Hello from Istanbul. I arrived last night – I’m not sure why I’ve yet to let you know my plans, but I’ll be meeting my girlfriend Nicole for four nights here in Istanbul. She arrives tonight. Excited doesn’t begin to explain my feelings on again seeing her – it has been almost five weeks since we said goodbye in Edinburgh. Being separated has been difficult, but we both realize that considering our situations, separation is inevitable right now. We travel well together, so our time in Istanbul should be wonderful. At the end of June, we spent four nights in Prague – a stunning city.
I spent yesterday traveling from Izmir to Istanbul – not an easy journey. From Izmir, I took a bus, a train, and finally a ferry to finally arrive in Istanbul some eight hours later.
My experience thus far in Turkey has been indescribably amazing. The history and beauty of the country aside, Turkey is full of brilliant people. I have read so much about the kindness of the Turkish people. It has been amazing to experience the kind, hospitable, and outgoing culture first hand. Unlike Western European countries who have grown tired and sometimes bitter of the tourists which flock to their cities, Turkey embraces the tourist. Everywhere I’ve traveled, I’ve encountered a society which embraces tourists and goes out of their way to ensure you (as a traveler) have the best possible experience in their country.
Since arriving in Turkey four days ago, I’ve drank more tea and played more backgammon than I ever imagined was possible. Turkey is famous the world around for its coffee – brewed in its own, unique way. Turkish coffee is brewed in a special pot called a cezve; the pot is heated three times and each time taken away from the heat when the foam reaches the neck of the cezve. Prepared with sugar, Turkish coffee is thick and strong. To be honest, it’s not really to my liking. I’ve grown far more fond of the Apple Tea which most Turkish folk drink. Brian, Peter, and I have spent a good deal of time in the traditional, Turkish Kahveane – an area where men congregate to drink tea, play the national game of tavla (backgamon), and socialize.
Each time we walk into one of these Kahveanes, we are obviously immediately recognized as tourists. The men in the Kahveanes will always come to us, welcome us to Turkey, and do their best to speak with us – regardless of how good or bad their English is.
This isn’t unique to the Kahveanes. Wherever I’ve been, I’ve been almost overwhelmed with the number of Turkish people who go out of their way to speak with me. Even if their English is limited to, “Where are you from?” they do everything they can to make you feel welcome in their country. As you can imagine, it’s very refreshing.
Two nights ago, Brian, Peter, and I were wandering the streets of Selcuk awaiting a pick up from our hostel. As we were walking, I was fiddling with my Turkish beads I had picked up at the bazaar in Izmir. This man came up to me and let me know I was doing it all wrong … he took them from me, and began to spin them as the Turkish do. As he was doing this, the string on which the beads were attached broke. You could instantly see the embarrassment in his eyes. He insisted on taking me to his shop and fixing the beads for me.
The three of us followed him to his nearby shop. As he was working on my beads, he offered the three of us tea. Wrongly, we first tried to object to his offer. The Turkish often are offended by the refusal of gifts or refreshments. After he continued to insist on the tea, we all accepted his offer. As we were talking, one of his mates came in and started talking with us as well. After the beads were fixed, we were invited to Ali’s Turkish carpet shop where we spent the next couple hours talking, playing tavla, learning about Turkish carpets, and drinking tea. “You should never deny the offer for a cup of tea,” he told us. “In Turkey, we say that one cup of tea will lead to 40 years of friendship.”