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apr 30 2008

Istanbul: What the guidebooks don't tell you

I recently spent a week in Istanbul with three girlfriends, and we relied on two guidebooks—the Lonely Planet Istanbul Encounter and Eyewitness Travel's Top 10 Istanbul—that offered (sometimes contradictory) cultural etiquette advice.

Both books stressed that physical contact between men and women should be limited and that public displays of attraction were a definite taboo. So we were surprised when we often saw Muslim girls in headscarves canoodling with their boyfriends in very public places.

We were also led astray by the inadequate guidebook discussion of how Turkish men would treat us—a group of young American women traveling without male companions. No one attempted to follow us, and there was never a time I felt unsafe. But I wasn't prepared for the constant verbal harassment we received. (One of my colleagues was visiting with her boyfriend around the same time and didn't encounter the same boldness from Turkish men.)

Most of the comments came from shopkeepers trying to lure us into their stores. Several men told us we were beautiful, and one told my friend he wanted to start a family with her. The comments were innocent enough, but grew frustrating as the week progressed. While the unwanted attention didn't prevent me from having a fabulous trip, it's something I think women should be prepared for when heading to Istanbul.—Liz Webber

Ever been to Istanbul? Share your experiences and some tips for future visitors below.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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