“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” ~Aldous Huxley.
To travel is also to discover what no guidebooks, travelogues, documentaries, or photographs can tell us.
While travelling in Turkey, I got the chance to interact with Turkish people in small towns, despite the lack of a common language, and make observations that Google couldn’t tip me about. Here’s a collection of the quirkiest ones:
1. Vintage cars are the in thing.
Two hours out of Istanbul, and all you can spot along most highways, streets and by-lanes of northern Turkey are vintage cars. In each of the small towns I travelled to, classic American cars seemed to complement the Ottoman architecture in age. This, given that Turkey is one of the largest car producers in the world. I haven’t yet found out why, not online and not offline, but this Flickr page does confirm the Turkish fascination for old cars. Seems like it’s just the more stylish and cost effective way to drive!
2. Something’s up with the jet.
I contemplated much about reporting this observation, but decided that as fellow travellers, you deserve to know. So this is a reference to the jet (or rocket as some call it) that you would use to clean your bum if you ditch toilet paper. For some reason, everywhere I stayed, from pansiyons (guest houses) to hotels, the level of the jet was abnormally and inconveniently low! No, I didn’t attempt to dig out why.
3. Fishing is a national past time.
You needn’t go far from Istanbul to establish this. Take a walk along the Bosphorus strait, and there, precariously perched on the rocky shores and bending over the pavements, you’ll find boys and men of all ages engrossed with their fishing rods, having the time of their lives. Jars and make-shift bottles filled with small fish dot every stretch of any land in close proximity to the sea; beaches, rocks, pedestrian walkways, small islands, jetties, you name it. Despite the obsession with fishing, meat beats fish hands down in Turkish menus.
4. The watermelons are giant in size!
Perhaps an insignificant observation, but the watermelons on sale in street markets all over Turkey never ceased to amaze me. We’ve got to learn the secret of how to grow them that well; they’d kick Indian watermelons’ ass any day.
5. Men tend to hang out with other men.
For a country as liberal as Turkey, it is surprising to see clusters of men wherever you go – in a cafe, in restaurants, by the beach, walking on the road. Perhaps it’s to do with how the Turkish society has evolved; Turkish baths for instance, were started as a means of after-work socializing for me, and only gradually trickled down as a tradition for women. The hamams have since been replaces with more modern ways of socializing, but the men-with-men, women-with-women-and-kids clusters seem to have continued.
6. The expression means ‘excellent’.
The same expression that means wtf in Italian, and gestures eating in India. I was flashed the expression many times, especially in the street markets and while talking about food, and assumed it to have a European connotation until it didn’t make it any sense. Finally I gathered, and had it verified, that it is used in to say ‘great’ or ‘wow’ or ‘excellent’ here in Turkey.
7. Cake is called Pasta.
And Pasta is called Manti, Peruhi, Eriste and several other names, varying by region & the type of pasta. So yes, I did have pasta for main course and pasta for dessert many a times!
What is the quirkiest thing you’ve discovered about a country on your travels?
Read more about my adventures in Turkey.