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East or West in Turkey?

We were driving from Ankara to Cappadocia in Turkey. Ava and Kayan had been passed out for the two hours when Ava opened her eyes and exclaimed, “Look Kayan, it looks like New York!” When we asked why, her reply was, “The sky is blue and the clouds aren’t moving.”

We would have thought it was the snowy terrain, particularly after five months around Asia that would have reminded her of New York. Either way, we too felt the change in scenery, culture and weather after arriving in Turkey. Had we left the emerging world for the developed? Straddling both Europe and Asia, Turkey has a mixed personality. It’s a little bit East and a little bit West. It echoes ancient civilizations and empires yet boasts modern buildings and highways. Our first culture shock upon landing here was the lack of paperwork. After bureaucracy intensive¬†Asia, it was very strange to get a Turkish visa (required upon landing for U.S. Citizens) and go through immigration and customs without filling up a single form. Good thing too, since the only writing instruments we had were color¬†pencils. The entire process was very efficient and very impersonal. No eye contact required. It was a drastic departure from Asia, where we could barely cross the street without someone engaging us in conversation. Then, as if proving that she had different personalities, Turkey shocked us again. Upon exiting customs, a man with a big smile greeted us with a “Welcome to Turkey!” and handed each of the kids balloons boasting the Turkish flag and lollipops. Now that would never happen in New York.

The most glaring similarity to New York has been the prices. Our rental car for a week is about $1,000. Lunch at a roadside rest stop was $35, a far cry from our $1 dishes in Chiang Mai. East or West, ancient or modern, it’s all debatable. What we do know is that Turkey is opening up a whole new area of the world for us to explore. We’ve never seen New York, London, Istanbul and Baghdad so cozy together.

We’re planning to spend several weeks exploring Turkey and some of the caucuses. Perhaps by then we ‘ll know where this board is urging us to go.

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