Turkey

If there is one country that should be on every backpacker's 'must see' list, it ought to be Turkey. Istanbul alone, with its multilayered history as capital of both the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, could occupy weeks of your time with its inimitable grand bazaar, haunting Hagia Sophia, various gorgeous crumbling historical buildings and lively pedestrian-friendly streets full of countless cafes and bars all vying for your attention. And while it certainly is a wonderful place to get your first taste of Turkey, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Heading east through Cappadoccia is a delight for any traveller, as the otherworldly landscape of central Anatolia, coupled with the relaxed chill-out atmosphere, will blow your mind even after repeated visits. Hearing the muezzin call to prayer at dusk, echoing through the hills and valleys full of Byzantine cave churches, will be an amazing experience you won’t soon forget. Heading south, travellers have their pick of beaches along the Mediterranean, whether it is an atmospheric bay of Roman ruins all to yourself or a party beach town where the Efes beer runs freely. Other highlights include the Sufi spiritual pilgrimage city of Konya, where the dervishes first whirled hundreds of years ago and where the brilliant poet Rumi is buried, and the atmospheric eastern town of Urfa, where the prophet Abraham is rumoured to have been born. From the Northern black sea coast to the top of Mt. Nemrut and back to the cosmopolitan city where East and West meet, Turkey will get under your skin and leave you wanting to linger longer, its friendly people and unique culture never failing to impress. ~ Julia Totino


Cappadocia: A trove of natural and cultural treasures

As I gaze at the landscape below, I wonder if I’ve landed on Mars or perhaps have been transported into one of Dali’s surrealist paintings. Picture a spectacular topography of vast plains and valleys, rolling hills, rugged mountains and extinct volcanoes. Then visualize bizarre rock formations - or ‘fairy chimneys’ – in mushroom, pinnacled, capped and conic shapes, scattering the area and giving it an otherworldly appearance. Yes, it’s easy to believe I’m on another planet. But, no, I’m in Cappadocia, a region in central Turkey, about three hours’ drive south of Ankara. Cappadocia covers nearly 3,900 square kilometers in the country’s Central Anatolia Region.

Prayer Calls

Photo: Yucel Tellici“Prayer is better than sleep." Or so goes the age-old Muslim adage. The first of five calls to prayer streams out from the minaret of every mosque before the sun rises, when dreams just seem to begin. Traveling to Southwestern Turkey - a 99 percent Muslim country - I had romantic notions of the muezzin’s call. "This will be lovely," I said to myself. "People rising to give thanks to God? Beautiful." Sometimes preconceptions in travel can be vastly off course from first-hand experience. As it turns out, I absolutely, positively hated that call to prayer.

To make things clear, our muezzin was no ordinary man of God. The job in Turkey is governmental, and until very recently has not required any formal singing training. Even so, plainly put, our muezzin of the small village I inhabited was far before his days of government work. He was an 11 year-old pubescent boy whose voice often cracked on the too-loudly broadcasted speakers. Instead of a somewhat haunting, yet lyrical, “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest), that is usually sung, all I could hear was a scratchy “wandering crow, wandering crow”, like a cryptic message played backwards on the Beatles' White Album.

Why Turkey? It's explicitly unanswerable

The question of Turkey: simply unanswerableSomething mystical wanders the streets of Istanbul right around dinnertime. As sunset drags its last slow light over the city one can feel it. Up from the cracks in the cobblestone streets of Sultanahmet rises an almost palpable feeling of insight into one’s own role in the inexorable passage of time, like the steamy byproduct of the fermentation of history. Droopy-lidded cats that spent the day napping on centenarian graves, legs dripping over the sides in the lazy way that only cats can sleep, wake and stretch their toes. The Aksam [ed. the Muslim call to prayer as it is called in Turkey] sounds from the minarets.

And in this end-of-day haze, connections are made over cups of thick Turkish coffee, through the rattle of backgammon dice, wafting in the candied smoke of apple flavored tobacco. These connections linger on, even after memories have been filed away in the stacks of dormancy. I have seen a pattern emerge since the month I spent in the city that straddles continents.

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 Full name: Republic of Turkey

 Population: 79.75 million (CIA, 2012)

 Capital: Ankara

 Largest city: Istanbul

 Area: 783,562 sq.km. (302,534 sq. mi.)

 Major languages: Turkish, Kurdish, Other

 Major religions: Muslim, Other

 Monetary unit: Turkish Lira

 GDP per capita: US $14,600

 Internet domain: .tr

 International dialling code: +90

 Source: CIA World Factbook