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TURKISH DELIGHTS - A COLOURFUL CULTURAL KALEIDOSCOPE
 
(2013 - Winter/Spring Issue)

Writer: JANIE ROBINSON



In Turkey they call it keyfi—appreciating the way of life.

From exotic, chaotic Istanbul to Cappadocia’s stunning lunar landscape, discovering the keyfi of this colourful country at the crossroads of two continents is a captivating cultural kaleidoscope of tantalizing Turkish delights.

Istanbul’s Museums and Mosques

Start with a boat ride along the Bosphorus for some of the best views of this 8,500-year-old city where East meets West. The world’s second-busiest strait separating Asia from Europe, the river flows between the Black Sea and Sea of Marmara, its banks lined with stunning marble palaces, stalwart medieval fortresses and beautiful wooden Ottoman villas known as yali.

Before diving into the cultural richness of this ancient city, purchase the Museum Pass Istanbul tosave time and money. It includes admission to six must-see museums (including Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia and Chora Museum) without having to line up.  

It’s worth searching for the beautiful Byzantine Chora Church Museum, a hidden gem of stunning mosaics and frescoes tucked away in the rarely visited western districts of Istanbul.

Topkapi Palace stands sentinel on the tip of the Old City historic peninsula of Sultanahmet, home to the centre of Istanbul’s UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site.  Allow several hours to explore this opulent palace, home of the Ottoman sultans until the middle of the 19th century. Don’t miss the Harem or the Treasury, where both the terrace views and incredible treasures (including the famous emerald-studded Topkapi Dagger and precious 86-carat Spoonmaker’s Diamond) will take your breath away.

Majestic Hagia Sophia is a fascinating history lesson come-to-life. From the nearly 1,500-year-old soaring domed ceiling and ninth-century mosaic portraits, to the curious elevated kiosk and ornate library built in the 1700s, this enduring Byzantine architectural creation, originally constructed by a Roman Emperor as a Christian church, remained the largest cathedral ever built for nearly a thousand years before being converted to a mosque in 1453. Today, it is a museum.

Not to be outdone by its grand neighbour, the Blue Mosque is famous for its six minarets, perfect proportions and beautiful blue-tiled interior. Plan your visit for mid-morning to view the most amazing visual effects as sunlight plays on the 260 stained-glass windows and 21,043 blue and green Iznik tiles. 

Old Markets and Modern Malls

Find everything from Turkey’s famous Mavi Jeans to should-be-famous Mado ice cream on Istanbul’s popular pedestrian boulevard, Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Street). A traditional tram still runs the three-kilometre length of this modern street mall, which is steeped in history, lined with grand 19th-century architecture and usually packed with locals and tourists checking out some of the best shopping, entertainment and nightlife in Istanbul. 

With its luxury boutiques, Turkish designer shops and high-end restaurants, trendy Nisantasi is one of the most sophisticated and expensive districts in Istanbul.

Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. This colourful, confusing labyrinth consists of more than 60 streets and 5,000 shops filled with a mind-boggling mosaic of jewellery, spices, hand-painted ceramics, embroideries, antique shops and, of course, carpets. With an expert flick of the wrist, waves of colourful carpets snap to attention at your feet, each more stunning and expensive than the last, until you’re drowning in a silky sea of Turkish artistry. If you plan to do some serious carpet shopping, accept the tiny tulip-shaped glass of Turkish tea being offered instead of the shot of local raki. The popular Turkish alcoholic drink made from aniseed packs a dizzying punch and you’ll want your wits about you to bargain for these luxurious souvenirs.

Stunning Scenery and Secret Cities

Floating like a fire-breathing butterfly, our balloon rises with the sun over the captivating Cappadocia countryside. If you’re ever going to splurge on a hot-air balloon ride, this is one of the best places in the world to do it—a once-in-a-lifetime Turkish delight!

Dangling at dawn above this primitive lunar landscape, you might imagine some massive prehistoric creature clawing its way across the Turkish countryside, leaving carved valleys, fanciful rock formations and towering stone outcroppings in its ragged path. In fact, Cappadocia’s stunning scenery was created about 30 million years ago when massive volcanic eruptions left central Turkey flowing in lava and buried in ash (known locally as tufa).

Lava and erosion left behind a labyrinth of valleys and cut through the softer tufathroughout Göreme National Park, creating the region’s famed “fairy chimneys”—isolated stone pinnacles topped by caps of harder rock that many locals once believed to be inhabited by fairies.  

Human hands shaped similarly incredible works in the soft stone, carving cave houses, rock-cut temples, colourful dovecotes and secret underground cities in this rugged region where traces of human settlement are said to date back to 6500 BC.

While many of Cappadocia’s restored cave dwellings are now trendy hotels and themed restaurants, others are protected UNESCO sites, such as the sprawling underground city of Kaymakli, where thousands took refuge during recurring threats by invading armies.

The World Heritage Göreme Open-Air Museum rock-cut cluster of more than 30 cave-churches and chapels were carved by medieval Christian monks and decorated with elaborate Byzantine frescoes between the 10th and 12th centuries. 

Pigeon Valley’s picturesque centuries-old dovecotes were carved into cliffs and fairy chimneys by farmers to house pigeons whose droppings were used as fertilizer in this barren countryside. Using craggy Uchisar Castle as a landmark, a four-kilometre hiking trail amongst these fascinating rock formations leads you to this towering volcanic-rock outcrop for spectacular sunset views over pretty Pigeon and Rose Valley.

Rocky citadels doubling as tourist attractions, kaleler (castles) are just another resourceful example of clever Cappadocians leaving no stone unturned when it comes to living amongst the tufa.

Look for the local police station housed in one of the fairy chimney stone spires in Valley of the Monks. Enjoy a Cappadocia cave lunch at Natureland, a little family-run restaurant where you can tour the family’s “summer cottage” cave home while they prepare a tasty testi(jug) kebab lunch. Our Hotel Cave Deluxe is a cosy 36-room guesthouse carved into the cliffs at the foot of Ortahisar kaleler. Here, local craggy-faced farmers use Ortahisar’s underground caves to store their lemon crops at a natural temperature of 17 C during the frigid, snowy winter months so they are ready for sale in the spring.

Discover keyfi here, sitting at an outdoor café along the cobbled streets of one of Cappadocia’s quaint farming villages, sipping Turkish coffee, relaxing and enjoying the view. That’s delightful too.

Travel Planner

For more information on Turkey packages from Transat Holidays, visit transatholidays.com or call 1-866-322-6649.

For more information, contact: Republic of Turkey, Ministry of Culture and Tourism: goturkey.com

Museum Pass Istanbul: muze.gov.tr/museum_pass

 
 
 
 
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