Travel Culture

Published on August 11th, 2014 | by Oliver Pelling


Turkey mythbusting: everything you know is wrong

Read time: a bit over 4 minutes

Turkey is officially one of my favourite places in the world. It never used to be, but then I went there, and now it is.

I did a bit of research before my trip and already knew a little of the culture (and food), but I wasn’t ready for the onslaught of awesome that Turkey had up it’s proverbial sleeves.

If Turkey was a TV show, the following points could be considered ‘spoilers’. Still, venture to Turkey and you’ll learn all this and more.

Turkish Viagra is everywhere

As a 25-year-old male, Viagra isn’t exactly on my list of things to seek out on my travels. But in Turkey, you can’t get away from the stuff. And as a 25-year-old male, I felt it was my duty to try it.

Istanbul’s Spice Market is where I first came across this herbal treat and I was hardly going to let the opportunity pass me by. The concoction was supposedly used by the Sultans of old to help them…um…’entertain’ their harems.

Regardless of the history, it didn’t work for me. Or anyone else I asked about it. The only accounts of it actually working – save for general ‘feel-good’ benefits come from people outside of Turkey. It’s viewed as more of an inside joke to the locals – a joke they’re happy to share with travellers in the form of a wink and a nod.

For those interested, you can actually even buy it on Amazon…but they’re out of stock at the moment (I checked).

Cats and dogs – gifts from god

Upon arriving in Turkey, you’ll notice just how many ‘stray’ cats and dogs are wandering the streets. But you’ll also likely notice that the majority of them seem healthy, well fed and well looked after. That’s because, by and large, they are.

Many Turkish people believe cats and dogs are gifts from god and as such, should enjoy their freedom and be treated with respect. Most locals are comfortable with having the animals roam the streets and will feed them leftover food where they can.

Cities, towns and villages have ‘public’ eating and drinking bowls for cats and dogs scattered around, and some areas have dogs that stay nearby for their entire lives. The locals grow to love the animals, give them names and make sure they’re healthy.

To help combat diseases such as rabies (which is a problem in some areas), Turley has an initiative to take dogs in to Veterinarians, vaccinate them, then release them with a tag on their ear.

The great apple tea myth

Much like Turkish Viagra, this stuff is everywhere. It tastes like hot apple juice and if you’ve got a sweet tooth, you’ll dig it. But I have it on good authority (a Turkish guy told me) that you’d be hard pressed to find a Turk who drinks apple tea. Instead, they’ll drink traditional Turkish tea, which is served black.

So if no Turks drink apple tea, why is everyone always banging on about it? The story goes that Turkish shopkeepers have traditionally used tea to keep people in their shops for longer, thus increasing the chances of them making a purchase.

Having discovered that the traditional tea is often too bitter for travellers’ tastes, they came up with the sweet apple tea as an alternative. So essentially, it was created to get travellers to buy more stuff. Turkish ingenuity at its finest.

The world’s first advert

At Ephesus, near the ancient library, is what’s claimed as ‘the world’s first advert’. If you walk along to the right of the library, you’ll eventually find a small section of the walkway that’s surrounded by a barrier. In the middle of the sealed-off section of path, you’ll see the imprint of a foot. But this isn’t just any foot, this is – apparently – the world’s first advert.

In ancient times this imprint of a left foot alluded to the fact if you strolled slightly further up the path and veered left you’d eventually come across a ‘pleasure house’ (that’s a brothel, to you and me). Don Draper, eat your heart out.

Raki – the lion’s milk

Raki, an aniseed-flavoured spirit, is Turkey’s national drink. It’s traditionally consumed with water as a mixer and, like Turkish Viagra and apple tea, can be found everywhere. But the process of drinking what the locals refer to as ‘the lions milk’ involves adhering to a couple of regulations.

First up, you should really only drink raki if you have some meze or other nibbly foods to accompany it. And secondly, you shouldn’t mix raki with other alcoholic drinks on the same night. My Geckos leader in Turkey, Emir, had many good phrases about raki, such as “I don’t know the question, but Raki is the answer”, and “Raki is like your wife – you shouldn’t cheat on her”. That said, nobody’s gonna stop you from drinking raki how you like – these are simply local guidelines for how to drink the stuff.

Gallipoli’s legacy

In Australia and New Zealand, folks are taught all about the significance and sacrifice that took place in Gallipoli during World War I. ANZAC losses are the focus of annual memorials, and the British High Command is held accountable for misleading recruiting tactics and for leading 8,709 Australians and 2,707 New Zealanders to their deaths (as well as 21,000 British and 15,000 French).

But for Turks, the victory at Gallipoli carried perhaps more lasting significance. Heavily outnumbered at the start of the battle and with little in the way of supplies, the defeat of allied forces led young Turkish people to believe they could make a difference and that they could build a better future for themselves.

After the battle, Turks elected Gallipoli commander Mustafa Kemal (later known as General Atatürk)– a man whose bravery and ability to inspire his troops at Gallipoli was well known – as their leader. Turkey became a republic in 1923, and the ensuing 15 years of Atatürk’s rule led to many political and socio-economic improvements for the country.

I travelled through Turkey on Geckos Ottoman is Not Just a Footstool trip – a 15-day whirlwind tour of the best Turkey has to offer. If you don’t have 15 days to spare, check out Geckos other Turkey itineraries and you’re sure to find the one that fits.

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About the Author

I once drove a tuk-tuk 1200km around Sri Lanka. I enjoy food of the Mexican and Japanese persuasion (and Korean. And most others). I'm from England but I live in Melbourne, where it feels like I'm on holiday all the time. And I'm Geckos digital editor, but don't come to me if you have any complaints about things you see on Tales. Unless the complaints are accompanied by tacos, in which case we can probably strike a deal

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