We were escorted by three waiters down a dark, airless corridor, the smell of cigarette smoke clinging to the air. In disbelief 'Welcome to Istanbul' I thought to myself. Only five hours in Turkey and I was in trouble. The office at the end of the corridor was filled with the smell of beer, sweat and smoke so thick that I waved my hands in front of my face to clear the foul air so I could see across the room and guide myself over to one of the available chairs in the office. I found myself seated across from an opposing looking man behind a desk covered in a mountain of papers, ashtrays and packets of turkish cigarettes. It wasn't until I sat down that I noticed the doorman had joined us, his breath so foul I could smell every exhalation ten feet away. He was a tall, thick set man in his mid thirties in a long black leather coat, his jaw line was strong, features large, with eyes menacing and dark as coal. I felt a chill down my spine when he took a gun from his coat pocket and placed it on the desk. At this point I looked at my friend who I held responsible for the entire situation “I knew it, I knew it” was all I said.
The flight was uneventful and I was pleased to meet my friend Richard in the arrivals lounge. I was excited to be in Asia for the first time, I had heard so much about the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace. A hair raising burst of adrenalin in a speeding taxi and we arrived at our location, a two bedroomed apartment on Yolcuzade Iskender Cadasi near the Galata tower, which is where our problems began.
We decided to explore the local area and find a place to eat and drink and heading up the hill we met Abbas at the Galata tower 'I will take you to a place to eat and drink,' he enthused a little to excited for my liking. I immediately felt concerned and wanted to walk away, but Richard insisted that we hire him as a tour guide. Bar hopping commenced a long side streets off of the Taksim square end of Istikal Caddesi and as the Efes pilsner effects began to take hold my initial concerns about Abbas the shoe maker began to dwindle as I was focused on my surroundings and intrigued with the atmosphere in the birakhanesi that we visited.
Later that night we entered another bar a long a badly lit side street with a bouncer outside and a thick red curtain between us and the inside. I looked up to see the name of the establishment, but there was no sign above the door. Within seconds of us seating two Russian girls came over and asked if they could join us and sat down. The five of us talked, laughed and drank for about an hour, then Richard decided that he wanted to look for a place to eat. The bill was presented, the equivalent of £2000 British pounds. Richard wasn't fond of spending money and his face went red with outrage “I'm an American citizen and I’m not paying this.” A twinge of embarrassment later and we were rounded up and escorted from the bar and down the corridor.
The club owner, bouncer and Abbas spoke amongst themselves, but it soon became obvious that Abbas was involved in the scam. Richard was not going to hand over money without a fuss, but went quiet when the gun was placed on the desk. I handed over £400 and Richard was taken to a cash point to withdraw money on three different credit cards, while I waited in the office.
On the way out of the club I noticed the two Russian girls seated with a couple of back packers who were no doubt in for an expensive round.
It was like a slap in the face the next morning when I read warnings in the practical advice section of the guidebook, it was a word for word account of what happened to us. My advice read the guidebook thoroughly, it's written for a reason.