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Let's Talk Turkey (dumb name) (NVGR) (pic heavy)

I left the country for about a week and a half in April. I was visiting Turkey with my parents. It was a wonderful trip, and I saw some amazing stuff. My trips: let me show you them. In honor of the esteemed Dr. Feynman, whose book I had just finished reading while on the trip, and which I also mentioned recently in Commentoid, I'll recount my adventures in the form of short anecdotes, unless I forget and relapse into my usual lengthy prose. This will be long, but I'll try to include a lot of pictures, since we took many.

Turkey is a fascinating country. It's clearly not as rich as America, but also clearly not as impoverished as India. A lot of the people there appear to be down-to-earth laborers, work in restaurants, run shops, farm, or are involved with the huge tourism industry in some way. Electronics, computers, TV, etc. didn't feature prominently in any of the commercial interests I saw.

The Turkish language is also pretty neat. It seems to be relateed to some Indian languages and Urdu, so my parents could make out occasional words. The Turkish method of solving any problem is to tack on an extra syllable onto the word. For instance, the way to make a noun plural is to tack on "lar". So a lokanta is a restaurant, and lokantalari are restaurants.

They also have some funny characters they use, like ç ("ch"), ş ("sh"), ğ (just a stop, not a full "g"), ı (note that the "i" is missing a dot. It's more like "uh" than "eee"), and letters with umlauts like ü. This leads to some fun words to say, my favorite of which is müdürlügü.


I tell you what, it's tough being a vegetarian in Turkey. They are not shy about incorporating meat into almost all of their dishes. My mother is vegetarian, and we had to inquire at every restaurant we went to about what kind of vegetarian food they had. Well, most of them had vegetarian cold appetizers (mezeler), but my mom, understandably, wanted hot food. Finding hot vegetarian food was not always a sure thing.

It really says something that their word for "meat", et, is almost as short as it can possibly be.

Iskender kebap. Distinguished by the presence of yogurt.

Speaking of hot food, Turkish people don't eat it. I mean, they'll call it hot food, but even proper hot dishes were universally served lukewarm. They are simply a country of people who do not eat hot food.

They don't eat spicy food either. Though spiced, none of their food was hot-n-spicy like Indian food. Some of it was quite flavorful, though, and all of it was really tasty. My favorite dish, which I tried at many different places, is the infamous döner kebap. Yes, they sometimes spell kebap with a "p" rather than a "b". Yes, they also sometimes say it with a really hard "a", which makes me laugh. Here's some döner. It's the same stuff as gyro meat. They serve it with various vegetables and rice, and it is awesome. I could eat it forever.

Doner kebap - my favorite


As I flew in to Istanbul, I was struck by the singularly uniform look of the city. Thousands upon thousands of apartment buildings, all with red roofs and vaguely red/pink walls ranging from 5-10 stories high. Thousands - no exaggeration. It was truly a sight to behold. Once on the ground, though, it was much harder to tell.


With respect to driving, I was reminded at times of India. People honk a lot and drive all over the place with seemingly telepathic links with other drivers and pedestrians keeping them from hitting each other.

When talking about crazy driving, I would be remiss in not telling of the time I saw a taxi cab drive in reverse about 200 yards up the street (a fairly busy street, no less) to pick up a fare. What the heck?

Certain areas of Istanbul have such crowded streets that I would see four or five cars in a row all parked way over the sidewalk, jammed in close enough to each other that the ones in the middle would never be able to get out. Parking with one or both sets of wheels on the sidewalk seemed pretty normal.

Nobody wears their seatbelt in the car. Sometimes a driver will pull the seat belt down in the appearance of wearing it, just to slip by a policeman. I don't get it.


Most people in Turkey look pretty similar. Dark brown hair, dark eyes, and between fair and kind of tanned skin, but not as dark as Indians usually. On a few rare occasions, I saw people with piercing blue eyes. That was interesting.

Depending on where you go, the demographics change noticeably. For instance, in the Eminönü district of Istanbul, the people seem to be slightly weary middle aged folk, whereas in the Taksim area, most people are young, energetic, trendy kids.

I'm not sure if I saw even one young lady in Turkey who didn't wear dark eyeshadow. They all just do.


Speaking of the Taksim area, it is a wide street lined with shops that goes on for a couple miles. When we went, it was a sunny day, and there were thousands of people proceeding up and down it - a huge crowd. It had a nice, cheerful atmosphere.

Branching off of the main street are these mini indoor malls built almost in alleys. In one, there were several restaurants jammed up near each other. They are roofed, but have skylights, so plenty of light gets in, and it feels like you're outside. It's hard to describe, so maybe this picture will help?


Anywhere you went in Istanbul you would come across these kestane (chestnut) vendors. They had wood fires on a little cart and were roasting chestnuts and selling them pretty cheap. They smelled delicious, but I didn't like the taste as much. Big surprise, they also got cold pretty fast.


We went shopping in the famous (?) spice market. Hundreds of tiny shops crammed with all kinds of spices, teas, ointments, and so on. It was one of the most exotic things I'd ever seen. It's hard to do it justice with pictures, but here are just a couple.

We're in an indoor alley with shops like this lining both sides. Crazy loud and aromatic.

Just a few shots inside one such shop. Turkish saffron is expensive; 2000TL is a LOT!

This one time we went to a nice kahve ("coffee") shop where I got some delicious hot chocolate. They served it to me with a small spoon that was also a piece of chocolate. I stirred my hot chocolate with it, and it dissolved. That was pretty great.

My dad got into Turkish coffee, which is so strong that it's customarily served along with a bottle of water to dilute it with. He also got into Turkish tea, which is strong, too.

I discovered a wonderful concoction called apple tea. I'm not a tea drinker. Regular tea tastes like weakly funny tasting water. Apple tea might as well be called hot apple cider. It was pretty tasty, and by the end of my trip, it was not strange for me to drink three cups a day.

It certainly helped that many restaurants had the custom of serving complimentary tea after any meal. That's a practice I can get behind!

They really love their tea there. In the Grand Bazaar, a huge indoor complex with hundreds of shops narrowly packed together in a grid of streets, it was usual to see young boys carrying full trays of tea, delivering them to all the shop vendors in the same manner as you might run a newspaper route.

A meerschaum pipe shop in the bazaar. Super cool pipes.


If you think gas is expensive here, consider that it was not uncommon to see gas in Turkey at the equivalent of roughly ten dollars per gallon.


As many good, local restaurants we went to, there were also some pretty useless ones. In the area around our hotel, it was obvious most of the restaurants were heavily touristy. They had such names as the Montana Cafe (what the? random US state?), Le Safran (random French name? we're in Turkey!), and Kebab Time (reeks of tacky). Some of these places had outrageous prices, at around 35 TL (Turkish Lira = $1.50) per head for mediocre food.

Not surprisingly, some of the absolute best food I had was in tiny kebap shops with amazing grilled or stewed meat. However, it would be shameful of me to neglect the balık ekmek ("fish sandwich"). You can go down to the waterfront area of Eminönü and buy, for roughly $2.50, a simple fried fish sandwich with lettuce and onion. The fish is super fresh, fried with just a few spices. It's fresh, delicious, and dirt cheap; I bought two of them, and it's no wonder this spot had a massive crowd of people constantly pressing for it.


During our vacation, we flew to Cappadocia (the second "c" properly pronounced as a "k"). As we made the 50 minute drive from Nevşehir to Göreme I was depressed by what I saw: barren scrubland fields with almost nobody around. The land seemed impoverished, as did the people, ekeing out an existence in a clearly unwelcome environment.

Almost every house was outfitted with what appeared to be solar panels on the roof. Depressingly, they don't actually have the technology or money to afford proper solar energy, but the panels were used as part of the hot water heater, also mounted on the roof.


We went to the Göreme open air museum, which was basically a monastery built into the walls of these fairy chimneys and rock formations. It was pretty cool, especially the frescoes still preserved within, but good god there were a lot of people there. In fact, there were so many people that the attendants were enforcing 5 minute limits per group inside each cave, so our tour guide had to rush us through each one. It kind of sucked.

In a tea shop built inside a fairy chimney. Good tea!


We stayed in a "cave hotel", which I guess is a pretty popular thing there, because we saw about a hundred of them dotting the mountain ours was on. They had rooms built into the side of the mountain, which was a kind of neat novelty. Ours was a little broked, though, because there was a water drip in the bathroom into an exposed electrical socket, which made a constant angry buzzing. The receptionist came to look at it and was very concerned, but didn't actually do anything about it.

Our room in the cave hotel.

There was a power outage one day (perhaps caused by the severely screwy socket?), and so we had to take showers in the dark. I haven't done that often. It was a strange, kind of depressing sensation, fumbling around for everything. No candles either, so I had to keep the door open to get what little natural light I could.


We took a hot air balloon trip over the countryside and some of the nearby hills. It was great! These balloon trips are a big deal, and there were twenty or so balloons visible in the skies in the morning at any given time.

Being the nerd that I am, I was especially pleased to watch the liquid fuel from the compressed canisters on the balloon dispense in liquid form and ignite.

Our pilot was a total pro. He took us down into valleys and flew up over the cliff so close I could have stepped out of the basket and back in. Then he landed us nicely pretty much on a dime. He really knew his stuff!

The efficiency nerd in me was a bit dismayed with the logistics of the balloon rides. You see, you go to a fixed location to take off, fly around a bit, and land in a general area where a trailer is waiting. Once you land, they deflate the balloon, wrap it up, and drive it back to the starting location. It seems to me it would be better to keep the balloon inflated and launch the next group from the earlier group's landing spot. Now you don't need this nonsense with driving the balloon around.


We saw this stand. It was really puzzling, being out in basically the middle of nowhere. Then I saw boxes and boxes of the stuff piled in the window of every pharmacy. I guess they sell it cheap there or something?

Well... that's random.


One of the recurring themes of our tours was that the guide would drive us to a kind of special restaurant for lunch, one that pretty much exclusively caters to tour groups. You'd get to the place, and there'd be seats already reserved for you. The menu would be fixed, and they'd serve you 3-4 small courses, including dessert. In some places, the food was really excellent. In others, it was a kind of crappy buffet.


Nobody in Turkey wears sweatshirts. Nobody. I stuck out like a sore thumb.

This is exactly how I look 99% of the time.


On occasion, we came upon profoundly unprofessional street vendors. Let me describe the dialogue that happened twice.

"Yes please sir! We have this fine Istanbul tourist guide. Please would you like to purchase?"


"Why nooooooot???"


I nearly lost it when I heard the vendor's plaintive cry. He sounded like he was whining at us. Buddy, I don't need to justify myself to you!


We went to Kuşadası, on the Mediterranean. It was full of tourists like you won't believe, because cruise ships stopped there for day excursions. Their usual population is about 60k, but in the height of the tourist season it reaches 250k. That's insane.

The forecast predicted rain, so we wanted to get some of those flimsy ponchos to prepare ourselves. We went to several bufës (kiosks or small shops), but none of them had them. The shopkeepers all told us the same thing: "the City Center will have it!"

So we headed towards this mythical City Center, where we found... more small shops, the same as before. I don't think these people actually knew what was at the city center, but assumed it would be helpful.


We visited the beautiful remains of the temple of Artemis near Ephesus. All that remains is a single, tall column standing in the midst of a sort of bog. It was forlorn, especially in that day's rain. A reminder of beautiful things long destroyed.


While eating dinner one day we saw a roaming lottery ticket vendor. I guess he went from restaurant to restaurant selling lottery tickets to diners. What's quite interesting is that the box he was carrying advertized a jackpot of 2 trilyon Turkish Lira. Good lord, that can't possibly be real.


I noticed a motif in advertising, but unfortunately did not snap enough photos to really demonstrate it. The idea seems to be to show slim, attractive female models eating your particular brand of junk food. Usually it's various types of potato chip or cracker, and I guess it's trying to say that they won't make you fat? I wouldn't have thought anything of it, except I saw like 5 different snack ads like that, all looking nearly identical.

In our favorite confectioner's shop. That stuff looked SO good.


Talking to the locals is something of an art, because a) they don't understand much English, and b) they don't tend to listen closely to what you said. The trick is to re-form your sentence to prioritize the most important parts first.

So if you want to say, "When does the ferry leave?" you might rephrase it as:"The ferry: when does it leave?"

It also helps to use the correct local lingo. It's not an ATM; it's a "cash machine". It's not a coat; it's a "jacket." If you don't want sparkling water, you need to ask for "still water."


Speaking of talking to the locals, one of our guides was really confusing, in kind of a subtle way. It took me some time of listening closely to realize that he kept saying "this is because" when he actually meant "because of this." A complete inversion of meaning done such a simple way!

And that particular phrase came up all the time, because he was explaining parts of history to us, the causes and effects of various actions or events. So he'd say things like, "There were volcanic eruptions for years on end. This is because we see these beautiful rock formations." You hear it, and it doesn't quite make sense, so you have to play it back in your mind and recognize what he meant to say.

We had that guy for a whole day, and it was kind of maddening.


Arabic calligraphy is the most beautiful looking writing in the world. I wish I could read it. Can anyone here read this?

I can't believe both of these actually say something. They just look like art to me.

Believe it or not, this is also Arabic - "block" style calligraphy or something. I can't believe they can write this way; the letters from the previous picture appear to carry far more information than what's below. Can anyone read this?

I can't believe this can convey as much information as the script in the previous photo.


We saw a lot of ruins and Greek and Roman statues, carvings, friezes, and writing. I studied ancient Greek and Latin in college, but that was years ago, and my deplorable knowledge only helped me mainly make out names. I really should have brushed up more before I went. Trying to read the ancient inscriptions was one of the most interesting things I did.

Inscription at the Asklepion, an ancient hostpital.

Especially in some of the churches, I was at first surprised to see that the Greek writings weren't pure Greek script, but instead had what appeared to be Cyrillic characters mixed in. The language appeared to still be Greek, but the letters were a little different.

Definitely something 'off' about this Greek. We saw a lot of defaced heads like that, thanks to iconoclasts.


My father cultivates what can only be described as an epic mustache. Fun fact: he's never in his life shaved it off. In Turkey, nobody seems to grow this kind of 'stache, and it stood out so much that people would accost him randomly about it.

Not actually deep in thought, just an opportune shot.

"Yes please sir!" They'd greet him, while stroking their own face and pointing at his mustache, "where do you come from? India? Very good! That is a wonderful mustache! You look like a sultan!"

Or: "Mister mustache! Mister mustache!"

Or (my personal favorite): "Mister pistachio!"

People there seemed to use it as a weird kind of icebreaker for conversations, or to try to lure him into buying random stuff. In America, nobody randomly greets you in that way. It was a little strange.


As my final anecdote, I will confess something. I'm embarrassed to admit that I fell for a minor con. Here's how it went. This fellow was dressed up quite nicely with this jug on his back.

He greeted us, "hello hello! I am dressed in traditional Ottoman costume. Would you like to take picture? Ok good, come over here." He motioned to me to pose by him while my dad readied the camera.

As my dad was taking the picture the dude leans over and tips his fancy jug into a plastic cup, pouring out a dark purple liquid and holds it out to me.

"Sour cherry juice no problem! No problem! Sour cherry juice! No problem!" He practically thrusts the cup into my hand. It happened so quickly I was caught unprepared. Does "no problem" mean he's giving out free samples or something? What does it mean? He had just poured out this juice; if I gave it back now, what's he going to do with it? Surely not pour it out on the cobblestones. So, somewhat cornered in this way, I drank it.

In fact, he had already poured out a second cup and handed it to my father in a similar fashion, and I guess he must have had the same train of thought, because he followed my lead and drank his, too.

"14 lira, please."

"WHAT?" My dad, understandably, was aghast. 14 lira is something like $10. For a tiny little cup of juice.

The guy was trying to charge us 4 TL per little cup, plus 6 TL for admission to the museum we were standing by. Let's leave aside the facts that we weren't planning on going into the museum and that he's in no way in charge of admission.

My dad said, "Listen. We will pay you 4 TL total." The guy whined a bit, but what's he going to do? So we managed to get away. I watched as he tried to sucker another group of people into taking some. Actually, the person handed the glass back, and he did a little tipping trick again by which he was able to suck the juice back into the jug. So that answers my question about what he'd do with it if I refused.

What a slippery fellow. He was not unlike most of the people selling things in Turkey, sadly. Tourists, beware.

I had a wonderful vacation, but 10 days without any games is too long, I say. Too long!

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About knutafone of us since 6:45 PM on 03.01.2010

I'm a dad in my thirties.
I work for MS on the Xbox, making features and fixing bugs.
I have a cat and two dogs.
I sometimes make Twitter bots: 1, 2, 3

Groundhog Day: Wave After Wave, This Is My Ocean
Obscurity: Nobody has ever heard of Lemmings

Currently playing
Stephen's Sausage Roll

Dark Souls
Geometry Wars 2
Burnout Paradise
Rayman (original, Origins, Legends)
Tetris Attack
Metroid Prime series
Secret of Mana, Seiken Densetsu 3
Descent 1-3
English Country Tune
The Witness

Other places you might find me:
Twitch.tv livestream (PC indie games and Dark Souls)
knutaf on YouTube
@_knutaf on Twitter
Occasionally, I am part of a podcast
I watch a fair bit of anime.
I sometimes listen to music.
Xbox LIVE:knutaf
PSN ID:knutaf
Steam ID:knutaf


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