Turkey: A Feast for All the Senses
|Lunch is served at an outdoor restaurant in rural Turkey. The Turks are known for their warm hospitality and flavorful cuisine.|
By Dave Fox
The moment you step out of Atatürk Airport, you sense your life is about to change. The city outside straddles two continents, mesmerizing you with its intoxicating chaos. Majestic minarets puncture the skyline. Five times a day, the lilting cries of Muslim calls to prayer fill the air. Exotic aromas waft from bazaars, tempting you inside. Smiling school children approach you, anxious to practice their few sentences of English. Carpet sellers lure you with well-rehearsed sales pitches. When it's time to catch your breath, find a tea house and ask for a backgammon lesson over a glass of apple tea.
Welcome to Istanbul, Turkey's vibrant city that has for centuries been a crossroads between Europe and Asia. Visitors here often feel a sense of culture shock in their first few hours, but the city quickly wins them over as they absorb the energy that makes Istanbul so magical. The Byzantine Ayasofia Church, the Blue Mosque, the sprawling Topkapi Palace, all within a five-minute walk of each other, boast the nation's proudest treasures and architecture. The ancient underground cistern offers a cool and soothing respite from the city heat. And in the Grand Bazaar, you can haggle over unusual spices, carpets, leather goods, and gold, not to mention every cheap tourist trinket imaginable. It's a feast for all the senses.
With the help of an excellent Turkish guide, the Best of Turkey has become one of Rick Steves' most popular regional tours. And Istanbul is just the beginning of this two-week adventure. An overnight train carries you to Ankara, the nation's modern capital, where you'll find the mausoleum of Kemal Ataturk, the man credited with bringing Turkey into the modern age. From there, dive deep into Cappadocia, with its fairy chimney landscape and traditional villages. Cruise the Mediterranean Sea on a yacht for a day, and stroll among the ruins of ancient Ephesus, once a mighty trading port and the capital of Roman Asia. The tour ends in beach resort town of Kusadasi. From there, you're free to fly back to Istanbul from nearby Izmir, and then home, or wind down with some leisurely Greek island hopping on your way to the airport in Athens.
|A potter in Cappadoccia demonstrates his craft using a centuries-old technique. He spins the potter's wheel by kicking at the base with his feet.|
Our Turkey tour members come back with glowing reports. Here are some recent comments from our tour evaluations:
- "Hearing the call to prayer the first time in Istanbul made me feel I was in a truly exotic and alien place. Then it became soothing. Now I miss it."
- "In Cappadoccia, we went to an abandoned Christian rock church.... The acoustics were fantastic. We all sang a few hymns — even had some harmonizing. It was magic and beautiful to stand together singing in such an ancient holy place with fresco fragments 1,000 years old over our heads."
- "On the way to Antalya, we made a detour to see an Roman aqueduct at sunset. There were cotton fields there, and people picking cotton. While we were out taking pictures, one of the woman pickers came over and talked to our guide. It turned out she was inviting our group to come to her house and visit and have tea. This hospitality was not the exception, but more the rule."
- "Lale [our guide] was just excellent! She had a wonderful command of the history, culture, religion, art, and architecture of Turkey. I can't imagine a better guide. I also liked her sense of humor and easy-going nature."
Mark Stewart, a former tour member posted the following comments on our Graffiti Wall message board:
"I'll admit before I left, I was a little concerned due to problems in the region. From the moment I landed in Istanbul, I couldn't have been more wrong. I never once felt or saw any indication of any tension politically or militarily. Our second day there was the national elections day, and if anything it was a festive and peaceful demonstration of democracy.... I felt more safe in Istanbul than I do in Seattle."