Turkish Delights
Turkey, © 16.Jun.2002 gM
Photos of Turkey
Introduction to Turkey
Turkish Delights
Sometimes You Just Don't Know Until You Get There
If I had to pick two things which I would not want to miss out on during a visit to Turkey, they would be lokum and elma çay. Lokum is a sweet called Turkish Delight in English which comes in many variations but always consists of sugar, corn starch, and gum base. Elma çay is refreshing apple-flavored powder tea, and is served like all tea in small, tulip-shaped glasses with a small saucer, small spoon, and at least two sugar cubes. Wonderful pastries, cakes, soups, and stuffed aubergines are available, but lamb or chicken meat is the staple food: döner kebab (called gyros in Greece and shawarma in the Middle East), şiş kebab (meat on skewers), spicy adana kebab, urfu kebab which comes with onions, and İskender kebab which is served on bread with tomato sauce and yoghurt. Often couscous and salad are served on the side. Tired of meat dishes? There is also pide, a pizza-like dish with cheese, vegetables, or egg toppings.

Turkish Delights are not at all confined to delicious sweets. Wandering the streets of İstanbul, the super-efficient bus terminal in İzmir, and sitting in a çay place watching Turkey play World Cup Soccer, are three things on which I smilingly like to think back.

Blue Mosque
Topkapi Palace
Kariye Camii
Aya Sofya
Blue Mosque, Topkapı Palace, Kariye Camii, and Aya Sofya / © gM
Of all the cities we have recently visited, Cairo comes to the forefront of our minds as the one with which to compare İstanbul. Superficially, the similarities are obvious. Islamic culture permeates both cities. Each one offers world class attractions - Great Pyramids and the Egyptian Museum on one hand, and Aya Sofya, Blue Mosque, Topkapı Palace, and Kariye Camii on the other. On closer look though, İstanbul is much less male dominated than Cairo. Whereas almost all of our dealings in Cairo were with men, we frequently interact with women in İstanbul, from conductors to sales assistants to ticket agents. Whereas women are hardly seen in the streets of Cairo, men and women belong to the public life of İstanbul. In general, İstanbul presents itself as a more progressive city than Cairo in terms of infrastructure, and is also closer to the West in terms of everyday life. In a twist of ideologies, rebellious women in İstanbul wear a veil to proudly show their faith, and demand freedom of expression because after the Turkish War of Independence in the 1920s wearing the fez or the veil was outlawed in a set of sweeping reforms initiated by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, war time hero and "Father of all Turks". Whereas Cairo's huge market Khan Al-Khalili almost drowns in chaos, Zamboni-like machines clean the tiled floors of İstanbul's Kapalı Çarşı and "Credit Cards Accepted" signs abound. Just one block away from the tourist centers however, a much less modern Turkey, more similar to Cairo, shows its face where a herd of sheep roams the street, laundry is done on the sidewalk and hung across the street to dry, where adults sit in front of their houses chatting, discussing, arguing, and where children playfully run around in the midst of all this.

Back in the land where credit cards are widely accepted, we are waiting for the waiter to return with my credit card which takes much longer than usual. The waiter is clearly stressed, sweat accumulates on his forehead as he is talking to someone on the phone for several minutes. When he finally comes back to our table, he presents two credit card slips: one with the correct amount and one with ten times the correct amount. "This is the actual credit card slip which I need you to sign", he explains, "and this is the cancelation receipt for the transaction where I inadvertently typed in one zero too many. I phoned the credit card company. Everything is fine." Don't you love situations like this? All we can do is hope that the word iptal highlighted on the top of the cancelation receipt actually means something like that (which, by the way, it did).

Traveling by bus in Turkey is generally a very pleasant experience. Once one has figured out that a bus going from A to B may actually only go from C to D, requiring two shuttle trips for which one may or may not have to pay, just lean back, enjoy the air conditioning, watch videos, and nibble on complimentary snacks and drinks which are sometimes served. Be alert at the beginning of a trip though, as the attendant squirts a mixture of lemon juice and alcohol from a plastic bottle onto your hands like a liquid refreshment towel. You have to be ready for it otherwise your pants will get soaked. The bus system is vast and efficient. Our travels take us through İzmir twice and both times we easily manage to get off our bus, find out where and when our next bus leaves, buy tickets for our next destination, and be on the right bus leaving the bus station in less than 15 minutes. It is so efficient that kN does not get any alotted time for a bathroom break, and that I am carrying both backpacks like suitcases because there is no time to unzip and setup the backpack straps.

Cappadocia / © gM
Our arrival in Göreme, Cappadocia, coincides with the beginning of the 2002 Soccer World Cup. Within two days we become regulars, kN at the Internet Cafe and me at a cheap çay place where the locals watch the soccer games. It is a no-nonsense place without any kind of decoration, just a rectangular room with a small kitchen to boil tea water, some chairs and tables inside and outside, and the mandatory backgammons, dominoes, and cards. And of course, there is the TV, cranked up to ensure that everyone knows the game is on. The owner of the çay place is continuously serving Turkish çay, elma çay, oralet or limon çay (the orange or lemon-flavored versions of elma çay) while the customers loudly discuss the soccer events. The place goes beserk with everyone jumping on their feet and screaming at maximum levels when Turkey scores a goal to lead Brazil 1:0. There is no sound, however, from the TV! Just before the goal, the imam started his call to prayer and, as always, the owner of the çay place turned off the volume of the TV. His customers try to convince him to turn up the volume, just this time, but he does not until after the imam has finished. Over the next weeks, soccer mania reaches unknown heights in Turkey due to the unexpectedly very successful Turkish team. The crowds in çay places all over Turkey grow larger and louder and the victory celebrations become more and more elaborate. Even souvenir vendors at archaeological sites stop hassling visitors altogether and are themselves glued to television screens. Wherever I have been when a major soccer event took place, in Austria for World Cup Soccer 1990, in Fiji for 1994, in Canada for 1998, now in Turkey, and in Central America for Euro 1996, the atmosphere and excitement of people is easily shared across borders.

Introduction to Turkey  /  Turkish Delights  /  Sometimes You Just Don't Know Until You Get There