Two decades ago when we were dating, the future Mrs Drew and I discovered the majesty and contradictions of Turkey. We made wonderful memories in that mysterious land – some even related to the country, so pivotal throughout history as a gateway between East and West.
Turkey: a land of mystery and enigma. And enema if the drug mules have an accident on the way through. Turkey is a land historically connected to the poppy fields. It is the land of the Midnight Cowboy – the classic film of drug smuggling gone wrong. It is also, according to the film, the land where feeling a little prick in the bum has its own peculiar meaning:
“…you can stab or shoot somebody below the waist but not above because that’s intent to kill. So everyone runs around stabbing everyone else in the ass. That’s what they call Turkish revenge.”
Billy Hayes, Midnight Express
I knew little about Turkey before we went. I just knew it offered a cheap two weeks in the sun with my lady. I came back much more knowledgeable in the ways of the East, and with a fiancée. We chose the destination as the cheapest option for a Mediterranean holiday – an ’emerging destination’. Once there, we fell in love with this country at a crossroads. Turkey sits at the crossroads in so many ways. It bridges the physical, as the gateway between east and west. It bridges history, from the earliest risings of Man through to modern day. It bridges religion – a secular state in the heart of the Muslim world, Christian and Muslim peacefully coexisting. And it will bridge economically, if the long-running bid for European Union membership is eventually granted.
All these connections, all these paradoxes. Istanbul, one of the world’s greatest cities, is itself trans-continental, bridging the Bosphorus and hence Europe and Asia. This ancient city that was the capital of four empires; Roman, Byzantine, Latin and Ottoman is ironically not the capital of modern day Turkey. Throughout the countryside, ancient history is everywhere – Roman pillars lie at the roadside, amphitheatres gently decay, Lycian rock tombs etch the cliff faces. In the magnificent ruins of Ephesus we walked in the footsteps of ordinary Romans, and swam over ruins in the spa at Pamukkale.
Turkey borders eight countries. Back in my schooldays, it bordered only seven, but that’s inflation for you. So, pop quiz – who can name the eight? Answers at the bottom of the post. There’s also a disputed claim to the northern end of Cyprus, which leads me to wonder why the Turks struggle to get on with their neighbours? Throughout history, Turkey has been at war with one or more of its border-mates, though ironically it remained neutral through most of the second world war.
A memorable experience for me was definitely the bazaar. In every doorway, we were offered apple tea. Accept and you’ve entered into the convoluted world of Turkish negotiations. Before you know it you’re haggling for a leather jacket, gold jewellery, or rugs. So many rugs. Negotiation is an art form, its participants worthy of Oscars for their depictions of outrage and insult.
We also fell foul to cunning entrepreneurialism. Walking out from Hisaronu we came upon the ghost town of Kayakoy. We spent a leisurely hour or two, exploring the ruins of a Greek village abandoned in 1923 following the Greco-Turkish war. As we explored deeper into the village we saw signs saying ‘To the Beach’. We followed, climbing the hill. At the top we could see the sea, and continued to follow the trail Eventually it became apparent this trail didn’t reach the beach. Instead it took us to a makeshift gazebo with a little old man and several other tourists. He was waiting until he had enough people to ferry us from the rocky bay over to the beach at Olu Deniz. For a fee, of course.
So there you have it. Turkey gave us a wonderful vacation – probably one of the most memorable in our 20 years together. You should go. Just don’t follow any hand-painted signs.
And here’s the answer to the pop-quiz:
Turkey borders the following ancient lands:
- The Azerbaijaniexclave of Nakhchivan