Turkey Tripping

My first taste of Turkey, quite literally (and I make no references to the bird), was back in December 2010, at a café just off a mud track, in Siwa, Egypt. My sister and I had hoisted our bicycles up against the wooden pillars that comprised the café and ordered Turkish coffee. It was coffee, how I like it – black, but yet so amazingly different from the regular Americanos and decafs I’d been having over the past few years.

June 2012. I was planning my trip around a few cities across Europe for later in August that year. For my flight back to Mumbai, from Paris, I had two options: to fly Paris-Mumbai and be back on a Sunday afternoon. Or to fly Paris-Istanbul-Mumbai with a 21 hour layover, for about $40 less, get in on Monday morning and .head to work as soon as I got home. I picked the latter. Because it’d be cool to tick one more place off on the map of the world. I’ve watched TV shows and read numerous articles that speak of people’s layovers in various cities across the world. And it seemed like a fun proposition. You have a day in a city (if not just a few hours). You need to pick just two or three things to do. And you need to make the most of that one day.

I spent most of my time waiting at and between Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport and Istanbul Atatürk Airport reading about Istanbul and about what I could do to make my day there totally worth every penny and every hour I spent. You know how it is, with starting reading one article, and that link you to another, and then another, until you’re still often connected enough to that thing you started reading about, but you suddenly have read so much more surrounding it? That is when I realized that a day long layover wasn’t the smartest idea… that a dedicated holiday to Turkey needed to be planned in the near future. There is so much more to a city like Istanbul than just one day. And there is infinitely more to a country, than to visit it’s capital, just to mark it off the world map.

More often than not, I scribble notes in my Moleskine when I travel. And ten or twelve pages of notes often translate to a three page blog post about what I thought of the place that I visited, what I liked, what I didn’t like and what I took away from the entire experience. I will admit that those fifteen hundred words seldom match up to the actual affair.

And now, as I sit down to write this little piece, I’ve rummaged through notes from some of my previous holidays and I can almost list out reasons why traveling to Turkey will add so much more to my travel experience and appetite (!) for interesting cuisine.

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I don’t think I can ever get enough of walking through the bylanes of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, quite like I did at Khan al Khalili in Cairo and La Boqueria in Barcelona – the easiest and most enjoyable way to get talking to locals and truly know what a city is about, where the best local food is served, what the quickest way to get to a particular place is and how commercial or non-commercial your next sightseeing spot really is (given that I’m not too big on visiting places where visitors throng). Shopping for quirky things and haggling over prices, just like the locals do, strolling past high ceilings lined with glass lanterns, walls covered to the inch with hand woven carpets, and little counters at shops lined with Fatima’s evil eye and filigree pendants… while quickly grabbing a doner as you go – aromatic meat shaved off a tall shaft and wrapped up in bread with some sauce and pickled veggies. Spice markets to pick up things I can cook with, back home, holes in the wall selling baklava and fresh fruit juice and the opportunity to get some recipes straight from the stories of seasoned (no pun there, I promise) old men who sell their fare.

While on one hand, there’s the hubbub of the local culture that will get me going, I’d love to experience the surrealism of the whirling dervishes in Turkey. I’ve read about the ceremonies and the soothing music but never gotten the chance to see something like it. The idea of trying to find inner peace amidst a few dozen people who seek the same, in their own unique way, might just be something I will cherish for a lifetime.

Since we’re on about lifetimes and things that people dream of doing, I may be one of the few millions who’d like to visit Cappadocia for the hot-air balloon rides. There’s the expanse of the blue skies above you, the remains of an ancient civilization below. And that, I’m sure is a-whole-nother kind of surreal, isn’t it?

I was never the most enthusiastic student when it came to History, but how can one not know about the Mesopotamian Civilization? Or the Byzantine Empire? As far back as the Romans and Alexander the Great, then? Or the Mongols and the Ottoman Empire? Given that list of invasions and settlements, the architecture in Turkey is absolutely marvelous as are the cultural aspects in Istanbul or Bodrum have evolved over generations and civilizations.

While Bodrum brings to my mind, pictures from the interweb that show blue seas dotted with yellow and red yachts, the Ottoman Empire reminds me of my rather brief walk around the Topkapi Palace and my instant love for the mosaics and glazed tiles I saw. I’ve seen glazed pottery at several places but nothing comes quite close to the detailing and artwork I’ve seen here.

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The only thing I’m possibly not looking forward to in all of this, is Raki. A bottle which I bought at the duty-free store at Ataturk Airport still lies unfinished in my bar cabinet. I guess anise-flavoured liqueur is something my palette may take a while to get used to.

If I had to put all the reasons that I’d like to visit Turkey someday into one paragraph, I’d say there’s that strong sense of tradition and culture, there’s some vibrant and varied architecture that speaks volumes about Islam and Christianity over centuries of mixed cultures and there’s some very simple, yet rich food I’ve heard so much about (and only ever gotten around closely-related Greek and Mediterranean variants). It’s interesting how wordy we sound when we try to convince ourselves or others that we want something very bad. I guess that only validates that real deal will be so overwhelming that there may possibly be no words to describe it at all.

“This post is an entry in the “Million Stories” Contest sponsored by the Turkish Embassy, India.”

You can read more on the terms and conditions here.

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