A few weeks ago I was over in Istanbul to meet up with Leigh. It was a good weekend: Istanbul is vibrant (yes, I used the term ‘vibrant’; this is what estate agents write when they mean ‘louder than you might think’), intriguing and infuriating all at the same time. And also there was a lot of Efes involved. A lot.

The flight over was uneventful enough, although the process of getting from the plane to Taksim Square had a goodly smattering of unnecessary aggravation. You queue for a £10 entry visa (no, you may not obtain one online — you’ll bloody well wait in line with the other 199 passengers who have also just disembarked); subsequently you are directed in an officious and patronising tone to the distant passport control, and once there you choose an arbitrary queue. The other queues are of course much faster than your own, due to the glacial pace with which this particular border guard processes each passenger, and which could charitably be ascribed to an unprecedented attention to detail but is more likely a consequence of his inability to read without moving his lips. The growing agitation of the others in your queue, involving much muttering and exaggerated displays of watch-checking, is studiously ignored by the surprisingly large number of uniformed airport staff just…hanging around in the midst of this bureaucratic clusterfuck. Someone in uniform eventually hangs up their mobile phone to open another queue, things speed up marginally and you find yourself in the concourse.

I found the appropriate stance for the Havaş bus to the city just beyond the taxi rank; of course, when the bus arrived it stopped at a different stance. A gaggle of men in bus company uniforms waved us over to the new one in an officious and patronising manner. I paid the (very reasonable) 10,00 TL fare, settled back into my seat and watched the barely-ordered chaos of Istanbul slide past on the way to Taksim Square. Scooter drivers plunged bare-headed into full lanes of traffic, and the side of the road — bus stops, slip roads and the hard shoulder included — was littered with awkwardly parked or just plain abandoned cars.

Leigh picked me up at Taksim square and after leaving my bag at the research centre we went for pizza and Efes at Urban, a neat little bar in the mould of a traditional Parisian streetside café, in an alley just off the bustling Istiklal Caddesi. After that it was back to the centre for a party in honour of one of the fellows’ newly-awarded PhD, whereupon I quaffed bottle after 66cl bottle of Efes with gay abandon. The fun we had!

* * *

The next morning was not so gay. I don’t really want to talk about the next morning at all, if that’s okay with you.

On Saturday afternoon we went out for a potter around Beyoğlu (no, me neither; turns out you just drop the ‘ğ’) and Eminönü, walking south-west to the end of Istiklal and following the narrow, precarious streets to down the Galata Bridge. It was a damp and drizzly day, with a thin layer of gray mud coating the uneven pavement and making my singularly ill-chosen shoes slippery and untrustworthy. We crossed the bridge and wandered around the spice bazaar then headed home, defeated by partly by the persistent cold and partly by my still-apocalyptic hangover.

The evening was far more successful: we ate a hearty, restorative meal at a curious little restaurant called Fıccın (after a traditional pastry dish), where the restaurant comprised three separate dining rooms all served by a single kitchen and all sited on one alley off Istiklal. After that we crossed Istiklal to a crammed little bar on the 2nd floor of a tenement-style building, resembling for all the world a residential flat with all the internal walls knocked out, where the rest of the fellows had reserved a table to watch some traditional Greek and Turkish music. (I’m aware it may be cultural heresy to conflate the two, but I stand by it. Come at me — I’m ready.) Cigarettes were smoked furtively inside if the creaking, minuscule smoking balcony happened to be full, waitresses threaded their way through the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd with surprising sanguinity, and the table was covered with bottles of Efes and glasses of milky, diluted rakı.

It was loud and friendly, and even I ‘danced’ at the end of the night. I think Leigh still likes me.

* * *

On Sunday we took the tram to Sultanahmet to see the Basilica Cistern. The cistern is an underground reservoir left over from Byzantine times, with the roof supported by row upon row of columns. It’s an atmospheric place, cannily lit and well-presented, and we had an enjoyable stroll round wherein I asked stupid questions about the Romans and Leigh graciously pretended to ignore my utter lack of historical knowledge.

That evening we ate with the other fellows in the research centre canteen and went out to a rooftop bar called Peyote for a mercifully restrained night of chat and a few beers.

Istanbul is, again, an intriguing and exhausting place: it has an overwhelmingly young population who party continuously in refined cafés and need-to-know bars. Hundreds of years of historical tumult are evident wherever you look. It is — and has been — the perfect setting for a spy thriller. In short, it’s cooler than you are, but hey, that’s okay — have another Efes and don’t worry about it.