Way back in June last year, I wrote a piece for my friends here at Holiday Homes Turkey about my first trip to the Turquoise Coast called First Impressions. I finished that article with the line Teşekkürler Türkiye, sana aşığım, ben yakında geriye gelecegim – which translates pretty much as Thankyou Turkey, I loved you and will come back soon. I vividly recall fighting with Google Translate to make my words make sense, then finally giving up and asking a Turkish friend to translate it for me. I didn’t know then I would be sitting here, only 9 months later, writing this piece after doing an hour of Turkish Language homework.
It is only 10 months since that first visit, in May last year, and I can now happily admit I am totally addicted to Turkey; to the people; to the culture; to the history and to the welcome every time I step off that plane. Which has now happened 4 times and will again next month. When I said I would be back, it has become the Terminator meets Groundhog Day, I am almost on first name terms with the passport control guys at Dalaman Airport.
Jokes aside though, I have spent some time this week planning next months 5th visit to a place I now regard as another home, this time taking a couple of friends along for their first visit and hoping they can start to appreciate why this country has got under my skin quite as much as it has. This planning made me wonder if I could explain it and hence this new blog post as a follow up to the previous one, but there is an issue I feel I must mention before moving on to the good stuff because it seems to be the first thing people think about when Turkey is mentioned.
Safety – I am asked this so often, questions like ‘Is it safe?’ or ‘Aren’t you worried?’ and the simple answer is yes to the first and no to the second question. To expand on that slightly, of course it isn’t 100% safe, no where in the world is, certainly not here in London where I live every day, but I am not worried in the slightest by any threat from D’aesh or any other organisation. The terror alert status in the tourist areas in the south and west of the country is exactly the same as London, so why would I feel any more threatened in Turkey than I do here? Income from tourism is very significant in the coastal towns and by visiting you are helping people put food in their children’s mouths. Imagine how many people would suffer job wise if everyone stopped visiting London or Paris because of a perceived threat or fear? To put things into perspective a little and try and give an idea of the size of the country, the UK Government currently advises only not travelling to the border areas with Syria – do you know how far east that is from Kalkan? It is the same distance as London to Berlin, nearly 700 miles away and I did check, but couldn’t find any quick shuttle hops with Easyjet to the Syrian border funnily enough. Kalkan is also over 500 miles from Istanbul and over 400 miles from Ankara [so a bit like saying I am not visiting Edinburgh because a terrorist was found in Exeter] the 2 main cities in Turkey which have had terrorism recently. Like Paris. Like the current threats to Spain. Like the bomb which exploded in Northern Ireland yesterday. I don’t think I need to go on, you get the point, nowhere can be guaranteed totally safe but if you allow terrorists to stop you visiting places you want to be, they have already won.
Now the good stuff…
Firstly, the people – everybody I know who has fallen in love with Turkey mentions the Turkish people as one of the main reasons and it is easy to understand why. There still exists a massively important culture of family ties and friends, so even as visitors you are welcomed with open arms and if you keep returning, the welcome only gets stronger. Cynics would cry it is only so they can take your tourist money, but I would jump up and down on those cynics, because I have seen enough of the world to know that you can do tourist hospitality in two ways – a false friendliness seen and felt so often, or the Turkish way, genuine warmth which is impossible to fake. Yes, of course your money is important, that waiter, that taxi driver, they have bills to pay and families to feed, just like we do, it is their livelihoods – worth remembering and accept the natural warmth which comes from an absolute intrinsic need to be generous and hospitable to family and friends that forms that backbone of Turkish society and community. Be prepared to share a joke and laugh with them, they generally have a great sense of humour, a great sense of the ridiculous and trust me I have watched enough Turkish TV comedy to know that slapstick and cleverly silly is always to be giggled at.
The Turks are also a proud people, you will see the Turkish flag everywhere though rarely will you feel it somehow overly jingoistic – it is simply a natural, easy pride in their long and varied cultural history. Try speaking a little of the language, learn a few words, you will not be laughed at in Turkey, instead you will be helped and encouraged. In the tourist areas in particular, you will often find they are as keen to learn a little of your language too, so it cuts both ways, be helpful and encouraging.
Then there is the history and Oh boy does Turkey do history! You almost can’t move without falling over some Roman ruins, Ottoman architecture or pretty former Greek villages and that is before you have started exploring the many museums. Turkey is a country which has always straddled continents, Asia and Europe, and has been the meeting point of Empires more than once. I am not exaggerating when I say that trying to explain Turkish history here and now would be way too much, but I suggest you check out the Wikipedia entry as starting point then move on from there if history is your thing. Suffice to say if you are visiting, make sure you take time out to wander around the nearest historical sites, they are generally well preserved without perhaps being quite so wrapped in cotton wool as we are used to seeing here in the UK.
Where do I start with food, you have to eat and in Turkey eating is an art, a social occasion and central to family life. We have eaten everything in Turkey, from street food to very upmarket restaurants and I don’t think we have ever eaten badly. The food story actually starts at the markets and in the shops, where a plethora of fresh fruit and vegetables, meats, fish, breads, cheeses, olives, preserves and more assault the senses. It then continues across menus, almost everywhere you are totally spoilt for choice and there will be something to suit every taste. Try as much as you can, from the street vendors, from the pavement cafes, from the amazing fish restaurants which line the streets of harbour towns, from the gözleme ladies and if you are really lucky and get an invite into someones home, make the most of every minute and every mouthful.
Get your bucket list out, Turkey is bursting with things to see and do, activities you might not have thought about or others you have always fancied trying. In the last 10 months I have galloped down a beach on horseback, I have paraglided over Kalkan, I have jumped the waves crashing in on Patara beach as the sun sets, as well as watching sunset from a beautiful sailboat, I have watched turtles swimming in the sea, I have been scrubbed to within an inch of my life in the Hamman and I loved every single minute of my time in and around Kalkan. What is even better, I haven’t even started telling you about walking around the glorious, wonderful Istanbul, or our drive across Turkey with adventures in Alaçatı, Çesme, Izmir, Ephesus or Pammukale, every place somewhere new and very different – you can start to get an idea of just how amazing this country really is by dropping by my photoblog, Travels With My Turkey. Nor have I started on the plans for this year, scuba diving, Turkish cookery classes, arts and crafts, the list is endless, whether you like relaxing or adventure, you can fill a holiday so easily and always wish you had more time.
That of course is the crux of it, I always leave wishing I’d had more time, always already planning and looking forward to the next trip. I have written this blog using ‘they’ and ‘their’ a lot, I had to resist what has become a strong urge to say ‘we’ and ‘us’ because a part of me is always there. I can’t easily sum up how or why a certain country, a certain place, can make us feel so at peace with ourselves, so like we have found our natural home, so all I can do is urge you to try it and just maybe it will have the same effect on you. If it doesn’t, you will have still had a great holiday and made some lovely friends along the way and if it does, good luck with the Turkish lessons!!
I do need to say one more thing, I have really saved the best for last and need to express my undying gratitude and thanks to HHT’s founder’, Julia. Without her I would never have discovered this beautiful country, it would not have featured on my list of places to see before I die, I had absolutely no idea what a vast and varied country it really is. Her passion and love for Turkey and her desire to share that with other people is how I got here in the first place. You don’t have to take my word for it of course, you can contact her directly and let her knowledge guide you through the process of planning your trip to Turkey and in the meantime, I will keep taking the photos and continue to share them, by way of colourful persuasion.
Yvonne from White Gold Images