Personal Impressions

The "Personal Impressions" section is a collection of thoughts and personal experiences.

Paradise Found

We expected Istanbul to be better than Nairobi and maybe similar to Casablanca.  Were we in for a positive surprise. Istanbul is gorgeous! The city is clean and safe, the food is delicious, the people are honest and helpful, the Bosphorus Channel is crystal clear and blue, the air is clean, the parks are green... We found paradise.

Sextuple Digits and More

In Turkey, our pockets jingle with 100,000 Lira coins and our wallets bulge with 10,000,000 Lira bills. At US$1 = 985,000 Lira, counting the zeros is a chore. This is the first place we've been where restaurant waiters say, "Eggplant? Only Eight-hundred-fifty-thousand!" Only?

Where's the Woman's Hairdresser?

Looking for a hairdresser for women in a large city is normally easy. Not so in Istanbul. First, hairdressers for men and women are separate, even though it's always men doing the cutting. Departing our hotel to get a haircut, we walked for at least an hour. We passed countless shoe stores, restaurants, fruit stands, electrical appliance shops, travel agents, mosques, Internet Cafés, banks, Turkish baths, and at least 12 men's barbers, but no place for Masami to get a haircut. Tired and discouraged, we walked into the 13th men's barber and asked where a woman could get a haircut. The young assistant walked Masami up a long hill, and voila, a woman's hairdresser, thank goodness.

Can't beat the Value for Money

Turkey is one of the few places in the world where the quality of service is high even though prices are low. Cheap accommodation is consistently clean and friendly. Pension owners usually provide their guests tea, walking tours, transportation, and good advice free of charge. Cheap buses are immaculate and have an attendant who alerts passengers to their stop, serves free drinks, and shakes a splash of citrus scented cologne on your hands. Cheap food is typically delicious, and sometimes at family-run restaurants, wonderful side dishes are served free of charge. Compared to Turkey's European counterparts, a visitor can expect more than twice the service at less than half the cost.

Military Everywhere

Turkey's military is the second largest in the world. We were told that 50% of Turkey's national budget goes to the military and that new laws cannot be passed without the approval of the military. There's little doubt that Turkey is controlled by the military, and the government is little more than a facade. When Turks elect a president, they know that they're just putting a figurehead in the position of "receptionist" for visiting dignitaries. The number of military is astounding. Every Turkish male citizen serves a mandatory military term. High school graduates serve 18 months in the lowest rank. University graduates often have a choice to serve 18 months in a position of greater authority or a shorter term in the lowest rank. With so many soldiers, the military stations them everywhere: guarding the wall around Topkapı Palace in İstanbul, hanging out at the entrances of tourist attractions, living in fairy chimneys in Cappadocia. They're all bored to death and love to chat with tourists. Invariably, the soldier will state how many days remains until their duty is complete. Like prisoners, they're all counting the days. A serious concern of senior military officers must be the lack of external conflict and enemies. How are they to justify such heavy expenditure on a military that effectively sits around? The Kurdish independence movement in Eastern Turkey seems to be the only target available.

Corruption is the Name of the Game

White collar crime is rampant in Turkey. Government officials pocket millions of dollars of public funds and nobody takes action against them. The standard mode of tax collection seems to be: send a tax auditor to random citizens who underpaid (probably everyone) to collect a bribe and have the tax auditor pay a percentage of that bribe to the managers at the tax authority. And why does the Turkish currency devalue about 100% per year?

Novelties Abound

The number of natural and man-made wonders in Turkey is astounding. In Pamukkale, a mountain of calcite dwarfs the terraces in Yellowstone National Park. On  Mt. Olimpos, a natural gas that spontaneously combusts upon contact with the air seeps from the rocks. In Cappadocia, tunnels, vertical shafts, rooms, and churches are carved into spectacularly shaped cones of weathered sandstone and gorge cliffs. In Fethiye, huge Lycian tombs from 400 BC are carved into the rock cliffs. The biggest difficulty for most tourists in Turkey is trying to choose between such a fabulous assortment of sites or how to extend their vacation time.

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