In July I went on vacation with two friends to Turkey, Cyprus, and Jordan. We spent 7 days in Turkey traveling between Istanbul, Izmir, and Selchuk. As we traveled through Turkey, we couch-surfed which means we stayed on people’s couches for free instead of spending money on a hotel or hostel. This not only saved us money, but our hosts helped us get a better feel of the culture as well as helped us understand how to get around. Before going, many Azerbaijanis constantly told us how similar Turkey and Azerbaijan are because of their shared heritage. Azerbaijan language is an off shoot of the Turkish language. However, we found that while there are similarities, there are many differences as well.

Our first stop was Istanbul for 5 days. Being on a limited budget, we needed to navigate through the public transportation system. You would think that this might be easy for two people who have learned Azerbaijani. You would be wrong. While the grammar is pretty much the same, the words for items can be different. While they can kind of understand us because we speak “bad” Turkish; we could not understand them. We employed the help of strangers in order to get to our first stop—Dominoes. These strangers did not just tell us where to go; they held our hand and took us there (very similar to Azerbaijan). We bought a Sim card, ate pizza, and then found our host’s place like pros.

We spent out days walking around the city from 8 am to 7 pm. We had to get everything in! We crossed the sea every day from the Asian side to the European side. We saw the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, many more mosques, Topkapi Palace Museum, and much more. We did a walking tour through the bazars using our guide book. We became very touristy and took a 3 hour cruise on the Bosphorus Straight to see the sites. One evening we took in the night life with our hosts has guides. We even spent one day at the beach on the Mediterranean Sea.

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It’s pretty hard to recount everything we did. Here are a few impressions I’m left with from this time:

1. Tourists aren’t very respectful. I was mortified at tourists’ behavior inside a mosque. Before you enter, you must cover up. Women must cover their heads and knees. Men must also have their knees covered. Everyone must remove their shoes. No none-Muslims can pass behind this small fence in the room. I saw women who took off the covering on their heads. Some women tried to look “fashionable” by having the skirt’s slit on the side to show their leg. People went behind the fence and wandered around as they pleased. Come on people!! These aren’t hard rules. Respect them.
2. Harassment still happens. From my feeling, Turkey is a combination of America and Azerbaijan. It’s not only the good things though. A man on the street yelled at me for buying Starbucks coffee. He was offended that I did not buy Turkish coffee in Turkey to try something different. Little did he know I was in Turkey to have a more American experience! I bought a Starbucks coffee because I haven’t had one in 2 years. While I was there I did try Turkish coffee and food, but I also ate the American products.
3. Getting away with stuff. We were going in to Topkapi Palace Museum. As you go in, there is an outer courtyard. You mosey to the other side in order to enter the museum. We had entered this yard with a tourist group of conservative Muslims wearing traditional clothing. We were walking along near them, got funneled as we went through the big gate door, passed the entrance, and into the museum. At the entrance to either side of me were security systems. I didn’t understand why we did not go through them, but continued to walk with the group until I was through. I looked back and I couldn’t find my friend. Then the entrance gates I walked through closed. My friend was on the raised platform going through security. The security personal then asked her to go back. I waited for her near the entrance not knowing what was happening. Sooo what happened? I just got in for free. The security personal had opened up the gates near the entrance for the conservative Muslim group to walk in because they had already purchased their tickets. This little girl with a Mohawk who stands out like Where’s Waldo somehow camouflaged herself and infiltrated the museum.
4. Buy your return ticket when you arrive. We went to a beach on the Mediterranean Sea. We mainly went because I wanted to say I had been in the Mediterranean Sea. It took us a few hours to get there. We laid on the beach; I got burnt (even though I put on sun screen multiple times); then we walked around the town. We knew our last bus was at 7 but wanted to leave earlier than that. We strolled up to the bus station around 4 to buy tickets only to find out that the only bus with available seats leaves at 7! In Azerbaijan you don’t usually buy tickets ahead of time like that unless it’s a holiday. We were lucky we arrived when we did.

Because there is so much to write about my trip, I’ll write about Izmir through Selchuk in next blog.