Interview with Mine Karahan

Mine Karahan is one of Turkey's best kept secrets. Bubbling over with enthusiasm and energy, she is as excited to show you Turkey as you are to see it. Mine (pron. Mee-nay) also brings a worldly perspective to her tours, as she's visited more than 60 countries on five continents. And this past spring she had Rick Steves along as one of her Best of Turkey tour members, so we can add "cool under pressure" to her list of qualities!

Tell us a little about your background.  Did you always want to be a guide?|
I was born in a small town close to the Turkish-Greek border, and moved to Istanbul when I was 17 for my university education. I had always wanted to become a diplomat, traveling the world and representing my country. Upon graduation, I took the Ministry of Foreign Affairs exam, but failed the oral part twice. As I could not have a career as a diplomat, I decided to become an independent world traveler and work as a tour guide closer to home. So I'm still living my dream to travel and represent my country, just on a smaller scale!

How do you stay so fresh and excited each time you lead a tour?
I think there are many ways to stay fresh. First of all, I do love my profession. I really enjoy telling people about Turkish customs, traditions, current events, history, and art. Changing visitors' misconceptions about Turkey is another challenge that keeps me fresh. Secondly, I feel like a hostess and I try to accommodate my guests in the best way possible. Rick Steves' Best of Turkey tour itinerary is perfect for sharing very special moments with tour members. Even though a tour's itinerary may be the same for several groups during the year, none of my tours are the same. The people are different, occasions are different and energies are different. I really get recharged by interacting with my tour members. The more questions they ask, the more answers I can provide, and another question mark is taken care of!

Do you have favorite stops along the itinerary?
My favorite stops on the Best of Turkey tour are Cappadocia and Antalya. Even though I am a city girl, Mustafapaşa's Old Greek House — the hotel where we stay in Cappadocia — feels like home. The welcoming staff, delicious meals, being far away from the hustle-bustle of the big city, watching the playful kittens jumping around...everything is so down to earth, yet out of this world! Antalya is a fairly big city, but the Ninova Pension where we stay is quite cozy. I love my hammock in the little back garden of our hotel where the cats come and nap with me under the stars.

What do you think is the greatest misconception that Americans have about your country? And what do you think surprises visitors the most?
I think many visitors arrive in Turkey with misconceptions about religion. On our first day in the Blue Mosque, tour members begin to learn that we practice Islam differently than other Muslim countries. Then, later in the tour, we meet with an Imam and tour members have a chance to ask him all kinds of questions. Also, many Americans don't know how diverse Turkish cuisine is. They are surprised to see how much yoghurt and beef we consume, as opposed to lamb. They also don't expect Turks to be such big tea drinkers. And that our famous Turkish coffee is enjoyed only after a meal.

You have traveled throughout the world. What have been your favorite places?
I have several favorite cities, like Rome, Buenos Aires, Stockholm, London and New York. My favorite regions to travel through are Scandinavia and the Baltics in Europe, and Argentina in South America. What I love is natural beauty, good food, great museums and great wine. These regions offer them all!

What is your favorite thing to do in Turkey when you are not guiding?
I'm very much into photography. Whenever I have a chance, I take my camera and start taking casual photos from daily life. I like portraits, faces of people and cats! Sometimes, I can wait for hours until I get the perfect shot. Istanbul is my favorite place to wander with my camera, especially the little winding alleys behind the old city walls, kids playing on the streets, cats lazily sitting by the windows, giggling young girls walking on the streets arm in arm...

Can you tell us a little about traditional Turkish weddings? We know you got married recently...
We have many wedding customs and traditions that vary from region to region. However, the most common practice is to have a "Henna Night" which is kind of a bachelor's party for the bride and the female relatives. Henna Night takes place in the bride's house, where the ladies dance, eat and drink all night long. Henna is placed inside the palm of the bride, where the mother-in-law hides one gold coin. Another common practice is the "Bridal Hammam" (Bridal Shower). The bride invites her girl friends to a Turkish bath, where all the girls bring homemade food and fruits along with them to the bath. They eat, drink, dance and giggle in the Turkish bath while "natırs" (attendants) give exfoliation and soap massages for the girls. I had them all before I got married!