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Frommer's TurkeyFrom the Blue Mosque to the Blue Lagoon
By Lynn A. Levine
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7645-4451-9
Chapter OneThe Best of Turkey
People's perception of travel has been tragically and drastically altered by world events. And Turkey lies disturbingly close to a tumultuous region in upheaval. If that weren't enough, Turkey has been unlucky enough to succumb to a series of events in the past decade that includes terrorism, earthquakes, and a relentless hammering of the local economy. On the surface, any rebound of the tourist economy seems farfetched. But this trend of stagnation will only continue if people continue to be influenced by fear of the unknown; because people who know just can't get enough of Turkey.
Like the land that makes up this vast, contradictory landscape, Turkey straddles East and West, modern and traditional. But if Turks are having problems defining who they are, then foreigners are completely in the dark. The omission of some of civilizations' most significant influences (Hittites, Selçuks, and Ottomans) in Western history books just feeds the emptiness of what Westerners know about Turkey. Considering the depth and breadth of what Turkey has to offer, this is shameful. And, with the Western media's coverage of militants acting in the name of Islam as representative of all Muslims, the level of ignorance is compounded. It's no small wonder that Turkey fails to top the list of travel destinations.
Asthe only (rabidly) secular Muslim country in the world, Turkey is a model for any Muslim regime. To boot, Turkey has had a long history of experience in dealing with terrorists and was the obvious regional expert sought out by the West in the war against terrorism. Is it safe? Absolutely. (But please do the usual: Watch your valuables, don't talk to strangers, and read "Important Tips for Women Travelers" in chapter 2, "Planning Your Trip to Turkey.")
So with the inevitable issue of safety out of the way, then why go? Why go anywhere else, I say? The magic of Turkey bubbles over in its history, culture, gastronomy, humanity, exotic nature, and commerce. Turkey bills itself, and rightfully so, as the "Cradle of Civilization," boasting more Greek ruins than Greece and more Roman archaeological sites than all of Italy. Turkey is also a major custodian of sacred sites revered by Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike, and of invaluable remnants of early Greek civilization, Byzantine majesty, and Ottoman culture and artistry. But, while most tourist brochures zone in on archaeological ruins and artistic masterpieces, few devote the appropriate space to the magnificence of Turkey's Mediterranean, its self-indulgent pleasures (imagine basking in a mineral mud bath), or the wide array of choices available for nature lovers and sports enthusiasts. Turkey is a singularly unique country, still unspoiled and innocent, and pleasantly surprised by the fact that visitors come from far and wide to witness its way of life. It's all rather disarming to travelers who've visited other parts of the world, where crowds of rubbernecking, Bermuda-shorts-wearing, camera-sporting arrivals elicit exclamations of "damned tourists." Turks welcome their guests with a genuineness of spirit and boundless generosity that defies superlatives. This from a population in which 80% of the people can't afford meat and where the native language provides no word for "bitter." Truly, until you experience Turkish hospitality, you've barely broken the surface of what generosity can be.
Turkey is so densely packed with riches of every kind that the most difficult decision will be what not to see. I found it difficult to write this book without making it sound like a press release, because the country is so superlative and the culture so contrary to what you'd expect. You'll soon see for yourselves why nobody leaves Turkey with a lukewarm impression. Face it; there's no way to see it all. So this book attempts to sort through the absolute essentials of a first-time visit, providing an introduction to a country and culture you will surely want to revisit.
1 The Most Unforgettable Travel Experiences
Taking a Hamam: The Turkish bath, rising out of the Islamic requirement of cleanliness, is not just practical, it's a minivacation. A good hamam experience includes the proper traditional ambience and a heavy-handed scrubbing. For historic value and pomp, you can't beat the Çemberlitas Hamami (p. 118), or for luxury, the one at Istanbul's Ritz-Carlton (p. 80), which comes with the hefty charge of $80 for private access. The lounge area of the men's section in the Yeni Kaplica (p. 159) in Bursa and the Talya Hotel (p. 312) in Antalya are fabulously decorated with some of the most gorgeous wood details; you'll feel like royalty. The Queen Mother of all hamams, however, is the sky-lit and picture-windowed marble hamam at the Ada Hotel (p. 239) in Türkbükü, outside of Bodrum, by candlelight.
Sharing Tea with the Locals: Tea is at the center of Turkish culture; no significant negotiation takes place without some. But more than commerce, tea stops the hands of time in Turkey; it renews the bonds of friends and family. Having tea is inevitable, as is the invitation to share a glass with a total stranger. Accept the invitation: There's more in the glass than just a beverage.
Soaking in a Thermal Pool: Sometimes Turkey seems like one big open-air spa; chemically rich waters bubble up from below while frigid spring water rushes down from above. The Çesme Peninsula seems like one big hot bath, and a whole slew of brand-new luxury facilities are willing to accommodate (see "Highlights of the Çesme Peninsula," in chapter 5). In the Sacred Pool of Hierapolis at the Pamukkale Thermal (p. 224), you swim amidst the detritus of ancient civilizations as sulfur bubbles tingle your skin. Bursa's Çelik Palas Hotel (p. 157) has a domed pool hot enough to make your knees weak. Down the road at the Kervansaray Termal Hotel (p. 158), the pools of running water are enclosed in a 700-year-old original hamam.
Discovering the Covered Bazaar: Nobody should pass through Turkey without spending a day at the mother of all shopping malls. The atmosphere crackles with the electricity of the hunt-but are you the hunter or the hunted? The excitement is tangible, even if you're on the trail of a simple pair of elf shoes or an evil-eye talisman. It's the disciplined shopper who gets out unscathed. See "Shopping" in chapter 3.
Riding the Ferry Across the Dardanelles: Wars were fought for control of these straits. And thanks to a long line of steadfast Turks, you and I can sit back and enjoy the breezes, the high cliffs, and the fortresses that helped win the battle-and leave our passports back at the hotel. See "Gallipoli (Gelibolu)" in chapter 4.
Cruising the Turquoise Coast: Words just don't do this justice. Aboard a wooden gulet (traditional broad-beamed boat), you drift past majestic mountains, undiscovered ruins, and impossibly azure waters, as the sun caresses your skin from sunrise to sunset. In this environment the morning aroma of Nescafé takes on an almost pleasant quality when enjoyed on deck, anchored just offshore a pine-enclosed inlet. By 9am you're diving off the rail and cursing the day it all has to end. See "All About the Blue Voyage" on p. 40.
Paragliding over Ölüdeniz: There's no better place in the world than the surging summit of Babadag for this wildly exhilarating and terrifying sport. For 15 brief minutes, you're flying high above the magnificent turquoise waters of Ölüdeniz with the mountains in the foreground. The safety factor? Not to be underestimated, but hey, that nice body of water should help break your fall. See "Fethiye & Ölüdeniz" in chapter 6.
Settling into Turkish Style: As nomads, the Turks communed on home-woven cushions and kilims in their tents. The Ottomans continued the tradition of sark (Oriental) seating, and now every tourist destination thinks that's what we want. They're right. We want kilims, saddles, cushions, and low copper tables. The best ones are cozy and atmospheric: the poolside sark at the Montana Pine Resort (p. 276); the open-air sark shaded by trees at Yaka Park (p. 268); or the natural air-conditioning of the platform sarks of Hidden Paradise Restaurant at Saklikent Gorge, where the ice-cold waters of a mountain spring rush underneath (see "Fethiye & Ölüdeniz" in chapter 6).
Ballooning over Cappadocia: Watch this surreal landscape change character right before your eyes: In a matter of minutes, the sun rises over the cliffs, valleys, and ravines, and colors morph from hazy blue to orange, pink, and finally yellow. The capper? A post-flight champagne breakfast. See "Exploring the Region" in chapter 7.
Spending the Night in a Cave: The ceilings are low, the light is dim, and there are niches in the wall for your alarm clock-this is the troglodyte life as the Cappadocians lived it for thousands of years. Some of these "cave hotels" are rudimentary, others extravagant; but all are cool in summer, warm in winter, and as still as the daybreak. Among the best: Esbelli Evi (p. 328) and Yunak Evleri (p. 329), both in Ürgüp, and Gamirasu (p. 329) in Ayvali.
2 The Best Small Towns
Bergama: The soul of this village is the marketplace. Donkeys and their owners are parked next to stalls of fresh produce. Carpets hang from the awnings of old village houses around the Red Basilica to create a bit of shade from the hot sun. And only a few hundred yards away is Pergamum, one of the finest archaeological sites of antiquity. See "Bergama" in chapter 4.
Alaçati: A hilltop mound of windmills and 800-year-old Selçuk barrelhouses guard the entrance to the tiny Aegean village of Alaçati. So close to the sea, and yet so far ... See "Highlights of the Çesme Peninsula" in chapter 5.
Sirince: Originally a sanctuary for Greeks in the dying days of Ephesus, this dense hillside of preserved houses enclosed within a landscape of grape orchards is the perfect antidote to an overdose of archaeological sites. A bottle of local wine enjoyed amidst the atmosphere of a former school-house helps the medicine go down, too. See p. 201.
Gümüslük: The chance to walk on water-or nearly so-thanks to the sunken city walls of ancient Myndos; what more could one want? How about an undiscovered enclosed bay, a sandy beach, and characteristic waterfront fish shacks. See "Bodrum" in chapter 5.
Karmylassos/Kayaköy: Haunting panoramas of lives interrupted blanket the hillside of this once-thriving Greek settlement, abandoned during the 1924 population exchange between Turkey and Greece. Rather than reinhabit the houses-now crumbling and roofless-local Turkish residents have settled in the rolling and fertile plains of the surrounding valley. See p. 267.
Kalkan: An influx of expatriates has put this little merchant village on the map. Now it's a chic and quirky tourist center-but the popularity has only resulted in improvement. The more old timber houses that are restored, the longer the roster of fabulous rooftop terraces and sea views. See "Kalkan" in chapter 6.
Kaleköy: Also known as Simena, this seaside village clings to the side of the rock more efficiently than its sunken neighbors. With only 300 inhabitants living practically on top of one another, the town is too small to even have a street; a haphazard nonsystem of paths weaves around the village houses. There's no such thing as trespassing-it's just blissfully simple. See "Kas" in chapter 6.
Güzelyurt: A Cappadocian village where the livestock outnumber the residents, Güzelyurt provides a perfectly hospitable, off-the-beaten-track getaway. All of the features that draw you to Cappadocia-underground cities, rock-cut houses, and monastery complexes hidden in the nearby valley-are found within the confines of the village. See "The Ihlara Valley" in chapter 7.
Ayvali: The smell of apricots permeates the village as the harvest blankets the roofs of the flat-topped, semi-troglodyte houses. Down in the valley is an almost eerie grouping of cave facades that retain the curvy lines of the smooth cave surfaces. At sunset, the sound of drums in the distance and the image of village women baking the evening meal's bread in ancient rock ovens create an unforgettable vision of rural life. See p. 326.
3 The Best Ruins & Archaeological Sites
Pergamum: Pergamum was once one of the most influential societies in the ancient world. Only traces of its greatness remain-but high atop the hillside, the acropolis still sings the songs of the wind through its broken pillars. The theater is the most extraordinary remnant of this forgotten society, clinging stubbornly to the side of a hill that overlooks a fruitful and expansive plain. See "Bergama" in chapter 4.
St. John's Basilica (Selçuk): Most of the marble or cut-stone ruins you'll see in Turkey are ankle-high, a shadowy evocation of what once was. That's why the preserved redbrick walls of St. John's Basilica create such a pleasantly unexpected surprise. This holy site retains the soul of its original purpose; pilgrims gather around the presumed saint's tomb in an unabashed atmosphere of goodwill. See p. 200.
Excerpted from Frommer's Turkey by Lynn A. Levine Excerpted by permission.
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