Turkey – Western flavor in the Orient
At the crossroads of Europe and Asia, between the Black and the Mediterranean Seas, lies Turkey, the most Westernized and liberal of the Muslim countries. With almost 80 million inhabitants, it’s one of the biggest states in the Islamic world, helping the Turks see themselves as the leaders of Allah’s subjects.
Prominently located in what is today called “Little Asia”, the largest part of Turkish territory lies in Asia, while a small smudge, including Istanbul, in Europe. A long time ago, the Turks have been the leaders of one of the most powerful states that ever existed, the Ottoman Empire. They conquered most of North Africa, large parts of Europe, as well as Persia. After the collapse of the Empire, at the end of WWI, Turkey denounced its Muslim heritage and started looking westwards. This created the mix of Islamic traditions and Western thinking that is today the Turkish society.
Probably the most important touristic hot spot that everybody knows about is Istanbul. This 10 million people metropolis was the capital of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires for the last 1000 years (now, the capital is Ankara). Major landmarks can be found in Istanbul, such as: the Topkapi Palace – former seat of the Ottoman sultans, who enjoyed a lavish lifestyle while they conquered the rest of the known world, the Hagia Sofia – a former Christian church, transformed into a mosque after Istanbul was conquered by the Turks in the 15th century, the Maiden’s Tower, situated on a small island in the middle of the Bosphorus Strait (it was also featured in the James Bond movie “The World is Not Enough”). The city itself is an interesting experience: going through the Grand Bazaar, avoiding the infernal traffic, taking a boat trip on the river – all these added-up will surely make you enjoy your time in Istanbul.
The vastness of Turkey has more to offer than just its biggest city. The Southern part, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, is exotic and warm in all seasons, making it the ideal place to spend a nice family holiday in a 5-star all-inclusive hotel. Kids playing beach games and you sleeping on the sea bed; sounds good, eh? The best places to do this are Antalya and Alanya (Antalya airport has flights coming in from all over Europe or Asia, so you’ll get there easily).
More to the West, the city of Izmir and its surroundings are just superb. The so-called “White Sea” in Pamukkale, made out of limestone, is a definite must do. You can bathe in the waters that are caught in natural pools made out of limestone, in crystal clear water that suddenly becomes white, because of the material on which it stays.
Probably the best way to travel through Turkey is by car. Rental companies are everywhere in the big cities, mostly around airports, and fees are a bit lower than the ones in Western Europe. Public transport has also improved in recent years, but only in the Western part of the country.
A few definite top tips: guard your wallet and keep your eyes open, because Turkey is scam heaven – from the money exchange, to the hotel clerk and taxi driver, everyone will try to fool you into giving them money or buying crap – keep a clear evidence of the money you have and always keep spare notes in your hotel room, just in case; don’t get involved in any street protests or similar things – police tend to be brutal sometimes and you don’t want your vacation ending at the hospital. Make sure that you get health insurance – hospitals in Turkey are some of the best in Europe, but they come with a “spectacular” price tag. Nothing more to say, except: have fun!