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Istanbul is due to its geographical location the centre of the Old World. This important metropolis is well known for its historic monuments and its charming natural beauty. With a number of 16 million inhabitants Istanbul is the biggest city in Turkey. It is also the only city in the world that reaches over two continents because its area is divided by the “Bosporus”! The city can look back on 2500 year old, rich and eventful history. Nearly 1600 years it was used as a capital by the Roman, Byzantine and Turkish Ottoman empires. Over 120 sultans and emperors ruled from Istanbul. Even after Ankara was declared capital of Turkey, Istanbul did not loose any of its power and importance. Still today it impresses by its charming look and its vividness. The life is pulsating – parts of Turkish, Byzantine and Roman time side to side. The city is the most important centre of commerce, industry and universities. The same of course applies to pleasure and shopping possibilities.
Due to the geographical and topographical position of this old town with its monuments, squares, mains streets the residential areas kept their original place despite numerous changes during the time. Today Istanbul experiences a time of architectural development and adornment which remind of the old days of the “capital”.
Istanbul has a mild, warm Mediterranean climate. During the summer months the temperatures are between 30 °C and 40 °C and in winter the average temperature never sinks below freezing. People having problems with the heat should rather go and visit Istanbul during spring or autumn. High season for a trip is from June to August.
Languages spoken in Istanbul are Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic, Armenian and Greek. In touristy areas English is understood.
The biggest part of the population is admitting themselves to Islam. Important but small minorities are the Greek orthodox Christians, the Armenian Christians and the Sephardic Jews. The city is the seat of the patriarch of Constantinople, who possesses an orthodox church in Turkey and who is accepted as the head of the whole orthodoxy.
It is also the residency of the arch bishop of the Turkish orthodox community, an Armenian arch bishop and a Turkish chief rabbi. The city view is shaped by buildings of different religious groups, especially in Kuzguncuk they are very close to each other.
The currency used in Turkey is the New Turkish Lira (YTL). Notes come in denominations of 1; 5; 10; 20; 50 and 100 YTL and the coins in use are 0,05, 0,10; 0,25 and 1 YTL. Credit cards are accepted in most hotels and bigger shops. In many small shops and on markets you can only pay cash. In some shops they don’t have much change so be prepared to have some small notes with you all the time. Money can be taken from any cash machine at any time of the day. You can change money in banks or exchange offices (PTT). In touristy areas some of the shops also change money.
It is common practice tot tip 5 to 10 percent in the more expensive restaurants. Taxi drivers do not have to be tipped but it is customary to round the meter amount as a tip. There is no extra charge for more than one person or for luggage. Hotel porters will expect a tip of around 2 or 3 percent of the cost of your room.
The VAT (KDV in Turkish) varies from 1% - 18% but is usually applied as 18%. VAT payable on local purchases and on imports is regarded as "input VAT" and VAT calculated and collected on sales is considered as "output VAT". In the shops that are connected to the Global Refund System visitors can claim their VAT back. The price must be at least YTL 118 and the goods have to be brought out of the country within 3 months. When buying you get a voucher (Tax Refund Cheque) which will be stamped together with your passport or your ID at the airport. The cheque can be cashed at your return either at the Cash-Refund office or you can send it to the Global Refund. You receive a cheque to your home address or a credit note on your credit card account.
As calling from a hotel is in general very expensive it is advisable to call from a public telephone. Therefore you can use a telephone card which can be purchased at kiosks or at the post office. For calls to Turkey first dial 0090 and then 212 for Istanbul from the European side and 216 for the Asian part.
There are internet cafés in every part of the city. You can surf the internet while having a cup of tea (cay) or coffee which you have to pay separately. During the day the clientele are students, in the evening you find more adults over there. Outside of Istanbul you are likely to share a slow broadband connection or only dialup. Expect to pay 2.00 YTL for 30 – 60 minutes depending on location and bandwidth.
State Offices: 8.30 am - 12.30 am, 1.30 pm - 5.30 pm (closed on Sat and Sun)
Banks: 8.30 am – 12 am, 1.30 pm – 5 pm (closed on Sat and Sun)
Shops: 9.30 am – 7 pm (closed on Sun)
Grand Bazaar: 8 am – 7 pm (closed on Sun)
Department Stores: Daily 10 am – 10 pm
During the summer months the official offices and some other offices are closed during noon. The times are fixed by the municipality.
The arrival of a public holiday in Istanbul is very obvious from the sea of red flags in the whole city. Public establishments, schools, shops, offices, museums and banks are closed on that day and sometimes even half of the day before.
• Ramazan Bayrami: at the end of the fasting month Ramazan
• Kurban Bayrami: follows two and a half months on Ramazan
In Turkey the rate of theft is lower than in other touristy countries as thievery does not get along with the belief of the Muslims and is traditionally penalised very hard. But of course there are exceptions, especially in the cities. Pickpockets work especially in crowed areas for example on the markets and bazaars but also on the beach you have to be careful. Don’t take more cash than really necessary and keep valuable things in the hotel safe. It is also very common that people get bamboozled so first compare the prices before buying. And you have to bargain! Don’t believe that the pieces sold are real. Also taxi drivers like to shortchange people.
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