“In order not to sink in the water, use seat cushion for flotation.” That was the gist of the notice attached to the back of the seat in front of me, as I first flew Turkish Airlines to Istanbul, back in 1981. It was obviously intended as helpful advice in the unlikely event of an emergency landing at sea – but did not exactly inspire confidence! Personally I enjoyed air passengers` general practice at the time: that of clapping loudly after a successful landing. Applause was a great way of expressing appreciation for a safe arrival in Turkey, but I suppose even that could be taken the wrong way!
But really there is no need to be overly nervous about Turkey as a travel destination now. It is true that the Turks are not always as `health and safety` conscious as Westerners would wish, but Turkey is significantly more developed than many imagine. The country has improved hugely over the last three decades, and continues to do so. There are some concerns about terrorism, but arguably Turkey is no more dangerous in this regard than many other travel destinations. The best advice is to do some research before travelling so that you are aware of any potential risks, stay alert, and inform your Embassy and loved ones at home where you intend going.
One of the striking things about Turkish culture is that family and community ties are much stronger than in the West, and there is a clear sense of interdependence. There is a generosity of spirit that reaches out to strangers, and hospitality is a core value. I have frequently had lifts offered me whilst travelling in Turkey, many of them unsolicited. The cost of petrol is very high in relation to wages and other living costs, but drivers will often cheerfully go out of their way to help those who would otherwise be on foot.
Recently I sat on the wall of a stranger`s house – because it was the only shady place on a very hot day. The owner appeared, and instead of shooing me off his property, which I had half expected, he said I was welcome to rest there as long as I liked. A few minutes later he returned with a handful of freshly-picked plums as a gesture of hospitality.
I confess I am biased in favour of Turkey, so let me explain why. The trip I made to Turkey in 1981 came after a 6-month Turkish language course I had followed in London. The purpose of my visit was supposedly to improve my spoken Turkish prior to an exam. Although Turkey was under martial law at the time, and not exactly geared up for tourists, I had the holiday of a lifetime! Why? It was the combination, I suppose, of the unspoilt Aegean coastline, and wonderful Turkish hospitality. I admit it: I fell in love both with the country and its people.
Starting in the late 1990s, I ran a travel agency for seven years, during which time I inevitably influenced a number of customers to choose Turkey as a holiday destination. Whenever I could, I found an excuse to visit Turkey myself, east and west, north and south! There is so much to experience, and a single visit will only scratch the surface. Whether you book a `package` holiday or choose to travel independently, you can be sure of a warm reception. The amazing city of Istanbul, or the many popular Aegean and Mediterranean resorts all make superb holiday destinations, but there are also many treasures to be discovered along Turkey`s less-trodden paths.
A short article does not allow me to extol all the virtues of the many varied and exciting places Turkey offers, including its mountains, rivers, and lakes. I cannot here delve into Turkey`s long history, or describe its many Biblical sites. There are, however, many good resources about these things. For initial orientation I would recommend the Lonely Planet guide to Turkey: see www.lonelyplanet.com or www.amazon.com to order a copy.
I hope that exploring Turkey as a travel destination begins to resonate with you. As you fasten your seatbelt for the trip, let me wish you, in Turkish, “iyi yolculuklar” or “safe journey!”