The ABC’s of Turkey

My Aberdeen #expat blogging friend at Team Starnes recently did an ABC’s of Chamonix {find it here}. I thought it was a good idea and give big kudos to the fact that she did ABC’s of just one town. I am probably going to write a few posts about our trip to Turkey, but I wanted to start with a quick overview of the ABC’s of Turkey even though I know we only visited a small part of the country. So these ABC’s are based on Istanbul, Cappadocia, Pammukale, and Antalya….but not so specific that they wouldn’t apply {to some level} wherever you’re traveling in Turkey.

I’ve posted about my busy summer previously, so it might be a few weeks until I get all the Turkey posts out. But here’s what I’m planning:

Traveling Turkey: Tips and Lessons Learned

Must Try Turkish Delights

An American in a Turkish Bathhouse

But without further ado, let’s run down the ABC’s

Air Balloon Ride (of the hot variety) – You can’t be in Cappadocia and not do this. Yes, it’s a little pricey, but it is definitely the best way to see this unique landscape and quite simply, breath taking.IMG_2414 IMG_2459

Bazaars – Of course there’s the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar in Istanbul. The former…I didn’t know what to expect but it wasn’t what I walked into. Have a peek to say you did it, or don’t. It’s huge, full of knock off Chicago Bulls jerseys, and is kinda like an awful fleamarket you can get lost in. I like the Spice Bazaar better, although the spices are all for tourists, Turks only cook with about 5 spices: cumin, oregeno, thyme, pepperflakes, and mint. Is black pepper a spice? That would take it to 6. But all local markets across Turkey are called Bazaars and you can get fresh fruits, veggies, and cheeses. And they tend to let you sample a lot!IMG_2178 IMG_2529

Caves – Cappadocia probably has over a million caves {former houses and pigeon houses}. Go on a hike and explore the ones you can find {for free} or pay and go to an Open Air Museum where you can see ones that are deemed safe and have more artifacts in them. There are church caves and also pigeon houses- houses built into the rock {caves} for pigeons to sleep in {and poo} so that the local farmers clean out the houses once a year and use it for fertilizer. There are so many pigeon houses, so high up…you have to wonder how anyone thought of this and designed it.

Dust – Dust everywhere. My hair felt so odd the entire time. And don’t get be started on the dust boogies. If you leave something on a table and pick it up in an hour, there will be a layer of dust on it. They are adamant about hosing things down {or just pouring buckets of water on} and washing windows a couple times a day.

Evil Eye – AKA Nazar Boncugu. This is a big superstition in Turkey….the Evil Eye is EVERYWHERE. In every taxi and shuttle, hotel reception, it was even on our hotel keys. Every little shop {tourist or otherwise} will have Evil Eye varieties for sale. It is believed this eye will shield you from the negative energy that another person is sending your way {generally by glaring at you} and will redirect their bad juju to them. You especially want this attached to or in a situation where one might be envious or greedy of your good fortune. Can’t hurt right…IMG_2544A shop full of nazars or evil eye stones that are believed to protect against the evil eye in Istanbul, Turkey in Europe. Image shot 07/2009. Exact date unknown.









Food Tour – For some reason, I would have never thought to do this but saw on a blog I read that they did one. While I didn’t do the exact same tour, mine was amazing. There are two main companies in Istanbul: Culinary Backstreets or Istanbul on Food. We did the former. I highly recommend it if you have a big appetite and want to explore the restaurants off the beaten path, while learning a lot about local customs, traditions, and history. You eat a ton! But your guide is a local and you’re with them for 6 hours- you end up learning so much about the culture, politics, and even scams.

Guided Tours – No matter what you go to see {in regards to paying for a ticket} there will be people outside selling you “guided tours”. It seems a little shady and like you’re being had, but there are definite advantages. First, make sure your person has a lanyard. Second, make sure you care enough about what you’re seeing to get more information. But it seems in most attractions in Turkey there is no information to be read! It’s a system where they really want you to get the tour. You’ll walk through museums, churches, historic grounds without knowing anything since the info isn’t readily available. Third, a tour guide is a great way to move to the front of the line because they have ‘ins’ generally.

***There is also a lesson learned in the tour process that will come up in the tips & lessons post. to not disrupt flow of ABC’s.

Hamam – the traditional Turkish Bath. This has its own separate post coming. But when in Turkey…you must Turkish Bath. Hope your comfortable being naked while naked people rub you down….

Ice Cream – Obviously! It’s hot and I love ice cream. The ice cream here {called Dondurma} is really…thick and sticky I guess you’d say? They use something called salep to create this texture which makes it kind of impossible to melt. It’s hard to explain. You can cut it with a knife. The ice cream vendors do extra neat tricks with it so a little free amusement and it’s damn tasty.

Jam/Jelly – There are lovey jams and jellies across every breakfast spread in Turkey. Rose water, fig, cherry, apricot…..they are generally homemade wherever you are and are simply divine.

Kindness – The Turkish are very kind, helpful people. And I’m not just referring to the guys trying to sell you a rug {but man are they sweethearts!} Several times we were the only white/English speaking people in a situation {thanks to my refusal to get on group tours and find it all my own way} and everyone was so helpful- regardless of the language barrier. They made sure we got off the bus as the right stop, they’d help with directions, they’d take pictures, they would offer you the shirt on their backs just about….love the people here. And so many man buns…not that has to do with kindness, but I love me a man bun.

Langue Barrier/Lost in Translation – Turkish is not English. It is not close to English. At every hotel or attraction, there is a decent understanding of English…but it’s only 17% of the country that can speak it. Beyond that, Turkish is hard. I am foreign language impaired, but it took me 6 days to finally say “thank you” in Turkish and that was in large part due to the helpful break down of saying, “Tea, Sugar, e-drum” very quickly.

Mosques – There are over 82,000 mosques in Turkey! There is 1 hospital per 60,000 people in Turkey, but 1 mosque per 350 people. Of course you’ll see the Blue Mosque, but check out the New Mosque, Sultan Ahmed, Suleymaniye and Hagia Sophia {which was a Greek Orthodox Church, turned mosque, turned museum}. Women will have to wear scarves {they all have them available for your trip in or bring your own!} and possibly a robe or skirt as well depending on your outfit. I was wearing jeans that were apparently too tight so I got a skirt. Shoes are NOT permitted. The Blue Mosque will give you a plastic bag to carry your shoes in, but others will just have you leave your shoes outside. Be respectful. The amount I cringed at a man who carried his shoes in and then actually had the ignorance and lack of courtesy to set them on the floor. UGH.IMG_2285 (1)

Negotiate – Everything is negotiable. Rugs, nick-nacks, tour guides, rentals {bikes, scooters}, any shops along the road pretty much….

Overabundance of cats and dogs – From now on I’ll bring a pop-up water bowl in my purse on my travels. Finding discarded cups in a dumpster and/or trying to ask for a cup in Turkish proved difficult. 3+ times I was brought to tears over the conditions of these dogs on the streets. At one point I was trying to communicate on the phone with 3 different Turkish vets and researching if I could bring a pup into the UK {the long answer is absolutely not.} And on our bus ride to Antalya our driver almost hit a dog….I can only imagine the black hole I would have spent the final days of our holiday in if that happened. These dogs are all thirsty and dehydrated and skinny. So skinny. But they only eat meat. I tried popcorn, bread, Luna bars, and ice cream….and had to resort to buying chicken kebabs because they wouldn’t touch the carbs. I’ll be bringing pupperoni on my next trip to try that in Lisbon in case they have the same issue. I wasn’t concerned about the cats…they are more resourceful. But be warned: every restaurant you go to will have several cats purring around your ankles while you eat. Some of them get cheekier than the ankles….IMG_2499 IMG_2515

I wanted to take him home so badly....

I wanted to take him home so badly….

IMG_2640 IMG_2266

Public Transit – Trust me, its way easier than trying to drive here. I would be terrified to get behind the wheel here and my driving is comparable to a cabbie in Chicago. In Istanbul you have trams, tunnels, and busses…and across the rest of the country the bus system is pretty fantastic. On longer voyages you get tea, coffee, and snacks for free. I provide some tips on public transit on my lessons learned post.

Quad ride – We rented quad bikes {or four-wheelers} {after shopping around and negotiating of course} for 2 hours with a “guide” who didn’t speak any English but took you on a big tour of the valleys in Cappadocia, had you stop for pictures, and made sure you didn’t die…kinda. It was so much fun! I know a lot of coastal towns do this as well and I really recommend it.IMG_2334

Rugs – Dudes are trying to get you to buy rugs on every block. I really don’t understand their success rate. Anyway. Embrace it and follow them into their rug shop at least once. If you’re strong minded, take em up on their offer of Turkish Tea and snacks, or even dinner. Either way, you should play the game at least once. It’s fun.

Sunscreen – bring it! You’ll need it. Apply frequently. Make sure it’s not expired. 5 days out and I can still barely sit….

Turkish Tea – It doesn’t matter how hot it is, everyone will be drinking piping hot tea all day long. This is how they hydrate. The tea is made from 2 pots, one with the tealeaves in it extra concentrated and then mixing that {or diluting it} with boiling water. The ideal color is “Rabbit Blood.” Shops everywhere will pay the tea shops to come and deliver fresh tea using a plastic chip system to keep track of what they owe daily. You’ll see these tea merchants with trays either on their heads or hanging from a chain on their arm. Every store merchant will offer you tea, just trying to get you to stay in the store a little longer. It’s always served in a little glass with some loose tea leaves on the bottom. Their tourist version is Apple Tea. It is sweet and delish but that’s not Turkish Tea and you look like a tourist schmuck if you take that.

Tea up top, water on the bottom.

Tea up top, water on the bottom.

Underground – Where you’ll find some of the coolest {literally and figuratively} things in Turkey. In Istanbul there is the Basilica Cistern and in Cappadocia the underground city of Kaymakli {the only place I got a guided tour.} My favorite historical things in this country were these 2 underground features.IMG_2323 IMG_2245

Visas – You need visas to come to Turkey, but they are super easy to get online and not very expensive and you can get them pretty much the night before.

Whirling Dervishes – we did this in Cappadocia and it was definitely worthwhile to see the age old tradition. I’m not sure how these guys don’t puke all over…..IMG_2377

eXtremely different standards – as in safety and sanitation. No one wears seatbelts {cars have fake buckles plugged in to prevent the car from beeping, people cross the road whenever they want {and children and panhandling in the middle of highways}, dogs and cats are everywhere, we rode mini busses that kept the door open while driving, no one wears gloves, it’s a little dirty….it’s just…different. That being said, we didn’t get sick and lived, no, we thrived!

Bus/van ride with the door open.

Bus/van ride with the door open.

Yowza – Total cop out. But Yowza, Turkey is beautiful and has something for everyone….whatever type of Holiday you’re looking to take, whatever you’re into.  History, Ruins, Food, Religion, Beaches, Adventure…. Turkey has it all.  IMG_2556 IMG_2627 IMG_2501 IMG_2308

Zzzzzz – If you can, make sure you schedule the end of your trip at a nice resort on the coast. Our last 3 days we spent in Antalya with 0 plans {except get horrifically burnt}. There is just so much to see and do in Istanbul, Cappadocia, Pamukkale… you’re not going to get much sleep because you’ll want to utilize every minute of the day.




So what did you think of the ABCs? If you couldn’t tell, I really loved our trip to Turkey….and if you’re considering going, I highly encourage it. I was actually pleasantly surprised at the amount of Americans we encountered on our trip due to the fact that a lot of people are considering Turkey unsafe. Just don’t go by Syria…okay? There is ISIS running about Turkey trying to capture Americans, bring them back to Syria and behead them {at this time}. Chill out….it’s a wonderful country.


  1. Sandra Glatthorn

    Oh,to be young again. Your quest for adventure, beauty,knowledge,culture, and fun shines through from A to Z. Beautiful pictures…well done!

  2. Deserae

    I love architecture, so I’ve wanted to see Hagia Sophia and some of the other mosques in Instanbul for a long time, but I did not really know much about Turkey and this post really really makes me want to visit. I’m looking forward to your next posts about Turkey.

    1. Lauren (Post author)

      Glad you found the posts! Turkey is really fantastic and I recommend it to anyone- especially exploring outside of Istanbul- though that city is so big and unique, you could spend weeks there! Personally I think I would max out at about 5 days for a vacation- we ended up there 4 days and that was perfect.

  3. Pingback: 10 Tips for Traveling Turkey | From Hot Dogs to Haggis

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