Turkey is a chaos of colors, flavors and ethnicities. It is a land suspended between Europe and Asia, a country that inevitably blends Western to Oriental culture. The result is a mix of ideas, a mixture of unique and inimitable charm. With the ideal itinerary, a trip to Turkey can overcome all odds and prove memorable.
The bare hills and mountains are monotonous but hypnotic that is capable of retaining the look indefinitely, because there is nothing on which to place it and then there is the disorienting surprise of intense performances, appearing almost out of place in all that anything. With simple and hearty welcome, brief encounters with people, who talk about distant lands and finally, small pleasures wait at the end of the day, after dropping a sugar cube in a teacup or taking refuge in a hammam during the hottest hours. Anatolia for me is all this and has a special place in my memories.
How to Travel in Turkey
The trains are not very reliable and slow. The best and fastest way to travel is taking advantage of the extensive network of long-distance buses, especially nocturnal ones. There are companies that offer different levels of service, but also without using the more expensive ones, there are truly excellent standard buses, with air conditioning and services, reclining seats. Even with a typically oriental touch, there is often the tea served on board.
Apart from that, I have never seen this level of coaches in other parts of the world as these modern buses are spaceships than the other vehicles that often intersect in the Anatolian heart of horse-drawn carts, old trucks snorting loads to capacity and peasants riding donkeys. Over shorter distances, however, I have also used local buses and shared taxis (dolmus) and hitchhiking species that in Cappadocia, over short distances, seemed to work well.
The trip to Turkey can only start from Istanbul, the economic and cultural center of the country. Istanbul was vibrant, intense, beautiful, impetuous in transformation, in which it was nice to get lost and feel part of that vital chaos. If Istanbul could speak, she would tell of her millennia of history. The Ottoman Empire would tell, the lust for power of the sultans, of his glory, of the wars. This was evidenced by the Topkapi Palace, which was once the residence of Sultan but just a walk around the city you can understand that Istanbul is a city steeped in history and full of meaning.
The visit to the Blue Mosque or Sultan Ahmed Mosque is indispensable, which captivates with its imposing size and the tiles that cover the ceiling, walls and arches. Yet the Blue Mosque, despite its fame, is just one of countless mosques that dot the city. Close to this, you can find the Hagia Sophia, which was once a mosque and now a museum and is impressive for its huge dome and Byzantine art.
Crossing the Bosphorus on a boat and looking at the two banks, the division of the city between East and West is even more marked. And this is precisely the charm of Istanbul with the feeling of being able to go from one continent to another in a matter of minutes and the certainty of being in a city that is a crossroads of cultures. Do not miss the Grand Bazaar, the largest market in Europe and the spice market, with its thousand scents.
Ankara, the capital of Turkey, is less interesting from the tourist point of view, but worth a visit for its museum dedicated to the Hittites with evidence dating back to 3000 BC. The Lake Tuz Golu is another destination not to be missed along the way to Cappadocia. It is a salt lake with endless white expanse with even more salt from the Dead Sea and is an extraordinary spectacle.
Cappadocia alone is worth the entire trip to Turkey. Cappadocia is beautiful, but also very touristy. It is a lunar territory dotted with large rocks in a cone shape, which due to their shape are called fairy chimneys. Due to its shape, it seems that the landscape has been very well sculpted by an artist. Visiting Cappadocia is an experience like no other, culminating in the experience of hot air balloons in the early hours of the day, when the atmosphere is thin and the sky began slowly to clear. It is true that you must wake up early, but at least the emotions you feel are unforgettable!
Cappadocia is not of course just its rock churches and it's incredible rock formations. There are many other wonderful places and even without moving much we come hitchhiking in the Zelve valley and suddenly I found myself completely alone but for me it was all to be discovered. I just did not have the time as the beauty that was around me mingled with a sense of impatience, because I felt that it was already time to move again.
From there I wanted to get to Mount Nemrut, which stood on the cover of my guide and appeared to be one of the most beautiful sites of Turkey. The only way to get there was an organized tour. So I slipped in the office of one of the many lined along the main street of Goreme and bargained an acceptable price, including two nights accommodation and meals.
The Turkish pronounce Nemrut Daah or daahe with a very closed manner. This is why I prefer to call it Mount Nemrut, which is what it means. The quickest way for those coming from Istanbul is by plane up to Adiyaman, where you can find buses to the site, but I go along the winding and dusty roads of Anatolia.
To go to Nemrut Dagi we pass through Kahta, a city of little interest with lots of tourist hotels. To climb the mountain, we start the trek at midnight so as to reach the top at dawn after climbing on foot of a rocky path up to about 2,150 meters to the summit. It was freezing and above us there was a huge star. When the sun rose, it lit the valley of red rocks and a long golden strip.
There was the Euphrates River, which flowed beneath us, the millennia of which had been a silent witness, and it made me feel like the grain of sand of a huge hourglass. Or, perhaps, it was only emptiness beneath me that made me dizzy. Light, like everyday for over two thousand years, slowly lit up the top, revealing the huge stone heads of the Greek gods that scan the horizon.
Because of the mountain there is a great funerary monument erected by Antiochus I, the Hellenistic kings of the first century BC, who was buried in a huge mound on top of the mountain, seated among the gods of Olympus as it looked east and west, the path of the sun. Time has reshaped the ambitions of Antiochus and sculpted forms, rediscovered only in 800 after centuries of incomprehensible oblivion and now they have no heads, resting, almost mockingly, tens of meters below. But that's messy and ruined to make this place so enigmatic and powerful appearance.
With these images in the eyes, I try to imagine what was waiting for me in the east. Şanlıurfa, or Urfa, did not seem the most welcoming cities of Turkey. But it was just an impression, I found out with time. Maybe it's because of the influence of neighboring Syria, perhaps because here we are already in Mesopotamia, but Urfa is a unique city because it feels and perceives an atmosphere distinctly Middle East that there is in other cities of Turkey and it would be strange otherwise.
It's a dense atmosphere, which perhaps Urfa brings for its ancient history of thousands of years. It's always been a city close to what was happening in history, although never really in the center. And here according to Islamic tradition Abraham was born although Ur of the Chaldeans is considered by archaeologists is actually in Iraq.
That is where there was the ancient Roman Edessa, mentioned earlier as Adma already in the seventh century before Christ, and still it has a few dozen kilometers from here there is, on the border with Syria. Harran, the ancient city is a little more than a village today, that is mentioned in the Bible and where was built one of the oldest universities in the world. The visit, however beautiful, is generally very touristy.
Urfa is not only famous for its history, but also in Turkey for its food like the local style kebabs, similar to Adana kebab, stuffed eggplant and the meze (appetizers). Urfa is synonymous with good food across the country, or at least that was the impression I had. Urfa today has many faces with sprawling suburbs of palaces, next to a charming old city with a rich history, dominated by the ruins in the full sense of the word of the castle, where there are still two columns, of the ancient Roman Edessa and little more.
In the center of the resort town is the pleasant garden of Gölbaşı, which draws on the tradition. And here Abraham, the great prophet for Muslims, was saved when he was condemned to burn on a pyre and was saved by the appearance of water beneath him. So today near the elegant mosque in the park there are two tanks containing sacred carp. Next to the mosque in the center of Golbasi, in a cave, water flows for which the pilgrims line.
The most beautiful place in the city, however, is perhaps the bazaar, where I found myself walking in a colorful crowd. And here I discovered one of the beauties of this city. Turks, Arabs, Kurds and other people coming from Central and South Asia, each with different clothes, colors and appearance. I would stay hours on a bench watching this mingling, trying to figure out something that eluded me. But it was nice as well, without understanding.
The Urfa bazaar was crowded. It contained all kinds of goods, but also housed animals and craftsmen at work with colors, scents, sounds, noises and sparks of a blacksmith who beat the iron on the anvil, before arriving in the stillness of han, the old courtyard in the center.
In the south eastern border of Turkey with Syria, Mardin is a city where archaeological excavations have found remains from 4000 BC. The old city was on high ground, dominated by the ruins of a castle and I had to climb under a fierce sun on a series of switchbacks that seemed endless. Mardin does not have a true and proper form nor postcard beauty. Its beauty is in the position, as if it was suspended on one of the rare clouds with an endless plain, which stretches to the horizon in Syria.
Then you end up in a bustling and colorful bazaar before slipping into Syriac churches or in the beautiful mosques, like the Ulu Camii or the Latifay Camii or the monastery Deyrulzafaran and that of Mar Gabriel. Then, again, you discover a rich cuisine of Middle Eastern flavors and very different from all others. I should have stayed three or four days.
Hasankeyf is a splendid archaeological site nestled along the Tigris that deserved time and patience. I left with a heavy heart, but in my heart I had no regrets.
Van greets me with a leaden sky reflected on the opaque and worn walls of gray buildings. Van is not a border town, but it comes close as the yellow signs indicate Iran, a hundred kilometers away. Yes, there is also the Lake Van, the largest in Turkey, which in photographs smile with its pale blue color that is almost unreal. Van is an ancient city, surrounded by walls that stood by the lake.
What to do in Van
One of the glories of the city is the big breakfast which is served in Kahvalti salonu. It takes me awhile to get one, but I am served explaining with gestures with a generous amount of vegetables, eggs, cheese and honey. In the city there is not much else to do except visiting a meager archaeological museum, which also has a tetr area that exposes bones and whole skeletons.
The Van Castle practically no longer exists and the site is in abandonment state but the rocky outcrop overlooking the lake makes you forget the derelict periphery behind it that is equally impressive. In fact these stones, almost at one with the natural rock, are three thousand years old, dating back to the ancient civilization of Urartu and the Persian empire. And walking through the winding paths we steep a encounter by chance in a surprising write cuneiform tablet that had been affected by Xerxes the Great in the fifth century BC, which here is abandoned, exposed to the elements and half-hidden.
But the local glory is the ancient Armenian church of Akdamar, located on the lake, several kilometers from here. Two hours and a half from Van is Doğubayazıt, famous for its beautiful abandoned Ottoman mansion of Ishak Pasa. The city is gray and a little spooky. The building dominates the valley and is in ruins. But it is in ruins gracefully, like a fairytale castle from which the fairy is gone for a while, but an enchantment continues to shine for some strange magic. And around this place out of the time I make my turning point and begin to look westward. And, from here, the view is not bad, definitely not.
Konya, along with Istanbul and Ankara, is one of the most important cities of Turkey that is very modern and efficient and we stop at the Mausoleum of Mevlana, the mystic Sufi poet who joined the country's history as the founder of the whirling dervishes. A poignant visit, especially if we see the celestial dance of the whirling dervishes with men dressed in white dancing wildly.
Another remarkable sight guarded from Turkey is Pamukkale, which in turkish means cotton castle. It is a natural site, now a UNESCO heritage site, made up of wonderful limestone pools located on the slopes of Hierapolis, an ancient Roman city which is home to a prestigious theater and Cleopatra's pool.
And finally, a seaside resort after so much history and nature is Bodrum. With its white houses that suggest to the nearby Greece, with delicious little doors and a maze of narrow streets leading to the sea, Bodrum is a delightful destination for those who want to enjoy a few days on the beach, explore hidden coves or just relax.
New Year's Eve in Istanbul
Sensual, romantic and mysterious, Istanbul is the ideal city to greet the new year. Embrace the sensual and scintillating and spend your New Year in Istanbul! Istanbul has much to offer visitors throughout the year and although it is not among the most popular destinations to celebrate the New Year, the play of light that illuminate the night of San Silvestro is unparalleled.
Istanbul is famous for its spicy dishes. For the New Year's Eve the Turkish capital offers numerous evenings with all inclusive and very good tasting food. The streets in the center of Istanbul are literally invaded on New Year's Eve. Taksim Square and Istiklal Street are famous for their lively atmosphere. If you are looking for something exclusive head to the Nisantasi neighborhood, where you will find a wide range of trendy restaurants and clubs and enjoy the fireworks along the main avenue of Abdi İpekçi Caddesi. For young people and foreigners the meeting place is under the Tower of Galata.
One of the most beloved places to admire the beautiful fireworks of New Year's night is the bridge over the Bosphorus which offers a unique view of the skyline of the Turkish capital. Great places to watch the fireworks are also located in Fatih, near the Tower of Galata. The romantics will be delighted by a cruise on the Bosphorus New Year's Eve. Take in the fireworks while browsing and have fun with live music, belly dancing and performances by local DJs. The food will surprise and champagne for the toast will.
The nightclubs in Istanbul are plentiful and excellent. For New Year's Eve you can choose one of the pubs along the streets of Iskele and Kadife or in the Kadıköy district, Şişli, Beşiktaş and Beyoğlu. If you want to celebrate the sea choose between Anjelique, along the banks of the Bosphorus, and the Sortie, with a picturesque view. Very famous the 360 Istanbul, Al Jamal, Reina, Babylon and Suada.
This completes an unforgettable journey to discover one of the most fascinating countries in the world, Turkey.