Saturday, December 18, 2010

Turkey, I Love You. Let Me Count The Ways...

Turkey was the first country that I was sorry to leave, the first place I can truly say that I see myself returning some day. I've thought about why I love Turkey so much compared to, say, Nepal. Though I can't come up one significant reason that puts this place above others in my mind, my heart is filled with dozens of small anecdotes, minor details ever so specific to Turkey that, together, have made an unforgettable experience.

blue mosque interior
Turkey, I love you. Let me count the ways...
  • Amazing Architecture (not only the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque). An Alphabet I can read (first since Malaysia) helps, too. I think Ayran (a yogurt-based drink) single-handedly healed my stomach issues from Nepal.
  • Bazaars, Baklava, the Blue Mosque, and the Bosphorus. Also, the long-distance Buses are fast, clean, secure, and comfortable. Don't forget Bubby and Boss!
  • Cats: the fluffy, furry, fat cats that are everywhere in Istanbul. Couchsurfing in Turkey has given me some of the best experiences of my trip. And Cheese, lots of tasty tasty cheese! 
  • Diyarbakır, city of my heart. Also Döner, Dave's tasty snack on-the-go for about $0.70. 
  • Ethnic pride, specifically Kurdish of southeast Turkey, stands out in my mind. Turks care for the Environment: we saw no trash or graffiti in Pigeon Valley, and the Bosphorus has little to no trash floating in it. The Eggplant here is the best I've ever had (sorry Mummers). 
  • Friendliness. Smiling Thais? Meh. Friendly Nepalis? Get real. The Turks are masters of friendliness. 
  • Göreme. The very first tourist town that hasn't made me nauseous. Quite a compliment, Göreme. 
  • History is everywhere. I got a new skin in the Hamam. Hygiene is so good that the unthinkable—someone touching my food with their bare hands—does not freak me out. Turkey was Hassle-free compared to the rest of Asia. Even the carpet sellers are laid-back and polite! And don't get me started on Hospitality
  • Istanbul. For a city of 18 million, it's not that bad. 
me and my juice
  • Jetties on the Bosphorus where men bring their fishing rods and I snap dozens of photos. I had my first cup of freshly-squeezed pomegranate Juice
  • Kindness to animals. Unlike the Nepalis who throw rocks at dogs and seem to enjoy it, I noticed multiple acts of kindness toward stray animals.  There were three homeless dogs on a random corner, sleeping in a makeshift cardboard and trash bag shelter someone had made for them. A ripped-open clear plastic bag of leftover meat and pasta was at their side as they slumbered, protected from the drizzle. I can't tell you the number of times I saw burly Turkish men with stern moustaches stop in their tracks to scratch a street kitty under the chin. Our couchsurf host told us that stray dogs in Istanbul are routinely tagged and vaccinated as a public service. The Turks' kindness toward animals is apparent, as strays are uniformly clean, calm, and approachable. Some of the stray cats are even borderline overweight! 
  • Lokum (turkish delight) is ok, not to my taste, but I understand why some love it. I prefer the Language, which is much easier than any South or Southeastern Asian language. 
  • Mosques and Minarets—they're everywhere! And, of course, Mr. Turkish Bull
  • Neckties on men serving tea and cakes on the buses. Seriously. Tea, cakes, and neckties. On buses. I rest my case. 
  • Old people sipping çay in a courtyard. Olives sold by the kilo. 
  • Pomegranates, my favorite fruit. I ate a lot of Pide (turkish pizza), which is quick, cheap, vegetarian friendly, and delicious. Perfect street food! 
  • Quiet, quaint villages. It's SO EASY to get off the beaten tourist trail here. Just go anywhere east of Göreme. 
  • Rumi, the mystical Sufi poet, whose masterwork I hope to read at some point. 
  • Sanlıurfa and it's lovely public and historic spaces. Just in time for winter, steaming cups of Salep (powdered orchid root drink) topped with cinnamon. 
  • Tea! Tea! Tea! Anything and everything is an excuse for çay. And Textiles—if you're into fiber arts, carpets, wool, max out your credit card in Istanbul. 
  • Üsküdar and Uçisar, two Unexpected places that feel Untouristy yet welcoming. 
  • Vegetables. After eating only starch and fat for most of Southeast Asia, I hit Istanbul's fruit and veggie markets hard. It was awesome. 
  • Wi-fi. Finally, and internet connection that is fast and reliable? Whoa! 
  • X is the intersection between "west" and "east," "old" and "new." And it's true. Turkey brings it all together. 
  • Yoğurt. Oh, so this is what yoghurt tastes like without additives, stabilisers, and flavor enhancers. America, yer doin' it wrong. 
  • Zero moments when I questioned my decision to travel or what I was getting from/ giving to the experience. 
To be fair, there were moments when I wasn't feeling so keen on Turkey. Four out of five days in Istanbul brought nasty, cold, damp weather. I was hardly in the mood to wander around random neighborhoods, and there isn't much nature in the city. I regretted giving five whole days to wandering around Istanbul and wished I had spent a day or two in another city, perhaps Konya.

A few other less-than-perfect points:
  • Overnight bus rides (though, admittedly, those have been my choice); 
  • Getting lost (though someone has always offered to help us become un-lost); 
  • Some people have been over-zealous in sharing/ pushing their Muslim faith; 
  • Food and accomodation in touristy areas is expensive and poor value (i.e. you don't get much for the cost); 
  • Google Voice doesn't work; 
  • I wasn't able to download NPR podcasts. 
If I'm whining about missing NPR instead of missing clean drinking water, then I guess I don't have much to whine about.

Three cheers for Turkey!

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