I’ve been in Turkey for 1 year now, living and working in the capital city Ankara. Many of my experiences come from working and dealing directly with Turkish people, young and old alike.
First stop was Istanbul arriving on a direct train from Belgrade, Serbia (a train that no longer continues the Turkish part of the journey). Unfortunately due to work deadlines the Istanbul stop would be short lived, a mere 10 hours till the fast train would take me to Ankara (another train that no longer exists). Impressions of Istanbul were very positive, busy, lively and friendly. Quaint narrow pedestrianised side streets full of vendors selling anything from jeans to tomatoes. Getting around was a bit tricky with the ferry boat system negotiating the waters separating Europe and Asia however the friendly locals are happy to point you in the right direction.
The strangest thing for me was (having never been to an Islamic country, depending on weather or not Albania counts) the mosque loudspeakers blaring out the ezan, this eerie haunting sound sent my senses into panic mode but it soon becomes familiar and just annoying.
The stand-out memory of Istanbul was the look a café worker gave me when I asked for milk to go with the tea… the look of horror was priceless!
Places visited so far:
Istanbul – Nice introduction to the country sadly it goes downhill from there.
Ankara – Overcrowded, less friendly than Istanbul and dirty.
Isparta – Didn’t get so much time here seems pleasant enough if a little unexciting.
Bursa – The best place I’ve been to so far in Turkey, cleaner and more cultured, you can easily buy real coffee here!
Eskisehir – Full of pubs and restaurants, bit of a student vibe feels like something is actually happening here, much less sleepy than a lot of places.
Amasra – The dryness of inner Turkey has gone and one can breathe, great place to get away from the dry, dusty and dirtiness of central Turkey.
Safranbolu – Cute little place, a little touristy but makes a great place for photos.
Turkish food is really good however the choice is somewhat limited and can often be fatty greasy and oily. My favourites include bati (a type of kebab) and mangol (barbecued meat). An average meal out will cost you around 20 lira (including a drink) which is about 7 GBP.
I suppose it is Turkish breakfast that stands out as being one of the bigger differences and I do mean bigger! Breakfast seems like the biggest meal of the day, a spread is laid out consisting of bread, cheeses, meats, egg, honey, jams, butter, olives, tomatoes and cucumbers and ff course this is accompanied by Turkish tea (I may have left something out, too much to remember).
English tea can be bought is supermarkets, it’s not as good as in the UK but it’s better than nothing though it is impossible to find when eating and drinking out. Aside from a few places in Turkey such as Bursa and possibly Istanbul finding real coffee (that means coffee that isn’t instant or Turkish coffee) is often impossible. As for Turkish coffee, which is easy to find, for those who haven’t drank it imagine a single shot of espresso coffee half filled with sand mmmm bitty.
Chocolate, good meat (no pork) and cheese can be found fairly easily though products of real quality are harder to find.
To paraphrase Alan Partridge, it started badly and went downhill from there.
As I mentioned earlier the two trains that I tool a year ago to get to Ankara no longer exist so leaving the country without flying means getting a coach.
The two main methods of getting around consist of buses and dolmuses (a type of minibus) and while both a reasonably priced (depending on the journey you’re looking at about 75 pence) they are often overcrowded and dangerous with dolmus drivers telling passengers to duck down so the police don’t see you (because they are always overcrowded). Depending on where you are you (I) can be waiting up to an hour for a bus.
Road accidents are plentiful, lots of awful drivers possibly as a result of their almost non-existent driving tests (that may have changed by now though those already on the roads are not effected by new legislation).
I was personally involved in my first road accident while in Turkey, on a coach from Ankara to Bursa, the coach was fine but the Honda Civic had to be towed away.
My fathers rental car was also badly damaged when it was hit while parked, no note was left so we were left to deal with the consequences.
Children can be seen driving cars and trucks on the roads particularly in and around industrial areas.
Health & Hygiene:
Generally not too bad though smoking is wide-spread including in pubs where it is officially illegal (but hey this is Turkey, who cares about the official law, I also hear that Turkey has good worker rights from a legal perspective however the reality is the opposite).
Pretty much every street in Turkey is dirty and dusty/sandy which seems to be the reason why Turks take their shoes off before entering someones home.
Stray cats and dogs can be found pretty much everywhere.
People & Culture:
What can I say about Turkish people and culture?
Well the Turks regard themselves as being from a culturally strong country and that countries like the US and the UK have ‘no culture’, here’s my experience…
My Turkish fiancé and I tried to rent an apartment together however we soon found that this was impossible, we were told by every landlord that if you are not married and they find out men have been visiting the apartment (if you are a women) then you will be evicted and vice-versa if you are a man.
The vast majority of Turkish parents wont allow their daughter to live with their partner until they are married.
Many swimming pools wont allow men and women to swim together.
So if by cultural they mean restricting peoples lives, telling people what they can and cant do and generally not allowing free choice then yes, Turkey has a rich and strong culture.
If I can summarise Turkish people (generally speaking of course I have met some lovely people as well) I would say: small-minded, petty, over-reacting idiots.
The main issue is the general inability to express yourself without fear of severe repercussions from the 80% or so of the population who are fanatical jerks.