Teddy Tips

Things to watch out for in Turkey

While Turkey has much to offer the international tourist, there are a few things the first time traveller should be aware of. In some cases this is just because Turkish people traditionally have a different way of doing things, but in others … Well …

It goes without saying that Turkey is currently not a very safe place to be. Whether that’s due to its geographic proximity to major trouble spots, its internal issues, or its current political policies is not a discussion for Teddy’s site. Southern Turkey, especially close to the southern border, is the most dangerous, for obvious reasons. However, both Istanbul and Ankara have had problems with terrorism attacks in recent years. Take your government’s travel advice before considering travelling to Turkey, and – once there – remain vigilant and aware.

Driving in Turkish cities is not for the faint hearted, or for those who expect everyone to follow the rules. Delivery vans will suddenly stop in narrow streets to drop off or pick up, motorcycles and scooters dart dangerously between cars or cruise down the footpath, pedestrian crossings are ignored, and lane markings, traffic lights and other signs are suggestions only. Turkish drivers seem to think that their horns possess some magical ability to make other cars in the same traffic jam move out of the way, despite obvious evidence to the contrary. Pedestrians cross in front of moving traffic and against the lights with little regard. Either leave the driving to someone else, or make sure you take out full insurance with no excess.

Having said that, Teddy has heard some really bad tales about Turkish taxi drivers. You only need to look at the condition of some of their vehicles or watch them in action to get an idea of their driving skills, but they also have a reputation for ripping tourists off. If your travel agent can arrange transfers or a private driver, that is the preferred option.

Turkish shop keepers in tourist areas, especially market stalls, can be incredibly persistent – sometimes to the point of being rudely pushy. They do it with a smile, and are always friendly, but their dogged persistence to get you to buy gets tiring very quickly. Be prepared to say ‘no’ a lot – you need to be just as persistent (though still polite) as them. Most of their trinkets and souvenirs are ridiculously over-priced, and you should be prepared to negotiate strongly. Don’t be intimidated, don’t feel pressured, and be prepared to walk away. You will hear the same well used scripts over and over (“Where are you from?”, “I just want you to look”, “first business of the day”) and you need to be firm. Many store keepers will appear very friendly (even over friendly, or even over familiar), and they are generally always polite, but don’t be sucked in and feel obliged because of this.

This also applies to restaurants. Most food in Turkey is excellent, but those restaurants geared to the tourist market are always over-priced. You will always find the same, or better, food in non-tourist cafes and restaurants, but at almost half the price. Look to see where the locals are eating.

Turkish businesses seem to operate on a purely cash basis. In addition to Turkish Lira many will also take Euros, and some will take US dollars (and they will often be able to quote in all three currencies), but they will all complain if you try to pay by credit card or EFTPOS, or just plain refuse to accept them. Fortunately there are normally plenty of ATMs around.

Stay well clear of carpet sellers. Never buy a Turkish carpet in Turkey unless you know the dealer to be trustworthy. Teddy has heard too many tales of rip offs – including offers to ship the carpet to your country for you (it never arrives). It’s unfortunate that the unscrupulous and greedy traders have destroyed the entire industry’s reputation, but until the situation is fixed up and the dodgy operators removed, you’d be best to just stay clear. If you want to buy carpets, try some of the community co-op manufacturers. Not only are they more reputable, but you can see the carpets being made by hand.

Negotiating, or haggling, is expected in markets (or bazaars). Prices are rarely marked, especially in the markets, and the first price quoted is always more than twice what they’ll be happy to settle for. You’ll hear stories of woe and heart wrenching cries, but it’s all part of the game. The few items Teddy bought at markets were always bought at well less than half the first quoted price. Other retailers in tourist areas are also heavily inflated and you’d be well advised to look outside of the tourist precincts if shopping (and good eating) is what you want. There are no genuine bargains to be had in the tourist spots.

Street sellers can also be a bit confronting. Streets in large towns or near major tourist attractions are generally packed with people selling everything from children’s toys to jackets, luggage and larger items. They can be very pushy, but will normally leave you alone if you just say no and walk away. Again, don’t pay what they quote you at first – you will generally get it for much less. Better yet, just ignore them if you can.

Stray cats and dogs are everywhere. No, really – everywhere! They are not dangerous, and don’t appear to be disease ridden. The Turkish people just seem content to allow them to wander as they will, which they in turn are quite happy to do. Don’t feed them, just do your best to ignore them.

Turkish hotels tend to over-rate themselves and charge accordingly. Alway take at least half a star, often a full star, off any Turkish hotel rating. If a hotel advertises itself as four star, and charges as if it were, assume it is three star. Many hotels that look great on the websites are less than ideal in reality. Rooms are mostly smaller than international standards, furniture and fittings are often tired and worn, beds and pillows are not always comfortable. Nevertheless, they always seem to be very expensive, charging as if they were as good as they think they are. Teddy’s advice is to only look at hotels at least a star above what you would normally book and be prepared to pay through the nose for it. Or lower your expectations on what you will receive for your money. Or do your research thoroughly, reading third-party reviews, not the hotel websites themselves. Be wary also of what the hotels charge for simple things like drinks at the bar, as you will normally find yourself paying twice what you would pay back home. Head outside and buy your drink from a local vendor.

Turkish travel agents have a different definition of what constitutes a “ticket”. Because you only need a ticket number and a passport to board a plane, and not an actual ticket, agents will give you an itinerary and call it your tickets. This is fine, and there is no need to ask them for actual tickets.

Istanbul international airport (Ataturk) is broken. There is no simpler way to put it. All other airports in Turkey seem to operate smoothly and efficiently, but they also have to pay the price for Istanbul airport’s bad management and poor resources. Such a busy airport, with so many arrivals and departures, seems woefully short on infrastructure, facilities and good organisation. Constant delays, long queues of planes waiting to take off, poor weather or runway backlogs forcing arriving planes to circle for long periods … All of this has a domino effect on the rest of the country’s air traffic. Teddy waited on the Istanbul airport tarmac for about forty-five minutes waiting in line to take off. At Kayceri airport, Teddy’s plane left an hour late because it had been late arriving from Istanbul.

Turkish service or hospitality providers also have a tendency to either not pay full attention to your requests, or not pay attention to detail when providing your service. Teddy personally experienced all of the following:

  • Being transferred to the wrong hotel
  • Being given a different massage to the one ordered
  • Not receiving a dish that was ordered, and then being charged twice for it when asking where it was
  • Being charged twice for a prepaid hotel room (though Expedia had a hand in that mistake too)
  • Hotels failing to deliver messages or important documents they’ve received for you

Please don’t take all of this to mean Turkey is a lost cause for the tourist. The people are generally very friendly and Teddy found many examples where they were keen to help with no expectation of reward. Professional guides are well educated and knowledgable. The government is pushing and supporting local small businesses that create and promote genuine traditional Turkish crafts and products.

Turkey wants to promote itself as a major tourist attraction, and to be fair, the country has much to offer. But if Teddy’s experience is anything to go by, then there is some little way to go yet before the country can be said to be as open, accommodating and welcoming to foreign tourists as other tourism-dependent nations.

Basic French phrases


The French have a completely unwarranted (in Teddy’s opinion) reputation as being rude and arrogant. This worries some tourists, who think they’ll be confronted with rudeness at every turn. Teddy is here to tell you it’s just not true. In fact, the French are working hard to destroy that reputation, encouraging their countrymen (and visitors) to remember to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ – more than one coffee shop now charges extra if you don’t say ‘hello’ and ‘please’ when ordering!

Fortunately for the visitor, most French people, as with most western Europeans, have a reasonable grasp of English – so they’re doing all the hard work for you! The French, however, do appreciate you at least trying, and will go that extra yard for you if you do. So a quick exchange in French at the start will win you their respect and they will then be happy to continue the conversation in English for you. So here are a few basic phrases you can throw around.


Hello / Good day
(From morning to 6pm)
Good evening
(After 6pm)
Hi! (informal) Salut! (sa-lew)
How are you? (informal) ca-va? (sah-var)
(The easiest response to this question is exactly the same phrase – ca-va. Basically, you’re just saying “Fine?” and answering “Fine.” Very easy!)
How are you? (formal) Comment allez-vous? (common-allay-voo)
Good Bien (bee-en)
Good night Bonne nuit (bon-nwee)
Please s’il vous plaît (si-voo-play)
(So “One coffee, please” would be “Un cafe, s’il vous plait”)
Thank you (very much) Merci (beaucoup!) (mercy ber-coo)
See you later A plus tard (ah-ploos-tard)
Farewell / Goodbye Au revoir (awe-re-vwar)
How much is this? Combien cela coûte? (com-byen-silla-coo-tye)

The Louvre, Paris

Surviving long plane flights

Teddy by plane

The worst part of travelling for many people is the getting there, especially if that means a long haul plane flight. Frankly, any flight longer than five or six hours can be a physical and mental challenge for most people, so flights of twelve or fifteen hours are sometimes more than they can bear.

Everyone has their own tips for surviving these long flights, or at least enduring them. And some carriers make it easier for you than others. In fact, sometimes the difference between long-haul carriers is how they help you to pass the time bearably (or even pleasantly!). If you have any tips, Teddy would love to hear them!

Teddy’s tips:

* If you can afford it, travel first class. This won’t help everyone, obviously, but there is a huge difference in comfort these days between economy and modern first class, including fully reclining seats that feel like beds, and private cubicles. If it’s in your budget, do it.

* If you can afford it, choose a stop-over at a hotel to break your flight, rather than just a couple of hours at an airport. There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep, a shower or bath, and a real meal to recharge those travel batteries.

* Some people can sleep in economy, some can’t. If you can, do it. A few hours sleep will help make the flight seem shorter. Most airlines these days have great in-flight entertainment systems you help you pass the time. Use them as part of your “killing-the-hours” strategy. You could add reading a book, doing puzzles, writing or working on a laptop or ipad, etc to your strategy. Whatever it is you like to do, just make sure you’ve planned a number of different things to occupy your time, otherwise the flight will just draaaaaag.

* Get up and walk around the cabin at least once every couple of hours. It helps to stretch your muscles, reduce cramping, etc, and gets the blood flowing (which helps reduce the risk of DVT, swelling ankles, erc).

Train travel in Italy

Teddy travels by train

Train travel throughout Europe is some of the best in the world, and Italy is one of the best examples. If you need to get from one major city to another quickly and with minimum fuss, train travel is easily one of the best and most affordable ways to do it.

Teddy tips:

* Travel first class whenever it is available. It only costs a little more (as little as an extra €10 between some stations), and you get a lot more for the effort. Many services will offer a meal cart (costs extra to purchase, but you don’t have to go to the cafe car), and the first class seats are obviously more comfortable. They also normally include convenient things like power and USB for powering or recharging laptops, phones and portable devices.

* Some services will sell cheaper “unassigned” first class tickets. This means you can sit in first class if you can find a spare (empty) seat, but there is no guarantee of a seat. These tickets are often only a little cheaper, so Teddy doesn’t see much point – Teddy would rather pay the extra and be assured of an assigned seat. If you have an assigned seat and find someone else sitting in it, they may have purchased an “unassigned” ticket. Don’t be afraid to politely point out that they are sitting in your assigned seat. They should then move for you. If they don’t, report them to a steward.

* There is no baggage handling, even in first class. You will be taking your luggage into the cabin with you. There are small luggage racks in first class carriages, but you may need to be early on popular services to be sure to get yours there – space is limited. Luggage in first class is usually safe, but do keep an eye on it anyway. In economy, keep a hand on your luggage at ALL times! Theft from luggage in economy (even just taking off with heavy suitcases or bags) is common.

* Just because a train line travels through a town, don’t assume that it will stop there. Most of the intercity trains are express services, and even though it may pass through dozens of cities, it probably only stops at one or two before the final destination.

* Metro train travel is less extensive, and really only available in major centres. Rome has one of the best (in terms of coverage, that is) Metro systems in Europe. Getting around within Rome via the Metro system is quick and relatively painless if you know what you’re doing, so a little research will go a long way. If you’re in Rome for a few days and know you’ll be using the Metro to get around, consider using a RomaPass. It’s excellent value and includes free or discounted entry to museums, monuments and galleries.

* When you’re in those large train stations (and this is especially the case in Rome), be wary of everyone. People have been known to walk casually past your neat stack of bags, pick one up as if they owned it, and walk off. Beggars and other small change theives hang around the automatic ticket machines. Sometimes they pretend to be helping you with your purchase, but what they’re really after is the change (big or small) the ticket machine spits out once you’ve bought your ticket. There are police and security staff aplenty, but they seem little interested in moving these people on or preventing the thefts, and only marginally interested in taking notes after the event.