An Introduction to Turkey

Istanbul Skyline

After all the cheesy pastry I had been eating, I was not looking forward to much more of it. In Edirne, the girl that the three of us were staying with kindly said that she would cook us dinner. Happily, we relaxed and were soon served a wonderful assortment of foods that I had never tried before. They ranged from yoghurt covered vegetables to assortments that were indiscernible to my unfamiliar eye. The centre piece was çiğ köfte. At first, it was hard to tell exactly what it was. After eating it, I still wasn’t sure. All I knew is that it was one of the most delicious things that I had ever tried.

Çiğ köfte is actually a collection of spices and finely ground bulgar wheat. Each ‘scoop’ is squeezed by hand and then you put it into a lettuce leaf and squeeze lemon over it. I was a little shocked to find out that the direct tranlastion meant raw meatballs as I haven’t eaten meat since I was seven years old. Despite this, it was still delicious. To my great pleasure, I later found out that there is no meat in most çiğ köfte due to laws prohibiting the sale of raw meat.

Visiting a mosque in Edirne
Visiting a mosque in Edirne

Turkey is Delicious

The following morning we were treated to a delicious breakfast in the sunshine and I realised that if only for the food, I was going to like Turkey. It had delicious food and a lot of it was vegetarian. Walking the old streets of the small city, we visited mosques and admired their architecture. As we entered one, a woman rushed over to hand a head scarf to the female member of our party. At prayer time, all three of us were removed and we watched the sun set over the minarets of another new country. There was something about that sunset that let me know my journey was drawing to an end.

A Turkish sunset
A Turkish sunset

Entering Turkey, I had no idea what to expect from Turkish people and as ever, I wanted to have no preconceptions of people I hadn’t yet met. The few Turkish people I had met in England and Italy had all seemed quite lovely.

I had been told that there was a big difference between women and men in Turkey, and that men were rather strong minded. On my first couple of days, I was treated wonderfully. I played table football and spent time with people I couldn’t understand. With hand gestures and smiles, we got all we needed to and when that became too much effort, we started another game of table football. My initial impression of Turks was an extremely positive one.

Mixed Impressions

Unfortunately, my following impressions were faltering and instilled doubts that I had hoped not to experience. Hitchhiking out of Edirne in search of Istanbul, an engineer picked up the three of us and started a racist fuelled rant against the Kurds indicating a divided nation. I do not find it appropriate to talk of people in such a way and I asked for him to drop us at a junction when our paths were splitting so that we could continue our journey along the main road. Much to my dismay, he refused, indicating that he knew a better way for us to go. We were driven away from the main road and I was grateful to finally get out of his vehicle for the ceasing of the racist comments and his over bearing manner.

We were left at a junction which offered little promise and the road he showed us to Istanbul was not, in my opinion, the road the Istanbul. A lorry passed us in a tangential direction and as he pulled up to check a problem I approached him waving my sign for Istanbul. We nodded and gestured to the truck confirming that our last driver had been taking us in the wrong direction and the three of us bundled in for what we expected to be our last hitchhiking ride together.

We were dumped on the outskirts of Istanbul where we sat between lanes on motorway traffic to eat lunch from the little we had on us. Hitchhiking on motorways is undesirable, but entirely possible and on the outskirts of Istanbul, the only way to get a ride. Several rides and awful hitching spots later, we found ourselves left somewhere within the Istanbul metrobus network. The metrobus is a large bus that has it’s own lane, making it an incredibly fast form of transport. We were sweating heavily as we we were pushed around by too many passengers. We rode it for what seemed like a lifetime before arriving at our intended stop, from where we caught a metro to Taksim, the unofficial centre of Istanbul. By this time it was evening and we were hungry once more and in need of rest after our over exposure to the sun.

Lunch on the motorway
Lunch on the motorway

I am about to start a rant and it might go on for a while so I’ll stop myself. I’ll give you the bad side of Turkey next time.

This is part of a 20 something thousand hitchhiking journey which you can read more about.

2 Comments

  • You have to take the good with the bad when travelling. I find myself going off on rants at fairly frequent intervals here in Peru (sometimes with the people who have been the source of my distress, much to their annoyance).

    In the end it’s all part of the experience. Most of the time you meet a lot of fantastic people that you really connect with, unfortunately you also meet people who straight away get under your skin.

    • Of course. It is always a shock to see the intersection of cultures. Things here in Turkey never fail to surprise me. I will be leaving shortly and wherever I go next will surprise and please me equally much. I love (and hate) those new discoveries about other people’s ways of life. For me however, the good outweighs the bad and this is what keeps me going, moving, exploring.

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