“Turkey, you dare to go there?” asked one of my colleagues when I told her that I spent my birthday abroad, more precisely at the Turkish Aegean. She might not be the only one who advances this view, due to unflattering reporting of German media on president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his regime.
Yes, we dared to travel to Turkey and did not regret it for a single minute. To be honest I do not consider this a courageous deed but simply normal. During my years of studies I spent four months in Istanbul and in addition spent time there at other places. For me, visiting Turkey is a bit like coming home. And it was exactly like this again this time. People over there were friendly and hospitable like always. My boyfriend, who visited Turkey for the first time, is likewise thrilled by the country and its people and is willing to come back at any time.
To get straight to the point: Erdoğan is not Turkey, Putin is not Russia and Trump is not America. In other words, the attitude of one politician is not synonymous with the opinion of a nation.
Izmir – the most liberal city in Turkey
This time I traveled to the Turkish Aegean after I had already discovered the Turkish Riviera and the Lycian trail. Çeşme, our resort, is wonderful calm and relaxed off peak season. Maybe it is too calm for some people. However we liked it just this way. On our second day we took the bus from Çeşme to Izmir. Izmir is supposed to be the most westernized city in Turkey. An actually we had very positive encounters with the inhabitants just in one day. For example, there is the friendly waiter at the shisha-café, being happy to welcome guests from abroad. Having finished our pipe we received some Turkish tea as a gift. When we left a tip for the waiter upon meeting the bill the man asks us obviously a bit appalled whether we paid for the gratuitous tea by accident. We explain to him that the money is meant as a tip for him because he served us in such a nice manner. We receive a shy smile for that.
„You are a guest here“
On our way back from Karşıyaka to Konan a gentleman approaches us on the ferry boat and introduces himself as a countryman. He has been living in Germany for 50 years. He assures us that Erdoğan is not representative for whole Turkey and that Izmir is a very liberal city. He asks us whether we like the city and Turkey. We let him know that everything is just fine. When we are about to take the Metro back to the bus station we experience another perplexing eye-opener. You cannot buy a single ticket for public transport in Izmir. You need a ticket which can be charged with money. When we address to some passers-by they help us immediately. A woman draws her magnet stripe card through the automat. When I try to give her the money back she denies and says: “You are a guest here“.
I really feel ashamed reflecting on how many Germans would have acted in a similar situation facing a Turkish tourist just speaking English. Most probably most Germans would have just passed by. Just a few minutes later we are again embarrassed. This time we arrive at the bus station not knowing which bus is the bus back to Çeşme. Again we are asking one of the passer-bys standing at a bus stop. Believe it or not but the guy gives his bus a miss in order to accompany us to our bus stop. My boyfriend and I could simply not believe it how altruistic and hospitable those people are.
Upon renting a car two days later we were given another surprise. The owner of the company brings the car directly to the Hotel, gives us the impression of being totally relaxed and when we tell him that we do not have enough hard cash with us, he offers us to deposit the relevant amount at the Hotel counter to be picked up by him on the last day. No sooner said than done. Maybe all these surprises were just due to the off peak-season calmness, but maybe it is just the relaxed mentality of the Turks in Western Turkey that we experienced everywhere we showed up. Even the stray cats and dogs left a relaxed and satisfied impression on us.
Evet, I am not afraid to travel to Turkey.