I have always wanted to go to Turkey, almost for as long as I could remember. For years I have dreamed of the land of East meeting West, the country of the red flag, crescent moon and white star. One of those pre kick the bucket countries on the to do list. I don’t even know why this was, it just was top country on a list of many.
I’ll say straight up,Turkey and I have a love hate relationship. In Turkey I had some of my best ever travel experiences, I also got to experience some of my worst. Below a review of how I found sailing Turkish waters, dealing with Turkish authorities and playing tourist in a country which is very different to my own.
Turkey is actually called The Republic of Turkey and Ankara, Istanbul is not the capital. This occurred in 1923 after the war for independence, when Turkish people threw out the Ottoman government. The first leader of the new republic, Mustafa Kemal was a Turkish officer in the Gallipoli campaign and his deeds during the first world war was the start of his political career.
The country has a population of 80,000,000, and Istanbul is the only city spanning two continents, with only 3% of it actually in Europe, the rest is part of Asia. Istanbul has a population of 13,000,000 and is the third largest city in Europe. I was surprised to learn that surnames were introduced in Turkey in 1934 and people got to choose what name suited them and their families. One Turkish surname translates to Thunderbolt. Go you good thing!
Turkey is the world’s largest producer of hazelnuts, figs, cherries and apricots. Fresh food is second to none and the markets are a glorious display of colour and cheap food. Meat is very expensive but not chicken, so we ate a lot of chicken. I am so over chicken. Just saying. Going to Friday market was so much fun as the traders are all happy and delighted to share the shopping joy with you. Turkey also has the biggest market in the world, the Istanbul Baazar which employs 25,000 workers.
As you travel around Turkey you feel really safe. Theft is rare and Turkish tradition is to be warm and welcoming to strangers. After a meal, even at the local truck stop, lemon essence will be offered and poured in your hands to refresh. A nice tradition and nicer than hand sanitizer.
Water is greener in Turkey in comparison to the rest of the Mediterranean which is blue. This is because there is more plankton and fish life, also huge fish farms have added large amounts of food into the water. As you can imagine fishing is great in Turkey and the odd Greek fishing boat has been known to cross into the waters of their very close neighbours.
Bodrum – A City Taking The Piss For Sailors
My love hate relationship with Turkey started in the southern city of Bodrum.
Bodrum is only a short distance from the Greek island of Kos, the city is home to one of our friends so we were looking forward to arriving. This is the glitzy glam end of the country, the streets were vibrant with bikini clad sun worshippers and endless streets selling goods to the thousands of tourists that visit. Although part of a Muslim country, the god most worshipped in this town is the standard sins of a tourist town. Sun, shopping and no doubt shagging, all accompanied by throbbing loud music and laser shows. The port population seemed to be all tourists and holidaymakers.
I loved the city. I loathed checking into the country from this city.
Checking In To Turkey Requires Patience, A Bullshit Detector And Cash
Our check in took 8 hours over 2 days, myself and crew wasting hours waiting in intense heat where sun stroke was a possibility. The process included going on the back of a scooter in the back streets to be taken to an agent even though we didn’t ask for one. Then having our passports confiscated until I “paid” the agent prick holding me to ransom. I didn’t pay but I did have a long walk back to the city centre to start again.
Turkish authorities appear to make the process difficult and unaccountable, to maximize the opportunity to make significant cash income. Our dramas are not special, other sailors told us their tales of woe and corruption. Turkish flag no problem, as to the rest you enter at your own risk. The worst story I heard was of an English couple being charged 520 Euro to check in. We paid half this including a visa and two back handers. On our check out process I was told there was a 100 fee that went to the agent. No agent was used and check out happened in one office. I watched the cash go straight into a wallet then a back pocket. My receipt was minus the 100 and less than the charge sum for mooring costs.
Checking in, checking out of Turkey was such a shitty dishonest process I think I need therapy or another bottle of red to get over it. You better pass me the bottle…
We Arrived In The Month Of Crazy
We arrived in Turkey not long after the start of Ramadan, where practicing Muslims are required to fast from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset. Unlucky for the Mediterranean Muslim, in Turkey as this is a hellish hot 18 hours between sun up and sun down.
No disrespect intended, I just don’t understand. Watching workers looking pained and distraught, as well as somewhat crabby, as they waited for the city cannon to boom at sunset so they could partake was a disturbing act for me each day. For the faithful woman it would be worse. Clad top to toe in multiple layers the heat must make you feel as if you are being suffocated from the inside out. Faithful across the globe even died during the fast as bodies don’t cope so well working without food and water in the heat.
It is an impressive display of will by a nation.
An ANZAC Pilgrimage
Prior to arrival I knew ANZAC day was important, tragic and a significant part of Australian New Zealand history, but as to the detail I have always been a bit light on. ANZAC DAY has often meant a well-timed public holiday which often ensures a long weekend. As a child, ANZAC was about old men, flipping coins and amazingly drinking first thing in the morning. It was marked by my mother faithfully rising pre-dawn every year to drive local “diggers” to the early morning service, then on to the RSL club after the service. Later in the day she would then make sure each one was returned home until the next year. I don’t think I ever have acknowledge how awesome that simple act was by my Mum. Chest out proud.
Then as a young adult my early views came from watching Mel Gibson or Mark Lee run to that haunting tune in the early 80’s film Gallipoli. It was only going to the actual sites of war that the full horror of the campaign dawned on me. I will never view ANZAC day the same again.
Remembering Is Big Business
Last year over three million international visitors came to Gallipoli, many of those coming from Australia and New Zealand. Think of the flights, visas and additional tourist dollars this would bring into the country? In Canakkale, Australian and New Zealanders are everywhere.
The Turkish population also come in their millions. Gallipoli is considered the birth place of the new nation and the place is as important for them as it is for us. Our guide told us that on the Turkish Remembrance Day they had 1800 tour buses to the site last year, coming from across the country. At least the Turkish get to celebrate victory if you can consider 88,000 dead, so many more injured, and young boys as tall as the guns being sent to re supply dwindling troops.
This campaign to take Turkey by the British SOB in power, was one of the greatest cock ups in military history. No wonder we never want to forget. I count my visit to Gallipoli as one of the most emotional and educational days on this trip thus far. This day alone has made every step before us the right one and Turkey a great place to visit.
Turkish Tea – Hot Strong Black
Getting a decent cup of tea in Europe is like looking for hens teeth, difficult to find. However in the republic, tea is the national drink and surprisingly good. Best of all it is plentiful. All over Turkey as you shop, travel on buses or wait for service you are offered Turkish tea. Small cups of strong sweet brew that is surprisingly refreshing. Across markets, ferries and town streets you see young men carrying trays of either full or empty glasses to and fro. You order a glass and they bring it to you as you sit, shop or wait. So very civilized.
I do have one tea horror story and it has nothing to do with taste. On the final day in Istanbul the Captain went to pay for two teas from a fancy hotel and was charged 28 lyre or $14 for two tiny cups. He did question if this was correct and told yes. The young girl was a little embarrassed by the expense but we had apparently picked the wrong location to buy.
Once again it is a matter of buyer beware and ask the price first when shopping in Turkey.
In Turkey You Will Want To Take The Bus
Busses in Turkey are fantastic. These luxury multi wheeled beasts include a male hostess that supplies you with free snacks and drinks to help long journeys pass by. Also there are free movies, music and TV on your own screen, plus Wi-Fi. Best, buses are cheap. Added to the bus benefits is a free city bus shuttles that delivers passengers from across the city of Istanbul to a mega bus station. The size and volume of the main bus station was mind boggling, it was equivalent in size to a large airports. Only thing missing on the bus is a toilet.
Drop In On A Turkish Toilet
Drop toilet to fancy movable plastic seat covers,Turkey has the full range of toilet experience. Expect to pay 50 cents to enter a public toilet but payment does not necessarily mean clean. One toilet at the bus station had an attendant who was so slumped into his chair it seemed as if his bones had vanished. On entering the female bathroom and smelling first and seeing second the filth, my desperate, giving me pain need to do a wee disappeared just like the chaps bones.
Turkey Cats and Dogs
Across Europe the starving stray cats and dogs dominate every city, village and port we visit. Not in Turkey. Here the cats and dogs look well fed and healthy. Turkish towns and locals provide generously for the local animal populations by leaving food and water out. Most shops seem to have adopted at least one local cat that belongs to “their” place and the generous nature of the Turkish culture shines through. I dare to suggest that in daylight hours of Ramadan the stray cats and dogs get a better deal than sweltering faithful locals.
Oh the pleasure. Oh the luxury. Oh how I loved the Turkish bath experience!
The Captain and I went to be washed, scrubbed and rinsed on a large slab of marble with varying degrees of water. Then there is a bubble wash. A bubble bath extreme. The Turkish bath has shown me we have been doing the bath thing all wrong. Historically the baths were a place of gathering, where men and women got to meet separately and by all accounts it’s a very social time. Plus a good place to check out prospective brides and husbands by future mother in laws.
Ear Wax And Personal Flame Throwers
The more muture man, AKA my Captain has this weird hair thing men have as they grow older. Whilst head hair wilts and disappears, nose, ears and eyebrow hair seems to take on a second life that demands attention. So a trip to the barber was a must. On arrival the barber plucked, cut, massaged and waxed, and used a mini flame thrower inside the Captains ears to remove any offending hair. The finished product was smooth and sexy. I never asked for a bikini wax in the ladies saloon just in case the theme was carried through…
One of my favourite activities in Turkey was a visit to the central region, to visit Cappadocia. Here the landscape looks as if taken from the pages of a children’s fairytale with vast natural stone chimneys, mushroom structures and tall cone shaped rock formations with rock hats clustered in valleys of rock all in wonderous colours.
The best way to see Cappadocia was via hot air balloon.
Unfortunately for two of our crew in Cappadocia, they missed out as the first morning was cancelled. Lucky for the remaining Crew who had booked an extra night we ended up with tickets for the next morning. A thousand blessings to our hotel manager Musa from SOS Cave hotel for the chance to go on day two, as this is by far one of the best things we’ve done on our travels. 10/10
Salty Baths In The Burning Sun
The salt baths of Pamukale, which translates as cotton fortress, is a natural wonder and another must do Turkey attraction. Although it was crowded and stinking hot, we had spent the majority of the day getting there, it was very worthy.
When we got off our bus it was a sickening 40 degree plus heat, the initial walk to the baths was uphill and slow as we moved through an army of visitors going in both directions. Our first impression was unimpressed. The first baths were empty and the crystal white walls, I have seen via computer screen, looked a colour similar to a teenager’s pair of white sheets. Soiled and discarded. At this point I was worried I had insisted the crew travel so far to see this place, surely there was more to these grubby empty salt baths. There was. At the summit we were rewarded with white walls and pools filled with light mineral blue water. It was a breath taking view and experience.
As a group we moved through all the available baths and happily lounged on the white mud beds and warm spring mineral water. I was surprised at how few actually entered the water but were content to walk the edges and spectate rather than participate.
Once we had finished bathing we moved to look at the rambling ruins of the Roman Empire which were above the baths. Turkey like Tunisia has an abundance of ruins and history with sensational artifacts which seem to be everywhere.
The First Time We Have Ever Stopped Sailing And Turned Around
Sailing in Turkey, we had mostly tough conditions against the prevailing winds. I can’t say they were fun but it was educational. Finding a quiet protected anchorage was easy and the water is beautiful to swim in, it was going from the South to the North that made our going difficult. At some point whilst sailing the Aegean Sea we knew we had to pay the price for so much downwind sailing. Going towards Istanbul meant we had to travel for the most part directly into the prevailing wind, the Northerly or the North Easterlies.
It’s true we think our Boat is awesome. She sails on all points well, even into the wind we can sail at 37 degrees apparent. What Miss Catana does not like is short sharp chop. Beating into the wind in short and sharp was our constant companion headimg up the coast of Turkey. On our third morning of beating into it we decided to leave at 3 am in an attempt to catch a good weather window. What we got was short waves, 45 knots of wind gusting higher and sailing in the dark. After the first hour we decided enough was enough and turned around and sailed back to the anchoring spot from before. We knew the weather was forecast to get worse and doing it in the dark is no fun.
After two hours sleep we decided to try again. The conditions had worsened but we pressed on. As uncomfortable and wet as it was, I see it as good training whereas the Captain sees it as a challenge to get through this days journey. Regarding our main sail this was reefed right down and we had about a third of our genoa out to balance our boat. Progress was slow but better than the monohull in front of us who had full sails out. It was crazy stuff as we watched them try and get sails in and battle the conditions at the same time. We had the advantage of having gone before them!
We didn’t escape the drama.
As we were sailing on winds that moved between 45 and 50 knots we heard the thunderous crack from our boat, my first thought was we had broken something big on the boat.
Time For My Turkish Rant
(Come On. You knew This Was Coming!)
I know I am a guest in your country but some things in Turkey that are not ok in my humble opinion.
I hate it when some see it as ok to rip you off because you are a tourist. If this means charging you too much for a taxi, at the bakery or for a piece of pottery just because I will never walk this way again it doesn’t make it right. I hate that as a visitor to Turkey you have to be on constant guard if the price is not advertised.
OK NOT every trader or driver is scamming, but the cheats are common enough to mark your country out from everywhere else we have been. The injustice and corruption of Turkey left me disappointed for what was otherwise an awesome place to visit.
More of a I don’t understand, I still struggle with seeing women and young girls dressed from tip to toe in black clothes and multiple layers in hot sun because the Muslim rules say so. This practice is to enable their husbands to “unwrap them” like a prized gift and stop other men being tempted by the overwhelming beauty of women. I try really hard to see this as ok but no it’s still not working for me, it just too hot!
I continue to build relationships so I come closer to getting my head around it…
For the days we were in Canakkale Marina we would go swimming off the pier near the boat. Late afternoon there could be up to 80 men swimming, not a woman is site. I asked the men where are you wives, girl friends, daughters surely they are hot too. I was told the women are home in the kitchen. Although the “maleness” of the situation was a little intimidating at first they made sure each day I was welcome.
A different culture to my own but as a female I count my blessings…
Turkey your treatment of sailors is shabby.
Turkey you need to lift your game! Your check in process is a shitty welcome to people who are coming to your country as guests, to experience your rich history, culture, cruising grounds and spend money in the process. The outrageous charges are one thing and fair enough as the market dictates, but when we are forced to enter legally into your country the corruption and stealing that occurs blatantly by officials is shameful.
I suggest you make your officials take payments in credit card, advertise your official prices and stop the black money bullshit. Make sure the receipts correlate to some form of true accounting system.