How to Liven up a Bad Night Tour of Istanbul


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When travel, friends and a dancing pole are involved, a night on the town in Istanbul only seems to be a travel nightmare

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These are the kind of sights we wanted to see

On my last trip to Istanbul I was accompanied by friends. It was the first visit for them and they were all excited  about  seeing  the famous sites, going  on a Bosphorus tour and sampling the food. I gladly played cicerone . It’s  a joy to share your experiences and secret places with friends who can’t stop oooohing and aaaahing.

When the question of  “what to do in Istanbul?” is a matter of opinion

Naturally they also wanted to experience something of Istanbul’s nightlife. What I had in mind were the famous and very cool night clubs of Nisantasi or Besiktas, but it was not to be.

Walking along Divan Yolu, the main street of the historical Sultanahmed district, a board with an ad for a ‘Bosporus by Night’ tour caught their eye.

“Oh, look,” my friend cried. “The boat looks gorgeous. They even give us dinner and there is entertainment. We want to see a belly dancer and the traditional Turkish dances they advertise. Let’s do it! It’s a combo of a night tour on the water and performances. Doesn’t that sound good?”

Hmmm, yes, it sounded  good. I’m wary about any kind of organized tour and I feared that the entertainment would be anything but ‘typical’.  On top of that, the whole enterprise was quite expensive (70 Euros, or approx. $97 per person). But at least that included transport from and to our hotel and dinner.

On the other hand, it was really my friend’s trip, not mine, so If they wanted to go, I would too. We duly handed over our money and went home to get ready for the night’s entertainment.

Bad signs #1, #2 and #3

All dolled up, we waited for transport to arrive. And waited, and waited. The receptionist kindly phoned the company to ask where the mini bus was and if they had forgotten us. No, they were on their way and, lo and behold, did arrive in due course.

The boat departed from the ferry stop of Kabatas. We could see it in the distance, illuminated with fancy lights and a curious structure sticking out from the deck.

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Good sports, we are we posed for photos with the Sultan and Sultana

There were about 150 people who had booked this tour, all arriving from different destinations, and all trying to board the boat. It was a bit of a shuffle, but finally we made it onboard. We were greeted by a ‘Sultan’ and ‘Sultana,’ who were seated on a bench and dressed in rather shabby outfits. The purpose was for people to take  their picture with them. Getting into the spirit of things, we obliged.

We then rather aimlessly stood around on deck, waiting for what would happen next. Plenty of waiters were running around, carrying trays with cocktails, but the keyword here is running. We really had to make a grab to snag a glass.

Dinner was announced and we were all ushered below deck to the dining room. At the same time, the engines came to life and the boat got under way along the Bosporus. This was bad! Why? Because we were below deck. The room was glassed in, but the light reflected off the windows, so whilst the glorious sight of the illuminated city walls, palaces and hotels glided past, we couldn’t see them. To make up for it, big TV screens were installed in the corners of the dining room transmitting the sights from outside, But, we hadn’t come on a Bosporus by Night trip to watch TV.

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The curious structure turned out to be a stage!

The less said about the dinner, the better. Starter was what they called ‘meze’, which turned out to be four  globs of unidentifiable mash and one stuffed wine leaf. The main course was a choice of chicken or fish. Apart from being boring, it was totally inedible because both were undercooked. Disgusted and not wanting to risk food poisoning,  we decided to skip ‘dinner.’ We returned to the deck to enjoy what we had come for: the sights!

The point of the evening where we either had to call the night an irrevocable travel nightmare, or do something about it was quickly approaching

Dinner over, the boat stopped and everybody returned to the deck, taking seats around a stage; turns out that’s what the curious structure was. ‘Turkish Night’ was about to begin. It started off with what was announced as ‘Dance of the Dwarfs.’ To this day I haven’t worked out what this spectacle has to do with Turkey. Two men, dressed as dwarves, hopping around, bumping into each other, kissing and just being plain silly.

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Mysterious dancing dwarves?

Next came the belly dancer, a lady who was rather on the mature side, to put it charitably. She did her thing with a frozen grin and bored expression plastered on her face. Then she went to sit on the laps of the men,  trying to get them to dance with her. Reluctantly several did as requested whilst others stuffed bills into her bra. Yawn!!

Another few dances followed, all uninspired and rather meaningless. And then, it was announced that it was disco time.

My friends and I were so bored at this point that we decided to take the entertainment into out own hands. Making use of the pole, we got up and embarked in a routine of inspired pole dancing.

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Taking control of the pole

The boat erupted! People clapped and cheered; if we had gone around with a hat, I’m sure we could have recovered the cost of our trip. It was fun; it was hilarious; and after that,  people took to the dance floor until the boat returned to dock at 10pm.

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And finally a decent meal

A bit out of breath, we disembarked having learned a lesson: there is a bright side to any bad tour as long as you know how to make the best of it. Of course, we were still hungry, so we went to a little restaurant right next door to our hotel and enjoyed the best kebab outside Bursa. In the end, the tour was a success thanks to our creative improvisations (and dancing skills.)

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4 thoughts on “How to Liven up a Bad Night Tour of Istanbul”

  1. I would love to travel with you — I’ve been with people who just can’t get the energy to make a “bad” situation fun. That’s the adventure of travel — bravo!

  2. oh wow – i’m glad we managed to avoid that bosphorus tour when we were in istanbul! i’m surprised they didn’t even showcase whirling dervishes……thank goodness they had you to entertain them! i agree with abby – you made a bad situation into a memorable one, which really is a key part of the adventure of travel.

  3. I just love the way you turned an awful tour into a fabulous night! You ladies certainly know how to party, even after enduring dancing dwarves and awful food. So glad you turned the night around!

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