Once the center of some of the oldest civilizations in existence, Azerbaijan is still one of the youngest nations in the world. Many historic, cultural, and natural attractions await visitors in this former Soviet nation. Located in the Caucasus-Caspian region, its strategic location gives it a unique mixture of sights and sounds influenced by neighboring Iran, Russia, Armenia, and Turkey. Azerbaijan’s name is actually derived from an ancient Turkish tribe that once resided in the country and means “brave man” or “the fire keeper.”
The capital, Baku, is a bustling cultural, economic and political hub. It lies on the coast of the Caspian Sea and is home to some of Azerbaijan’s cultural icons, such as Giz Qalasi (Maiden’s Tower) and the Palace of the Shirvan Shahs, both of which are within a walled fortress and the UNESCO World Heritage site of Icheri Sheher (Old Town). Visitors will also be drawn to a number of galleries and museums around the city, particularly the Taghiyev History Museum and the Doll Museum. There are many modern wonders in Azerbaijan, too, such as the AF Mall, which is known for its tropical garden and interesting selection of shops. Boat tours and visits to local amusement parks, spas, and beaches can all be arranged. You can find the usual Western comforts almost everywhere.
The best times to visit Turkey are in April, May, September, and October. These “shoulder months” follow or fall before the busiest time of the year, summer. Regions around the Mediterranean Sea, the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara, sees prices and crowds increases on flights, food, hotels, and admissions June through August.
Another busy time that should be avoided is the winter holiday period. Even though Turkey’s winter experiences much less tourism, the Christmas and New Year price hike still hits the country. Visiting during this time is not recommended, as the weather is not favorable for sightseeing and prices remain high.
Currency: Turkish Lira
Official language: Turkish
Turkey has a settled history that dates back more than 4,000 years, making it one of the longest surviving civilizations in the world. However, modern Turkey really began after the fall of the Ottoman Empire post-WWI. The Ottomans took control of the Anatolian Peninsula during the 15th century, and their authority over the region lasted until the empire’s decline in the 19th and 20th century.
The Ottoman Empire fought on the side of the Central Powers during WWI, and although they were eventually defeated, millions of people from minority populations such as the Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians were displaced from their homes and killed, which is still denied by the Turkish government today. After the war, the Allied Powers occupied the area, prompting the Turkish Nationalist Movement in 1918.
The War of Independence saw the Turkish Nationalist Movement finally succeed in expelling foreign authorities in 1922, leading to the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, who moved the capital from Istanbul to Ankara. The War of Independence Museum (Karsiyaka Mh. Cumhuriyet Cd 14, Ankara) has plenty of historical information about this event. Mustafa Kemal was given the title “Ataturk,” which means Father of the Turks, for his efforts to pull Turkey away from its long and deep-rooted Ottoman influences. In WWII, Turkey remained relatively neutral until joining forces with the Allies in 1945.
The spread of Communism throughout Eastern Europe led to communist-backed violence in countries like Turkey and Greece after the war. Following the enunciation of the Truman Doctrine in 1947, Turkey was provided with massive economic and military assistance from the United States. It became a member of the United Nations in 1945, and a NATO member in 1952. Mustafa Kemal died prior to the war, so multi-party governments began after 1945, leading to political instability and military coups in the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s. The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) created conflict with the representing government in the 1980’s, which resulted in civil instability that lasted until just a decade ago.
Contemporary Turkey finally began to show signs of stable leadership, largely thanks to the Justice and Development Party (AKP). They have been in power since 2002, promoting increasing economic development in recent years. Tourism plays an important role in modern Turkey, which has shown an annual growth rate of nine percent per year. Roman sites, like the Aspendos Theater (Aspendos, Serik, Antalya Province), and Ottoman structures, such as the Blue Mosque (Torun Sokak 19, Istanbul) are still some of the busiest attractions in Turkey.
Modern Turkey’s cultural diversity is just as fascinating as the ancient landmarks that dot the country’s landscape. A host of foreign influences have created a dynamic blend of east and west, reflecting their unique position on both the Asian and European continents. The early Roman times, Ottoman Empirical control and steady 20th century immigration from the Balkans, Greece and other European destinations have all helped shape modern Turkey.
There are two things that seem to unite all Turkish citizens. The first is faith, and the second is football. A majority of locals are Muslims, but variations and levels of Islam are found across the region. Football is almost as important when it comes to local culture. Turkish people follow the sport closely, and the country even boasts a very competitive professional league.
Turkey has a diverse climate, thanks largely to the geographical influences around the country. The coastal regions of the Aegean and the Mediterranean boast long, hot summers (June to August) with very little rainfall. The average temperature falls between 80°F and 85°F. Winters (December to February) are colder and wetter, although snow usually never hits. The Sea of Marmara, near Istanbul, stands in contrast to the other coastal areas with hot, wet summers, and several days of snow in winter.
The region around the Black Sea is extremely wet, regardless of the season, but the coastal mountain ranges provide Turkey an extremely dry interior. The Anatolian Plateau gets bitterly cold between the months of November and March. The eastern region sometimes sees weather reach -30°F, while temperatures in the west hover around 32°F. Snow commonly blankets the interior for more than 100 days a year.
The average precipitation in Turkey is about 15 inches a year, but there are definitely areas that receive more than others. The Konya Plain is the driest part of the country, getting less than 12 inches of rain a year. Across Turkey, May tends to bear the brunt of it, while the summer is the driest period.
Ordinary passport holders are required to have visa to enter Turkey. Ordinary passport holders may obtain their 30-day single-entry e-Visas via www.evisa.gov.tr, provided that they have a valid Schengen or USA, UK, Ireland visa or residence permit and that they travel to Turkey with Turkish Airlines or Egypt Air.
Turkish taxis are generally very reliable and affordable, although they are a little more expensive in Istanbul that in other parts of the country. Most cities have taxi stands, which can be found in tourist-heavy areas and around train or bus stations. Some of the larger cities also have dolmus, which are shared taxis. Istanbul Airport Taxi and Transfer (+90-532-595-8858) and Kalaba Taxis (+90-312-360-1393) are just two of the reliable providers.
Car rental is becoming increasingly popular to tour Turkey and a number of companies are available from airports and cities. However, American travelers need to be aware that cars drive on the left-hand side and signs give distances in kilometers, not miles. Driving downtown in Ankara or Istanbul should be avoided, as traffic jams and careless motorists are common.
National water taxi services are provided Fast Ferries, offering excellent transportation between major coastal cities. Travelers in Istanbul can take the journey from Yenikapi Jetty to Bursa otogar or Yalova. The islands of Turkey also boast one or two daily connections to major cities on the mainland. Be wary when traveling in the winter months, as seas can get rough.
The largest cities of Turkey are well supported by inner-city bus networks. The lines in Istanbul and Ankara are not only cheap, but reliable and some of the routes run 24 hours. Both cities have two separate systems, one private, and one public operated by the local transportation authorities. Getting around the country by bus is also very easy as Metro Bus and Varan offer inter-city connections stopping at the major bus station of each destination.
Turkey has a rail network spanning the country, although it can be slow on some routes. Some lines are operated by diesel, rather than electric, meaning they are less efficient than their modern counterparts in the rest of Europe. There are high-speed rail services between cities like Ankara and Eskisehir with different class options.
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