Smoking like a Turk

Whatever your destination is, when you travel you need to experience the place, not just visit it. After a couple of days in Istanbul I realised the best way to experience the beautiful city was to smoke a nargileh, water-cooled tobacco pipes, best if done with locals.

The city centre is studded with clubs providing nargileh smokes at reasonable prices. Well, considering they are almost exclusively hit by tourists, the usual 10 Liras charged for smoking a big one is a reasonable price. If you are as lucky as my friends and I were, you'll even catch the perfect place, where not only you will have the opportunity for a good smoke, but also the friendly, practical assistence of the club's owner.

After an exhausting day spent in the huge Topkapi Palace in the morning and at the Spice Bazaar in the afternoon, we thought the best way to lower our adrenaline levels was to smoke one of those scented nargileh we had seen all over the city.

As unexperienced as we were, we got lucky enough to find a host who wasn't waiting anything but some company to puff away his huge nargileh with. He chose for us apple-flavoured tobacco, and I have to say, it was a pleasantly sound choice.

A strong Turkish tea, despite the late hour, sipped from their typical small glasses, perfectly matched the nargileh, and when the bloke challenged me at their domino-like national table game, I felt like I got the true feel of the European-Asian country. After the game (which I lost) I still had no idea what the rules were, and I don't know whether to blame the smoke or our host's explanation in Turkish mixed with some English.

The solemn preparation was already worth a mention: after carefully filling the bottom glass bottle with water and the top with tobacco, it was time to fire it up with small incandescent coal pieces. Colourful, detachable mouthpieces were ready: our smoking session was about to begin.

That odd club, completely open-air (I doubt there was an indoor space, as also cash-till and fridge were outside), consisted in three ensembles of table and sofas, and customers' groups followed one another, enjoying the simple service and the tranquil spot beside Topkapi Palace majesty.

When our apparently harmless smoke was at the end, we stood up from the comfortable sofas and, among laughters and growing tiredness, we walked towards our hotel, with all the dignity we managed to muster.

With typical Turkish serenity and a sense of inner peace, we reluctantly realised that the next day we were to fly back to London.


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