Adventures of a teenage author...

This is Marta, author of the Darkwoods series and of Marta's Blog. I created this blog specifically for blogging about my 2015 study abroad adventures in Europe, but it's becoming the blog for all my travels. I hope you enjoy all the pictures and stories!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Before You Go... Hiking Through the Hills Looking for Ancient Ruins in Western Turkey?

I can't really call this a "before you go to Turkey" post, because I don't think I can comment on Turkey any more than someone can go hiking in an obscure hiking trail in Montana and then comment on America without seeing anything else. Antalya actually reminded me very much of Montana, if Montana had a lot more trees and, well, any ancient ruins anywhere - tons of mountains, beautiful scenery, wonderful people, and a lot of empty space where you couldn't even hear the cars. Somehow, I doubt this was completely representative of most of the country.

Having said that, there are a few things I noticed, and I like doing these posts because it lets me reflect on how much I liked the places I visited. So, for what it's worth, here's my before-you-go-road-hunting list:

There is a wide variety of food

I can't remember a single restaurant we stopped at that didn't have at least three meats (and we are talking about restaurants that didn't even have a flush toilet), and there was quite a variety of spices. The major food groups were all represented at pretty much every meal, so I think I actually ate balanced meals (that's not normal for me). Even their beverages are nice and varied - coffee (in multiple forms), tea, soda, juice, and this drink called ayran (pronounced EYE-run) which is essentially yogurt mixed with water. It's actually pretty tasty!

Turkish Airlines are a NICE airline!

I didn't know this in advance, and I remember when I was in Europe that I tried to avoid taking Turkish airlines (there was a reason why, but I don't remember it). It turns out that I was missing out big time. Turkish Airlines is cheap and also loaded down with entertainment, good food, and lots of nice additions to help the flight go faster. 

There is a lot of security leaving the country

I'm guessing this is because of recent threats, Erdogan, etc., but I went through three security lines in Istanbul, and that was after going through security in Izmir. So, be sure to plan for that when you're booking flights out of Turkey.

On a side note, did you know the Netbook can survive a transatlantic flight in checked baggage? I definitely need to look into getting that thing a new hard drive that actually runs quickly, because it's indestructible!

People in western Turkey are very nice, and they do not care if you can't understand them

I'm thinking mostly of the fellow outside the mosque, but really everyone we encountered was extremely hospitable and friendly. In my memory, it seems as though most of them were smiling most of the time - and I'm not talking about hosts in restaurants (although they were wonderful too), I'm talking about people you pass on the street.

I think you're safe, even as a woman alone - assuming the politics don't get worse

Again, this is for western Turkey. I can't speak for a lot of the country. (If you wonder why I'm making that distinction, I refer you to this post from last year and a map of Turkey that shows Kurdistan and some of the interesting countries on its other borders.) There was also a story at the beginning of May, which I am not linking to because it's that bad, about an American journalist who moved to Antalya, the same part of Turkey we were in, to be with her boyfriend; he began treating her according to Sharia Law after a short while, which included him hitting her and restricting who she could speak with. So, with all that in mind, remember: we were in tourist areas, and we did not stay anywhere long.

I also have a theory that people will treat you more nicely if your a tourist, no matter what country you are in, because you're a guest in their country. I suspect it's human nature to want to put your best foot forward for a guest, but it might be different if you move somewhere, or stay somewhere long enough to stop being a guest.

Anyway, I did try to make a point of not going off by myself, but of course I wound up by myself on accident a few times. And I was fine, obviously. I didn't even get any annoyed glares, and I don't remember anyone looking at me like I was a target. Now, I'm not going to act like I think you could be a total, complete idiot and come away unscathed (not unless you're extraordinarily lucky, anyway), but like with almost everywhere I've been, a little common sense - or maybe travelers' sense - seemed to be all you really needed to be completely safe. Don't get drunk, don't flash giant bills or expensive jewelry for the world to see, don't store your money in an obvious place, don't drink water from the tap, don't start a confrontation, don't be obnoxious, etc., and I think you'll be fine. Actually, I suspect you'd be better than fine; the people there are very friendly.

This, of course, all relies on the political situation with Erdogan not getting any worse, or with Erdogan's grip not getting any tighter. There are places where I would be afraid of the civilians as a tourist alone (like Rome, for instance), and I wasn't here. But the government is sometimes a different story. I'd be worried about getting pick-pocketed or robbed in Rome, but in Turkey, I'd be worried about getting arrested. Actually, I remember on the bus, the guide leader led us in prayer for an American pastor in Turkey who was arrested and being held on some trumped-up immigration charges. The uncertainty there is real, and from what I've heard it's only getting more serious.

There is a lot of trash everywhere

Yeah, Turkey does not have American or European standards of environmental cleanliness. Izmir was pretty clean, as well as the lake by the Obam Resort (where we stayed for a few days), but anywhere smaller than Izmir (including Mytilene, incidentally) had loads of trash dumped near just about any body of water. I don't know if it all just accumulates by streams or the ocean, or if it gets left there on purpose, but either way, you wouldn't catch me taking off my shoes anywhere near the water in Antalya or Mytilene. 

Honestly, the only time I've seen worse litter was after an environmentalists' demonstration.

Much of western Turkey is delightfully low-priced

I never saw any hotel prices, but I regularly ate out for about $5 every single meal (you can barely get coffee that cheap in Seattle!), and we are talking quality food. Freshly made, lots of spices, pretty much all the major food groups, meat that I would consider exotic (I actually ate goat at one restaurant), and nicely-sized portions. 

Then there was the Turkish bath...

The Turkish bath, or hammam, is something like a spa, and the hotel we stayed in for the last leg of the trip had a very nice hammam and options for getting massages, skin treatments, etc. I had one of their beauty treatments while I was there, and it was less than $15! I can't even get my hair cut for that cheap.

History is everywhere

I've alluded to this in previous posts, but it's worth mentioning again: western Turkey has thousands of years of history and it's sprinkled all over the countryside. I remember seeing pieces of Greek pottery in a field, seeing pieces of Roman roads in walls, finding lots of Byzantine ruins, and Ottoman ruins all over the place. America has nothing comparable to it, and even in Europe, it's not nearly as prominent as it was here. It was amazing.

Well, in summary, I'm glad I went. Granted, I'm pretty much always glad to travel, so something would have to go very, very wrong before I wouldn't be glad I went, but the experience of visiting Turkey was very unforgettable. The rich history alone made it worth the visit, and it's not like the rest of it was cumbersome either. All in all, it was educational and fun, and what more could you ask from a trip overseas?

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