A Journey Through Turkey

by Rikki Brown

Turkey is best associated with misassumptions. When one says “Oh, I'm going to Turkey” or “I live in Turkey,” everyone immediately assumes that it’s so dangerous, or that you must reside in Istanbul (...Oh wait, Turkey.. you mean the capital city of Istanbul?). However, the best secret to Turkey is actually everything but Istanbul. Naturally, Istanbul is a gorgeous metropolis full of ridiculously awesome sights, a rich expat network, and the coolest nightlife, which makes living and working there quite ideal, but the country has must more to offer.

View of Ankara, Turkey.
View of Ankara, Turkey. Photo by Rikki Brown

Through the Cities & Experiences

Close your eyes and imagine a country where you can wake up on the Mediterranean Sea, looking over rocky cliffs, and into the Greek Islands, just a half hour boat ride away. Take a ride just six hours away in a comfortable passenger bus equipped with snacks and beverages, meanwhile passing run-down villages frozen in time and open road fruit stands with fresh red pomegranates and juicy, sweet grapes.

You may have a pit-stop in Ephesus, an ancient Greek city, where the first advertisement for a prostitute is still visible, as well as the remnants of a massive theater and library. Suddenly, you have arrived in Pamukkale – home of a uniquely mystifying sulfate mountain, which makes it look as though it has snowed in August. You can walk up it barefoot, whether it's June or October, and swim in the natural springs while drinking tea; you may even have a foot massage from fish – seriously!

From there, you can travel just a few short hours to Antalya, the hub of beach life from May to October, attracting so many British and Russian tourists (amongst many others), that all signs are written in three languages. Wandering around Turkey's southern coast, you can find numerous ruins that will spark your imagination and question any previous understandings that you thought you had of world history. Just miles from the ruins are beautiful beaches where you can windsurf, bungee jump, snorkel, or relax in one of many all-inclusive resorts. If you travel east you will find another contrasting culture, where many speak Kurdish and Arabic. Arriving in Mardin you may find one of the most diverse cities in the world - hosting two of the oldest monasteries in the world, as well as historic Roman remnants, all amongst a predominantly Muslim societal background. From there you may go to Urfa, where you will delight in just one of Turkey’s hundreds of famous kebabs.

The north part of Turkey is lined by the Black Sea, enriching its fertile soil and nurturing more shades of green than you have ever feasted your eyes on, not to mention some fantastic traditional dances and dishes to really feast on. You can climb the foothills of the Caucasus mountains, skip rocks into waters of the Black Sea, and eat fish - or if you’re a meat lover pide - on its shore. Going a bit south you enter Anatolia, the center of Turkey, where more historic ruins await you. Home to the ancient civilizations of the Hittites, you can travel all around Central Anatolia and find pieces of a stunning civilization. Then go to Cappadocia, where you will discover the astonishing, naturally formed hills called “Chimney Fairies”. Float in an air balloon over the city and you will be amazed at its sites, or rent an ATV and trek through the hills and onto plateaus overlooking an astonishing sunset. North of Cappadocia is the capital, Ankara, a quiet, more residential Istanbul and home to Ataturk, Turkey's great heroic political figure. Between Ankara and Istanbul you can find the fantastic Seven Lakes National Park, serene still lakes perfect for hiking, a tasty barbecue, and relaxing in quiet, literally in the middle of nowhere.

At the end of this journey you will have traveled throughout all of Turkey and still discovered only a fraction of its greatness.

All The Little Moments

At the end of such a journey through Turkey, as outlined above, you will be left with loads of unbelievably awesome moments. The clay potter in Cappadocia who invites you into his studio, gives you ample cups of tea, and teaches you how to make a clay pot, happily letting you take home your horrific-looking creation just to get it out of his studio. The cute little elderly woman at the fruit stand, who lets you taste-test every fruit that she offers until you are so full that you don’t really want to buy anything; yet of course you’ll want to purchase something because she is the cutest elderly, toothless woman you have ever seen. Don’t worry she will probably think you’re adorable for your broken Turkish and natural foreign manners, so she’ll give you a great discount. All the great shop owners cannot be forgotten either, that you’ll barter with in one of the many markets throughout Turkey, while trying on the colorful scarfs, smelling the teas and spices, and drooling over the silver and copper tea sets.

You will never forget celebrating Ramazan in Samsun with your friend’s family, feasting on more homemade food than you would at a real feast, including five different dishes with eggplant, rice, and beef galore. In between forkfuls, you will greet all the elders and socialize for hours, hearing stories of the past, the future, and of their curiosity about you living in Turkey. As you walk through some of the Anatolian villages and watch a man weave fabric, telling you stories of his family's legacy as weavers.

These little moments, all set in a backdrop of marvelous beauty, help you to truly appreciate this wondrous country.

The Truth About Turkey 

In some ways extremely modern, in others, way behind the current times, Turkey challenges the assumptions about its lifestyle. No, no one here rides camels, sheep are not sacrificed in the middle of street during Ramazan, not everyone is devout Muslim, people happily (really happily) drink alcohol. Turkish people do not live in the Middle East - nor do they live in Europe (and No, definitely not associated with Syria); yes, everyone still has an iPhone (sometimes even two?!).

Furthermore, Turkey challenges you to discover how its beauty runs deeper than all those things mentioned on Lonely Planet. Thus, you have now accepted the task of voiding yourself of these misinterpretations of one of the most splendid countries in the world, and to honestly discover the hidden treasures of Turkey's rich history, mouth-watering cuisine, and breathtaking scenery; you have considered or plan to intern abroad in Turkey, which will inevitably bring you to realization of all of the above.