My go-mance started about 15 years ago when my friends Terri and Jay told me to stop talking about Turkey and actually take the leap and go.
So jump we did and the three of us signed up for Turkey’s Magical Hideaways with Overseas Adventure Travels (OAT).
At the time I had little interest in visiting England or France. I wanted to take the “road less traveled” and this was the beginning of my courtship with world travel.
Family and friends thought we were crazy, especially since we started our adventure to a lesser part of the world just six weeks after 9/11.
The long flight over was not so bad as there were very few fellow passengers, so we were able to sleep lying down on the plane. The airports in the United States were a mess with long lines, but when we arrive in Istanbul, the airport was almost empty. The expression of condolence from many Turkish people about the terrorist attacks was overwhelming. Although we never felt uncomfortable or unsafe, we also took reasonable safety measures wherever we went.
Despite our exhaustion we managed to get to our hotel, the Blue House, in the heart of the old city where the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque), the Hagia Sophia, the Topkapi Palace and the massive Grand Bazaar reside. Huge rock sea walls separated us from the Bosporus, a significant waterway dividing the European side of Istanbul from the Asian side.
Tired as we were, instead of napping on arrival, we opted to go to a 300-year old hammam (Turkish bath). Its beauty was indescribable, and the warm water, hot steam and the encompassing arms of a very large Turkish woman nearly put me into a coma. Imagine the best massage you have ever had and multiply by 10. What a way to start the adventure.
My lovely room featured a huge window that I flung open to absorb the sights, all only a few hundred feet from the magnificent Blue Mosque. It has five domes and six minarets from where a muezzin (a man who calls Muslims to prayer from the minaret of a mosque) issues the call to prayer five times a day.
As I lay in bed I could see the mosque and the moon, while listening to the muezzin and dreaming with my eyes wide open.
Of all the big cities I have visited, Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) stands out because it is the crossroads of numerous civilizations that are reflected by the diversity at every twist and turn in the cobblestone streets.
We visited a mosque, an Orthodox Church and a Jewish synagogue, all within a few hundred feet of one another. The Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum had a huge array of artifacts including pottery, weavings, jewelry, clothing and paintings representing every juncture in the long history from the Anatolians to the Ottomans, reaching back many thousands of years before Christ.
And just about when one becomes overwhelmed by spectacular structures, we entered the Grand Bazaar, which assaulted my eyes, ears and nose in a way I had never imagined.
This is not the Jolly Giant Flea Market! It is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with 61 covered streets and more than 3,000 shops that attract between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily.
We spent many hours exploring the shops, buying gifts and spices to bring home. I even received an offer of marriage from a shop owner who was anxious to sell me a silk carpet. I bought the carpet but declined the offer even though it included two camels!
If Istanbul was the appetizer for this “magical” trip, the city of Kayseri and the surrounding area of Cappadocia were the first course of this magnificent travel feast!
We saw fairy chimneys created by volcanic ash, underground cities, and Göreme, an ancient cluster of rooms tunneled out of rock between 1800-1500 B.C. The caves were initially used for protection from marauding armies, and later served as Christian churches. The walls are covered with magnificent wall art depicting early Bible stories.
A night of feasting and dancing with the locals in an underground cave dining room was the finale of a fantastic day of exploration and discovery.
Hang onto your magic carpet and watch for Volume Two.
Note: Lynne Wonacott will give a presentation at 6 p.m. on Tues. March 29 in Redding where she will talk about travel opportunities with Overseas Travel Adventures. Click here for details.
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” ~Mark Twain