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Part I

We flew into Istanbul and traveled through Turkey for about 2 1/2 weeks. After Turkey, we took ferry boats to several Greek islands, then flew to Athens and headed home after a total of four weeks on the road.

Inflation is a big problem in Turkey. The average annual inflation rate in 1999 was 64%. During the last decade inflation has averaged 72%. Three years ago, the exchange rate was 157,170TL/$1. Today, it's 635,070TL/$1.

On our first day in Istanbul, a nice lunch for both of us cost 8.5 million Turkish Lira. About $13 U.S.

If you live like the locals, it can be an amazingly cheap place to visit. Even the most touristy businesses only begin to approach U.S. prices.

Istanbul is a very large city that's packed with interesting sites. The Blue Mosque, Topkapi palace, Aya Sophia, the Underground Cistern, the largest and oldest bazaar in the world, and very old buildings and ruins are around just about every corner.

The cistern is where fresh water is stored for local use. Cisterns exist all around Istanbul. This cistern reuses architectural structures from other more ancient buildings. This was a common practice and parts of older buildings could be seen in the ruins of walls.

Turkey is almost entirely Muslim and it is evident as there are numerous mosques. Almost every mosque has at least one Minaret with several loudspeakers on it to enable a summon to prayer to be broadcast throughout the city five times per day. The most unfortunate prayer time is around 4:20 AM, when everyone is awakened by the call.

Mosques are large empty buildings with rugs everywhere for kneeling. Muslim men wash and clean all exposed parts of their bodies before each prayer, and prayers are always made while kneeling in the direction of the sunrise.

Well over half of Turkish women keep their heads and bodies completely covered. Older women go for the traditional black wraps from head-to-toe. Younger women have adopted oversized trench coats with arms so long that their hands are covered. Scarves cover the head.

Ever since the earthquake in 1999, tourism has suffered in Turkey. We never had a problem finding a hotel/pension/hostel and we will later in the trip be the only people at one hotel. There aren't many Americans here, but quite a few people from Australia and New Zealand.

Istanbul's population is about twelve million and growing, due to immigration from its troubled neighbor countries. Half of these twelve million people are carpet salesmen.

It's difficult to believe the density of carpet shops and the aggressive tactics used to get you into their shops. As a tourist, you are constantly called to by shop owners and other businessmen. They generally try to get your attention by saying "Yes, please..." which it turns out is someone's bad but popular interpretation of a non-translatable Turkish greeting.

Also popular are "Where are you from?", "What time is it?", "What are you looking for?" and the ever-popular "Can I help you?". Of course, these greetings all lead to a friend's carpet shop where a special deal can be made.

Everything in Turkey is to be bargained for. Hotels, goods, food, you name it. It's a time consuming process, but no one's in a hurry.

The Evil Eye and Ataturk are as ubiquitous as mosques.

The Evil Eye is a symbol that is generally made of blue glass with an eye on it. It's intended to ward off the evil that can be conveyed by evil people looking at you.

Ataturk was a war hero and leader of Turkey who implemented many reforms aimed at modernizing Turkey. He is so greatly beloved that you will find his picture in every business and on every piece of currency. There is always at least one Ataturk statue in each city, and the main street in most towns is named - you guessed it - Ataturk.


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