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10 tips for travelling to Turkey

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National Student writer Zahra Rahman has been to Turkey twice, the second time being a road trip starting from the UK, and touring the whole of the Turkish nation in a circular manner for five entire weeks. What an adventure! With these expertise in mind, she's got a few good tips  to share with you if Turkey is on your bucket list...

1. Learn a few Turkish phrases

Not a lot of Turkish people speak English, so it's likely that you’ll have a bit of trouble communicating with the locals. But, trust me, they will try their best! Having a few phrases like "kach para?" ("How much?") Or "chok guzel!" ("very good/great/amazing/love it") or "Teshekur idirim" ("Thank you very much") will impress the Turks and they really appreciate the effort! If you're ever stuck, it's a great idea to pack an FCO Point It card (available from your uni FCO Brand Ambassador), to help you communicate.

2. Istanbul = shopping spree

I LOVED this city so much and I am dying to go back. Although I am a beach kind of person, this city stole my heart. Not only did it have beautiful scenery, the Bosphorus Bridge that divides the two continents, the mesmerizing Blue Mosque Aka Sultan Ahmed (I almost fainted when I walked in!) and amazing food, the shopping is by far the best in Turkey. The pricing was great for our pound’s conversion and I spent most of it in the famous Grand Bazaar (I basically need a whole point dedicated to just the Bazaar!) Also, be sure to SMILE and HAGGLE! It works wonders.

3. The Blue Mosque

As you may have realised in my previous point, the blue mosque is also called Sultan Ahmed. It was built during the Ottoman Empire and is one of the biggest mosques in the world. King Ahmed built it, hence why it's also called Sultan Ahmed ('Sultan' translates to 'King'). It's one of the very few mosques in Turkey that has a rule for men and women to wear modest clothing (no sleeveless tops or short skirts) and women are given a headscarf on entering. Trust me, this little rule is totally worth it. You will never ever see anything like this again in your life. Take a deep breath before you step in!

4. Don't be offended by their head gesture

This is a bit if a weird one to explain but when a Turk says "no" they kind of do it in a 'tutting' way, say "yok" (which means no/I don't have) and they nod their head upwards, which comes across as rude or dismissive to a Western eye. It's kind of like when we are fed up with someone, we roll our eyes. When I first saw this I felt so offended, but then I realised they aren't doing it in a rude way at all – it is just their culture and they use body language a lot!

5. There isn't just a 'Turkish Kebap'

Turkish cuisine is so famous, but we are mainly only exposed to a kebab takeaway, usually on a night out when people are drunk, and they need some greasy, meaty munch. Although the kebab in Turkey will be a 'real' one – and worth getting – there's so much more choice. For example, there is Lahmacun (pronounced Laa-maa-jun) which is a mincemeat Turkish take on a pizza. It's seasoned with salad, spices and lemon juice, then you roll it up and eat it like a wrap (I’m drooling…). You can’t just have one though, because they’re super thin. You'll have AT LEAST three or four, but I had six, because I'm greedy and they're SO GOOD! Be sure to check out all the different dishes because there are loads to choose from. Don't limit yourself to a 'Kebap'.

6. You won't forget you're in Turkey

In almost all the streets you'll see Turkish flags. Not just one, but hundreds. There's one street in Istanbul that has a flag on each lamppost, which are about one metre apart from each other, on a one-mile street. It's great to see such patriotism, especially after the recent coup. Be sure to check the FCO pages for any security updates regarding security issues and protests etc. before you head off.

7. Spend enough time in one city before going to the next

As mentioned earlier, I travelled around the whole of Turkey and saw many of the major cities. But I do regret not being able to enjoy each city enough, as we were rushing around to get in as much as we could. I would recommend spending at least 5 days in each city, to see and enjoy everything it has to offer. Some cities have more to offer than others, but just looking at the natural waterfalls and mountains will satisfy you enough.

8. Be prepared to see a lot of Syrian refugees

Turkey hosts a vast number of Syrian refugees. There are many children and adults on the streets begging for money and if you’re soft hearted and emotional like me, your heart will crumble when you see those little tired faces. I made it a point only to buy water bottles and sweets, toys or snacks from the children on the corner, rather than from the malls. I got what I wanted, and it helped them out as well.

9. Do your research before going

You may need some vaccinations before travelling to Turkey. Make it a point to check the FCO website at least six weeks before you fly to make sure you are covered for illnesses such as hepatitis.

10. Try to stay neutral when it comes to political debates

When it goes from the Ottomans to Erdogan, try to stay out as much as you can. Just be impartial or pretend you don’t know anything about anyone! The political stance in Turkey is somewhat uneven now and there is a rift between the current leader and other groups. You never know which civilian is devout to which party, so best to keep your opinions to yourself. “OH! That’s Ataturk…!”

 

I could go on for ages about the wonders of Turkey and what there is to see, eat and do. Despite media coverage, political problems and terrorist attacks, Turkey is still a beautiful place to explore. The people are extremely friendly, caring and so helpful. Don’t forget to download a checklist and keep up to date with security information via the FCO website, or follow the FCO on social media @FCOTravel to keep safe.

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