Turkey is the land of Rumi, an association so close to my heart I always feel a sense of deep respect towards the country. Sandwiched between Asia and Europe the country’s capital, Istanbul is the only capital in the world that exists in two continents at the same time.
With some gorgeous neighbours and access to both Mediterranean and Black sea Turkey has a diverse geography and cultural heritage. I also love the fact that my name is the same as the empire of Ottomans; a very proud association which makes me feel very royal ?
Blessed with beautiful beaches, clear seas, long sunny days and natural beauty Turkey has something to offer to everyone whatever your budget and your desire. People are so incredibly beautiful and warm you never feel uneasy or alien.
The country is in a bit of turmoil at the moment but this once mighty empire changed the course of history and the map of Europe so many times it is inseparable from the history of both continents and it is playing a central role again. Until recently Turkey has been a model of progressive modern Muslim country where you could see the headscarves and bikinis right next to each other without any prejudice towards either. I sincerely hope things get better for this little paradise and very soon.
Despite a very Middle Eastern identity Turks always had a distinct culture in the region with ties to both Farsi speaking Persia and Arab speaking Syria and Lebanon without sectarianism affecting this mutual respect and love. Turkish is a distinct language and Ataturk romanised the script to align the country more to Europe and liberal principles which worked quite well.
The Racism Factor
Turks are very cordial and beautiful people inside and out and everyone greets you with so much love and warmth it is amazing. I never felt I was being discriminated against at any level anywhere be it smaller towns or big cities. This incredible warmth is mainly part of the welcoming culture especially in smaller cities and towns rather than a tourist grabbing trick, don’t be suspicious! Go in and enjoy this beautiful country without any hesitation no matter who you are.
The Gay Factor
This is slightly tricky in Turkey. As a Muslim majority country Turkey has made incredible progress towards liberalizing sexuality, it still is a bit of a thorny area. In bigger cities no one cares if you’re gay especially if you do not flaunt and PDA is out of bounds.
There is a huge gay population especially in Istanbul with a few clubs and bars as well. Grindr has been banned from the country but people use Hornet or Scruff instead and they are teeming with hot and gorgeous guys that are very friendly and sweet. Language, however is an issue because a lot of them do not speak or understand English.
All in all being gay is absolutely fine but you need to give PDA some rest and turn down the sass level and you will have a great time in Turkey.
Another slightly worrying trend was the rugs scene in Istanbul which is expanding fast with a lot of people looking for these adventures which was a little sad to discover. Also majority of the guys smoke in Turkey, more than any other country I have been to so be prepared for that as well…
Fun Fact: Guys holding hands in public doesn’t mean they are gay. Straight friends will do that with Middle East being very touchy feely and you can easily hold hands in public without any backlash, smooching and kissing is another matter..
Value for Money
Turkey is expensive and cheap both. The main centre in Istanbul can be as expensive as any major city in Europe but the smaller cities are quite cheap especially for food. If you book your accommodation in advance and get it cheap it can be pretty cheap otherwise. Visiting Izmir or other smaller cities like Denizli is a cheap affair. Food is very cheap and delicious and we didn’t touch any fast food throughout our stay.
I visited Turkey in summer of 2015 and visited Istanbul for 4 days, Izmir for 2 days and spent 1 and a half day in Pammukale, Denizli and Selcuk. While you can spend a lot more time in Istanbul the smaller cities can be easily seen in much less time. You definitely need to spend some times on the beaches in this country which are some of the best in Europe.
Accommodation in Turkey is probably the biggest expense and if you want a good place you should book it in advance.
For Istanbul you should stay near Istaklal avenue which is the centre of town on the new side of the town. We divided our time between the old city centre and Istaklal Avenue which gave us a good coverage of places to see in both sides of the town.
For Izmir, staying in the city centre is the best option from where you can take the public transport to the beaches. There are also some good options to stay in Cesme near the beach if you don’t mind staying a bit far from the city.
For other cities we stayed in a hotel at the bottom of the hill in Pammukale which was amazing.
Imagine fresh BBQ meat with lots of grilled vegetables with baklawa at the end. Turkish food is very diverse and extremely sumptuous. The country has a very meat based diet but vegetarians and vegans won’t find themselves lost here because there are a lot of things you can have without meat.I love the mixed kebabs which includes bbq’d lamb and chicken in different forms with salad and rice.
In summer you have to try the Yogurt drink called Ayran. It does wonders and you will have the best siesta of your life on this stuff and there’s no alcohol in it.
On the sweeter side you will find so many types of baklawa, it is mind-boggling. Baklawa is the puff pastry with pistachios covered with sweet syrup and it is quite heavy. Another amazing thing is Turkish Delight which are small fragrant jelly cubes in a lot of different flavours. I loved the rose and pomegranate flavours. (I just drooled a bucket thinking about this stuff..)
Turkey is a big country and cusine varies quite a lot, I tried a few restaurants and you can find suggestions for each city below:
Phone & Internet
Phone reception is quite good throughout the country and you can get working phones and good data speed everywhere not just in big cities. Internet and Free wifi is common in big cities but you will have to rely on mobile data for smaller cities. I bought a Vodafone sim card for my stay that worked very well for me although you need to go to a store or buy it at the airport but you need to take your passport with you. Ask the guys to set it up for you with the package because it can be quite complicated. You can find more info here.
Cash & Cards
The official currency of Turkey is Lira and it is denoted by TRY. Although card payments are quite common in big cities but most towns will not take card payments and you need to keep cash. Even in the older districts card payments are not very common so cash is your friend here and it is generally safe to keep some on you.
Cash machines are quite common in cities and so are the currency exchange but be very careful of the one’s in tourist hotspots because they will rip you off massively.
- Turkey is an Islamic country but drinking alcohol is not restricted but you shouldn’t drink in public. It is frowned upon and can get you in trouble.
- Sunscreen, Beach towels, hats and swimming trunks.
- Public transport is quite good, instead of booking tours use trains and busses especially for Pammukale.
- Google Translate is very helpful because a lot of population doesn’t speak or understand English.
- Don’t feel bad if a woman doesn’t shake hand with you especially the women with headscarves, it just isn’t part of their culture and you should ask men for info rather than women.
- Getting a taxi to a gay club isn’t the best idea, ask for the general area and get off at a little distance, some of the taxi drivers can be quite rude.
- Turkish people are generally very warm and a smile will take you a long way.
- As always respect their culture because you are in their country and not the other way around.
- If you want to shop for stuff go to the old town and stay clear of tourist markets.
- Bargain, bargain and bargain, that’s the golden rule for shopping.