It’s the best country in the world,
the Turkish teenager proudly proclaimed to the Texan couple sitting behind me on the flight from Paris to Istanbul.
I laughed to myself, as it certainly was a bold statement. As much as I love my homeland, I would never claim that the United States is the best country in the world. It has flaws like anywhere else, but I am quick to defend it when foreigners point them out. It’s like family. You can insult them, but others can’t.
I grew up in a post 9/11 America where our flag was seen on the bumper stickers of passing cars, t-shirts sold on the street and especially the super sized versions flying above auto dealerships. But if the words of the Turkish teen didn’t alert me, I would soon discover that no country I’ve visited can top Turkish pride. In fact, one Turkish man told me those same words: “American pride is nothing compared to Turkish pride.”
I saw large Turkish flags waving from every small town I stopped in throughout Turkey, from the one hanging next to the portrait of Ataturk in Istanbul’s Taksim Square to the one on the back of my gulet I sailed the Mediterranean on. It hung in the town square of Kas and from the fortress in Uchisar, one of the towns of Cappadocia.
And they should be proud. Proud of the delicious food, of the hospitality, of the turquoise waters, of the balance of tradition and modernity. I’ve never been to a country where I was so amazed by the people and I’ve lived in America’s friendliest city. I can’t deny that Istanbul didn’t give me the best first impression of Turkey and its people, but that all changed when I met Esra, my BusAbout guide on the Turkey Adventure tour, who brought us to a nightclub in her hometown to show us a good time. And in the crew of my Sail Turkey trip who were proud to showcase their favorite local dishes.
To the woman on my overnight bus from Fethiye to Goreme, who offered me snacks from her purse, despite not speaking a word of English. To the staff of the Taskonaklar Boutique Hotel who took such good care of me, waiting up at 4 am to let me into my room, letting me borrow a fleece jacket when I came ill prepared, cooking a full breakfast despite the fact that I was only one of three guests. To the strangers who offered me directions without expecting anything in return. To the staff of Cheers Lighthouse Hostel who let me hang out in the hostel well after I checked out and served me tea.
So if you ask me what I loved most about Turkey, I could easily say the food (yeah, it was that good), the landscapes (unlike any I’ve ever seen), or the history (plenty of that), but it has to be the people. My preconceived notions proved to be absolutely false. Every time I see that red background with the white crescent moon and star, I’ll think of my trip and how happy I was to be proven wrong.
This is just the start of what will surely be endless posts on my three weeks tramping around Turkey, so stay tuned.