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Turkish Surprises While Traveling in Turkey

Guest blogger and summer intern, Bethany, gives her first impressions upon her arrival to Turkey.

Turkey is a nation of rich historical depth and astonishing natural beauty. As a first time traveller to Turkey, I have been able to experience just a small taste of this history, depth, and beauty. Here is what surprised me the most!

Right off the bat, the diversity of Turkey surprised me immensely. I do not know why I was so surprised by this. As a Westerner, about all I knew about Turkey is that it is where Istanbul and the ruins of Ephesus are. After arriving, I am learning that this is but a small drop in the bucket that is Turkey. There is so much more offered by Turkey. So far, I have visited one city in Southwestern Turkey and one city in Northeastern Turkey. Each location has been vastly different but equally as beautiful. Visiting only two cities is just scratching the surface of all that Turkey has to offer.

History is present everywhere you look in Turkey. Most cities have Midresas, Islamic schools, Mosques, and castles that are all several hundred to a thousand years old. There are also several cities of ruins like Ephesus, Ani, and Pergamum etc. In addition to this, there are one thousand five hundred year-old monasteries in the East. These ruins and historical sights are preserved maps to the history of Turkey. One can follow Roman occupation, Christian and Muslim history, and the rise and fall of the Ottoman Emprie in the architecture of Turkey. Ancient history is seen in architecture all around Turkey. From cities like Cappadocia in the West to Ani in the East and Gobekli Tepe in the South, Turkey is rich and diverse in history.

Turkey is home to picturesque and grand landscapes all over the country. Beauty is everywhere. Whether your style is lounging in the sun by a crystal clear blue ocean or trekking through a densely green forest in search of a mountain overlook, Turkey has a landscape for everyone. There are sandy beaches and clear oceans, rocky mountain passes, dense forest hikes, and rolling hills. You don't have to choose between the beach or mountain vacation; you can have both in Turkey!

Turkey is one nation with eighty-one different provinces. Each province is unique and distinct. One thing that surprised me is the unique history and identity of each province. While Turkey is geographically smaller than my home country, America, Turkey’s provinces have a unique identity similar to each state in the US. One joy of travelling in Turkey is observing the unique flavors of each province. A second true joy of travelling to these different provinces is learning the history that has influenced this unique culture. Each province, I am learning, has something special to offer whether that is a marvelous historical sight, awe inspiring landscape, or delectable food. Erzurum, for example, is in North Eastern Turkey and a lot of the industry here has to do with farming and husbandry, or the care of animals like sheep. Because of this industry, there is an abundance of meat in the diet here and there is special cloth that is only made in the region. This cloth is seen as wraps on many local women and vests worn by men. Each province in Turkey has special elements of their culture that set them apart. Traveling to different cities and provinces will keep any visitor engaged with unique gems in each location.

Children, and family in general, are highly valued in Turkish culture. This was surprising for me as a first time visitor. Generally, children are adored by all in Turkey. I have seen this in the way that shop workers, restaurant personnel, and many other random people approach children with joy and kindness. It is not unique to have people shower your kids with gifts like ice cream or candy. It is also common to allow your kids to play in a restaurant or store. Often, the staff will play with your kids and engage them with kindness. Turkey is surprisingly kid friendly. There are parks in every single neighborhood. It is not uncommon to have several parks and playgrounds within walking distance to your house. These are nice parks too. They are well lit, fenced in, maintained well, and generally quite large. In addition to this, there is a beautiful emphasis on family in Turkish culture. Extended families are well connected and cared for. The elderly are well cared for by the rest of the family. It is almost unheard of to have an elderly family member in a nursing home or care facility. Families care for each other and maintain a strong connection. This is reflected in the general closeness of Turkish culture. From the two kiss greetings to walking close together with friends, Turks are close to each other in general.

Traveling to Turkey will allow any visitor to engage in a unique and beautiful culture. I have been delightfully surprised by the diversity, history, provincial pride, and closeness of family. These elements of Turkey and Turkish culture were observed in just a short time of travelling in Turkey. Next time you travel to a new place, we hope it’s Turkey!, see what you can observe about the culture and region. No matter how short or long your stay is, there will be things that shock and surprise you! A joy of travelling is experiencing these differences and similarities to your own culture. If you travel to Turkey, see what you can add to this list of what surprises you!

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