Turkey: Bad toilets ... crappy country

By Michele Hewitson

If the best sort of travel is that which has you wide-eyed, day after day, at the wonders unfolding before your jet-lagged eyes, then a trip to the truly strange place that is Turkey must count as my best travel adventure yet. I wonder about it still. About the man at the hotel in Istanbul who set the tone: he delivered towels to my room at 4.30am. Even if I had, on a traveller's whim, decided to take a bath at that hour, I already had towels.

At least there were towels, clean ones, and a bathroom that functioned. Bathrooms that function do not make for good travel stories - and travellers like to tell good travel stories about bad bathrooms. The worse the bathroom, the more intrepid the traveller, is the implication.

The bathrooms in Eastern Anatolia were certainly an education. What I learned was that I have no desire to be a traveller. I'm happy being a tourist and, if I could get anyone to listen, I'd much rather tell a story about the flash resort I stayed in at Coolum where I had three beautiful bathrooms, all to myself.

But I still find myself wondering about a man with a broom in the ladies' loo in a small dusty town. His job seemed to be to stand in one spot, sweeping, all afternoon long. What he stood in doesn't bear mentioning; the image doesn't bear remembering. But I can't help but think of him there, in the loos at the sad little roadhouse in the shadow of Mt Ararat where the legend is that Noah's Ark came to rest.

This should have been a mythical, magical, biblical place. The staff were so pleased to see us. They were charming. They had laid the tables with platters of unspeakably awful, fatty, rancid tasty knobs of what might have been mutton and bits of rock hard bread which we couldn't choke down. They could have served a three-star Michelin meal and we would have found it hard to choke down. We had already seen the man with the broom at his gruesome, never-ending, pointless task which seemed more some Job-like punishment than a job. And we wanted to go to the loo. But not that loo.

On the way to Mt Ararat we stopped at a hotel where we were told we could use the loos in the rooms. Nobody had told the couple hard at it on a sagging bed in one of the rooms. So I don't know what that loo was like.

In Van, my new friend Lars tried to buy sleeping pills at a pharmacy: by miming sleeping. It was only the last-minute intervention of the one person in the audience with any English - the word about this free show spread rapidly - that prevented the purchase of pills for the treatment of Parkinson's.

This was very funny, but not so funny that Lars stopped fuming. He was in a rage about the loo seat in his room: it broke when he sat on it. He went on and on about it. People do. I can see why now. Toilet stories are just, oddly, a polite way of saying "what a crappy country".

- NZ Herald

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