Greetings dear readers! I’m back after a 4 year hiatus and it sure feels good to be able to share another of my recent adventures with everyone. I hope you are all well and ready to be inspired to start travelling again. Now that we are all recovering from the effects of lockdowns and travel restrictions brought about by Covid19, I think it’s safe to say, some normalcy has been restored.
This December’s featured destination is unlike any other place on earth. With so much juxtaposition, I will need more than one Sunday’s issue to put all my thoughts into words. Here’s a little introduction.
As a transcontinental country, Türkiye, is divided by the Bosphorus Strait which forms part of the continental boundary between Asia and Europe. Imagine my surprise when we were told by our tour guide that they have closer ties to Europe than to its Middle Eastern neighbours. The European influence is also said to be stronger here. I thought that was interesting because only a small portion (3%) of their territory sits on the south eastern side of Europe and a huge chunk is located on the western side of Asia. These facts made me even more interested to learn about their rich history, culture and traditions.
Türkiye is a secular country and notably the only Muslim country in the world that has no State Religion despite the fact that 98 percent of the population is Muslim. I found this astonishing considering the fact that Christianity flourished here after the death of Jesus Christ. His apostles fled Jerusalem to avoid persecution and many of them ended up spreading the gospel in different parts of the world, including what was then known as Asia Minor. Fun fact: The iconic Hagia Sofia, located in Istanbul, was a Catholic church built in the 13th century. It was converted into a mosque when the Ottoman Empire took control in 1453. It was eventually converted into a museum in 1935 but in 2020, converted back into a mosque.
The only difficulty I had while writing this article was running out of superlatives to describe each experience I had while touring this beautiful region. Türkiye is by far the most impressive country I’ve had the honour of visiting after the pandemic. It has long been on my bucket list so when the opportunity presented itself, my friends and I took it. That was one decision we did not regret at all. In fact, the only regret I have is not going sooner!
It was a long but pleasant 9 hour Emirates flight from Manila to Dubai. We spent our layover at the airport, window shopping from one luxury shop to another, before boarding our connecting flight for the remaining 5 hours to Istanbul. I think my excitement at the prospect of finally getting to see one of my “must visit” places on the planet kept me in good spirits despite being sleep deprived. This flight itinerary may seem daunting to some so the good news is, Turkish Airlines flies directly to Istanbul from Manila 9 times a week. Trust me, the 13 hour flight is so worth it.
There is so much to see and do in Türkiye so it would be best to plan ahead to maximise your stay. We arrived just in time for a lovely dinner at a quaint seaside restaurant in Istanbul. Being the 10th most visited city in the world, Istanbul (known as Constantinople back in 330 AD) has something to offer every type of traveler. What stood out for me were it’s magnificent mosques, palaces, historical pockets blended in with modern cafés, buildings and bridges which was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The centuries old architecture took me back to a different time. I would stare at a particular building and try to imagine what it was like during that period. Istanbul is not only the largest and most populated city in Türkiye, it is also the largest city in Europe. The energy here is undeniable. It serves as a gateway to 3 continents – Europe, Asia and Africa.
The next day, we got on our private Bospherus cruise. This gave us spectacular views of both the Asian and European sides of the city. The Bospherus Strait is a very important waterway system dating back centuries. It has a strategic location that links the Black Sea with the rest of the world’s oceans. My eyes were treated to so much magnificence. All the activity of the ships, boats and other vessels were very entertaining to watch. The magnificent buildings on both sides were absolutely stunning. I was already making a mental note to return for more, this time with my husband. He’s into historical buildings and I just knew he would appreciate the richness and beauty of it all.
No travel experience is complete without mentioning the food. Turkish food is fresh and definitely a delicious fusion of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and European cuisine. We had a wide selection of different types of cheese, salad greens, grilled fish, chicken, pasta, freshly baked bread, homemade yoghurt, hummus, fruits, nuts and of course, baklava. I particularly enjoyed my breakfasts because there was honey in the comb that I devoured alongside my cheese, bread and coffee. It was just heaven! I bought a box during one of our stops on the way to Ankara, the Turkish capital, and it was my best purchase on this trip.
I also noticed a lot of eggplant dishes. Depending on what region we were in, they tasted differently. Kebabs, doners and stews made from beef, chicken and lamb were served to us in the restaurants we were brought to. Lahmacun, a flatbread which is mistaken for pizza, was also a staple. The crust is thin and the toppings vary. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed their food. I stuck to their chicken dishes and was glad that they had a lot of vegetables on their menu.
We drove to Canakkale where we were able to visit the ancient city of Troy. Yes, the same one that inspired movies about a war waged over a woman. Troy is one of the most famous archeological sites in the world so to be walking around the legendary city is something special. Another 4 hours via bus took us to the formidable ruins of Pergamon in Bergama. It’s location is breathtaking! We rode a cable car up to the ruins and took so many IG worthy photos. Imagine this majestic city nestled on a promontory with its acropolis and terraces beautifully laid out over its hilly location. What a sight it must’ve been back then.
The next few days were spent visiting Ephesus, the best preserved of all the ruins. This ancient city dates back to 6000 BC! It is one of the Seven Churches of Revelation. That to me was just mind blowing. It was significant for all of us on the tour as Christians.
In this region of Izmir, it said that the Blessed Virgin Mary lived in one of the stone houses here for the remainder of her life. Ziya, our very well-informed and experienced tour guide, explained however, that this is still up for debate. The shrine marking the house, which pilgrims visit regularly, has never been authenticated or denied by the Catholic Church. (To be continued)