This was my first trip to Turkey and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I know people often associate Turkey with package beach holidays and sun-soaked touristy resorts but this was an Explore holiday. What really appealed to me about this tour was the fact that it allows you to get away from the beach and see ‘real’ Turkey.
The tour started in Istanbul - gateway to Asia; here we were able to explore the Blue Mosque, one of the most spectacular buildings I have ever seen. Another fantastic marvel was Hagia Sofia, a Byzantine church, built in the 6th Century.
Istanbul, with its numerous street café’s, markets and bazaars had a great buzz about it. We had the opportunity to take a ferry over the Bosporus. This is by far the best place to see the city from both the Asian and European sides and there was also a great selection of markets for that all-important souvenir shopping
The journey inland from Istanbul was along a modern four-lane highway through stunning scenery to the capital - Ankara. Ankara is largely a modern city; it was founded by Ataturk in the 1920s. Here we were able to see his mausoleum and the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations. This is a very interesting place and particularly focuses on the history of the Hittites, who lived in Turkey years before Christ.
Travelling south from Ankara, the scenery changed as we moved more inland to the region of Cappadocia. The moonlike landscapes were stunning and very different to anything I have experienced before. Here we were able to explore the subterranean city of Kaymakli. This amazing collection of underground caves was inhabited by Christians who were escaping Arab persecution during the 6-7th Century. There were also the beautiful churches of Gerome built into volcanic rock. This made a great impression on me.
From here we travelled on to Konya, one of the holiest cities in Turkey. Here we were able to visit some of the most beautiful mosques and learn about the Whirling Dervishes, an old Islamic sect that was evident in Turkey before the Modern secular state was established.
||Another major highlight for me was the town of Kas. This charming harbour town has many nice restaurants overlooking the harbour which serve both Turkish and Western food. It’s a sheer delight to sip a nice glass of wine while watching the sun set over the beautiful turquoise waters of the Eastern Mediterranean. From Kas, the group had a gulet trip out to sea, cruising along the stunning coastline and around numerous Islands. This was a great way to relax and soak up the sun and enjoy a swim in the tranquil, warm waters.
Following on from Kas, the trip took much more of a historic and cultural turn. We were able to visit many of the ancient Roman and Greek sites. For me the best ones were Aphrodisias with its impressive amphitheatre, Caunos with its Citadel which dates back to 400BC and of course Ephesus. The good thing about this trip was that we were able to visit the sites early, before they became too crowded and too hot.
The frozen waterfall at Pamukkale was another great aspect of the tour. This was by far one of the most impressive natural wonders I have seen. Here we could absorb the atmosphere, take pictures and bath in the spa waters which many claim have healing powers.
On the last leg of our journey, we visited the war memorials of Gallipoli - a very moving place. This was particularly important to the Australian and New Zealand members of the group as it was here that many Anzac soldiers lost their lives attempting a landing in World War 1.
So to sum it up, I found that Turkey was one of the most interesting countries I have been to, with much to offer. It had beaches, mountains, spectacular scenery, great food and a varied history that enhanced this wonderful experience.
By Anthony Jay, Adventure Travel Consultant who travelled on Asia Minor Explorer (TU)