It’s difficult to describe Turkey, however many words you’ve got. The country feels like home, yet it has much to discover. It has beautiful beaches, romantic cities and unique mountains. It has a family system like ours – believe it or not, people there also live with their in-laws and have the same issues as anyone in India. Its chai (that’s what they call it too!) is as good, if not better, than the Indian version. The people there, like us, also believe in ‘buri nazar’, so there are ‘evil eyes’ everywhere – outside their houses, worn as lockets on their babies’ necks, and in their cars, all to ward off the buri nazar. These are just a few things I discovered on a trip to three cities in Turkey.
The only way to describe Cappadocia is to say that I have never seen anything like it before, not even in pictures. Its rocky yet romantic landscape was formed by volcanic deposits. The deposits eroded and formed hundreds – thousands! – of minarets and pillars. It is said that Christians lived in underground cities here for months, hiding from Muslim invaders.
The caves are what make Cappadocia. And you can still get the feel of cave life because hotels and resorts have restored some of them as rooms. I stayed at the Cappadocia Cave Resort and Spa. Atop one of the mountains, the resort offers a spectacular view of the region.
The churches are a must-see – St Basilica, St George, St Barbara. All have paintings in natural dyes, though, unfortunately, many of these were half-destroyed by invaders.
A good thing to do in Cappadocia is visit a potter’s home. You’ll be shown the complete pottery-making process, from moulding to firing. I tried making a cup but could only manage a shapeless clay something. So I looked around for something to buy instead.
Must see and do: Take a ride in a hot air balloon, see the fairy chimneys, visit the churches in Goreme valley, watch wine being made at a home-owned wine unit, wander through the underground cities. You can also buy silver and turquoise jewellery. Whatever else you do, go to Imagination Valley. The limestone formations look like kissing couples or Napoleon’s hat or anything you want to see!
I had breakfast in Europe, lunch on the sea and dinner in Asia. No, I wasn’t jet-setting around the world. I was just in Istanbul. It is the only city in the world in which you can hop-skip-jump (over its three bridges) between continents.
Istanbul is divided into Asia and Europe by the Bosphorus Strait. The city is surrounded by sea on all sides: the Sea of Marmara, the Golden Horn, the Bosphorus and the Black Sea. But the Bosphorus is the centre around which the city functions and efforts have been made to maintain an old-world feel.
We stayed at the Çiragan Palace Kempinski, an erstwhile Ottoman palace that is now a hotel, located by the Bosphorus.
You cannot miss the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque. Hagia Sophia, originally a cathedral, was converted into a mosque when Istanbul was invaded by Sultan Mehmed II, who blacked out the figures of Christ and Mother Mary when he took the structure over. Now it’s a museum and work is on to resurrect the original artworks, a few of which are mosaics, without damaging them.
The Blue Mosque, named after the colour of its tiles, is also an architectural delight. If you have time, also explore, preferably on foot, the gullies near the Grand Bazaar and the Hagia Sophia. Very similar in character to Chandni Chowk in Delhi, this is a great way to discover the people and culture of Turkey.
Must see and do: The Grand Bazaar for Turkish tea and coffee, Istinye Park (a big mall), Topkapi Palace (now a museum, it was the administrative heart of the Ottoman Empire for nearly 400 years) and the Basilica Cistern (an underground water system constructed in 532 to supply water to the Byzantine Palace).
Antalya didn’t impress me. It pales in comparison with unique Cappadocia and rich and interesting Istanbul. But if you’re looking for a relaxed, luxurious holiday, this is it.
Referred to as the Turkish Riviera, Antalya is on the Mediterranean coast of southwestern Turkey. It is surrounded by the Taurus mountains but its climate is tropical. The combination of sun, sea and sand has made Antalya popular. It has also been developed as a golf destination with 14 international standard golf courses.
This makes Antalya a favourite with Europeans. It is rapidly acquiring the status of a ‘party’ town, just like Ibiza. The three days I was there, there were parties on the beaches every day. I visited a famous nightclub called Ally. Open air, it overlooks the sea and though it was weekday, it was packed.
Over the years, Antalya was occupied by the Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks and the Ottomans, so its houses and architecture reflect many varying styles. If you are interested in history, this town has lots to offer. The Roman-Greek amphitheatre in Aspendos, built in 2 AD, is a marvel. There are separate doors for artists and entry gates for animals for the gladiator shows and statues of Medusa in the Greek style. Another place to visit is Perge – an ancient city raised by three Trojan war heroes.
Must see and do: Lounge on the beaches, visit the nightclubs, shop in the bazaars for Turkish delights, visit the historical sights and play lots of golf.
(The author visited Turkey at the invitation of Tourism Turkey)
The currency is called lira. But euros and dollars are accepted happily
Turkish Airlines has regular flights from India to Istanbul and Ankara
Turkey is a secular state. There is no official religion
Turkish is the official language. But, because there are so many tourists, you’ll get by with English at least in Istanbul and Antalya
What a dish!
Both veggies and non-veggies will have a blast. Food in Turkey is taken seriously. Even at home, Turks eat a four-course meal that starts with soup in winter and fresh fruits in summer, then a dish of vegetables or legumes boiled in a pot with meat, then rice or khus khus with salad and variations of curd (with shredded vegetables) and then a variety of sweets
Things To buy
Carpets – Judged the best in the world, Turkish carpets are mostly made of silk. But they’re expensive
Turkish delights – Also called lokum, these are sweets made of starch and sugar, in a variety of flavours
Chai and cups – Black tea in flavours like apple, mixed fruit and rose. Get the tulip-shaped glasses traditionally used to have the tea
Evil eye – From bracelets to statues, there’s an evil eye in everything!
Baklava – A rich, sweet pastry
Coffee – Buy freshly ground beans and mini clay cups to serve your coffee in
- From HT Brunch, January 2
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