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From its diverse cuisine to its fascinating history, Turkey is an exciting place to visit for any traveller. Whether it’s a quick stopover or a long break, here are 11 things you need to know before visiting the country.
Although Turkish cuisine is known for being meat-heavy, most local restaurants carry a wide variety of vegetarian options. Tradesmen’s restaurants (esnaf lokantasi) offer zeytinyagli dishes, which are vegetables made with olive oil. All fish and kebab restaurants have meat-free mezes on their menu that include yogurt, herbs, hummus and eggplant salad.
Credit cards are widely accepted in major cities like Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir but many smaller towns, as well as simple establishments in big cities, will require you to pay by cash. You’ll also need to carry change for taxi fares, tips for waiters (so that it goes to them directly) and public bathrooms.
Free-roaming cats and dogs are found everywhere – from the doorstep of Starbucks on the Bosphorus and the hectic entry of a popular nightclub to luxurious beaches on the Mediterranean coast. They are mostly taken care of by the locals and are quite friendly so there is no need to fear them. There is even a statue of Tombili in Istanbul, a famous street cat that died in 2016.
The quality of tap water varies from region to region but it is not used for drinking purposes in any part of the country. However, it’s okay to use it to cook food, make tea after boiling it and brushing your teeth as long as you don’t swallow the water. Filtration systems are in place in big cities but locals still choose not to drink tap water just to be on the safe side.
Turkish people are generally quite affectionate and this is apparent in the way they greet others. Although first encounters tend to include a handshake, when meeting a friend or someone you already know, the general rule is to kiss both cheeks regardless of gender. This, at times, tends to be coupled with a hug.
Traffic in Turkey is notorious for cars but it’s no easy feat for pedestrians either. The pedestrian crossing doesn’t mean much so don’t expect any car to stop for you when you’re walking to the other side. The safest way to cross a street is at the traffic light but even then, it’s wise to check that the cars are definitely at a standstill.
Seeing a couple kissing passionately on the street is quite uncommon – even in liberal neighbourhoods. Holding hands is okay but do it with a side of caution if in a conservative area. Most public declarations of affection will be noticed but those between LGBT couples might especially be frowned upon.
When planning your itinerary, look further than Istanbul and the more common historical sites. Turkey has a variety of landscapes to explore, from the hiking routes of Lycia and the valleys of the Black Sea region to the fairy chimneys in Cappadocia and the country’s largest lake, Van Golu, in the southeast. Different seasons call for different nature tours, so make sure to check the weather beforehand and plan accordingly.
As you head towards the historic neighbourhoods of Istanbul or to smaller towns in Turkey, be prepared to drink several cups of tea every day. The avid tea drinkers that they are, shopkeepers will interrupt your shopping spree by offering tea. When visiting a Turkish household, the host will most likely offer a freshly-brewed cup as well. This is done as a sign of hospitality and friendship and some may get offended if you refuse the drink.
The legalisation of marijuana may be on the rise in the United States, but Turkey is still very strict about drug use. There is no leniency when it comes to using or selling drugs within the country. Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol are acceptable.
If you’re only visiting Istanbul, you might not even come across these traditional toilets. However, if you’re bound to set off beyond the city, you’re likely to find yourself in an unexpected squat challenge. These old-school toilets are very hygienic (if they are clean) and exist alongside modern-day toilets in many areas.