Thursday, September 30, 2010
One of the nice things about living in Italy is the ability to travel to other countries without breaking the bank or suffering from jet lag. We decided to take advantage of this opportunity with a trip to Turkey. We left September 20 and were there for 8 days. While it seems that it should be quick and easy to get anywhere in Europe, it still took a whole day of travel. We left Naples airport around 10 am and flew to Milan. There we had a 3 hour layover. We enjoyed an airport lunch, then had a three hour flight to Istanbul. So, all things considered, we were in transit for a good many hours. There's no getting around airport wait time, unfortunately!
We were met in Istanbul by our driver. We organized this trip through One Nation travel. We had four days of small group tours, and the rest of the time we were on our own. This worked out fairly well.
Istanbul was such a fascinating city. It lies on two continents, Europe and Asia. There is a beautiful suspension bridge that connects the two sides of the city. The European side is much more industrial and business oriented, while the Asian side is more residential and luxurious. We visited the spice market, the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sofia, Topkapi Palace, the Grand Bazaar, the Hagia Irene, another small mosque, the Basilica Cistern, the summer palace....and much more.
The shoreline of Istanbul is wonderful. For miles, this huge city of 18 million people enjoys a coastline that is usable and part of every day life. There are walking paths all along the lungomare, with grassy parks, trees, picnic places, benches to rest on, playground equipment etc. Every couple of hundred yards or so there is workout equipment for the public to use. They have outdoor versions of cross country ski machines, weights, sit up benches etc. It was wonderful to see them in use at almost every station. There are vendors carrying towers of pink cotton candy and balloons to entice the children, and bagel vendors carrying their trays of baked goods balanced on their heads. Chestnuts and corn on the cob are roasted and sold on the streets. It is wonderful to see a city where the coast is for more than just industry and commerce. It is an integral part of everyday life in Istanbul.
This city, and the entire country of Turkey impressed us with its cleanliness. We never saw litter on the ground in the city. When we went to Kusadasi where we spent two days, the Friday market was held on the street right in front of our hotel. We were amazed to see the variety of goods sold there, from 8 am until 9 pm. After such a long day, as vendors were packing up their wares and folding up shop, they all took the time to sweep up their area and put their trash in bags. The next morning, the trash was picked up and street sweepers finished the job. by 9 am on Saturday, all was neat and tidy. I wish the folks in Italy would learn from this example!
There were so many amazing sites to visit and things to see! Ephesus was such an interesting place, with so many ruins from millennia ago. Pamukkale was an incredible vision....white terraces formed by calcifications of mineral rich water, cooling and evaporating.
We really enjoyed the ride out to Hieropolis, through rural villages and farming country side. In one village we noticed several houses with Coke bottles in the windows. Our guide explained that that indicated a young woman in the house ready to marry. The young men in the village would break the Coke bottle to indicate that they were interested in a particular girl. In another village, we saw examples of their local culinary specialty....camel sausage! The butchers had big statues of camels in front of their shops, with sausages draped around their necks. We didn't try any of those products!
The food in Turkey was very good, for the most part. Lots of fresh veggies, kebabs, donner sandwiches, roast chickens, stuffed eggplant, stuffed peppers, turkish delight candies etc. One thing we were disappointed with was the fruit. At our hotels, the buffet breakfasts offered very little fresh fruit and most of it was past its prime. Even the juices were Tang! On the streets we were able to buy fresh squeezed orange juice and pomegranate juice, but the hotels offered only Tang or some orange colored beverage that had no resemblance to real juice! We had lots of good meals though, including a very colorful night at a fish restaurant. They were having a "Fish Festival" and we were picked up at our hotel by a van from Kalamara Restaurant. They took us to the waterfront where there were hundreds of tables set up on the street in front of all the restaurants. It was a madhouse! Belly dancers and traditional musicians entertained the crowds. We had some excellent fresh fish and some very fun entertainment.
One of the interesting things about traveling here as we did was the people that we met along the way. Sharing our vans and our tour groups were people from Brazil, France, Botswana, South Africa, Iran, Italy, Canada, the USA and others. We all managed to communicate fairly well, enjoyed meals together and realized that it's the politicians that mess things up. Dealing with people as individuals, we can all get along perfectly nicely.
I would like to go back to Turkey, as we saw only a small part of what it has to offer. I loved learning some of the language and using my phrase book to communicate with those who spoke no English. Perhaps in the not too distant future, we will find ourselves back in this lovely land.