Risks and Rewards of Travelling to Turkey
According to some sources, Turkey has more ancient historical sites than Italy and Greece put together! With its central location in the ancient world, Turkey has been invaded and settled for centuries, and today reflects influences from the Middle East, Mediterranean, Balkans and Central Asia.
Turkey’s history prior to the 12th century spans the Hittite, Urartian, Phrygian, Greek, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and Armeno-Georgian periods, and many hilltop fortresses and ancient crumbling ruins from these periods can still be seen today. In particular a trip to view the cities of Troy and Antioch, and the even more ancient Gobekli Tepi dig, is a must.
According to many travellers, the Turkish people are among the warmest and friendliest on earth. Expect honesty and friendliness wherever you go; you could find yourself making friends simply by shopping! The population is also quite young – more than half the population is under 30 and there are children and young people everywhere.
Turkey has everything from covered markets to 5-star emporia and there are many beautiful things to buy. Shop for alabaster in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul or Avanos, Cappadocia. Faience is the lovely blue tiled stoneware seen in vases, vessels and cups from ancient times. Original pieces are now quite rare and often sold as antiquities, which makes it quite expensive. However, there are artisans who make new goods in the ancient style, strictly adhering to the old traditions, so it is still possible to buy a beautiful authentic piece. Meerschaum, silk clothing, leather goods, Turkish carpets and colourful kelims are all beautiful and, if you’re prepared to bargain and shop around, reasonably priced.
Turkey’s beaches are some of the most viewed and photographed today. Beaches on the Mediterranean have little or no surf, which makes for calm swimming in the blue clear water. As well as white sand, expect rocky secluded coves, dramatic mountainous landscapes and pebble beaches. Avoid the tourist crowds at Amos, once a sizeable Roman settlement, and head instead to the exotic mountain and beach views of Cirali, near Olympos beach, or Ituzu beach in Dalyan – never busy and always beautiful.
Like most tourist spots, pickpockets abound and especially target tourists. Gangs are well organised and have the means to quickly access and use credit cards. Be on the alert, especially in crowded places such as markets or train stations. Keep your wallet in a zipped inner pocket that cannot be opened by someone else. Ensure you have copies of your travel documents kept somewhere safe, and take a day’s worth of cash with you in another pocket just in case. If you are pick-pocketed, your card could be cleared in as little as 20 minutes, so call the bank to cancel your cards immediately (TIP: have the phone number with the international prefix stored in your contacts to save you time).
Tax cheats and overcharging
Bargaining is part of the shopping experience, especially in the Bazaars, so if you don’t haggle you will definitely pay too much. Watch for overcharging, especially with street vendors. Also watch for the VAT refund tax scam, which has caught a few tourists unawares. You will be given a receipt to sign, which the vendor may tell you will allow you to get a refund at the airport when you are leaving Turkey, however the receipt he gives you to sign may state that you have already received the refund from the shop. Ensure that you are clear whether the price you have paid is the price with or without tax, and don’t sign documents without fully understanding them, especially if they are in Turkish.
There is a risk of protests in the cities becoming violent, and it’s wise to avoid getting caught up. The current political climate means that there are tensions between factions, and protests can erupt sporadically with little warning.
In the past there have been terrorist attacks on significant dates and anniversaries, and during the tourist seasons of spring and summer. Gallipoli Peninsula Peace Park is one spot that may be targeted, so check travel advisories before you go and take the necessary safety precautions.
Risks for women travellers
It is best not to travel alone if you are a young woman, as cultural and social norms are different in Turkey than they are in Australia and you will be viewed and treated differently. You may receive unwelcome advances that are quite normal in Turkey but may feel threatening to an Australian woman. Travel and especially shop with a companion, preferably a male.
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