If you have hosted notions that the transcontinental Republic of Turkey is all about mouthwatering kebabs, intricate handwoven silk carpets and Turkish Delight, you wouldn’t be entirely wrong, but you have merely scratched the veneer of this exotic land whose roots can be traced back to early Anatolian civilisations.
A nine day exploration of Turkey brought this eager beaver to the cream of the crop of panoramic tourist spots which this geographical hybrid has to offer. Upon landing in Istanbul, the globe’s only city which rests on two continents, I promptly set off to one of Turkey’s most enduring iconic monuments, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, more commonly referred to as the Blue Mosque. Contrary to its name, its exterior appears to be a fusion of bronze and grey hues in the day. Enter this astounding creation of traditional Islamic and classical Ottoman architecture and you will learn the reason behind its name; lovely cobalt blue tiles adorn the walls of its interior.
This majestic product of seven years of labour comprises of several Byzantine Christian elements of the neighbouring attraction, Hagia Sophia. The short journey on foot to Hagia Sophia will treat you to a feast for the senses; Istanbul is truly a hub of bustling energy even at 8am on a weekday morning. For just one Turkish lira, entertain your tastebuds with the fresh flavours of simit, a popular local breakfast item; a pastry which resembles a doughnut that is encrusted with sesame seeds. Humour the charming local lads who will bowl you over with their persistent flattery whilst attempting to sell you handmade souvenirs at initially exorbitant prices.
Step into the premises of Hagia Sophia and you will be enlightened with regards to why Turkey has been constantly addressed as an emblem of hybridity in terms of culture. Apart from being a tourist hotspot, Hagia Sophia serves as the ultimate symbol of compromise between the then feuding Christianity and Islam. Originally a Greek Orthodox church, then later an imperial mosque and presently functioning as a museum, this structure fuses elements of both religions graphically within its interior, as seen from the strategic positioning of images of Christ next to Arabic scriptures. Mosaic tiles and marble pillars magnify the sense of regality exuded by this edifice constructed in the year 537.
What’s a holiday without, you guessed it, shopping! Fret not, shopaholics, for Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and Spice Market guarantee you a paradise like no other. As mind boggling as it may sound, the Grand Bazaar packs over 3000 shops which peddle wares ranging from traditional carpets to Persian saffron. It is the perfect location for avid shoppers to practice their bargaining skills with vendors, the vast majority of which will try to pull the wool over your eyes.
Make the most of your experience here by picking up some aromatic Turkish apple tea, sinfully sweet lokum (the local name for Turkish Delight) and some handcrafted souvenirs incorporating the nazar, an eye-shaped blue amulet which is believed by the Turks to protect against the evil eye. Stay vigilant by keeping an eye on your belongings amidst the crowd; the Grand Bazaar attracts over 300,000 people each day! It is no surprise then, that Istanbul, although not the country’s capital, is the most populated city in Turkey.
Turkey boasts several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which include the archaeological site of Troy, the rock sites of Cappadocia as well as Hierapolis-Pamukkale. Fervent readers of literature would be quick to associate the landmark of Troy with the epic poem, “The Iliad”, by Homer. This historical landmark is notorious for having been the setting for the Trojan War, one of the prime facets of Greek mythology. A towering replica of the wooden Trojan horse greets visitors near the entrance of this must-visit attraction situated in the province of Canakkale.
Approximately 730 kilometres away, lies the region of Nevsehir, home to what might possibly be the epitome of all picturesque Utopias – Cappadocia. Pamper your eyes by taking in the breathtaking landscape of this natural marvel characterised by distinct “fairy chimneys”; tall, thin spires of rocks that protrude from the foot of an arid drainage basin. An unrivalled way of acquiring the best view of Cappadocia would be to hop onto a hot air balloon for a once in a lifetime experience.
With a decent set of lens, capture an aerial shot of the exquisite “fairy chimneys”, which will be worthy of being your computer’s wallpaper for some time to come.
Yet another natural wonder which Southwestern Turkey has to offer is Pamukkale (meaning “cotton castle” in Turkish), which belongs to the Denizli province. At first glance, its terraces may appear to be blanketed by a layer of snow, but close inspection will prove you that they are made of a type of white rock, namely travertine, which is deposited by water from the hot springs. Small geothermal pools are dispersed on the white terraces and the usage of footwear while wading through these is prohibited in order to protect the calcium carbonate deposits.
Pamukkale was named a World Heritage Site in 1988, along with the neighbouring Hierapolis (ancient Greek for “holy city”), of which only ruins currently remain. Its name is derived from the erection of several temples by the Phrygians sometime during the 3rd century B.C. History enthusiasts will undeniably have a field day analysing the background of this extensive, primordial territory.
An estimated 7 hour drive up north will allow you to reach Ankara, the capital city of Turkey and also the country’s second largest. It is here where the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk rests; he led the Turkish War of Independence and was later appointed as the first President of the Republic of Turkey. A tour of the mausoleum will provide visitors with facts and figures concerning the political affairs prior to the designation of Ataturk as President. The mausoleum’s exterior features uniform pillars and sharp corners, all in a shade of deep ochre.
Be sure to snap a photograph with the soldiers who stand at attention, as stiff as a frozen shadow, within glass cubicles positioned in the vast, open premises surrounding the mausoleum. Temperatures in Ankara can still be on the chilly side (13-17 degrees Celsius) even in late May, when the summer season is expected to get into full swing in Turkey. Ensure that you have your scarves and ear-muffs ready should the frosty winds decide to set upon your nape and ears!
The last day in Turkey granted this writer the luxurious experience of having had breakfast in Asia and lunch in Europe just mere hours apart, all made achievable by a spectacular cruise on the Straits of the Bosphorus, which forms a portion of the boundary between the two continents. As the cabin cruiser meandered through the ultramarine waters, it was flanked by successions of palatial properties which the average Joe can only dream of owning! A sighting of the crimson Turkish flag soaring elegantly above one of the mansions triggered a mental question; what quality of the Turks is striking?
It would have to be their geniality displayed towards their guests.
The Turks are persons who thoroughly delight in making visitors feel at home away from home. Step into any well established retail outlet and you will find your fingers curled around a warm little glass of Turkish tea within minutes, whether or not you intend to purchase anything there. The Turks possess a remarkable mentality that whatever language an individual speaks, they are God’s guest and that in itself is sufficient for them to be treated in the finest manner possible.
To sum up, Turkey guarantees an idyll for any ambitious traveller. It is heaven for aspiring shutterbugs. It is a memorable escapade for individuals from all walks of life. Turkey’s geographical formula may be 97% Asia and 3% Europe, but this country promises 100% bliss.
Uma Nathan is the Editor of ChutneySG. She graduated from the University of London with a Bachelors of Arts in English Literature (Second Class Honours). Uma also runs a freelance copywriting business and occasionally indulges in writing poetry and short stories. Some of her other interests include photography, football, reading and travel. It is her ultimate ambition to publish her own novel in future.
All photographs featured in this post were captured on the author’s Nikon D5100.