Turkey

Turkey

Visitors to Turkey will not find themselves short of things to do as this fascinating country contains numerous cultural, natural, archeological and historical attractions. Most people know it first by the city of Istanbul, a cosmopolitan center that has one foot set in Europe and the other in Asia, a city that straddles the narrow Bosphorus Strait which connects the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea, and which continues to draw shoppers, travelers and peddlers to its colorful bazaars as it has for centuries.

Turkey’s modern capital is Ankara and while much history lies in these two cities there are also many important sites scattered around the country, deep in the heart of central and eastern Anatolia, along the Black Sea coasts, and on the western coasts which border the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas.

Visible and well preserved remnants of the Ottoman era are evident in numerous mosques and palaces that can be found across the country, many of which contain precious examples of Islamic art and architecture. Surely Istanbul is a must-stop city, with its Silk Road roots, great shopping, fabulous food, and its cultural and economic importance.

There are numerous sites from the Hittite, Byzantine, and Roman periods, and many museums containing art and archeological findings from these and many other eras.  Dozens of unearthed ancient cities and sites such as Troy, Ephesus, Pergamon, and the impressive statues of Mount Nemrut in southeastern Turkey await the curious visitor. The cave dwellings and churches carved into the volcanic rock of Cappadocia located in central Turkey bear a fascinating history, important art, and unique troglodyte structures.

In addition to the vast wealth of history ready to be explored in Turkey visitors can enjoy the natural beauty of the Black Sea mountains, forests, and coasts, the dry arid desert of central and eastern Turkey, and the beautiful coasts along the “Turkish Riviera” in the west.

People

Most people in Turkey live in urban areas, especially in and around Istanbul and the capital Ankara. The largest cities are Istanbul, Izmir, and Ankara. Tourism, business, and commerce are the main industries in and around Istanbul, a city which has centered on trade for centuries.

Elsewhere in the country and on the coast many people are involved in agriculture, fishing, animal husbandry, and farming. Turkey produces a large amount of agricultural products, which are both exported and consumed domestically. These include various grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables. Fishing is an important part of life in coastal areas.

The northwestern region around Istanbul is the most commercial and the most highly populated region of Turkey. Eastern Turkey is the least populated area. The southeastern region is home to a large Kurdish population. Other groups living in Turkey include Georgians, Laz people (predominantly in the eastern Black Sea coastal region), Arabs (especially in southern Turkey), Circassians, Armenians, Greeks, and Roma.

Food

Traditional Turkish food is very good. There are many regional variations. Kebabs, doner kebab, and köfte are some popular Turkish dishes made with meat. These are often slowly cooked over a grill or on a spit after being marinated in flavorful seasonings. Lamb is a common meat used in cooking.

Köfte variations are endless; the seasoned meat can be grilled, simmered in a sauce, cooked with vegetables, or dipped in batter and fried. In the Black Sea region an interesting variation is made with anchovies (Hamsi Köftesi).

Stuffed vegetables are a popular dish or mezze. Eggplant, peppers, tomato, zucchini, and other vegetables are stuffed with rice and herbs or with rice and meat before being slowly baked. Eggplant is widely featured in Turkish cuisine. It is stuffed with meat, served as a cold salad, featured in various mezzes, or in a variety of filling dishes such as Hünkar Begendi (‘Sultan’s Delight’) or Alanazik (popular in Gaziantep  this dish features charred eggplant which is pureed, mixed with yogurt and garlic, and served with minced lamb and green peppers).

Yogurt is a ubiquitous condiment, and is sometimes incorporated into a fragrant and refreshing sauce or dip such as cacik (yogurt with cucumber and herbs, sometimes eaten as a cold soup). Turkish yogurt is delicious and is often very fresh.

Manti are delicious dumplings topped with yogurt (also a popular dish in Central Asian and Armenian cuisine). These can be rather large and filling, stuffed with meat and fragrant spices and topped with rich yogurt, or very tiny as in in the case of Kayseri mantisi. They are usually filled with meat and can be served as a main dish, mezze, or as a light soup at the beginning of a meal. Kayseri mantisi (from Kayseri) are very small and are usually served with yogurt and a sauce of oil and concentrated tomato paste.

Börek is a delicious savory pastry that can also be found in Eastern European cuisines; good Turkish börek is prepared with homemade dough or a very thin pastry dough called yufka, which is filled with delicious stuffings of cheese, vegetables such as spinach or potatoes, or ground seasoned meat. Börek should be very flavorful and the dough light and flaky. These pastries can be baked, fried, or grilled on the stove, they can be large or small, and are sometimes rolled like little savory cigars.

Breakfast can be a heavy affair in Turkey, made with cheese, yogurt, kaymak (cream), sucuk (spiced sausages), eggs, vegetables, salads, and bread such as the round simit. The region of Van is famous for its elaborate breakfasts.

Turkish sweets are of many types and are often very sweet, such as the candy ‘Turkish Delight’ (lokum). There is an endless assortment of honey or sugar syrup-drenched pastries such as baklava. These can be rolled like a little cigar, layered in a huge sheet pan and then sliced into little diamonds or squares, twisted into small coils, crafted into luscious little ‘nests’ with shredded dough and more. They can be filled with pistachios, walnuts, or a combination of nuts and sometimes a touch of spice and/or fragrant orange blossom or rose water.

Muhallebi is a custard-like milk pudding that can be flavored with various ingredients such as nuts, fruits, or spices.

Population

74 million

Currency

Turkish Lira (TL)

Language

Turkish (official)

When to Go

Spring and fall are possibly the best times to visit Turkey, though many sites and attractions can be visited all year round. The popular Aegean and Mediterranean coasts are pleasant in the spring and fall, while the largest crowds generally arrive during the summer months (July and August are usually the hottest months on the coast).

Cappadocia in central Turkey receives some snow in the heart of winter, though it is still possible to visit the popular sites of this region during this time. The Black Sea region can be damp and chilly during the winter months.

Dress

While in some big cities, beach resorts, and in certain neighborhoods of Istanbul the atmosphere may feel lax in regards to dress, Turkey on the whole is a fairly conservative country, and it is strongly recommended to pay attention to local dress (and behavior) etiquette.

When visiting a mosque women should cover their heads, and both men and women should cover their shoulders and wear appropriately long pants or skirts. Shoes must be removed before entering. Many mosques will have a sign posted near the entry to remind visitors of such rules. Visitors should be especially considerate and respectful of those who may be praying or worshipping while visiting.

When walking around or sightseeing in Istanbul and on the Mediterranean and Aegean coasts, Western style dress is usually acceptable, so long as the clothing is not too revealing. Travelers should use good sense in regards to dress. Certain regions of the country are vastly more conservative than others, and it is very important to be aware of cultural differences from region to region (or even neighborhood to neighborhood).

Travel

Turkey is relatively easy to get to. Most visitors arrive by plane. There are many flights with connections from major European airports, and some that connect directly from North America. If traveling from North America it is generally cheaper to fly into Europe then take another flight onward to Istanbul or Ankara rather than to fly directly. Most visitors arrive in Istanbul or Ankara.  There are also airports in Izmir, Bodrum and Antalya.

It is possible to travel by bus, car, or train within the country, or to fly between some locations. It is possible to arrive in Turkey by train from Europe, though the journey would be a long and somewhat fragmented one, with the final leg possibly requiring a bus transfer (entering Turkey by bus).

Health

Short term visitors are usually advised to stick to purified or sufficiently boiled water if possible (especially in rural or remote areas) rather than consume the tap water. While many travelers visit Turkey without contracting any serious health problems, some infectious diseases do exist and may present a risk for unvaccinated travelers, particularly if traveling to remote or rural areas. These include Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Rabies (spread through bite of an infected animal), Typhoid, Tuberculosis, and Diphtheria. Turkey is a very large country and some of these risks may be higher (or in contrast, relatively non-existent) in certain areas, so travelers should assess the risks for the area they are traveling to and consider the type of travel they’ll be doing.

Malaria can be spread by infected mosquitos, though the risk of malaria is mostly in southeastern Turkey, particularly from May to October. Other potential risks include insect bites (ie: mosquitos and sand flies on the Mediterranean coast) and heat stroke. The best medical facilities are in İstanbul and Ankara. Medical treatment can be expensive and doctors may require cash payment up front so be prepared. Travel insurance is recommended.

Travelers should always be aware of their surroundings and keep valuables hidden from potential pickpockets, especially in crowded bazaars and at main tourist sites, as they should in most large cities. Be aware of potential scams, and be wary of accepting invitations or drinks from people you do not know. Turks are generally very friendly and hospitable people, though unfortunately there are also some scam artist and opportunists among the welcoming locals, particularly in large cities such as Istanbul.

Travelers should always check travel advisories and up to date travel information prior to planning a trip.

 

Visas

Citizens of the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and Ireland must obtain a tourist visa in order to enter Turkey (in addition to presenting a valid passport). This tourist visa can in many cases be purchased at a point of entry upon arrival in Turkey. All travelers should check whether a visa is required and if it can be purchased upon entry or if it must be applied for prior to arrival, as regulations vary according to country of origin and can change at any time. Check for up to date visa and passport requirements prior to the time of travel. All visitors must have a valid passport and should carry personal identification on them at all times while traveling in Turkey.

Top 5 Sites

1. Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

2. Sultan Ahmed Mosque, Istanbul

3. Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

4. Mount Nemrut, southeastern Turkey

5. Cappadocia, central Turkey

Top 5 Things to Do

1. Go shopping in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar

2. Splurge on a memorable hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia

3. Enjoy a sumptuous traditional Turkish breakfast in Istanbul or sample the famous “Van breakfast” in Van province, eastern Turkey

4. Relax on the beaches, dive off shore, and soak in some Mediterranean sun on Turkey’s western coast

5. Relax and unwind in a traditional hamam (Turkish bath house)

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