Hi, you’re listening to episode # 91 of the Mark in Russia broadcast and I’m Mark……………….. You can listen to all of my episodes at www.markinrussia.com
Today I’m going to talk about a very popular vacation destination for Russian tourists, Turkey. I’ve been there 4 times already with my wife and daughters and enjoy it every time.
As we experience my favorite beginning of any vacation, the takeoff, I’ll start with some facts and figures. Russian people typically aren’t all that interested in statistics, but I love them. I also want to clarify that it is the takeoff that I love, not the actual flight. Flights going almost anywhere are pretty boring, with about the same amount of passenger room as slaves had on the middle passage during the height of the African/British/American slave trade. The planes that Russians travel from various cities in Russia to Turkey on are charter flights, onto which as many seats as possible are fitted.
The trip from Russia to Turkey depends of course on where you are departing from in Russia. The destination for pretty much all Russians is Antalaya, which is in Southern Turkey on the Mediterranean Sea. From Chelyabinsk the flight time is 4 hours; not too bad for a guy who is used to 10 hour flights from Moscow to New York.
A Russian can be forgiven if they think that they make up the majority of all tourists in Turkey, and without them the Turkish economy would crash. But, the truth is slightly different. Last year a record number of Russians came and spent their vacations in Turkey, that number was just shy of 4 million people. That is a very large number no doubt, but in total last year Turkey saw 34 million tourists, making it the 6th biggest tourist destination in the world. So, Russian tourists accounted for about 11.5% of the total, which is certainly not a majority, nor even a large minority. As a percent of the population though, this means that almost 3% of the population of Russia vacationed in Turkey last year and I suspect the number will be higher this year. You see, another popular destination for Russian tourists in summer is the Egyptian Coast, primarily Sharm El Sheik. I suspect that this summer Egypt saw a much smaller number of tourists this year due to their Moslem Brotherhood revolution. After seeing what Sharia law meant for the country, 10 to 20 million people took to the streets and threw out these Islamo Nazis and I hope that the people of Egypt see an increase in their economy next year due to tourists returning. Something about the risk of a beheading tends to make tourists choose a different destination. Gang rape in the city squares also does nothing to bring the ladies there either.
Anyhow, back to Turkey. The areas near Antalaya where the Russians go are populated in the summer mainly by Russians and also Germans, while other parts of the country draw large masses of tourists from other countries. Some nationalities gather on the shores of the Aegean Sea, while many more go to Istanbul. Istanbul actually sees the majority of tourists that come to Turkey and is home to more than 1000 hotels. An interesting fact, well, interesting to me anyhow is that the largest airport in the world in now under construction in Istanbul. This project is estimated to cost 7 billion Euros.
In the 9 years since I came to Turkey the first time, things have changed. First of all, the prices have changed. An all inclusive trip has increased between 100 and 200% over that time, but our first trip was before our daughters were born, so we were only paying for two rather than 4 people. A lot more resorts have sprouted up and now they are everywhere you look.
All inclusive basically means that you’ve paid for everything in advance, although I don’t know if you are saving any money in the long run, it is nice to never have to reach for your wallet the whole time you are at the resort, with the exception of tips. Speaking of tips, as far as I know, quite often Russian tourists are not very good tippers, as is true for many cultures. This works out really good for me because I do tip and because of the lack of tips from my fellow tourists, it makes my tips look even more generous, thus eliciting even greater service.
Our rooms have always been quite nice and for me anyhow, the high temperatures there mid-day drive me into my room for a couple of hours of rest and relaxation. This year we decided on a family suite and didn’t regret this at all. It had two large bedrooms, each with its own TV, furniture and air-conditioner. Additionally it had a large corridor and a very large bathroom. We were on the 1st floor, and rather than a balcony, we had a large patio area complete with outdoor furniture. Having the two bedrooms is great when you travel with kids. During the day the parents may want a little nap and the kids not, while in the evening the kids may fall asleep earlier. Either way, having separate rooms really helps.
Meal time is one of the high points at least three times a day. You can eat as much as you want and as often as you want. Even when the main dining halls are closed, there are poolside bars that serve food and also beachside bars. I’ve always stayed in 5-star resorts, so I can only speak of them, but the food and the selection is really quite fantastic. It’s buffet style and there are also areas where you can custom order omelets or have some types of meats cut to order. Regardless of whether you are a carnivore or a vegetarian, or even if, god forbid, you are dieting at the time. The resorts do everything possible to accommodate you.
I’m going to speak about the behavior of people here for a moment. The first couple of times I came to Turkey it was easy to tell who the Russians were. They were typically the people who were leaving the dining hall with plates stacked as high as pyramids with Turkish candies, desserts and cherries. It was as if they were afraid that this was the last day that these would be served. I was embarrassed for their behavior. But something I noticed is that the higher the percentage of Russians at a resort, the worse this type of behavior is. Now with this next description I’m going to offend some Russians and I apologize in advance for this, but quite often I’ve noticed a “monkey see, monkey do” type of logic when Russians are together in mass. They compete against each other concerning the strangest things, such as what I’m describing now. By the way, the following day when the maids were cleaning rooms, it was also possible to know which rooms Russians were staying in. These were the rooms that maids were removing half eaten pyramids of food from.
Anyhow, the resort that I’m staying in now has a pretty good blend of nationalities, and by good I mean that there are many different types stating here. I see very little of the “food pyramid to my room” behavior. Wait, let me describe something that I’m seeing right now. I see a woman who appears to be Russian opening up a plastic garbage bag. These are in the garbage pails in our rooms here, under the one currently being used so that the maid doesn’t have to go to her cart to get new ones, anyhow, she’s grabbing fistfuls of the Turkish candies and trying to fill this bag, kind of a Santa Claus type look………….Wait! the bottom just ripped in the garbage bag and the couple of kilos of candies just spilled on the floor!……………..now, here is something truly amazing. She is unfazed by this and is now piling up a new pyramid of candy on a plate that she just grabbed. This is really the exception this year, rather than the rule. I’m glad that this behavior is becoming less common because it breeds a very unflattering stereotype about Russian tourists.
Just so that Russians don’t feel that I’m picking on them, I’d have to say that the worst behaved tourists that I have consistently run across during my trips here are the Germans. Most of the ones I’ve experienced are not pleasant to be around. I’m used to living with Russians and used to any of the quirks, I don’t know how I could ever get used to living with Germans. Their children are particularly bad mannered and ill-behaved. It’s as if the parents haven’t a clue how to keep their children from being complete asses. You know, Americans as a rule are very hard on ourselves and remember hearing the label of “ugly American”, which typically spoke of behavior. Perhaps because of this, we are very conscience of our behavior when abroad and most try to put their best foot forward. For any Americans listening to this episode I need to tell you, that my experiences with other Americans in Turkey (and there are very few near the Mediterranean resorts), that your behavior is actually quite good and that the Turkish people there will like you. So, don’t be too hard on yourself.
Anyhow, my main point, since this episode is about Russian tourists, is that it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to determine if a tourist is Russian or not by their behavior. Malitsiy!
Ok, enough about the dining halls, let’s head to a pool now. All of the resorts have a “kids club” and usually the better the resort, the better the kids club. Our last two times to Turkey we were really able to take advantage of these and both times they were really nice. The girls love to go to the kids club and enjoy the activities and meeting new kids for the 4 hours a day they would go there. Our resort this year actually had three shifts a day and the kids could go to all three, but we just chose the morning shift because we would hit the pools or the beaches in the afternoon. There is also a kids disco every night here and because I would do the drop off and pick up each day with the kids club, my wife would bring them to the disco, which the girls really liked.
In the morning, after I would drop the girls off at the kids club, my wife and I would go spend several hours at the “Quiet Pool”. By this I mean that it was for adults only, no children, was in a separate area, removed from the high noise areas. Don’t let your imagination run wild now when I say “adult only”. It was just a nice quiet pool that was nice to relax by and in.
Now I’ve got to describe my biggest gripe about Russian tourists and not only Russians. I suspect the Germans of initiating this behavior and it really is annoying. These people select one person from their group who has the job in the morning of stretching towels across the lounge chairs in order to “save a place”. This is BSbullsh*t enough as it is, but it gets even worse, you see, these people then get even more greedy and do the same with several pool areas so that during the course of a day they can spend time at different pools without worrying about finding a place to lie down. I mean, this really pisses me off. When a NORMAL person then goes to lie poolside, what they encounter very often is only about a third of the loungers being occupied by real people and two thirds “Bookmarked” with beachtowels. I genuinely hate and despise these people who do this. If I ran a resort in Turkey I would treat a lounger like a parking space. I would have my people note which ones have towels saving them and then take away the towels. In addition to losing their reserved space, the jackasses who do this would now also lose the deposit that they pay for the towels. I think that this behavior would quickly disappear and my resort would now be one of the most popular in Turkey amongst everyone, including the ones who used to have to get up at the crack of dawn to do the reserving.
My next complaint is not so much about Russian tourists as it is against Russian tourist companies. Something that I’ve observed in my years in Russia is that nobody hates and disrespects a Russian as much as another Russian, especially while travelling overseas. If a Russian student of mine goes to America for the summer and is ripped off somehow, it inevitably turns out to be another Russian, usually one who stayed there illegally on the summer work and travel program. The tour companies that the Russians use, of which there are basically two, act in ways I find despicable to their own countrymen. They treat these people who have laid out thousands and thousands of dollars on their trip like a bunch of chumps and as children. It starts during the bus ride to their hotels, which can take up to 3 or 4 hours for a resort just 30 kilometers from the airport. First, after traveling for less than 30 minutes, they make a “stop” at a roadside restaurant and restroom place. Needless to say, after 30 minutes on a bus this really isn’t needed by the people, but the tourist company obviously has some sort of a kickback arrangement with the roadside rest area, so they lead the sheep to slaughter. Secondly, during this same trip to your resort, the “tour guide” and I use this word loosely because it is nothing more than a young trained Russian huckster, who isn’t even very good at the job then tells some BSbullsh*t story about how you must attend a meeting with their rep the following morning and watch some presentation and if you don’t, you won’t get your papers stamped and then the Turkish police won’t allow you to leave the country. What amazes me most about this is to watch the Russians (the busses only have Russian on them), nod their heads and agree to do this. It amazes me to no end, but I guess that independence plays a much bigger part of my life than theirs. The next day I go up to their rep and tell them to stamp my papers and also tell them to shove their “presentation” up their butt. I also explain that if they won’t do this, I’ll gladly call in the Turkish police to get the real story from them. They backed down quickly, kind of hard for them to have some sort of an illegal relationship with the so-called police like we have in Russia, when they are in Turkey with real police. Why do Russians act like pussy sheep around these useless dolts, I’ll never know, but I won’t take their crap when I’m overseas. I paid for the trip and don’t report to them.
Needless to say, my wife is just mortified by my behavior in this situation, but she really can’t understand this because she’s Russian and I’m American. I guess in her eyes it’s one of the negatives of being married to me, and I hope that the positives outweigh the negatives.
Nowadays, Russian tourists can be found all over the world. Another popular destination for Russians during the winter and spring months is Thailand. It seems by the photos I’ve seen and the descriptions from people I know to be a place where I would really like to go.
Russia tourists for the most part have already gone through the “ugly Russian” period, just as Americans and Japanese had to go through in recent times. As a percent of the population I think that a high percent of Russians like to travel abroad, I think higher than say, America. I have a couple of theories about this, but mind you, these are only theories.
One of the first theories I have actually is based on complete fact. Up until around 1990, Russians for the most part, were not allowed to travel abroad and in fact, were not even allowed to have an international passport. Only a select few traveled abroad. There is even a term to describe to where they could travel. A Russian, actually then “Soviet” citizen could only travel to the “Near Abroad”, meaning other bordering members of the USSR. These areas were not totally different than the place the people came from. Going to the sea meant primarily the Black Sea, which I’m sure is also beautiful, but the main thing lacking from any place that Soviet people were allowed to visit was any kind of service. Russia was absolutely not a country that had anything even approaching what is now defined as service. I suspect that most places are still sorely lacking in service and even if not, the memories of the people are long and they don’t forget this lack of service or even complete rude behavior by those who are being paid to take care of you.
It is also cheaper nicer and faster for a Russian to take a two week trip to a 5-star resort in Turkey than to do the same with a 3-star hotel in Russia somewhere and believe me; this would not be all inclusive with a great selection of food. Frankly, I can’t imagine the service level for foreign tourists at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. I’m hoping that it is a pleasant surprise and turns out to be very good in terms of service and friendliness.
After 70 years of being largely hidden from the rest of the world during Communist times, I’m happy to see so many Russians becoming seasoned world travelers.
Russian tourist in Turkey faces 12 years in prison over $10 worth stone
A Russian tourist from Barnaul, Leonid Gerasimov, faces up to 12 years in prison for attempting to transport a precious stone across the border of Turkey, his wife Alyona Gerasimov said.
Leonid Gerasimov, his wife and their daughter were living near the historic town of Side. One day, during an excursion, the couple visited a market of souvenirs. Leonid bought the stone for $10 from one of the market vendors. On June 25, Gerasimov was detained by the customs; the stone was taken away from him. The man’s wife and daughter were allowed to board the plane to fly back to Russia. Leonid was forced to stay in Turkey.
An examination showed that the stone was of historical value for Turkey. According to the Consul General of Russia in Antalya, Alexander Tolstopyatenko, Leonid Gerasimov was being kept in a detention center about 40 kilometers far from Antalya. At first he was detained for two weeks, but now the term was extended for another month before the trial.
According to the Consul General, the Russian tourist refused from the services of a private attorney, although it could have accelerated the process. Russian embassy services maintain a contact with the public attorney who works on the case.
Russian tourist dies after falling from hotel room balcony in Turkey
Russian tourist Elena Markova, who died on Wednesday after falling from the balcony of her hotel room in the town of Manavgat, Turkey, probably slipped on the wet floor, officials with the Department of Culture and Tourism of Antalya said.
The tragedy occurred at 3 a.m. in the morning. The tourist was taken to the hospital of Side, where the 41-year-old woman died despite doctors’ efforts.
According to representative of the Turkish ministry, the investigation of the incident was completed. The case will soon be handed over to the Russian Consulate General in Antalya.
Well, I guess that I could go on and on about this, but I don’t want to wear out my welcome, so I’ll stop for this week. Remember to come to my website, www.markinrussia.com for all 91 of my podcasts. Come back next week for my next broadcast, until that time, this is Mark in Russia saying, GoodBye!