If cities and countryside steeped in thousands of years of history, warm salty blue waters, kebap for breakfast lunch and dinner, the smell of exotic spices and the site of Whirling Dervishes float your boat, you’ve got to get to Turkey. I had the pleasure of visiting with a group of friends from my church in 2002. Scrolling though my mental Rolodex, with a little help from my photographic inventory, I realized the breadth of what we experienced in just weeks.
Turkey is very different from a lot of countries I’ve visited. Exploring those differences made for a travel experience that was unlike others, distinctly true because Turkey is a Muslim nation though it has a secular government. The reminders are everywhere: the daily call to prayer declared from the many mosques, ubiquitous kebap vendors, fresh pomegranates and olives for breakfast, amazingly old architecture and the Turkish Eye always looking out for you. It was exciting to be a place so wondrously foreign.
Turks are very friendly and seem to enjoy a convivial way of life. It is not difficult to engage them in conversation or ask for a photo. It is a beautiful country that gracefully juxtaposes the cosmopolitan with the ancient.
Here are some things you just ought to do:
- Go to Antalya. Located on the Mediterranean coast of southwestern Turkey, Antalya is the third most visited city in the world and the county’s busiest seaside town.
- Get to at least one of the major Christian religious sites, even if you aren’t Christian. Turkey is home to Ephesus, one of the most interesting archeological sites in the country. We went to Antioch, the place where Jesus’ followers were first called Christians, which I found no less fascinating.
- Visit a mosque, even if you are not Muslim.
- A stunning reminder of how the past informs the present, see Cappadocia in the central Anatolia region. We went there to see the Göreme Open Air Museum, one of the most famous sites in central Turkey. The complex contains more than 30 churches and chapels carved from the rocks and into the hillsides. Some of these caves have superb frescoes inside, dating from the 9th to the 11th centuries (see photos below).
- Istanbul is a must. I highly recommend seeing the Blue Mosque. Built between 1609 and 1616 it is an active mosque and a popular tourist attraction. You should also pay the Grand Bazaar or Covered Market, a visit. There are entire websites dedicated to planning a visit there so you may want to read up. You’ll be wise to watch out for pick-pockets, expect to bargain, and enjoy the mayhem! The Bazaar is closed on Sundays and on Islamic holidays so plan accordingly.
- Take a cruise on the Bosphorus. Istanbul is also the only city built on two continents, and the Bosphorus Strait divides them. It stretches 20 miles from the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea cutting Istanbul in half. How cool is that?