Alyssa has a good question for our Ask the Expat series:
Hello! I saw your blog and wanted to ask about running in Turkey. I am a 26-year-old female training for a 10-mile race. I will be visiting Turkey for 12 days right in the middle of my training and wanted to ask about safety and appropriateness of me running through the streets in Turkey. I have been to other Middle Eastern countries where this is completely inappropriate. I would appreciate any advice you can give. Is this acceptable? And if so, should I be somewhat more covered? Thank you.
Funny you should ask ME, of all people, this question, Alyssa. I am that person who runs for no other reason than to catch a bus or a ferry. I think running is a laborious way of traveling from place to place and do my darnedest to make sure I never have to do it.
That said, I do have some insight into this matter, though not through personal experience. The short answer to your question is: Whether or not you can run depends on where you are in Turkey.
The long answer is: Let me explain what I mean by that. When I lived in Cihangir, for example, which is a small neighborhood adjacent to Taksim in Istanbul popular with expatriates and foreigners, I saw very few runners. They were out there, sure, but the fact is in Istanbul the sidewalks are so narrow and so precarious that it's difficult to walk on them let alone keep up a sustained run. On occasion I did see one guy who would run around the block -- literally -- multiple times as a way of exercise. I couldn't see how that was any better than running on a treadmill at the gym.
In a neighborhood like Cihangir, for example, people wouldn't think twice at a woman running except to think "geez, look at her go!"
In other neighborhoods, it's quite different. I've heard stories from friends of mine (all women) who have tried running in Tophane and Eyup (two more conservative areas of Istanbul) and have been harassed by young men (and some children) who are simply not used to seeing a woman huffing and puffing along in shorts and sneakers.
In my experience, if you can get yourself to a coastal area -- like those that exist in Istanbul along the Bosphorous, in Izmir along the Aegean, in Antalya along the Mediterranean, or in Iznik along the lake -- you'll be just fine. Those places are meant for exercise, and some areas even have that nice cushy stuff that's good for runners.
Walkway along the lake in Iznik
If you're in a city without a coastline (like Ankara or Cappadocia), you'll have to deal with uneven pavement, people staring and streets that don't usually follow any discernible pattern. Streets in Turkey, unlike in American cities where they run parallel and perpendicular to one another, tend to wind and weave their way around each other so following a set pattern can be difficult if you don't know your way around.
My advice? Wear pants, not shorts, as this will help a little bit with the staring. And then get out there and run.
I have long ago stopped bending my will to the ways of Turks all the time. I used to defer to their knowledge, their culture, their way of doing things, but the longer I am here, the more I realize that I, too, have something to teach, something to give back. Sometimes the sight of a confident woman running along a street can be that something.
What do you think, readers? What has been your experience with running -- either by doing it yourself or seeing other people do it, especially women -- in Turkey?