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The devastating Aug. 17 earthquake in Turkey mostly spared the country's tourist heartland, including Istanbul's Old City, cruise ship terminal and airport. But whether to visit so soon after a national disaster can be a difficult decision.

"Everybody's mourning. It's a terrible thing," said tour operator and guidebook author Rick Steves, who visited Istanbul just five days after the quake. But he also found "no sign of any physical problems caused by the earthquake" in tourist areas and said no one had canceled on his company's next Turkey tour, which started Monday. "We have a very hardy clientele," he explained. His Edmonds, Wash.-based Europe Through the Back Door sends about 500 cultural tourists to Turkey each year.

An Aug. 19 State Department announcement, still in effect last week, advised Americans to defer travel to quake-hit Izmit, Kocaeli, Golcuk and Yavlova -- none major tourist areas. "Istanbul and its suburbs suffered isolated damage . . . and are recovering quickly," it added. Hundreds of dead were reported in Istanbul, but most were in outlying areas, observers said.

"Life is going as it was before in Istanbul," Selami Karaibrahimgil, director of the Turkish Tourist Office in New York, said last week.

Still, tourists going between Istanbul and Bursa, the former Ottoman capital to the south known for its silk textiles, may find roads clogged by aid efforts. Pacha has been ferrying clients between the cities across the Sea of Marmara. And in Aegean and Mediterranean resorts, hundreds of miles from the quake, some nightspots planned to close for a month in mourning.

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