Last week I saw some nasty pictures on the media of the demonstrations in Turkey and in particular one of a smartly dressed lady in a red dress who was standing among the protesters in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, she was unarmed, not appearing particularly vociferous. She was being violently sprayed with teargas by a riot policeman. These pictures have been shared on social media around the world and have caused quite a reaction.
I went on twitter and tweeted (rather in the smug manner of ‘Slapper Bercow’) that when people asked my advice on travelling to Turkey, I would ask if they had seen the film ‘Midnight Express’. I often plead guilty to having a smart mouth; often the type of person attracted to Twitter.
Having maybe given the wrong impression of the beautiful country and its people, rather than expose the police brutality, this was my intention. Let me make amends.
If your impressions of Turkey are influenced by the harrowing tale ‘Midnight Express’ then think again as Turkey has improved a great deal since the 1978 film. It is a stunningly scenic country to visit, rich with cultural history and home to two of the Seven Wonders of the World. The Turkish people are most welcoming and friendly, the food is excellent and the lilting calls of the Mosques provide another world experience. For first time travellers to Turkey here are some tips to prepare you.
Turkey can become incredibly hot in the summer and the beautiful long beaches of white sand can become as hot as hot coals you could fry eggs on, so don’t be tempted to run across the sands barefoot no matter how much the oceans beckon to cool you down,
The roads can be daunting so unless you really need to drive then hop on a local Dolmus to get around, the yellow mini buses which are everywhere. Don’t be surprised when local teenagers stand to offer you their seats as their manners can be impeccable.
Whilst Turkey truly is a wonderful country to visit you should be prepared for the very off putting toilet system you will encounter especially in rural areas and even at such magnificent sites as Ephesus. As the country attracts more tourists plumbing is becoming more westernized but don’t be surprised if all you can find is a hole in the floor Turkish toilet.
Turkey is a shopper’s paradise, especially for spices, leather and cheap jeans. If you like to shop and haggle then you will be in your element and make sure you leave plenty of room in your luggage for the bargains you can snap up. Look for a local market and the stalls will be packed with beautiful leather handbags, travel bags, belts and leather jackets. It is common practise for shopkeepers invite you to sit down with a cup of mint tea whilst they show you their wares at no extra charge: absolutely wonderful service.
The bazaars offer a great experience, haggling not just perfectly acceptable it is expected. However once you do ask the price of an item you will find it difficult to walk away as the seller will likely follow you out of his store offering lower and lower prices as you walk away. Unless you have a notion to actually buy then don’t ask the price.
Shopping for Turkish carpets is a great way to spend some time and there is some incredibly beautiful handiwork displayed, especially the silk rugs which seem to flow as the lights change. They make stunning wall hangings. I never succumbed to the carpets but have been tempted.
Spice stalls are enticing with their wonderful aromas and it is well worth purchasing such delights as saffron, multi coloured peppercorns, vanilla pods and hot chilli flakes. As a coffee lover true Turkish coffee is a dream and you should sample it: rich, thick, black coffee in tiny cups will tempt you to bring the beans home.
Turkish food is very good and uses fresh products. Try the mezes which are a selection of appetizers such as borek and olives; fresh fish is superb by the coast and served with rocket salad; Turkish kebabs are a must as are the slow clay pot cooked oven dishes.
Other musts to try include a Turkish bath, a trip in a traditional wooden gullet boat, and a visit to the Mosques. Women should remember to cover up discreetly for this and men will be handed a long skirt to wear if they deign to turn up in shorts.
Finally as you leave the country be prepared for armed police stopping you at the airport. I have already indicated my deep seated suspicion of these over-empowered macho characters. I wonder if the job attracts the type or the type attracts the job. Maybe the fact that I watched that film when I was of an impressionable age is what gives me the jitters.
Whatever the reason there is no doubt that before Turkey is welcomed into the European Union they must question the overt police brutality and the prime minister’s hypocrisy in calling peaceful protesters, vandals, plunderers and terrorists, even though it is well known that in the absence of police there is completely no violence, no harassment or any kind of disturbance.
My views on the EU are no secret so perhaps the Turkish politicians and brutish police force would fit in with the corruption within Europe. By all means go to Turkey and enjoy the country and its people. Just be wary of the ‘authorities’ whoever they are. Like the Curates egg some part are very, very good and some parts are bad.