I have been dreaming about visiting Turkey since 2018 and in 2021, I finally got the chance. In 2021, I lived and explored Turkey for over two weeks. When you are visiting a new country, it is not unlikely that you might get surprised by some experiences. During those two weeks, I saw and experienced good things as well as some bad or negative things in Turkey. In this blog post, I am sharing some of those experiences.
My Worst Experiences in Turkey
These bad experiences helped me set my expectations right for my future trips to Turkey. These experiences may not be that bad, but it doesn’t take away the truth that these are my real observations in Turkey and something that you might also observe while in Turkey.
The idea of smoking does not make sense to me. Maybe because I spent most of my life in the dusty and polluted environments found in most Indian towns and cities, I appreciate being able to breathe in the normal fresh air. That freedom is also what attracts me to little towns instead of big cities with lots of population.
From what I saw, Turkey has lots of smokers. Most streets and places in Istanbul smelled of cigarettes to me. Ankara felt a bit better compared to Istanbul in that aspect. It may be the cold that is making people in Turkey want to smoke to keep themselves warm.
Turkey has a refugee problem, especially from the countries in its Eastern borders. The groud reality is worse than I imagined it to be. You can easily spot people and children roaming around in Istanbul and Ankara begging and doing various things to earn a living. I also saw a heart-breaking scene where a kid, maybe 10 or 12 years old, was crying on the busy sidewalk near Galata tower. It seemed he was recently abandoned and was mentally scarred. Seeing that nobody around there cared about the crying kid, I guess it is a common scene there.
The locals in Turkey are not happy about the growing number of refugees and the problems caused by them. The refugees are known to engage in robbery and violence as seen in various videos related to that from Turkey.
Turkey has great roads and systems to regulate traffic. Still, the traffic in Turkey is quite chaotic and the drivers are quite aggressive.
One of the challenges that I face as an Indian when abroad is adjusting my trust to the road manners of each country. In India, both drivers and pedestrians are equally bad. It does not really matter whether there is a zebra crossing or not, people are used to crossing the roads by wading through moving vehicles. Drivers and pedestrians have a basic understanding of each other about this organized chaos.
In Paris, the drivers stop for you to let you cross the road even if you are on the sidewalk. This was quite unbelievable for me. If you don’t cross, they might get mad. It took me some time to start trusting the drivers of Paris.
In Portugal, the drivers stop for you to let you cross if you are on the zebra crossing. However, if you are crossing it slowly, they might get impatient and start honking. I have seen that happen for real!
In Turkey, drivers ( especially taxi drivers ) will try to race you and zoom past you even if you are in the middle of the zebra crossing. That is what I experienced in Ankara while crossing trying to cross the road at 4:15 PM on 25th November 2021.
I can say without a doubt that my worst road crossing experience outside of India so far is in Turkey.
Feeling of Being Watched
In Paris and Portugal, nobody bothered me. Not even the police. At no point did I feel like I was being watched because I looked a bit different from everyone else. The people there do really know how to mind their own business.
However, in Turkey, the case was similar to India. Lots of glances were coming my way especially when I was walking with my Turkish friends. It might have caught the curiosity of Turkish guys seeing a foreigner with a Turkish girl xD.
Apart from that, when I was on my own, it felt like someone was keeping an eye on what I was doing. The giant CCTV cameras and police in riot gear in the streets of Istanbul didn’t make it feel safer. I still remember the face of that man who kept looking at me while I was trying to take photos at Taksim square. I won’t be surprised if he was part of the secret police.
In Ankara railway station, when I was heading to the washroom, two people in casual civilian dress stopped me and a few other Indonesians who were students in Turkey. They told me that they were police and started enquiring about me. They asked for my passport and verified my details with someone over WhatsApp. I was let go after about 10 minutes of questioning and verifying.
Then when I continued on my way to the washroom, I was followed by someone else. In the washroom, I could see him in the mirror standing near the entrance pretending to be busy on his phone. Who comes to the washroom to look at the phone? He could have at least pretended to go for pee to look less suspicious.
The Incident at the Bus Station
I had booked a bus from Flixbus to travel from Istanbul to Ankara. My boarding point was at the Esenler bus station. The bus station was quite huge with over 60+ boarding gates. I was quite confused and running late. I asked a random person I saw there for guidance to the gate number mentioned in my ticket. He disguised himself as trying to help me only to take me to the ticket booking counter of the travel agency he represented. The same thing repeated with three or four other people. They were trying to fool me into booking a new ticket. Eventually, I found a helpful person who directed me properly.
It left a bad taste in my overall impression of Turkey. If you need help, be cautious about whom you are asking for help. You could be easily misled.
The language barrier is an easy excuse for people to pretend to not understand you and fool you into buying something you didn’t want. I had a similar experience with an east Asian Uber driver who pretended to not understand English in Los Angeles and kept making the wrong turn so that he could earn more from the trip.
My Best Experiences in Turkey
Though I had a couple of bad experiences in Turkey, ultimately, it is the following best experiences that make me want to visit Turkey again.
Turkey has lots of interesting dishes and desserts. My favourite ones are Lahmacun, Kumpir and Baklava. And of course, Turkish tea is amazing. It looked and tasted pretty similar to the Black tea that we make here in Kerala. Künefe is another great dessert.
I traveled to Turkey just before the crazy crash of the Turkish Lira. However, even before the Lira crash, Turkey was very affordable for the experience it offered. The price of dishes in local restaurants was comparable to the price in restaurants in India.
Public transportation was definitely more affordable than in India. The metro services that I used in Istanbul and Ankara also seemed pretty cheap. A 6-hour bus ride from Istanbul to Ankara costs only 90 TL. The high-speed train that I traveled from Ankara to Istanbul costs only 120 TL.
I have heard a lot about the friendliness and hospitality of Turks towards its guests. It is very true and it was beyond my expectations.
In Istanbul, the time I spent with my friend Burcu and her sisters gave me an identity crisis. They didn’t really speak English well. The communication with them was a bit challenging. Yet, we somehow managed to talk about a lot of things over a beautiful breakfast near the seaside.
After that, we also spent some time in a little theme park. There we drove the disco cars and had a ride on a little rollercoaster. It was a lot of fun. They were all very friendly and indifferent. It seemed like we were part of the same family and they were the sisters I never knew I had!
In Ankara, my friend Dilay invited me to her home to meet her family. There I met the coolest parents ever! They didn’t speak or understand English. But they were patient and understanding about the communication gap. Dilay acted as the translator and we managed to talk a bit. Dilay’s mom also did a Turkish coffee reading for me and shared a couple of things about my future. The freedom they gave to their daughter to meet and bring a stranger from a foreign country to their home was something that surprised me a lot. I think it shows the trust they have in her and their parenting skills.
If a girl in India were to tell her parents about meeting a guy ( it doesn’t matter who or from where he is ), I can’t imagine the consequences she would have to face. Most probably, she would be locked in and be soon pressured into an arranged marriage with some other stranger from the same religion, caste, and social status.
Later, Dilay’s mom took us to the best place to get Kunefe around there. The Kunefe was really sweet and I couldn’t eat more than a slice because my sugar levels were already too high from the amazing hospitality of Turks.
Had I known Turkish very well, I can’t imagine how much more fun and interesting my time in Turkey could have been.
On a side note, I have always found it easier to connect with Turks than people from any other country. I don’t know what exactly is the reason but my theory is that Turks know a bit about India because of the dubbed Hindi serials and Bollywood movies on Turkish television. Aamir Khan, one of the megastars in Bollywood, is also very popular in Turkey. Almost everyone I talked to from Turkey has at least heard of him and has seen the movie “3 Idiots”. Maybe this familiarity makes it easier to connect with Turks on the same wavelength.
The Luxurious Library in Ankara
While I was on my way to see the controversial Presidential Palace in Ankara, I unexpectedly stumbled on a cool building. I had no idea what it was but I saw people going into it. I also just walked into it and at the entrance, I had to show my passport to get a pass to enter the compound. The entry was free. I walked into the building and at first, I thought it was some kind of luxurious theatre. As I explored, I was mind blown to find that it was a public library.
Lots of students were making use of the library facilities for reading and studying. The discipline and silence inside that building were unbelievable. Everything was very clean and well organized. Nobody had told me about this amazing library and it was an unexpected surprise for me in Turkey. I’m pretty sure it is one of the best world-class library facilities in the entire world.
It is great that Turkish students have access to such amazing free public libraries.
Istanbul is a city ruled by cats. There is no doubt about that. In just one week of my stay in Istanbul, I have seen more cats than in my entire life before!
People from other countries might misunderstand the street cats in Istanbul as a sad situation. However, it couldn’t be farther from that. The locals and authorities are taking good care of the cats in Istanbul. I saw cat foods in almost every corner of the streets in Istanbul. The cats are also very street smart and you can spot them enjoying their city life.
I was also fortunate to be joined by one such smart Istanbul cat during one fine evening dinner.
Turkey is my favorite travel destination. Nowadays, whenever I think of traveling or taking a vacation, Turkey is the country that comes to my mind first. However, Istanbul is a bit too chaotic and busy for my liking. Coming from a country with a population of over 1 billion, it doesn’t interest me much to spend time in another chaotic place. I like mysterious and endless-looking places like Cappadocia and Van.
On my next visit to Turkey, I will rent a caravan or a motorbike to explore the Cappadocia and southern regions of Turkey. I can’t wait for it!