It was with a sense of anticipation and expectation that we planned a trip to Turkey, Austria and Hungary in May 2009 and surely we were not disappointed.
Our visit to Turkey began with Istanbul, the capital city of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. The city still ranks as one of the most ancient living cities of the world. The city was founded during the reign of Emperor Constantine. The Roman ruler desired to build a city that would rival Rome on the site of the old Greek colony of Byzantium at the entrance of the Bosphorus. This was dedicated in the early 4th century AD as Constantinople.
After we checked into our hotel, without losing any time we were taken to the Grand Topkapi Palace of the Ottoman Sultans. We were impressed by the palace, especially the sections that displayed jewels, precious stones, crystals, porcelain used by former sultans housed in the highly ornate halls. It is situated on a high ground from where one could have a panoramic view of the Bosphorus and the Sea of Marmara, separating Europe and Asia. Later our visit to the 15th century Grand Bazaar was an unforgettable experience because no where in the world is there such a huge covered market with decorated arches leading to various shopping areas – some 4000 shops full of treasures! After dinner we had an opportunity to see a traditional Turkish show that included belly dancing which was very enjoyable.
The next day included a visit to the old city Sultanahmet where the magnificent structures of St. Sophia and the Blue Mosque are located. We walked through the ancient Hippodrome of the Byzantine period which was the scene of games and races. There are three columns exhibited here – the obelisk, Serpentine Column and the Column of Constantine. Roman ruler Justinian left a majestic landmark – the basilica of St. Sophia, constructed around 535 AD. This is an architectural marvel when one considers the period in which it was constructed. The well-laid garden around was full of tulips and other flowers in full bloom which was a feast to the eyes. Later we visited the 16th century Sultanahmet Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque because of the breathtaking intricate designs created with blue Iznik tiles. Of course a visit to Istanbul never ends without a cruise along the shores of the legendary Bosphorus. The waterway is lined with historic mansions and Baroque Palaces and the crowded skyline is dotted with dominating domes and tall minarets.
After Istanbul, we continued our long journey to Gallipoli along the highway overlooking the Sea of Marmara amidst the beautiful landscape. The Gallipoli Peninsula was the scene of the First World War. During the battles, thousands of soldiers from Australia and New Zealand sacrificed their lives. Even today the deployment of AZNAC troops (25th April 1915) is commemorated every year. We were engrossed with the numerous trenches, war cemeteries and a well-maintained museum. This region particularly evoked keen interest in me since my father was part of the Indian Army contingent which participated in the campaign. After ferrying across the Dardanelles straits we had a comfortable stay in a spacious resort by the sea shore at Canakkale.
Our visit to Troy the next morning was also interesting. We were amazed to see the excavations of consecutive civilizations dating back to 3500 BC. It reminded us of the legendary Trojan War – the Trojan horse that was used in the Hollywood movie Troy was displayed there. The siege of Troy took place about 1200BC. After a brief visit to a factory, manufacturing Onix products, semi precious stones and jewellery, we continued to Kusadasi – a quaint charming town skirting the Aegean Sea. From our hotel we could see the busy port right across the boulevard where cruise ships were docking everyday. It is a bustling town with the port handling about 650 ships a year. Hundreds of tourists disembarked and proceeded for the offshore excursion to Ephesus. Seeing the ships to the Greek Islands we longingly wished that we had time to visit these, though we had visas!
We left for Ephesus the next morning and we were literally transported to a bygone era of Roman civilization. Prior to occupation by the Romans, this was an ancient Greek city in the 6th century BC. It revealed to us a highly sophisticated Roman city with huge mansions, pathways, temples and theatres. We also saw the ruins of the temple of Artemis – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – the pillars which were incorporated in the structures of St. Sophia in Istanbul. We also visited the house of Virgin Mary, supposedly where St. John brought her to spend her final days.
On the way to Pamukkale the next day, we were taken to one of the famous leather garment production centres of the region. Later we visited the ancient Roman city of Hieropolis which is situated near the hot springs called the ‘Cotton Castle’ rising over 400 metres above the fertile Menderes Valley. Hot mineral water gushes out of the earth and cascades over cliffs forming limestone pools and streams – a very picturesque scene indeed. The therapeutic value of the springs was even known to the Romans! The hotel where we stayed had a thermal spa and was one of the best hotels in the region.
The following morning, we proceeded to our last destination – Cappadocia, the moonscape town. We enjoyed the drive from Denzile to Nevsehir in a luxury coach speeding through mountains dotted with villages, orchards, open fields and poplar trees. We traversed the town of Isparta and a few huge lakes before reaching the plains of Konya in the Central Anatolian region with snow capped peaks at a distance. We were picked up by a travel representative at Nevsehir late in the evening and were taken to a lovely cave hotel in Cappadocia wherein every suite was carved into hillocks. The décor was keeping in touch with the archaic beauty and there was a personal touch and warmth about everything.
Cappadocia is a very unique place with fascinating conical volcanic formations created about 10 million years ago. It is a bizarre landscape with ravines and rock perched pinnacles spread over 400 square kilometres. We visited a number of caves, on the cliff where people lived and worshipped. There were churches built within the caves which still have well preserved Byzantine frescoes. Another amazing place is the Derinkuyu underground city where early Christians lived in hiding from Romans. It was indeed a wonder how they managed to live in such a self-sufficient manner. There were various living quarters, areas for storage of grains, place for cattle, ventilation shafts and much more. There was even a winery! We were taken down to about 25 metres, beyond which is prohibited due to safety concerns. The walk through a beautiful narrow valley along the river was enjoyable though a bit lengthy. The “Rose Walk” on the next day through volcanic formations was fascinating. In the afternoon, we were taken to a factory in Avanos which had a fantastic collection of pottery. Later in the evening, we were picked up for our flight from Kayseri to Istanbul. After a few hours of rest in the hotel we were back at Istanbul airport again for our second leg of tour – Austria!
We had a wonderful tour of Turkey for 10 days and we cherish the memories! The tour was very well organized by Namaste Turkey, Mumbai at a very competitive price!