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Turkey - General Information

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Posted 25 March 2004 - 07:45


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 equate to occasional waves of low-level violence.

So far, travellers have not been specifically targetted by the terrorists and suicide bombers. However, there is always the danger that travellers will find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Keeping abreast of current event and a modest profile is the best defence.

Full country name: Repubic of Turkey
Area: 779,452 sq km
Population: 68.1 million
Capital City: Ankara (pop 3.7 million)
People: Turks (85%), Kurds (12%), other Islamic peoples, Armenians, Jews
Language: Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic, Armenian, Greek
Religion: Muslim (Sunni)
Government: republican parliamentary democracy
Head of State: President Ahmet Necdet Sezer
Head of Government: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

GDP: US$471 billion
GDP per capita: US$3,500
Annual Growth: -5%
Inflation: 26%
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

Facts for the Traveler

Visas: Citizens of New Zealand, Japan and most of the countries of Western Europe, need only a valid passport for stays of up to 3 months. Australian, UK and US citizens, as well as those from Austria, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain, do need visas, obtainable in advance at a Turkish consulate, or upon entry to Turkey. Fees vary - Americans pay a ludicrous 100.
Time: GMT/UTC +2
Dialling Code: 90
Electricity: 220V ,50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric

When to Go

Spring (April to June) and autumn (September to November) are best. The climate is perfect on the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts then, as well as in Istanbul. In high summer the coastal resorts are stinking hot: your body may like to do as the locals do and take a siesta during the heat of the day. From late October to early April, the beach scene more or less shuts down. There's little rain between May and October except along the Black Sea coast, but from about mid-June, the mosquitoes come out in plague proportions in some areas. Eastern Turkey should really be visited from late June to September, as snow may close roads and mountain passes in the colder months.


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; 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 9.05 am November 10, the time of Atatürk's death in 1938.

Money & Costs

Currency: Turkish Lira


Budget: US$2-6
Mid-range: US$6-15
High: US$15+


Budget: US$6-20
Mid-range: US$20-80
High: US$80+
Turkey is a low-slung dollar burner. You can travel on as little as US$20 per day using buses and trains, staying in pensions, and eating one restaurant meal daily. For US$25 to US$40 you can travel on plusher buses, take well-cushioned train seats, kick back in 1 and 2-star hotels and eat most meals in restaurants. For US$40 to US$80 per day you can move up to 3 and 4-star hotels, take the occasional airline flight, and dine in restaurants all the time.

With the value of the Turkish lira often in limbo, it's best to change money regularly. Keep an eye on all the zeros on your bills - it's easy to mistake a 5,000,000 lira note for a 500,000 lira note. Banks and exchange offices are generally only open weekdays - you may find it hard to convert your traveller's checks on weekends. ATMs are common in Turkish cities, towns and resorts, many of them connected to worldwide cashpoint networks such as Cirrus or Plus and to credit cards (Visa seems to be most widely accepted). Keep some exchange receipts as you may need them to change liras back at the end of your stay.

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 a third time. After three refusals, you can safely assume they really don't want the money. Bargaining is pretty common in Turkey - you're mad not to bargain for souvenirs. For hotel rooms, bargain if you visit between November and April or if you plan to stay more than a few days.


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 where long-haired goats were raised and their fleece knitted into fluffy jumpers. Since 1920 when Atatürk set up his provisional government here, Ankara's main business has been government but 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. A couple of km to the south is Atatürk's mausoleum, a monumental building, spare but beautiful, that echoes the architecture of several great Anatolian empires. The Presidential Mansion is preserved as Atatürk used it, with decor and furnishings of the 1930s including billiard table and cigar-and-brandy nook. There's a lot of ancient history around too. Roman Ankara was a city of some importance, and Roman ruins are dotted in amongst the mosques and monuments of Muslim Anatolia. Most of the cheaper hotels and restaurants are in old Ankara, a km or so northeast of the train station.

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. The beach here is a simply splendid 20km (12mi) long and there are Roman ruins in amongst the dunes. You'll have to do your sunset-watching elsewhere, however, as the beach closes at dusk to give sea turtles access to their nests. The towns along the Mediterranean coast are all linked by bus and dolmus services (especially frequent in summer).

Bodrum is the South Aegean's prettiest resort, with 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, now joined by 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?'. If this sounds like your kind of town, you can grab a bus to Bodrum from just about anywhere - it's 4 hours to Izmir by road. There are frequent ferries to Kos in summer, and a hydrofoil to Rhodes between May and September.

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.

Selçuk, a town of 25,000 people with more than its fair share of nagging touts, is the main tourist centre for the region. There's a beautiful museum in the centre of town and a fair swag of Roman, Christian and Muslim sights including the St John Basilica and a Byzantine Aqueduct. Izmir is the closest transportation hub. Frequent trains and buses trundle the 1-hour trip to Selçuk which is a mere 3km (2mi) from Ephesus.

Straddling the Bosphorus, its skyline studded with domes and minarets, İstanbul 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 İstanbul is Sultanahmet, the district centred on the Byzantine Hippodrome in the oldest part of the city. Best explored on foot, most sights are within easy walking distance of each other. If the pace does get too much, a çay bahçe (tea garden) is never too far away.

Off the Beaten Track

Gallipoli Peninsula
Today the Gallipoli battlefields are peaceful places covered in scrubby brush, pine forests and farmers' fields, but this strategic peninsula has held the key to Istanbul for a millenium. Momentous battles have been fought here, including the 9 months of ferocious combat between Atatürk's troops and the Allies in WWI. Gallipoli is a fairly large area to tour, especially without your own transport (it's over 35 km (22mi) from the northernmost battlefield to the southern tip of the peninsula). The two best bases for a visit are Çanakkale on the eastern shore, and Eceabat on the western, from which several companies run tours. Talk to other travellers before choosing a tour, as some guides tend to rush their charges around. The great battles of Gallipoli are commemorated each year during March (usually from the 12th to 19th) and it can be a bit tricky getting a hotel during this time. Ferries run from Eceabat, 45km (28mi) south-west of Gelibolu, across the Dardanelles to Çanakkale.

Harran, in Kurdish southeastern Anatolia, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited spots on earth. The hills around the town are surrounded by crumbling walls and topped with ruined buildings and it all looks so deeply ancient that it's not hard to believe Abraham was one of Harran's early inhabitants. There's a fortress on the eastern side of the town, and some good mosaics in the 8th century Ulu Cami (a mosque).

Today's residents, some of whom still live in quaint beehive-shaped mud houses, get by on a mix of farming, smuggling and the sniff of wealth as water starts to filter through from the vast Southeast Anatolia Project (a dam). There's not much in the way of accommodation in Harran; most visitors base themselves in Urfa, 37km (23mi) west, which has good bus connections to the rest of Turkey.

When amateur archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann excavated Troy in 1871, the pants of classical studies boffins around the world became decidedly damp. Up to this time, Homer's Iliad was assumed to be based on legend, but post-digs, Troy becomes the Homeric city of Ilium, site of an epic battle between the Achaeans (Greeks) and the Trojans in the 13th century BC. Excavations by Schliemann and others have revealed nine ancient cities, one on top of another, dating back to 3000 BC. Troy VI (1800-1275 BC) is the city of Priam and the one that engaged in the Trojan War.

For afficionados this is all amazing, but unless you've read the Iliad, or have a keen appreciation of archaeology, you may find little of interest in Troy. Apart from a hokey replica of the Trojan horse, there's little to catch the amateur eye. That said, this is the site of one of the world's grandest tales, so soaking up the atmosphere should be just about enough. Troy is a 30km (19mi) dolmus ride from Çanakkale, which is linked by buses to most Turkish cities.

Valley of the Fairy Chimneys - Cappadocia
Many Cappadocian valleys boast collections of strange volcanic cones, but the ones near Aktepe in northern Cappadocia are the best-formed and most thickly clustered. Most of the rosy rock cones are topped by flattish, darker stones of harder rock which sheltered the cones from the rain which eroded all the surrounding rock. This process is known to geologists as differential erosion but you can just call it kooky.

Uçhisar, to the southwest, is dominated by the Kale, a tall rock outcrop riddled with tunnels and windows, and visible for miles around. There's a pleasant walk to Göreme along the signposted Dovecote Valley, where the rockface is riddled with holes cut to attract nesting pigeons and their valuable fertiliser-providing droppings. Nevşehir, southwest of Göreme, is the main transport hub for this region: buses from all over the country stop here.

Water sports are big in Turkey because of the beautiful coasts and beaches. Yachting, water-skiing, snorkelling and diving are well represented. Because of the many antiquities in the depths off the Turkish coasts, scuba diving is regulated - check before you immerse yourself in treasure. Turkey has plenty of mountains there for the climbing - the mountain climbing scene is small but enthusiastic. There is decent skiing at Bursa, on Mt Erciyes near Kayseri, and at Palandöken near Erzurum. Equipment can be rented at the slopes, but don't expect Alps-league facilities. Cycling through Turkey is eminently possible and mostly delightful, but you may wish to bring your own bike (and spares) as renting and selling good bikes is not yet widespread.

Turkey's first known human inhabitants appeared in the Mediterranean region as early as 7500 BC, and the cycles of empire building, flexing, flailing and crumbling didn't take long to kick in. The first great civilisation was that of the Hittites, who worshipped a sun goddess and a storm god. The Hittites dominated Anatolia from the Middle Bronze Age (1900-1600 BC), clashing with Egypt under the great Ramses II and capturing Syria, but by the time Achaean Greeks attacked Troy in 1250 BC, the Hittite machine was creaking. A massive invasion of 'sea peoples' from Greek islands put untenable pressure on the Hittites and a jumble of smaller kingdoms played at border bending until Cyrus, emperor of Persia (550-530 BC) swept into Anatolia from the east. The Persians were booted out by Alexander the Great, who conquered the entire Middle East from Greece to India around 330 BC. After Alexander's death his generals squabbled over the spoils and civil war was the norm until the Galatians (Celts) established a capital at Ankara in 279 BC, bedding down comfortably with the Seleucid, Pontic, Pergamum and Armenian kingdoms.

Roman rule brought relative peace and prosperity for almost three centuries, providing perfect conditions for the spread of Christianity. The Roman Empire weakened from around 250 AD until Constantine reunited it in 324. He oversaw the building of a new capital, the great city which came to be called Constantinople. Justinian (527-65) brought the eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire to its greatest strength, reconquering Italy, the Balkans, Anatolia and North Africa, but five years after his death, Muhammed was born in Mecca and the scene was set for one of history's most astounding tales. Sixty years after Mohammed heard the voice of God, and 50 years after his ignominious flight from Mecca, the armies of Islam were threatening the walls of Constantinople (669-78), having conquered everything and everybody from there to Mecca, plus Persia and Egypt. The Islamic dynasties which emerged after Mohammed challenged the power and status of Byzantium from this time, but the Great Seljuk Turkish Empire of the 11th century was the first to rule what is now Turkey, Iran and Iraq. The Seljuks were shaken by the Crusades and overrun by Mongol hordes, but they hung onto power until the vigorous, ambitious Ottomans came along.

The Ottoman Empire began as the banding together of late 13th century Turkish warriors fleeing the Mongols. By 1453 the Ottomans under Mehmet the Conqueror were strong enough to take Constantinople. Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent (1520-66) oversaw the apogee of the empire: beautifying Constantinople, rebuilding Jerusalem and expanding the Ottomap to the gates of Vienna. But few of the sultans succeeding Süleyman were capable of great rule and the Ottoman Empire's long, celebrated decline had begun by 1585. By the 19th century, decline and misrule made ethnic nationalism very appealing. The subject peoples of the Ottoman Empire revolted, often with the direct encouragement and assistance of European powers. After bitter fighting in 1832, the Kingdom of Greece was formed; the Serbs, Bulgarians, Rumanians, Albanians, Armenians and Arabs would all seek independence soon after.

The European powers hovered vulture-like over the disintegrating empire, while within Turkey various disastrous attempts to revivify the country were undone by the unfortunate decision to side with Germany in WWI. In 1918, the victorious Allies set to carving up Turkey. It didn't look good.

At this point Ottoman general Mustafa Kemal began to organise resistance, sure that a new government must seize the fate of Turkey for the Turkish people. When Greece invaded Smyrna and began pushing east, the Turks were shocked then galvanised into action. The War of Independence lasted 1920-22, ending in a bitterly won Turkish victory and the abolition of the sultanate. Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk or Father Turk) undertook the job of completely remaking Turkish society. By the time he died in 1938, a constitution had been adopted, polygamy abolished and the fez, mark of Ottoman backwardness, was prohibited. Islam was removed as the state religion, Constantinople became Istanbul and women obtained the right to vote. Atatürk remains a true hero in Turkey: his statue is everywhere and there are laws against defaming or insulting him.

Atatürk's successor, Ismet Inönü managed a precarious neutrality in WWII, then oversaw Turkey through the transition to a true democracy. The opposition Democratic Party won the election in 1950. In 1960, and again in 1970, an overreaching Democratic Party was brought back into line by watchful army officers, who deemed the government's autocratic ways a violation of the constitution. In 1980 political infighting and civil unrest brought the country to a halt. Fringe groups caused havoc, supported on the one hand by the Soviet bloc and on the other by fanatical Muslim groups. In the centre, the two major political parties were deadlocked so badly that for months they couldn't elect a parliamentary president. The military stepped in again, to general relief, but at the price of strict control and some human rights abuses.

The head of the military government, General Kenan Evren, resigned his military commission and became Turkey's new president. Free elections in 1983 saw Turgut Özal's centre-right party take power and oversee a business boom which lasted through the 80s. Özal's untimely death in 1993 removed a powerful force from Turkish politics and set the scene for uncertainty: the rest of the decade has seen unstable coalitions formed between unlikely bedfellows and resurgent support for the religious right. In early 1998, Turkey's Constitutional Court banned the Islamic-oriented Welfare Party, and along with it, previous PM Necmettin Erbakan. The Welfare Party was found to be working to undermine Turkey's secular democratic basis, but, ironically, the ban opens up the question of just how democratic Turkey is.

Turkey's EU aspirations are further jeopardised by an unhappy human rights record, a shaky economy and the ongoing stoush with the Kurds. Turkey's sparsely populated eastern and south-eastern regions are home to 6 million Kurds; 4 million Kurds live elsewhere throughout the country, more or less integrated into Turkish society.

Ankara has come around a little on how to deal with its Kurdish population, to the point that it nervously relaxed restrictions on Kurdish culture, but in early 1999, following the arrest of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, the nation went on red alert. The situation has improved markedly. Ocalan's group, Kurdistan Workers Party (the PKK), declared a ceasefire and there has been some liberalisation of official attitudes to the Kurds. In this new atmosphere of relative peace, Turkey continues to inch toward joining the European Union. In December 2002 an EU summit set the end of 2004 for the start of possible membership negotiations, provided reforms continue.

Ottoman literature and court music were mostly religious, and both sound pompous and lugubrious to Western ears. Visual arts were curtailed by the Muslim dictum that forbids representation of any being 'with an immortal soul', so Islamic artists tended to the non-representative arts. Turkish museums are full of delicate coloured tiles, graceful glass vases, carved wooden mosque doors, glittering illuminated Korans, intricate jewellery and sumptuous costumes. Atatürk changed Turkey's cultural picture overnight, encouraging representative painting, sculpture, literature, western music (he loved opera), dance and drama. The introduction of a new Latin-based Turkish alphabet brought literacy within reach of many more citizens and Ottoman courtly prose gave way to use of the vernacular. Several Turkish writers, including Nazim Hikmet, Yashar Kemal and Orhan Pamuk have met with critical and popular acclaim in Turkey and further afield. Recently, Ottoman arts such as paper marbling and shadow-puppet plays have been enjoying a resurgence. Carpet-weaving is still a Turkish passion.

Folk music was (and still is) sprightly. Türkü music, of which you'll hear lots on the radio, is traditional folk music with a modern urban slant. The 1000-year-old tradition of Turkish troubadours has been wiped out by TV and cassettes, but the songs of the great troubadours are still popular and often performed and recorded. The Turkish film industry began early, was fiesty through the 1920s, expanded rapidly after WWII and delved into social and political issues through the 1960s and 70s. Turkish cinema is characterised by honesty, naturalism and dry humour. Directors to look out for include the fiery Yilmaz Güney, Tunç, Basaran, Zülfü and Ömer Kavur.

Although Turkish is an elegantly simple language, the rules of word order and verb formation are very different from Indo-European languages, making it somewhat difficult to learn. Verbs can be so complex that they constitute whole sentences in themselves - try this one on for size: Afyonkarahisarlilastiramadiklarimizdanmisiniz? ('Aren't you one of those people whom we tried - unsuccessfully - to make resemble the citizens of Afyonkarahisar?') It's a lot easier to ask where the toilets are!

Turkey is 99% Muslim, predominantly Sunni with some Shiites and Alevis in the east and southeast. Many Turkish customs and practices are derived from Islamic practices. Etiquette demands that you wear modest clothing and remove shoes when visiting mosques. In areas not frequented by tourists (or anywhere you feel that conservative Islamic vibe) women should have head, arms and shoulders covered, and wear modest dresses or skirts, preferably reaching to the knees. Avoid visiting mosques at prayer time or on Friday, the Muslim holy day. Other Turkish customs are generally to do with little politenesses - even Turks complain how one can't even get out the door without 5 minutes of formulaic civilities - but attempts to join in with these vestiges of courtly customs will delight your Turkish hosts.

Many women complain about verbal and physical harrassment in Turkey. Although it's not necessary to be paranoid and let stupid hassles ruin your trip, it's as well to take a few precautions. At the very least, keep your torso, legs and upper arms covered, especially as you travel farther east. You might also consider wearing a wedding ring. When walking, look purposeful, ignore catcalls and steer clear of lonely streets after dark. When eating out alone, ask for the aile salonu (family dining room). Going out drinking by yourself is basically stupid.

Bring your belly to Turkey - it will thank you. Shish kebab (skewer-grilled lamb) is a Turkish invention and you'll find kebapçis everywhere. Lamb and fish (which can be expensive) dishes are the restaurant staples. If you're scrimping, the best cheap and tasty meal is Turkish pizza. Eggplant is the number one vegetable: look out for imam bayildi ('the priest fainted'), a delicious stuffed eggplant dish. Desserts are sweet (often honey-soaked) and tend to incorporate fruit, nuts and pastry in tempting combinations. Vegetarians aren't much catered for, but you'll never starve - making an entire meal from magnificent meze (hors d'oeuvres) is easy. The national drink is çay (tea). Beer is served almost everywhere and Turkish wines are cheap and surprisingly good. Raki, an aniseed-flavoured grape brandy, is the knockout tipple of choice.

Turkey's no footbridge between Europe and Asia. It's a 1700km (1050mi) drive from Edirne on the Bulgarian border to Kars on the Armenian border and a 1000km (620mi) hike from the Black Sea in the north to the Mediterranean in the south. Ticking clockwise from the northwest, Turkey shares borders with Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq and Syria. The country is no desert-and-palm-tree album either: mountains, rolling steppe, meandering rivers, rich agricultural valleys and a craggy, beachy 8400km (5200mi) coastline all muck in to keep Turkey interesting.

There are still considerable forests in northeastern Anatolia, the Black Sea area and along the Mediterranean coast, west of Antalya. Great swaths of wild flowers cover the steppes in spring making fine splashes of colour. Turkey has similar animal life to that in the Balkans and much of Europe: bears, deer, jackals, lynx, wild boars, wolves and rare leopards. The beautiful Van cat is a native: it has pure white fur and different-coloured eyes - one blue, one green. You're more likely to see cattle, horses, donkey, goats and sheep though. Turkish shepherds are proud of their powerful, fierce, Kangal sheep dogs which guard the flocks from wolves. Bird life is exceptionally rich, with a squawking mess of eagles, vultures and storks staking out airspace, as well as rare species such as the bald ibis.

The Aegean and Mediterranean coasts have mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summers. In Istanbul, summer temperatures average around 28-30°C (82-86°F); the winters are chilly but usually above freezing, with rain and perhaps a dusting of snow. The Anatolian plateau is cooler in summer and quite cold in winter. The Black Sea coast is mild and rainy in summer, and chilly and rainy in winter. Mountainous eastern Turkey is very cold and snowy in winter and only pleasantly warm in high summer. The southeast is dry and mild in winter and very hot in summer, with temperatures above 45° C (113° F) not unusual.

Getting There & Away
There are plenty of ways to get into and out of Turkey by air, sea, rail and bus, across the borders of six countries. There are international airports at Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and some of the Mediterranean resorts. Turkish Airlines has direct flights from Istanbul to two dozen European cities and New York, as well as the Middle East, North Africa, Bangkok, Karachi, Singapore and Tokyo. Departure tax is about US$12.

By train, the daily Istanbul Express links Munich, Slovenia, Croatia, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria to Istanbul. Major European cities such as Frankfurt and Vienna are also well serviced by Turkish bus lines. There are daily train and bus connections between Athens and Istanbul via Thessaloniki. The bus is much faster than the train. You can also travel by bus to Syria, Georgia and Iran. Turkish Maritime Lines runs car ferries from Antalya, Marmaris and Izmir to Venice weekly from May to mid-October. Private ferries run between Turkey's Aegean coast and the Greek islands.

Getting Around
Turkish airlines link all major cities, including the busy Istanbul-Ankara corridor. Buses go everywhere in Turkey frequently, cheaply and usually comfortably. Trains have a hard time competing with long-distance buses for speed and comfort, but the sleeping-car trains linking Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara are good value. If you're driving around Turkey, you'll find mechanical service easy to find and relatively cheap but dealing with psycho drivers may be more of a problem. Driving in cities should be altogether avoided - traffic is terrible and parking impossible. Private dolmuses (shared taxis) are a good option for short trips. Car ferries can save you days of driving and offer the opportunity to take a mini-cruise along the Turkish coasts. Ferries operate from Istanbul to Izmir, from Istanbul to Trabzon (June to September only) and there's a hydrofoil from Istanbul to Yalova, for Bursa.

Further Reading
Istanbul - a traveller's companion by Laurence Kelly is a delightful collection of choice bits written about Byzantium, Constantinople and Istanbul over two millennia.
Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad is a classic account of tourism in Turkey. Many of Twain's observations of Istanbul are still current.
A Fez of the Heart by Jeremy Seal is a witty inquiry into resurgent Islam and what it means to be a 'modern' Turk.
Lord Kinross' The Ottoman Centuries is the most readable of the legion histories of the empire; his Atatürk, the Rebirth of a Nation is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the formation of the republic.
If you want to know your old rocks, grab Ancient Civilisations and Ruins of Turkey by Ekrem Akurgal.
Turkish fiction available in translation includes the novels of Yasar Kemal (colourful characters and the drama of farming and working-class life) and Orhan Pamuk (a young Turkish novelist with a worldwide following).

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