Peace Corps Writers
Review
Turkey

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Turkey
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See Tom Brosnahan’s other titles in the Bibliography

Turkey
by Tom Brosnahan (Turkey 1967–70) and Pat Yale
Lonely Planet, $21.95
816 pages
6th edition, 1999

Reviewed by Hayward Allen (Ethiopia 1962–64)

TURKEY IS A COUNTRY SO VAST the place is a world unto itself. Its history and culture reflect ten millenia and all their variations on the themes of social and political evolution. Beginning with the discoveries of a 7500 B.C. Neolithic city and leading through the Hittites of the Bronze Age, today’s visitors can move through Anatolian epochs of Phrygians, Uratarians, Alexander the Great, Roman imperialism, early Christianity, the birth of Islam, the Ottoman Empire, and on to Ataturk and the Turkish Republic.
     If there could be a definitive guide to both the vastness of Turkish land and its cultures, it must be Lonely Planet’s sixth edition of Turkey, by Tom Brosnahan and Pat Yale.

The basics
Travelers familiar with the Lonely Planet format will recognize the easing of one into the country, first through the factual sides of history, ecology and environment, population and people, the arts, religion, language and those ever-important aspects of Turkish society and one’s conduct within. These lead to “ground rules” for traveling in Turkey today. Included are “responsible tourism,” the media, food, dangers and annoyances, lodging, health, laundry and toilets, as well as where to exchange or obtain cash (there are ATMs). There are pointers for travelers of all stripes: women, gay and lesbian tourists, seniors, and those travelling with children.
     One of the most valuable subjects covered is transportation to and from Turkey, as well as getting around a country roughly the same size as Texas and Tennessee (300,000 sq. miles). Whether arriving by ship at Istanbul or hitchhiking through Thrace, there are things to know that are uniquely Turkish, such as it is much easier to enter the country through customs and currency exchange than leaving it.

Places to go, things to see
The remaining 550 pages of the guide are devoted to different places and regions of Turkey, traveling from Istanbul/Constantinople through Thrace, Aegean Turkey, the Mediterranean areas, Eastern and Central Anatolia, where the national capital, Ankara, is located and the Black Sea coast. From the 4000 miles of coastlines to 16,000 feet high atop Biblical Mt. Arrat, from Hellenistic ruins in the west to highland tribes in the east, Turkey has a multitude of discoveries for the curious traveler to the nomadic adventurer.
     What gives the guide its depth and breadth are the detailed descriptions of thousands of hotels and pensions, markets and bazaars, mosques and museums, and eateries fitting any and all palates. The descriptions come in all sizes, from elaborate to Spartan. In eastern Turkey, the history of Side includes “Many of Side’s great buildings were raised with the profits of piracy and slavery, which flourished under the Greeks . . .” Or in Erzurum, where the Otel Oral is described as “inconveniently located, noisy and overpriced...and often filled by groups. If you stay here, request a room at the back . . .”
     Occasionally, the authors do become a tad esoteric in their recommendations. For example, when in Afyon, formerly Afyonkarahisar, or “The Black Fortress of Opium,” in the north Aegean area, visitors are reminded, tongue in cheek, assumably: “Don’t forget to pop into one of the local sekerleme for a taste of Afyon’s famous yokum.”

Sidebars that season the mix
Some of the most interesting and informational parts of Turkey are found in the sidebars that season the guidebook.
     A personal favorite is the authors’ warning against dealing with shills, titled “Commissions — A Colossal Ripoff.” Anyone traveling abroad has encountered these parasites as taxi drivers, hotel clerks, or panhandlers. “Hey, meester, wanna buy gold boobles for wife?” Brosnahan and Yale warn readers about shills throughout the book, especially when dealing with markets and bazaars. Their best advice is “Don’t go into a shop accompanied by anyone,” other than a friend.
     On the positive side, much is made of “The Hamam Experience,“ or doing the classic Turkish steambath. A thousand-year-old tradition at Turkey’s natural spas, there are elaborate and beautiful baths built “partly because Islam demands high standards of personal hygiene, and partly because bathing is such a pleasure.” Unlike the “classic” American massage parlor, the hamam is not a sexual outlet for men and women who take steam and massage, we are reminded.
     Turkey has been the battlefield for warring powers since the dawn of history. With this in mind, as well as the fact that Lonely Planet guides emanate from Australia, one of the featured sites is the Gallipoli Peninsula. Traveler Justin Flynn’s notes about April 25, Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand, is a self-portrait of someone visiting Turkey with a goal. He describes the personal connection to the place where his countrymen and kin died in 1915, the topography of the place, and the connection to the Turkish patriot hero, Ataturk. It is left to the guide’s map makers and writers to warn folks of potential pitfalls and problems celebrating Down Under’s most patriotic anniversary.
     Well-written travel guides are a trip by themselves. Armchair voyagers can savor and see places beyond their personal borders of a midwestern farm or a big city co-op. Turkey is an encylopedia and a travel book, and those who are planning a trip to this exotic region will find both aspects inspiring, useful to the nth degree, and very educational.
     One caveat: Turkey is a huge country, transportation is fundamental, people live their lives as they always have, and time takes longer to pass.
     A post-script: the authors are generous in their acknowledgement of people who have sent in their own impressions and suggestions or recommendations — there are two pages of names listed. Also: an up-to-the-moment upgrade to this is a guide can be found on-line at www.lonelyplanet.com.

And from our reviewer —

Hayward’s own sidebar: After my Peace Corps time in Ethiopia, I took the slow way home. Part included a train ride from Beirut to Istanbul, one of the most remarkable and longest (three days) I have taken. From lowland desert to tunnel after tunnel filtering coal smoke into the cars, and the toilets filling the air aromatically. Around midnight the second night, the train stopped and running water could be heard. I went to the steps, looked out, into and upwards in a great canyon, with only a sliver of stars showing far above. I walked toward the cascading sound and doused myself silly with the clearest, coldest water. It was as glorious and clean a stop along the way as the train ride was hideously tedious, regardless of vistas and views.

Second sidebar: Walking the streets of Istanbul, I found my tastebuds seeking icecream after a considerable Ethiopian drought of the sweet creamy stuff. In a back alley, I saw a familiar stainless steel drum and stack of cones beside it. There was even a small curl at the end of the spigot. Frozen custard! I asked for a cone in halting Turkish. My mouth and eyes watered as the white plops were built one atop the other. I paid a few liras, took the cone, closed my eyes and licked. God! It wasn’t Dairy Queen, it was yogurt! I ate it anyway. Not half-bad, actually.

Third sidebar: I traveled from Turkey to Greece by bus during one of many Cypriot disturbances. Most of the passengers were Greek women and children headed to safer Hellenic ground. The ride to the Turkish-Grecian border was very quiet, the fear palpable. Finally we reached the dry river bed that separated the two antagonists, and the Turkish customs and army led us off the bus and into a shed. The one or two with US passports were allowed through, fairly easily; still we stood afraid outside the shack. The rest of the passengers were searched, bags thrown open and contents tossed, insults heaped, and tears heard inside. Finally, we were all allowed to walk across the sandy bed and escorted half-way across to Greek militia and our Grecian bus. Once aboard, motor running, wheels turning, the audience changed from tragedy to comedy. Laughter and song, radios and cheers, and the women dug deep into their bosoms and pulled out reams of US dollars hidden in the folds of their clothes and bodies.

Hayward Allen spent almost a month in Turkey after his Peace Corps experience in Ethiopia. Since returning, he’s been a teacher, an international worker for financial cooperatives (credit unions), and written two travel guides to Native American and two wildlife books, about whales and herons. He lives in Rochester, NY.
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