Traveling Turkey during Ramadan: Back in Istanbul and the Prince Islands

Originally posted July 26, 2013 by Svetopolis

Hayırlı Ramazanlar

“I am soorry, sir,” the young man started, “but I cannot sell you this exact maganot.”

“Uhh, what do you mean?” I was confused why I couldn’t buy this particular magnet–-a magnet with some Arabic inscriptions written below. Just a moment before the man had been extolling the wonders of his safran-laced soap and his Safranbolu postcards to me-–and a salesperson not wanting to sell something to us, well, this was a first in Turkey. In fact, he wasn’t going to just not sell me the magnet, he was forbidding me from even touching it.

“I am vary, vary soorry.” I could tell he was genuinely apologetic by the look he gave me. “But these maganots have a vary especial meaning for Muslims. It is forbidden for non-Muslims to touch these words.” As he took away the magnet from my hand, he pointed to the Arabic inscription and said, “These maganots are for sale only to my Muslim visitors. Maybe other shop sellers in Safranbolu may sell, but I cannot. I am soorry. You can buy these other maganots.” He pointed to magnets without the inscriptions and continued, “but not the ones with the especial words. These words from our Koran. Especial to Muslim.”

I ended up buying another magnet, but I thought the whole sales transaction was interesting. In fact, being in Safranbolu–-a small, historic town north of Ankara–-had reminded me that Turkey is very much a Muslim country, and one that is celebrating the holy month of Ramadan (Ramazan in Turkish).

Traveling during Rama…zan

Aside from hearing the call to break the fast coming from minarets at sundown (sometimes accompanied by a firework), being in Turkey during Ramadan has not been as overtly noticeable as I thought it would be. In the smaller towns, such as Safranbolu, you might hear the drums of people marching through the streets waking people up at 3 or 4 am to start making breakfast before the sunrises. In Istanbul at night there is a festive feel to the Sultanahmet area near the Haiga Sophia and the Blue Mosque. A craft fair has been set up and Turkish families come out with food and have large picnics together. In some heavily touristed areas, like Göreme or Kusadasi, it’s even hard for the foreign traveler to notice a difference in what might be a “Ramadan” thing and what isn’t.

Traveling through Turkey during Ramadan has been subtly pleasant overall. It’s not overly commercialized like Christmas is in America, and it has not been uncomfortable (i.e. locals expecting tourists to fast).

Although we, as foreign travelers, might not be able to always notice who or who isn’t celebrating Ramadan, I think being conscious of your actions and what you’re wearing, doing, eating and drinking is still important. (I think this is true in general when traveling anywhere.) Since many people fast during Ramadan (no eating or drinking, even water, during daylight, and abstaining from sex and smoking during the month), it’s important to have courtesy for those fasting–-especially when it’s hot out and the days are long. I haven’t always been the best about not eating snacks or drinking water in public, but I think trying to do these discreetly is important to be considerate of those who fast.

Back in Istanbul and Prince Islands

We returned to a festive Istanbul and going out after sundown has been fun. People abound in a very crowded Sultanahmet when the sunsets. Locals bring their dinners and families to eat Iftar and there is a carnival atmosphere in front of an illuminated Haiga Sophia and Blue Mosque.

It’s been nice being back. We have taken it fairly easy, since we saw all the major sights the first round. We did some haggling at the grand bazaar for overpriced souvenirs and have indulged in lokum (Turkish delight).

Since we had some extra time, we decided to take the ferry to the Prince Islands. These islands are about 10 miles south of the European side of Istanbul and are a quick 45 minute ferry ride away. The Byzantine emperors and Ottoman sultans used to send troublesome princes to the islands (hence the name), but today they are more of a “Cape Cod” or “Long Island” summer getaway for Istanbulus. There are a number of islands with beaches, cafes and summer homes on the islands. You can rent bikes to bike around the islands, though we just took a small stroll around. I recommend travelers to take a ride over only if you have the extra time. It’s not a top sight to see in Istanbul, but it is a good ferry ride to escape the city’s heat and get a good view of Istanbul. (It is really amazing to see just how big the city of 15 million is.)

  •  Ferry to the Islands (Andalar) = 5 tl (oneway, 45-50 minutes) (We took a private ferry company from the Kabatas tram stop and the private company goes to the 2 largest islands. The Istanbul city ferry goes to some of the smaller islands and cost the same price.)

We leave early Sunday morning, and I will really miss Turkey. It’s been a great 3 weeks traveling. The country is on the top tier of places visited because the sights to see are diverse and have so much significance and the people have been so helpful and friendly. I definitely recommend Istanbul to be on every European backpackers’ tour.


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