5 Free Thrill Activities You Need To Experience In Istanbul

(Which No One Really Tells You About)

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So you booked your tickets to Turkey and with great excitement, googled the price of the famous hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia. It tells you 150 euros on average if booked in advance (on a side note, you should be able to get it for about a 100-120 euros quite easily through your hotel even the night before flying. #justsaying). For most of you, especially Asians, somewhere close by, you will hear a sound similar to glass breaking. Stop looking around, it was actually your own heart. You had a budget in mind and you realise that a few more of these kind of big expenses and you would not have enough to buy the beautiful carpet from the nicest and most generous “Special price, only for you” spouting salesman. Which carpet, the one with flowers? Yes, the one you don’t need.

You start having thoughts about damage control, so you Google “Free things to do in Istanbul” instead. You find that the list contains lots of trips to museums, parks and mosques. “The list absolutely recommends visiting the (insert mosque name here) mosque!” you squeal in excitement. Here’s the thing. Many of the famous mosques are designed by the same genius; Mimar Sinan. Unless you really have an eye for detail, I assure you that within 3 days, every mosque will look like the Blue Mosque to you. So of course keep up your prayers at the numerous mosques around you but there is no need to go searching for a particular one.

If you are the kind who is excited by seeing things, by all means, enjoy your journey through Gulhane Park and that Thursday trip to Istanbul Modern museum. However, if that list above was “anti-climax” for you because you were the “doing” type, fret not, I bring news of glad tidings. A list of some not-so-time-consuming activities that could help fill up the pockets of space that you have within each day’s itinerary. One that would provide you with carefree moments that you would recall and laugh about as you sit on your window seat, waiting for the home-bound flight to take off. So what do these activities all have in common?
They are all “Free Thrills”- activities which gives us a sudden wave of excitement for which we do not need to pay for. It is the best of both worlds; Happiness without a price. While obviously going on a hot air balloon and playing with the cute, fat and friendly cats of Turkey are not the same thing, they both make you lose yourself for that period of time and that’s what this article will try to enlighten you with- Free thrill activities that can help you maximize your Turkish experience.

 

1. Playing with the cute, fat and friendly cats of Istanbul

Source: wallpapersinhq

Source: wallpapersinhq

Istanbul is a cat (Kedi in Turkish) & cat-lover’s paradise. Garfield would have loved living in Istanbul, he would have been treated like royalty. If there is anything that is more common than a kebab joint, it is the sight of cute and well-fed cats roaming around (or rather “parked around”). No they are not pregnant, they are just fat. They curl themselves up and place themselves along the road, atop cars, everywhere. If you see a cat lying in front of you, I suggest that you move out of the cat’s way if you wish to proceed because the cat is most definitely not going to move out of your way.The best part however, is that they are incredibly friendly. Or maybe they just want food and would happily let go of their pride for it. It is not uncommon for cats, especially in winter, to crawl up onto your laps, curl themselves into a ball of cuteness and rest there for warmth. I once saw a cat climb up on to an elderly’s man lap while he was waiting for the ferry, disrupting his reading. It then made itself comfortable and slept there. The nice gentleman tucked the cat in and continued reading, deciding to take the next ferry so the cat could rest a little longer . Awwww.

 

2. Watching a Turkish league football game with locals at a restaurant

Clearly, the Turkish are very passionate about their football. You may wonder, why not watch a game at the stadium itself then? I offer you two reasons. First, it costs money. Second, at the stadium itself, you can feel free to celebrate and shout whatever you like because all the guys around you are supporting the same team. This is not the case when you watch the same match at a restaurant or some bar. People just sit wherever there is space and so it is possible that you may find yourself supporting the ‘wrong’ team if the guys around you support the other team. Though that’s where it gets interesting.
Source: waveuptravel

Source: waveuptravel

There are 3 steps to this particular free thrill; The Watch, The Mimic and The Overreact. First step is crucial for you to be able to get back home safe so do not skip steps.
The Watch : Do not show your preference for which team you support. Instead, watch the reactions of the people around you. Take note of how they react to attacks on goal, crucial defensive tackles, saves etc. Within the first 20 mins, you would have been able to understand who the people around you support.
The Mimic : Support the team that everyone around you supports. Start doing the things that you see the people around you do. That may include banging the table, shouting in anger, covering your head in disbelief, ordering more food etc.
The Overreact : Now you need to engage with the people around you but you have to make it dramatic. The best way is when a goal is scored. Anticipate your jump of joy, make sure you are seen by a few people, shake their hands, give them high 5s or 10s, say the team name and give a victory cry/roar, you could do anything really. If the team you are supposed to be supporting is called Trabzonspor, shout these words : Bize her yer Trabzon!” on the 61st minute of the match. You my friend, would become part of Folklore. Complete the mission by taking a picture with them.

 

3. Playing Backgammon 

Source: army.mil

Source: army.mil

To be honest, I knew of the existence of Backgammon (Or Tavla as it is known in Turkey) before I came to Turkey, I just could not be bothered to learn how the game works. I mean what was the point, I’ve never seen anyone actually playing it in all my life in South East Asia. One fine afternoon in Izmir (along the western coast of Turkey), my friends wanted to play backgammon and I decided to learn the game and as it turned out, i quite enjoyed it. It was the perfect time killer, especially when you have a group of friends and a long-time favourite for retired elderly men because they had too much time on their hands. A month later, I bought my own board and and kept it on for my 2nd semester in Istanbul, teaching my visiting friends from Singapore how to play. Best thing I ever did because they never noticed me arriving an hour late everytime; they would just borrow a Tavla board from the restaurant or cafe they were at and start playing while waiting for me. Chilling in a quaint cafe, drinking tea and requesting a live “Backgammon for dummies” demonstration from the waiters before we spend the next few hours playing away… The perfect setting on a rainy afternoon.

 

4. Confusing people as to where you’re from

Source: boomsbeat.com

Source: boomsbeat.com

The first thing that you would notice when you enter the grand bazaar in Istanbul is that they speak almost every language possible. In order to secure the privilege of helping you spend your money, they try to form a connection with you by correctly guessing your nationality. Here’s where you gain your free thrill; just confuse them. You can be Singaporean or Malaysian Chinese but just tell them you are Korean or Japanese, you can even say you are Mongolian or Nepalese. Trust me when I say most of them would not know the difference except that they would then try to tell you something in the language of your borrowed nationality. So if you are going to be there for an hour, might as well confuse as many people as you can and see their reaction. Stretch the boundaries, maybe say your dad was Kazakh and your mother from North Korea but they forbid you to learn either of those languages since their parents did not agree to their union. At the grand bazaar, your past is also in your hands and if you’re not happy, you can change it from shop to shop.

5. Feeding the Seagulls

Source: Twitter/@Turkey Pulse

Source: Twitter/@Turkey Pulse

This is something that makes you feel like a kid all over again (though i don’t recall ever doing this as a kid). Seagulls are a part of the Istanbul coastline and there’s nothing better than causing some commotion in their otherwise peaceful existence. Just start throwing some small bits of bread or Simit (turkish bagel that is sold everywhere) up into the air by the sea and watch what happens after a while. The chaos that ensues is actually quite enjoyable. Soon you’ll find yourself smiling at how thrilling it is when the seagulls perfectly pick up that piece of bread in mid-air with their beaks and how they use the wind to fly back into the free food queue.

 

These 5 activities are merely guidelines to help you realize that a free thrill can be anything; you determine what makes you laugh.
Come up with something unique that you know that only your weird mind could have thought of and capture it on video or photo. You can even put a smile on other people’s faces just doing something they know only you would do. It can be anything, from compiling a video of Turkish people speaking your language, of yourself wearing a Sarong and dancing in every place you visit (I should have totally done that), or something outrageous like what the guys in the video below are doing. It’s called the “Turkey March” and they did it in every major public space in Turkey. These are actually my friends who visited while I was studying in Istanbul and being a part of this hilarious tribute to the animal that the country shares a name with, was one of the highlights of my time there.
As a Muslim, Turkey is the kind of place that makes you say “Maashallah” with all your heart. That’s just how beautiful and blessed it is. Amidst the hustle and bustle of trying to survive in this increasingly competitive world, the simple joy of those “free thrills” that we experienced, especially those we designed ourselves, will constantly serve as a reminder for us to be thankful for what we have and that it really doesn’t take much to be happy. Our happiness will always be in our hands.
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