1. Don’t just visit Istanbul.
Do check out the other cities and provinces. Chilling out in the Mediterranean breeze out on the west and south coasts can easily trump a stuffy, busy day in the city. Explore the ancient ruins of Ephesus an hour away from Izmir; wander around the unearthly Cappadocia in the heart of Anatolia; hang out in the lush green Black Sea region and breathe ridiculously fresh air in Ayder Yaylası near Rize. Get yourself a little more cultured in Diyarbakır, appreciate the architecture of Mardin, indulge in the South Eastern cuisine, and take pics of the sunrise from the top of Nemrut Mountain in Adıyaman Province. Turkey is a land with all sorts of possible adventures squeezed in 783,562 km2, so do yourself a favor, get out of Istanbul, and go explore.
2. Don’t order filter coffee in local cafes.
Do try the Turkish coffee and get your fortune read after. Turkish coffee is prepared with roasted and finely ground coffee beans boiled in a pot called cezve. Sugar is added while cooking. It is served in small cups; the grounds settle at the bottom of the cup, leaving a dangerously strong but really tasty coffee liquid on top.
After drinking, sometimes people do some fortune telling out of their coffee cups. They swing their coffee in circles, put the cup upside down and let it cool down. As the grounds at the bottom of the cup drop, they create forms and shapes. A coffee fortune teller would read these shapes as symbols and interpret the drinker’s fortune. There are special cafes in every town that offer coffee fortune telling, but if you are lucky you might meet a Turkish friend who will do it for you.
3. Don’t go to an expensive spa.
Do go to an authentic Turkish hamam instead. There’s a pretty incredible ambience created by the steam, with light filtering through the ceiling holes illuminating oriental architecture. You’ll have a way more memorable bathing experience than you could at a fancy, expensive spa. Çemberlitaş, Galatasaray, Kılıç Ali Paşa, Haseki Hürrem Sultan in Istanbul, Has Hamam in Eskişehir, and Şengül Hamamı in Ankara are some of the best hamams in the world.
4. Don’t shop at malls.
Do visit local and historical bazaars. Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is the most well-known. But Kemeraltı in Izmir and local bazaars in the neighborhood of Ulus in Ankara can show you more authentic aspects of the bazaar culture, without all the droves of tourists.
5. Don’t worry about gaining weight.
Do make sure that you completely pig out on Turkish cuisine. From the west coast to the eastern inland, north to south, Turkey offers enticing local cuisine, and every province has its own special delicacies. The main dishes and pastries of Turkish cuisine are a fusion of food cultures that have been accumulating over hundreds of years, so we take eating seriously here. Turkish delight, anyone?
6. Don’t assume no means no, especially when you’re sitting at a dinner table.
Do expect to be served more than you can humanly eat. Turkish hosts love feeding and treating their guests well. Insisting a guest eat more is a common occurrence, because people often think their guests might be too shy to ask for more. It’s smart to take your time with your dish when you don’t have too much of an appetite, because an empty plate won’t stay empty for long.
7. Don’t wear your headphones.
Do discover all sorts of Turkish music, which, like food, changes dramatically from region to region. From Turkish classical music to folk music, Arabesk to modern, Istanbul is the city where one get the taste of it all in “live” form. Get out of the city to listen to the traditional music from the Black Sea and to hear Turkish ballads from locals mastering their bağlama (a stringed Turkish instrument).
8. Don’t miss the ceremonies.
Do attend a wedding event if you can, and traditional henna ceremonies can be pretty interesting. Experience Ramadan — there are some incredible dishes served during this month such as güllaç, a milky dessert made with a thin layers of pastry and pomegranate. Do go see a sema, with dervishes whirling to the enchanting sound of ney. Seb-i Arus is a special sema ceremony held every year in Konya on the anniversary of the great mystic philosopher Mevlana’s death; get yourself off the tourist track and celebrate like a trueTurk.
9. Don’t just stay in hotels.
Do try a homestay. It’s the best way to engage with the rich local cultures and to experience Turkish hospitality. There is also the opportunity to stay in ecological/permacultural farms and to give a bit of your time for volunteer work. Bugday Association has been conducting a project called TaTuTa, which organizes ecological farm stays in Turkey for tourists.
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