Published: July 15th 2012July 4th 2012
Turkey was a fantastic travel destination for us both, and I loved the experiences and adventures we shared. When I reflect on those experiences, there are a few things that immediately come to mind. Turkish People
The Turkish people were so incredibly friendly. In many countries (especially in rural areas), tourism provides a source of income to people who otherwise would have no real means of independence. However, when unchecked tourism spreads, operators are often forced to become more and more competitive, and this inevitably leads to the desperate selling of wares and services. We were once followed by a woman in Vietnam for more than four hours as she tried to sell us handmade wooden flutes that we simply didn’t want. We were certainly touted in Turkey, but the operators were jovial and rarely pushed any hard-sell routines.
Turkish women were particularly interested in us. For the first time in our travels, we experienced an explicit interest in our mixed race relationship. We were travelling with Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians and Americans, and yet we were regularly mistaken as being French – we would often be greeted with bonjour
while others would be greeted with a
. Neither of us spoke French, so we began to assume Turkish people regard the French as most likely to be involved in mixed race relations. Some Turkish women asked (through a translator) how we met and where we were from, and as our response was being translated, they stared at us smiling and simply shook their heads. It may have been a naive observation on my part, but I didn’t interpret their smiling faces and shaking heads as a sign of disapproval – I think it was more disbelief. Islam and Inclusivity
I was continually struck by the inclusivity of Mevlana Rumi’s teachings and aphorisms as I travelled through Turkey. Our Turkish guide read the following text as we stood on the streets of Konya at dusk, and it was one of the most poignant moments of my travels in this fascinating country: Come, come again, whoever you are, come!
Heathen, fire worshipper or idolatrous, come!
Come even if you broke your penitence a hundred times,
Ours is the portal of hope, come as you are. Turkish Soap Operas
I can’t watch Australian soaps because of the appalling acting and script writing, yet I was
fascinated by the appalling acting and script writing that prevails in Turkish soaps. We didn’t watch television in our hotel rooms, but I was glued to the screen when Turkish soaps were broadcast during bus trips. Turkish people use their eyebrows as a means of expression, and there’s plenty of eyebrow action in Turkish soap operas! I think I was drawn to these woeful melodramas because I couldn’t understand the language but I could easily follow the story. Turkish Food
The Turkish food we shared was sensational. I particularly enjoyed the ubiquitous nature of yoghurt and cay
(Turkish tea) – they had a place in every meal. We started each day with yoghurt and fresh bread, I drank ayran
(yoghurt drink) throughout the day and we dined on yogurt-based appetizers (meze) at the end of every day. Highlights included ayran
soup with rice and spices (Goreme), buffalo yoghurt on kebaps (Istanbul) and watercress and yoghurt salad (Istanbul). Cay
was also an important part of our travels in Turkey. We drank it of a morning, at every opportunity during the day and at the end of every meal. The tulip shaped cay
glass could almost be considered a national icon,
and it certainly made the act of drinking cay
even more enjoyable. Turkish Music
There is a seductive element to the music of Turkey. The country’s traditional music is very emotive, and I was particularly drawn to the sound of a sez
being played alone. However, the musical highlight of my travels was the Whirling Dervish performance in Bursa. The music itself was powerful and mesmerising, and the musicians (ney, drums and vocals) were incredible.
Turkey’s traditional music may well be enticing, but the country’s popular music is anything but. Our only experience of Turkish pop music was on bus trips (where we also watched Turkish soap operas), and it seemed to be caught in the 80’s and 90’s (a mismatch of Guns N Roses meets Michael Bolton). It was pretty ordinary, but I suppose popular music at the global level suffers a similar fate. Turkish Children and Education
The duration of compulsory education in Turkey is currently eight years. It applies to all children aged 6 to 14, and there is a long term plan to increase it to 12 years. However, we were continually struck by the number of school-age children working in
retail, tourism and hospitality. While we were in Goreme, we watched a young boy working in a night club. He was sitting at a table with a huge pile of cutlery and serviettes. He placed a knife, fork and spoon into each serviette and then folded it in preparation for the evening meals. At one stage he nonchalantly picked his nose, wiped the contents onto one of the serviettes, placed the cutlery on top and folded it... Ren vowed to never use cutlery in a nightclub again! Border Tensions
As we arrived in Kas we heard news that Syria had shot down a Turkish fighter jet somewhere near the Syrian / Turkish border. The story dominated Turkish news, and we followed it as best we could via email-based news feeds from home. While it had little impact on our travels, it had a significant impact on the lives of young Turkish men, all of whom must undertake compulsory military service. Our tour guide was due to undertake five months military service (which had been reduced from 15 months based on his educational attainments). He certainly wasn’t looking forward to it, and I can’t imagine how the prospect of war
with Syria played in his thoughts. We met another guide in Istanbul who had only just finished his military service, and he’d hated every second. It was difficult to smile as he joked about his two older brothers being better soldiers and therefore more likely to be called up if war broke out... SHE SAID...
We are back in wintery Tasmania. I know it’s a bit cheesy, but throughout our trip in Turkey I kept making ridiculous turkey (as in the bird) analogies in my head, so I’m going to write this post along those lines. Tasty Turkey!
I’m already beginning to miss the food... the freshest of fresh bread; luscious fresh fruit juices; the smell of delicious lamb kebaps on every street corner; the comfort food that is a good lentil soup; piles of translucent gooey Turkish Delight; the crumbly kadayif
and sinful baklava that tempted me at the end of every meal. But the thing I miss most is the ubiquitous ceremony of taking cay
(Turkish tea) from tulip shaped glasses. Stuffed Turkey!
Even though it felt like we walked our feet off, I’ve still managed to come home with some excess baggage
under my belt – which isn’t surprising as I ate my weight in kebaps and baklava for a month. Did someone say ‘bread and water diet’? Slice of Turkey!
When we delved a bit deeper than the superficial tourist level of shopping and eating at restaurants, we found the Turkish people to be really really welcoming, friendly and hospitable. However, it wasn’t until we engaged with them in everyday terms, like at a meal at their house, that we saw this side to their culture. Tom Turkey!
Even after a month in Turkey, I couldn’t get used to the fact that there were so few women in the service industries. This was also reflected out in public, where there seemed to be a much higher proportion of males to females going about their daily life – shopping, socialising or walking to work. Old Turkey!
I didn’t get around to asking why older Turkish people never smiled for the camera, even after giving consent to their picture being taken. They’d smile and nod a ‘yes’ to the photo being taken, then put on a stern expression when I pointed the camera at them. After the photo, they’d smile
broadly and nod again when I showed them the digital image. Flying Turkey!
Insistent carpet salesmen in Istanbul could sell ice to the Eskimos and flying carpets to gullible tourists. It initially seems like an intrusive culture of sales, but you learn the art of side-stepping and avoiding eye contact very quickly. And we also quickly realised that it was concentrated in the most touristy parts – one more reason to avoid those! It was never overly pushy or rude; they were merely trying to make a living. Soggy Turkey
One thing I won’t miss about Turkey is the very popular all-in-one wet bathroom. I know space can be an issue, but for pete’s sake, how hard is it to have a shower screen? Moist toilet paper=disgusting. Roast Turkey!
Weather wise, this trip over the month of June was comfortable but hot. There were certain places that were uncomfortably hot by the end of the month. I would say a trip in May would be near perfect for the areas we travelled to. Big Turkey!
It’s a big country and I think we may have underestimated travel distances a bit. We crammed a lot of travel
and many experiences into three weeks, but it probably would have been more suited to a four week trip. Or possibly five weeks if you wanted to see more of eastern Turkey too. Wild Turkey!
The one regret I have about this trip is that we didn’t feel safe enough to travel to eastern Turkey. Of all the regional Turkish food I’ve had, the southern eastern Anatolian (Kurdish) meals were the yummiest. Talking Turkey!
We had a very busy few weeks before we left for our holiday and didn’t get around to buying a Turkish phrasebook. However, we found that apart from older people in rural areas, English is spoken – or at least understood – quite widely. And never underestimate the power of saying merhaba
(hello) with a smile. Creature Turkey!
A word of advice if you like animals... the Turkish cats and dogs are gorgeous. I loved being in a country that for the most part loves and cares for its animals. Most of the street dogs had been vaccinated and de-sexed by the local councils; however, the cat population was unchecked and sometimes not very healthy. I have always said that you can tell
a lot about a society by the way they treat their animals, and this was very noticeable in Turkey – the friendly cities and towns had happy street animals lazing in the sun; but in the few places (like Konya) where the people weren’t so friendly, we only saw mangy and nervous cats. Cold Turkey!
I’ve always found that the better the trip, the harder it is to get back into normal routines at home, and the longer the post holiday blues seem to last. But we’re dealing with this by already planning our next trip!
In short, we adored Turkey. And here’s everything quintessentially Turkish that I loved - breakfasting on bread with olives and boiled eggs; sipping black Turkish tea at every opportunity; getting sugar highs from syrupy baklava desserts; sharing delicious home cooked dinners with local families; snacking on Turkish Delight; sipping on cold fresh orange juice in the heat of the afternoon; walking through boisterous bazaars; meandering through small Turkish villages; checking out as many architectural and cultural sites as we could fit into three weeks; and last but not least, getting scrubbed like a baby at bath time at a hamam
! A big
big big happy sigh.
And that as they say, is that. I’m signing off to get some sleep and dream of delicious Turkish food, beautiful Turkish scenery, and exotic Turkish tales. Andrew is downstairs tuning his oud – I’ll let you how ‘Istanbul Blues’ comes along.
Hoscakal people, and may the sun shine warmly on your travels! Flying ships on this trip... Qantas Airways (Hobart-Sydney-Singapore-London)
; British Airways (London-Istanbul-London)
Qantas Airways (London-Melbourne-Hobart).