D H I T I

A piece of Turkey

In Culture, Europe, Travel, Turkey on February 12, 2017 at 10:15 pm

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With our daughter M already two years old, I decided it was time to take out my bucket list and be a little more ambitious in our travels. So far we had travelled to and in India(mostly with family), within France and to Portugal with her and it had taught us that not only was it possible to travel with our darling chipmunk but that it does us all a whole lot of good!

So we decided to push the bar a little higher.

I had always wanted to go to Cappadocia. Those fairy chimneys had been calling out to me for a long time now. Istanbul, Goreme (in the heart of Cappadocia) and Selcuk (for the Ephesus) was our final itinerary. It was going to be hectic. Lots of flights between the three cities, buses and day trips, so many things to see, so many things to do! We were excited and a little nervous.

This was October 2015. At the back of our mind was lurking the faint apprehension related to the general elections which were going to take place a few weeks after our vacations (November 2015). There were already security concerns and people were wondering if the upcoming elections would be conducted in a peaceful manner. Talks with the Kurdish minority had failed in July 2015. We knew that things were tense but we hoped that it wouldn’t affect us as tourists. Thinking about it now, we are glad we went ahead with our trip, considering that the situation in Turkey has only worsened since then 😦

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We landed in Istanbul late one warm October night. We had a rushed dinner and it was off to bed, already planning all the things we wanted to see or do the next day. The next morning, however, our first preoccupation was breakfast. And coffee!!

The first day in a new country is always special. You know absolutely nothing of basic manners, etiquette, taste or language except what you have read in your guide.  C, my husband, had been to Istanbul before so it was different for him but I think this first day brought its fair share of surprises for him as well.

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Our apartment was in the Fatih area, west of Sultan Ahmet. The next day, in our search for coffee, we decided to walk towards Little Hagia Sophia and stop somewhere on the way. We found a small cafe in front of a public park (Kadriga Park). It had a few tables outside, most of them occupied by locals enjoying their coffee and a lot of banter. We sat down, asked for our first turkish coffee and of course a glass of milk for the little one. That is when we were presented our first challenge. The waiter, who spoke only Turkish, tried to explain that he had no milk. Our bewilderment gave way to understanding as we realised that since the Turks never have milk in their coffee and this being a small cafe which  caters only to locals, well, they had no milk and that was that.

During our travels, we try to make sure that M always gets her morning glass of milk because we have no idea where and what we will find for her for the rest of the day. And we have never had a problem finding milk in any country so this took us completely by surprise. As it was our first day in the city, we had not had the time nor had bothered to go look for a supermarket. C looked around, saw some shops at the other corner and went exploring while I tried to occupy M.

Less than a few minutes later, I saw a small carton of milk being placed on the table in front of us.

By a complete stranger.

I looked up bewildered, to find myself staring at the smiling face of one of the customers who we had seen engrossed in conversation with his friends at the next table. He pointed at the carton and then at M and said, “Milk. For baby.” and sauntered back to join his friends. We later found a shop hidden in the by-lanes where he had gone to buy the milk.

But at that moment, I kept staring at the carton of milk for a few minutes, I was so overwhelmed. C came back with some bread and sweets but he had found no milk, so he was equally surprised to see M happily sipping her milk. With one gesture, this complete stranger had ensured that I will always think of Turkey and its people with a lot of fondness.And while this was the first such act of kindness and warmth, it was definitely not the last.

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Turkey is very tolerant of children. No, tolerant is not the word. They adore children! All Children!

M running through a museum just incited chuckles from the personnel, her curiosity was never seen as bad manners and every shop we entered, we came out with at least one freebie for her. We always ate in peace in restaurants because no one expected her to sit there like a docile child. In fact, the waiters and others in the restaurant became impromptu babysitters, playing with her and keeping her occupied while we ate. One guy lent her his daughter’s kick-scooter to play with, another gifted (yes, just like that) her a stuffed toy. M was having the time of her life and as a consequence, so were we.

The same guy who lent M his daughter’s kick-scooter also shared with us food, cooked by his wife. It would not have been so weird had it not been for the fact that we were already eating at his restaurant! 😀 In the middle of our dinner, sitting at a table for two outside the restaurant, we see a basket being gently lowered from the third floor. The chef laughed at our bewildered expressions and brought the contents of his basket to share with us. We were overjoyed, and not just because it was soooo good! It was the only time we got a taste of what turkish food can be like away from kebabs, kofte and  turkish sandwiches.

Not to say that we did not enjoy Turkish food. On the contrary, thanks to a wonderfully comprehensive website that I had discovered before leaving, we had a great culinary experience in Istanbul. If you like going the extra mile for good food, you can find the link here.

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Turkey is a country where interactions with the locals comes easily and in spite of the language barrier, smiles and gestures can take you a long way. A lot of people working in the tourism industry speak English so it was even possible to have actual discussions. Our walking guide, Mehmet in Goreme, Cappadocia, not only showed us some amazing sights but freely exchanged anecdotes with us, spoke of his family and life in Goreme.

We were invited by a family to taste local sweets which they were distributing to everyone in remembrance of a dead relative. And they took the time to explain the local custom of distributing sweets in public to total strangers, a year after the death of that person. It is like selling lemonades on the side of the street except this was free for everyone. And delicious!!

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Our experience is unforgettable because of  incidents like this throughout our stay. The country and its people will always have a special place in our hearts. Every time we hear of explosions in its various cities, of violence and tensions and the political turmoil, it is the smiling faces that welcomed us that come to mind. I can’t help thinking of all those people who touched our lives in some way or the other and hoping they are all Ok.

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