Leaving Turkey behind isn’t easy
Arriving with few expectations, I leave Turkey with a heavy heart already wondering when I will be back.
Some places get under your skin, they become addictive. Before you’ve even left you’re thinking about when you’ll come back. Once you have left, you feel a little empty.
Turkey is like that for me.
I’m in Croatia now, which has it’s own charm and beauty, but I am missing the country that straddles two continents and has a history rich with empires, sultans, myths and leaders who have inspired and are despised.
From the moment we hit Kennedy Ave in Istanbul on our way from Atatürk airport, I could see I liked the city. There’s a wonderful mix of the ancient, the Middle Ages and the modern.
Cobblestoned streets running off wide green boulevards, all surrounded by the remnants of a fortified wall. If you’ve read Dan Brown’s Inferno, Langdon drove down here on his way to the Aya Sofia and then to the Basilica Cistern (I won’t ruin the story for anyone who hasn’t read it).
Speaking of the Aya Sofia and the Basilica Cistern, they’re just two of the amazing buildings in Istanbul. Right next door is Topkapi Palace, the former home of the Sultan, his family and his harem. The place is huge, and the amount of tiles could do an entire suburb of bathrooms, with some still leftover.
The Sultans knew how to live, they surrounded themselves with women who they took off the streets where they were otherwise living, educated them and if they bore the sultan a child, they were given higher status within the palace. There was also a lot of bloodshed though when a sultan died because there was no set lineage. Brothers and sons set upon each other to decide who became the next ruler.
Of course the Ottoman Empire came under attack and eventually fell. By the time World War I hit Turkish soil, it was all but over. Visiting the scenes of some of the WWI fighting at Gallipoli was sobering.
Our guide had a family link, and it was great to hear the Turkish perspective. The Turks (teenagers as young as 15) described the ANZACs as “pretty boys” because of their blonde hair and blue eyes. Expecting big hairy Turks, the ANZACs were faced with boys, just as scared as they were.
The peninsula is very well maintained, but it wasn’t an easy place for me to visit. The cemeteries were too overwhelming with the rawness of my mother’s death. I was grateful just hear to the stories and see the sites, even if it was from a slight distance.
Despite that sober end to the tour, the preceding two weeks were filled with happiness, relaxation, education, balloon rides, swimming in the Mediterranean, eating lots of ice cream, baklava, chocolate and kebabs and getting to know what a wonderful place Turkey is.
I’ve left with a sense that the Turks know who they are. They’re not stuck in between Asia and Europe, they are who they are and they don’t seem to be trying to be anyone else. Joining the EU I think would be a backward step, they’d be giving up something to conform to rules and regulations that probably don’t fit the way of life.
It seems Erdogan has even taken a slight step back from the idea. Erdogan being the former Prime Minister and now President. He was elected while I was there, and the unkeen observer would have been hard pressed to notice the other candidates in the election. Erdogan’s campaign ads were big, bold and everywhere.
He only won by a margin of 2%, and changed the laws while he was PM to allow him to run, and is likely to change the rules again to allow him to stay longer in office. At the moment he’s there for 5 years, and for some it’s 5 years too long. For others, he’s someone they know.
One person Erdogan doesn’t like is Kamal Atatürk, the man who built modern Turkey out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, who made Turkey the secular Muslim country it is and gave freedom and power to individuals. The alphabet was changed from Arabic script to Roman letters; it was declared all men should wear a hat and Atatürk is still held in high esteem by many Turks. The size of his mausoleum complex is testimony to that.
The Turkish people I met, were friendly, funny, helpful, clever, incredibly hospitable and never threatening. Everyone wanted me to enjoy their country, to share with me the beauty of the culture, the food and even put up with me butchering the language (I did improve…).
I have so many amazing moments in my head, too many to share, but the highlights were: Istanbul; hot air ballooning over the fairy chimneys in Göreme; staying with a local family in the middle of nowhere and singing Kookaburra on their verandah; spending the night on the Mediterranean Sea; Ephesus; learning to cook with another local family outside of Selçuk; staying in an amazing Greek Ottoman house in Ayvalik; and the people I met.
Turkey, I will be back.