Saturday, January 23, 2010

Reflections and Observations on Turkey

By Claire and Chuck
By now you must know how much we love Turkey. The country is unique, exciting, challenging, surprising, comfortable, frustrating, inspiring, beautiful, and probably our favorite.

Almost every house and building has solar panels. This is inspiring but we wish they had a way to heat water when the sun doesn’t shine and in the early morning when we wanted to take hot showers. The exception was Caravan Restaurant Camping in Bergama. They had a propane tank hooked up to the hot water as a backup and we had the longest, hottest, steamiest showers of all the campgrounds.

Most people live in large apartment complexes in the cities and many have fireplaces on the outside balconies. We're not sure why but it is unique to us.

The flag is important to the Turkish people and many of them display their flags proudly along with a banner photo of Atatürk.

Naturally we saw many, many mosques throughout Turkey. We were most taken with these “mini” mosques.

The people work hard at having nice plants and garden decorations and we enjoyed walking through neighborhoods and finding these things.

Meat grinders as garden planters

Hmmm. What could these be? Recycling at its best.

It is common practice to leave chairs out in the street to hold a parking spaces, espcially for hotels and restaurants.

This is probably not so unique but it always amused me to find the shower in hotel rooms a part of the entire bathroom but without a shower curtain. Somehow it works!

Bathroom in hotel in Konya

Many banks and post offices have you to take a number from an electronic machine rather than stand in line. It's very efficient and you can relax and sit in a chair while you wait.

The roads are really great with few exceptions. Turkey is working hard to improve and build more motorways; we see construction going on everywhere, including many enormous tunnels.

We were surprised by the ease with driving not only with the good roads but with the drivers. They were no worse than at home. Pedestrians are still at the bottom of the food chain but we didn’t feel as if we were taking our lives in our hands every time we walked down a street. In fact, we biked in Turkey and felt safe. However, honking seems to be an ingrained way of driving and signaling. The problem is, we never knew if they were honking at us or each other or just alerting their friends to say hello. If the light turns yellow (as it does just before turning green) we would already be honked at even though it wasn’t green yet, because we had not yet taken off in that particular nanosecond. The other thing is, driving along the shoulder of a highway going the wrong way seems to be de rigueur. The first time it happened, we couldn’t believe it. We’re driving along the highway and here comes a guy in a beat up station wagon driving in the opposite direction on our right. I mean, why drive in the correct direction to find a place to do a U-turn when you can just cruise down the highway on the wrong shoulder, saving yourself a minute or two? Oh, and passing on the right? No problem. And another thing, the police often drive for miles, for no apparent reason, with their roof top flashers going.

Seatbelts are almost never used even though it is the law. In all the rides we were given, we were always digging for the seatbelts, buried deep into the seat, while those in the front never bothered. We see kids bouncing around inside cars and standing at the front of motor scooters, their little hands clutching the handlebars. And the motor scooter drivers? Some wear helmets but almost always with the straps unhooked, flapping out the sides. All it would take is one bump and the helmet would go flying.

The traffic lights are unique to us. There is a countdown that tells you how long it will be before the light turns green. When the light is green and about to change to red, it starts blinking. When the light is red and is going to turn green, it turns to yellow and starts blinking. How enlightening.

It even works for pedestrians. When the remaining time gets to 10 seconds, the walking man starts running.

Navigating is way easier in Turkey, even without our GPS specialist “Susan”. There are fewer roads and fewer decisions. We were frankly amazed we could do it after becoming so dependent on her. We found out from another camper that we could have purchased downloadable GPS maps for our TomTom for Turkey and Greece but feel that we do not need them. I am certain that Susan would not have been able to find the Customs Warehouse. One of the problems is that we never could get an actual address; the construction would also have made it impossible since every time we came upon construction or a detour Susan was oblivious.

Driving was always a bit of a surprise.

Why is this chicken crossing the road?

Burger King is the main American fast food joint although we’ve only seen a few outside of Istanbul. We’ve seen exactly 2 McDonald’s. This is refreshing. Why would they need fast food when they have the best fast food in the world? Dönör Kebabs are everywhere and much faster than Burger King or McDonald's.

I'm sure I've said plenty about the quality of the food. We LOVE the food. We have yet to try anything we didn't find delicious.

Turkey is one of the cleanest countries we've been in. After a meal we are either given hand wipes in a sealed package or someone pours a lightly scented, alcohol based liquid into your hands for washing. Every mosque has a cleaning station and we see water stations everywhere. I was impressed with how clean Istanbul was.

Men with brooms and large dust pans are everywhere.

We loved the bread but sometimes we thought it tasted like something cranked out at a factory and delivered in massive quantities throughout the towns. It had all the appeal of fresh hot dog buns. Bakeries were the best place to find varieties and better quality. Often we could get it right out of the oven and still hot.

There are dogs everywhere and they all look related. We found out that they are Sivas Kangal dogs, considered Turkish shepherd dogs and it is believed in Turkey that the Kangal dog accompanied the Oghuz Turks, fleeing from Genghis Khan as working dogs on their long journey from Central Asia to Anatolia in the 11th century. There is strong evidence supporting this belief as dogs similar to the Turkish shepherd dogs can be found in rural communities along this historic route.

This sweet guy is still just a pup but his older brothers are everywhere!

Not a Kangal dog but an example of a typically mellow dog. They don't bark, they don't scare you, they're just really friendly and healthy looking.

Just like the dogs, cats are everywhere. What’s amazing is how well fed and clean they are. Street smart and friendly too. We saw them in clusters, alone, with dogs, chickens and in packs. Only occasionally did we hear a fight break out. It’s amusing to see cats just walking along the sidewalks, climbing up trees, sleeping in the sun or running up to make friends. Even more unusual to us is to see them running along in a group of three or four.

The ATMs often dispense your money in 50 TL bills. Hard to get rid of. But it’s even worse when you get it all in 100’s. We're not sure why they do this since most of the people we dealt with want our money in change. If something costs 4.75 they want four 1 TL coins plus .75. They don’t really want a 5 or a 10 TL bill. Everyone seems to hoard change, including us! The good news is, there are ATMs everywhere, often several in a row from different banks. Some even dispense Dollars, Euros or Turkish Lira, your choice. We had trouble with ATMs in southern Italy (rejected or couldn’t get the full amount) and Greece (hard to find). But let's talk about what it costs to be in Turkey. Converting to Euros, our campgrounds averaged €10 per night. A loaf of bread was €.75. Four cookies from the bakery, or 5 beautiful tomatoes, €.45; internet for an hour, €.22. The fabulous Pashahan Hotel in Göreme was €35 per night and the Saruhan in Istanbul only €28 per night. Both included breakfast. This is definitely an affordable country to visit.

We have found that there are some items we would have difficulty living without. We love the electric tea kettle that we purchased in Greece (we only wish we'd waited and bought it for less in Turkey). We use it to quickly boil water for tea, showers, cooking and dish washing. It only takes about 2 minutes to boil one liter and it saves our propane. We don't know how we managed without it and plan to buy one when we get home. It's almost like having instant hot water.

The others are our laundry Box—known as the black box—and its accoutrements, the sink stopper and the nail brush. The black box has been mentioned before, early on when we were outfitting Homer. We were initially looking for a bucket with a lid, the idea being that we could have a "load" of laundry agitating while we drove, ready to be rinsed and hung when we arrived at a campground. The idea still works but finding a bucket with a lid in any of the countries we have been in hasn't. We settled on the black box back in Holland and it has turned out to be a perfect choice. It's large enough to hold a fair amount of laundry; we can wash things in it while we're in the campground without having to use a sink; and it serves as a laundry basket for toting the wet and dry laundry back and forth. Who would have thought that the lid would make a great cover for a skylight?

The small nail brush with handle is perfect for scrubbing out stains and that flat, round, rubber, yellow thing comes in very handy since most sinks do not have a plug. It's also used as a jar opener.

The pace here is much more similar to the U.S. than anywhere we’ve been in Europe. They are up early, break for a rather quick lunch around noon and then it’s back to work. They are very industrious people and seem to be working all the time—except for all those men who are unemployed and hanging out at the bar/cafés where they sit and drink tea and play Backgammon. We really tried to get into the swing of it in Italy and France but it really felt at times as if we were spending all our time waiting. We're all for slowing down and stopping to smell the roses—that’s exactly what we wanted to do; but since it always took forever to accomplish something, we often didn’t have time to stop and smell the roses. We like the way the people in Turkey know how to get things done. They are great at networking and if we have a question or need help, they will go find someone and then a third person who happens to be hanging out in the office will join in and they will decide what we need as a team. No matter what we needed or asked for, people would find an answer, often getting onto their cell phone and calling someone. They are very entrepreneurial.


The Turkish people are the friendliest, kindest, most heartfelt people we have met. In fact, often when we drive through a town people smile and wave to us. Heads literally turn when we drive by. I guess campers are rare here and especially in the winter. We have stopped to ask directions and people always put their hand out with a big smile and want to help. And they do, even if it means gestures and pointing. We stopped by some older men in one tiny village and I rolled down my window to ask directions. By this I mean saying the name of where we want to go with a questioning tone. “Fethiye?” Before I could even speak they were walking over and one man walked right up and put his hand out just to say hello. When we were in a shop, one man, a customer, asked where we were from in his very limited English. We had a nice “conversation” using very basic words.

The day we picked up our rental car from Mehmet we asked about tire chains in case of snow. He was pretty casual about it saying there was no need, it wasn’t going to snow. We asked again later but then forgot about it. Since the car was on empty, we stopped at a gas station in town to fill up. Suddenly, there was Mehmet on his motor bike loading a set of chains for us.

Besides all the beautiful and interesting sights, travel is really about people. Turkey more than satisfies on both counts. We can’t say enough about this country. Get on a plane and get to Turkey for one of the best experiences of your life.

We are leaving for our next adventure in Egypt but we are lucky to be coming back to Istanbul for 3 days at the end of February. We're hoping for warmer weather and a cruise up the Bosphorus.

If I told you about a land of love, friend, would you follow me and come? ~ Yunus Emre, Turkish poet, 1238-1320


Pat in Santa Cruz said...

Ahh, parting is such sweet sorrow. I will miss Turkey. Thanks for this wonderful wrap up. I have thoroughly enjoyed this virtual journey. Wishing you safe travels.

Anonymous said...

Again with the perfect quote at the end! Just like a perfect dessert!