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Lunch » Tags » Countries » Reviews » Turkey » User review

My (All Too Brief) Love Affair With Turkey

  • Sep 6, 2006
  • by
Rating:
+5
Pros: Wonderfully historic and diverse country; beautiful people and country.

Cons: Terrorism seems to be on the rise; so too is religious zealotry.

The Bottom Line: Turkey is a country steeped in history; visit while you still can.

When I joined the U.S. Navy right out of High School I never imagined that I would be stationed in Turkey, gateway to western Asia, but that is where I was heading in the summer of 1983. I had just finished a tour of duty in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and after a brief stop at Ft. George F. Meade in Maryland for some advanced training, I was off to Istanbul (by plane of course), then Samsun (again, by plane), and then on to my final destination, a small city called Sinop on the north central Black Sea coast; this last leg was by bus.

I was stationed on a hill high above the town and connected to the mainland and Sinop in the south by a small strip of land; the hill was in effect a peninsula. The hill jutted out into the Black Sea like a massive tear drop with shear cliffs on the north, west, and eastern curves that dropped some 300 feet into the sea. Along these cliffs Albatross and other sea bird nested, and on most morning white clouds hugged the hill just below the peak hiding the town and the sea giving the impression that we were detached from the earth and floating above civilization. It was—and hopefully still is—one of the most beautiful places I have ever lived.

Granted I lived in a military barracks, but from my second story southward facing window I could peer out over the town and to the high mountains in the distance. It was a scene I found hard to disengage from every morning, and on my off hours I would often sit and stare as the sun was devoured by the mountains at dusk.

This is Turkey…

…and it is certainly not what imagined it would be. As a matter of fact I knew very little about the country before I came to live there. I knew about Istanbul; as I teenager studying history I was fascinated by the city that combines the Old World with the new, Asia and Europe, with such seeming simplicity. But that was the extent of my knowledge about the country that for had severed as the eastern province of the Roman Empire, eventually becoming the seat of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire), an empire that lasted well over 1000 years, with its seat at Constantinople (Istanbul).

My education would come from numerous trips to the west coast of the country, the interior, and to Istanbul, Samsun, Izmir, Boldrum, Marmus, Chanakil, Ankara, and other smaller cities all across the central interior, and western & southern coasts of the country. Some were day trips, other were more involved excursions that lasted weeks and lent much to my understanding of the country and it people.

Geography

Turkey is bounded by eight countries and two major bodies of water; indeed the country is surrounded by water on three sides (a giant peninsula) and protected by high mountains along its eastern border, giving the country well-defined natural borders. Clearly half of Turkey is surrounded by water; the Black Sea buffers the northern shore in its entirety, while Aegean and Mediterranean Sea’s hug the entire western and southern boarders. Turkey boarders Russia to the north across the Black Sea; Europe (Greece and Bulgaria) across the Bosphorus Straits to the northwest; Greece to the west across the Mediterranean Sea; Syria and Iraq to the south, and; Georgia, Armenia, and Iran in the east.

Principle cities include: Istanbul, Samsun, Konya, Ankara, Bursa, Izmir, Manisa, Antalya, Adana, Iskenderun, Trabzon, Hopa, Erzurum, and Diyarbakir among others.

Istanbul

I love Istanbul; it is the largest city in Turkey and the capital first of the Eastern Roman Empire from about 303AD to 1453, and then of the Ottoman Empire from 1453 to 1923. During the rein of the Byzantine Empire the city was named Constantinople at the Roman Emperor Constantine who made the city the capitol of the Roman Empire.

I visited the city three times while I was stationed in Turkey. My first visit was when I initially flew into the country on my way to Sinop by way of Samsun. This was an all too brief stop and I didn’t get the see any of the city. It was on my second visit after I had been in country for a year that I got my first real look at the city that had long been the source of my adoration.

My companion and I drove into Istanbul from West, at dusk, during a thunderstorm. I was driving and learning how to operate a stick at the same time! We got lost several times before we found our hotel; a small affair set-aside for American government workers not too far from the ancient city center. That center contains the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, and Hagia Sophia (Church of Holy Wisdom), also known as the Ayasofya Museum. Hagia Sophia is a former Eastern Orthodox Church converted to a mosque in 1453, after the Ottoman Turks took over the city, and was then converted into a museum in 1935. These two historic building are not far from the famous Grand Bazaar and the Hippodrome. The hotel also hugs the Bosphorus Strait and charged very reasonable priced. From our hotel we could walk to all of the above attractions without too much strain.

Since we (my companion and I) had both been in the country for a year and our Turkish was more than passable (hers more than mine), we had no trouble getting around the city, and took our time seeing the sites. We concentrated on the area around our hotel for the most part because we could walk, but we did take a tour of Topkapi Palace and the surrounding area. The Palace served as the administrative center of the Ottoman Empire from 1465 to 1853. We preferred to walk despite the fact we had a rental car, because driving in Istanbul is best left to those who inhabit the city full time; I cannot even begin to count the number of near misses we had just getting to our hotel the first night in the city.

We were absolutely mesmerized by the size and beauty of Ayasofya Museum, and the Blue Mosque; they are truly magnificent and rival the best and biggest cathedrals of Europe in grandeur and architectural acumen. Of the two structures, Ayasofya is the oldest and largest. Together, they dominate the city skyline and are both easy to visit because they sit facing one another across a common plaza.

We spent an entire day at the Grand Bazaar, and it was still not enough time to see it all. Come prepared to barter. If you have ever bought a car, you’ll know what to expect. We never paid what was on the tag, but always bartered with the vendor, until a reasonable price was agreed upon. The vendors expect you to barter and haggle with them, so by all means have some fun with it! All things Turkish can be found at the Bazaar; souvenirs, gold & silver jewelry, leather, pottery, handmade rugs and carpets, brass works, linens, mirsham pipes, artwork, Turkish musical recordings, etc., are just some of the things you will find.

There were many, many more sites to see, touch, and taste in Istanbul, after all the city is over 700 years old. We ate locally as we always did, and the food was delicious as it always was in Turkey. We shunned the larger restaurants in favor of the out of way places that tend to serve better food and allowed up to go into the kitchen and pick from the dishes sizzling or bubbling away on the stove. We sought out a local bakery for freshly baked bread with soft butter and honey in the mornings for breakfast, just as we would do in Sinop on the weekends.

Ankara

Ankara, formerly known as Angora, is the capital of Turkey and the country's second largest city, with a population of some 4,319,167 people according to a 2005 census. Ankara is centrally located in the Anatolian Peninsula and is an important commercial and industrial city as well as the seat of the Turkish government.

Like other cities in Turkey, Ankara has a rich and varied history dating back to the time of the early Roman Empire when the city served as the capitol of the Roman province of Galatia in 189A.D. Because of its association with Rome, many, many Roman ruins are sprinkled throughout the city and surrounding hillocks, and along the banks of the Enguri Su river.

After Ankara became the capital of the newly founded Republic of Turkey, after WWI the city was divided by new development; the old section, is now called Ulus, and the new section is called Yeniºehir. Narrow winding streets and ancient buildings reflecting Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman history mark the old section of the city. The new section of the city is marked by the trappings of a modern cosmopolitan metropolis: high-rises, shopping malls and fashionable boutiques, wide well-lit streets, modern hotels, and theaters. Here too you will find men and women dressed in contemporary European clothing; this section of the city has the look and feel of any American or European city; it has a modern bustling air to it that will surprise anyone that has visited the Turkish countryside.

Because Ankara is nestled in a valley, and along the side of a steep hill, the city does not get much air flow, and the summers are hot and dry. As a result smog can be a huge problem. Most Turkish households still burn wood and or kerosene for cooking and heating and all the exhaust just seems to hang over the city, especially during the summer and early fall. When we visited the city in mid-October it was still hot, and a haze has settled in over the city that was so thick at night we could only make out the light surrounding Kamal Ataturk’s tomb and not the tomb itself! And we were staying at a hotel well within sight of the tomb. The days were a little better, but we still needed to wash up at least three times a day. Just be forewarned and check the local weather before you go to Ankara.

Because the city of Ankara is so old, there are of course a plethora of ancient sites one could visit while in the city including the Ankara Citadel, Roman Theatre, Temple of Augustus, Roman Bath House, and the Column of Julian.

Ephesus

Situated on the west coast of Turkey, Ephesus had ancient and distinguished dating back to the time of the ancient Greek civilization. No longer an inhabited city, Ephesus is festooned with ruins dating back to the time of the Roman Empire when the city acted as an important trading and cultural center starting in 292 A.D.

Ephesus is distinguished for the Temple of Artemis, for its library, and for its theatre, the ruins of which can be clearly seen throughout the city. The population of Ephesus has been estimated to be in the range of 400,000 to 500,000 inhabitants in the year 100AD, making it by far one of the largest cities in the Roman Empire and the largest in Roman Asia. During Roman rule, Ephesus had several major bath complexes and one of the most advanced aqueduct systems in the ancient world, including 4 major aqueducts supplying various parts of the city. The city flourished until the 15th century when it was definitively abandoned when the harbor completely filled in with river silt, blocking access to the Aegean Sea.

I traveled to Ephesus with my companion the second summer of my stay in country; we drove there from the southern city of Boldrum, passing through Izmir on our way to Istanbul. We traveled by plane and bus from Sinop to get to a sleepy little coastal town called Marimus. From there we took the ferry to the Greek Isle of Rhodes where we stayed for a week, then took the ferry back and drove up the coast. Marimus was truly a beautiful little town, but it will have to be the subject of another review.

We drove into Ephesus on a clear sunny morning with the intention of only staying for a few hours, but we ended up staying well into the afternoon. We were the only visitors the city that was once the center of Roman and Greek commerce, and we walk the streets of the Ephesus in silent awe. Much of the old city buildings foundations are still intact, and you can see the outlines of where houses and fountains, libraries, public buildings, sport complex’s, aqueducts, etc used to stand. The ruins are very well preserved and give one a good feel for what life must have been like in Roman times.

We had lunch on a high hill overlooking the city proper, and afterwards just sat and took it all in. We both loved ancient history so this was heaven to us both. By mid afternoon, we were becoming very hot, since there is little or no shelter from the sun, and were forced to get on the road again and continue our journey.

To this day, the memory of Ephesus is burned in my mind. If you visit Turkey and have a little time, do drive down the west coast to visit not only Ephesus, but other cities of the Roman and Byzantine era that dot the coast, would be well worth your time. My visit to the west coast was eye-opening to say the least.


Final Thoughts

A word about the food: the Turkish people eat a lot of lamb, chicken, and beef, as well a large variety of vegetables, cheeses, bread and baklava. Kiosks that sell donar kabob (marinated lamb meat on a skewer cooked very slowly) are all over every city I visited in the country. Do yourself a favor and sample some, it is delicious, but don’t let it get cold! More often than not, I had mine served over a bed of warm rice with a side of semi-warm finely chopped spinach with real yogurt.

In a coastal city like Istanbul, seafood is also in abundance, but like everywhere in the world, it is expensive. Order fresh bread in the restaurants, have it toasted lightly, and have the waiter bring you soft butter and honey to eat with it, you’ll be in for a treat. Ice is rare except in the chain hotels, so be prepared to drink luck warm, or slightly chilled coke. Cold fruit juice is usually obtainable, but you’ll have to ask for it, and in the smaller restaurants the waiter will usually have to go and get it at a local convenience store.

The people of Turkey like to stare, so be prepared and get used to it. Its just part of their culture and they mean no disrespect. Stare back, and smile, and they will smile back, they are friendly genuine people, and I really enjoyed living among them for the 1.5 years in country. Most of the Turkish people I met thought I was from Africa which tickled me to no end; they were quite surprise to learn I was American.

Bring a good Turkish to English dictionary; you may not need it much in the city, because English is widely spoken, but if you venture into the countryside, it will come in handy. If you want to rent a car, make sure you have an international license; contact the state department before you go to help you obtain one. While in Istanbul you may want to take an excursion to the west of the city along the south coast of the Bosphorus Straits that leads to the Sea of Marmara. There are several beautiful little coastal towns nestled along the waterway that are very scenic and romantic, and the hotels are reasonable priced. Don’t be afraid to explore; a rental makes it that much easier, and the Turkish drive on the right side if the road, so no worries.

It seems at times that everyone in Turkey smokes any and everywhere, except in the mosques. While it is certainly not true that everyone in Turkey smokes there is a lot puffing going on. If you take public transportation be prepared, the bus will fill up quickly with foul smelling smoke from mostly Turkish branded cigarettes. Ditto for the trains and restaurants; there is no such thing as a non-smoking section in the Turkish lexicon!

Like the rest of the world outside of the United States, Turkey uses 220 electrical power. That means their electrical plugs are like those seen throughout Europe; i.e. two cylindrical prongs, with no ground. But there is a catch: the outlets are recessed into the wall, so the prongs on your adaptor probably will not reach so you’ll need an extra adaptor. While I lived in country I had to have transformers for all of my American made electronic equipment, but to most electronic gadgets are dual voltage, you just need a plug adapter to converter the three prongs into two.

Turkey is an overwhelmingly Muslim country with the vast majority of these being of the Sunni sect. Unlike other Muslim nations, Turkey has a tradition of secularism, which the military guards zealously. The Turkish constitution recognizes freedom of religion for individuals and forbids the intermixing of government and religion. The result is a country that echoes with the call to prayer five times a day, but operates under civil law; a country where the women hold high office, the schools are coed, and women are free to pursue jobs equal to their desires and ambitions.

The currency of Turkey and of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is the (New) Turkish Lira, introduced on January 1, 2005, and is the equivalent to 1,000,000 Turkish old lira, the latter of which remained valid in circulation until the end of 2005. The current exchange rate is 1.49019 TRY to the dollar.

So, are you ready to go yet? Hope so, you’ll be glad you did.



Recommended:
Yes

Best Suited For: Couples
Best Time to Travel Here: Mar - May

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About the reviewer
Vincent Martin ()
Ranked #188
I am an IT Professional and have worked in the industry for over 20 years. I may be a computer geek, but I also like reading, writing, cooking, music, current events and regretfully, politics.
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Wiki

Turkey (TurkishTürkiye), known officially as the Republic of Turkey(About this sound Türkiye Cumhuriyeti (help·info)), is a Eurasian country that stretches across the Anatolian peninsula inwestern Asia and Thrace in the Balkan region of southeastern Europe. Turkey is one of the six independent Turkic states. Turkey is bordered by eight countries: Bulgaria to the northwest; Greece to the west; Georgia to the northeast; ArmeniaAzerbaijan (the exclave of Nakhchivan) and Iran to the east; andIraq and Syria to the southeast. The Mediterranean Sea and Cyprus are to the south; the Aegean Sea to the west; and the Black Sea is to the north. The Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles(which together form the Turkish Straits) demarcate the boundary between Eastern Thrace and Anatolia; they also separate Europe and Asia.[7] Turkey's location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia makes it a country of significant geostrategic importance.[8][9]

The predominant religion by number of people is Islam--about 97% of the population, the second by number of people is Christianity--0,6%, according to the World Christian Encyclopedia.[10] The country's official language is Turkish, ...

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