Turkey has been an amazing and fascinating. It is my first visit to the country, Elizabeth’s second (she was here exactly 11 years ago). Whenever she mentioned this fact to the locals they would, without fail, respond with ‘a hell of a lot has changed in the last ten years’, and Elizabeth agreed.

The days of westerners travelling around like a colonialist inspecting a far flung outpost of the empire are over. Turkey is no longer cheap – a beer at a bar is roughly $5 AUD or £2.50 – and there is a large middle class of domestic tourists that drive shiny new cars and surf the net on their iPhones. Of course beyond making a bigger dent in our budget than expected this is not at all bad thing.

It is impossible to sum up such a vast country in a short blog post, so instead I thought I would list the ten things, in no particular order, that stood out for me:

  1. Atatürk – the father Turk may have died in 1938, but he is still omnipresent. There are statues of him it seems in every town square, every main street seems to be named after him and his photo adorns the walls of every establishment be they large/small, touristic/official or otherwise.
  2. The special relationship – the Turks seem to really respect that Australians will travel to the other side of the world to honour and respect the men who fought in a battle in World War I. They consider the relationship with Australia a very important one and I expect will become more regular tourists of Australia in the coming years.
  3. Rising middle class – as I mentioned above there is a real sense of prosperity in this country and a middle class that Elizabeth didn’t remember from last time.
  4. Bus services – the complimentary drinks and snack services on the Turkish coaches would put many airlines to shame – and I am not talking about one of those nasty budget airlines.
  5. Half finished buildings – there seems to be a hell of a lot of people in Turkey that can build concrete slabs many stories into the sky. Though there appears many less people who can build walls, doors and windows. This may be the result of ye olde credit crunch?
  6. Turkish music – In the Turkish top 20 there appeared to be not one Western song. The entire chart was made up of what I assume are local Turkish artists. Not that they are ignorant to Western music – they just seem to like their own better.
  7. Seasonal tourism – the coastal towns in the south of the country appear to survive solely on the tourist dollar. Given we were visiting these places before ‘the season’ many were completely empty. Some of the smarter tourism operators we spoke to advised they were working on ways to attract tourists through winter via walking tours and the like.
  8. European Union – It seems EU entry is still a way off for Turkey, but none of the people we spoke to were too concerned about that and figured that Turkey was doing just fine on its own.
  9. Smoking – every man and most women smoke it seems. And unlike Europe, US and Aus there is not yet a ban on smoking indoors. Funny how quickly one forgets how nasty cigarette smoke is. Apparently the restaurant smoking ban is due to hit in July which will be a shock to the system.
  10. History – there is just so much history packed into this one country. There are so many historic sites that they have only excavated about 30% of them – there is just not the resource to do it all.

Turkey in short has been amazing, but our next stop, Uzbekistan, calls. I don’t think it will be as easy as tourist-friendly Turkey. They are a little more wary of outsiders there and they are much less likely to speak English, which will no doubt pose a bit of a problem given we speak absolutely no Russian or Uzbek. As such we requested the lovely lady who has been helping us with our visas to write out a passage in Russian for us to give to the immigration officials when we land:

?????????? ????? ?? ?? ???????? ??? ????????? ? ??? ???????? ???? ? ?????? ? 07.00. ?? ?????? ?? ?????? ?? ????

We hope it informs him of the fact that we have a connecting flight to catch and that we need to move quickly to catch it. Though it could just as easily say that we think Uzbekistan is a sham nation and that we intend to wipe our asses on their national flag. Wish us luck!!!!

See all our Turkey images here.

Originally written for MatthewGain.com