In November, at the tail-end of my three months abroad, I met two of my college roommates in Turkey. We'd started in Cappadocia and spent the last few days in Istanbul, hilariously celebrating Thanksgiving in Turkey. On the first full day we were in town, our Airbnb host, Deniz, took us to the Tuesday market to shop and buy groceries for the traditional dinner we'd cook later that evening.
Walking around this market with Deniz and Seyhan, I didn't hear any English outside of our own little group. It felt disorienting but good to be surrounded by locals. Sometimes heavily-tourist places can weigh on me while I'm on the road, and this morning was a breath of fresh (spice-laden and produce-scented) air. We ate gözleme, bought too many Turkish towels, and wandered the aisles of color and scents. We were clearly the outsiders, but each of the vendors was so sweet and excited to be in any photos when I asked to take a picture.* My favorite memory is looking at the havoc around me, only to find Seyhan standing still and basking in a sun spot that'd escaped the tents above. It was so simple and sweet, and it helped me love life again.
Later that evening Deniz and Seyhan taught us to make so much food we had leftovers for the rest of our stay. Istanbul has always felt like a hard place for me to be, but Deniz, Seyhan, and the Sali Pazari made it so wonderful. Teşekkür ederim, thank you.
*I, personally, like to ask permission before I take photos of anyone while traveling. I know it's not always possible, but I think it's always worth the effort. I try to learn "may I please take your photo" in the local language in case they don't speak English. Recognize that you are intruding in their space, that their life is not a novelty for you to add to your scrapbook. Their permission is a gift.
This post is dedicated to women travelers who hit bumps in the road but keep going.
When I first began to write about Istanbul, I was livid. It was my second time in Istanbul, I thought I'd taken every precaution to be safe and knowledgeable, but we ended up getting scammed by taxis twice. Twice! I mean, it wasn't a lot of money, but the principle and fact that it happened was upsetting. The fact that it happened because we were tourists was maddening. The fact that it happened because we were women is enraging.
Prior to going to Turkey for my second visit, I wrote to a friend who'd lived in Istanbul and asked if he had any tips for avoiding and handling scammy (illegal) taxis. He said he'd never had any issues and so I thought maybe the issue had resolved itself since my visit six years prior. At the end of my trip it struck me-- Jamil is a tall, ethnic man. Of course he didn't have any issues. We, on the other hand, were foreign women.
Before I go on to my main point, here, here, and here are links to tips about what to look out for with taxis in Istanbul. My biggest takeaways are:
- only ride taxis with an affiliated business logo and phone number (avoid unmarked cars!!)
- avoid getting taxis in the tourist center (but if you do, have a business or hotel call one for you)
- make sure the meter is working
- have a general sense of what the ride should cost (ask a friend/local before you get in!)
- pay in small bills-- pay attention to what you give and know how much to expect back (they are known to swap bank notes when you pay)
last but most importantly: don't be afraid to speak or act up
- if you don't feel comfortable, insist they pull over and get out of the car
- if you think they've overcharging you, make a big deal. cause a scene. ask a local or business to call the police for you.
I felt like a failure for not doing these last things. I was so proud of myself for being a "seasoned" traveler. I thought I was looking for the right signs and knew what to expect. But when the moment came, I was paralyzed. I didn't know how to be forceful back when I knew we were being taken advantage of.
I won't let this stop me from traveling. The more I have negative experiences on the road, the more I'm determined to keep going. I hope you do, too. My hope is that with enough persistence and awareness, we can call them out on their bullshit when the time comes. While tourists scams are a reality of traveling, I really think that by sharing these experiences and being better prepared, things can change. Be knowledgeable, cautious, and brave on the road. Do your research and be an informed traveler. Trust your gut and call them out. This whole wild world is here for us to explore-- this is but a story from the road.
PS - Shout out to all the real Istanbul taxi drivers who aren't the scum of the earth, few and far between as you might seem.
PPS - As much as it pains me to use Uber back at home, it's a great option in large international cities.
During the last week of my trip to Greece, we took a cruise around the Aegean Sea with our first port in Istanbul. I hadn't anticipated going to Turkey but everything just worked out.
Istanbul was witness to a lot of "firsts" for me. Cab racing. Dining and dashing (we were willing to pay for the fancy dinner until they wanted €500 for one bottle of vodka and five Red Bulls that we didn't ask for). My first and only hookah (mint, and exquisite). And stepping into another culture's holy place.
The last three photos are of the Blue Mosque. Even when I tip-toed with my bare feet, I still felt like I was intruding as I saw so many people bent in prayer. We all felt so small in such a big mosque, but in the best way possible. Then there was the Hagia Sofia. I know that no one worships in the Hagia Sofia, but with the detailed walls and streaming sunlight, I easily could have. It was breathtaking.
I'm off to Tahoe! More Istanbul photos + text to come!
Ephesus. To be honest, before I visited last summer I wasn't sure if it was a place that still existed. The most I knew was what I'd read about it in the Bible, with Paul's letters to the Ephesians. Although I had been to other sites, Ephesus (tied with Delphi) was my favorite because it was actually like walking through the ancient city. You could see the main street along the market place, board games that sellers would play to pass time, the library-- even the bathrooms. And even though everything left is just a fraction of what used to be there, it just felt so real.
Also, funny stories about the last photo: This is the great theater where Paul of the Apostle spoke to the Ephesians. About 1900 years later, Enrique Iglesias performed here for the excavation site's first fundraising concert. And, our tour guide took a girl on their first date to that Enrique concert nine years ago. Today, she's his wife.