After a short stay of two-week, few conclusions can be drawn from a country so vast and with so much history and cultural diversity. However impressions, feelings and ideas, were experienced, the realities observed as also information exchanged with the population.
Language and Writing
Although Turkish is a completely different language where there are few common words, appear here and there same familiar French sounds like “pardon” to ask say “excuse me”.
The greeting is given by “merhaba” and thank you by “texekkur”
Having the Turkish links with the Arabic language, the writing system was for centuries in Arabic characters, but thanks to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, in the year 1928, the Turkish language was converted to the western alphabet, which makes it much easier in terms of orientation and location learning and even more basic words, such as food.
In Istanbul and in areas with more tourists, like Goreme, you will find someone who speaks English, sometimes fluently, others just the enough for basic communication about directions, information about buses and schedules, destinations, prices, etc… But outside these areas the situation seems to be more difficult, although the local people, who despite this limitation is sparing no efforts to help us, using the sign language as calling someone younger that can speak a bit of English.
The contact with the younger population, from urban areas and with a higher level of education show another reality, were is easy to have a more deep conversation about society, religion, etc…
Turkey has an efficient and modern transport system, with a network that covers the whole country, and with many passenger transportation companies. The bus terminals are generally large, modern, clean and organized, with toilets, seating areas and restaurant/shops zones. In smaller cities this terminal become more modest, but still with the comfortable conditions to wait a few hours between bus connections.
Kamil Koç and the Metro are two of the best and more reliable companies used during this trip in Turkey, the wide range of connections between major cities, an effective service of information and ticket sales, as also in the quality of buses, with both offering different kinds of service, from the normal 4 seats raw until the more spacious VIP buses, were tea and water are served.
The good quality of the roads and buses, even the most modest companies makes buses a good option for long trips.
There are many night services.
Reserve ticket by web pages is not possible because you must enter the “TC” the number of Turkish identity, and passport number or any other identification document works.
Istanbul offers an effective and reliable transportation network that relies on buses, boats and Metro.
There was no opportunity to try this mode of transport during this short trip.
The connection Ankara-Tehran, the famous Trans-Asia Express, was canceled due to problems in Eastern Turkey, with conflicts with the Kurdish population. There’s no information about possible reopening (Sep 2015). Although for more updated information http://www.seat61.com/Iran.htm#train
Tickets must be booked in advance especially if travel at weekends and upcoming religious holiday, like Kurban Bayrami, where many people are heading to visit family; this also applies to bus and plane tickets.
In train travel, as well as on long-distance buses, it is not customary for men stay sitting next to women unless they are couples, relatives or friends; this system can become a issue at the time of buying tickets during of peak demand, where sometimes there are eats available, but not always next to a person of the same sex as you.
Despite all the efforts of Ataturk to bring Turkey closer to western standards, reducing the power of Islamic religion and transform the country in a secular society, Turkey has become in recent years more conservative, with a greater presence of the Muslim religion in daily life of the population.
Officially more than 95% of the population is Muslim, mostly Sunni, but there still Alevis, Sufis and Shias.
Since social and political reforms introduced by Ataturk from 1926, the society was modernized as well the dress code, which has become more Western, leading to gradual abandon of Islamic tradition that forces women to cover their hair, starting to be a choice of each one.
But recently, with the increasing power of Islamic groups and religious fervor, the use of the headscarf, which was previously only a tradition, become more often. Is quiet frequent to see women and teenagers using the hijab, a scarf that covers the entire hair, ears and neck. The use of chador, black mantle surrounding body, is more common in conservative areas, for example in Erzurum, but is not unusual to find it in Istanbul, at Fatih and near bazaar.
There are ATMs everywhere, accepting most Visa and Master Card, but a commission is charge for each movement. You can also make payments by credit card and even some bus companies accept payment by credit card for long journey trips.
To save the exaggerated costs of bank fees charged outside the Euro zone, the option was to bring money and exchange locally by Turkish Liras.
In Istanbul, and in the most tourist areas is easy to find exchange shop, that usually don’t charge commission. Still is recommender to check the rates in a few shops because the difference could be noticeable.
Another option are the ATMs machines/banks that are prepared to exchange money, introducing dollar, euros or pounds bills, and return Turks Liras, no commission and a very reasonably good exchange rate.
By my experience, the best option was to go directly to the bank… may take a while, depending on the number of people. It is necessary to ask first about the rates and the commission… in some places like Goreme, with just one bank the deals wasn’t good, not even in the exchange shops. The best option found was the Ziraat Bankasi, easily identifiable by the red logo, where I found the best exchange rate without commissions.
Generosity and hospitality
There is no doubt that these two words make a stay in Turkey.
Usually, everywhere people show friendly and curious, always available to help, whether giving directions, helping them find sites, providing information, offering food to try, a tea…
This sympathy was even more evident with the couchsurfing experience in Istanbul, Erzurum and Doğubayazıt, where hospitality word was brought “to the letter”, having shared the house with people who did not know, who helped me, providing information and guidance, showing the city, searching for transport, and specially by making and sharing meals and life experiences.
With the long history of empires and civilizations that passed through here, Turkey is currently home to diverse ethnic and religious minorities such as Armenians, Jews, Greeks, Kurds and many other groups belonging to neighboring countries or countries that belonged to the Ottoman Empire. However these groups, the largest in terms of population are the Kurds, who account for about 15%, and still not recognized as ethnic group.
Holders of their own culture and language, but being Sunni Muslims, as well as the Turks were never officially recognized. The areas where they predominately live, mainly in the east and the southeast of Turkey, were not supported and developed in parallel with other parts of the country, which led to a greater sense of exclusion that continues today causing conflicts, and perhaps a desire for a Kurdistan “the land of the Kurds.”
Recently (September 2015) there were some conflicts in the east of Turkey, which led to the temporary closure of the rail link Trans-Asia Express that crosses the province of Van, near the border of Iran.
The “Father of the Turks” is all over the place. It cannot be said to be a revered figure, but no doubt it is a respected figure whose image is present in many public places such as shops, restaurants, cafes, hotels, railway station, official departments… and in the Turks Lira bills.
Mustafa Kemal, nickname Atatürk, having ruled the country for eighteen years, represents a turning point in the history of Turkey, creating rules and reforms that radically changed the political, justice, economy and society, transformed Turkey into a secular country, more close to European standards. He developed the industry, gave priority to education, gave women equal political and social rights, banned polygamy, and abolished the political system based on Caliphates, where political power was reserved to Islamic religious.
His name is in avenues and squares and the International Airport of Istanbul, and is undoubtedly the main responsible for the modern and developed society that is now Turkey.
The brief spell in Turkey was the impression of a modern country, proud of its past, which persists the weight of religion and traditions.