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Trip report - Istanbul and many other wonderful sites in Turkey

Trip report - Istanbul and many other wonderful sites in Turkey

Old Sep 22nd, 2007, 07:10 AM
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Trip report - Istanbul and many other wonderful sites in Turkey

Hello Hello. My wife and I just returned from a wonderful two week trip to Turkey. We spent several days in Istanbul in front of and behind an organized bus tour of the country, by Insight Travels. I would highly recommend Insight. This was our first 'tour', and they made everything comfortable and smooth. There were 35 tourists, mostly from Australia and New Zealand, a few from Canada, and four of us from the US. Below, I've attached a trip report that I wrote for our local newspaper. If anyone has any questions about our experiences with Turkey, the people or our tour group, please do not hesitate to ask. You can reach me at my email address: [email protected] .

And now, the trip report:

Ny wife Cheryl and I recently returned from a wonderful vacation to Istanbul and many other locations in Turkey. Almost everything exceeded our very high expectations going into the trip. The people, the sites, the food, the shopping – they were all fantastic. With all of what Turkey has to offer, it’s strange that we don’t see too many advertisements for their tourism industry. For now, it’s a wonderful secret. In the not-too-future, I’m sure, many more visitors will discover the beauties of Turkey.

The People –
Before we went to Turkey, several of our friends expressed their concern that we were traveling to an unsafe portion of the world. I think that they believed that many Turks were terrorists, bent on defeating we infidels. Cheryl and I had no preconceptions, and were rewarded in our beliefs by meeting many warm and friendly Turks. We saw no apparent animosity towards us Americans. Everyone that we came into contact with had a smile, a handshake (or a polite bow with a hand to the chest), and were very helpful with our day-to-day travels. One evening, we were at the Blue Mosque, in Istanbul, waiting for the sunset and the evening call to prayers. As it was Ramandan, many Turkish families were waiting at the Mosque, with picnic dinners, waiting to break the day-long fast. As the call for sunset was given, some very sweet teenage girls in front of us prepared a plate of rolls and sweet breads, so that we too, could celebrate with them. The couple to the right of us added soft drinks to occasion.

Part of our vacation consisted of a bus tour, going to sites away from Istanbul, distances that I didn’t want to drive to myself. We had a very pleasant, very ‘western’ tour guide, named Gonul. She was very open to all of our questions about her Muslim traditions, beliefs. She gave us lessons in Turkish, Ottoman, Islamic history. She told us about the changes that are occurring in the cities, in the small towns, and in the very sparsely populated eastern portion of the country. We learned a lot about Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the father of modern Turkey. It was Ataturk who helped gain the Turkish independence following World War I. His reforms included abolishing the Sultanate system, replacing the Arabic alphabet with Latin, establishing a secular constitution, and providing rights to women and non-Muslims. It is right that he is so revered by the people of Turkey.

Palaces, Mosques, Churches, Ruins, Natural sites to visit –
We saw so many incredible sites in our two week visit. Hagia Sophia, built in 532 AD was the largest church in existence for over 1,000 years. Now a museum, it has the reminders of it’s past as both a church and a Mosque. The Blue Mosque, named for the incredible blue Iznik tiles on its walls, is incredibly large. The central dome rises over 180 feet from the ground. Topkapi Palace, home to the sultans until the mid-1800s. Dolmabahce, built to replace Topkapi, was grander then Versailles near Paris. The chandelier in the main ceremonial hall weighs over 4 ½ tons, all of English crystal.

Outside of Istanbul, we visited the ancient city of Troy, home of the legendary Trojan Horse (and now home to the horse used by Brad Pitt in the recent movie). We touched a wall built in 3,000 BC. We went to Ephesus, an incredible city built first by the Greeks, and then improved by the Romans. We saw the façade of the Library of Celsus, second only in volumes to the legendary library at Alexandria, Egypt. Near Ephesus, we visited the restored home of the Virgin Mary, now a shrine in her honor. It is believed by biblical scholars that the Apostle John brought Mary to Ephesus to live out her last days.

We visited Pamukkale, literally ‘cotton castles’, natural formations almost resembling snow and ice, cascading down a small mountain. These formations were formed millions of years ago by the calcium deposits in the water. From there we saw the necropolis, or ancient cemetery of the city of Hieropolis.

The highlight of the bus tour was a day at Cappadocia. Lava flows millions of years ago have weathered and eroded into a fantasy land of cones and columns, all made of a softer tufa-type stone. The ancients believed that fairies lived underground, and that these cones were their chimneys. Their beliefs came true in the early centuries of the Christian era. Christians, fearing persecution from first Roman and then Islamic invaders, tunneled into the chimneys, and built vast cities underground. We visited a city that could have held several thousand people on 7 levels beneath the surface. The cave dwellers built ventilation shafts, corrals for animals, and even a tunnel connecting another city 9 kilometers away. While there, we visited Goreme, a Christian religious site containing over 50 churches built into the rocks in Cappadocia. They built very ornate structures, simply by digging out the stone, creating ‘columns’ and ‘domes’ underground. The area is still used by several monestaries.

The food –
In a word, fantastic. My wife is the more adventurous eater in our family. I was a bit concerned that I’d go hungry for the two weeks that we were there. My concerns were completely unfounded. The food was delicious. Simple fare, it usually consisted of a meat (lamb, beef, or a mixture of the two), rice, flat bread and yogurts. Not only was it delicious, but it was very inexpensive. Dinner for two, with a 50 cl glass of local beer usually cost us less then $20 US (or 25 New Turkish Lira). As a snack, the Turkish Delight (very early predecessor to gummy bears) was great. We even had ice cream made from goats milk.

Shopping –
Affordable and exotic wares were found everywhere. From the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, with its 4,000 individual shops, to street stalls in Konya, there was a surplus of local crafts to peruse and to purchase. Sitting in a carpet shop, sipping complementary apple or cherry tea, watching the vendor unroll countless rugs and kilims at your feet is a wonderful experience. Almost comically, every rug salesmen in Turkey will try to get you into his shop, and will have an answer for every reservation you have about not needing, wanting or affording a rug. We were lucky – we only walked away with three smaller rugs. Nothing could have prepared us for the sights and smells of the Spice Bazaar. Everywhere we went, we saw (and Cheryl bought) incredibly beautiful embroidered shawls. Also coming home with us were many, many blue glass eyes, all thought to protect the owner from the evil charms of the ‘evil eye’.
We saw and experienced so much. We now know much more about Turkey and about the Muslim faith then we ever learned in school. The trip also gave more support to our belief that people are people, wherever we go. Most are warm and friendly, with concerns for their families and traditions. Through travel, Cheryl and I are able to affirm our love for all of humanity, and are better able to understand and appreciate the differences and similarities that we all share.
joearena99 is offline  
Old Sep 22nd, 2007, 07:19 AM
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Great report, thanks for sharing. Now I really want to go to Turkey!
Ella is offline  
Old Sep 22nd, 2007, 07:35 AM
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What a lovely report Joe.
It serves as a timely reminder to me of my own 11 day sojourn almost a year ago (October 06) to this wonderful country. I can certainly vouch for everything you and your wife experienced in this fascinating country, from the warm hospitality of the people during and outside of Ramadan (or Ramazan as they seem to call it in Istanbul) to the beautiful and exotic sights and sites and the determined carpet sellers !
More than anything, I am impressed with your very positive and open attitude towards travelling and encountering different cultures and experiences. I'm sure that you will find your travelling experiences infinitely more enjoyable as a result (if you haven't already). Good on you both, and thank you for your insights.

Mathieu is offline  
Old Sep 23rd, 2007, 10:29 AM
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I just got back 3 weeks ago from Turkey, I thought Turkey was the best country I have been too...
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Old Sep 25th, 2007, 09:18 PM
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Great report and very detailed !!! So glad that you had a fab time in Turkey.
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Old Sep 28th, 2007, 06:40 PM
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Thanks, joe, for posting this - it refreshed my own memories of Istanbul which are quite ion line with your experiences. I agree that the Turkish people were certainly among - if not the - warmest, friendliest natives I have encountered anywhere, and the food was excellent.
Seamus is offline  
Old Sep 29th, 2007, 05:05 AM
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Great Trip Report! Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

Most of all, I loved your last sentence. That's a great summation of a Traveler's Creed. If I ever get that book written (you know, we all have a book in us) I will want to use that sentence with your permission!

I can't wait to get to Turkey.
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Old Sep 29th, 2007, 07:55 AM
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thanks for the great report! Haven't been to istanbul since 2000, but would love to get back there. It was one of my favorite trips.
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