Living in Istanbul is not for the faint of heart. We face a pretty hefty amount of stress on a daily basis – the hours spent in a mind-numbing commute, the jarring reality of living in a city of around 18 million people, etc. Some days you forget all the reasons why you love this city. Resisting the negativity is a challenge, but it is essential to staying focused on all that is good about Istanbul.
While I am far from an expert of the quiet-of-mind, here are a few tips I’ve put together that have saved me on more than a few occasions from either drinking myself into oblivion or packing my bags and jumping on the next plane out of here. These have been lifesavers that helped me maintain my sanity living in Istanbul.
Tip 1: Istanbul has a tremendous amount of apartments fully equipped with terraces, balconies or small gardens. Get yourself one of those! It doesn’t have to be anything extravagant with a Bosphorus view (although of course this helps), but anything with access to the great outdoors will do. Even a quaint French balcony can be turned into a fabulous place to unwind with a book and a glass of wine at the end of the day. You can have plants to reconnect you with nature and you can people watch if you’re on a busy street. Best part – you’re away from all those people – well, at least if you’re on a balcony, you’re above them, which always feels good.
Tip 2: Adopt one of those adorable street cats. There is no denying the therapeutic greatness a cat has on a frazzled soul at the end of a brutal day in Istanbul. You can snuggle for hours and they will purr the stress right out of you. If you can’t commit to the responsibility of a pet, just go hang out with some street cats. Pretty much every street has them, some more human-receptive than others, but find them, feed them, pet them – they will love you and your stress levels will benefit greatly.
Tip 3: Find a quiet little cafe you can call your own when the going gets tough on the home front. Not everyone can have a chill house as their sanctuary. Even those who do, sometimes you still just need to GET OUT. There are a lot of little hidden cafes in this city – some nestled within a winding street, others tucked in and secret-garden like off an unsuspecting main thorough fare. Having a go-to cafe is relaxing in the sense that you can sip a cup of coffee and write, or read or Facebook to your heart’s content. Generally no one will bother you and it’s always nice to have a local haunt where the staff knows what you’re going to order before you even walk in the door.
Tip 4: Indulge in some of those new imported beers which have been popping up all over town. From Kadıköy to Beşiktaş and beyond, a plethora of imports can be found. No longer must you be limited to dull pills of Efes, Tuborg or Bomonti. You can now de-stress at a pub with your friends or at home (on that killer balcony) with a beer from Belgium, Germany, US or Ireland! Wot! Sipping away the stress, one hefeweizen at a time.
Tip 5: Explore a part of the city or a street you’ve never been down. As you very well know – this city is huge! And most of us are really only familiar with a few sections. We usually hang out in the area we live or work and that’s about it. There are even some of you who refuse on premise to “cross to the other side”… (you know who you are). But exploring a new neighborhood can be really therapeutic. If anything, to connect or reconnect you with why you came here in the first place. There are some really fabulous old neighborhoods where many an old treasure can be found. You just never know when you’re coming to bump into an old karavan saray or forgotten, moss-covered cemetery. *Note – of course there are neighborhoods better left unexplored, just be smart, be savvy, bring a camera and have an adventure.
Tip 6: Get yourself a Müze Kart (museum card) and hit up a museum on a weekday. Preferably one of those dark and gloomy winter days when your spirit is a bit down. We’re lucky to live in a city with such great history and there is even a pretty sweet burgeoning art scene here. From the big museum to the tiny exhibit (you’ll need tip 5 in order to find), there’s a lot to be looked at and learned. And a dark and gloomy winter day in the middle of the week is the quietest time to enjoy them.
Tip 7: Wake up EARLY and get out! This city is the calmest in the early morning hours, after all the partiers have gone to sleep and the city has yet to really awaken. There’s a shocking difference between 7pm and 7am in every part of this city. What was a booming, people-packed zone of chaos throughout much of the day and into the wee hours of the night, is miraculously transformed in those morning hours. The only people who are out are the fish mongers and a few sleepy shop owners getting ready for the day. You may stumble across a few people still standing from the night before, but generally you’re alone. And as you may know, ALONE in this city is very rare indeed. It gives you the opportunity to appreciate the quiet and walk a bit slower, see a bit more.
Tip 8: If you have to take crowded public transport – always be listening to something on your headphones that keeps you calm – sedated, if you will. I just started doing this and holy mother of God – it makes a world of difference. Makes your experience a bit less traumatizing and more like you’re in a slow-motion animation video. The chaos is merely background to be psychologically avoided.
Tip 9: Garden – anywhere! This can be as simple as growing herbs in your kitchen or creating a jungle on your terrace, but growing something has an incredibly calming affect… that is unless you have a black thumb… and then it has a reverse affect – sorry.
Tip 10: Never underestimate the power of good friends. Friends are great as you get to laugh out loud and vent ’till the early hours of the morning about this crazy city. They get it, they understand the plight of being a resident of Istanbul. So cherish them – they’re golden.
Bonus Tip: A bonus, but probably one of the most vital – GET OUT OF TOWN! GET OUT OF TOWN OFTEN! This doesn’t have to be far, expensive or holiday-time required. Just pack a small bag and go. There are tons of great places to escape the mayhem a mere stones throw away. Hop on a bus, rent a car or find a friend who has a car and convince ’em to go on a short road trip – east, west, south or north to the Black Sea. Even getting out of town for a day wipes years of stress from your life. Seriously, enough cannot be said about this – a true must.
So there you have them – a few things that have helped keep me sane in the three years I’ve lived here. I would love to know yours. Please share any tips you’ve picked up during your time here and good luck in your quest to retain sanity in this great city we all are currently calling home.
Emily Johnson is a contributor to Yabangee.