We had a chance to sit down and chat with Turkish Tour Director Suleyman, who lives and guides tours at home in Istanbul. Here are his insider info and cultural tips for how to create a memorable trip to Turkey.
Q: What surprises you most about American and Canadian visitors?
A: They are excited and passionate for new experiences. Every experience on a Go Ahead trip is so eye opening and fun for everyone. My travelers enjoy things like marveling at the co-existence of the modern and ancient in places like Istanbul, listening tothe call to prayer, enjoying apple tea and of course, experiencing the legendary Turkish hospitality.
One thing that always makes me smile is the attention paid to the cats—Istanbul has many cats living everywhere! Even President Obama got in on the cat action in 2010, famously petting a tabby cat inside Haghia Sophia as then Turkish Prime Minister (and now President) Recep Tayyip Erdogan looked on with a smile. We treasure the cats as well; in many places they are part of the community. It may just be Islamic lore, but there is a story of a cat preventing a poisonous snake from coming near the Prophet Muhammad. This gave us a popular saying, “If you’ve killed a cat, you need to build a mosque to be forgiven by God.”
Q: Are Turks passionate about their food?
A: Yes indeed, here in Istanbul they are especially passionate about their lamb kebaps. Both locals and visitors alike love the simit, a freshly baked, sesame-crusted bread dipped in molasses. Simit are widely available from street vendors everywhere and can be had with cheese added or nutella and other toppings for less than $1 or $2 USD. While you are here don’t forget to try our local wines either, as they are quite affordable and will also be surprisingly good.
Q: What should everyone do when they visit Istanbul?
A: Experience the Hamam, the Turkish Bath. You’ll be treated like a king or queen for more than an hour in authentic steambath and will leave feeling cleaner than ever. Everyone needs to try it at least once!
Q: What else should travelers know about Turkey?
A: Turkey is a very friendly and safe place. It’s a European city, but it’s also a Turkish city. Many positive experiences will happen—you will undoubtedly have a lot of contact with local people. It’s a complete experience. It’s not just going from museum to museum or doing some American style shopping or sitting on the beach. It’s something totally different, a Turkish experience. Whether you are shopping for an expensive new carpet or just a few dollars worth of street food, you’ll be glad you came.
Have you ever been to Turkey? What did you love most about it?