'll be living there, you'll want to get a IstanbulKart, which you can reload with money and works with lots of things, including the ferries.

Internet: Ask your neighbors what they like. We use TTnet and it works fine.

Things to see and do: Since you'll be a resident you will qualify for a MuzeKart. Definitely get one, it'll save you a ton.

Mail: I've never had issues, but then I also don't recieve much mail.

Water: I know the consensus is never drink the tap, but I have before and I've always been fine. Your neighbors can help you get set up with the local water delivery service. In my neighborhood its Erikli, but every place has their own. They have a bottle deposit system. My apartment came with a water cooler and a few empty bottles, so I'm not sure how to get new ones, but they have english speakers if you request them when you call so they'll help you out.

Getting out and about as a woman: If you are used to Port Moresby, Istanbul will be like a dream for you. I don't experience any more catcalling there than I do in my home city of Indianapolis. One word of warning though, Turkey can be pretty racist so if you're a person of color you may have more challenges.

-Walking around with a camera: Istanbul is packed full of tourists with expensive cameras. Pickpocketing and other theft happens but it is very rare. Standard security precautions will serve you well.

Cycling: Good luck. The roads are steep and the sidewalks are full of stray cats. You will not be cycling in Istanbul unless you take your bikes on the ferry over to the Prince Islands. That's the only place I'm aware of.

Please feel free to reach out to my directly with any more questions. I think you should be very excited. I love it here!
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 2:06 AM on August 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the great info so far. Just to clarify:
- we have no choice with where we live, the house comes with the job
- I am a white woman - dark hair but pale skin. So while I might not stand out as much as a blonde or a person of colour, unless I am mistaken for a Georgian I am not going to look much like a local I don't think.
posted by Megami at 12:48 PM on August 15, 2014

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