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|Introduction to Turkey
Check your Midnight Express stereotypes at the door - this is a rapidly modernising country with one foot in Europe and one in the Middle East. It's not all oriental splendour, mystery, intrigue and whirling dervishes but it is a spicy maelstrom of history knocking up against a pacy present.
The Turkish people have an unrivalled reputation for hospitality, the cuisine is to die for, the coastline is a dream, and many Turkish cities are dotted with spectacular mosques and castles. And while costs are rising, Turkey remains the Mediterranean's bargain-basement destination.
There's an enormous variety of things to see and do ranging from water sports to mountain trekking, archaeology to night-clubbing and river rafting to raki drinking. Whether you leave Turkey with magnificent carpets, amulets to ward off evil, belly-dancing tips, an appreciation of its history, or just a tan, you're likely to want to go back for more.
Turkey is generally safe, but domestic and regional tensions result in occasional waves of low-level violence, particularly bombings. Such bomb attacks are often aimed at targets that represent Western interests, such as banks and consulates. Rural areas to the east, near the borders of Syria, Iraq and Iran should be avoided.
So far, travellers have not been specifically targeted by terrorists and suicide bombers. However, there is always the danger that travellers will find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. The best defence is to maintain a modest profile and be aware of current events.
Full country name: Republic of Turkey
Area: 779,452 sq km
Population: 68.1 million
Capital City: Ankara
People: Turks (85%), Kurds (12%), 3% other Islamic peoples, Armenians, Jews
Language: Armenian, Greek, Arabic, Kurdish, Turkish
Religion: Muslim (Sunni)
GDP: US$508.7 billion
GDP per capita: US$7,400
Annual Growth: -5%
Major Industries: Textiles, food processing, tourism, motor vehicles, mining, lumber, petroleum, construction
Major Trading Partners: Germany, USA, Italy, UK, France, Russia
Member of EU: No
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Visas: Citizens from a long list of countries do not require a Visa to enter Turkey. This list includes some South American, European, Asian and Middle Eastern countries, so it is worth checking out whether or not you will need a Visa. However, travelers from Canada, the UK, the USA, Australia, Hong Kong, and a number of other countries do need a visa to enter Turkey. Holders of UK and American passports can obtain a Visa on arrival at the point of entry to Turkey. Those from the UK will pay 16 and Americans 20. All other travelers who require a Visa must apply for one before leaving for Turkey. Fees vary as do the lengths of time travelers are permitted to stay.
Health risks: malaria (Travellers to Turkey's steamy regions (the Mediterranean coast east of Mersin and the irrigated areas of southeastern Anatolia around Sanliurfa) should stock up on their favourite anti-malarial gear. This serious and potentially fatal disease is spread by mosquito bites and is endemic in most countries of the region (the exceptions being Singapore and Brunei). If you are travelling in endemic areas it is extremely important to avoid mosquito bites and to take tablets to prevent this disease. Symptoms range from fever, chills and sweating, headache, diarrhoea and abdominal pains to a vague feeling of ill-health. Seek medical help immediately if malaria is suspected. Without treatment malaria can rapidly become more serious and can be fatal. If medical care is not available, malaria tablets can be used for treatment. There is a variety of medications such as mefloquine, Fansidar and Malarone. You should seek medical advice, before you travel, on the right medication and dosage for you. If you do contract malaria, be sure to be re-tested once you return home as you can harbour malaria parasites even if you are symptom free. Travellers are advised to prevent mosquito bites at all times by wearing light-coloured clothing, long trousers and long-sleeved shirts; use mosquito repellents containing the compound DEET on exposed areas, sleeping under a mosquito net impregnated with mosquito repellent (it may be worth taking your own) and refraining from using perfumes and aftershave)
Time Zone: GMT/UTC +2
Dialling Code: 90
Electricity: 230V ,50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
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The dates for Muslim religious festivals are celebrated according to a lunar calendar; the dates are locked in every few years by Muslim authorities. Only two religious holidays are public holidays: Seker Bayrami, a 3-day festival at the end of Ramazan (30 days in December-January when a good Muslim lets nothing pass the lips during daylight hours), and Kurban Bayrami (March-April) which commemorates Abraham's near-sacrifice of Ismael on Mt Moriah. In commemoration of God permitting Abraham to sacrifice a ram instead of his son, every Turkish household who can afford a sheep buys one, takes it home and slits its throat right after the early morning prayers on the actual day of the bayram. Family and friends immediately cook up a feast. You must plan for Kurban Bayrami: most banks close for a full week, transportation will be packed and hotel rooms will be scarce and expensive.
Secular festivities include camel-wrestling in mid-January, in the village of Selçuk, south of Izmir, and National Sovereignty Day, April 23, a big holiday to celebrate the first meeting of the republican parliament in 1920. Celebrations abound in summer: there's a sloppy oiled wrestling festival in early June at Sarayiçi, near Edirne; the country Kafkasör Festival near Artvin in northeastern Turkey in the 3rd week of June; the International Istanbul Festival of the Arts (late June to mid-July); Bursa's Folklore and Music Festival in mid-July and Diyarbakir's Watermelon Festival in mid or late September. The whole country stops, just for a moment, at 9:05am November 10, the time of Atatürk's death in 1938.
1 Jan - New Year's Day
21 Mar - Nevruz
23 Apr - National Sovereignty & Childrens Day
30 Aug - Victory Day
19 May - Youth & Sports Day
29 Oct - Republic Day
10 Nov - Anniversary of Atatürks Death
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|Best time to Visit
Spring and autumn are the best times to visit, since the climate will be perfect in Istanbul and on the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts. It will be cool in central Anatolia, but not unpleasantly so. Visiting before mid-June or after August may also help you avoid mosquitoes. The Black Sea coast is best visited between April and September; there will still be rain but not so much of it. With the exception of Istanbul, Turkey doesn't really have a winter tourism season. Places catering to backpackers usually see Anzac Day as the official start of the season; those catering to package holiday-makers get going in early May. Peak season is from July to mid-September, when most Turks take their holidays. The best time to visit eastern Turkey is from late June to September. Don't plan to venture east before May or after mid-October unless you're prepared for snow. Try to avoid travelling during Kurban Bayrami, Turkey's most popular public holiday; you may also want to avoid the fasting month of Ramadan.
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|Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending
Currency: New Turkish Lira
Turkey is a low-slung dollar burner. You can travel on as little as USD20.00 per day using buses and trains, staying in pensions, and eating one restaurant meal. For USD25.00-USD40.00 you can travel on plusher buses, take well-cushioned train seats, kick back in one and two-star hotels and eat most meals in restaurants. For USD40.00-USD80.00 per day you can move up to 3 and 4-star hotels, take the occasional airline flight, and dine in restaurants all the time.
Keep in mind that high inflation has rendered the single lira completely worthless. A simple restaurant bill or taxi fare runs into millions of liras.
In cheaper restaurants it's not necessary to leave more than a few coins in the change plate. In more expensive restaurants, tipping is customary. Even if a 10-15% service charge is added to your bill, you're expected to give around 5% to the waiter directly and perhaps the same amount to the maitre d'. Porters expect a dollar or so; in taxis you might like to round up the bill; in other situations, for example, helpful guardians at archaeological sites, delicacy is required. Although a tip may be initially refused through politeness, you should offer the money a second and third time. After three refusals, you can safely assume they really don't want the money.
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Turkey's capital is a sprawling urban mass in the midst of the Central Anatolian steppe. It's very different from the Ottoman town of Angora which preceded it on this site, a quiet place known for its fluffy jumpers of knitted goat fleece. Several significant attractions make it worth a short visit
Most visitors head straight for Hisar, the Byzantine citadel atop the hill east of the old city, and the nearby Museum of Anatolian Civilsations. Just south is Atatürk's mausoleum, a monumental building, spare but beautiful, that echoes the architecture of several great Anatolian empires.
Antalya is the chief city on Turkey's central Mediterranean coast. As well as several km of pebble beaches and a historic Roman-Ottoman core, Antalya is a good base from which to explore the quieter beach towns and more spectacular ancient cities of the region.
Side, 75km (47mi) east of Antalya, is the increasingly popular beach town once chosen by Mark Antony and Cleopatra for a romantic tryst. Alanya, 115km (71mi) east of Antalya, is another sea-sun-n-sand joint with a mini-Miami feel. Patara is a party town a few hundred km south-west of Antalya.
South Aegean's prettiest resort, Bodrum has a yacht harbour and a port for ferries to the Greek island of Kos. Palm-lined streets ring the bays, and white sugar-cube houses and ranks of villas crowd the hillside. Boating, swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving are prime Bodrum activities.
At night Bodrum's famous discos throb, boom and blare, keeping much of the town awake until dawn. Both Turkish and foreign visitors complain about the ear-splitting cacophany, but the local attitude seems to be, 'If you wanted peace and quiet, why did you come to Bodrum?'.
Of Turkey's hundreds of ancient cities and classical ruins, Ephesus is the grandest and best preserved. Indeed, it's the spunkiest classical city on the Mediterranean. Ephesus was Ionia, a flourishing cultural centre during the Greek Empire, and a busy provincial capital during Roman times.
Ionia's Temple of Diana was counted among the Seven Wonders of the World, and the city was generally renowned for its wealth and beauty.
Sts Paul and John took up the quill in Ionia and the Virgin Mary is said to have spent her twilight years here. A walking tour of the ruins will take at least half a day, and if you're here in summer, start early, because it gets stinking hot by high noon. Places you'll come across include the Grotto of the Seven Sleepers, in which seven persecuted youths slumbered for two centuries, then woke up and ambled down to town for a meal; the colossal Harbour Gymnasium; the grand marble-paved Arcadian Way; the impressive Temple of Hadrian and a scattering of Roman fountains, pools, brothels, libraries and public toilets.
Straddling the Bosphorus, its skyline studded with domes and minarets, Istanbul is one of the truly great romantic cities. Its history tracks back from Byzantium to Constantinople to its place at the head of the Ottoman Empire. Today it hums as Turkey's cultural heart and good-time capital.
The heart of historical Istanbul is Sultanahmet, the district centred on the Byzantine Hippodrome in the oldest part of the city. The city is best explored on foot, as most sights are within easy walking distance of one another. If the pace does get too much, a çay bahçe (tea garden) is never too far away.
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