A Turkish Trail

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By Laura Field

Kebabs, Turkish delight, Mediterranean coastline: three things that would spring to mind for many at the mention of Turkey.

Backpacking around this underrated country is a guaranteed adventure. My boyfriend’s and my first night in Istanbul was spent languishing in the luxury of the floor of Atatürk Airport, as our budget (miserliness) dictated that arriving at midnight and planning to set off for the northern town of Amasra at 6am the following morning was not a significant enough length of time to warrant a hotel room. Presidential elections were happening in Istanbul on the following day and since Erdogan, the president at the time, had recently declared that he thought it inappropriate to see women laughing in public, we thought we’d just save our excitement at visiting this city until a democratic result lacking in controversy had been announced. God forbid I succumb to a humorous remark in public.

Once in the swing of our journey, we began to discover the magic of this captivating country. Its north coast on the Black Sea was practically deserted, except for some Turkish families choosing to spend their summer vacation there. Instead of reserving tickets on an official coach that would drive us between the towns we had planned to visit, we chose to take a series of local dolmuş minibuses that the locals use for everyday errands. We drove for almost two days along the coast of the Black Sea, stopping off at a small village, Ifranbolu, and staying in a little cabin on the beach for the night in between. The view of the dazzling blue water oscillating in the sea breeze compensated for the extra day of journeying in overheated minibuses.

We made our way to the region of Cappadocia, whose landscape gives the sensation of regression in time. Rocks eroded by rainwater and ash could be seen for miles and made you feel encapsulated in a fairy tale. We stayed in a cave-like room inside one of these rocks, reminding us even as we slept of our surreal surroundings. We visited a former underground city, Kaymakli, went hiking in the region’s valleys, met a Dutch-Turkish couple living permanently inside one of the rocks, and hitch-hiked a ride on a farmer’s donkey and cart when we got a little lost.

After being disappointed by the omnipresence of Brits, the more commercially-minded Turks who’d been tainted by the tourism industry, and the wholly inconvenient bout of food poisoning that we experienced in Fethiye, a town on the Mediterranean coast, we decided to troop on to discover Turkey’s Aegean Sea coastline. Just before returning to Istanbul to experience the buzz of a city that truly never sleeps, we stumbled upon the serene island of Bozcaada. Formerly a Greek territory, this little Turkish gem highlights the power of tranquillity. Perhaps thanks to the refreshing (cold) water, most beaches were deserted, which we discovered when exploring Bozcaada by moped. Coupled with the island’s vineyards that produce an impressive amount of wine, we were reluctant to leave what seemed to be a fictional idyll.

After experiencing Turkey, I’m baffled that the only widespread representation of their mouth-watering cuisine in our country is kebabs and Turkish delight. Turkey opens your eyes to the warmth of humans, to the beauty of gastronomy, pottery and textiles, and to the resilience of a land that has an elaborate history.

I often laughed in public there, and never once did I regret it.