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Just anticipate the variety of foods on offer! Streetside cafes abound and delicious smells emanate from everywhere. Turkish cooking is some of the best in the world, with fish and lamb supplemented by vegetable and grains. Familiar kebabs vie with patlican dolmasi (eggplant stuffed with rice and spices) or kuzu dolmasi (baked lamb stuffed with rice) for the attention of the hungry. Different varieties of baklava abound. For drinks there is Turkish red or white wine (sarap) or the potent grape brandy called raki to go with the fresh fish recently caught from the Sea of Marmara. Turkey for, or before, Christmas should whet the appetite of any traveller who is looking for somewhere different to explore.
Most visitors arrive via Istanbul’s international airport. It is not too long before one is downtown amongst the bustling throngs of the Old City. Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople, is the only city in the world that lies on two continents, Europe and Asia, and in addition has the mystique of the historically famous Golden Horn, a busy haven for small shipping. Istanbul is a city with an immense history, from the Greeks, the Romans, the Crusaders, to the Ottomans and was at one time the capital of a vast Mediterranean empire.
There are some really interesting sites to see in Istanbul, venues that compare favourably to many others around the world. The skyline of the old city is dominated by the Hagia Sophia, often called the world’s most beautiful cathedral. Built as a church but later turned into a mosque when the successful Islamic Ottoman invaders added minarets, the Hagia is now a museum and well worth the visit. It has magnificent stained glass windows and chandeliers.
The nearby, equally famous, Blue Mosque (so-called because of the beautiful blue tiles in its interior) should also be visited. With its unusual combination of six minarets it is one of the world’s great buildings with a soaringly-high domed roof. Also within walking distance the discerning visitor can see the remains of the huge Roman Hippodrome and the newly excavated Basilica Cistern, a huge water storage complex for the adjacent Topkapi Palace, built of 336 columns taken from ruined Roman sites. As a palace, Topkapi is very different to European palaces. Courtyards abound and there are many quiet corners and spectacular views out over the busy Bosphorus sea lanes below. Today Topkapi is also a museum with the fabulous jewellery wealth of the old sultans on display.
Also within walking distance of these historic sites is the Grand Bazaar, where there exist more than 4000 shops, cafes and teahouses, staffed by over 30,000 people, all under one covered roof. Walking the narrow alleyways, bargaining with the friendly locals over antiques, brassware, carpets or leather products among other items is a good way to pick up some inexpensive reminders of a visit to Turkey.
The sea lanes that pass through the city are well worth a cruise as it gives one a good perspective of modern Istanbul. Old palaces and forts compete with modern high rises and the two soaring suspension bridges that now link Europe with Asia and two halves of the city. Istanbul sprawls, on both sides, along almost the full length of the Bosphorus, from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara.
Turkey at Christmas should not just be Istanbul. Many Australians follow the path to the Gelibou (Gallipoli) peninsula with its national park and famous battle sites. Stroll on the beach at Anzac Cove and marvel at how small it is and how large it all looms in Australia’s past and present. Across the nearby Dardanelles by ferry is the famous historic site of Troy with its seven ancient cities built on top of each other; well worth a visit.
Once in Anatolia (the Asian part of Turkey), the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts beckon the discerning traveller. Names such as Pergamun (with its famed ancient medical centre and acropolis) and Ephesus (magnificent ruined library of Celsius, theatre [which holds nearly 25,000 people] and temple of Hadrian) attract the history buff. The beaches, such as Marmaris, are also great to relax upon and the regional foods are tasty. Move on to the Cappadocia region and the land of Fairy Chimneys, a unique geographical phenomena. The area has also played host to some interesting histories and it is worth visiting the underground city, the museum and the fortress. And then there is Ankara ....
Try a different course this festive season and give Turkey a go!!
For more details and expert travel advice contact Viv Craig at Viv’s Travel Bug