Thoughts reverent and irreverent from the road in Turkey


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When I first started travelling around Turkey I was completely mystified by local bed-making habits. There it was, this otherwise clean and welcoming hotel, but when it came time to go to bed I’d find myself confronted with what appeared to be a package of sheets and blankets neatly laid out on top of it. There was no question of just slipping between the sheets and dozing off. No, before I could put my head down I would have to virtually remake the bed.


Harumphing away that this was hardly how I wanted to spend my holidays, only very slowly did it dawn on me that the problem lay in traditional Turkish homelife. Because in Turkey it wasn’t normal for people to sleep in standalone beds, the sheets neatly tucked in with hospital corners. Instead they bedded down for the night on sedirs, the multi-purpose, plumply-cushioned benches that ran along the walls and under the windows. During the day the bedding was stored in a cupboard in the wall. Then it was brought out again at night when the time came for everyone to go to sleep. So when hotels first started installing western-style beds their staff  didn’t necessarily understand them. With no handy niches in the wall in which to store the bedding, they improvised by laying it out in a neat pile on top of the bed instead.

Ditto with the absence of plugs in hotel sinks. What a terrible waste, I used to think while listening to hoteliers lament the cost of sky-high bills as they presided over water wastage extensive enough to fill several reservoirs a year. Only slowly did I realise that the dearth of plugs had to do with Islamic belief which decreed that true cleanliness could only be achieved by washing in running water. “But most of your guests aren’t Muslims,” I tried on the hoteliers, “So if you put plugs by the sinks foreigners can use them but Muslims needn’t.”

But that was to ignore an awkward fact. If plugs were a no-no in Islam it went without saying that they were also likely to be hard-to-source items. Only recently have branches of hardware stores such as Koçtaş started to stock them regularly.

The last of these routine hotel-room mysteries was solved when it finally dawned on me why it was that even quite posh hotels couldn’t always rise to tea and coffee-making facilities in their rooms. It wasn’t just that there was always a handy somebody waiting in the lobby to rush a glass of çay to anyone displaying the slightest sign of thirst. No, once again it was Turkish custom that accounted for the absence. In Turkey tea is traditionally brewed in a double-burner over the stove in winter, or the cooker in summer. The result is that there’s never such a thing as a “quick cup of tea” in private homes. Unless the burner is already in place an invitation to tea tends to lead to a protracted wait for the water to come to the boil and then for the tea to brew to perfection (needless to say, no bags are involved). No surprise, then, to discover that kettles were until recently another hard-to-find item in local stores.

Now, though, with globalisation/modernisation the kettles have arrived, which means no prizes for guessing that they’ve also started to put in an appearance in well-dressed hotels countrywide.

Kettles, plugs, ready made-up beds - -  all are now familiar to Turkish hoteliers. Which is all well and good except that there are now fewer mysteries to ponder while trying to relax in a bathtub about the length of a five-year-old child attached to a bedroom heated to the sauna conditions required by Turkish guests. 

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