When the opportunity came up to travel to Turkey with a group putting a trip together, I was so excited. Visiting Turkey had been on my “bucket list” for months. Reasons against the trip came pretty quickly from my family. They were concerned about the safety of my traveling to this part of the world, but that was never a concern of mine. After giving them all the reasons for me to go, both factual and emotional to win my case, they concluded the trip “just might, maybe, could possibly be OK”. However, my husband still took every opportunity to remind me that Turkey is one-third of the way around the world from where I live in the middle of America. He just had to ask me many times, “Are you sure you want to do this? It’s not like you are just going to visit your sister in Arizona, and only be a few hours away on an airplane!”
Finally convinced it would be safe, and knowing I wanted to go so badly, they bowed to the inevitable and gave their blessing. I have been writing articles about Turkish cuisine, culture, and customs for many months. Visiting Turkey had become a dream of mine, one I wanted badly to come true. Now it would happen and I was so excited!
The writers of Turkish dizis seem to love the idea of the “one-year jump” in the storyline of their characters – i.e., the series of Erkenci Kus (“Early Bird”) and currently in Kuzgun (“Raven”). Although it wasn’t the jump of a year, a seven-hour jump from USA Eastern Standard Time to Turkey time seemed like it could be a problem. Leaving at 11:00 pm on an overnight flight, I arrived in beautiful Istanbul at 4:15 pm a day later, meeting other members of my tour group arriving in the same time frame. I was able to adjust fairly quickly to the time difference, which did surprise me. The return to the USA was definitely NOT as easy. Jet-lag had me in its ugly grasp for several days. That surprised me too, but not in a good way — Ugh!
Here are just a few highlights from Week One:
Cappadocia: The beauty of the sunrise from the basket of a hot air balloon floating across the plains and over the fairy chimneys of this ancient landscape was surreal! The balloon pilots are so skilled in their timing that we were aloft and floating with literally hundreds of other balloons at the exact time of the sunrise. Heights are not my thing but I felt no fear. Only an overwhelming sense of peace at the quiet, the view, the amazing beauty all around me. Taking a ride in a hot air balloon is truly a unique experience and one I highly recommend putting on anyone’s “bucket list”.
When the balloon was brought back to earth, landing with perfect timing onto the bed of a pickup truck, each woman was lifted out of the basket by a handsome, strong young man with an enormous smile on his face! He quite enjoyed himself and all of the applause and smiles he received for this act of kindness. That basket was not easy to get into and back out of, I can tell you, so his efforts were very welcome.
We were served a victory drink by our pilot and his crew. I will call it a “Turkey Mimosa”. It was champagne poured over fresh cherry juice and was quite delicious. Asking us if we knew why we were toasting with champagne, the pilot answered, “Because we are still alive!”
Our meal that evening was on the rooftop of a family-owned restaurant in the city, with wonderful views of Cappadocia. The cool evening breezes blew gently through the floor-to-ceiling glass doors left open to the night air. Our dinner was unique, served from clay pots which had been cooking for 3-4 hours, resulting in the most delicious flavors imparted to the meat and vegetables served from them. Being on the rooftop, we needed to climb up three different sets of stairs, passing diners sitting on large, plush cushions in small private rooms carved right out of the rock. Beautiful and unique!
Two nights were spent in Cappadocia, with daytime visits to a local pottery, a carpet store, and for some of our intrepid travelers, a visit to the local hammam. There were many unexpected surprises for those that did go. Some very interesting stories as well. But what happens in Turkey….. well, you know the rest!
By bus the next day, we traveled to the coast for an overnight in Antalya and our first hotel on the Mediterranean Sea. The weather in Turkey was hot so many took advantage of the outdoor hotel pool for a refreshing swim before dinner. The next morning, we all piled on to another bus and headed down the coastal highway, enjoying many beautiful views on the way to our destination. The beautiful seaside town of Kas, built on the hills which surround the Mediterranean Sea on this part of the coast.
Ah, we knew we had reached a special place. We stayed two nights in a quaint, family-owed hotel right on the beach. Many enjoyed a swim in the Mediterranean before dinner that night at a lovely restaurant within walking distance. It was lit by unique lanterns and open to the sky. The table settings were beautiful, the seating was on upholstered chairs, the company was wonderful, and the meal was divine!
The real treat in Kas happened the next day. Piling onto several smaller buses, we literally drove over hill and dale from Kas to the other side of the mountain. When we reached the harbor on that side, we boarded a boat and spent the day cruising on the Mediterranean Sea. Stops in various coves allowed a nice swim for those who wanted to jump in. Relaxing in the perfect weather on the sea was a marvelous experience. The sky was blue, the sun was full and bright, and the water was several colors of gorgeous.
An amazing meal was served our group on this boat. One of the three young men manning the boat cooked marinated chicken on a small charcoal brazier on the outside deck. Thinking it would be served with some kind of bread and perhaps a salad, we were surprised to see the crew come up from the ship’s galley carrying rice pilaf, zucchini fritters, roasted vegetables, two kinds of salad, and a wonderful fresh bread. They had prepared this meal themselves and it was incredibly fresh and delicious. A delightful meal and one of the highlights of the trip. On our last stop in a cove for a swim before heading back to the harbor, we were visited by a boatman with a freezer of different kinds of ice cream. Perfect — a dream of a day!
Istanbul – Week Two:
I live in the suburb of a medium-sized city in the USA. Istanbul was a whole new experience for me, with millions of inhabitants living and working on the European and Asian sides of the Bosphorous. Full of energy, sights and sounds. Hundreds of people on the streets at every hour of the day and night. I had to wonder. Don’t they ever sleep? Don’t they have to get up for work in the morning?
Hundreds of bright yellow taxis (“taksis”) and crazy Taksi drivers, small passenger vans, large passenger buses. All driving helter-skelter it seemed. Honking madly at each other and pedestrians who took life in hand to try and cross the street. Merging into lanes totally devoid of lane markings. Wonderful, mad, controlled chaos!
Passing by on the streets were beautiful young women in tight jeans and crop tops, with flawless skin and make-up, polished nails, and gorgeous hair. Equally beautiful dark-eyed, dark-haired Turkish men with tight jeans, flawless skin and gorgeous hair. Alas, no crop tops! Old women fully covered head to toe, taking the hills and tortuous steps like they were nothing, while I struggled to keep my footing and my breath. Istanbul pulses with fabulous energy and life!
It was a wonderful surprise to have dinner one evening in Istanbul with several Admins from North America-TEN. I have been working with them on various social platforms of the actors we support, and submission of my various articles. None of us live close to each other. What an unexpected circumstance it was that found us in Istanbul at the same time! It was so good to meet them in person.
While in Istanbul, I saw the traditional tourist sites of the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. The Topkapi Palace and the Dolmabache Palace. The Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian Bazaar. Several dizi sites, some of which I knew like the café from Karadayi and the bakery from Kuzey Guney. A wonderful boat ride on the Bosphorous. Dinner at the unique Maiden’s Tower, often used as a visual in Turkish dizis and films. Exploring neighborhoods around the Galata Tower. Eating where the locals eat. I celebrated my birthday in Istanbul at The Steakroom, surrounded by wonderful new friends, an incredible steak, music, dancing and two delicious birthday cakes with candles and sparklers on them. An unforgettable birthday for sure!
There is so much to see and do in Istanbul. A week in this fabulous city was definitely not enough!
Post-Trip — The Mardius:
As many of you know, several months ago, I wrote a series of four articles focused on different aspects of the culture, cuisine, and historical heritage of Mardin, Turkey. The last piece was the story of the restored property of the Mardius Tarihi Konak. (“Tarihi” means “historical” in Turkish, and “Konak” means “mansion”.) [You can read my previous article here]
To write an article from research and information provided by a personal source is one approach. Seeing this place, walking into its protective walls, breathing in its sights and smells, feeling its peace and tranquility wrap around me, the welcoming smiles from the people that care for and love this place, it changed everything for me. What I had written about suddenly came to life before my eyes and it was an unforgettable and emotional experience!
My host was Günal Ensari, the family member who supervises his family’s historical property in Mardin. We worked together for several weeks to finalize the story of the restoration of this heritage property. He was excited to see me and could not wait to show me the beautiful, embossed and printed booklet of my article, in both English and Turkish. It has been placed in the public spaces and each guestroom at the Mardius, “So that people will learn about the history of our mansion!” What an honor for my piece to be used like this; it made me very happy.
Another surprise lay in store for me, prepared by Günal Bey who took great pleasure in introducing me to a young man who builds kites. Definitely not the kind of kite you might be thinking of, as you will see in this picture. He flies these and other kite designs in competitions all around the world, and brought one to the rooftop of the Mardius so I could have the experience of flying it. Now that’s a kite!!
The winds coming up from the Mesopotamian plains below the Mardius took this kite up as far as its cord would allow. It was heavy and the pull of the wind was strong. It was amazing to see it soar high into the sky. Neighbors from other homes on the hillside came out to their roofs to watch. Should someone tell me in future to “Go fly a kite!”, those words will now have a new meaning. It was a really fun, wonderful experience and something I will never forget.
After the two previous weeks of non-stop touring, traveling on planes and buses, unpacking and re-packing, it was a pleasure to relax and decompress at the Mardius mansion. Enjoy being treated as a special guest. Eating special regional foods only available from their restaurant. Waking arm-in-arm with Günal Bey through Old Mardin and the bazaar underneath the main street. The little kindnesses extended to me by every person we met along the way. Being offered a glass of lemonade or a cup of cay (tea) in the stores we entered. In the hustle and bustle of a huge city of millions of people like Istanbul, you can get lost, absorbed in the rhythm of the city. But I felt I experienced the real spirit of the Turkish people in the centuries-old city of Mardin where, as Günal Bey said, “We live like brothers and sisters together”.
It was difficult for me to leave the mansion, as it has now become even more of a special place for me. The parting words from my wonderful host were this. “Mary, you know each of our guestrooms have a family name on them. Now that you have stayed with us, your name is now part of them. This is now your house and you are now part of our family!”
What a precious sentiment to carry home with me from my visit to Turkey. I am already looking forward to a future visit – but don’t tell my family yet!!
Note: For more information about Istanbul museums see the official site for the Istanbul Tourism and Cultural Department.
Author: Mary Bloyd is a retired corporate manager living in Centerville, Ohio USA with her husband. Mary loves cooking for family and friends. Taught by a professional chef how to use spices and herbs, make stocks and mother sauces, she developed a curiosity about all foods and cuisines. After discovering the wonderful storytelling of Turkish dizis and films, Mary became interested in and has written many articles about Turkish cuisine, traditions and culture. She loves to travel, is a journal-keeper, writer of short stories and poetry, and is currently working on her first book, a personal memoir.