Turks celebrate Republic Day on October 29 by attending performances and participating in traditional processions with flags and musical bands. The Turkish Republic’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk proclaimed Republic Day as Turkey’s most important holiday.
“Turkiye”, as the locals say, is the real name for Turkey. It’s a land of dreams, colors, happiness and spectacular sights and sounds. It is only Turkey where you will find a highly unique blend of the traditional Eastern culture blended with the glitz and glam of the Western society.
Besides Turkey’s enthralling places of touristic interest, fantastic food, fun and frolic, interesting and inspiring cultural diversity, the most important thing about the Turks is their peace-loving, warm-hearted, hospitable, friendly and cheerful personalities that reflect of an enlightened nation.
When I landed at Constinople (now Istanbul), such was the enormity of the Ataturk Havalimani (Airport), that we kept taxiing for a good 30 minutes before the gates arrived. After an hour of standing at the immigration counter, thanks to at least a thousand people having flown in to Istanbul from different flights at that point in time, I had a first look of the city across the glass doors at the Terminal for International Arrivals. It was my first glimpse at city of Istanbul. It felt as if Turkey was standing with arms wide open with a smile, waiting to embrace me.
Before my shuttle to the hotel I was due to stay in could arrive, I got some time to explore the airport. You would find some of the most glamorous stores at the airport offering FMCGs, confectionary items, fashion accessories and souvenirs. Also the airport comprises of local telco outlets, book stores, hotel & shuttle service offices in addition to mnay restaurants and cafes. It’s a place which if you explore at length, you wouldn’t notice how quickly time flies by.
One of the most celebrated highlights of the city of Istanbul is that fact that it’s the only city in the world to have a bridge namely Bosporus, either side of which is a different continent. One end of the bridge is the gateway to Asia & the other leads you in to the continent of Europe.
The feeling of being at the Bosporus bridge is beyond explanation. At night, it is highly recommended that you take a dinner cruise around the Bosporus area and experience what is a breathing-taking sight of the bridge, lit up with flickering, colorful, psychedelic lights.
People of Turkey are well-dressed and give special attention to their attire. On various avenues of Istanbul, for example, the famous Istikilal Caddesi Street, you will find many young men and women sporting trendy outfits. Women, I must say, are exceptionally beautiful, even without make-up, which is a rare sight, generally speaking. Men dress very stylishly even when casual and at work look twice as classy.
Not just that, even the people who do paltry jobs such as driving a taxi would be dressed simply yet neatly, which would make you think, maybe taxi drivers of some “other” countries could take a leaf out of their books.
Tattoos are common amongst men and women. To my surprise, the receptionist of the hotel also wore a tattoo on his arm which I got to see when I caught up with him once when he was leaving the hotel in casual clothing after completing his shift.
Turkey is the perfect setting for party animals. Night-life in posh areas such as the Taksim Square in Istanbul is really exciting where there are several clubs you can visit and dance the night away. Due to the sun setting as late as 9-ish, the evening activities last till very late in the evening, especially during summers, which is a holiday season & when people can afford to stay up till 2 or 3am.The sense of humor of Turkish people is really amazing. From the outset my arrival in Turkey, I realized the same, when the person sitting at the immigration counter at the famous Ataturk Airport in Istanbul had a look at my passport and humorously asked me if I was Parvez Musharraf’s son by any chance, who by the way, himself lived in Turkey for a considerable period of time in his life.
Music is generally viewed as a way of celebration & enjoyment & the Turks seek great pleasure in music. Often you would find youngsters playing hip tunes on the music system of their cars around areas such as the “Dolmabahçe Palace” in Istanbul.
People have a big thing for listening to music and in Trams, Buses, Jetliners, Ferries, you would find many people enjoying themselves listening to on their phones or iPods. Popularity of FM Radio is on the rise in Turkey. The majority of channels I heard were music-based. Quite a few of them played English Music, which was a relief. But in spite of that, every time I heard a Turkish music channel, the tunes really made me want to shake a leg. Time to time, famous concerts keep happening in Turkey. During my short stay, I came to know that international acts like Bon Jovi, Limp Bizkit, Moby & Armin Van Burren performed in separate concerts in Turkey. I was fortunate to have attended the famous International Jazz Music Festival, which is held every year and the greatest Jazz singers/musicians from the world over participate in the event. You would also find a number of restaurants treating their customers with live music as they enjoy some delectable local foods. Highly talented musicians equipped with the traditional acoustic guitar, the very sweet-sounding “Baglama” (a local form of the guitar) and of course, immaculate vocal chords perform and receive appreciation and praise from those listening. Many a times, restaurants would turn into mini-concert arenas wherein customers would sing along, dance and clap, which would enhance the overall experience of dining out. To those in Pakistan, live music in restaurants may be about an amateur singing on a scale which is beyond human comprehension, the background music tottering and the crowd being least bothered about ensuring the atrocity stopped. But musicians in Turkish restaurants really do take their music seriously, which is commendable.
Not just music, dancing is also popular phenomenon in Turkey. Traditional folk dances in Turkey not only amuse the locals but also foreigners. Not to mention the special dance performed by the whirling Darveshis which is a mystical experience and is a means to enter a religious state of ecstasy.
Turkish, which by the way is world’s 7th most widely spoken language, is interesting to hear and fun to speak. I happened to have learnt some words, more so, because they were somewhat identical to the words we have in Urdu. Turk Hava Yollari was the airline I travelled by, which would be “Turkish Airlines” in English. Outside of the toilet doors would read “BAYAN” & “BAY” (for ladies and gents respectively). If you want to go have “Sheesha” at a restaurant with friends, make sure you go ask for “Nargila”. Every day, two words you would definitely use would be “Merhaba” (Hello) & “Gulle Gulle” means Goodbye. And if you’re travelling by tram, make sure you take the Jetom (token) from the Jetom-atic (token vending machine) which you would need to insert at the gate of the waiting area. The names of places are highly amusing to pronounce: Eminounou, Sirkeci, Karaköy, Beşiktaş, Kabatas, Goreme, Fetehiye to name a few.
The sense of belonging of Turkish people to their motherland is extremely commendable. In different ways, shapes & forms, the inhabitants of the country show their love and respect for their home soil and for their much adored leader, Kamal Ataturk. They take pride in being Turkish and celebrate their affiliation to the country by choosing to speak Turkish most of the times, even with foreigners (maybe in some cases also due to lack of understanding of English language), which makes communication just a tad difficult for those coming from a different snick of the woods. During my short visit to Turkey, I happened to have found most people who I interacted with, to be extremely warm and accommodating.. From taxi drivers to restaurateurs, shop owners to hotel receptionists and tour guides to fellow passengers in trams, everybody seemed to be very congenial and not at one point did I feel that I didn’t get the hospitality I had been hoping to receive. It is also usual for Turks – even the men – to greet each other by kissing on both cheeks. So don’t fear the friendly advances of a local to greet you.
The roads of Turkey in general and Istanbul in particular, specially the main avenues, are fairly spacious where you can easily drive at a hare’s pace. However, during rush hours, the usual traffic jams can delay your reaching your intended destination. Having said that, even at such times, the traffic movements happen in an orderly manner, which means the jam clears out much quicker than it does in countries where people worsen the jam situation by attempting silly things to evade/escape the rush. As opposed to some of the countries that still haven’t considered the idea of utilizing the natural gift of solar energy to generate power, Turkey is a country where solar panels have gained widespread popularity and can be found atop all sorts of buildings such as five star hotels, corporate offices, houses, shopping malls etc. And these panels are powerful enough not to light up just a bulb & a fan, it is a full-on alternative to normal electricity. In some buildings, there are sensors installed which enable lights to switch on and off automatically, depending on the presence of a person in that particular part of the building. The first time I got to see this, I was not only surprised, but also impressed with the fact that that the Turkish value electricity even if it is coming from a natural source, unlike some parts of the world where despite electricity being scarce, its consumption is not regulated very well.
Although Turkey has impressed me in more ways than one, a thing which is worth a mention here is the installation of exercise machines in parks, such as one I visited in Fethiye. Every evening, kids as well as adults would come to these parks and have a little work-out sessions, which not only enable them to have a nice leisurely time, but also help them keep agile & fit. Not that the parks are devoid of regular swings, but the presence of fitness machines in parks which can be accessed by all is a proof of the fact that the authorities overseeing infrastructure in Turkey are promoting a healthy lifestyle amongst their citizens.
Tourism in Turkey is also laid special emphasis on. On the arrival of the holiday season, you can see people of all sorts of nationalities coming to Turkey in search of a perfect vacation. Hotels all over the country earn heavily during this season. Although there were about eight hotels I stayed in during my entire trip of Turkey and each one of them was unique in its own way, the three hotels I will miss the most are Tan Hotel Istanbul, Yacht Classic Hotel Fetheiye & Marriot by Airport Hotel Istanbul (where I stayed when I got back to Istanbul after leaving the city to explore other parts of Turkey). The sights from the hotel are amazing. Tan Hotel in Istanbul allows you to have breakfast at the rooftop, and with the beautiful view of the Black Sea, the sound of the seagulls, and some tasteful lounge music playing in the background, the experience becomes unforgettable. Yacht Classic Hotel in Fethiye allows you to have a great view of the port while you sit in your Jacuzzi & later soak up the sun on the sun bed. You stand near the window of the room in Marriot by Airport Hotel, and you would get the witness the city of bustling city of Istanbul in its full grandeur and glory.
When we speak of historic landmarks in Turkey, one of first few places that comes to mind is the Blue Mosque a.k.a. Sultanahmet Mosque in Istanbul. It’s a place where not only will you get a great sense of pleasure as a Muslim, but also, as a tourist, you will be overwhelmed by the look and feel imparted to the place. The mosque is colossal, with the external architecture and intricately done calligraphy on the inside walls something that will leave you in complete awe of the place. There are several mosques that add to the beauty of the city, with the Istanbul skyline studded with a variety of domes & minarets. Hagia Sophia is also one spot you don’t want to miss out on while you visit Istanbul. The place, which was formerly a Church, was later converted into a mosque post the conquest of the Ottoman Empire & is now a museum. You step inside the building and your heart will most definitely skip a beat, courtesy the huge dome situated at a great height. The dome is adorned with Islamic calligraphy; however from a structural point of view, for example the shape of the window panes, you would still find some traces of Christianity in the building. For shopaholics, Grand Bazaar is one of the largest & oldest covered markets in the world with over 4400 shops, 3000 firms, 64 streets, 25.000 employees, 4 fountains, 2 mosques and 22 gates. This place is a true shopper’s paradise & hunting for bargains can be fun here. The popularity of the Grand Bazaar can be measured by the fact that according to an estimate nearly 325 thousand people visit here each day. As a Pakistani, especially a Karachiite, you might for a moment feel as though you are walking in a more ventilated, spacious version of Zainab Market.
The food Turkish restaurants offer is scrumptious to say the least. You better prepare yourselves to be spending between 12-30 liras on a single meal, depending on the dish you choose and as well as the restaurant. Kebaps/Kebabs, Soups, Pastas, Shawerma, Turkish Pita, Vegetable Dishes, Salads, meat dishes a vast variety of Fish (as Turkey is surrounded by seas) are available in heaps, not to mention the usual items you would find everywhere in the world etc. Being a fan of having “roti” with my meals, I was a little concerned about the availability of the same in Turkey. But much to my relief, minutes before I had the first meal in Turkey, I was served with a long Pita, which actually was too big to finish, even though was very delicious with items to compliment it such as cheese & butter. Kebebs being a popular offering in Turkey, in chic restaurants as well as on roadsides, you would find them being sold. Several food items are served with vegetables & rice. Those who are used to the usual Basmati Rice in Pakistan, might find the Turkish rice a little unusual in the mouth. While having a stroll on the streets of Istanbul, you will find people selling Simit, a circular bread with sesame seeds. Another famous item which you will find all across Turkey is their local ice cream, the “Dondurma”. Technically, its more like the usual cone ice-cream you find in Pakistan, but the beauty of it is hidden in the way it is prepared & then served. The Dondurma vendors, wearing the typical Turkish Fez (Hat), often tease & trick the customer by serving the ice cream cone on a stick, and then taking away the Dondurma with the stick and rotating it around, before finally giving it to the customer. The gimmickry lasts one minute, but it’s entertaining to watch and even be a victim of. Just a tip to those wishing to try Dondurma when they go to Turkey: Don’t be mad at the poor Dondurma vendor if he dodges you while presenting you the ice cream- he’s just doing his job and you eventually will get your treat. One of the world-renowned desserts of Turkish cuisine is baklava. Baklava is made either with pistachio or walnut. Black Tea & Sharbet (sweet soft drink made of rose hips, cornelian cherries, rose, or licorice and spices) are popular beverages the Turks consume.
Since Turkey is situated between the Black & the Mediterranean Sea, the use of Ferries & Yachts is very frequent for travelling within a city and inter-city commuting. The Ferries are exceptionally huge, with several levels and travelling in them from place to place can be exciting for those who seldom travel by Sea. In Istanbul, travelling by ferry, like the tram, would cost you 1.75 liras for one way from Kadikoy to Karakoy (45 minute sail). However, if you are taking a boat cruise for exploratory tours in Fethiye or Antaliya, you will be charged far more. One of the biggest attractions in Fethiye is the 12 Islands Boat Cruise. As you walk around the marina and the harbor in Fethiye, you will find numerous double-decker boats, each one of which can accomodate 50 up to 150 people. They depart between 10-11 each morning and come back to Fehiye Harbour around 17:30 – 18:30 in the evening. The ticket costs about 60 liras and lunch is included in these tours which is usually either pasta, meatballs, chicken or fish. If you want to soak up the sun then upstairs is the place for you, but one has to be weary of the sun because sometimes it burns you just a little too much. People who want to enjoy the tour in the shade stay downstairs enjoying a drink and listening to the music. At each stop, the boat gets docked for about 40 minutes & those aboard are offered to take a dive in the Mediterranean Sea, which is an experience and a half. For those who do not know how to swim, worry not! The boat crew also offers life-jackets so that you can relish the experience and not feel left out while everybody else has gone for a dip.
Saklikent, is a huge valley and a canyon which goes inside 14km. It is unbelievably high and narrow between two mountains. You’ll have to walk through ice cold waters to get to the other side of the river, if you want to see the beauties inside the canyon. Olu Deniz is also a beautiful inland bay that stretches behind the cape. The pine clad sandy beach stretched out like a tongue, is heaven on earth. A turkish trip in deemed incomplete without paying a visit to Pammukale, , meaning “cotton palace” in Turkish, which is a Worlder Hertiage Site along with neighboring location namely “Hierapolis”. The city contains hot springs and terraces of carbonate minerals left by water running down a mountain. Wearing shoes in the water is prohibited to protect the deposits. People have bathed in its pools for thousands of years & its water is said to have good effects on the skin. Turkey’s beaches are also considered to be some of the best in the world. These include Patara (Fethiye), Ölüdeniz (Fethiye),. Olimpos (Antalya), Side (Antalya), Alanya, Iztuzu (Dalyan), Dalaman Airport, Bodrum Peninsula, Ortakent Yalisi, Turgutreis, Gümüslük, Kemer (Antalya), Pamucak (Ephesus), Çalış (Fethiye). During summers, visitors from the world over lay under the sun viewing these spectacular beaches all day, in hopes of getting a good tan by time the sun begins to set.
A significant culture has been developed around what is known as a Hamam, which is a Turkish Bath. Traditional massages are also a great way of easing your nerves and making yourself feel you are truly on vacations. A noteworthy part of the Turkish culture, and a huge industry in the country is that of weaving of carpets made of wool, silk or cotton. Traditionally a craft learnt by women, each carpet would be unique. Each region of Turkey has evolved a style of carpet pattern and colours. These carpets take months to even years to prepare.
If you’re planning a trip to Turkey, chances are people will encourage you to visit Cappadocia to see the unique landscape of fairy chimneys, colorful rock formations and “cave hotels”. The hot air balloon ride in Goreme is an unforgettable balloon adventure gives you a view of some scenic landscapes of Cappadocia. Quad-biking in Goreme, which is about a two-hour activity is one that helps you familiarize with the different valleys in Goreme & parking your bike at the love-valley to view the sunset is considered to be very romantic by those in couples.
In a nutshell, all that I’ve mentioned about Turkiye, is just the tip of the iceberg. In the case of this country, seeing is believing & testing is confirming. I would strongly suggest everybody to note it in their list of “must visit” countries. And finally, I for one, can say with great conviction, that when you have toured Turkey once, you would want to go there time and time again.