Back in 1990 when I first visited Turkey, toilets, whether squat or what we think of as ‘normal’ but the Turks call Ala Franga, were a constant topic of discussion among tourists visiting the country. There were plenty around, in mosques, restaurants, bus stations and even in free standing facilities in parks, but the question was, would they be something you’d actually want to use? At that time they were rarely supplied with toilet paper. After paying the entry fee you were usually given a few pieces of thin tissue, which I think were meant for drying your hands. Everyone was expected to use the worn out looking jug or hose next to the toilet for personal bidet style ablutions. Often the toilet flush didn’t work and so the jug has a dual purpose.
I’m pretty tough and when needs must, nothing stops me. In 1990 I used outdoor drop toilets in the Black Sea region, whose contents were regularly cleared out to be used as fertiliser on the nearby fields I could see through the gaps in the slat door. After having to hold my breath to use a stinking facility in an old bus station in Ağrı in 2001, I discovered there wasn’t even any water connected to fill the jug. I walked out and refused to pay for the service, despite a small boy harassing me for money even after I climbed back on my bus. In 2004 I had to use a cigarette lighter to find my way into basement toilets of a restaurant in Kahta. Despite the lack of electricity they were surprisingly clean, but that, I found out later, was because the restaurant had only opened three days previously. Give it time my Turkish friends said.
Yet had I gone to Giresun in 2000, I’d have discovered one of Turkey best facilities, at least according to the man who made it possible.
As it was I was lucky enough to visit Gulhane Park in Istanbul in 2001, the former gardens used by the ladies of the harem. In keeping with the palace theme, the ladies toilets were tastefully furnished with lush maiden hair ferns, chirping canaries, cosy chairs and a full-length chaise lounge. An ironing board and iron stood ready in one annexe while a double tiered tea pot simmered quietly in another. I can’t remember what the actual toilets looked like, but it was a memorable experience, for all the right reasons.
I’d love to hear your toilet stories from Turkey, both good and bad. If you’re brave enough, please share them in the comments below.