Well, I grew up in a family already very involved in tourism. During my time at school and in the holidays, I was working part time with them in order to save some money. I guess the experience of those years influenced me a lot.
You graduated as an industry engineer in 2005; how did you make the transition to becoming a tour guide in 2008?
I took the certificate course in guiding while I was working in a bank as an IT project analyst. After the course was finished, my heart started beating for exploring, learning and sharing. Soon after this, in 2008, I decided to become a guide.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Tango dancing is the most exciting activity for me. I go with my close friends to milongas or festivals. We could then drive to the most authentic sites of Istanbul to enjoy some coffee or tea. Talking about history, culture and our tour experiences are the things we do most every day. Most of my close friends are other tour guides or tango dancers, and we guide ourselves, and explore new sites, on our free days to help improve our knowledge.
Well, first of all, I would like to say that I am not a guide who talks like [I have] a script. I don’t memorise anything except numbers and dates. Rather, I like to talk with my clients as a friend. After seeing that, they feel more relaxed and comfortable, and they start to tell me some details about themselves.
For instance I had a three day tour with a Chinese couple. They were in their fifties. In the morning, their mood was very low energy; at lunch time, they were changed, feeling happier. Two days passed like this. At the end of the second [day], I couldn’t stop myself asking why they were so quiet. They finally said, “Nesi, we are ‘foodie’ people and we are disappointed about the simple breakfast provided at our hotel. Every morning [it is] tomatoes, cucumber, olives, eggs etc. Can’t we have something different and local? ”
I finally understood. I knew hotels provided extremely rich international breakfasts, but they were not happy with it. I offered to take them to breakfast the next morning.
We went to a restaurant which serves traditional breakfast. They put around 25 types [of dishes] on the table and we shared. I explained to them about each dish. They liked it very much and we stayed until almost 11 am. I could hardly take them back to our touring. But they were totally different people after that great breakfast.
What is your favourite secret place in Turkey that you show to clients?
Turkey is full of secrets. Which one shall I mention? If I were to speak of one of these, I would mention Gobekli Tepe, an 11,500 year old temple in the southeast region of Turkey. Because it is still full of secrets, I would definitely like to take most of my clients there.
What’s the most bizarre experience you’ve had on a guided tour?
I was guiding a group some years ago. We were in the Hagia Sophia. I was giving general information about it. After a 15 minute talk, I gave them 30 minutes free time. One of the clients, who seemed a bit angry, shouted and said “Why [did] the explanation take 15 minutes but [the] visit just 30 minutes? This is not a history lesson!” I was shocked with this approach. I could only say “sorry”, because I had forgotten that some people really need very basic information.
I talk about how Anatolia has been a bridge between Asia and Europe for thousands of years. I talk about nothern Mezopotamia, the Euphrates and the Tigris, silk roads and caravan roads, and thus trade. I talk about the Asian as well as European characterestics of Anatolia. Basically, I start with the Hittites. Sometimes I mention the City of Prophets. There is a lot to talk about for Anatolia. Its timeline is extremely rich.
What one thing should visitors to Istanbul definitely see? And what one dish should they taste?
For a traveller here for the first time, I would definitely suggest the Old City tour. There are many museums and monuments of the different eras and civilisations in the Old City, such as the Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman eras, with the main sites in the Old City. This gives the best timeline of the city, and allows visitors to understand the past, to then come to the present by enlarging the circle from the Old City to understand the entire city including today’s Istanbul.
And for lunch, I would recommend a traditional Turkish kebap, as it is a very popular taste and very common in Turkey. Minced meat with spices on sticks, freshly grilled, served to the table, is practical and one of those courses that makes you feel full.
What is one Turkish phrase that everyone should learn for their travels in Turkey and what does it mean?
‘Merhaba’, which means ‘I am your friend, I mean you no harm’.
It is not permanent thus we live with risks. Demand in the tourism industry can fluctuate, and we live with the risk that it will drop, particularly if there are political issues at the borders, when Turkey might lose its travellers. People accept the world media’s viewpoint and cancel reservations, even if things are not serious.
As an experienced guide yourself, can you explain to our readers what the benefits of hiring a guide are?
Well, you will save your time. You won’t be waiting in long lines to get into a museum. You will be in trusted hands, since there are tourist hunters everywhere. Moreover, you will have the joy of exploring a city with a local or a friend.
In your view, what makes a good tour guide? What do you hope clients learn from your tours?[Being] patient, understanding the needs of clients and managing [them] accordingly.
I hope they will be back, with a memory of how Turkish people are friendly, generous and joyful. And I hope too, that they will learn how deeply rich Turkey is in history, natural beauty and culture.
If you like this, you might also like Turkey Like You’ve Never Tasted.