It seems like almost everyone in the Pacific Northwest of the USA has heard about Washington State’s Rick Steves’ Europe Through The Back Door due to his entertaining travel shows on public television. I have been wanting to go on one of Rick’s tours for a while, but the timing always seemed to conflict with other responsibilities, so it never happened – until this year.
I have heard from so many people what a wonderful country Turkey is to visit: warm & friendly people, a rich history, and beautiful cities & sites to visit. For those who live in the West it gives an easy opportunity to be immersed into an Islamic culture and experience it up close. Some travelers from the West worry about being in an Islamic country because of the negative media coverage they see in the West related to terrorism, but as far as Turkey is concerned you need not be worried, and I felt safer traveling in Turkey than I do traveling in the USA.
I started my trip 2 days before the tour group met in Istanbul to help me get used to the time change of 10+ hours from where I live in the Pacific Northwest. I needn’t have bothered, though, as I never really did get used to the time change. Next time I’ll go one day early instead, and tack extra days on at the end of the trip, when I’m more used to the time change and can enjoy it more. One of the veteran world travelers on the trip told me he thought it took a day for every hour of difference from your home time zone to get acclimatized, and I’d say that is about right.
No doubt about it, flying to Istanbul from Washington State was a long trip, but worth the effort. The tour started in Turkey’s largest city at 17 million, Istanbul, where we stayed 2 nights, then took an overnight train to Ankara, then on by bus to Mustafapasa (2 nights), Guzelyurt (1 night), Konya (1 night), Antalya (2 nights), Pamukkale (1 night), a stop at Aphrodisias, Kusadasi (2 nights), a stop at the ruins of Ephesus, and then catching a flight back to Istanbul from Izmir.
By the time I made it back to Istanbul I was really wishing I had booked a couple of extra days there to get one last look around, but I didn’t, so I ended up flying home the next day.
If you don’t have anyone to travel with don’t worry, I didn’t either, and as a result I had a whole new group of best friends by the end of the trip from the tour group I traveled with.
Istanbul is an amazing city. On my flight into Istanbul from Amsterdam the view was impressive, looking like the city stretched away as far as the eye could see in every direction as we flew in close over the water to land. Not only that, the city was breathtakingly beautiful, and definitely not the drab sort of impression you get with many cities, but rather Istanbul was bustling with life, light, and charm in a sort of poetic splendor.
After landing in Istanbul, and after a rather hair-raising shuttle drive through what can only be described as crazy Istanbul traffic, I arrived at the Sumengen Hotel to check in.
The Hotel Sumengen is located in the Old City portion of Istanbul, at the intersection of Europe and Asia on the Bosporus Strait that connects the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara, the ‘A’ in the map below.
As you would expect, the view was spectacular from the Sumengen Hotel rooftop terrace, with the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Bosporus Strait apparent in all their glory (photos below).
After getting settled in the Sumengen Hotel I decided it was time to venture out with the M9 for a bit of dinner before calling it a night, and at the recommendation of the Sumengen staff I walked along the narrow cobblestone streets to the Antique Turquoise Restaurant located in Sultanhemet.
The streets were full of life and color, and the owner of the Antique Turquoise welcomed me (photo below) in for dinner with the open arms of hospitality that is so characteristic of the Turkish people.
The food at the Antique Turquoise was exceptional, the wine fine, and the view of the street scene wonderful.
I’m not sure why, perhaps the exoticism and beauty of it all, but the vibe of the Old City at night reminded me of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, where he describes being young, in love, and writing in Paris in 1921. To poorly adapt and paraphrase Hemingway to my experience, let me say like he did “You belong to me and all of the Old City belongs to me, and I to you and it, while I capture the spirit of it all with camera and pencil.”
More to come.