Sunday, September 23, 2012

Turkey in a Nutshell

Turkish lamps in the Grand Bazaar

Wandering the Old City of Istanbul
The snow-white cliffs at Pamukkale

Impressions:  Turkey is amazing!  With an entire month we felt like we really got to experience a lot of different aspects of the country from the people and food to the nature to the ancient sites.  The smells, the sounds, the colors, and the tastes all make Turkey unique!  We loved that we could rent a car and have the freedom to get around on our own at our own pace. 

People:  We really enjoyed the local Turks that we met.  Drinking tea takes up a huge part of their day.  They do it often that it really tells you something about their culture -- they aren't a people who are generally in a rush.  Almost every street in Istanbul has a shop with short stools out front where you can stop for a glass of tea.  Many people do throughout the day.

Food:  The food in Turkey was a highlight of the month!  We had so much fun trying all of the different dishes, but the things we ate time and time again were tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, cheese, eggplant, bread, and haydari.  One thing we were expecting to see more of was hummus.  At the majority of restaurants it wasn’t even on the menu.  Haydari, a cucumber and yogurt dip, was the staple instead.  Good thing we loved the haydari!   (As we write this we are in Jordan and Israel enjoying hummus with almost every meal – we weren’t expecting so much of it here).  Tea is another staple in Turkey and by the end of our month in the country our meals didn't feel complete without at least one glass!  The nargile is another staple in Turkey.  Our visit would not have been complete without giving it a try with Charles and Christie on our first night in Turkey.

Weather: We arrived in Istanbul at the beginning of July and the weather was perfect!  It was sunny and 80 °F during the day and just a bit cool at night.  After several days in Istanbul we flew to Cappadocia and the weather was nice there, too.  After Cappadocia we headed south and it got hot!  So hot that we were cheering when the car thermometer hit 115 °F!  In Antalya and Kas the best way to keep cool was on the water, and that is just what we did.  

Itinerary:  For our two weeks with Charles and Christie we had a wonderful itinerary – Christie planned a lot of it and did an amazing job!  Once Charles and Christie left, we rented a new (smaller) car and were off without many plans.  We had decided that our first stop would be Dalyan – a quaint river town, which we loved!  We used the website (excellent!) to plan our destinations going forward.  A quick side trip to Greece, a stop in Pamukkale, a few days in Sirince and Ephesus, some time in Gallipoli, and then a few more days in Istanbul.  We didn’t rush at all and made stops when we felt like it, like one at a waterpark!

Driving:  We rented two cars - a larger one with Christie and Charles and then a smaller one for just the two of us.  The cars weren't cheap and the gas was a bit pricey, but I think it was still much cheaper than plane tickets to each city and taxis/buses would have been.  Driving also let us see so much more of the country!  David did the majority of the driving and found it to be really easy.  You drive on the right, the roads aren't too crowded, and drivers follow the traffic rules for the most part.  The only stressful part was driving back into Istanbul to return the car, but we made it with no problems!

Religion:  Turkey is a majority Muslim country although there are small communities of Christians who we met in Cappadocia and Ephesus.  On our first few days we noticed each and every call to prayer (even the one at 4:30 a.m.), but by the end of the trip they had faded into the background and were just a normal part of the day.  The gorgeous mosques and kind Muslims who we met in Turkey added so much to the experience!  Ramadan began while we were there and it was really neat to see and understand more about the holy month.  The iftar meal is the meal that breaks the fast after sundown each day.  It was so neat sitting in the hippodrome in Istanbul as thousands of people waited and waited for the call that began the iftar meal.  We were even able to eat one meal at a restaurant that served only the iftar meal, so we waited with all of the others until the call from the minarets that it was okay to eat.  We will always remember that meal!

Clothing:  Turkey is a very international country and does have a lot of tourists, but it is still a predominantly Muslim country and we felt most comfortable in somewhat modest clothing.  I wore some sun dresses and shorts, but usually kept either my shoulders or knees covered.  David was often in shorts and a t-shirt.

Politics:  The conflict with Syria over a Turkish plane that had been shot down took place while we were in Turkey, which was interesting to follow, but didn't seem to be anything that worried the general population.  We did hear from a few different people about long-standing tensions between the Turks and the Kurds living in eastern Turkey, but we didn't experience this at all during our stay.

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