Equalities, Istanbul, Izmir, LGBT, Turkey & Turkish

Turkish Pride

Istanbul Pride

The marching season has got off to a splendid start with Istanbul Pride throwing down the gauntlet with tens of thousands of people (some reports suggested 60,000) parading along Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul’s main thoroughfare. This is where Istanbulers come to meet, drink, shop, party and demonstrate. The brave souls carried a giant rainbow flag and, in an unprecedented show of unity, held banners demanding justice and LGBT rights in Turkish, Kurdish, Armenian and Arabic. And for the first time there were also Pride marches in Izmir and Antalya. One of the most popular slogans was “Where are you, my dear? Here I am, darling!” Will the increasingly repressive Turkish Government led by the dour and autocratic Erdoğan listen?  Probably not. But, following hot on the heels of the vicious crackdown of the Gezi Park protest, Istanbul Pride goes to prove that it ain’t over ‘till the fat drag queen sings.

Feel the vibe…

Bars & Restaurants, Food & Drink, Gay Bars, Headscarves, Historic Sites, Izmir, Music & Dance, Rent Boys, Shopping, Toilets

Cappuccinos and Rent Boys

IzmirOur hotel is equidistant between the city centre proper and a trendy, Sohoesque district called Alsancak. No one would describe Izmir as beautiful. Much of it was burned to the ground in 1922 during the Greco-Turkish War, and the city was unsympathically rebuilt with block upon block of mediocre concrete box architecture that surely wouldn’t withstand even the slightest tremor. However, the place does have a certain appeal and Alsancak, in particular, has a real buzz, all trendy shops and pavement cafés.
We decided on a trip to the Roman agora, the largest market place ever excavated from the period. We strolled through the modern pazar and delighted in confounding the catcalling hawkers by responding in German, French, Spanish, and a little Turkish, anything but English. We found the agora remains on the wrong side of the tracks and gazed through the railings. Having been spoilt by the glory of Ephesus, I’m afraid an enormous hole on the ground with a few old stones randomly scattered about looking like London after the Blitz really didn’t impress. We didn’t bother going in.

Alsancak is where the few gay bars are to be found. We had done our internet research and went in pursuit of the twilight world of Turkish deviants. It was hopeless. We found only one dismal little bar down some dark alley. It was a tawdry, dirty dive, virtually empty and pounded by deafening techno. The drinks were absurdly expensive and even the ‘free’ bar snacks came at a price with a specially prepared bill. The bar staff were so bored they poured alcohol on the bar and set it alight for a laugh. Taking a leak was a surreal experience as the entrance to the toilet was guarded by a head-scarfed granny in pantaloons demanding a lira to spend a penny. The few punters were rough rent boys in cheap shell suits looking for punters of their own. As they began to circle us like a pack of hyenas, we knew it was time to leave. We sprinted to the entrance fully expecting it to be locked. Thankfully, it wasn’t. That was Izmir.

Driving, Izmir, Semigreys

I’m a Semigrey, Get Me Out of Here!

As semigrey hedonistas we fancied a bit of wanton decadence and set our sights on Izmir. After all, it is Turkey’s third largest metropolis with a laid back, laissez faire reputation. The drive to Izmir was a pleasurable jolly, and we rekindled our love affair with mcmuffins in Soke along the way. The modest amount of recent rain has had a remarkable effect on the landscape, transforming the tinderbox hue of pale green and ochre to a lush iridescence.

Driving through Izmir, on the other hand, was the most traumatic driving experience of our lives. The city is dissected by crumbling dual carriageways and getting off the bloody things is nigh on impossible. We spent hours driving from one side of the city to the other, then back again, trying to find the right exit, any exit. Eventually, after an unscheduled two hour excursion we found the seafront boulevard where our hotel was located.

We tried to park outside a café in the only available space as far as the eye could see. The owner was having none of it and began gesticulating aggressively to move us on. We’ve heard that it is not unusual for business owners to trash any unsolicited car parked outside their premises so we thought we best not risk it. Off we drove on yet another distressing circuit of the city centre. Then, miracle upon miracles, we were delivered a space right outside the hotel entrance. The moral of this story? Get the bus.

Customs, Flying, Izmir

How Very Dare You!

We received word that our cargo has arrived from England. We are thrilled. A gay boy just can’t survive for long without the little essentials of life like decent cookware, ethnic knick-knacks and gallons of scent. We paid quite a bit extra to have our precious accessories air freighted and were assured by Pickfords that the crates would be flown direct to Bodrum; a naïve notion. A rude little man from the Pickfords nominated Turkish agents told us to get down to the Customs House at Izmir Airport and to get there pronto otherwise we’d be charged warehousing fees. Off we go on our second Izmir junket at the crack of dawn.

Driving, Hotels, Izmir, Roads, Shopping

Are You Being Served?

Despite our genuine fear of death or permanent disability, we left for Izmir at first light, driving by hire car due east to Milas, the next sizeable town from Bodrum. From the outskirts, Milas seems to have little to commend it; a nondescript minor provincial town of concrete awfulness. We swung north inland. Ascending into the hills (well, mountains by British standards) we passed alongside Lake Bafa, a stunning expanse of water that reminded Liam of the Italian lakes. Reaching a high plateau, we stopped off near Soke at a long row of giant discount outlet stores built in the middle of nowhere. We breakfasted in McDonald’s: a fondness for egg mcmuffins is a guilty secret of ours. Replete with 50% of our daily allowance of saturated fat, we continued onwards towards Izmir. We hit the toll motorway near Aydin which came as something of a relief. Neat, newly constructed and four lanes wide, it wouldn’t look out of place in Germany. As we descended from the plain back towards the coast, Izmir stretched out impressively before us.

Izmir’s IKEA is located in suburban Bornova, adjacent to a smart shopping centre. We had already pre-selected our major items by thumbing through the catalogue and ambling around the Edmonton branch in London, so I asked a nice young man if there was anyone available to help us. He duly obliged and presented us with our very own personal shopper to guide us around the store. We simply pointed at items indicating “one of those, two of these” and she did the rest, checking stock levels and suggesting alternatives as needed. I felt like a Harvey Nicks celeb and loved it. Liam, on the other hand, found the whole exercise rather unsettling. I’m very much a smash and grab shopper, whereas he’s more of a grazer and likes to take his time, lots of it. We had a bit of a row; our first in Asia. He eventually tolerated the experience with sullen resignation.

After we concluded our business, we took tea in the restaurant and went to accessorise in the market place. The genius of IKEA is the canny strategy of pricing so much so low as to seduce shoppers into buying things they don’t know they want and probably don’t need. Naturally, we complied like proverbial sheep. Two trolley loads later, we sauntered towards the tills. There waiting was a trolley train assembled on our behalf by half a dozen co-workers (as IKEA likes to call its shop assistants), all arranged by our efficient personal shopper. The same brigade of eager workers then packed our market place goodies and wheeled the whole lot to the home delivery desk. I was staggered. What an experience: inconceivable back home where IKEA has taken self-service to an entirely new level of indifference.

Darkness had fallen by the time we left the store, and we were in urgent need of somewhere to bed down for the night. The thought of driving through the bustling city centre during the rush hour terrified us, and so we headed out towards the airport. I thought it reasonable to assume that the international airport of Turkey’s third city would be ringed by hotels. Not a bit of it. The entire vicinity is devoid of inns. As time had marched on and we had grown weary, I suggested a diversion to nearby Selçuk, a small town south of the airport. I had a vague recollection of a decent hotel from a previous visit. We were decidedly relieved to learn that my powers of recall were still in reasonable working order and that the hotel was open for business so late in the season. The Kalehan Hotel is found on the main road into town nestling beneath the citadel. It is a bit of a treasure crammed with gorgeous Ottoman-style antiques and bric-a-brac. Though a little tatty around the edges, it was, nevertheless, a clean, reasonably priced and comfortable place to stay. The breakfast, though, was inedible.

Izmir, Property, Shopping

DFS on LSD

We’ve acquired a ludicrously large house with little to fill it with. Local stores are either indescribably awful (think DFS on LSD) or outrageously expensive (or both), so we settled on IKEA, the store of choice for the middle class poor everywhere. It is comforting to know that the IKEA formula, like McDonald’s, is so dependably familiar whether in Bournemouth or Beijing. However, the idea of an eight hour round trip to the nearest store in Izmir fills us with dread, but loins girded, we have stoically resolved to go forth in search of flat pack paradise.