Turkey: the Eurasian beauty


Turkey is a country torn between Europe and Asia. Literally divided by the Bosphorus running through Istanbul, the country is 97% in Asia and only 3% in Europe.

While Istanbul is beginning to feel more European with it’s attempts to join the European Union, the country still has a strong Asian or Middle Eastern feel which intensifies as you move east.

The mix of cultures and the strong Ottoman influences make for a beautiful, unique country worth exploring.

Feeding the birds in Istanbul

Perhaps the most obvious difference visitors notice between Istanbul and the rest of Europe is the dress.

While more similar to typical European dress than surrounding countries, it is still different.

Women don’t always wear a headscarf. Those who do often have their arms and legs covered, but still show off their curves. From what I gathered, young women wearing headscarves usually do so to please their parents, but they wear figure-flattering clothes to be stylish.

Minaret on the Asian side of Istanbul looking over the Bosphorus to the European side

While you do hear the five daily calls to prayer, you don’t always see people praying like you do in other Islamic countries.

Since Atatürk’s founding of Turkey as a secular state in 1923, observing the call to prayer or even the following of Islam in general hasn’t been enforced by the government.

The muezzins still recite the call to prayer, but it is up to each person what they do with that time. Since Turkey is a secular state, there is actually a clause that if the government ever becomes a theocracy (a religious government), the military is required to overthrow them.

The food in Turkey is quite different that in Europe. It definitely seems to be more Middle Eastern.

While this is an interesting contrast between Europe and Turkey now, it might not be for long. The European Union holds it’s member countries to stricter regulations than what Turkey currently upholds.

For instance, salep is a hot drink in Turkey. It’s treated kind of like hot chocolate, but it’s made from orchid roots. It is already illegal to export because wild orchids are endangered. If Turkey joined the EU, this and other food standards would certainly change.

If you’re hungry, have a look at my post on Turkish foods you can cook at home.

Yeni Valide Camii, New Mosque of the Valide Sultan on the Bosphorus

There is a lot in Turkey that feels like it hasn’t changed since the days of the Ottomans. But slowly, the country is adjusting to Europe and EU standards.

By entering the EU, I think Turkey will loose some of its charm, but it will also gain Europe’s support in increasing infrastructure and other issues the country has.

It will be interesting to see what identity the country finds in the coming years. I hope it holds on to its old world charm as much as possible!

For more articles and photos of Turkey, go here.

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10 thoughts on “Turkey: the Eurasian beauty

  1. Hi,
    I really liked your post on Turkey and your observation on Turkish culture. I was there just last summer for 2 weeks after I spent time in more religious countries (Jordan and Syria) and I definitely noticed the differences in the Arab culture and conservative Muslim practices found in Jordan and Syria in contrast to the hybrid European/Islamic culture found in Turkey.
    –Gaby

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    • Thanks, Gaby! It was strange going to Turkey from Europe and feeling like it was more religious than Europe, then going to Egypt and feeling like it was even more of an extreme. When I came back to Turkey, it felt so secular compared to Egypt! 🙂 It was certainly interesting traveling between religious countries! 🙂

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  2. Thanks for the post! I thought that Turkey had given up on joining the EU, no?

    Btw, do you know the cheapest way to get to Istanbul from continental Europe by any chance? Also, was it pretty easy using English?

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    • Thanks, Roy! As far as I know Turkey is still trying to join the EU. From what I’ve seen, it looks like they might join by 2015. But they’re some resistance because of the food requirements that wouldn’t allow some of their traditional foods.

      What country are you coming from? There is a train from Greece (going through Athens and Thessaloníki), I think, and maybe through Sofia, Bulgaria (which you could get to from Beograd I believe). When I went to Turkey initially and when I left, I hitchhiked. When I went to Serbia, I took the bus and you can read my post, The Craziest Bus Trip Yet: Istanbul, Turkey to Sofia, Bulgaria, to have an idea what could happen! 🙂 In the next week, I plan on posting about my hitchhiking adventure from Istanbul, Turkey to Stuttgart, Germany last December. 🙂

      I was fine getting by with English in Turkey. Just practice saying ‘thank you’! It took me a week or two to get it down! Teşekkür ederim (pronounced teh-sha-cuhr eh-der-ehm)! 🙂 Sağ (pronounced sauw) is very casual- like ‘cheers’- but is normally only used for friends, so try to say teşekkür ederim. There are other varients of ‘thank you’, but with those and with handsignals, you should be fine! 🙂 Good luck!

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  3. Great Post.
    siighhh… Turkish food.. drool, haha
    It definitely feels more Middle Eastern there than European. Although the strange thing about the Western Turkish country side.. it looks exactly like Southern Italy, or Southern Greece; except instead of small steeples scattering the landscape; there are tiny minarets :]

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    • Turkish food is so delicious and there are so many Turks in Europe that you can find it anywhere! 🙂

      Turkey certainly does feel Middle Eastern when coming from Europe, but when I returned to Turkey from Egypt, I felt like I was back in Europe! 🙂 I guess a big difference is everything is written in the Roman alphabet and not in Arabic. 🙂 It makes a big difference as a tourist! 🙂

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    • Have a great time, Ian! There are tons of Aussies in Istanbul because of Gallipoli and ANZAC! 🙂 I’m sure the service will be interesting. Where will you be going on your tour? Be sure to try elma çay (apple tea),Türk kahvesi (Turkish coffee) and Nargile (water pipe with flavored tobacco)! 🙂 Practice saying ‘thank you’ before you go- it takes some practice! Teşekkür ederim! 🙂 Good luck! 🙂

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