Since “cafè” begun I had in my mind to write something about Turkey, a Country where I'm always longing to go again.
All the time I was kept back by the enormous amount of things to say, though I only know but a little portion of this big Country. But now I resolved to do it, thinking that something is still better than nothing....
Any tour you may decide to do in Turkey should, or at least it is the nicest thing to do, begin and/or end in Istanbul, this enormous chaotic city, where often taxi drivers bring you around by asking the way to colleagues or to passers-by. And sometimes, as it happened to me, they leave you somewhere else, obliging you to take a second taxi. There may be half day long electricity black outs. It's possible that the taxi you had booked for 6 a. m. to go to the airport forgets to come.
Don't go if you are not curious and easy minded
This said, however, one must also say that people there are extremely willing to help: there is no problem that won't be faced up and resolved with kindness, understanding and, above all, calm: a real therapy for stressed and anxious people. They also have a true talent for comfort, not the technological one made of queer accessories, but the real one, consisting in providing for the right thing at the right moment in the right place.
For instance, in the South, in Myra, a public coach came to fetch us at the hotel because one of us had hurt his knee; in any small sunburnt lonely beach you may go you'll find a little restaurant and a shower, or, at least, someone selling drinks. After two weeks in Turkey, in my first trip there, my companion, who had arrived anxious and stressed, used to say: “I'm sure that if I sit down on the border of the road and weep saying I want mama, somehow in half an hour they'll get me a substitute!”
Istanbul, we said.
To sleep: preferably in one of the many small hotels in Sultanhamet. They are chiefly ex-houses of pashas, reconstructed to make three or four stars hotels, small but quite comfortable, giving you the idea of what urban residences were of well off Turkish people in ‘700 and ‘800.
According to your budget, you might chose to spend a night at the Pera Palce, magnificent and just a little decadent, I think it could be a pleasant experience.
However for the first or last nights in Istanbul the best is to book for the hotel in advance, which will anyhow be the most expensive thing in your trip.
As a matter of fact if you have your accommodation in Sultanhamet you are already into the historic centre, amidst a lot of things that you must absolutely see: St. Sophia, the Blue Mosque, with it's small but top quality bazaar, the Topkapi, to see the treasure there is always a long queue, but also the buildings and gardens are interesting, the magnificent archaeological Museum, etc..
Still in Sultanhamet, along the Hippodrome Square (so said because it is on the site of the Roman hippodrome and maintains its shape), at the end from which the Divanolu road starts, you should absolutely visit the ancient water cistern: an immense underground basin, held up by a big lot of re-used ancient columns, that could supply water for months to the city when besieged. It's a very suggestive space, especially when there are not too many people. When it still was not opened to the public a spectacular motorboat pursue was shoot there for a 007 movie.
Not far from the exit of the cistern, still in the Hippodrome square, you'll find a box selling very good roast potatoes: very big ones, they cut them in two and mix the inside with grated cheese and other tasty things at your choice, with a delicious drink of pressed oranges it provides for an appetising and cheap lunch. Last time we only paid for it one million Tl. per person, now maybe three millions will be enough!
That's it, because in Turkey inflation is ridiculous: if you stay there for more than three days you're better change your currency day per day: at the end you'll have saved some good money, and be careful you spend all you have changed before living, also if it'd mean to come back home with ten pounds of pistachios.
Things to see in Istanbul are a big lot, my advice is to equip yourselves with a good guide, and there are also many archaeological sites, archaeological clubs often organise thematic trips there.
But it's also worth while just wandering about. Walk along the first portion of Divanolu avenue, a busy road in the very core of the old city, starting from Hippodrome Sq. , along it you find also to the great Bazaar. There is the tramway passing as well, and it's always crowded with life and people; take some of the many side roads that are also full of urban life and activities.
You'll find there Mac Donald's as well as monumental cemeteries, libraries, mosques small traditional restaurants with hubble-bubble smokers, artisan's shops, and also the big Bazaar.
The big Bazaar his a huge structure: an indoor city only made of shops, a labyrinth of streets where you get lost, in every street a special sort of goods is sold, so there is the area of golden jewellery, silver jewellery, leather goods, copper or pewter articles, materials and dresses, antiquities, and so on...
The big Bazaar is somehow the gauge of the state of the Country: when there is a crisis many shops close up and the big complex looks said and a little miserable. In good times it's shining with lights, silver and gold and literally swarming with people overflowing into the exterior streets around, that are also full of shops and workshops of all kind, busy waiters go about with big brass trays bringing tea, coffee and foods to shopkeepers.
The second big Bazaar, Eminolu one near to Galata Tower, is chiefly dedicated to food, full of colours, spices, caviar, fresh and dried fruits, cakes and all different possible kinds of food
Ask about anything that arouses your curiosity: the ingenuity they succeed in explaining things using words of different language and mimics is a show in itself. Be steady and kind and let them understand you'll by only what you really intend to, and then bargain: to bargain in Istanbul is compulsory and you'll find totally different prices for the same article in different shops.
Let yourself be tempted by caviar, it's excellent and costs very little
Galata's Bridge, the long one connecting the European Istanbul to Turkish one is every day crossed by thousands of people and commuters. Always swarming with people eating, selling, buying, bargaining, discussing. At least once taste the fried fish offered to passers by through the windows of the small fish and chips shops of the pedestrian passage under the bridge.
Take the public service ship that goes up along Bosphorus, through beautiful scenarios, though partially disfigured by wild spec builders in the last ten years, as far as to reach Black Sea. The strait is overlooked by the fortresses that defended it in the past.
If you have time and decide to visit the ancient capital, Edirne, or if you wish to visit Bursa, go there by coach.
Reach Istanbul Otogàr. Otogàr, from the French word Autogare, is in every Turkish city, town or village, the station of rubber wheeled means: Istanbul's one is huge and, as well as bazaars, deserves to be seen: it's a very wide double square with a huge building in the middle and surrounded with low ones with shop windows at ground floor; every shop hosts a transport firm, for passengers and goods, and the square is divided according to the destinations, always very lively. You ask for the area of Bursa, or Edirne. In the shop windows you find timetables and prices and you may choose what suits you best.
Turkey in general
I'malways speaking apout the coastal area, that's the one I know.
With the exception of two days for August bank holiday west of Antalia, I never had problem to find impromptu accommodations, from a two stars in Kaunos placed in a fabulous site on the river, to a comfortable very cheap familiar pansiòn in Kas, to a tourist village which was sort of a Shangri-La merged in 6 hectares of botanical garden, by the mouth of a brook, with eleven running water swimming pools, a sumptuous half board for 80 DM per person in 1998 east of Alania, etc...
So, with the exception of Istanbul where, as I said above, it's better to book in advance, my advice is to go and find impromptu what is more pleasant and convenient for you.
Turkish cooking uses to be rather light and enjoyable. I'm personally fond of appetisers that they call with the French word “entrées”, chiefly based on cheeses, fried food and cooked and raw vegetables - in Turkey there are dozens of way to cook aubergines- and I scarcely go as far as to take a first or second course, which are much less varied. Generally first courses are vegetables or fish soups and second courses are based on ship meet, mixed with vegetables or spit-roasted (shish-kebab) or cut from the big “pine cone” browning before the gas (donar kebab). In some sea resorts, mainly the western ones, also some fish dishes are good.
If you go for a day trip to a beach it isn't worthy bringing a pic-nic, as you are pretty sure to find a light cheap lunch nearly everywhere.
Usually the most delicious thing is breakfast, with raw vegetables, sort of Feta cheese, yoghurt, fruits and honey in Spartan accommodations, but it may become a true banquet in places as the tourist village I was speaking above.
Sensational are cake shops, for fans of the very very sweet; delicious the fruits.
I'm also fond of eating what they propose to you in the roads: crunching boiled corncobs, nibbling at Sultana raisin grapes, eating fried fish in paper cones, pistachios, etc...
In Istanbul around Hippodrome Sq. and along the Divanolu avenue you'll find restaurants of all kinds, you could maybe try one of the traditional ones with the hubble bubble smoking place.
If have in mind to buy you are in the right place. From carpets to caviar, from ceramics to antiques, from golden and silver jewels to silk foulards, to true and false brand watches.
You only have to keep steady nerves, bargain with calm respecting their times. When in Istanbul the best thing is to begin with offering half the requested price; if they say yes it means it is still to much, then the seller is not serious and you're better change. If they refuse to sell to your price you have to arrive very gradually to the amount you intend to spend for the good and not move from there, even if you have to leave there the article and go away: if they follow you for more bargain you have won, if not, it means they really cannot lower any more and you can always go back and buy at the last price.
If you are a fan of steady prices don't buy in Istanbul: you'll be able to recover in the South, in the sea resorts where prices are practically steady, with only a very small margin for bargain like everywhere. It's possibly due to a tradition of German tourism.
In weekly markets, if you are lucky to find a good one, you'll be able to find very characteristic things, such as beautiful cotton materials, glass pearls, meters of hand worked crochet laces, handcraft made agricultural tools of elegant ancient design, and, always, spices, slipped almonds and pine seeds, pistachios and tasty fresh and dried fruits.
Many people like renting a car or a small coach. I'm convinced that in Turkey it isn't convenient.
All public means are there privately owned, organised on co-operative bases and are in competition, that's why the service is very effective - means are generally new and comfortable - and widely spread: where the coach won't arrive the dolmus will, where the dolmus doesn't taxis do.
Dolmuses (the Turkish word for camel) are mini-coaches for 12 to 20 persons parking in the Otogàrs, with the destination written on the windscreen: they start when they are full and make journeys of about one hour. Coaches make longer journeys, start according timetables with disconcerting punctuality, as they usually start five minutes in advance. Places are numbered, if you like to stay at the front you must take tickets early.
Usually after one hour and half they make a stop in a petrol station where you can eat or drink something and use W.C., some lines also have a steward on board offering Coca Cola, towels and puffs of verbena perfumed water.
For long journeys as well taxis are not very expensive, for extra-urban destinations bargain in advance.
A great advantage of going by public means is that you don't drive: if it's you who drive, remind that being an unbeliever, you are wrong on principle. And this may prove quite unpleasant, as Turkish drivers are quite daring ones. This of course is true also for public means drivers, but fortunately out of the towns traffic is rare.
If you have little time and you want to go, say, as far as Antalia or Dalaman, take the aeroplane. In domestic lines you find smart and brand new airbuses and tariffs are decidedly low.
In the hall of Istanbul's airport, before the check-in, where veiled women speak wit their cellular phone and grasp cine cameras, Asiatic businessmen exhibit blue suits and yellow smiles, fat Russian ladies covered with jewels go arm in arm with Mafiosi husbands with stony faces, whilst western tourists speak all Europe's languages, you'll really feel that Istanbul is the door of Orient, were worlds meet and mix up.
Finally sea trips: yet I haven't tried it, but it has strong fans. All people who told me about caique cruisers, made in ten or twelve, were enthusiastic.
As for me I have often rent with a very moderate expense motorboats for day trips, with the sailors, usually a nice and correct guy, and went to see charming places as Kekova or Kaunos. With about forty dollars you may ahve a confortable boat for seven - eight persons.
I'm just about realising that I said nothing about places, some of which -eg. Kekova, Kaunos, Patara,etc.- are among the most beautiful of the Mediterranean sea.
But places you may discover by yourselves
I'll only tell you very synthetically about Kekova Bay, where the ground level deepened suddenly and water submerged an ancient town, whose stony rests are still visible under the emerald crystal clear water. There, nearby the village of Simena, the tombs of the ancient Lykian warriors emerge from low water as fantastic capsized boats, and by fording you reach a mini-island based on stony rests of ancient houses, whose only inhabitant is a lonely white rabbit....
I swear, this summer I'll return there.