It was 10 am, Sunday, December 11th, 2016. The notification light on my phone constantly blinked. Half asleep, I managed to look at it. I had a couple of snap chat messages, Facebook notifications, a message from Yildiz (my Turkish friend) and then Breaking news from BBC. I unlocked my phone and checked the news first. “Stadium blast in Istanbul kills 38 people“. My hands started to shake. My trip to Turkey was going to be the following weekend. I clicked on Yildiz’s message. “Do you still want to come to Turkey?” -Yildiz asked. “I wanna, but I’m scared” I replied after contemplating my response for 10 mins. “Everyone is scared, I could have been there” she replied. I didn’t respond. A few days later Yildiz messaged me “There has been another attack. Consider coming to Turkey again. I am saying this just because I feel I have to…”I began to worry. I messaged Zehra, another Turkish friend and asked her on her country’s safety. “The media gives you the perception that Turkey is a war zone and that you have to hide yourself . But life goes on. We take it easy, now I am outside having breakfast” she replied. If you were like me at that time, you probably would have googled “Is it safe to travel to Turkey or Is Istanbul safe for a woman to travel alone” over a thousand times. Just like the responses from my Turkish friends, my research online yielded me two answers on both ends of the spectrum. It was left for me to make a decision.
I followed Zehra’s advice, confirmed my flight and spent one week in Istanbul. Here was my experience.
During my trip to Istanbul, I was surprised by how little Turkish locals spoke English. I knew little to no Turkish as well, which in of itself was a challenge for me. Despite that, I found the locals friendly and helpful. It made me realize that kindness was (and still is) a universal language. I met Yildiz virtually through a travel facebook group. We had been communicating quite a bit prior to my arrival to Istanbul, Turkey. Meeting her in person felt like I had met a long lost friend. Yildiz took the one-hour bus journey from her town to the city center, every other day to show me Istanbul. I was also introduced to a mutual friend who eventually became my second tour guide. She even took me to her workplace and introduced her coworkers to me. These two extraordinary women made my time comforting and enjoyable.
My beautiful Turkish friend
Besides the friends I had made before coming to Istanbul, I also made new friends while walking on the streets and in the mosque. Strangers were eager to help even though we communicated using hand signals and a calculator (Don’t ask me why! lol). One interesting thing that usually happened was that after I asked for help or directions, the Turkish locals would ask permission to take a selfie with me. I didn’t think I stood out in Istanbul as there definitely were other individuals with African features. I thought it was a friendly gesture, though.
Selfies with Turkish locals
I enjoyed the kindness and friendliness Turkish locals showered me. What came as a pleasant surprise to me was that in Turkey, Chivalry isn’t dead. In the U.S. we always gosh and use this phrase whenever a guy opens the door for us or “luckily” helps us with our heavy bags BUT Ladies, Turkey is the real deal! I visited Turkey in December, so it was cold and it rained a lot. This particular day it not just rained, but it was also windy. So I took the flimsy umbrella my Airbnb host left in my room. As I walked through the streets of Istanbul, the water proof cloth that was supposed to protect me from the rain drops would shoot up, leaving the iron rods that supported its curved form, dangling like it had surrendered from its duties. While I struggled to fix my umbrella, a middle aged man ran up to me. He pointed to the umbrella and straightened it out. “Good as new” he smiled and said once he got done helping me. It was just like in the classic movies. “Tashakur” I thanked him with the only Turkish word I knew. The same thing happened when I was struggling to carry my luggage up the hills in one of the Beyôglu streets. “I could get used to this,” I thought.
Besides me admiring the view of the beautiful mosques, astounding architectures, and appreciating the kindness of the locals, Turkish food has some of the best cuisines I’ve ever tasted. Seriously, I was overjoyed for the next Turkish meal I could try. And no, I am not just referring to Turkish kebab! I found out that Turkey has a plethora of scrumptious dishes to discover. Don’t get me started on the sweets. Turkey is a true foodie heaven.
In the past 3 years, Turkey has suffered bomb threats, lost lives, resulting in an air of unpredictable safety. I walked through the Bosphorus bridge almost every day and I always saw the locals calmly fishing and chatting with their fellow fishermen like there was nothing to worry about. “Regardless of what happens, life goes on” Zehra’s words kept ringing in my ears. This state of mind and the daily ritual of the fishermen is a symbol of the local’s response to the current situation in Turkey.
Fishermen fishing on the Bosphorus
I would be lying to you if I told you that I felt completely fearless prior and during my visit to Turkey. I came out of the Ataturk airport, passed through Taksim square, stopped by Besiktas Stadium, thinking “wow people died here.” Not to be sinister but it was hard to ignore and not be vigilant during my stay. Whenever I saw people gathering or having mini-protests, I changed my direction. My eyes darted from side to side and my ears were perked up for any unusual situation or sound.
Besiktas area after the attacks
Due to the numerous travel warning from government website sites and the ongoing attacks, it was inevitable to see that tourism had gone down in Turkey. Few foreigners were booking a flight to visit and the vendors from the bazaars were reluctant to haggle unless you shopped with a Turkish local.
The other not so good experiences I had in Turkey had nothing to do with security but mostly related to due diligence. I had to be assertive with Men who tried to take advantage of a solo female traveler and I also learned how to find peace in the midst of a crazy Airbnb host.
Did I regret my trip to Turkey? Absolutely not! in fact, as I’m writing this post I feel nostalgic. There is something interesting about the country that draws people from around the world to its center. During my stay there, every day felt like an adventure. I must emphasize that Turkey, in general, is a safe country and the attacks that are being inflicted on it could happen ANYWHERE!!! Although I had my worries, watching those fishermen gave me some perspective to life and calmed me down.
If something is destined to happen to us, it will happen. Whether we are hiding in a cave or sitting at home or taking a metro or driving to work or whatever. We can’t let fear stop us from living our best life….. Regardless of what happens, we must remember that Life goes on….
If you find yourself still asking, “is it safe to travel to Turkey?”, here are some resources that contributed to my decision.
This post isn’t to encourage nor discourage you from visiting Turkey. If you do think about visiting the country, do some thorough research and weigh the options. At the end of the day, you know yourself best and only you can decide if a trip to Turkey would be a good choice.
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