Directory Assistance 118
Ambulance 112 Fire 110
To reach any hospital throughout the country in an emergency situation, call 444 09 11
Night Pharmacies: Ask the reception or google: Nöbetci Eczane Beyoğlu
Morning-after pill: Ertesi gün hapı
Conversation and customs
Many young Turks can speak English or at least understand it, especially if they are students, and a lot people who have worked or studied abroad can also speak German, French or other European languages.
In general, the locals love chatting with visitors – be it shop keepers, restaurant owners, or people you encounter on the street.
Feel free to pursue most topics of conversation, or ask about Turkish culture, history, religion, and so forth. You can learn a lot that way. But don’t take side or be offensive! For example, don’t say negative things about Islam, or Atatürk, or the Turkish Republic. And don’t take part in political demonstrations, if you can avoid it.
You must be 18 to buy or consume alcohol in Turkey. Occasionally sponsored parties in bars and so forth may stipulate their own age limits.
Bars and pubs close at various times – usually between midnight and two o’clock around Istiklal. If you are friends with the bartender they will probably let you hang around a little longer. It is probably best to avoid places that are open too late,especially if they are obscured and don’t look reputable.
Don’t drink on the street, or at least don’t do so blatantly, and always display as much respect as possible. Alcoholism, rowdiness, and excessive drunkenness are not particularly common in Turkey, and being boisterous on the street may make you an object of attention and a concern for the police. This is especially true near mosques and other religious places.
All drugs are illegal to possess or use in Turkey, and are commonly prosecuted. If you get approached by dealers, or wind up around people using drugs, remember that you are in a foreign country and are subjected to it’s laws: be cautious.
Smoking is extremely common in Istanbul among old and young, locals and tourists. (But that doesn’t mean you should give into peer pressure.) It is illegal to smoke inside, but many bars and cafés that are out of sight from a main street will allow it anyway. Just make sure to ask the staff first. Many people smoke on the street. It is common to throw butts on ground, but still it is best not to as bins are rather easy to find.
This is obviously a matter of much dispute. Generally, in touristy areas like Taksim the dress code is just as liberal as any major city in Europe. In less frequented and more conservative areas it is more common for women to cover their arms and legs. Just do your research before you go wandering in new areas. But by no means let customs dissuade you from seeing new places. In mosques, it is always required for men to wear long pants and women to cover their heads and shoulders with provided garments. You must remove your shoes in mosques as well.
Scams and cautions
Istanbul has a fair share of scams and things to be cautious of, like any large city. In eye real, stay away from drug pushers, don’t follow people you don’t trust down alleyways, and so forth. Walk around in groups at night if you feel uncomfortable, and stay to lighted areas.
Stay away from shoe-shiners and similar characters, especially if anyone says they will provide services for free.
There are a few instances of unwary people around Istiklal getting lured into suspicious venues. If someone you don’t know tries to get you somewhere, to a bar or club, then take note. You can end up paying 500TL for a drink. Men are mostly the victims. Overall, do not put trust in people unconditionally and do not put yourself into dangerous situations.
The exchange rate between Euros and liras is about 1 to 3, while American dollars to liras is about 1 to 2, which is great news for those not particularly skilled in mathematics. One lira is divided into 100 kuruş.
In 2003, the government decided to remove six six zeros from its currency. Presumably it was ridiculous to pay 2,000,000 liras for a cup of tea. However, some old fashioned shops, and even some souvenir shops, keep up with the old system: don’t worry, this doesn’t mean there has been inflation on the snow globe market!
The tap water reserve in Istanbul is generally said to be okay, but it is highly chlorinated, and the water pipes can be old and unpredictable. Use common sense. If water from the tap looks or tastes suspect then don’t drink it. Overall, it’s fine for showering and brushing teeth, but use bottled water for hydrating yourself.
Transportation – walking
Walking is very doable in Istanbul, especially from a central location like World World Hostel. Many tourist essentials, from Taksim Square to the Grand Bazaar, are within easy walking distance as long as you don’t get lost.
There are many pedestrianized areas, especially around the sea or through bazaars. Still, be wary of traffic and try not to j-walk, as cars in Istanbul are sometimes driven by cats (well, virtually).
On weekends, an estimated 3 million people walk down Istiklal Avenue alone during the day. Go join the flow!
Transportation – Public
Istanbul is a vast city, and is only getting vaster. They call it chaos, and you will certainly get lost in the city at some point: it would be disappointing not to, actually! Luckily the public transport system is well developed and efficient, so you can get lost and unlost easier than snapping your fingers.
Most forms of public transport in Istanbul run under a nationally-owned umbrella company called iETT (İstanbul Electric Tram and Tünel Company). This encompasses metros, trams, the two funiculars, and busses. http://www.iett.gov.tr/en
Rail travel is extremely well developed and only getting better. It is probably the most popular way of getting around Istanbul. There are various types: trams, metros, subterranean trains, and so forth. You can get a full understanding of how the networks overlap by looking at a useful tram map. You can also take the sickeningly cute “Nostalgic Tram” between Tünel Square and Taksim Square, if you want to see Istiklal Avenue from the point of an early 20th century time traveller.
Currently underway is a project to link the European and Asian sides by an underwater rail tunnel. It is called called the Marmaray Project, which sounds like a Pokemon but is actually a combination of Sea of Marmara and the Turkish word for rail, which is “ray.” There are several bus companies operating in Istanbul, and they come in different shapes, colours, and degree of environmental impact. It is probably best to look up the routes if you plan on a lot of inner-city bus travel.
You can also get around by ferry boat. These are called vapur in Turkish, and you may see that word around. They are arguably one of the most fun and most scenic ways of getting from place to place. There several key docks around, so it is best to know where you want to go before you head out, but the possibilities are exciting: ferries can take you between Europe and Asia, over to the beautiful Prince’s Islands, or even on a full-on Bosphorus tour. And don’t worry, ferries are frequent and cheap – especially popular or touristy routes. There are a few ferry (vapur) operators in Istanbul.
One to know is Sehir Hatlari with the most beautiful boats: you can find information and timetables on their website. http://sehirhatlari.com.tr/en. Another company that runs sea busses and catamarans with both inner and inter city lines is iDo http://www.ido.com.tr/en .
If you intend on using public transport a lot, consider getting an Istanbul Card (or “Istanbulkart”) which can be bought at major bus stations and other ticket offices. You pay a refundable 6 liras deposit which is returned when give back the card, and then load it depending on how many transits you want to use. It costs more initially, but in the long run it saves plenty of cash that can be better spent on getting extra sauce on a kebap. The Istanbul Card is valid for all public transport, meaning that busses, trams, metros, and ferries are all included.
Transportation – Taxis and minibuses
Taxis are everywhere, as you probably noticed, and they are a called “Taksi.” You can hail them from the street side, ask reception to call one for you, or find one at a taxi rank. The fare is is cheaper than other major European cities, but because Istanbul’s largeness and traffic, going long distances can add up. You don’t have to tip unless they helped you with luggage or provided exceptional service.
Finally, if you like busses but find that ordinary busses are not extreme enough for you, you can try the more adventurous dolmuşes. In Turkish that means “stuffed.” They are essentially mini-busses that have fixed routes throughout the city, usually running back and forth between an A point and B point. They come to stop by signs with a black D on a white background, and display the destination somewhere on the window. Less formal than regular busses, dolmuşes will simply wait in one spot until they are full, and then proceed. You can get off anywhere you like along the route simply by telling the driver or – just as likely – by shouting. Some people have described riding on one of these thing as “anarchy” and was subsequently pushed to question both reality and his own sanity. Most likely, it will be a slightly more hectic but fast and interesting commute.
Weather – year round, misconceptions, clothing
Contrary to popular conceptions, Istanbul has seasons, and in fact a whole array of temperatures and weather patterns over the course of the year.
But don’t be afraid, the summers are indeed long, hot humid, and sunny. From May to September, for example, sunlight can last between 7 and 9 hours, and average temperatures can range from 15 to 20 degrees Celsius – with, of course, many days soaring beyond these numbers. Summer is a time of festivals and juicy fruit, busy coast lines and the sound of flip-flops sloshing all through the Old City. However, Istanbul during the summer is prone to occasional heavy rain, so make sure you know what the day holds before you go out, and remember that umbrellas are easy to find. Regardless, many people hold that summer is the best time to visit Istanbul – and if you are looking for the picturesque city you saw in dreams and movies, this is probably the time for you.
The autumn is relatively short – lasting about from October to December. For lots of people including many of the locals, Autumn is actually the best month to visit Istanbul. Temperatures are cooler than in summer, streets less busy but still delightfully packed, and chestnuts far more likely to undergo a slow roasting on an open fire. However, Autumn is still very humid, and it is not uncommon to see rainfall for several days in a row, and it can often be very windy. Dress warmly and in layers! (Or, use the weather as an excuse to blow your liras in the Grand Bazaar on fuzzy jumpers knitted by humble old ladies. Keep an eye open.)
The wintertime is perhaps the most surprising of seasons in Istanbul. From December to January, average temperatures can get as low as 5-10 degrees, and average rainfall can skyrocket almost a centimetre a month. Fog, mist, and wind take over the city with as much determination as Mehmet II: but now, thanks to the innovation of baklava, sweets and coffee consumption rise to unimaginable heights suitable for history books. Snow is not unheard of, although occurs only a handful of times a year and usually doesn’t last very long. This is still, however, a wonderful time to see Istanbul at its quietest: tourist attractions especially can be nearly deserted during the winter, and with fewer tourists you can see local culture and routine operating at its most genuine.
The spring is the shortest and sweetest season – lasting from about March to April. Wet operatives begin to warm up now, averaging at about 7 to 12 degrees, and the winter fog and up rain begins to dissipate slowly. As everywhere in the world, spring in Istanbul is a time of renewal, as new and exciting produce fills the shops and people gradually pull off their winter layers.