Indonesian in Turkey
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It was five years ago. Yes I visited Turkey in 2005. I wrote this based on an article I wrote for the newspaper where I worked.
Before I saw the country's many tourist attractions, I first experienced in Istanbul what I always see in Jakarta -- reckless car-drivers, over-loaded public buses, scavengers, beggars, street vendors, hawkers offering bottled drinking water, cigarettes and snacks at the toll-road entry-gates, rubbish and pedestrians crossing wherever they like.
Yet, there are good things that people from Indonesia can learn from Turkey. In Turkey people line up in order to get on buses; buses that stop only at designated shelters.
There is another similarity: the tourism industry in Indonesia and Turkey are currently downplaying terrorism threats, particularly the threat of bombers. Of course, people around the world are now getting used to these kind of attacks, which can happen anywhere.
However, despite these issues, Turkey is well worth a visit. With more classical ruins than Greece and more Islamic monuments than Saudi Arabia, Turkey, with its fascinating links to the past, frequently mesmerizes most international visitors.
A land full of historic treasures from 13 successive civilizations spanning some 10,000 years, it is also a paradise of sun, sea, mountains, and lakes.
This is especially true during April to October, when most places in the country have an ideal climate.
In addition to cities or big towns like Istanbul, Ankara or Izmir, Turkey has several must-see attractions, including the Aegan, Anatolia, Antalya and the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, not to mention extraordinary places like Ephesus, Cappadocia and Kusadasi.
In Istanbul, the capital of three successive empires, the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman, attractions include museums, churches, palaces, grand mosques and bazaars.
Istanbul is one of the world's oldest cities. Part of the city's allure is its position, dividing Europe and Asia and sitting on the Bosphorus Strait. Most of its popular tourist attractions are located in the Sultanahmet area, the home of the Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.
The Topkapi Palace, the richly adorned home of the sultans and their harems, was the focal point of the Ottoman Empire between the 15th and 19th centuries. In these opulent surroundings the sultans and their court lived and governed.
A magnificent wooded garden fills the outer, or first, court. In the second court, on the right, shaded by cypress and plane trees, stand the palace kitchens, which now serve as galleries exhibiting the imperial collections of crystal, silver and Chinese porcelain.
Next to it is the Harem, the secluded quarters of the wives, concubines, and children of the sultan, charming visitors with echoes of centuries of intrigue. Today the third court holds the Hall of Audience, the Library of Ahmet III, an exhibition of imperial costumes worn by the sultans and their families, the famous jewels of the treasury and a priceless collection of miniatures from medieval manuscripts. In the center of this innermost sanctuary, the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle enshrines the relics of the Prophet Muhammed brought to Istanbul when the Ottomans assumed the caliphate of Islam.
The Hagia Sophia was originally a Byzantine church built in the sixth century; after the Ottoman conquest in 1453 it served as a mosque for more than four centuries. A series of large calligraphic discs, installed in during 1847-1849, decorated the interior; they incorporate the names of the Prophet and other early leaders. It is the most magnificent of all of the Byzantine churches in Istanbul. The Hagia Sophia was designed by the architects Anthemios of Tralles and Izidorus of Miletus. This construction of the second Hagia Sophia was started in 532 by the order of the Emperor Justinian and was built over the ruins of an earlier structure. The Hagia Sophia has a diameter of 31-33 meters and a height of 54 meters and is covered with a large dome.
While inside the Hagia, its a good idea to take a look at the famous ""weeping column"" where the protectorate angel is supposed to be. Other myths associated with the column say that if your finger emerges moist from the hole there, a wish can be granted.
Others say the Angel Gabriel put his finger here first and turned the whole position of Saint Sophia slightly to the right, so that it faced Mecca. In the upper galleries, which were reserved for women and the high society, there are some of the most wonderful mosaics on view. Also look out for the two marbles cut stone gates on the way, reported to represent heaven and hell.
Most tourists in Istanbul also want to have the joyful and sometimes painful experience of performing the art of bargaining at the Istanbul's Grand Bazaar. Bargaining, for many Indonesians, may be exciting. But one still has to be very careful as shopkeepers at the Grand Bazaar are famed for their bargaining skills. They will usually say, ""For you my friend, I give you a special price...""
It is advised that anyone going to the bazaar should do some research on the prices first. It's a good idea to try and learn the numbers in Turkish and discretely listen when the locals are asking the shopkeeper for prices.
Things worth buying at the bazaar include carpet or kilim, jewelry, leather, ceramic plates, copper, locally-made garments and textile products and souvenirs like lamps, key-chains, decorations or sandals. There are also huge number of fake branded shoes, bags and watches -- just like in Indonesia.
A stay in Istanbul is not complete without a traditional and unforgettable boat excursion up the Istanbul Bogazi or Bosphorus. Its shores offer a delightful mixture of past and present, grand splendor and simple beauty. The best way to see the Bosphorus is to board one of the passenger boats that regularly zig-zag along the shores. One can embark at Eminonu and stop alternately on the Asian and European sides of the strait. The round-trip excursion, costs some 45 new Turkish lira (about Rp 315,000) and takes about three hours.
The Turkish capital and the second biggest city of Turkey, Ankara, is the heart of the ancient Galatia; known as the former Ancyra or Angora. A tour in Ankara includes the Roman baths, the temple of Augustus and the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations.
Other interesting places in Turkey include Ephesus, one of the best-preserved ancient sites in Turkey and the top historical attraction along the Aegan coast; Kusadasi, one of the country's liveliest and most popular holiday resorts. There are also the ancient City of Troy, Aphrodisias, Pergamon, Pamukkale, Goreme-Cappadocia, Mt. Nemrut and Safranbolu.
Despite a series of bomb attacks in Turkey, tourists are flowing into the country. Turkey's tourism arrivals broke a new record in the first half of this year with a 20 percent increase from the same period last year. The country expects to see 7.5 million international tourists this year.
While the attacks are cause for concern, their frequency means you are more likely to be hurt in Jakarta traffic. Still, security in certain areas is still visibly high, but not high enough to stop you visiting a unique tourist destination offering a complete range of attractions and a magnificent past.
As many people say, one visit to this country is not enough.
Airport: There are two airports in Istanbul, the Kemal Ataturk International Airport on the European side of the Bosphorus and the Sabiha Gokcen International Airport on the Asian side. Check carefully your airport of arrival and departure, as the two airports are located very far away from each other.
Dolmus: Dolmus means ""filled,"" which is what the vehicle needs to be before it departs on its customary route. The dolmus is Turkey's shared taxi or minibus, just like mikrolet in Jakarta and pretty helpful as taxis are a little expensive and have an extra surcharge at night. Istanbul also has trams and a metro.
Intercity buses: Traveling with intercity buses in Turkey is fun and not that expensive. Buses have stewards serving the passengers with snacks and coffee or tea. Strangely, mobile phone use is banned during most trips.
Toilets: Be prepared for scarce and poor public toilets. Also prepare your own toilet paper.
Budget hotels: Don't expect to get budget rates. Room rates at hostels or pensions range from about 30YTL (Rp 210,000); this means a room with a shared bathroom.
Etiquette: Similar to Indonesians, Turkish people are friendly and hospitable. Locals usually give you a warm greeting once they know you are from Indonesia. Unfortunately, also like Indonesia, local men often harass women travelers.
Visa: Indonesians must apply for a visa to visit Turkey as part of the country's journey to becoming a member of the EU.