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SOME TIPS ON TURKEY
by Ted Cookson
Published in July 2004
For many years Turkey was a perennial favorite among
travelers from Egypt. Turkey is close to Egypt and it boasts a number of
fascinating sights from various cultures and eras. In addition, inexpensive
airfare and accommodation are available, domestic transportation is plentiful
and convenient, and there are terrific shopping opportunities!
While Turkey still has a lot going for it, some travelers have shied away from Turkey in recent years. The ongoing dispute with the Kurds, who have long sought greater autonomy, caused only occasional hiccups in foreign tourist arrivals during the 1990's. However, the devastating earthquake of August 1999 gave Turkish tourism a hard punch. And this was later followed by a couple of terrorism incidents which have dealt tourism in Turkey a severe body blow.
But, if you are a contrarian traveler, you might well consider this to be a good time to go!
While those without much time to spare may prefer to concentrate only on Istanbul with its Ottoman-era tourist sites, Turkey has three other well-traveled destinations with special appeal for active tourists. Cappadocia, within driving distance of Ankara in central Turkey, contains elaborate and extensive caves and rock-carved churches. The area immediately north and south of Izmir on Turkey's Aegean coast is well-known for its Roman-era antiquities, including the world-class ruins at Ephesus. Finally, for those summer holiday makers seeking some sun, Antalya on Turkey's Mediterranean coast is famed for its beautiful beaches.
Istanbul, with a population of about 10,000,000 and boasting five palaces and some 20 museums, is overflowing with tourist sites, most of which reflect its former power and wealth as the seat of the Ottoman Empire. The large and ornate buildings give visitors a sense of the greatness of the past. Topkapi Palace, built by Mehmet the Conqueror between 1459 and 1465, served as the sultan's court until 1853. In its heyday the palace housed over 5,000 people.
The Archeological Museum, one of Istanbul's most important museums, contains some outstanding works among the 60,000 exhibits in its Greco-Roman and Near Eastern collections. The best known exhibit is probably the magnificent so-called Alexander sarcophagus from Lebanon which is decorated with images of Alexander the Great. But the treaty of Kadesh, the world's first peace treaty signed between the ancient Egyptians and the Hittites, is also in the museum. Such documents were recorded in that era on clay tablets.
Istanbul is known for the Ayasofia, or Haghia Sophia, one of the world's greatest architectural creations. Built by Justinian in about 535 A. D., the church was converted into a mosque after the Ottomans conquered Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453. Now a museum, visitors are awed by the size of the building's interior. Opposite the Ayasofia is Istanbul's most famous place of worship, the Blue Mosque, constructed in the early seventeenth century and characterized by its six minarets and by its interior walls which are covered with beautiful blue tiles manufactured in Iznik. Rumeli Fortress, a half day's boat ride up the Bosphorus from Istanbul, is another popular tourist destination.
It has been suggested that Istanbul's Covered Bazaar, stuffed with over 4,000 stalls and shops, was the world's first mall. While shopping in the bazaar can be a cultural experience, with the mandatory bargaining and tea drinking, nowadays Istanbul also sports huge modern malls which feature fixed prices. Turkey offers terrific bargains on such items as clothing, shoes and leather products of all types; and the country's biggest selection is to be found in Istanbul.
Ankara is the departure point for the region of Cappadocia, a 300 km drive from Ankara's Esenboga Airport. The route is a pleasant one, with snow-capped mountains in the distance and a caravan-serai to visit en route. Cappadocia, lying at an altitude of 1,000 meters, was first explored by a Western visitor only in 1705. The area retains a magical aura due to its mushroom-shaped geological formations created by the erosion of tuff, a soft stone. Some of the dwellings and other monuments date back as far as the third century A. D. Entire underground cities were built when monastic groups fled religious persecution and also later when Byzantines sought refuge from Arab attackers. Today one can still see religious paintings of historical interest which were left by these early troglodytes.
As strange as it may seem today, the western coast of modern-day Turkey was one of the most populated parts of the ancient world. Primarily south of Izmir the Greeks established Ionian cities whose prosperity exceeded that of mainland Greece. Later these same cities were among the richest in the Roman Empire. Today Ephesus is by far the most visited of Turkey's ancient Greek cities. In fact, Ephesus' Temple of Artemis (also known to the Romans as Diana), three times as large as the Parthenon in Athens, was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Founded in the tenth century, Ephesus was laid out on a grand scale, and there is still plenty of interest to see today.
Perhaps because of the overwhelming reputation of Ephesus, many tourists give other nearby antiquities short shrift. Ancient Pergamum (modern Bergama) is only a two-hour drive north of Ephesus. Pergamum, which once had a population of 150,000 and was the most magnificent city in Asia Minor, is well worth a day trip. And a second wonderful day trip can be taken south from Kusadasi, the port and beach resort with plenty of hotels only a 20-minute drive from Ephesus. Driving south, one visits three very interesting classical sites. Priene was the first city in the world to be designed in a grid layout. Although now landlocked, the city of Miletus was a great maritime power until the fifth century when the nearby Meander River began to silt up, eliminating Miletus' access to the Aegean Sea. The dimensions of the ruined Temple of Apollo in the city of Didyma are overwhelming. Tourists are guaranteed to be impressed even though just three standing columns and a field of massive marble pieces remain today. The temple, which contained an oracle, was destroyed by the Persians in 494 B. C.
Antalya, the primary tourist city on Turkey's Mediterranean coast, was founded in the second century B. C. and today has a population of nearly 600,000. While primarily known for its beautiful beaches, there are also some antiquities to be seen in the vicinity.
FLIGHTS: Turkish Airlines offers daily service to/from Istanbul, and Egypt Air also flies five times weekly. Flight time is scheduled for just over two hours, and the high season round trip airfare is approximately EGP 1,940 on Turkish Airlines. This fare requires either a minimum stay of three nights or a stay over a Saturday night. The high season round trip airfare is approximately EGP 1,800 on Egypt Air. This fare requires a minimum stay of three nights.
Turkish Airlines departs Cairo daily at 3:45 a.m. and departs Istanbul daily at 11:10 p.m. Egypt Air, on the other hand, departs Cairo at about 3:00 p.m. and departs Istanbul at about 6:20 p.m. on four of the five days it flies.
Connecting flights are available in Istanbul for onward destinations, including Ankara (for Cappadocia), Izmir (for Ephesus and other Greek- and Roman-era ruins) and Antalya (for the beach). Although the flight times of Turkish Airlines are less convenient, that airline offers round trip airfare to any city in Turkey via Istanbul for only about EGP 400 in extra airfare and taxes.
ACCOMMODATION: In the summer season a double room with breakfast at a 3-star hotel in Istanbul begins from about USD 35, and a double room with breakfast at a 4-star hotel in Istanbul begins from about USD 55. A double room with breakfast at a 5-star hotel in Istanbul runs upward from about USD 70 during the summer season.
VISAS: Tourist visas currently run EGP 170 for British citizens, USD 20 for U. S. citizens and USD 48 for Canadians. A support letter from an applicant's employer is requested by the Turkish consulate if visas are obtained in Cairo. Many nationalities can also purchase visas upon arrival at Istanbul International Airport.
TURKEY'S CLIMATE IN GENERAL: The very best time to visit Turkey is April through June when it is warm and dry and there are still green landscapes after the winter rains. The second best time to visit is September through October when it is warm and dry and there are brown landscapes after the dry summer. The third best time to visit is July and August when it is hot, dry and dusty. This is also the peak season for tourism from Europe, so tourist hotels and flights are most crowded then. During the remainder of the year Turkey is cold and wet.
ISTANBUL CLIMATE: The best time to visit Istanbul is April through mid-September when it is dry and hot. July and August are the hottest months, with afternoon temperatures of 28 C./82 F. In that region the best beach weather is June through September. During the period from November through February Istanbul is wet and cool.
IZMIR AND ANTALYA CLIMATE: For the Aegean (Izmir) and Mediterranean (Antalya) coasts the best time to visit is April through October when it is hot and dry. The water temperature remains above 16 C./60 F., even during the winter. But it is beach weather only from April through October. While during the period from November through March it is mild and wet, the south coast is protected by mountains from the cold winds which blow from the north. Thus temperatures are mild there, averaging 14 C.-17 C./57 F.-63 F. in the afternoons. The western, or Aegean, coast averages 2 C./4 F. cooler than the southern, or Mediterranean, coast.
CAPPADOCIA AND ANKARA CLIMATE: The Anatolian Plateau features very warm and dry summers from June through August. On the other hand, April, May and September are pleasantly warm. However, there can be occasional thunderstorms during this period; and evenings can be chilly. The winter season from November to March is cold and wet, with some snow. The eastern half of the Anatolian Plateau is colder and receives more snow than the western half. The snow can lie on the ground for up to four months.
ABOUT TED COOKSON: Egypt's most widely-traveled travel agent, Ted has been to every country in the world! He has also visited 307 of the 315 destinations on the list of the Travelers' Century Club (visit www.eptours.com and refer to World Travel Club). A travel agent in Cairo since 1986, Ted manages EGYPT PANORAMA TOURS, a full-service travel agency, at 4 Road 79 (between Roads 9 and 10, near the "El Maadi" metro station) in Maadi. Contact Egypt Panorama Tours (open 7 days a week 9 AM-5 PM) at: Tels. 2359-0200, 2358-5880, 2359-1301. Fax 2359-1199. E-mail: email@example.com. Web site: www.eptours.com.
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