January 10, 2016

Turkey – Final Thoughts

For your listening enjoyment: I fell in love with this song when it came out on the radio at home, but hadn’t heard it in years. One evening, we were sitting in this tiny little indoor room of a restaurant in Goreme, having dinner in front of a wood burning stove and this song came on over the radio. And I fell in love with it all over again. And then I heard it three more times before we left Turkey. It reminds me so much of our time in Cappadocia. “Come along now, come along with me.”

Turkey was a crazy time

for the ‘ol Schwarz clan.

We were just learning how to get our travel legs under us. We were scared. We were overwhelmed. We were ecstatic. We were trepidatious and we were exuberant. We got scammed and we received the kindest hospitality we have known. We spent too much. We missed a lot. We saw and experienced some pretty amazing shit.

Boats in the harbor at Fethiye,

Boats in the harbor at Fethiye,

In a way, it is difficult to write about our experiences there so long after the fact because I feel like in some ways we have forgotten some of the details of the moment. But in other ways, having the time to process how we felt and what we saw helps me to understand it, and therefore share it with you all, better. It’s a mixed bag, folks.

There were so many observations we had about Turkey. So much that was new and unique to us as the first country we visited. Some of these things, we saw in other countries as we travelled, but noticed them first in Turkey. Some were delightful, some annoying, some just odd. I kept a list in my phone and I’ll share them with you here:

The trucks that deliver propane gas all played music. We would hear it waft up through the windows from the street below. It was a catchy little tune and Mason still sings it sometimes making up the words cause we speak no Turkish.

I’ve mentioned it before, but Turkish people hang out, make dinner, do their laundry, and have sex like an average of 20 steps from the ruins of famous and historically important cities and temples and other archaeological treasures every day. This blows my mind. I still can’t imagine walking past a 3000 year old sarcophagus on my way to the grocery store.

Turbaned tombs of Turkish pirates in Istanbul.

Turbaned tombs of Turkish pirates in Istanbul.

Milk. We never figured it out. We bought milk three times in Turkey and never found the milk we were used to at home. Also, on breakfast buffets, cereal was served next to a box of warm milk. Dairy products have been tricky in every country we have visited.

Turks drive like crazy ass madmen. And they honk at everyone for no reason at all. Unless they have a valid reason to honk and then they are mysteriously silent.

We used buses pretty exclusively to get around Turkey and, boy, was it an experience. First, the times are relative. Buses could be right on time or half an hour late. You never knew. Secondly, there was bus service – we received coffee, tea, bottles of water and snacks by a young man on nearly all of the busses we took. Also, the buses will pick you up on the side of a highway. We erroneously thought we needed to be at the bus station to catch the bus, but you can just stand on the side of the road and flag the bus down and you can get on with no problem. They also serve as a delivery system. One example, once in transit, we stopped on the side of the highway and a man loaded six gallons of cement mix or something similar into the baggage compartment of the bus. A few towns later, we pulled over to some guy waiting to pick them up. Also, on our last bus ride, the bus had some trouble finding an open road to where we were going due to road construction. Eventually, he just put the bus in drive and floored it over a huge mountain of dirt blocking the road. A few minutes later, he pulled over, said something to the assistant, put in a movie, got off the bus and hopped into a car that had pulled over on the side of the road. Everyone on the bus was majorly confused and a little concerned because we had another bus to catch. About half an hour later he came back with something, clinked and clanked around under the bus for a few minutes and we were off. We have no idea what it was all about.

Turks have a hard sell and they WILL NOT take no for an answer. Until about the third time. We found this really abrasive at first, because we had never experienced anything like it, but it is pretty common in all of the countries we have travelled to since. A friend from college, Margie, who lived in Turkey for several years and married herself a handsome Turk, told me how to say “no thank you” in Turkish and that seemed to help a bit.

This tree was full of pottery near a potter's studio in Goreme.

This tree was full of pottery near a potter’s studio in Goreme.

I wrote in my notes “litter and trash everywhere.” I suppose it is possible that this may have been true, but in comparison to India and SE Asia, I have to say that Turkey was pretty pristine.

We had a technical school right next to our apartment in Istanbul and it was really interesting to watch the kids listen to their morning announcements and do their drills. Turkey has a year compulsory military service for all men and women and the phys ed classes at the school seemed a bit like prep for that. It was fun hearing all of the chatter and laughter throughout the school day.

Stuffed eggplant.

Stuffed eggplant.

Everyone smokes in Turkey and they smoke like it is a race to see who can die of lung cancer first. I have never seen people chain smoke like the Turks. Even the high school kids would light up as soon as they got out of the gate. Busses would stop regularly for tea and cigarette breaks for the drivers. Cigarette packaging always had either the words “smoking kills” or a picture of a nasty, diseased, black lung. The Turks don’t care.

Tea is no bullshit in Turkey. It is served with every meal, in the afternoon and as hospitality. Inside the bus station garages, there are men whose job it is to take tea around to all of the bus drivers when they arrive in the garage and before they leave. It took us a couple of times to figure out that they brew it thick and strong and then dilute it with hot water. If you asked any of us what we miss the most about Turkey, it would be Turkish tea, followed closely by Turkish breakfast.

I love little tables like this set out on the sidewalks for having tea.

I love little tables like this set out on the sidewalks for having tea.

There are cat gangs in Turkey. We never did crack their secret gang codes, but they travel in packs and the kids are pretty sure that they carry switchblades, wear leather jackets and bust into songs from West Side Story when no one is watching.

There are old Turkish men who hang out in the parks, holding their prayer beads and playing chess. And there are old Turkish women with their heads covered swatting at cats with brooms in the courtyards of homes that are hundreds of years old. Stereotypes exist. And they are beautiful.

I have a thing about pomegranates. First of all, I find them so beautiful and aesthically pleasing. Second of all, they are delicious. Third, I cannot stand to see groves of unharvested pomegranate trees, branches so heavy with beautiful deep red fruit that just falls to the ground to rot. Pomegranates are not worth much money in Turkey and many people also have orange groves which are worth more. Or they own a restaurant. Or a pension. Or a tour boat. And there just isn’t enough time in the day to do everything so the least profitable things is left undone. I want to go back to Turkey and pick pomegranates until my arms ache and every tree has been harvested.

pome-granite

Our hostel owner in Cirali (I will be back. Mark my words.) reminded us so much of the bat from Anastasia. We talk about him all the time and we still refer to him as Bartok. Don’t ask me why this makes us so happy. It just does.

So these are my random thoughts and observations about Turkey. However, when we were in Cirali and I was writing about Istanbul, Lily read my post and said “that’s really good, mom, but that isn’t how I felt about Istanbul at all.” And it occurred to me that you are seeing this trip through my eyes and though I try to give you the full picture of what we are all thinking and feeling, sometimes I miss the mark. So I asked Mason, Ian and Lily to write something up about how they felt about Turkey.

Mason:

Turkey has a special feel for me. The people are very laid back and yet efficient at the same time. I think some of that can be contributed to the tea culture and the markets everywhere. Tea time gives you a moment to reflect and energizes you for what is ahead and the markets make it very easy to get anything you may need at a moment’s notice. The air feels different. The people give off such a friendly vibration that you just feel like you have time to soak everything in. That everything is going to be alright. No rush. That’s not what life is about. Everyone is a friend and they will take care of you even if they just met you 5 minutes ago. I love Turkey. I love the people. I love the land. I love the water. I love the air. It soaks you in. I have never felt as calm and as at peace as I did in Turkey. It was the perfect country to visit for the first time leaving U.S. soil. I left part of my heart in Turkey. (Staci’s note: The first morning we woke up in Turkey at 6am to the call of prayer and I was in the middle of a panic attack and trying to figure out how to get back home as soon as possible, Mason rolled over, with tears in his eyes and said “thank you for bringing me here.” Turkey had him from the first moment. He even teared up writing this.)

Ian:

Turkey, to me, was a rather odd experience. It was my first time outside the United States, and most of our time in Istanbul was about learning how to be appropriate in a foreign culture, but I also felt like Turkey really tried to connect with me – through the people, who were the embodiment of friendly, the stunning landscapes and the feeling in the air. It was inviting and interesting and so easy to simply slip into the folds of these new surroundings. It started to almost feel like a second home to me. It’s definitely a place I will visit again.

Lily:

Turkey was hard. It was uncomfortable and it tested me. I was not prepared to feel so overwhelmed and I felt guilty for feeling like that. I constantly thought about how I should feel grateful, but I couldn’t force myself to believe it and that jacked Turkey for me. I don’t think that I really liked Turkey until we got to India. Looking back, it got better over time and it was lovely. It just feels a little jaded because of my emotions when I was there (ewwwwwwww feelings.)

So, that wraps up Turkey. It was hard. It was amazing. ¾ of us loved it. Not bad for our first stop.

Get yourselves ready. We are headed for India next and it rocked us to our core.

A leafy heart at the beginning of the Lycian Way - before it tried to kill us.

A leafy heart at the beginning of the Lycian Way – before it tried to kill us.

4 Comments on "Turkey – Final Thoughts"

  1. I am so enjoying your Turkey journey. Thank you!

  2. Yes! Yes! Yes! The Turk and I agree, you definitely got it. I’m so glad you loved it so and I can’t wait to sometime hook up and gab about it in real life. The Turks are great people and it’s a stunning country that sucks you in immediately. But I must point out, it’s far easier to visit than it is to live there. And I’d definitely warn anyone about giving birth there- now that’s a story for ya! Cok tesekkular canim ve evin’e hosgeldiniz! (Thanks darling and welcome back home!)

    • Author

      Mason and I talked about this and we can both totally see how Turkey would be a better place to visit than to live. I want to hear ALL of your stories about Turkey Margie!!

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