TURKEY TIPS & TRICKS
PANDEMIC PRACTICES, PART DEUX: Much like the rest of Europe, Turkey has had its ups and downs with the COVID pandemic, but it has been relatively open to tourists most of the time. You'll need to fill out a form at https://register.health.gov.tr/ no less than 72 hours before travel. Entry now includes a negative test before arriving (thanks, Omicron), but like every place else, the entry requirements seemingly change daily. Keep up with them here. But much like the U.S., mask wearing and social distancing was hit-and-miss, depending on the venue.
THE HARD SELL: Walking alone can be an adventure in Istanbul. Not because of crime or terrorism, but because of some VERY aggressive salesmen. They will approach you on the street, try to make conversation by asking personal questions, follow you for blocks and blocks (I actually got lost on the way to the Blue Mosque trying to get away from them), and act personally offended when you won't follow them to their family's carpet store. It's like Tijuana on steroids. It's the one thing about Turkey that I found annoying.
FRIENDLY OR SELLING SOMETHING?: Speaking of which, I found Turks in general to be quite friendly and welcoming, but the "overly" friendly ones are usually trying to sell you something. It's a good idea to learn the difference early in your travels.
EXCHANGE RATES ARE GREAT (FOR YOU): While it's a horrible situation for Turkish citizens, the value of currency (Turkish lira) is quite poor right now, making things incredibly cheap for visitors from the United States and Europe. It makes dining out and basic souvenir shopping quite inexpensive, but it's led some of the high-ticket items (like the aforementioned rugs) to keep their value by pricing them in Euros, so don't expect too deep of a discount there.
SECULAR, BUT...: Of all the Islamic countries in this part of the world, this is one of the more secular ones (alcohol is readily available in most places, most women wear western-style clothing and there are nightclubs in the larger cities), but Islamic culture is still fairly prevalent, from the daily calls to prayer to the custom of removing one's shoes before one enters a home.
ENGLISH FRIENDLY: Turkey sees a lot of British tourists, and Turkish is a tough language to master. So it may come as no surprise that English is spoken widely throughout the more traveled areas of the country. I got by knowing mostly two phrases: "Please" (lewt-fen), "Thank you" (tesh-ek-kewr) and "Cheers!" (Sheriff-A)
ISTANBUL TRAFFIC IS NUTS: I did not attempt to drive in Turkey, but I felt very sorry for the bus driver who had to bring us back into Istanbul (on a Sunday afternoon, no less) at the end of the tour. The whole area is like rush hour Atlanta on steroids, and we honestly could have gotten around faster in the Old City by walking. It's a beautiful, fascinating city but the traffic is INSANE.
TOUR OR NOT: If I had to go to Turkey independently, I'd have probably been able to if I stuck to just Istanbul and Cappadocia. But there's so much more to Turkey than that, so I was very glad to have the Intrepid tour show me a fuller representation of Turkish history and culture (not to mention the transportation and accommodations). I highly recommend it.
TIPPING: Do it. 10% is the norm here, but any more is certainly appreciated, especially given the state of the economy and the collapse of the Turkish lira. Tips are gladly accepted in lira and euros.
AVOID POLITICS: Much like the U.S., Turks are pretty divided politically between those who like the dictatorial nationalistic tendencies of their current leader and those who prefer the open secular society that Turks had previous to his arrival. Best to avoid the topic all together. However, they all do seem to love their founder, Mustafa Ataturk, who was pretty much their version of George Washington.