By S. S. YOGA
TURKEY can be confusing to those who are unsure if it is in Europe or Asia. About 3% of the country straddles Europe, including part of its largest city, Istanbul, while the rest is on the Asian side past the Bosphorus.
Most people can name Istanbul, but hardly any other city or region. This is possibly because Istanbul is the country’s economic, cultural and historic centre and one of the world’s most visited cities.
I wanted to experience the city, but to also take in varied regions and experiences around the country, including those in the East. So I opted for Trafalgar’s 14-day Best of Turkey tour.
We started off in Istanbul and there is so much to take in, with its palaces and mosques, the Tokapi Palace (magnificent with great views of the city), the stunning Hagia Sophia (a mosque-church but now a museum, which is a testament to the Turkish embracement of all religions) and the spectacular Blue Mosque.
The latter is currently undergoing extensive renovation work, so you won’t see it in all its glory
They are all close by, but there’s a bit of walking involved, so do have comfortable walking shoes.
I highly recommend you take a Bosphorus cruise, as it’s a different take on the city, and the architecture and scenery on display is astounding.
Mosques, mountains, Mars-landscapes and magnificence
Heading east, lies historic Gallipoli, site of a bloody battle during World War I fought mainly by the Turks against the combined allied forces of Britain, Australia, New Zealand, India and France.
The Allies lost, but there are memorials dedicated to most of the nations involved in the battle, a testament to the Turks respect for history. It’s a sobering visit, but with a backdrop that’s quite beautiful and even serene.
Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city, is by the Aegean Sea, and is close to historical attractions like the famed city of Troy (yes, a lot of Turkey used to be under Greek rule), Pergamon and its Asclepion Medical Centre, the stunning ruins of Epheseus and even what is believed to be the home of the biblical Virgin Mary, where she lived till her death.
Pamukkale, with its beautiful white limestone terraces and emerald-blue pools, is next. Be prepared to take many photos, both of the pools and the nearby ancient Hierapolis with its impressive amphiteatre.
Antalya is a Mediterannean seaside resort with many themed hotels, and a favourite of wealthy Russian tourists. The city is known as the Turkish Riveira, and has some impressive Ottoman architecture.
Close by is the Roman city of Perge and the Antalya Archaeological Museum, and on the way out of Antalya, there is the ancient Greek-Roman city of Aspendos, which has one of the best preserved theatres of antiquity.
If you visit the city of Konya, you will know that you’re in the more conservative and religious East. It is the spiritual centre of Sufism, and houses the Mausoleum of Mevlana Rumi (the great Sufi poet) which is also a museum-mosque. The entire structure is well worth the visit.
Konya is also where you can catch a performance by the famed Whirling Dervishes.
It’s hard to beat the stunningly weird landscapes of Cappadocia. You can take in all the sights at the Göreme Open-Air Museum. Try to stay in a cave hotel, or visit a cave dwelling that is still in use.
Finally, the capital Ankara is more modern but has great museums, and a must-see is the final resting place of the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, a leader who truly changed the country.
Eat and shop
People tend to think that Turkish cuisine is the same as Arab cuisine, but in fact, it has much more range.
For instance, there are kebabs, koftes (meatballs), manti (dumpling like filled-pasta), gozelme (Turkish pizza), bazlama and pilaf.
For souvenirs, you can pick up carpets and those indigo blue, touristy Evil Eyes. But also consider ceramic plates, Turkish sweets, Turkish tea and coffee, leather products and handmade soap.
The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is a tourist trap where you have to bargain really hard.
You can also try your luck at finding cheap souvenirs at those stops along the highways near petrol stations (do remember to bargain).
Interact with the locals, too. They are quite welcoming, and it will give you a better insight into the country.
S. S. YOGA is a freelance editor/writer who likes to travel as much as he can, but also can’t wait to get back to his teh tarik and local favourites.