Seeing more in Turkey

By Andrew Eber
This item appears on page 15 of the June 2013 issue.

My wife, Carol, and I took the 15-day “Legendary Turkey” tour with Odysseys Unlimited (Newton, MA; 888/370-6765), May 29-June 13, 2012. The cost, including round-trip air from San Francisco, was $4,592 per person.

I found Turkey cleaner (and a good deal more stable) than Greece. And since it’s not in the European Union (yet) and has its own currency, it’s cheaper than many vacation destinations in Europe.

Here are some of the preconceptions people seem to have about Turkey.

It’s dangerous. To be sure, there are neighborhoods in Istanbul where a tourist should not venture after dark, just as there are in any big city in the world, but we never felt threatened. Police were plentiful and helpful. Graffiti was almost nonexistent, and the only beggar we saw in two weeks was a distressed mother and her child near Taksim Square. 

It’s Third World backward. Just a glance at the rows of gleaming, 5-star hotels along the beach in Antalya will belie this myth. High-rise apartment buildings, with balconies accommodating satellite dishes and barbecue grills, are under construction everywhere. With, by some measures, the second-fastest-growing economy in the world, Turkey is a formidable economic player in the region. Food is clean and plentiful, and the Mediterranean diet is, oh, so healthy.

It’s an Islamic country. Turkey is 99% Muslim, yet it has been operating as a secular democracy, thanks to the legacy of Ataturk. The presence of conservative women with head scarves in Istanbul and the call to prayer echoing from mosques are reminders that this is a modern Muslim country, but it is not one in which Americans should be fearful.

Ephesus is impressive, but then what? The stomping grounds of St. Paul, Turkey is the birthplace of Homer, not to mention the site of Troy, where nine cities ended up being built one atop the other. For those who want to walk in the grooves made by chariots’ wheels, there are over 100 officially recognized ancient sites dotting the coastline from Izmir to Antalya. 

Once you’ve “done” Ephesus and plodded through Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace and Blue Mosque, there are Cappadocia, the Kurdish lands in the southeast, the Black Sea and those special experiences along the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, off the tourist track, that are so…Turkish.

Assos is a destination, not a place to pull off the highway for the night. Head down a steep and twisting road, past olive trees and the ever-present columns of a Greek ruin, and there, on less than half a mile of sand, is a row of stone buildings converted from grain storage to boutique hotels, restaurants and even an upscale spa. 

A tiny harbor collects a few boats, providing a constant array of fresh fish. The warm, turquoise waters of the Bay of Edremit beckon for a quick swim before dinner. As one of our group of 18 said wistfully, “Can’t we just STAY here?”

Kudos go to our tour director, who took us to an off-the-itinerary village, Sirince. Sirince is REAL Turkey. Given the climb up the tortuous single-lane road to reach this charming, unpretentious village, it’s easy to see why it’s not swamped by tourists. 

There, we had a quiet lunch of olives, yogurt, cheeses, fresh bread, vegetables, fruit and the ever-present kebaps in variations of chicken and lamb, washed down by the national liquor, raki. 

We set off walking over the mismatched cobbles and saw an elderly woman selling intricately crocheted children’s clothes. Our visit to Sirince was one of the highlights of the trip.

At Aga Limani, after anchoring our 95-foot gulet, we took a 3-hour walk to the sunken baths that Marc Antony had built for Cleopatra and gifted to her (along with much of Turkey’s Mediterranean coast!). 

Passing the eerie remains of third-century-BC Lydean buildings and a 2,000-year-old cistern, we stopped at a goatherd’s house for ada çay (sage tea) and fresh bread. The goatherd had wooden spoons and goat bells for sale. 

Truly, in that moment, we were centuries removed from the 6-story-tall cruise ships only a few miles away, and we were at peace with the throbbing energy of this remarkable nation. 


Petaluma, CA