Turkey during Ramadan

Ioana Calinescu
Our first days in Turkey were marked by a strange sensation of tense expectancy. The beaches were deserted, the streets were enveloped in slumber and the breeze was blowing beautifully, filling the empty spaces around us with salty air. It seemed we had miraculously discovered the last secluded spots with a sea view and full services. A wide choice of select accommodations, small family restaurants with great food and view to the sea, that pleasant feeling that no matter where you went and on which chair you sat on, you’d feel at people’s home. And all that just for us. Wherever we entered, wherever we walked, we were virtually the only tourists there. And yet, those empty spaces, the tens of vacant tables and chairs around us, the unoccupied chaises longues on the beach, it all induced a state of permanent tension, awaiting the hordes of tourists that’d never come.

Without even planning it, we happened to land in Turkey during Ramadan. And that’s how we discovered the sacred month of the Muslims is the best period to visit Turkey. This year, Ramazan (the Turkish name of this feast) coincided with the peak of the tourist season: August 11th – September 8th, which turned every resort on the shore of the Black Sea into quiet and calm establishments. But that’s also because the Black Sea coast, much wilder and more rural than that of the Aegean Sea or the Sea of Marmara, comes last on the list of foreign tourists’ preferences. However, that doesn’t hold true for the Turkish tourists who dedicated the month of Ramadan to prayer, fasting and introspection. During this time, the Muslims don’t eat, drink or smoke until sunset. The second the sun sets, the call of the muezzin is heard and the streets become animated with life, smells of hot ‘pide’ (pita) and fresh spices fill everybody’s nostrils. For travellers with an unquenchable curiosity and an open mind to the people and places they see, this time of the year allows them to catch a glimpse of traditional Turkey which outshines the summer season hubbub.

In the first few days, when we still hadn’t perceived the silence around us as the silence of Ramadan, when the small fishermen’s village of Kiyiköy still preserved the mystery of a new and fully unexplored place, we came across the second beach of the village, at the other end of the harbour, a beach with fine sand, pedalos, camping for tourists and gardens with soft and puffy chairs. In this part of the village we discovered a few gardens and restaurants offering fresh fish and delicious dishes of eggplants, fat yoghurt and garlic, baked peppers and squashes, well-ground and well-cooked mutton, served by smiling, friendly faces willing to communicate with you in the shred of international language they spoke. That’s the first time, I think, that we sensed the tense expectancy in the air. The place obviously lacked its tourists.

We felt the same in İğneada, a small resort on the Bulgarian border, with a huge beach, a row of empty gardens and little deserted hotels, silent discos, a flea market of coloured balloons and second-hand clothes filled only with tradesmen, a small inflatable amusement park (which was deflated when we arrived) and tens of tables with hookahs and not a soul to smoke them.

We took in İğneada as a quiet little village, with much bigger and more stunning houses than those of Kiyiköy, a wonderful holiday atmosphere with beach, sea and many places to visit. İğneada showed us that a resort stripped of tourists does, by no means, look indecent, but rather like a film set in those moment of apparent quietness between shots.