It’s been almost a year since we were in Turkey, but I still think of that trip often. We saw some really amazing sights, ate delicious food, and had incredible experiences. It’s definitely high on my list of “must return” countries. But the memories that really make me smile are the ones about the people. We met some of the warmest, friendliest and most helpful people during our brief time in Turkey.
Our time in Cappadocia got off to a rough start when we thought our plane might crash on the way there. But when we arrived at our hotel, Spelunca Cave Hotel, we were immediately greeted by the friendly manager who became such a big help to us over the next few days.
Our first request? A drink. After a flight like that, we needed something to take the edge off. The manager pointed us to the hotel’s restaurant where he was hanging out with friends at 1AM.
When we booked a tour that never came to pick us up, that same manager called around for us to get things straightened out. Another van came to pick us up 20 minutes later, and we were on our way.
After that tour, we told him we wanted to make sure we saw a certain section of Cappadocia. He told us if we wanted to go after our balloon ride, he would drive us out there. How much would that cost? Nothing. He wasn’t even going to charge us, he just wanted to be helpful.
He also helped us get our hot air balloon ride scheduled when our first choice was booked up. And afterwards, he helped us figure out how to get to Selcuk, our next stop, so we could see Ephesus. The bus companies only had overnight buses, which I didn’t want to do, and they had no information on routes beyond theirs. But the hotel manager told us what cities would be good for finding connecting buses, and it worked perfectly.
Bus from Konya to Izmir
In our journey from Cappadocia to Izmir, we switched buses in Konya. The Turkish bus system is actually really great and stopped often enough for bathroom breaks and food. At one stop, Andy and I were trying to decide on dinner when another passenger from our bus saw came over to talk to us. He pointed at the doner in front of us and said, “Try that one, it’s the specialty of this town. Would you like to try mine?”
Really? Some stranger was going to let us try a bite of his doner wrap? I was shocked at his generosity. We didn’t take him up on his offer, but instead decided it was such a great endorsement of this particular doner, that we bought some for ourselves. It did not disappoint.
You may not have heard of Selcuk, but it’s the closest town to the ruins of Ephesus. While most people decide to visit Ephesus as a day trip, we decided to stay in Selcuk for a few nights. After settling into our wonderful hostel run by two helpful brothers, we went looking for dinner.
I normally shy away from restaurants where someone is standing outside trying to convince you to come in, but this time was different. He wasn’t being pushy, just really friendly. When I ordered a vodka (the only alcohol on his menu that wasn’t beer) and Coke, his face fell because he was all out of vodka. So he ran across the street to another restaurant and got some from them. Then he spent the night telling us about the food and getting the cook to answer questions when his English was failing him.
We went back the next night.
I know it’s usually expected that people who run hotels will be helpful. But sometimes they go so far beyond our expectations. The man who owned the hotel we stayed at in Pamukkale was one of those. We were just asking how to get to the top entrance of the travertines, and instead of giving us directions, he drove us up there himself.
The day we checked out, as we were waiting for our ride to pick us up, he invited us to sit with him and a couple of other travelers and have some tea. It was only about 10 minutes, but to just sit and get to know us and his other customers was something you just don’t see often.
I wouldn’t necessarily expect overwhelming friendliness in a big city like Istanbul, but we found it everywhere. Riding the tram one day, a man who turned out to be a carpet salesman started talking to us and gave us advice on things to do in some of the other places on our itinerary. I’m used to people on public transportation keeping to themselves, so it was refreshing to have someone reach out to us.
I always heard the Grand Bazaar was full of people trying to sell you stuff. While this was true, it doesn’t mean the place was devoid of kindness. We were looking at a very basic map on the wall when a man came walking out of a nearby store. He handed us a really great paper map, pointed out a few things to us, and helped us get oriented. Never once did he try to get us to come into his store and buy anything – he just wanted to help.
When we arrived in Istanbul the second time, at the end of our trip, it was pouring. But when the taxis quoted us a much higher price than we were willing to pay for such a short ride, we started walking and unfortunately got a little lost. Another taxi stopped to help and offered to drive us, but he wouldn’t answer when we asked how much it would cost. It turns out he wouldn’t give us an answer because he was driving us for free, just to be nice.
Turkey is one of my top five favorite countries. I absolutely love the food, the sights are amazing, and the varying landscapes are gorgeous. All of these things drew me in, but the thing that makes me want to go back is the hospitality, friendliness and warm of the people who live there.