Turkey: the journey so far

I’m half way through my tour of Turkey. Today is a rest day – our driver is not allowed to drive on Sundays – so I’m swanning around a luxurious hotel in Antalya, catching up on things like washing, reading and blogging.

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The tour generally

This tour – despite the earlier rockier start with the seating arrangements – has been excellent. Izzet, our Tour Director, is thorough, and very generous with information and cultural insight. He was a wonderful sense of humour, and like Turkish men generally, very charming. The other guests are good company, and overall have reinforced my decision that touring is my preferred way to see the world.

Being driven through Turkey is the best way to see it: the plains of Anatolia, the rugged beauty of the Toros Mountains, the resort areas where Turkey greets the Mediterranean Sea aka Turquoise Coast (where I currently am). All these different vistas make this country diverse and unique.

The hotels on this tour have generally been excellent. Globus is not the budget-conscious line that Cosmos is (which I did for Slovenia, and will be doing again for Greece), although they are the same company. Really, the only difference between the two tour brands is the hotel accommodation: Globus uses four and five star hotels, while Cosmos uses three star.

While the hotel accommodation has been fabulous, I have to say that I haven’t been that impressed with the food. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), most dinners – as well as breakfasts, which is standard – are included. So, instead of eating out at local restaurants, and trying the local food region by region, we’ve been stuck in hotel restaurants, eating from mostly western-style buffets. A number of people have had stomach issues (I’ve escaped so far, touch wood), and I think it’s the hotel food.

The best food I’ve eaten so far has been in road-houses or truck stops, and it’s authentic Turkish food that doesn’t cater to Western tastes. This is because most Turkish people travel by bus or car. These stops are operating 24/7 with “home-cooked” meals. And the food really is delicious. Fish, meat, chicken, vegetables, fruits, rice are all cooked to perfection and are very, very tasty.

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Speaking of food, there is no such thing as bacon or pork here. Culturally, Turks favour fish, sheep, goats or beef, because they were traditionally easier to move around from region to region than pigs. I must say, I do miss my bacon!

The cities and regions

Istanbul is a big city, bustling with activity and noise: wall-to-wall people and vehicles operating in what seems like organised chaos. Of course, we did the mandatory cultural excursions, but I would need two months – rather than two days – to do it justice and explore its nooks and crannies.

Bursa will reside in my memory as the place I got chatted up by a handsome Turk. Other than that, the silk market was a delightful place to meander, stopping for tea and a chit chat.

Ankara was a lovely city – I was impressed with how clean and light it was… it felt almost European to me. We visited the Atatürk Mausoleum, which left me with the feeling that I want to learn more about the man that reformed Turkey. He was a visionary, charismatic leader, who – with sheer determination and an understanding of and love for his people – modernised Turkey. The current government’s agenda of closer ties between state and religion was not what he envisioned for his country.

I am convinced that Cappodocia (or Kapadokya), like Santorini, is a place where it is impossible to take a bad picture. No matter which direction you turn, you are greeted with a stunning landscape. The religious heritage is interesting as well: chapels carved into the soft pumice, painted with gorgeous frescoes detailing the life of Christ and various saints.

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I felt a bit flat when I arrived in Cappodocia, but thus beautiful place helped me get my travel mojo back.

We stayed overnight in Konya, visited a lovely mosque and schools of theology. This is quite an industrial city, more traditional than Istanbul or Bursa, for example. More women wear the head cover than in any other city we have visited so far, but apparently wearing a head scarf is a choice, not an absolute. We stayed at the Hilton Hotel, but were warned by Izzet not to venture out after dark, because the area in which the hotel was located was active with gypsies and quite dangerous.

And yesterday, we arrived in Antalya, a resort city on the Turquoise Coast, where I celebrated my 50th birthday. It was a wonderful day, and evening (I took a gazillion photos of a gorgeous sunset). I had dinner with the other guests, and a cake – replete with sparklers and candles – was brought out during dinner, and everyone wished me a happy birthday. The only thing that would have made it any better was if my daughter was with me.

Turkey generally

Turkey is a country of contrasts, for example, as a mainly Muslim country, the government controls alcohol production, and alcohol is more or less freely available in supermarkets or liquor stores. It is expensive, particularly in hotels.

Religion is everywhere, but in more or less the same way as Christianity. Mosques, clearly, are active places of worship, and I like the call to prayer I hear during the day. In some mosques, I am required to cover my hair with a scarf (as in different cultures and countries, women submit in order to help men control themselves) and remove my shoes, but I don’t mind because it has a novel, impermanent, feeling.

The scenery is stunning, but there is a lot of rubbish lying around on the roadside, mainly plastic water bottles (we were advised by Izzet to buy bottled water, but I’ve been drinking tap water – there’s actually nothing wrong with it other than taste: I’ve drunk much worse tasting water at home). Both urban and rural landscapes are comprised of high- and low-rise apartment blocks. Each rooftop is equipped with a satellite dish, solar panels and a water tank, which – while practical – looks quite odd.

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The women (also mentioned previously) may or may not cover their hair. You might see a group of girls with varying degrees of cover amongst them. I have not seen too many burqas being worn. The women are well dressed, and wear what I would consider to be standard European dress: skinny jeans/cargoes, shirts/tees and ballet flats. The men are equally as well dressed.

I was impressed with the vision Atatürk had for Turkey, and the determination he had for carrying out his reforms. He gave women equal rights, ensured Turks adopted surnames, adopted the current Turkish alphabet, and signed treaties with neighboring countries, among other things. Like Tito (who I also must read more about), he was a man who used his power for the greater good. We could definitely use a few more leaders of their ilk in the world today.

3 Comments

  • Susan Cooper/findingourwaynow.com September 24, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    I would love to travel the world. I also would love to experience the “home cooked” meals versus the meals that “cater” to the tourists. 🙂

    Reply
    • dileeshus September 24, 2013 at 4:28 pm

      I must say I’m getting very sick of hotel buffets 🙁

      Reply
  • A birthday update - Diane Lee October 1, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    […] week trip to Europe, of course. I mean, why wouldn’t I? And I spent the actual day of my 50th in a resort on the Turkish Riviera (Antalya). I was with a tour that had a large contingent of Australians and New Zealanders. […]

    Reply

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