Turkey exists as a mashup of East and West, secular and non-secular, modern and ancient, totaling a captivating nation. Is it European? Is it Asian? It’s both. And it’s bewildering
To give you an idea of the scope and depth of history embedded in every nook and cranny of this preposterously complicated nation, one can start with a visit to the legendary Hagia Sophia (“holy wisdom” in Greek)—Istanbul’s centerpiece and the most visited attraction in the country. Built during the Byzantine period, this palatial structure once stood as a church. Complete with resplendent mosaics and chandeliers, it was enjoyed by Christians up until it was overtaken by the Ottomans and converted into a mosque. Then, in 1934, Turkey’s leader (and secularist) Atatürk declared it a museum. Less than a century later, in 2020, it was converted back into a Mosque by Turkey’s nationalist leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. To witness gargantuan Arabic calligraphy side-by-side with Christian depictions of Mary holding the baby Jesus is like turning the pages in the most interesting history book imaginable. Why not sprinkle in some Viking inscriptions to round out the head-spinning history this one structure contains in multitudes.
The Hagia Sophia is just one (structural) example of the fluidity, confusion, politics, and history Turkey envelops.
Turkey’s Geography and Landscape
One of Turkey’s most obvious advantages is its geographic positioning. Straddling two continents and touching European and Middle Eastern nations gives obvious rise to easy access to East and West—it is quite literally a bridge between cultures, religions, and ethnicities. Turkey also has the Black Sea to the north and the Mediterranean Sea to the south, which allows easy port and trade access.
In addition to the compelling and popular city-based attractions, like the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, or the Anitkabir in Ankara (the nation’s capital), there is so much natural wonder here to behold. Take, for instance, any one of the many national parks. The Fairy Chimneys, located in central turkey and in Goreme National Park defy imagination with their jutting, massive hunks of earth and are arguably best explored by hot air balloon. There is also an abundance of truly nature-centered parks to the south and southwest, like Köprülü Canyon and Saklikent, which offer trout fishing, peaceful walking paths, and stops for coffee along the way. To the southeast there’s the wildly interesting Nemrut Dagi National park, most known for its enormous carved faces.
Living in Turkey
While not quite a developing country, Turkey is also not on par with the more advanced nations of Europe. The minimum wage was only increased in 2022 to $275USD per month (this was higher prior to the 50% depreciation of the Turkish Lira). However, the recent devaluation of currency means that the country’s economy is susceptible to macroeconomic mismanagement (and international shocks), which should be considered prior to moving.
This is not to say that a comfortable, stress-free life isn’t accessible here—in fact, because Turkey is so international and diverse, foreigners find life easygoing and pleasant. Living costs are relatively low, and open markets offer a less expensive alternative to buying groceries in the bigger stores. Rental properties were fairly priced until recently, when larger cities realized a sharp increase in demand and prices shot up dramatically (read: up to 40%). Wifi access and speed is okay in Turkey, but making slow and steady improvements. For example, in 2008 there were only 6 million internet subscribers, but in 2021 that number increased to 88% of households in a country of 86 million.
Turkey’s Food and Drink
Food and drink are an important part of Turkish culture. Of course, the döner (a meat wrap) and kebab are synonymous with Turkish cuisine, as well as the delicious baklava—a puff pastry saturated in melty sugar and usually filled with nuts. But there’s so much more to enjoy from cold mezes of feta and fresh melon to refreshing garlic yogurt and lentil patties.
In terms of drink, there is a lot of exploring to do! Of course, there’s the tea and coffee, but other beverages are widely available to compliment a hot meal or a cool off from a night out.
As is the case with many things in Turkey, there is a pendulum that swings from past to present to past. For example the national drink of Turkey was long-considered to be raki. Raki is an alcoholic, aniseed-flavored beverage (with a high, 40% alcohol level) and is cut with water. Its appearance is chalky and white—hence it’s nickname, Lion’s Milk. However, in 2013 Prime Minister Erdogan changed the official drink to ayran, a yogurt-based beverage.
All told, there is so much to explore and enjoy in this multidimensional, beautiful, confounding nation.
Sit down on a worn Persian rug and enjoy piping hot Turkish coffee while we work hard to mine new information on all things Turkey.