The Galata Tower Bar (It’s Not A Bar)

Last summer it was panic on the streets of Taksim.

No one is sure quite what happened, but at some point the local municipality of Istanbul’s pub-club party hub must have been trying to squeeze through one of the tiny cobbled alleyways filled to the brim with outside tables, when they began to wonder if these bars actually had the right to take up this much of the street.

Long story short, almost one year later the old, trendy student haunts of Taksim have become haunted streets, a shadow of what they were.

However, at the bottom of the magnificant Galata Tower, somewhat of an authentic punk reaction bore of angst and indifference to the regulations, has created an overlooked space for nightly gatherings with the same buzz of the former bar areas. Not a bar, or a cafe, but the pavement itself.

Every evening, somewhere between the time the tower closes for tourists and the sun has almost set, into the square drifts a wave of young people determined not to be bothered by the law, or forced to choose between noisey clubs and overcrowded, overpriced bars.

The Galata area has always had a youthful, artistic feel. For years, it’s walls have been plastered in stylish yellow grafitti with the constant refrain, ‘Sokakta Hayat Var’ – “Life’s on the Street”. The slogan was once a factual description of the feel of the suburb, now it represents a kind of symbol of defiance.

I hadn’t assumed much of the gathering until a friend at a nearby college bade me meet her there with a few friends. I was excited to see what the fuss was about, but expected to find that the trendy loiterers were just a bunch of freshman finishing the day with a little public drinking. However, the people I met were from all trades, and only a few were students. They simply found the tower a great central location to meet friends, with room to sit, smoke and chat without disturbing anyone – including, ironically enough, those working at the town hall a stone’s throw away.

A group of long-haired rockers soon showed-up with their acoustic guitars and perched on the ancient walls around the tower, but needn’t have showed up. After all, the posh bistros lining the streets were providing a fine soundtrack without the least bit inticing us into the joys of table service.

But who needs table service, when a perfectly decent corner shop is open until twelve o clock?

“They are the real winners in all this” said Evren, one student I spoke to lining up for drinks. For most attendees, the night comes courtesy of this unassuming little store, overwhelmed for drinks service like a bar counter.

Little did the owners know that for all these years only a matter of municipal regulations were in the way of them competing with the sprawling uptown bars.


Expat Networking in Istanbul

Chances are, if you are not a prospective employer or government agent doing a background check on me, you found this blog whilst scouring the net looking for information about Turkey. You may have done this in a number of ways - a quick Google search, a Twitter link or even, as has become increasingly likely of late, you are a follower of one of the ever expanding blog lists and expat networks like www.expat-blog.com.

Internet networking sites for Istanbul have expanded as the city has taken more and more foreign expats. In 2008 26,000 foreign workers and just as many students were present according to official statistics (TurkStat). Istanbul of course, is the main choice with 42,228, followed by Bursa (11,495), Ankara (7,166), İzmir (6,707) and Antalya (6,343), although these numbers will have only sky rocketed in the last four years with increased business business links, living standard and English teaching employment opportunities.

www.mymerhaba.com and www.expatsturkey.com started out ahead of the recent urban influx of students and workers. These sites gained early prominence as thousands of Europeans who have settled in southern holiday resorts like Bodrum and Dalaman began logging onto the web. A number of them began blogging, many focusing on night-life and holidaying. Probably the best of these is sniggering "single socialite" Louise, but most are fairly detatched from anything enlightening about the country itself.

However, when Istanbul became cool again, somewhere in the late 2000s, an explosion of Turkish expat internet activity began to take a hold. The Guardian made this official this year by listing Cihangir as one of the 5 top places in the world to live, stating,

"The past decade has seen the city turn from lovely-if-decrepit museum piece to lovely-if-decrepit museum piece with great bars, economic growth and an OK public transport system"

The hundreds of new blogs range from politics to gastronomy, art and music and networking, although I think megasites like www.internations.com go little overboard with the membership and grand design. These sites don't really help fresh-off-the-boat foreigners with their main concerns though - namely having a roof over their heads.

Housing, Check, Job, Check

It seems that expat-blog.com creator Julien Faliu recently came to this very same conclusion, and stated in a recent correspondence with me that "the real life and experience of expatriates could really help those people wishing to start a new life abroad." Indeed, simply listing a bunch of blogs is great for finding out about the humdrum affairs of Turkey through the ramblings of expats already in the city, but the same site can now also function to help new arrivals starting off.

Important changes have been the inclusion of a Jobs and Housing section, created  "to help people in their job and accommodation search in Turkey, two essential steps when expatriating" according to Julien.

The jobs section is layed out according to industry, and so could potentially blow Craigslist out of the water for job classifieds. For the moment it is mostly serving as a way for people to post their resumes online, but this will surely change as the site gains attention of employers. CV sites like Linkedin already function in this way, but don't focus on a particular geographical area.

Expat-blog.com has the most potential perhaps, in its housing and flat-share section, which has already been innundated with posts by Erasmus students and expats looking for flat-mates or someone to take care of their apartments over the summer. Students represent almost half the foreign population of Istanbul, so this is a veritable treasure trove for those looking for a place to stay in cool parts of the city. You can see pictures of the apartment and get in touch with the person via Expat blog.

True to the for-expats-by-expats mentality of the site, a greatly detailed guide to buying property and setting up has been written by a site contributor called Colin, and it is truely informative and well worth the read.