Bits of Turkey: Samples of a Great Travel Destination
I felt a twinge of longing and excitement when I saw the advertisement reading, “Holidays to Turkey.” Turkey is part of the three-way tie at the top of my travel wish list. It is also, the number one place that I’ve been too, but would like to go back.
What makes Turkey a great travel destination?
A lot of must-see places.
The add for Bodrum caught my eye because the Aegean Coast, with its spectacular ruins, underwater archeology and beautiful vistas is one of the parts I missed on my trip 20 years ago and one of the reasons I need to go back.
The other is the Pamukkale where calcium oxide-rich waters flow down a mountainside in pristine white pools. Next time…
But I would not give up any of the things I did see.
I recently saw a character in a film proclaim Istanbul to be the most fascinating city in the world. I don’t know what city merits this title, but based on my experience, Istanbul would certainly be in the running. The sights are remarkable- the myriad of colors, sounds and smells in the Grand Bazaar; the beauty of the Blue Mosque and the grandeur of the Hagia Sophia. Even the bus station, more like a giant field filled with coaches (how did I find my way to the right bus?), left an impression.
By far, my favorite sight in Istanbul was the Basilica Cistern. Above, a bustling city with traffic, noise, commerce, hurry. But below, a warm soft darkness, classical music accompanied by the sound of occasional drops of water as condensation dripped from the Byzantine columns into the pool below. If only every city had such a marvelous place to escape to.
Few places you will see are as memorable as town of Göreme in Cappadocia. It’s one of those places that makes you wonder if you’ve left earth and are traveling in a sci-fi novel. Cone shaped rock formations, converted into houses, churches and monasteries – some dating back to the Roman period, are scattered over the landscape. There is an “open air museum” and it is now popular to take hot air balloon rides over the valley. I would definitely repeat my visit.
Black Sea Coast
In my limited time, I forsake the Aegean in order to travel the Black Sea coast. Being in the Middle East had made me long for the lush plant life I was used to and the green forests suited me. I visited the famous monastery at Trabzon, and tagged along with some other travelers to the hiking village of Ayder.
The coastline was dramatic and sometimes scary. The curvy road hugged the cliff-side and the insane bus driver decided he needed to pass the vehicle in front of us. My companions and I reacted with varying degrees of horror. I was fatalistic, thinking, “This is it. We’re all going to die.” The Ausie in our group cussed out the bus driver and the other Yankee hid his head saying, “I can’t watch this.” I mistakenly believed the fourth member of our party to be asleep, but he suddenly looked up and with fabulous British understatement said, “That strikes me as dangerous.”
Perhaps the greater danger was at our next stop – Lake Van, in the eastern extreme of the country, not far from the border with Iran. Historic Armenian churches dot the edges of the lake. Highly alkaline and salt-rich, the water is a natural detergent. Like good travelers we swished our clothes around and considered ourselves to have done laundry.
The balcony of a restaurant overlooking the lake served as our campground. The owners were very friendly and let us lock our gear up in their office while we went down to the water. Our packs were not the only things locked in that room, there appeared to be a good stash of arms as well. We were in Kurdish territory and had heard rumors about “ethnic cleansing”. I have no idea if it was really happening. The next day when we were trying to get a lift, my friend realized he had lost his passport. The restaurant owner drove him to town to make a police report and that evening the police came out to our peaceful spot on the lake.
We had unwittingly provided the government authorities a reason to make their presence felt among our Kurdish hosts. Tension was thick. Everyone sat around a table drinking, pretending there was no problem. A couple of travelers had guitars and we say songs- Dock of the Bay and The Boxer – trying to keep everyone happy or at least distracted, but also planning our escape should things get dicey. In the end, the night passed without incident, but we felt bad about putting our hosts, who had been very good to us, in a difficult position.
One traveler’s memoir I read said that the hills of the disputed area are filled with gold. When I asked why not let the Kurds have their own country, the Turkish man I was talking to spoke of a much more precious resource – fresh water. Things are not simple.
But such adventures make for good stories later. The main problem I have with travel is that I both want to go to places I’ve never been and I want to go back to places that I have. Turkey is a prime example of both.