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With one foot in Asia and one foot (a smaller foot, granted) in Europe, Turkey emerges on the tourist map as a fascinating cultural mystery, with ancient cities and towns as frequent as freckles and a history that's as long as it is complicated. Istanbul's pronounced prominence in the ancient world made it and Turkey the center of numerous great civilizations. As it passed through Byzantine and Roman hands, it sported the names Byzantine and Constantinople, eventually adopting its current name under Ottoman rule. The city is the country's tourist center, but Turkey is certainly no one-hit wonder. Mount Ararat, the ancient Biblical towns of Ephesus and Antakya (Antioch), the fairy tale formations of Cappadocia and the cultured beach towns along the Mediterranean coast make up further ammo for the Turkish arsenal of touristy delights. Excellent cuisine and a friendly, hospitable manner underscore the Turkish way of life.
The Anatolian peninsula (also called Asia Minor), comprising most of modern Turkey, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited regions in the world due to its location at the intersection of Asia and Europe.
Starting around 1200 BCE, the coast of Anatolia was settled by Aeolian and Ionian Greeks. The entire area was conquered by the Persian Achaemenid Empire during the 6th and 5th centuries BCE and later fell to Alexander the Great in 334 BCE. In 324 CE, the Roman emperor Constantine I chose Byzantium to be the new capital of the Roman Empire, renaming it New Rome (later Constantinople and Istanbul). After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, it became the capital of the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire).
Turks and the Ottoman Empire
In 1243 CE, the Seljuk armies were defeated by the Mongols and the power of the empire slowly disintegrated. In its wake, one of the Turkish principalities governed by Osman I was to evolve over the next 200 years into the Ottoman Empire, expanding throughout Anatolia, the Balkans and the Levant. In 1453, the city of Constantinople fell to the Ottoman armies of Mehmed II, marking the abolition of the Byzantine Empire. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the Ottoman Empire was among the world's most powerful political entities.
After nearly a century of decline, the Ottoman Empire entered World War I (1914–1918) on the side of the Central Powers and was ultimately defeated. During World War I, an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were killed in the Armenian Genocide.
On 1 November 1922, the newly founded parliament formally abolished the Sultanate, thus ending 623 years of Ottoman rule. This was the start of the Republic of Turkey. Mustafa Kemal became the republic's first president and subsequently introduced many radical reforms with the aim of founding a new secular republic from the remnants of its Ottoman past. According to the Law on Family Names, the Turkish parliament presented Mustafa Kemal with the honorific surname "Atatürk" (Father Turk) in 1934.
Turkey joined NATO in 1952, becoming a bulwark against Soviet expansion into the Mediterranean. Following a decade of inter-communal violence on the island of Cyprus and the Greek military coup of July 1974, overthrowing President Makarios and installing Nikos Sampson as dictator, Turkey invaded the Republic of Cyprus in 1974. Nine years later the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) was established. Turkey is the only country to recognise the TRNC.
Following the end of the single-party period in 1945, the multi-party period witnessed tensions over the next decades, and the period between the 1960s and the 1980s was particularly marked by periods of political instability that resulted in a number of military coups d'etat in 1960, 1971, 1980 and a military memorandum in 1997. The liberalization of the Turkish economy that started in the 1980s changed the landscape of the country, with successive periods of high growth and crises punctuating the following decades.
Turkey shares international borders with Bulgaria, Greece, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia. Turkey forms a natural bridge between the continents of Asia, Europe and Africa and is considered a transcontinental Eurasian country. Asian Turkey (made up largely of Anatolia), which includes 97% of the country, is separated from European Turkey by the Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, and the Dardanelles (which together form a water link between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean). European Turkey (eastern Thrace or Rumelia in the Balkan peninsula) comprises 3% of the country.
The territory of Turkey is more than 1,600 kilometres long and 800 kilometres wide, with a roughly rectangular shape. It lies between latitudes 35° and 43° N, and longitudes 25° and 45° E. Turkey's area, including lakes, occupies 783,562 square kilometres, of which 755,688 square kilometres are in Asia and 23,764 square kilometres in Europe.
The Turkish peninsula is encircled by four seas, each differing in characteristics and the amount of salinity: Mediterranean Sea to the south, Agean Sea to the west, the Sea of Marmara between the Asia and European land masses, and the Black Sea to the north. The Asian part of the country, Anatolia, consists of a high central plateau with narrow coastal plains, between the Köroğlu and Pontic mountain ranges to the north and the Taurus Mountains to the south. Eastern Turkey has a more mountainous landscape and is home to the sources of rivers such as the Euphrates, Tigris and Aras, and Lake Van, the largest lake in the country. The highest mountain peak in the country is the biblical Mount Ararat at 5,165 metres above sea level.
Turkey consists of 7 administrative regions, divided into 81 provinces and 923 districts! The 7 administrative regions and its provinces are:
|Marmara||Edirne, Kirklareli, Istanbul, Tekirdag, Çanakkale, Balikesir, Bursa, Yalova, Kocaeli, Sakarya and Bilecik|
|Aegean Turkey||Izmir, Manisa, Kütahya, Usak, Afyonkarahisar, Aydin, Denizli and Mugla|
|Mediterranean Turkey||Burdur, Isparta, Antalya, Mersin, Adana, Hatay, Osmaniye and Kahramanmaras|
|Black Sea Turkey||Bolu, Düzce, Zonguldak, Bartin, Karabük, Kastamonu, Sinop, Samsun, Çorum, Amasya, Tokat, Ordu, Giresun, Trabzon, Gümüshane, Bayburt, Rize and Artvin|
|Central Anatolia||Eskisehir, Çankiri, Ankara, Kirikkale, Yozgat, Sivas, Kirsehir, Kayseri, Nevsehir, Aksaray, Nigde, Karaman and Konya|
|Eastern Anatolia||Malatya, Erzincan, Tunceli, Elazig, Bingöl, Erzurum, Bitlis, Mus, Hakkari, Van, Agri, Igdir, Kars and Ardahan|
|Southeastern Anatolia||Kilis, Gaziantep, Adiyaman, Sanliurfa, Diyarbakir, Mardin, Batman, Siirt and Sirnak|
Most provinces have the same name as their capital, with just a few exceptions to this rule, being Hatay (capital Antakya), Kocaeli (capital Izmit) and Sakarya (Adapazari).
Cappadocia is one of the most spectacular places to visit when travelling around Turkey. It landscapes and cultural landscapes make this a place not to miss and therefore the Göreme National Park and Rock Sites are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Göreme Valley and its surroundings are in a dramatic landscape, sculpted by erosion and rock-hewn sanctuaries are a must see. The area further has dwellings and underground towns which are in fact the remains of a traditional human habitat dating back to the 4th century.
A hot air balloon flight at sunrise or sunset is an activity you can do here as well and is an experience you will never forget. Accommodation is high quality and very reasonably priced. There are a good range of guesthouses and luxury hotels to cater for all tastes.
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Turkey is full of ancient ruins and a visit to one or several of those is a step back in time. A very nice one is located near the town of Bergama in the west of the country and is called Pergamon. Bergama boasts the Akropol, the Temple of Serapis, the Asklepion, The Allianoi and the Red Basilica. Mosques and museums keep you busy for days. Troy is not really far from here as well, and is probably one of the most famous ones in the world and on the UNESCO World Heritage List for apparent reasons. Who doesn't know the Trojan horse? Ephesus is yet another ancient ruin and the list is long. Hours away by plane on the other side of the country is Ani, a ruined and uninhabited medieval city in the eastern Turkish province of Kars close to the border with Armenia. It was once the capital of a medieval Armenian kingdom that covered much of present day Armenia and eastern Turkey.
If you're into truly ancient history, then there are few more interesting places to visit in the world than Göbekli Tepe, by a long shot the oldest man-made place of worship featuring intricately carved megaliths and dating right back to 10,000 BC. The site is a good 6,000 years older than Stonehenge but was only fairly recently discovered.
Probably the best way to get up close and personal with ancient ruins in Turkey is by walking some or all of the Lycian way - Turkey's first long distance walking trail. This 500-kilometre walk traverses many of the coastal settlements from Antalya to Oludeniz and can be split up into smaller easier to manage walks.
Unfortunately, much of the western and southern coastline of Turkey is full with luxurious hotels catering mainly to package tourist from Europe. Luckily, if you just travel away from main places like Marmaris, Kusadasi or Alanya, there are friendly and small villages as well as almost deserted beaches. Sailing along the Turkish coast is a popular way of travelling around as well. The Lycean Way, Turkeys famous and the worlds longest marked walking trail, follows a lot of the coast. If you have the time, walking along the coast is a perfect way of seeing it up close and personal. And for people wanting something totally different, there is always the northern Black Sea coastline, which is less crowded, at least with western tourists, and rather spectactular and more green in places as well.
Safranbolu in Central Anatolia was an important caravan station on the main east-west trade route from the 13th century until railways were built in the early 20th century. The Old Mosque, Old Bath and Süleyman Pasha Medrese were built in 1322 and are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
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Mount Ararat is the highest mountain of Turkey and is located in the far east of the country, not far from the border of Armenia, which claims that the mountain should actually be on Armenian grounds. This dormant volcano has a snow-capped cone year-round, so you really need crampons, an axe and some climbing experience to make it to the top. The mountain has long been subject in debates but since 1923 with the Treaty of Kars, the mountain is on Turkish grounds, much to the dislike of Armenia. Ararat has been revered by the Armenians since ancient times as their spiritual home. Today, it is the national symbol of Armenia and on clear days the views from the capital Yerevan are tremendous. An even better view is possible from the monastery Khor Virap, a little bit more south just across the border from Turkey.
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Summer is usually is dry and warm to hot in the resort areas of the Aegean Sea in the west coast and the Mediterranean Sea in the south coast. In summer, temperatures hit 40 °C or more on a regular basis, especially in the east but sometimes also in the resort areas around Alanya and Antalya. Istanbul can get a bit sticky in summer with higher humidity whereas the Anatolian plateau can see temperatures around 35 °C, dropping below 12 °C at night, with dry conditions which makes the summer quite pleasant. The Black Sea coast rarely gets hot and has the most showers in summer. Winters are mild to cool and wet along the west and south coast and cold and snowy in the central and eastern part of the country, often dropping below -20 °C in the central part and below -30 °C in the eastern part. Skiing is ideal throughout the (high) country including near the resort areas of Alanya and Antalya. Istanbul and the Black Sea coast are relatively cold and wet and occasionally snowy in winter.
The most popular holiday locations are on the west and south coast. The west coast reaches out into the Aegean sea whilst the south coast, also called the Turquoise Coast dips in to the Mediterranean Sea. Sea temperatures along the Turquoise Coast are great for swimming and water sports, especially in summer and autumn.
Atatürk International Airport
Istanbul Atatürk International Airport (IATA: IST, ICAO: LTBA), is a major international airport in Turkey. It is located in Yeşilköy, on the European side of Istanbul, 24 kilometres (15 miles) west of the city centre.
Flag carrier Turkish Airlines is based in IST and has a very extensive network of flights throughout all of Europe, the Middle East, Asia, parts of Africa and a few flights to North America. Dozens of airlines serve the same destinations, among which are KLM, Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, Air France, Malaysia Airlines, Delta Airlines and Aeroflot.
Sabiha Gökçen International Airport
Sabiha Gökçen International Airport (IATA: SAW, ICAO: LTFJ), located 35 kilometres (22 miles) southeast of Istanbul, is on the Asian side of the city. The newly expanded SAW has a growing number of flights and is mainly catering to charter flights from Europe and low-cost carriers.
The Esenboğa International Airport (ESB) near the capital Ankara has some international flights as well, mainly from places like London, Frankfurt and Vienna and a few destinations in Asia, like Kabul. Turkish Airlines has the most flights.
Lots of charter airlines fly to other airports in the west and south along the Turkish Coast and cater almost exclusively to package tourists from the west of Europe, although some cheap flights might be a good alternative for the more adventurous travellers to start their trips in places like Bodrum, Dalaman, Antalya or Alanya. Especially Antalya Airport and Dalaman Airport have numerous airlines flying there and Antalya Airport is in fact the second busiest airport in the country. Also, Izmir Adnan Menderes Airport is one of the busier airports in the region.
The 'Trans-Asia Express' travels on a weekly schedule between the gateway to Asia, Istanbul, and the capital of Iran, Tehran. Trains leave Istanbul on Wednesday at around 11:00pm and arrives in Tehran about 70 hours later. In the opposite direction, trains leave Tehran on Thursday at around 6:30pm and take about the same time. The train ride is divided into two parts, one from Istanbul to Lake Van and one from Lake Van to Tehran and only one carriage actually is moved over the lake to make the entire journey.
The 'Filia Express' leaves the Sirkeci station(on European part of Istanbul) at 9pm and arrives next day at 09:33am in the Greek town of Thessaloniki. There is an onward connection from here to Athens by an Inter city express train which leaves Thessaloniki at 10:21am and arrives in Athens at 3:16pm the same day. In the opposite direction the train leaves Athens at 1:23pm and arrives next day in Istanbul at 08:04am with a changes of trains at Thessaloniki.
The 'Balkan Express' leaves the Sirkeci station(on European part of Istanbul) at 10:00pm and arrives next day at 11:40am in Sofia. In the opposite direction the train leaves Sofia at 7:30pm and arrives next day in Istanbul at 08:00am. The same train used to operate till Belgrade in Serbia, but currently due to some engineering work, the service is limited till Sofia.
Every Sunday at around 9:00am, a sleeper train leaves Haydarpasa station in Istanbul for the Syrian city of Aleppo, arriving on Mondays around 2:00pm. In the opposite direction the train leaves Aleppo station on Tuesday around 11:00am, taking over 30 hours to reach Istanbul early evening on Wednesday.
Turkey shares borders with Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Armenia. Except to the last country, all borders are open but the border with Iraq is probably best avoided when you are travelling by a rental car or your own car (crossing is still possible and relative safe though by bus/taxi/foot).
In Turkey, driving is on the right side of the road and many roads and signs (Turkey uses the Latin alphabet, not Arabic) are of good quality. The skills of the drivers certainly are not and you really need a few days to get used to it.
National Express and Eurolines have connections between Turkey and other parts of Europe. There are numerous companies offering direct bus travel from places in Europe, including cities further away like Frankfurt and Vienna. Other countries served are Bulgaria, Greece, Syria, Iran and Georgia.
Turkey has several connections with neighbouring countries and even Italy by boat. To the latter, Marmara Lines has summer ferries travelling between Ancona and Çeşme and Brindisi and Çeşme as well. MedEuropean Seaways operates the latter route as well.
The Fergün Shipping Company has ferries on the same two routes between Turkey and Italy but has much more connections as well. These include ferries in summer between Mesmin and Latakia in Syria and between Sinop and Yalta in Ukraine.
They also have ferries travelling between the southern coast of Turkey and the Turkish part of Cyprus. Connections include Alanya-Girne, Tasucu-Girne and Gazimagusa-Mersin.
A few other private companies have connections beetween Lesbos and Ayvalik and between Rhodos and Fethiye.
The Turkish airport network is expanding regarding flights and companies. The most important airports are in Istanbul, Ankara, Trabzon, Erzurum, Diyarbakir, Dalaman and Izmir, with several others along the coast and interior having a growing number of flights as well.
Turkish Railways has several rail connections which are definitely worth it. The scenery, especially when travelling further to the central and eastern parts, are fantastic. They are, however, slower than buses and services are infrequent compared to buses as well. Comfort is a huge plus on the other hand and the overnight trains have comfortable berths and basic meals.
Turkish Railways has a 30-day railpass, which offers unlimited use of all lines.
Roads in Turkey are well maintained and renting a car (possible with driver as well) is possible with many international and local companies having agencies at airports and cities. You need an international driver's licence and international insurance and a carnet de passage if you want to travel further to the Middle East. You are allowed to bring your own car for a maximum period of six months.
Varan and Ulusoy are among the best bus companies in the country, both offering an extensive networks of frequent, comfortable and reliable buses. Most have toilets on board and you even get drinks and snacks. There are however numerous other companies and for shorter local connections, the minibuses (dolmus) are frequent and reliable options as well.
A frequent car ferry crosses the Dardenelles at Gallipoli, from Çanakkale to Eceabat and Gelibolu to Lapseki.
Istanbul Fast Ferries has frequent services between a number of places in the Istanbul region. And Denis Cruise and Ferry Lines plies the Istanbul to Izmir route frequently.
The Fergün Shipping Company has services between Istanbul and Bodrum, Bandirma and Yalova as well as between Bodrum and Datca and Marmaris, and Canakkale to Eceabat vv.
Nationals from the following countries do not require a visa for tourism purposes for a limited period of stay.
Nationals from the following countries require a visa, which are available upon arrival at the point of entry. Visa fees at border gates varies depending on nationality, and are generally much cheaper than applying at the Turkish Embassy at your country of residence.
For the latest update, refer to the Visa Information for Foreigners, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Turkey or contact the Turkish Representation near you.
See also: Money Matters
The official currency in Turkey is Turkish Lira (turk lirasi). One lira is divided into 100 kurush. The symbol is TL.
New Turkish Lira banknotes are very similar to Euro so be very careful when you are using and exchanging money in Turkey.
Work as an English teacher is reasonably easy to stumble upon. Contracts will sometimes include accommodations, airfare, and health-care.
You need to have a work permit to work in Turkey. The control over illegal workers have grown stricter in the past five years with the consequence of deportation, so take the work permit issue seriously.
There are many language schools where you can study Turkish in most of the big cities. Ankara University affiliated Tömer is one of the most popular language schools in Turkey and has branches in many big cities, including Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir among others.
Many Turkish universities (both public and private) are participating in pan-European student exchange programs (Socrates, Erasmus, and the like). Some also have agreements with non-European universities, too. Check with your own university and the one that you intend to study in Turkey.
The majority of Turkey's inhabitants speak Turkish. Turkish language is the most commonly spoken of the Turkic languages. The script was changed from Arabic to Latin by Ataturk after the formation of the republic.
Kurdish is also a widely spoken language in Turkey. There are debates over the number of speakers. Kurdish speakers mostly live in eastern and southeastern parts of the country as well as Istanbul where there is a high number of Kurdish immigrants. A Kurdish speaker can get by in Kurdish settlements in these areas most of the time, depending on the dialect. Kurmanji is the most widely spoken dialect. The script varies from country to country. In Turkey, Kurds use the Latin alphabet.
There are many other languages spoken by minorities such as Arabic, Armenian, and Greek.
Even though English language education is part of the mandatory Turkish education system the number of English speakers is relatively low. One may find it easy to get by in tourist sights but it may be frustrating to communicate when travelling outside of sight-seeing areas. Knowing German can help, as it is the second most important foreign language in Turkey aside from English. Quite a number of Turks have lived in Germany for a few years and if you don't find somebody who speaks English you might find somebody who speaks German.
If any public announcement is bilingual the second language would be English. Usually traffic signs pointing to museums, libraries, hospitals and sight seeing places are bilingual.
There are fast food restaurants almost in every city that serves kebabs made off chicken, beef and lamb. Every region has their unique kebabs. Make sure to try local kebab of each region. Tantuni, Iskender, Tas Kebabi are among these regional kebabs.
Kokorec, a delicacy of Turkish cuisine, is grilled spicy intestines. In big cities it is sold widely and in smaller cities it is usually sold late at nights. Southern and southeastern regions are famous for offal dishes. These dishes are made up of intestines, stomach, kidneys, livers, lungs, heart, brain.
Coastal areas have a lot of sea food. Fish and shell fish is easily available throughout Turkey. The Black sea region is particularly rich in fresh Sardine dishes.
Turkey is renowned worldwide for its range of desserts. Desserts may be broadly classified into three groups: Syrupy pastries, Milk puddings and fruit desserts. Baklava is the most famous of all the desserts and consists of fifteen layers, eights layers of pastry and seven layers of pistachio. The filling may vary regionally with the substitution of hazelnuts or walnuts. Some of the other desserts worth mentioning are Halvah, Lokum(Turkish Delight), Asure and Kadaif.
Turkey has a wide range of accommodation options, from pitching your tent on a simple camping to luxurious 5-star hotels, mainly in the biggest cities and along the coastline. In between, there are simple and midrange hotels, some hostels (mainly in Istanbul) and many guesthouses, which offer cheap, safe and clean accommodation, mostly with breakfast as well.
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National drink of Turkey is raki, similar to Greek ouzo and Arabic arak.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Turkey. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Turkey. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B, typhoid and rabies are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Malaria only occurs in a few small and remote areas in the southeast (Kurdistan) of the country, and usually only in the summermonths.
Taking pills is not necessary, just use repellant and sleep under a net as the mosquitos are most active when it's dark.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
Pharmacies or eczanes (as they are know locally) are available throughout the cities of Turkey and offer affordable medication which often can be bought over the counter without prescriptions (e.g. antibiotics).
See also: Travel Safety
In general, Turkey is a very safe and hospitable country with extremely friendly people, even in big cities like Istanbul. But especially in the central regions further north and east you will discover the true meaning of friendliness. Most small crime occurs at big markets and transport hubs in big cities and along the popular Mediterranean coastline resort areas.
Although not necessarily dangerous, as a solo (especially blonde!) female traveller, you can expect some extra attention. Try not to walk alone at night or in deserted areas and if possible, travel with a companion.
Internet cafes can be found everywhere except small rural villages. The cost of an hour use of internet ranges from 1 YTL to 1.5 YTL. Wireless internet is becoming popular in some cafes in big cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir, and at airpots. But in many other places it's still not available, or sometimes at a very high cost.
See also: International Telephone Calls
Turkey's international country code is 90. Dial 112 for an ambulance anywhere, from any telephone, without a charge. In case of a fire, dial 110; for police, call 155. However, in rural areas there is not a police coverage, so dial 156 for gendarme, a military unit for rural security. All these numbers are free of charge and can be called from a telephone booth without inserting a calling card, or any phone including cell phones.
There are telephone booths owned by Turk Telekom in major parts of cities. public phones now operate with chip telekom cards which are available in 30, 60 or 120 units and can be obtained at post offices, newspaper and tobacco kiosks.
It is estimated that approximately 98% of the population of Turkey lives within the coverage areas of Turkey’s three cell phone line providers. Line providers from most countries have roaming agreements with one or more of these companies. Pre-paid mobile phone SIM cards can be purchased for approximately TRY20-50. These can be purchased at the airport on arrival or from the many outlets in Istanbul and other large cities. Providers include Vodaphone.
PTT is the national post service in Turkey. Services are generally moderately fast but quite reliable. There is an extended price list on the PTT website, where you can see the costs of sending items within Turkey, countries in Europe and further afield. For sending packages one might also use international companies such as DHL and UPS and local companies such as Yurtici Kargo. Post offices bear the distinctive yellow PTT sign and are generally open between 9:00am to 12:00 noon and 1:30pm to 5:00pm from Monday to Friday. Some might keep longer hours or be open during the weekend as well, but this mainly applies to the larger ones or those in central places and tourist areas.
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