Culture, Turkey
Comments 45

My First Impressions of Turkey.

4 days ago, I landed on the azure blue waters of Istanbul, with starry eyed dreams of my first Middle Eastern experience. Between thanking Turkish Airlines for sponsoring my flight tickets and tying several lose ends before my first international trip after a 10 month hiatus in India, I had almost no time to delve into the depths of Google and form pre-conceived notions of the country. And I’m glad for that, because how can one even begin to imagine that ancient Asian traditions can reside within European influences with perfect harmony, without experiencing it first hand?

I maybe a tad too quick to judge, but I have a few more weeks to verify these, my first impressions of Turkey:

1. Turkish people are as friendly as they are good looking.

If any country abounds in eye candy, it has to be Turkey. I’ve spent hours people-watching at the airport, at street-side cafes, and just about anywhere I’ve gone in Turkey, and I still can’t stop ogling! Perhaps it’s their half Asian, half European roots that makes them so attractive. And perhaps it’s the same harmony of traditional & modern cultures that makes them so friendly. Despite my astute lack of a common language with most local people, I’ve been bestowed with acts of kindness, from chocolates while waiting at the airport, to çay (Turkish tea) with the town folk, to many a friendly conversations while asking for directions et al. If Atithi Devo Bhava (guest is god) were to be used to describe hospitality in another country, Turkey would walk it with a smile that could sweep anyone off their feet.

Turkish people, turkey people, turkish culture, turkish customs

Having çay with a Turkish blacksmith in Safranbolu.

2. Falafel & Hummus is not Turkish food.

I hope I’m not alone in falling victim to the assumption that being vegetarian would be a breeze in Turkey, what with mezze platters strewn with falafel, pita, hummus & baba ganoush being served everywhere. You know, just like in Turkish restaurants the world over? No sir. That’s not Turkish food at all, only extrapolated from its neighbors, like Syria & Lebanon. Turkey is largely about doners & kebaps; it’s hard to pass a food street without seeing stands of rotating doner creating a meat-ish whiff in the air. It took me two days of eating tost (cheese toast) for dinner to realize that asking for vegetarian food only elicits blank expressions from most cafe owners. Yet, Turkey doesn’t have a dearth of vegetarian food, you only need to know what it’s called, and I’m slowly learning all the names & treating myself to these vegetarian Turkish delicacies.

Turkish food, turkey food, turkish cuisine, turkey cooking, turkey vegetarian food

Peruhi – vegetarian Turkish pasta with yoghurt & mint.

3. There’s more to Turkey than Istanbul, Cappadocia & the Medditeranean Coast.

Most Turkey travel guides focus on this golden triangle of Turkey, and most people I know who’ve travelled to Turkey have only ever been to these 3 places, hence the much anticipated question of why I’m spending almost a month in Turkey. You probably know by now that I have a penchant for places less travelled, of which little has been written about, and following that hunch, I’m now traversing the Black Sea Coast of Turkey. It hasn’t been easy to find much information in English online, many pansiyon (guest house) owners speak not even enough English to tell you the room tariff, and any bus timings you find are outdated. All these to me are good signs that this coast sees few international travellers, and having arrived in my first small town of Safranbolu in Karadeniz, I’m already in love.

Safranbolu, Ottoman architecture, Turkey architecture, turkish architecture

Ottoman architecture – Safranbolu.

4. Hamams are a culture shock.

After much excitement & anxiety, I lost my Hamam (Turkish bath) virginity at a 500 year old Hamam, in a small Turkish neighborhood in Istanbul. Nothing I read online could have prepared me for the the initial awkwardness with all the flesh on display! This fascinating tradition of the Ottoman Empire dates back several hundred years, where women socialize over long, pampering baths, scrubs and massages (and men too, in separate chambers), completely comfortable with such bodily exposure as no non-liberal country would be comfortable with. Ataturk’s republican reforms in the 1920s were then only a public reflection of this liberal thinking of the Turkish society. History aside, I’ve never felt more pampered than that 90 minute Turkish bath!

Turkey Hamam, Hammam, Turkey hammam, turkish traditions, hamam

A historical Turkish Hamam.

5. Turkish people love Indians!

This is perhaps the most surprising and most flattering impression, for we Indians rarely receive such welcome in foreign countries. It started at the airport, continued in Istanbul, and magnified in Safrabolu, my first stop on the Black Sea countryside. The lack of a local language beyond Merhaba has inadvertently led to me being asked if I’m Arabic or English, and greeted with a big smile, sometimes a hug, and often a wow, when I’ve said Indian. Hindi or Hindustani as they call us, they love Bollywood (referred to as Hindi TV), and an old man I met in Safranbolu even drew a heart on my hand and said half is Turkey, half is India! Feels good to see such love for India halfway across the globe.

Turkish culture, turkish people, turkey people, turkey women

She was so happy to see a ‘Hindi’ at her cafe that after some delicious veg food, she offered me “pasta” (cake in Turkish) she had prepared for a family gathering.

====================

Have you travelled in Turkey? What were your impressions of the country & its people?

====================

For real time travel stories, photos & tips from Turkey, join The Shooting Star on Facebook & Twitter.

====================

45 Comments

  1. Lovely Lovely! Turkey is certainly on my list to visit. Wait, did you say public bath? with massage, scrub? wow..and people do this everyday?

    Like

    • Isn’t it? =) Yes, public baths aka hamams. It used to be a pretty popular social custom until a few years ago, but I hear that in the bigger cities, it’s slowly being replaced by more global social ways like picnicking or going to a cafe together!

      Like

    • =) Lots more coming up from my adventures here, but none of it will compare to your being in Turkey yourself. Plan a trip!

      Like

  2. Time to update the sidebar on right that says ‘…wanderlust has taken me to 15 countries…’! 🙂

    PS: Middle East? I would say ‘West Asia’ is more politically correct.

    Like

  3. Thank you for this report; I’m looking forward to more. I barely sampled Turkey in the course of a cruise, but I loved what I saw then. The people were very friendly (and I’m not even close to Indian.) Thank you for sharing and giving me the urge to revisit in more depth.

    Like

    • Thanks for dropping by, Cathleen =) Turkey is so beautiful, and I’m just at the start of my explorations. It surely deserves a visit back and a long stay! I’ll be posting lots of recommendations along the Black Coast as I go along.

      Like

  4. Vaish says

    First cut on your experience in turkey…Having tea in their tulip bulb glass is a fascinating experience…they offer it in every other shops isn’t it? Have you tasted Dolmas yet? Try them..
    Ah..turkish bath – to see the half naken plumpy women asking you to “dush”..yeah it was a cultural shock for me too!

    Like

    • Yes! I love their tea, and they just can’t seem get enough of it either. Haven’t found a place on the countryside that serves Dolmas yet, but I’m finding some new veggie dish in each town every day. Will get Dolmas soon enough I hope!

      Like

  5. A month long holiday!!!! *faints*
    It seems to be a very exciting place. Looking forward to more updates.

    Like

    • Haha, I think of it more as a lifestyle than just a holiday 😉 It is exciting indeed, and a month is way too short to see all of it.

      Like

  6. Shabnam says

    Shivya you cannot come back from Turkey without immersing yourself into the deep blue eyes of the Turkish men [its not only the Bosphorous with azure blue waters ;)]. No language is needed for communication 😉

    Like

    • I know what you mean, Shabnam. It’s like, how lucky the women who were born here amid those eyes 😉

      Like

  7. Nice account of your first few experiences in Turkey, Shivya. It was nice to learn about the handsome men and Turkish bath and all. I look forward to more travel tales from Turkey. Have fun.

    Like

  8. Congratulations on making it to Turkey, and flying in free! I had this nearly planned till hubby quashed my plans for something else. For a middle eastern experience, I guess, some other countries such as Oman, UAE would be great to visit too! My preconceived notions of Turkey are more European than Middle-eastern!

    Like

    • It’s definitely more European than Middle Eastern / Asian, except for a few parts. It’s so beautiful, could easily spend a year here =) Plan that trip again soon!

      Like

  9. The only place I have been in Turkey is Istanbul, which I loved. You are right about the good looking people. I saw some very handsome men there.
    I defy you to get out of there without buying a rug.

    Like

    • Haha, definitely not going to be able to fit one in my backpack (the rug that is), so I’m passing on that 😉

      Like

  10. Oooh…Very well written…And its jus 4 days..Waiting for more from your pen.. Wish like you I could leave heat of Delhi for Beautiful Turkey…Wish to see Ottoman architecture closely ..Want to see Orham Pamuk’s Istanbul….If you get a chance meet him.

    Like

    • Thanks Sumit =) The Ottoman architecture is more beautiful than any book ever wrote about it. Ancient houses perched on the lush green hillsides, overlooking deep blue seas. You have to see it in person!

      Like

  11. Vrunda says

    Shivya..lovely read..v r planning to go there for eid holidays…how is the weather..?

    Like

    • Thanks Vrunda, the weather now is pretty good. It’s warm during the day under the sun, but cooling in a shaded area. Mornings & evenings are very pleasant, bordering on chilly!

      Like

  12. teoman ozgec says

    As a Turkish, i can make a description about peoples and country. Turkish peoples are really warm and has a good intention. They are very helpful, not racist. İ just want to illuminate one point, some part of Turkey, especially in the middle and east, when people see mini skirt woman or a black man in the street they just looking at. Both men and women. but they don’t aware that is a rude behave. So don’t be offended because of that, this is our cultural bug 🙂 that’s all.

    And as you claimed people think about Turkey’s golden circle. istanbul-cappadocia- epheus and pamukkale. But there are too many places worth to see in Turkey. Because when i see other countries tourism marks, i feel “what a shame, we have better ones but we can’t present them as a sightseeing trademarks” İ want to tell the names, and so you can googled them or watch videos on youtube. prince islands-istanbul, gallipolli/canakkale, mardin, noah’s ark in agri, abant lake (it’s like tahoe lake in california) amasra (countryside in bartin, but splendid ) nemrud (old statues belongs to first era’s) Midyat, Hasankeyf, sumele monastry /trabzon, ayder high plateau like in swedish) Thanks for your comments, i hope also you will like these one’s as well.

    Like

    • Thanks Teoman for stopping by my blog 🙂 I loved Turkey. Had the chance to visit Amasra, Ordu, Kastamonu etc along the Black Sea Coast and I loved each of the towns. Everyone was so kind & friendly, and it’s such a beautiful country. I hope to be back soon to explore more. Where in Turkey are you from?

      Like

  13. Pingback: So Long, Turkey. | The Shooting Star

  14. Pingback: Safranbolu: Once upon a time in Turkey. | The Shooting Star

  15. Pingback: Flying Over The Bosphorus, and Other Luxuries. | The Shooting Star

  16. Pingback: Flying Over The Bosphorus, a Bit Like Royalty. | The Shooting Star

  17. Pingback: My First Impressions of Spain. | The Shooting Star

  18. Pingback: My First Impressions of Seychelles. | The Shooting Star

  19. Pingback: My Million Reasons to Visit Turkey. | The Shooting Star

  20. Jasveer says

    I being to Istanbul few years ago for one week to rid off from daily boring life, hot dubai weather, crazy late working hours, desert, big building and more artificial life to lively, sparkling, relax, cold, heritage, ancient city surrounded by honest and peacefull people.

    I would agree with when you said that there are a lot to see in Turkey than only Istanbul. I being to cesme, a very nice place around over night bus journey to Cesme using ferry for bus.

    I had a amazing time with my colleague.

    I have been to various places in the work i.e. US, UK, Dubai and Turkey.

    Regards,
    Jasveer

    Like

I'd love to hear your thoughts and feedback.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s