Posts Tagged ‘turkey’

Exploring Anatolia with Turkish Hospitality

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

Smithsonian Study Leader Jaclyn Maxwell is part of both the History and Classics & World Religions faculty at Ohio University. She is an expert on the social and religious changes that swept the late Roman Empire, as Christianity became the dominant religion in the Mediterranean. Dr. Maxwell recently led our Ancient Worlds of Anatolia tour and shares her thoughts here:

Roadside Turkish pastries. Photo: Janet Maxwell

Roadside pastries. Photo: Janet Maxwell

Even though I’m a professor of ancient history, I found contemporary Turkish culture and society as captivating as the famous monuments and museums we visited on this trip. At its best, travel will lead to unexpected experiences and observations; new environments will draw your attention to unfamiliar aspects of ordinary, daily life.

For instance, everywhere we went, members of our group noticed the flowers. Even though we knew they must be unremarkable to the people who live there, the roadside flowers and trees were interesting to us, especially the red poppies and the flowering pomegranate trees (I had never seen a pomegranate tree before this trip, or a pistachio tree for that matter).

In the street market in Gaziantep, a few of us became fascinated with the dried vegetables hanging in bunches from the awnings. I’m sure most people there would never notice them unless they were shopping for dried vegetables, but to us, their colors and shapes were oddly captivating.

Another interesting thing that can happen while traveling is that you might begin to adopt certain local customs and tastes. That happened on this trip in a few different ways. When we stopped at gas stations for breaks during our bus rides between cities, I liked the fact that we stood outside drinking little glasses of hot tea like the Turkish workers and travelers. We also quickly became connoisseurs of the Turkish cookies, nuts and candy for sale at the gas stations. It became entirely normal for me to always have a bag of hazelnuts in my purse, ready to share them with anyone at any moment.

I also enjoyed striking up conversations with people along the way, using my limited knowledge of Turkish. Especially in Gaziantep, Sanliurfa and Adiyaman, tourists were relatively uncommon and so the locals were interested in learning about where we were from and where we were going. Despite my grammatical limitations, they were patient while I tried to understand and answer questions.

Tea break - Janet Maxwell.

Photo: Janet Maxwell

A spontaneous interaction between part of our group and a family in Cappadocia confirmed everything we had ever heard about Turkish hospitality. Six of us had stopped for an optional visit to a local winery, and we were walking down a small road to meet the bus for the next outing on the itinerary. As we passed by, a family called out to us from their front yard. They had a small fire going, with a metal plate over it that they used for cooking flat bread. A couple of women were preparing food while the other adults and children sat in some shade and talked. They were asking us to stop and share some of their food. We were going to have dinner soon, so we didn’t need anything to eat (and we were all eating more than enough on the trip!), but we wanted to be polite, so we stopped.

Being polite can be really advantageous. This family gave us the most amazing food: fresh, hot flat breads, one filled with cheese with parsley and the other with minced meat with mint. They gave us more than we needed, but we didn’t complain. It was really the best food of the entire trip, which is saying a lot. They invited us to stay for tea, and we would have loved to, but we had to meet our bus. We said thank you and goodbye, and when we returned to the bus and the rest of the group, we immediately told everyone about this wonderful family and their amazing food that they had shared with us. It was so astonishing to realize that both their kindness and their food would be considered completely ordinary in Turkey.

Packed yet? Click to learn more about traveling to Turkey with Smithsonian Journeys.

What did you learn from the locals last time you traveled? Share your story.

Life with 4,000 Roommates

Monday, June 14th, 2010

The Topkapi Palace Complex, Instanbul. Photo: BjørnChristianTørrissen.

Sultan Mehmed II began construction of Topkapi Palace in 1459. Having recently conquered Byzantine Constantinople for the Ottomans, he needed a nice place to stay. The perfect location, he decided, was on the Seraglio Point, which provided commanding views of the Golden Horn, Bosphorous Strait, and the Sea of Marmara, providing a security advantage. Here’s a few good things to know about Topkapi:

— The palace is really a complex—a city within a city comprised of myriad low buildings connected by streets, passageways, and paths, with gardens, courtyards, and fountains in between. In its heyday, more than 4,000 people lived there.

— Topkapi not only served as the sultan’s residence; it was also the seat of the Ottoman government. Courtly behavior was regulated by a strict code of conduct, including the observation of total silence in the inner courtyards.

Apartments at Topkapi. Photo: Serhinho

Apartments window. Photo: Serhinho

— Security was of top priority to the Ottomans, and the palace was designed with its own water supply, kitchens, stables, libraries, gardens, art galleries, bath houses, schools, and mosque. Residents rarely left the complex.

— The Imperial Harem, once home to the Sultan’s mother, wives, concubines, and other family members, has 400 rooms. The harem is actually a complex of its own, with each major group  having its own living quarters and courtyard. Few residents of the harem were allowed outside its doors.

— Ottoman sultans lived at Topkapi from 1465 to 1856, when Sultan Abdul Mecid I moved the court from Topkapi to the newly built European-style Dolambache Palace.

— In 1924, Topkapi was transformed into a museum, which continues to hold collections of Muslim relics, decorative items, military weapons and armor, artwork, jewelry, textiles, and more.

What’s the most intriguing place you’ve ever visited? Please share.

See Topkapi, and much, much more of Turkey on our Legendary Turkey and the Turquoise Coast tour, with four departures this fall.

Video: Sunrise on the Bosphorus

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

The Bosphorus is a strait connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, on which sits the city of Istanbul. As one of the key routes from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, the Bosphorus and its surrounds have been enormously important in world history since ancient times. In fact, one of the reasons that Emperor Constantine located his capital on the shores of the Bosphorus was its strategic importance.

The area is also uniquely beautiful. Stop a moment and take in a sunrise on the Bosphorus.

Where’s your favorite place to see the sunrise? Please share!

See the Bosphorus and its surroundings on our Black Sea tour.

Photo: Turkish Delight

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010
Turkish Delight is available in many delicious varieties in Istanbul's markets. Photo: Inka Piegsa-Quischotte

Turkish Delight is available in many delicious varieties in Istanbul's markets. Photo: Inka Piegsa-Quischotte

Turkish delight, or lokum, has been made and enjoyed in Turkey since the 15th century. Originally flavored with honey, and molasses, today’s lokum connisseur can find lemon, rosewater, or cinammon, among other flavors in markets across Turkey and much of Europe.

Sugar craving activated? Join us in Turkey, where we’ll set you loose in the Grand Bazaar to indulge your desire for Turkish delight. Thanks to Inka Piegsa-Quichotte for the tempting photo.

What’s the best treat you’ve found in your travels?

Traveler Words from Turkey

Friday, June 5th, 2009

Below, a recent traveler talks about her experience in Turkey. To learn more about traveling to Turkey, click here.

Photo: Jessica Engler

Photo: Jessica Engler

“What a beautiful country. Such lush vegetation, so clean, and of course the wonderful turquoise waters. The ancient sights were magnificent. Each day was more beautiful than the day before. I kept thinking this is just a dream and I’m going to wake up back in Saskatchewan. I never realized Turkey had such high mountains and so many forests and so many well contained ancient sites.

Our five-day trip on the gulet was fantastic. Our cabins were very comfortable. We each had our own double bed and private bathroom. The wood throughout was very beautiful. The crew consisted of the captain and two crew members. They were amazing!! They served sumptuous meals and kept the gulet spotless.

We had an outstanding guide named Amet Memis. He was so very knowledgeable and had such a wonderful personality. We were very fortunate to have Amet as our personal link to all ancient and present history. He also had the patience of Job!! We made many friends on this wonderful holiday.”

- Smithsonian Traveler on Legendary Turkey and the Turquoise Coast