Discovering Turkey and the “WOW” Effect
Turkey is a place of tantalizing ancient civilizations and spectacular natural wonders. With more ancient Greek and Roman sites than in Italy and Greece combined, and having more than half of all the places mentioned in the bible, Turkey is chock-full of dynamic history, fabled stories and iconic characters.
In Southern Turkey, along the Mediterranean coast, is one of the world’s 10 best long-distance trekking routes – The Lycian Way.
Local tour guide experts at Demavend Travel took me on a “best of” hiking tour there. It just blew me away. I hiked through ancient Greek and Roman ruins, experienced some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, took a boat ride to a lost sunken city, ate meals in authentic Turkish villages (mouth-watering Turkish cuisine with tea and coffee that has been a way of life for centuries!), marvelled at the nearly two dozen eternal flames that come up naturally from the rocks in this area, and just couldn’t believe the spectacular vistas of the Turkish riviera from atop the mountains that seem to rise sheer out of the sea. This quickly became one of my favourite treks of all time. Just WOW.
Mayra, Turkey – Active World Journeys
One of the places worth a special extra note along the Lycian coast we went to is a town called Myra. It has an impressive necropolis but what amazed me was a stop we made at St. Nicholas Church. I learned it has over half a million pilgrims and visitors each year because Saint Nicholas, the inspiration for the jolly character we know as St. Nick / Santa Claus, lived in Myra where he was a bishop and dedicated his life to humanity and service of others, especially poor children. Who knew!? I admit, I didn’t. But that’s the beauty of travel, you’re always learning. Just WOW.
Hadrian’s Gate, Turkey – Active World Journeys
After the hiking tour, we went to Antalya, a charming resort and yacht type city. The old city centre has been restored to retain much of its historical character; most famous is the impressive Hadrian’s gate. (Apparently this Roman emperor Hadrian really got around, I’ve been to several other countries where they have walls, gates and monuments dedicated to him for his visit.). The museum in Antalya really gave me an understanding of all the Hittite, Greek, Roman, Persian, and Byzantine civilizations that existed in this area of Southern Turkey.
Cappadocia, Turkey – Active World Journeys
Next, we were on a road trip north bound to Cappadocia following one of the ancient caravan trading routes. On our way there we visited Aspendos, known for being the best-preserved theatre in the world from antiquity. It really gave me goose bumps to walk inside it as it is 100% in-tact and is still used today for music and drama festivals. Just WOW. Also, on our way we stopped at the caravanserai of Sultan Hani, the largest caravanserai of the country, which was basically a hostel / Inn type complex for the caravans during the 13th Century. There were areas for trading and doing business, socializing and separate areas for the animals. It must have been a hustling and bustling place, full of all kinds of sounds and smells back in its heyday.
Cappadocia, Turkey – Active World Journeys
In the early evening we arrived in Cappadocia, undeniably a nature fantasy and it almost feels like another planet with its exceptional geological formations. Wind, rain and frost have sculpted this superb scenery in the volcanic rock during millions of years and eroded into hundreds of spectacular pillars and forms. They refer to many of them “fairy chimneys” as they are unique and feature bizarre large toadstool like caps which protect the rest of the chimney from erosion. The early Christian people at the heart of Cappadocia realized that the soft rocks could be easily carved out to form houses, churches and monasteries (. with decorative frescoes and reliefs). There is a vast and deep inter-connected “honeycombed” type dwelling system in the rocks, designed so the early Christians fleeing persecution could hide and protect themselves.
The next morning at sunrise I took a hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia. It was surreal and wonderful. Cappadocia is considered one of the top destinations in the world to experience a hot air balloon ride. With at least 50 other hot-air balloons all around us, it felt like a whimsical symphony ballet of movement taking place in the sky as we slowly bobbed and soared above the striking landscape almost effortlessly. Just WOW.
Afterwards, we did a nice hike in the red valley area of Cappadocia, another beautiful valley in Cappadocia with spectacular formations and colours, full of old cave houses, complexes and hidden ancient churches. We picked and munched on walnuts and grapes along the trail. (Talk about fresh, healthy and organic hiking snacks!)
Pamukkale, Turkey – Active World Journeys
We departed the next day to visit the famous travertine terraces of Pamukkale.It has the meaning “cotton castle” and is one of the most remarkable natural sites in the world with its cotton white plateaus, pale blue waters topping of the shallow pools and gently cascading down the drape-like stalagmites onto the lower levels for over 300 feet. Just WOW.
Ephesus, Turkey – Active World Journeys
Next up, no trip to Turkey is complete without a visit to Ephesus. In the Roman period, it was for many years the second largest city of the Roman Empire; ranking behind Rome. The Apostle Paul made the city his base for more than two years while traveling around on his missionary work. Ephesus contains the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean. Only an estimated 15% has been excavated too! The ruins that are visible gave me some idea of the city’s original splendour and the names associated with the ruins are evocative of its former bustling life. Just WOW.
Galata Tower, Istanbul, Turkey – Active World Journeys
My trip concluded in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city. It is a place literally where east meets west (one part of the city is in Europe and the other in Asia) and ancient meets modern. I started the day with a visit to the Beyoglu district, crossing over the famous Galata Bridge, where throngs of fishermen are a common site, to visit Galata Tower, one of Istanbul’s main attractions. The tower consists of nine stories and it measures just under 220 feet in height. When it was built, it represented the tallest structure in Istanbul (then known as Constantinople), and was designed with military purposes, so walls are over 12 feet in thickness. Galata tower offers an amazing view of the historical peninsula on the observatory deck with a 360-degree view of the entire city.
Afterwards, I continued walking through the historical peninsula area and visited The Topkapi Palace which was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for approximately 400 years of their 624-year reign. As well as a royal residence, the palace was a setting for state occasions and royal entertainments. Nearby Topkapi palace I made a visit to the famous Hagia Sophia, considered to be one of the world’s most important monuments, a masterpiece and example of great architectural beauty. The marvel complex anchors the old city of Istanbul and has served for centuries as an Orthodox patriarchal basilica, and later as a mosque and as museum. (James Bond fans will recognize it from the Connery era film “From Russia with Love” along with the Basilica Cistern, an ancient underground Roman cistern that you can walk through.)
Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey – Active World Journeys
The next visit took me to the Blue Mosque which was built between 1609 and 1616. The design is the culmination of two centuries of both Ottoman mosque and Byzantine church development. It incorporates some Byzantine elements of the neighbouring Hagia Sophia with traditional Islamic architecture and is considered to be the last great mosque of the classical period. My last stop of the day was to the famous Grand Bazaar, one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops which attract between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. It’s literally a city within a city within a city. Just WOW.
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey – Active World Journeys
I was amazed by the impeccable hospitality of the Turkish people on my trip. Their mentality is that whatever religion you are from, whichever country you come from, whatever language you speak, you are God’s guest. This was truly a once in a lifetime trip that left me with a much deeper appreciation of our shared world heritage sites and history in Turkey. I was humbled by the beauty of the sea, mountains and deserts of this country as well. In fact, I think I blurted out “WOW” at least every hour each day at all of the amazing places I visited and experienced.
I’ll be hosting a 10-day Classic Turkey Tour in June of 2022. Let me know if you’d like more information on the trip which I’ve hand-crafted, based on my incredible experience in this blog story.
(At the time of this writing, Turkey currently has no restrictions in place for American tourists as far as quarantine or bringing negative test results with you. If you do travel there during the pandemic, make sure to check on the current health and safety requirements regarding masks, curfews etc.)
Tour Guides on the Lycian Way, Turkey – Active World Journeys
Jack Witt, MS, CPT
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