INDEX Ramazan, 2002
The Killim Fields
Turkey is big. It's very big. And despite the fact that the population of 80m seems to be doing its level best to ruin and despoil the land, the place seems to be big enough to cope with all the knocks it is getting.

If Australia is a fragile ecology then Turkey seems to be a very robust one. Even in the huge cities (we got to see Istanbul and Izmir) there seemed to be no clean air act. Many seemed to be burning wood fires and there were plenty of dirty old diesel engines in the streets. Yet the air was full of birds of many different kinds. We had rarely seen so many birds.
The people of Turkey are very relaxed and friendly. They seem to be at ease with themselves and with other people. However, a sizeable proportion seem to want to rip off the tourists or at least hussle them into buying carpets.

I can not understand the appeal of Turkish carpets or Killims. For me, carpets are dirty, unpleasant things which harbour dirt and diseases. Yet the Turks were convinced to a person that the only reason I could possibly have gone to their country was in pursuit of a carpet.

If you listened to their sales patter it was, to say the least, eccentric. They took pride in pointing out the fact that the goods they were selling were imperfect, demonstrating that they had been made by hand rather than machine. For myself I couldn't care less how a carpet was made and don't see the attractions in flaws, but clearly I am not part of the carpet buying populace.

In general Turkey is a fairly cheap place. It's easy to find reasonably priced hotel, restaurants and leather goods (a local speciality). But when it comes to carpets they seem to have no sense of proportion. We were shown one hearth rug sized silk carpet which was supposed to be worth over a thousand pounds. It was nice enough but damned expensive for a floor covering.

Turkish sales patter is reasonably unsophisticated. It consists of persistent invitations to sociability or hospitality. The Turks pride themselves on their hospitality and frequently offer Che, the local almost undrinkable tea. This will often be followed by haggling (there is rarely a price for anything, price is dependent on the perceived ability of the buyer to pay, not the value of the goods or the cost of producing them).

If you are really lucky this may be followed by a display of why are you trying to ruin my family by forcing me to accept such a ridiculously low price. A deal concluded it is wise not to allow the trader to wrap the goods, since you may be taking away an entirely different product from the one you thought you bought.

Turks do not seem to believe that it is immoral or dishonest to rip of tourists. Perhaps they are right.

Although Istanbul is a large city it is a fairly civilised sort of place, partly because car use is very low and public transport is excellent. In general if public transport is anything to go by, it is Britain that is the third world country and Turkey that is the advanced, developed nation. This even applies to the roads, to a certain extent. Turkey is building a fine motorway system based on cheap toll roads. But like most things in Turkey the roads are eccentric.

Our car was attacked by large dogs when we were driving down one motorway. On another occasion we found a trunk road we were on was closed entirely as the police hosed the glass and debris off the road from a crash. Turkish drivers seem to be prepared to overtake at the strangest times (going round blind corners etc.) so it is not at all surprising that there are quite a lot of head on collisions.

By British standards Turkish roads are quiet and relatively friendly, but there are moments of anarchy which would cause even a seasoned driver a few unpleasant moments.

It is relatively expensive to hire a car in Turkey and petrol is not particularly cheap. A far better way of getting around is the coaches which criss cross the country at high speed. They are very cheap and on longer journeys the fares include basic food and the supply of dabs of perfumed water to be applied to the face and hands.

Railways are regarded as an eccentric way to travel in Turkey. We were told that people could spend days on relatively short train journeys and staff advised passengers to take food supplies, just in case. The only people who take trains are the homeless, who get the chance to live in the compartments, we heard. When we actually took a train in Istanbul the Turks on the platform were embarrassed because it was running 25 seconds late. It was old and had an eccentric door opening system, but it was not much worse than you might find on a British train line. And it was very, very cheap.

If you want to go to then then you will probably want to learn Turkish. Most Turks do not speak English, or at least the older ones don't. Those that do generally want to sell you a carpet.

Turkish body language is very different to the British equivalent, so even pointing at things can be confusing.

Never trust a travel agent in Turkey. Cities have tourist information centres. A visit to one of these will save a lot of money and difficulty.

Visiting the barbers is fun and going to the bazaar is not bad (so long as you don't spend any money or don't worry about getting ripped off). The bazaars are stuffed with goods but I'm afraid I didn't find many things I actually wanted to buy. Apart from the tourist trinkets, most of the stuff is fairly dull and poor quality. You may be able to find stuff that is worth the effort of carrying home on the plane, but you will have to look hard.

Restaurants are fun but outside Istanbul the ones we saw tended to resemble transport cafes. Women are very thin on the ground in these places and they tend to be very smoky.

In general women seem to be much freer and more liberated than the Pakistani or Bangladeshi women you see in London. Veils are rare and we never saw a bourka.

Yet Turkey is, in its way, a very Islamic country. Every town has its Mosque. Even the roadside service areas have prayer areas (miniature mosques). We were woken at about 3a.m. By people drumming in the streets to get the faithful up in time to eat before the Ramazan fast began.
Ramazan, 2002,° Jonathan Brind INDEX