Turkey is a midsized country located quite literally where east meets west. Istanbul, the biggest city in Turkey, is half in the continent in Asia and half in the continent of Europe! However, Turkey also has a huge Middle Eastern influence because it is bordered by Iran, Iraq, and Syria. This makes Turkey a truly multicultural haven, and a country unlike any place I’ve ever been before.
My family and I traveled to three parts of Turkey: Istanbul, Cappadocia, and Izmir (pronounced Eesh-meer). Since we traveled to Istanbul first, I shall begin our journey there.
Istanbul is one of the greatest cities in the world, not only because of its size, but also because of its history. Istanbul has some of the most historical sites in the world, the king of which is the Grand Bazaar, the oldest covered marketplace in the world. It originated in 1455 – this is almost forty years before Christopher Columbus discovered America! Because Istanbul was a stop along the Silk Road, merchants used to sell exotic spices, animals, and many Turkish handicrafts, including the famous Turkish carpet. Today, the Grand Bazaar has unfortunately lost some of its charm; most of its shops cater to Western tourists, and many vendors sell fake designer merchandise and cheap souvenirs.
Another stop that was a truly incredible experience was going to the Hagia Sophia (pronounced Ayuh Sophia), which is a church built in the year 360. Incredibly enough, this church was actually turned into a mosque by Muslim invaders, and remained as such until it became a museum is 1935. This mosque is simply enormous; it’s interesting to see how although the Muslim invaders tried to erase the images of Jesus and Mary, some of it still remains simultaneously with the many Muslim symbols added to the mosque by the invaders.
Although we did do so much more in Istanbul than just visit these two stops, these places were truly the highlights of our five days spent in Istanbul.
Cappadocia is also another wonderful region in the central part of Turkey. There is so much history behind this region because there are many unique caves where humans used to live that have been around for centuries. There are also underground cities, several hundred yards deep, where people used to live to hide from invaders. They have now been converted into museum sites, but they used to be extensive cities where people slept, ate, and where horses were kept. There is also a beautiful valley that we hiked through which had many more caves, as well as ancient Christian drawings which were thousands of years old.
Lastly, we went to Izmir, which is in the south of Turkey, and is home to some of the most stunning beaches I have ever seen. Seriously, these beaches were ones that you might see in movies, with pure white sand and crystal-clear blue water. The temperature of the water was also perfect, because it was usually boiling outside, which gave us time to cool off.
After that, it was back to Istanbul, and back home. Turkey was definitely the vacation of a lifetime; I’ve never learned so much about history, and experienced so much of it, until we went here. Turkey is also surprisingly affordable, which is also what makes this country a real bargain to visit. Many of the souvenirs that I bought were handmade but didn’t cost more than $15, and a large sandwich was probably $2 to $3 at most. If you ever have the opportunity to visit Turkey sometime, I would definitely take it up; it’s a neat country, with a thriving culture and historical sites that you won’t forget anytime soon.