Just like the city of Istanbul, Turkey has one foot firmly planted in modern Europe and the other in the ancient Asia. Asia? Yes, the city of Istanbul straddles two continents – Europe and Asia. A visit will combine the mysteries of the East with the modern touch of the West.
I fell in love with Turkey in my seventh grade geography class. My teacher delighted in showing us films of various countries and the minarets, mosques and whirling dervish dancers captured my imagination like no other country had before.
It would be another twenty years before I set foot in this magical country but my fascination hadn’t faded one little bit.
Turkey has been at the crossroads of both history and cultures for centuries. Istanbul, once known as Constantinople, was an essential port of call for those heading two and from Asia. Istanbul is very much like other major modern metropolitan centers with its share of traffic, generic modern architecture and lots and lots of bustle.
Look beyond what may seem familiar and let your eyes linger on the richness of Turkey’s history. A history, I might add, that has been conveniently left out on display across the city.
There is so much to see in Istanbul: the Sultanahmet Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque for its blue tiles lining the interior walls; the Hagia Sophia, a former basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum; the Topkapi Palace with its immense harem; and the Grand Bazaar, one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world.
Ah, the Grand Bazaar. This has to be on the of the original super malls of the world. Spices, jewelry, gold and, of course, souvenir knick knacks. All very hard to resist. If you want to avoid being the “lucky” first sale of the day, lots of sales pressure first thing in the a.m., then arrange your visit for later in the day.
Do be wary of street vendors. Learn from my mistakes! I couldn’t resist a “too good to be true” (and it was) price on a bottle of Opium perfume. It was not until when I was back at the hotel and had opened the shrink-wrapped box, that I discovered the bottle itself did not bear any resemblance to the real perfume. My innocent husband thought we should at least give it a spritz as it “might not be so bad.” I declined, and renamed it “Eau de Camel Pieds” and consigned it to the trash bin.
On the plus side, I purchased a beautiful red wool wrap that I continue to wear and snuggle up in while on air plane rides. It was a very generous 48 x 48 inch square. Just be careful and buy only what you can examine in depth.
Venture beyond the capital to the Mediterranean port of Kusadasi to see the archaeological delights of Ephesus. Ephesus is the second most well-preserved ancient city in Europe after Pompeii. Ephesus is truly special experience because like Pompeii, this is an entire city in which to wander. Not just one temple or cathedral. An entire city. The treasures of Ephesus include the Library of Celsus, the Temple of Hadrian and the Great Theater that could hold 24,000 people. You can wander the streets of what was once a thriving city and discover the sophistication of an ancient civilization complete with sewer system and public toilets.
Turkey is an easy, if lengthy, flight from New York, Chicago, Washington, DC, London or Paris. However, if you are already in Europe there are many more options available for travel to Turkey. You can go by overland bus, train or even ferry service from Venice to Izmir during the summer.
If you are a first time traveller to Turkey a package including air, hotels and sightseeing is an excellent way to maximize your time. Most tours will have an English-speaking guide who can enhance your experience. Although the language barrier may prove more of an inconvenience, than a difficulty, English is spoken by a large number of the population.
Two continents for the price of one Only in Turkey.