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Middle East : Turkey
Located in Merranean Middle East and southwestern Asia, Turkey (Türkiye) is a country that spans these two continents. The Turkish Straits (Bosphorus, Sea of Marmara, and Dardanelles) divides Europe from Asia. That portion of Turkey to the west of the Bosphorus is geographically part of Europe while the rest of Turkey is part of West Asia (the Middle East).
With the the Black Sea to the north and the Aegean Sea in the west and Merranean Sea to the southwest, Turkey is surrounded by Bulgaria and Greece to the west, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia to the northeast, Syria, Iraq and Iran to the southeast.
There is evidence that the bed of the Black Sea was once an inhabited plain, before it was flooded in prehistoric times by rising sea levels. The biblical flood may be an account of this event. Mount A?r?, at 5,165 m, is the country's highest point and the legendary landing place of Noah's Ark, lies in the mountains on the far eastern edge of the country.
Turkey can be divided geographically into:
Administratively, Turkey is divided into 81 provinces (iller, singular - il) named for their adminstering cities.
The tourist offices in Istanbul and Ankara distribute (city) maps.
Turkey was created in 1923 from the Turkish remnants of the Ottoman Empire. Soon thereafter the country instituted secular laws to replace traditional religious fiats. In 1945 Turkey joined the UN, and in 1952 it became a member of NATO.
Visitors from Western European countries (with the notable exception of the UK) do not need a visa. UK citizens can get a visa on arrival for a payment of around £10. The same goes for the Dutch at 10 euro. Note: a visa may be valid for (for instance, at the Dutch 10 euro rate) three months. Make sure to carry some cash. One may leave and return during that period. However, if one enters within the three months, but leaves after the period has ended, one has become an illegal (as the author found to his horror: he was told the penalty would run into the hundreds of euros. In the end he was let off with a new visa at 10 euro, but a customs officer scared him considerably before then). German visitors can enter even with their identity card (Personalausweis) unless they arrive at the non-European land border crossings (i.e. to Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Syria).
Turkey's primary international gateway by air is Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport (http://www.ataturkairport.com/english/homepage.htm). Ankara's Esenbo?a Airport handles a comparatively limited selection of international flights, and there are also direct charters to Merranean resort hotspots like Antalya in the peak summer and winter season. In 2005 customs at Istanbul international airport were rearranged to the effect that one has to go through customs and "enter the country" there rather than first travel on to a regional destination and pass customs there. Luggage will generally travel to the final destination without further ado, but on occassion one may have to point it out to be sure it will be transported on. The information given by flight attendants in the incoming flight may not be adequate so until the procedure is changed (it is supposed to be temporary only) it is wise to inquire on Istanbul airport. Since one must pass security again for the onward inland flight it may be advisable to hurry and not spend too much time in transit.
You can still travel from Europe to Turkey by train, although these days this is more of historical or perhaps even romantic interest than fast or practical. The famed Orient Express from London now travels no further than Vienna, but you can take the daily TransBalkan from Budapest (Hungary) via Bucharest (Romania), a two-night journey with a scheduled 3-hour stop in Bucharest. 1st/2nd class sleepers and couchettes are available, but the train lacks a restaurant car so stock up on supplies. From/to Greek stations there are two daily services, from Istanbul to Pythion every morning and from Istanbul to Thessaloniki every night.
There are also once-weekly services from Istanbul to Aleppo and Damascus in Syria, Tabriz and Tehran in Iran. Other international routes include Kars to Akhurian (Armenia) weekly and, for the very adventurous traveller, Gaziantep to Baghdad (Iraq) weekly.
From Central Europe getting to Turkey is not too difficult. In any case you'll need your International Insurance Card (Green Card) when willing to enter Turkey. Pay attention to "TR" not being cancelled and be sure your insurance is valid for the Asian part of Turkey, too. Otherwise you will have to buy a Turkish car insurance.
From Bucharest there is a daily bus to Istanbul at 16.00 for 125 Lei.
Many people arrive in Bodrum on one of the hydro-foils or ferries that run from most of the close Greek islands into the port. A fairly pretty way to arrive.
Major cities are served by airlines as well, with reasonable prices, beating the bus travel experience especially over longer distances. Tickets can be conveniently bought at least at the Istanbul domestic terminal and local ticket offices of Turkish Airlines (http://www.turkishairlines.com/) , Onur Air (http://www.onurair.com.tr/eng) and Atlasjet (http://www.atlasjet.com/eng/index.htm/) among others . Many of the large cities have daily connections to the traffic hubs Ankara and Istanbul, some others will have flights on specific days only. Upon arrival at regional airports there will often be a connecting Havas bus, which is much, much cheaper than taking a taxi. They may wait for half an hour, but will be available after the arrival of major flights. In some spots a whole fleet of minibusses will be waiting for an important flight, they will head out for cities in the region. For instance, flying to Agri in the East a connecting minibus will head for Dogubeyazit within twenty,thirty minutes or so, so you don't have to travel into Agri first, than wait for a Dogybeyazit bus. Do ask for such easy connections upon arrival!
Turkey has a good long-distance bus network with comfortable air-conditioned buses, reserved seats and generally good service quality, at least with the big operators. See the external links below for more information on bus travel.
Travel by bus is a joy in this country. Go to the Otogar in any of the major cities and find you can travel to almost any destination within half an hour, or a couple of hours at the utmost. Busses are staffed by good drivers, and a number of assistants. On long haul travel a second driver will take over when the first gets exhausted. During the ride you will be offered free drinks, a bite or two, and stops will be made every two hours and a half or so at well-stocked road restaurants. The further East you travel, the less frequent busses will be, but even places as far as Dogubeyazit or Van will have regular services to many places hundreds of kilometers away. And a town must be real small not to have a bus straight to Istanbul or Izmir at least once every two days.
Finding the right bus quickly does require some help and thus some trust, but don't overdo it. Touts will be waiting for you, and some may assist you in buying a ticket to a bus that won't depart in the next two hours. Sometimes there simply is no other bus, but on other occassions you will be sitting there while other busses with the same destination start well ahead. So if you have some time to spare: check the departure (and arrival) times of other companies, that may save you time overall. Still if you indicate you really want to leave NOW (use phrases like "hemen" or "shimdy", or "adjelem var" - I am in a hurry ), people will realize you are in hurry, and off you go on the next bus departing for your destination.
If you have several operators to choose from, ask for number of seats in the buses you compare. Roughly, a larger capacity implies a greater comfort. Also inquire your friends or other travellers you meet on their experiences with different operators: even big operators have different standards of service, and even with the same operator the standards may vary from region to region.
Don't be surprised if halfway down to some strange and far-off destination you are put out of the bus (your lugguage will often be already standing next to it) and transferred to another. The other bus will "buy" you, and will bring you to the destination.
Sometimes long-haul buslines will leave you stranded on some ring-road around a city, rather than bringing you to the centre. That can be annoying. Inquire ahead (and hope they don't lie). On the other hand, many companies will have "servis arac?" or service vehicles to the centre, when the Otogar is on the periphery of a city, as they nowadays often are. In cities like Ankara these service vehicles are used by many companies combined, and a fleet of them, to different parts of the metropolis, will be waiting. It helps to keep your ticket ready as proof you were on a bus (though most of these services are run on good faith).
Seating within busses is partly directed by the "koltuk numaras?" or seat number on your ticket, partly by the ritualistic seating of women next to women, couples together and so forth. So don't be too annoyed if you are required to give up your seat. In general, as a foreigner, you will have the better seat much of the time.
One hint: it often is easiest to take a seat in the back, whatever the number of your koltuk, and not be bothered for much of the ride. This is particularly true if you travel alone, and want to keep it that way. Although the last row may be reserved for the driver-off-duty, who wants to sleep. And remember: many busses pick up short-track fare along the ride, and park them in the last two or three rows. If you have a bicycle it will be transported free of extra charge. In most buses it fits in the luggage area of the bus- Make sure you have the tools to fold your bike as small as possible (height matters most)
The dolmu? is a small bus (sometimes car) that will ride near-fixed routes. The ride may be from the periphery of a major city to the centre, but may also take three to four hours from one city to the next, when the route is not commercial for large busses. They sometimes make a detour to bring some old folks home or collect some extra heavy luggage. You will find them in cities as well as in inter-city traffic. The name derives from ?dolmak?, the verb for ?to fill?, as they used not to start the journey without a decent number of passengers. Increasingly they start at fixed hours, whatever the number. All during their journey people will get in and out (shout ?Inecek var? ? ?someone will get off? ? to have it stop if you?re in). The driver tends to be named ?kaptan? (captain), and some behave accordingly. The fare is collected all through the ride. In some by a specially appointed passenger who will get a reduction, in others by a steward, who may get off halfway down the journey, to pick up a dolmu? of the same company heading back. If the driver collects himself, people hand money on from the back rows to the front, getting change back by the same route. As always men tend to be grouped with men and women with women, but if the car gets crowded (people standing in the alley, sitting on small stools) these rules break down. On some stretches tickets are sold in advance, and things can get complicated if some of the passengers bought a ticket and others just sat inside waiting ? for maybe half an hour - but without a ticket.
Hizli ferries are fast (50-60 kilometres/hour) catamaran-type ferryboats that connect for instance Istanbul to the other side of the Marmara Sea. They can cut travel time dramatically. Again for instance leaving from the Yeni Kapi jetty in Istanbul (just a bit South-West of the Blue Mosque) you can be at the Bursa Otogar in two hours, with less than an hour for the actual boat ride to Yalova. Similar services are operated to connect several parts of Istanbul with the Asian side, or places farther up the Bosporus. And this type of fast ferry is increasingly seen all over the country wherever there is enough water.
The sole official language of Turkey is Turkish. Kurdish is also spoken by an estimated 10-15% of the population. Several other languages exist, like Laz in the North-East (also spoken in adjacent Georgia), and in general near borders people will often be speaking the language at the other side too, like Arabic in the South-East.
Thanks to migration, even in rural areas most villages will have at least somebody who has worked in Germany and can thus speak German The same goes for other West-European languages like Dutch (often mistakenly called "Flemish" there) or French. English is also increasingly popular among the younger generation. The "Universities" that train pupils for a job in tourism pour out thousands of youngsters who want to practice their knowledge on the tourist, with varying degrees of fluency. Language universities produce students that nowadays are pretty good at their chosen language. The older generations of "English" teachers can be pathetically bad.
On January 1, 2005, Turkey adopted the New Turkish Lira (Yeni Türk Liras? or YTL, currency code TRY), at a rate of 1 new lira to 1,000,000 old lira. Old banknotes remain legal currency until the end of 2005.
US$1 = 1.3305 new lira (as of 16 Jan 2006).
Turkish cuisine combines Merranean, Caucasian, and Arabic influences. Lamb is the most important meat, and eggplant, onion, lentil, bean, tomato, garlic, and cucumber are the primary vegetables. An abundance of spices is also used. The main staples are rice (pilav), bulgur wheat and bread, and dishes are typically cooked in olive oil.
A full Turkish meal starts with a soup — often lentil soup (mercimek çorbasi) — and a set of meze appetizers featuring olives, cheese, pickles and a wide variety of small dishes. Meze can easily be made into a full meal. The main course is usually meat: a common dish and Turkey's best known culinary export is kebab (kebap), grilled meat in various forms including the famous doner kebap (meat shaved from a giant rotating spit) and ?i?kebab (skewered meat), while kofte meatballs are a variation on the theme.
Turkish desserts are modeled on the sweet and nutty Arabic kind: famous dishes include baklava, a layered pastry of finely ground nuts and phyllo dough soaked in honey and spices, and Turkish Delight (lokum), a gummy confection of rosewater and sugar.
Ayran is a popular drink of water and yoghurt not unlike the Indian lassi, but always served without sugar (and, in fact, typically with a little salt added).
Turkish coffee (kahve), served in tiny cups, is strong and tasty, just be careful not to drink the slugdy grounds at the bottom of the cup. Sade kahve is served black, while as ?ekerli, orta ?ekerli and çok ?ekerli will get you a little, some or a lot of sugar in your cup.
Tea (çay) is also very popular in the country. Be careful, if your tea is prepared by locals, it can be much stronger than you're used to. Anyway, you have to taste the special apple tea (elma çay?) of Turkey!
Boza is a traditional cold, thick drink that originates from Central Asia. It is fermented bulgur with sugar and water additions. Vefa Bozacisi (http://www.vefa.com.tr/english/index1.html) is the most known and traditional producer of boza in Istanbul.
Sahlep is another traditional hot drink, made from milk, orchid root and sugar, typically decorated with cinnamon. It is mostly preferred in winter and can be found in cafes and patisseries (pastane).
While almost all Turks are Muslims, alcoholic beverages are widely available. The local firewater of choice is rak?, an anise-flavoured liquor usually mixed with water. In December 2005 a discussion erupted in the press since some city councils contemplated forbidding the consumption of alcohol in specified zones.
Though slightly off topic be advised to carry passport or other means of identification at all times. One may not be requested to show them for ages, then all of a sudden a minibus is checked by the traffic police (or the military, particularly in Eastern Turkey), or one runs into an officer of the law with time on his hand, and one must show papers. Hotels may request you to hand your passport in until you paid the bill, which puts you into an awkward situation. Referring to the police always made them hand the passport back, once the registration procedure was finalized. Showing a personal visiting card, one or two cr cards or knowing the address of a respectable hotel may solve the no-papers situation, but any self-respecting officer will tell you that you are in the wrong, and will be sorry next time. If treated politely however police and military can be quite friendly and even offer rides to the next city (no joke intended).
If you haven't, you've missed one of life's great experiences and never been clean.You can catch your inner peace with history and water in bath(hamam). See hamams in Istanbul.
Turkey is by and large an Islamic nation, and although you will see varying degrees of Islamic practice in Turkey, it is rude to insult or mock some of its traditions. In regard to the Call to Prayer, which is played 5 times a day from the speakers of the numerous Mosques throughout the landscape of Turkey. Do not mock or mimick the recordings, as Turks are extremely proud and sensitive of their heritage and culture, and will be very insulted.