Posts filed under 'turkey'

10 Tips for Traveling Turkey

I promised a post on tips and lessons learning on traveling in Turkey because there are a few things I thought you should know that didn’t exactly fit into the ABC’s or the deep, deep look inside a Hamam. Though you should read both if you’re vacation planning. Some of these I learned before I went {as I had been warned in advance} and others were learned from experience.

 

  1. The infamous rug guy. If you really do not want to be led into a rug shop (I did for the full Turkish experience), don’t talk to anyone. Okay, not really. But if you are standing outside a Mosque or tourist destination and a Turkish man with great English starts offering you up historical information, telling you he’s, “not an official guide” – he is rug shop man and he’s going to try and lead you back to his shop. You don’t need to be fearful, but I assume you don’t have time to go and see every rug shop in the land.card4_1
  2. When in a shop, whether that be a rug shop or just a stall at a bazaar, the merchants will try and get you to sit down. They could be packaging up what you do intend to buy, but they still want you to sit down so they can offer you tea and show you EVERYTHING else they think you might, maybe, possibly like and buy. It gets rather annoying.
  3. Cover up.  Have some respect, this is a conservative culture. Unless you’re at a beach town/resort {even then I wouldn’t walk about the lobby in your bathing suit} you shouldn’t be showing much skin.  You’ll make every uncomfortable and most likely, you’re going to feel damn uncomfortable.
  4. In touristy areas, the waiters will place a bunch of meze on the table. If you do not want to pay for the meze, do not touch it. These aren’t free like bread in America- they’ll charge you for it.
  5. Booze is pretty expensive in Turkey. Turkish wine is not expensive and not too bad. Drink the wine.
  6. If flying into Istanbul either as your general arrival in Turkey or to do domestic Turkish flights, there are two airports. Ataturk and Sabiha Gocken. NEVER FLY IN OR OUT OF SABIHA GOCKEN. Only us Ataturk. You’ve been warned.
  7. If going to Pamukkale to see the natural hot springs and UNESCO World Heritage site…well I’d say don’t go. If you do go, expect to be majorly disappointed as they’ve closed down 90% of the springs and now manually control which ones they have open. Not so natural. And while Cleopatra’s pool was cool…it also has algae and old gross dudes in Speedos floating all around it. You can skip this.
    If you're expecting this, you're in for some heartbreak.

    If you’re expecting this, you’re in for some heartbreak.

    This is what you get.  Dingy brown and and not full springs.  Wah.

    This is what you get. Dingy brown and and not full springs. Wah.

  8. Turkish Toilets. They are the euro toilet 99% of the time. That being said, I always got a real toilet. If you are in a restaurant they have real toilets. And if you pay to use a bathroom, I always found one {or two} real toilets at the very end. Test every stall door. Most are euro but you have a chance. If there’s a public restroom that you don’t have to pay for, they probably won’t have an actual toilet and just the porcelain hole in the ground. And places like gas stations, be ready with 1 TL because you’ll have to pay to use the restroom.url
  9. Using Public Transit. Get a card from a machine {avoid guys pressuring you to just give them cash and they’ll swipe through}. It costs maybe 1 TL for the card but it’s refillable and you only need one because you can pass back. But here’s the thing- you must have cash for the machines to top up your card. Not even 1 or 2 TL coins, cash only. If you end up having one person go through and not enough for the second person, we found random people are always being super nice and will swipe their card to get you through. Told ya, the Turks are best.
  10. Guided Tours: as I mentioned outside every attraction are dudes offering guided tours. They are legit and if you want to really know the history of the place you’re seeing, it’s totally worth it. Or if you want to skip a line. But be skeptical or as clear as humanly possible when negotiating these tours. Here’s what happened to me: We only got a tour for Kaymakli {underground city in Cappadocia} and it was actually really nice. But we had agreed to a tour at the Hagia Sophia when we were standing in an endless line realizing we wouldn’t be able to go in because we had a flight to catch. A man approached and said {rough translation}, “oh, come take a tour, it’s cheaper than you’d pay for the ticket.” I asked how much his tour cost, he said 25TL a person…and I said, “oh, how much is the ticket?” and he said it was 30TL, “See it’s cheaper than you’d pay for the ticket even and you get to pass the line.”   So I’m trying not to get scammed and say, “Okay so for the two of us, 50TL, and that’s everything- that’s the ticket as well.” He says yes, yes. We cut the line; he goes up and gets our tickets. I am assuming he has some special deal where he pays 5TL for tickets at wholesale or something like that {I am pretty sure Rome was like this in that paying for a tour at the Coliseum that gave you entrance inside was cheaper than tickets alone and you got to cut the line.) He is saying to us as we’re walking up, “Oh yes, you walk through and I will meet you on the other side” of the turnstile. An American behind us mutters, “Oh yeah, I’m sure he’ll meet you there. They all will meet you there.” But in my head I think- I don’t care if he doesn’t meet us on the other side, I just needed to skip that line. Well he hands us our tickets and he asks to be paid, and I give him 50TL. He says he also needs 60TL for the tickets. I’m like, “What? No. You said 50TL total.” He then becomes irate and I give him another 10 {to make it 60 TL} to pay for the tickets and apologize for the miscommunication. He gives us the tickets all the while saying I tricked him, he should make me go all the way to the back of the line, and what a clever girl I must think I am using him. I did feel awful, but it was just a miscommunication {or the fact that he was trying to pull one over on me}! Regardless, we got through that line so I’m going to count it as a win. But be ready for that.

An American in a Turkish Bath

Maybe I should have done a little more research on Turkish Baths before I booked our appointments. I thought I kinda understood what I was doing {some type of spa thing} but I guess I didn’t fully comprehend. I mean, do you know what a Turkish Bath really is? I guess I didn’t grow up in a way where I would know such a thing. I mean, I read this article here but I guess I still didn’t fully comprehend. Like why on earth would it be normal to sit around 99% naked while some other naked woman rubs you? Even as we were walking up to the Hamam and there were pictures of ladies in towels pouring bowls of water over each other and E asks, “So you’re gonna be doing that?” and I replied, “No, I mean…that’s how they did it in the old days…” Like I had a freaking clue.

Let me start by saying I am NOT a naked person. But I’m not a prude…or never really thought I was before. I’m pretty much the most open and foul mouthed and ridiculously candid of all my friends. Nothing’s off limits in conversation. But I am pretty much as far as you can get from being a naked person…In fact, the whole time I sat naked on cool white marble trying to grip with my toes from sliding off and having any of the bits still kept to myself be exposed to the world, being rubbed down by a strange naked women, I thought, “Oh, if my Fairy God Mother could see me now…” My anti-nudity has been a topic in many sessions with my FGM (or shrink as most people call it) and while we can’t really pinpoint an exact start of my aversion to nudity… I have extreme levels of body shame and regardless of the company, don’t want to be naked. In my defense, most of my friends aren’t really naked people either {perhaps more comfortable than me but we were never run around naked girls} and my friends who are more keen to disrobe are generally from different cultural backgrounds. I digress…the point is, this was the most uncomfortable I had been in my life.

Thank God we went to one of the oldest, nicest, highest ranked hamams in Turkey. Had it been even slightly skeezy I probably would have ran out. E and I entered {of course I made E an appointment. We both needed to experience all that was Turkey} at separate doors on opposite ends of the building. We wouldn’t see each other until we met outside after. I have read that some hamams don’t separate males and females and looking back, there is no way in hell I would have survived if men were around. I have also read that sometime a woman would have a man do the treatment. That would not have been kosher either. Especially as I recently realized I like massages better when a female is my masseuse and have sworn off ever having a man do one again. That nagging concern my bits are out….

Anyway. Right when I walked in I was confused. There room was circular with a very high ceiling in the middle, a pond, lounging cushions/benches set around the perimeter. Also around the perimeter, going up 3 or 4 floors there was wooden doors and little cubbies of rooms. Women in scant purple towels coming in and out of them. Truth be told, I saw one woman bustling in and out in her barely there towel and I just assumed she was an overly confident tourist wanting attention. {I later learned she was one of the employees, my bad.} Finally my eyes located the reception desk, I went and checked in, was shown to a locker and given a disposable thong, flip flops, and scant purple towel {SPT here forward} of my own and told to change. Once changed I walked back into the lounge area, when a buxom Turkish women in her own SPT came out and introduced herself and led me behind a closed door where women sat in the paper thongs on slabs of marbles, getting scrubbed down by hand by other women on their knees or bent over in front of them. Faucets with large marble bowels came out from the wall in rows. And I just kinda stood there in disbelief and in minor mental break down. WTF was this?!ayasofya-hurrem-sultan

I was led to the bathroom to wee and when I came out, led to another room while my woman {let’s call her Sarah because I couldn’t pronounce her name if I tried} motioned to me to go through the door into another great room where she motioned {more or less} for me to wait and then left. This room has a large, maybe octagonal slab of marble in the middle, with little inlets and rooms off the sides. There were naked women being rubbed and covered with bubbles all over the place and I just froze. Another woman shouted something in Turkish to me and motioned over towards one of the inlets. I shuffled over there trying not to fall on my ass on the wet, soapy floor. I took the step up and stood in the little inlet. I stood there for about 2 minutes not knowing where to look. The previous yelling woman yelled something else and motioned for me to sit. I was confused. If I sit, I’ll get my scant purple towel SPT wet. Because EVERYTHING and EVERYWHERE is wet. Am I supposed to take it off? I’m not sitting here on a slab of marble by myself in this thong…. so I sat down still wrapped in my SPT. And waited. And waited. I tried to get comfortable but you can’t really lean back without sliding off the little raised bit of marble and onto your ass. And I didn’t know where to look. It appears Turkish woman are much better endowed in the bosom department. And there’s nothing to hold on to. Nakey women surrounded me and I was uncomfortable mentally and physically. It had seemed like 30 minutes and I was beginning to think I was being tested. I saw women lying on their backs covered with mounds (and I mean at least a foot high) of thick, soapy bubbles being rubbed down and I actually calmed down a bit. I thought great, this is that nicer package I signed up for…I won’t have to sit upright, naked in that other room getting rubbed down in front of all those women. I can handle a massage under the coverage of bubbles. I closed my eyes and practiced breathing techniques.

Sarah tapped me on the shoulder and I sprang out of relaxation. She grabbed and held my hand, with her other hand around the small of my back {beyond my general level of intimacy with a naked stranger} and gently guided me back into the original room. She pulled my arms up and unwrapped my towel and told me to sit. I did as I was told. And then began filling her shallow gold bowl (really a large dish} and splashing water over me. She asked if I wanted my hair wash and I said yes because it was going to get wet and turn into an afro anyway, might as well get it washed. I sat there, was moved forward and backward, arms raised and lowered, stood up and sat back down, while Sarah scrubbed me all over with a fine mesh cloth bag over her hand. I kept my eyes clothes. Since I kind of have an aversion {i.e. fear} of water, when it came time to rinse my hair I had a minor freak out feeling like I was being water boarded and took a bunch of water up my nose. I tried to open my eyes and my contacts had moved. I was a blind sitting duck about to have a true mental collapse there for a few minutes.ayasofya-hurrem-sultan-2

She alternated between warm and cold water {from what I gathered she was saying, it’s so warm in the other room you need to cool yourself down or something? Anyway, cold water intermittently being tossed on you did not help the water boarding feeling or me catching my breath} until I was done, led me to stand up, put my arms up and she wrapped my towel around me. You kind of feel as if you’re a helpless baby. It’s very strange. She then led me back into the great room and into a side room where she had a big bowl of mud. She had me stand and removed my towel and began covering my body with mud. Every square inch other than what lies under the disposable thong, which isn’t much. The same can be said for the former scrubbing. Every square inch. I was then sat on slippery marble step, whilst covered in mud, in disposable thong {SPT nowhere to be found} for the mud to soak in. She brought me water and then left to do god knows what… And I started trying to focus on my breathing again.

Luckily, I was alone in this room. I don’t know if I would have been able to hang in there if I was surrounded by other naked, mud-clad women. If it was hard to stay upright before…the mud certainly wasn’t making it easier. It was then that I started focusing on all the sounds in the place. All the marble and tiles, high ceilings, women yelling to each other in Turkish, the faucets (I’m talking like 50} pouring out water, women dropping gold bowels, splashing…. it was loud and super surreal. Especially as I’m looking down at my mud covered self, trying to tighten my abs and not slide off the step. I was thinking what steps of my life led me here, naked, alone and waiting to be scrubbed down by a strange naked woman who didn’t speak English.

Sarah came back and started rinsing all the mud off me, with hot and cold water. Until she led me {sans SPT} by holding my hand and another arm around my waist, to the octagonal slab where a woman across the way was laying being scrubbed down. She laid out my good old SPT {where was she hiding that?} on the slab and told me to lay on the back. It should be noted that when I’m saying anyone told me anything it was more or less a Turkish word I didn’t understand, an arm motion, and physically moving me. And then she started the bubbles. I don’t really know how to describe it. E says it was a net-type of bag and it was filled with soap and they’d ring it out over you and cover you with MOUNDS of bubbles. I did like this part. Probably because it was the most covered I’d been since I got there. And then they kinda rub you all over with bubbles. Including my stomach and ta-tas. A place no massage has ever taken me. At one point I was turned over on my stomach, where she would pull down the waist of my undies lower or pull it up higher (because it wasn’t a true thong…it didn’t go in between your cheeks, just over the crack}. After all that, I was led over to a side set of faucets, sat down, rinsed off and my hair washed. Then wrapped in now a larger white towel {again like a child}, and my hair done up in a towel. E later told me his hair {or more so head} was done the same way…. and each of our people told us as they did it, “Like sultan.” I was then led back into the entry lobby/lounge and sat down. I didn’t really know what was happening at this point. Someone else came out with a glass of water, glass of blackberry juice, and a cute little silver dish with a lid that had 2 Turkish delights in it. I enjoyed these treats and watched other people coming in for their appointments…. some with clearly as much confusion as I…some that seemed like regulars.turkish_bath_3

Eventually Sarah came back, dressed in a sort of scrubs outfit and led me up 2 flights of scary wooden stairs {I am still in my wet plastic sandals and feeling like I have nothing let to give after the battle royal with myself to not slide off marble slabs} to one of the little woods rooms along the circumference of the room. {Note: pictures weren’t allowed or obviously I’d have some more than what I could find online} I am still in my wet disposable thong. She unwraps my towel {you’d think at this point I’d get used to it…but nope…here I am in bright sunlight naked with this woman} and has me lay on my back for my massage. She does put a new, dry, SPT over my body while she massages my legs, but it isn’t long until she whips that off to do the stomach and chest massage. I mean, what’s really the point in it anyway. It being SPT. The women has seen and felt all the goods. I then roll over and get a back massage…. and a pretty good butt massage too. And then, scrubbed, cleaned, oiled up and naked…. I am done. She wraps me all up again and wishes me well as I try to navigate down the small, ever more slippery due to the oil, wooden flights of stairs in a daze, my contacts burry, to the changing room to get in some dry knickers and process what the hell just happened.

I came out and found E and I just said, “Tell me everything!” Because as weird as the whole thing was for me…I knew it’d be weird for E. His account is pretty much identical other than he got two cups of blackberry juice {lucky bastard} and his whole encounter was somehow 30 minutes shorter than mine.

It was my only Turkish bath of the trip…but I will say I didn’t learn my lesson, and went for a massage in Antalya. This was the description:IMG_2650 IMG_2651

I wanted a good chakra cleaning and I love the smell of sesame oil. Not wanting to make this another full on tale…I was walked into the room with the woman (I had tried to book the day prior but they only had men, THANK GOD I said I didn’t want a man) where she told me to take off all my clothes and handed me a new old friend of a disposable thong, and had me lay on my back on a table. No towels. No privacy. And then for the next 80 minutes rubbed me all over with sesame oil while this moon like contraption hung over my headed and poured a steady stream of sesame oil on my head {much more pleasant than it sounds} streamed onto my third eye. There was oil everywhere. I had more weird ta-ta and stomach massages. And afterward, was perhaps even more confused on what I had paid for. WHAT. THE. FUCK. I did feel like my chakras were the cleanest they’ve been in awhile…and I think people can notice.

Must Try Turkish Delights

I’ll clarify that this is not about literal Turkish delights. They have those in Turkey of course. And they were…okay. But not my favorite, and they don’t really deserve mention in this post. This is just about delightful Turkish Food. Oh my god Turkish Food!

It’s so good. With SOOOO much oil. We discovered a lot of these on the food tour, but other ones on our own…and pretty much all of these came from Istanbul {both the European and Asian side} and Cappadocia {mmmmm Testi} though they can probably be found across Turkey.

Meze – this is basically Turkish appetizers. Generally come on a platter with a wide variety of things not limited to {in layman’s terms} hummus, eggplant salad, yogurt & herb dip, stuffed grape leaves, carrot slaw, “raw” meatballs {tomato paste & bulgur} and deep fried little anchovie-like fish…maybe it’s mackeral?IMG_2516 IMG_2195

Pied – like pizza, without tomato sauce. A favorite of E’s obviously.

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Meze with stuffed mussel

Mussels aka Midye Dolmasi – I forgot to grab a picture of this but found one online. These are stuffed mussels with rice, currants, pine nuts, and cinnamon and nutmeg. SO GOOD.Midye-stall

Meze with a stuffed mussel on the side.

Meze with a stuffed mussel on the side.

Lahmucan – This is like a Turkish flatbread with crumbled meat on top. Lighter than {and I think preferable to} pied.

Ayran – a foaming, cold, frothy, salty, yogurt drink. I found it especially tasty…E not so much.

Mmmm, frothy yogurt on a hot day.

Mmmm, frothy yogurt on a hot day.

Tatuni – A spicy, tasty, greasy little beef wrap.

Tatuni and Ayran

Tatuni and Ayran

 

Menemen – Breakfast of the gods. Eggs not quite cooked, lots of butter or oil, diced peppers and tomatos.IMG_2607

Kokorec – I had it served from kebab {or doner} form. It is sheep intestines, stuffed with sweet breads and other too gross to talk about bits. Shaved off the kebab and put on some bread and heavily seasoned with pepper and oregano. This dish and Turkey’s refusal to stop serving it is actually one of the reasons they aren’t allowed to be in the EU.IMG_2207

Dondurma – Turkish Ice cream. Two kinds: one thick and sticky made with something called salep to create this texture which makes it kind of impossible to melt. The other Kesme dondurma you eat with a fork and knife. I’d take either on a hot day.

Dried fruit & nuts – Self explanatory. But so many great dried fruits and nuts that are local. The shops featuring these…to die for. You could even get sweet dried bell peppers…if they grow it, they dry it…and it’s amazing.IMG_2611

Baklava – Get it at Karakoy Gullluoglu and unfortunately, never be satisfied with Baklava again.

Testi – The Turkish word for “clay pot”. A slow cooked stew {with either lamb, beef, or chicken} in a clay pot. I got to crack the pot open upon arrival.

cracking open the clay pot

cracking open the clay pot

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Raki – every culture has one. The national alcoholic beverage of Turkey. Unsweetened, anise-flavored lighter fluid.IMG_2597

Kunefe or kanafeh – This one is going to sound weird, I was beyond skeptical but I am salivating thinking about it now: a rich, sweet and savory cheese dessert. I’ll borrow this explaination from seriouseats.com:

Kunefe is made from a stretchy, unsalted fresh melting cheese called hatay found only in this region—mozzarella would be the closest Western analogue. The cheese is coated in sugar syrup-soaked phyllo shreds called kadayıf (the same ones used to make some varieties of baklava, as described above), and fried until crisp. Its appeal is the contrasting textures of the crunchy exterior against the soft, melty interior. It can be topped with pistachios,kaymak (clotted cream) or ice cream—or simply eaten on its own, preferably while still piping hot.IMG_2208

Ekmek Kadayifi – Online it’s compared to a bread pudding, which I guess is kind of accurate When you fork into it, it gushes syrup and comes with a healthy topping of Kaymak. Wait, what’s kaymak…

I saved the best for last….I mostly had this for breakfast on bread with honey, but it’s also amazing on Turkish desserts.

Kaymak – The US has cool whip, the UK has clotted cream, and no one has anything on Kaymak. I can’t explain what makes it so good…I can just say if I was still living in Chicago I’d have a weekly pick up of Kaymak {and weight 200 more pounds.}

And can I just say, the Turks do breakfast right.  Besides menemen and kaymak on bread, they do loads of fresh veggies {cucumbers, tomatoes}, olives, and even more kinds of cheese.  IMG_2477

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.
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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)
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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….

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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. https://www.evisa.gov.tr/en/

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.