Why Turkey may be the best of two worlds
Home of the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, Turkey is the absolute definition of the intersection of two cultures and continents. Literally straddling the Bosporus, which connects Turkey to the West while Turkey maintains the bulk of its landmass in Anatolia (Asia Minor). The Byzantine and Ottoman empires covered roughly the same areas (with the exception of Italy) and together dominated the Mediterranean region from the 5th century (ish – there was a transitional period of power from the Roman Empire that lasted a few centuries) until the end of World War I. Hard to find a place with a more interesting history. Bonus points for: Setting foot on the European and Asian continent in the same day! How many of your friends can say that?
What to see:
- Istanbul: A large number of the historical sites that Turkey has to offer are located in Istanbul. You could be perfectly set to spend an entire vacation without leaving the former imperial capital.
- Blue Mosque: Officially the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, this is a major mosque and one of the few that non-muslims are free to visit the inside of.
- Grand Bazaar: Normally I avoid any city whose main attraction is its medina; however, I love rugs especially Persian or Turkish. Plus, this is one of the largest and oldest covered market in the world.
- Mosques, and churches, and museums, oh my! This place is a history and architecture buff’s dream.
- Traces of the past: Plenty of history dots the landscape of Turkey to include thirteen total UNESCO sites: Two of my faves:
- Turkish Riviera: Were you to stay in Istanbul you would miss out on some seriously scenic areas.
- Bosporus: Literally dividing Europe from Asia, emperors for millennia have pined for a bridge to cross the Bosporus. You, my friend, can take a taxi across for 1k lira.
Why you’re good to go:
- Turkey has a huge tourism industry: Ranked 6th in the world for number of visitors in 2012 according to the World Tourism Organization. So what does that mean? It means they continue to improve the infrastructure to accommodate this huge source of income. It also means the people know you’re coming, so you don’t have to endure blank stares or rude fruit vendors.
Why things could get shaky:
- The conflict in Syria makes for a busy southern border. Turkey is a hot destination for foreign fighters trying to cross into Syria.
- Turkey is politically placed precariously (say that three times fast) between regional powers as a result of the conflict in Yemen. Turkey’s support for the former, Muslim Brotherhood led Egyptian government also has caused rifts with neighbors.
- Corruption in the government has led to a displeased populous. A handful of attacks have taken place already this year on official buildings.
- Freedom of speech: The government has turned off Twitter, Facebook and YouTube on occasion to prevent terrorist propaganda from spreading and/or to prevent anti-government sentiments (depending on who you ask). Regardless, this will cause more demonstrations.
More security details from the US and Brit international services:
- Security sitch per FCO
- Country profile per US State Dept (Lots of goodies in the safety and security section)
Things to know:
- Emergency numbers:
- Turkish Police: 155
- Ambulance: 112
- Visa requirements: All American tourists require a valid Turkish visa to enter and exit. This visa is no longer available at the airport. Go to the eVisa website – process takes all of five minutes, costs $20 and the visa is valid for 90 days.
- Driving: If you drive in Turkey, you must have either an international driver’s permit, see my article on driving overseas or a notarized copy (in Turkish) of your driving license. Provisional driving licenses are not recognized.
- Details for planned demonstrations can be found on the embassy website or from the consulate in Istanbul if you’ll be there . Also see my article on demonstrations.
- Dig around on the US embassy in Turkey website for more info.
As always – when traveling:
- Let State know you’ll be in country, enroll in STEP to make it easier for them to contact you should there be an emergency.
- Take U.S. Embassy contact info
- Emergency: (+90) 312-455-5555 ask for American Citizen Services
- After hours emergency: (+90) 312-455-5555. After hours services should be limited to life threatening or serious emergencies.
- The state department maintains an embassy, two consulates and a consular agency. Check the contact list for the location that applies to you, and take their info with you.
- Follow alerts via the State Dept Twitter feed or click here toFollow @TravelGov
- Let your friends and family in on your travel plans. TripIt offers a great app.
- Travel insurance: In case of emergency, trip cancellation or lost luggage. The concierge service alone is worth it. I’ve had great success with TravelGuard.