A few weeks couple of months back I was in Istanbul, probably for the last time this year. Leigh is safely back in Edinburgh, and this was a final visit before her fellowship ended. I was there to function as Leigh’s arm candy at the end of term party (where’s that irony mark when you need it?), and other than the party we had a couple of days to ourselves to wander around and drink tea like it was going out of fashion.

On the first day we crossed Istiklal and stole through the precinct of a Greek Orthdox church (it was open to the public, but I still felt like we were trespassing) to a little café in an alley shaded by awnings and lined with low tables and stools. We ate tost (‘toast’, or Turkish panini type things) and drank little glasses of tea. After a walk along Istiklal and down to the Galata Bridge we turned left along the waterfront and after an hour or so of leisurely pottering we came to a dusty promenade overlooking the Bosphorus.

The waterfront was pedestrianised, ratty and buzzing with life. We sat at plastic garden chairs belonging to a café run from a rusting metal shack and ordered more tea; as we drank, we watched fishermen casting their lines into the Bosphorus and donating small fry to patient stray cats; we watched ferries, cargo ships and dinghies plying the river, and we raised our eyebrows at the cars, scooters and vans which brazenly ignored the whole “foot traffic only” thing. The people watching was peerless too: weather-worn old gents shuffled by in their worldwide uniform of shabby, slightly-too-large blazer and drab trousers; gypysies wrapped themselves in layer upon layer of clothing and headscarves even in the 30-degree heat, and the young Turks who passed by were almost all dolled up to the nines.

We talked about this for a bit, and I finally realised what it was about Istanbul that I’d been trying to articulate for my last few visits — it’s this striking gulf between the level of personal and social wealth which had been perplexing me. The fabric of the city is noticeably less well kempt than the threads of the young people who promenaded along the waterfront: paving slabs are broken or missing, the roads are a patchwork of potholes and botched pothole repairs (okay, so not so different from Edinburgh), and most obviously of all, town planning is utterly absent. Sure, certain individual buildings are terribly ostentatious and well-finished, but they’ll be in an unsuitable location and within a few years they’ll be left to fall into steady disrepair like all the others. It feels as if nothing is ever maintained much beyond its construction, and the approach seems to be that it’s far easier just to tear something down and build a shiny new replacement for it. Rinse and repeat.

We talked about this for a while longer then headed back to the research centre for the night’s party. I dressed up as much as I could (that is to say a short-sleeved shirt, a pair of jeans and grubby Vans), discovered that it was rather more of a suit-and-tie/cocktail dress affair, as I was in possession of neither a suit nor a cocktail dress I spent the rest of the evening apologising to people for my attire and getting drunk to mitigate my embarrassment. Leigh made me dance at the end of the night. I think she still likes me.

The next day we did almost nothing until it was time for dinner, where upon we visited a series of cool, elegant bars set in high-rise tower blocks and sultry courtyards, each of which was inhabited by singularly blinged-up punters, and each of which was cursed by singularly awful toilets. The real Istanbul is never very far away.