Turkey is a country of striking contrasts. European and Asian influences as well as ancient monuments and those dating back to the Ottoman Empire period mix together, offering tourists exceptionally diverse experience. The country borders with four seas so staying in Turkey is a guarantee of good rest and numerous tourist attractions that you would expect from high class resorts.
The larger part of Turkey is located in Asia Minor. It is bordered by eight countries: Armenia, Azerbaijani, Bulgaria, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. Only a small part of Turkey belongs to Europe. It is a territory of Thrace – comprising about 3% of the country. Thrace is separated from the Asian part by the Sea of Marmara as well as the Bosporus and the Dardanelles strait. Apart from the Sea of Marmara, Turkey is also surrounded by the Black Sea (to the north of the country), the Aegean Sea (to the west) and the Mediterranean Sea (locally called the White Sea) to the south. It is there where the famous Turkish Riviera, known for warm sea, picturesque landscapes and wonderful mountains, spreads.
The territory of Turkey is located in a seismically active zone, which unfortunately results in frequent earthquakes.
A close vicinity of crystal clear sea, hot sand and beaches and exotic vegetation together with the great Taurus Mountains and Pontic Mountains make the landscape of Turkey exceptional and enchanting. The Mediterranean coast with its beautiful scenery, sandy beaches, secluded coves and numerous quiet and attractive places for summer rest starts in the south where the Taurus Mountains are located. Turkey is subdivided into 81 provinces with each province divided into districts. The names of provinces usually come from their capital cities. The exceptions include Hatay (with the capital – Antakya), Kocaeli (capital – Izmit) and Sakarya (capital – Adapazarı).
CLIMATE AND NATURAL CONDITIONS:
Turkey has a subtropical climate, the coastal areas – humid Mediterranean, in the uplands – continental and dry. In the area of the Sea of Marmara, the coastal areas of the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, summer is hot and winters – mild. In the area of the Black Sea, summers are warm, winters – mild and there is relatively high rainfall all year round. The Mid- and East Anatolia Region, summers are dry and hot, winters – cold. The average temperature in January is around 5-10°C, in the coastal areas – up to -5°C on the Armenian Plateau and 15°C in higher parts of the mountains. In July – August, the temperatures are around 22-28°C in the coastal areas, up to 23°C – in the hinterland and 15-10°C- in the mountains. Annual rainfall is about 300-400 mm in the center the Anatolian Upland, 450–600 mm on the Armenian Plateau, up to 1,000 mm on the slopes of the coastal mountains and 3,000 mm in the eastern part of the Pontic Mountains: Kızılırmak (1,150 km long), Sakarya, Yeşilırmak and others.
The rivers of Turkey flow to different basins; the eastern part of the country belongs to the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea basin; that is where big rivers of the Western Asia start – the Euphrates – around 1,100 km long within Turkish borders, the Tigris, the Kura River and its tributary – the Araks bordering with Armenia. In the center of the country, rivers flow into the Black Sea creating deep gorges in the Pontic Mountains; to the Aegean Sea – Menderes and Gediz, and into the the Mediterranean – Seyhan and Ceyhan. Natural vegetation has been damaged severely – on the southern and western coasts, ever-green oak forests have been replaced by macchia shrublands and laurels, oleander and myrtle, in the Taurus Mountains, there are remains of Coniferous forests with a Lebanese cedar and fir tree; northern, humid slopes of the Pontic Mountains are covered by beech forests with oak and maple as well as fir trees and pine and spruce forest. Forests and shrublands cover about 13,2 % of the total area of the country.
There are about 78 million residents living in Turkey. The Turks constitute 65.1% of the total population, the Kurdish people – 18.9% (living mainly in the south-eastern part of the country). There are also the Crimean Tatars, Arabs (next to the border with Syria) and Armenians (mostly in Istanbul) living in Turkey. The age structure is typical for young societies: 26% of the population is younger than 15 years old, around 7% – are aged over 64; the average life expectancy is 70 years for men and 75 – for women. 61% of the total population lives in the cities, the majority – in agglomerations of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir; other big cities include Bursa, Adana, Konya, Gaziantep.
POLITICAL SYSTEM AND POLITICS:
In accordance with the Constitution, Turkey has been a parliamentary republic since 1982, with the President being the head of state, elected for a 7-year term. The role of the President in strong. The legislative power is exercised by the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi), consisting of 550 members of parliament (deputies) who are elected for a five-year term. Executive power is exercised by the Council of Ministers and the Prime Minister appointed by the President, who also appoints vice prime ministers and the government at the request of the Prime Minister. The National Security Council is the advisory body of the government. It comprises highly ranked civil and military officials and the President (who is also the Commander-in-chief). Its main role is to promote secular character of the state. The major organs of the judicial power (the system modeled on the European systems) in Turkey include: The Constitutional Court (judges appointed by the President), the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Council of State (judges appointed by The Supreme Council of Judges and Public Prosecutors).
The official language is Turkish. It is the language of all the native people of Turkey. It is very common, however, to come across people who speak Azeri and Turkmen. There is also quite a lot of Turks, especially younger generations, who speak English and German, which enable quite free communication.
The majority of Turkish Muslims (approximately 70-85%) are Sunni who practice Sunna (custom) of Muhammad, the Prophet and recognize all the caliphs since 1258 as the rightful successors of Muhammad. The Hannafi school – the most liberal and open – is a predominant school in Turkey.
The Alevi comprise approximately 15-30% of Islam worshippers in Turkey. Alevism is a religious group related to Shia Islam. Similar to the Shiites, the Alevi worship Ali – Muhammad’s son-in-law. The Alevi cultivate numerous customs that come from Shia Islam, Turkmen shamanism as well as Sufism of the Bektashi Order. The Alevi do not prey in mosques but in houses of gathering called cem evi. Cem is the name of the Alevi religious ceremony that allows, both, female and male participation.
Christians comprise only a small percent of the inhabitants of Turkey (0,13%). More than 50% of them include Christians of the Armenian rite. There are also churches of other Eastern rites (Syrian, Chaldean), Greek-Catholics, Georgians, Orthodox Bulgarians, Roman Catholics, protestants. There are 236 active churches in Turkey.
The present size of Jewish Community is estimated at around 26,000. The vast majority live in Istanbul and Izmir. Other smaller groups are located in Adana, Ankara, Bursa, Canakkale, Iskenderun and Kirklareli. The majority of them are Sephardic Jews. Turkish traditions are related to the dominant religion in these regions – Islam. Everything a Muslim needs is described in the Quran which was created by Muhammad who is the most important role model.
The Turkish lira (TL)] is the official currency of Turkey 1lira=100 kuruş. The following coins are in circulation: 5, 10, 25, 50 Kr, 1TL and rarely used 1 Kr as well as such banknotes as: 5TL, 10TL, 20TL, 50TL and rarely used 100TL and 200TL. Finding a cash machine in Istanbul should not be a problem. You can withdraw euro, dollars and liras in tourist resorts. Paying with a credit card is getting more and more common in Turkey. However, you should always have some cash with you, especially when you want to visit smaller towns and villages in the eastern part of the country. It is best to have Turkish lira. In bigger cities it should not be difficult to pay with dollar, euro, pound or ruble. Remember to check the exchange rate and change you get after transactions. If you want to exchange your currency, it is best to do it in exchange bureaus which do not take commission. Also, ensure you get currency exchange confirmation.
You can choose one of two kinds of accommodation depending on your needs and budget: hotels or guest houses. Accommodation in Turkey is relatively cheap, apart from major tourist resorts during the holiday season such as Istanbul where things are more expensive. Turkey is a perfect place for hikers who plan their holidays on their own, want to decide about their free time themselves and admire the beauty of the country without spending too much money. Staying in guesthouses is very convenient for young people who are less demanding, want to save some money and do not mind more modest conditions. Today it is quite easy to find guesthouses offering good conditions and it is not a problem to find accommodation last minute, even in busier regions. Accommodation prices in Turkish guesthouses start from 30-40 TL per night.
You can enquire about the rich hotel offer in a tourist office or after reaching your destination. You can also book a room online. You can choose from a wide array of hotels starting with the cheapest 2-star hotels. You should remember to check if there is air-conditioning in the hotel, which is a must during the holiday season and on the southern coast. If we choose a three or more star hotel, it will usually be a part of a bigger complex with its own swimming pool. Some higher class hotels offer free beach umbrellas and sun bathing chairs. Tourist offices offer low class hotels for 2,500LT per week including plane tickets. Those who value comfort and high standard will also be satisfied, the price will have to be much higher, though. If you are going to look for a hotel when you reach your destination, you will easily find a room for as much as 60LT per night.
In most places, especially hotels which have cookers and fridges in their rooms, it is not allowed to bring food and dishes from outside. However, most hotel staff are tolerant in this matter, especially if you do not leave your shopping bags in sight. Due to high temperatures it is not advised to leave food in rooms as it may go bad quickly. You cannot bring your own food to hotel restaurants. In most hotels you need to check out by 12pm; however, you can leave you luggage at the reception or a special luggage storage.
It is a good custom to tip a hotel boy who helps you with your luggage. The Turks are really helpful here but they expect to be rewarded. While paying a waiter in a restaurant, it is worth checking your bill as sometimes a service charge is already included there. If not, you should leave a 10% tip. Some hotels have their own ways of collecting tips. There are piggy banks in various areas of the hotel so that you can reward a cook, reception or restaurant staff accordingly. It is a good custom to leave some coins on your departure. The same rule applies to the room where you can leave a tip to appreciate good service.
SHOPS AND PRICES:
Food and drink prices may vary significantly depending on a place – small shops happen to be cheaper than big supermarkets. Restaurants are most expensive, of course.
- Water 1,5 l (su) 1 – 2 TL
- Coffee (kahve) 1 – 2 TL
- Tea (çay) 0,5 – 1 TL
- Coke, and other fizzy drinks 0,5l 1 – 3 TL
- Juice 1l (meyve nektari) 1 – 2 TL
- Juice 2dcl 1 TL
- Wine 0,75l (şarap) 9 – 12 TL
- Wine 2dcl 2 – 3 TL
- Beer – 0,33-0,5l (bira) 2 – 3 TL
- Bread (ekmek) 1,5 TL
- Milk (süt) 1 – 2 TL
- Butter (tereyağ) 1 – 2 TL
- Yoghurt 4ks (yoğurt) 2 – 4 TL
- Sausage 1kg (salami) 17 TL
- Frankfurter 1kg (sosis) 7 TL
- Olives 1kg (zeytin) 7 TL
- Oranges 1kg (portakal) 1 – 2 TL
- Kiwifruit 1kg (kivi) 4 TL
- Baklava 1kg 7 – 8 TL
- Chocolate 100g (çikolata) 2 – 3 TL
- Chocolate bars 0,5 – 1 TL
- Ice-cream (dondurma) 1 – 1,5 TL
- Crisps 100g (cipsi) 1 – 2 TL
- Dinner (öğle yemeği) 10 TL
- Supper (akşam yemeği) 10 TL
- Kebab (döner kebap) 2 TL
Usually, hotels and restaurants include 10% service charge in their bills; however, if it is not included in the price, it is advisable to leave a tip of more or less the same value. Shops are usually open 9:30am-7:00pm. However, in tourist resorts they may close later (sometimes even at midnight). Banks are open 8:30am-12:00pm and 01:30pm-5:00pm. They are usually close on Saturdays and Sundays. However, in some tourist resorts they are often open at weekends. On the first day of Şeker and Kurban holidays all the shops and street markets are closed. In the summer period, in the Aegean and Mediterranean regions, all the local offices close in the afternoon.
If you want your holidays to be perfectly planned without worrying about anything and you expect good service for the money you pay, it is worth going to a travel agent. Today, Internet is full of various offers. You do not need to collect catalogues and you can plan your trip while sitting at your computer. Adventure and unexpected events lovers will find what they are looking for as this country offers plenty of options. How to get here and how to move around?
A lot of low-cost airlines appeared on the market in recent years and we can freely choose from numerous options. Most international airlines offer regular direct flights or connected flights from the majority of European cities and the USA to the Istanbul Atatürk Airport. THY Airlines fly to over 30 airports in Europe. The easiest way to get from the airport to the closest town is by taxi. The ride price should not exceed 15 Euro. Hotels offer transport but it is usually much more expensive. It happens that it is the only way as some hotels are a few hours drive from the airport.
In Istanbul buses from the airport to the city centre run every half an hour from 6am to 11pm and less frequently at night-time. There is only one stop on their route. Such historic districts as Eminönü and Sultanahmet are easily accessible from there. The final stop is located at the Taksim Square. On departure, it is worth allowing more time for customs clearance, especially during the summer season. Usually, you need to wait in long queues to get to passport control and hand luggage screening.
In the summer there are ferries from Venice, Brindisi, Bari and Ankora on the Italian coast of the Adriatic Sea. We will get to Izmir and Cesme. The cruise takes 30-60 hours. Cruises timetables change every year. Some routes lead through the Corinth Canal, which is the shortest and the most attractive one at the same time.
There is a train called Istanbul Express running from the Athens, Munich and Vienna to Turkey. You can also take Istanbul Express from other cities if you do not mind changing trains in Belgrade or Sofia. Once a week there is also a train running from Budapest, Moscow and Bucharest. InterRail tickets are accepted in Turkey. However, EuroRail tickets are not accepted. Trains from Western Europe arrive at Sirkeci train station in Eminönü, in the heart of the former Constantinople. Trains from Eastern Europe have their final destination in Haydarpaşa located on the Asian side of Istanbul. You can get to the city centre by taxi or ferry through the Bosphorus Strait.
Buses run from bigger European cities, mainly German and Austrian. There are also buses from Russia, the Middle East and countries of Central Asia. Grand Istanbul Bus Terminal – Esenler is located in Bayrampasa- north-west of Istanbul. You can get to the city centre by mini bus. At the Turkish border you should have your car registration document and driving license ready. The car parameters will be entered to the owner’s passport’s. It enables you to drive your vehicle for the period of 6 months without the necessity of customs clearance. It is essential that you come back home by the same car. If you are driving a different car back home, you have to have documents testifying that the previous car has not been sold in Turkey. You should always have such certificate with you. While driving in Turkey, you should be aware that this is the country with the highest rate of road accidents. Driving a car in Turkey requires nerves of steel from a driver. Pedestrians should also be careful as there is an unwritten rule that gives priority to a vehicle rather than a pedestrian. Light and sound signaling does not mean anything here, it only proves the driver’s presence. The speed limit in the residential area is 50 km/h, outside – 90km/h and 120km/h – on motorways. Current fuel prices are quite high so it is advisable to fill up your car before crossing the Turkish border.
Railways also try to offer competitive forms of transport. Travelers can choose between “InterRail Global Pass” ticket (including all the countries taking part in the program) and “InterRail One Country Pass” ticket, which enables choosing one country where we want to travel by train.
MOVING AROUND THE CITY
In the tourist regions, it is most common to move around by taxi or in case of groups – by minibuses that offer round trips and stop wherever we want. The ticket price is also displayed next to the driver. Drivers are not very honest sometimes so we should be careful. Taxis are equipped with taxi meters and price lists can be found at bigger taxi ranks. There are also regular bus connections here. However, you should not rely on the word “regular” too much as the Turks do not stick to timetables. They have well-developed connection network and you can virtually get anywhere you want. A journey from Istanbul to Ankara costs about 20 USD and it takes about 6 hours. It is also possible to rent a car in Turkey and all the rules discussed in “the travelling by car section” apply here as well. You can also move around the country by train. The quality of Turkish trains is similar to our trains. Trains are cheaper than buses but also slower. We do not leave tips on public transport; however, if you wish you can tip taxi drivers.
Turkish cuisine is very rich in aroma and ingredients. Everyone will be able to find something delicious – if you do not like Turkish kebab, you can treat yourself on sweet halva. Turkish cuisine is a legacy of the rich cuisine of the Ottoman Empire. We will also find here some traces of the Chinese, Central Asian, Greek or French cuisines. The quintessence of the Turkish cuisine comprises fresh meat, usually lamb meat or mutton, a lot of fruit and vegetables, aromatic spices (cinnamon, paprika, chili) and fresh herbs (parsley, mint). The most popular dishes include: meze – appetizers served with alcohols, börek – a kind of meat, cheese or vegetable filled pastries made of dough, dolma – stuffed vegetable dishes or dishes of grape leaves wrapped around a filling (rice and meat), köfte – cooked or roasted meat, pilav – rice dishes. The most popular soup is tomato soup ( domates), and in seaside regions – fish soup (balik). The most popular desserts include baklava, kadayifi, halva, lokum and acibadem kurabiyesi. Salty and quite rare drinking yoghurt called ayran is also popular. It goes really well with meals. National drinks of Turkey include black, very sweet tea, served in small tulip-shaped glasses and raki – a licorice/anise-flavored spirit. It is always served cool and 50/50 mixed with water. The mixture becomes white so it is referred to as “lion’s milk”. Cherry and apple juices and infusions are also popular. It often happens that there is no paper menu in Turkish restaurants or if there is one, it does not have much in common with what the restaurant actually serves. Waiting staff often walks around the restaurant with large trays of meze – it is enough to point the dish you feel like trying.
The dates of religious holidays are determined by the moon calendar, in accordance with the Islamic calendar so they are moveable and celebrated on different days every year.
- Holidays with fixed days:
- January 1 – New Year’s Day
- April 23 – Independence Day
- May 19 – Youth and Sports Day
- August 30 – Victory Day
- October 29 – Republic Day
TURKISH ETIQUETTE – HIGHLIGHTS
- A swimwear is only worn at the beach. In some holiday resorts, some women take a sea bath wearing clothes.
- Sunbathing topless is forbidden.
- You cannot put your legs on chairs or other sitting places.
- When invited to a Turkish house, you should take off your shoes before you enter the rom.
- While visiting a mosque both, a man and a woman should be properly dressed – a woman should be wearing long skirt or trousers, have covered arms, a man should be wearing long trousers. A woman may be asked to cover her head so it is advisable to have a scarf with you. A mosque cannot be entered during prayers of on Fridays.
- When you go to a Turkish toilet it is a good idea to take some toilet paper with you (we throw it away to a bin as the Turkish sewage may not discharge it). You should also have some change as you need to pay for toilets in Turkey. You may also come across toilets with a hole in the ground, with places for your feet and handles so that you don’t lose your balance.
- Women travelling alone in Turkey are rather safe. You should remember, however, to be properly dressed, act with confidence and not to sit next to a man that you do not know.
- Public displays of affection between a man and a woman are forbidden – kissing, hugging or even holding hands is regarded as offence against decency.
- There is a custom of baksheesh – a tip. It is an expected form of thanking for the service. If we believe that we should not leave a tip, we may refuse to give it.
- The Turks love haggling. They will not be happy if we accept the first price they offer. Before we get the price that we want, we may be offered tea, involved in a small talk so it is worth being patient and take advantage of their hospitality.
- We should not talk about the Israeli-Palestinian relations as it may lead to unnecessary tension. We can talk about football instead, which is a really good icebreaker idea.
- The Turks are very hospitable so we should not be surprised if they invite us for supper to their house. If we politely refuse, they will not take offence.
- You may be often asked whether you are religious. Remember that Atheism is not welcome.
- Body language; if you see a Turk shaking their head left and right, it means: “I don’t understand”. If you want to say “No”, you should raise your eyebrows and move your head back. If a Turk moves their hand down and then towards themselves, it means that they invite us to follow them.