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Published: September 13th 2008
The uneasy feeling about Turkey generated by the movie “Midnight Express” has long been replaced about great curiosity about the country.
While hopping around the Greek Islands years ago, many were the tourists telling me: “If you like Greece, you will love Turkey”. Surprised, I’d exclaim an astonished “Really!?", followed by a curious “Why?”, to hear answers like: “The people are friendly, the food is delicious, traveling and shopping is a bargain”.
Turkey than became my dream destinatıon even though it's no longer a bargain destination.
My curiosity about the Turkish culture has endured time. The world political climate after September 11 made me abandon the idea to venture into any Muslim country for a while. But since the world “climate” has improved and my reasons to go places are purely cultural, I refuse to let politics and religion interfere with my passion to explore new lands. Yes, there is a little hint of suspense, particularly since bombs have “popped” (that sounds more reassuring than “blown”) recently in Turkish territory, but my enthusiasm is stronger than my reluctance to go.
The opportunity to visit Turkey has come right after my trip to India, depriving me of time to engage
in much enjoyed pre-travel research, so I settled for accepting to learn as I go.
As unbelievable as it may sound, I actually appreciated the long plane ride, as it gave me the chance to review a little bit of Turkish history. Noticed I wrote “appreciated”, not “enjoyed”. My very sensitive sense of smell had a hard time enduring the body odor which took over the plane, coming primarily from the 3 Turkish college students seating by me. Unpleasant memories of the bad smells of Russia and India filtered thru my nostrils!
Well, I survived the smell and got absorbed into my readings about the extensive line of events involving Turkey thru the years. The Greeks, the Romans, the Persians, and Arabs all came bringing and leaving behind their cultures to shape Turkey over the centuries.
The glories of the Byzantium and Ottoman Empires came and vanished.
Christianity spread (Saint John & Mary are said to be buried here) than Islam came. Today 98% of the population is Muslim, practýcýng a more relaxed form os Islam.
During WWI Turkey was on German side (!) and after WWII it was allied with the US (!), heading towards democratization
and modernization during the 90’s. 2005 to know, the talks are about joining the European Union. Atatürk, the father of the Turkish Republic remains super popular, the Turkish flags and his picture everywhere.
The current controversies are about the situation with the Kurds, Turkish largest minority, over Cyprus, the fate (or possible genocide) of Anatolia’s Armenians and over Headscarves worn by Muslim women. There isn’t freedom of speech concerning these touchy subjects.
Now I am here to see the legacies of yesterday still standing and to experience the sights, the people, culture and the food of today, of now.
FIRST IMPRESSİONS OF ISTANBUL
Landed, got visa on the spot for $20, not even a photo needed. That was a nice hassle-free welcoming. Headed to the Historia Hotel, relaxing by the balcony under a magnificent blue sky, taking in the scenery of housetops and the Sea of Marmara, while my room got ready.
A quick rest and I could hear the streets of the Sutanahmet district calling me to take a pick at the Old City. Today was about wondering leisurely around, people watching, feeling the vibe of this city which seems so East and so West at
the same time.
I couldn’t be here at better time as it is the Islamic Holy time of Ramadan. After fasting all day, families come out to this area to go to the mosque and celebrate picnicking seating on the grass, eating from the many food stalls, walking around with friends, kids and all. There’s a very festive atmosphere around, from 5 in the afternoon to way into the night.
The call to prayer blasts from the majestic Blue Mosque and others mosques around. It’s a magical evening but jet-leg reminds me tomorrow there is much more to explore.
So, I walked the cobblestone ancient streets back to the Historia, already dreaming of tomorrow.
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