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Let’s Explore My Homeland; Fascinating Istanbul and Breathtaking Land of Turkey

It’s that time of the year, and we have holidays, travels, exploring the exotic and perhaps the unknown in our mind and hearts. I have the travel bug in me again, as I will be departing for Istanbul in August. But before that, I wanted to share an exciting itinerary with you; our 2013 Fascinating Istanbul and Grand Turkey Tour Brochure, from March 29th to April 8th 2013.

Grand entrance of the Dolmabahce Palace, Istanbul

I was born and bred in Turkey, lived and travelled in my homeland extensively over 30 years. No doubt, I love my homeland, and it is a joy to share all the treasures of Turkey through my blog. While I was teaching Turkish Cooking Classes at Central Market Cooking School in Austin, Texas, folks coming to my classes expressed an interest to see Turkey from a local’s perspective. Now, thanks to them (especially to dear Pam Wood, for the initiation) once a year, I team up with Four Seasons Tours, organize and host a culinary and cultural tour to Turkey.

We are having a hands-on experience on carpet making at Nakkas Rugs

So, what do we do in our tours? My foremost aim with the tour is to show my homeland, through a local’s perspective; the places we Turks go for a delicious bite to eat; the markets we shop for the best spices, baklavas; the sites and many more. With our highly knowledgeable guide Kaan Gulcur, we visit some of the finest and most fascinating sites in Turkey. Here is a taster of what happens in our tour:

Fascinating Hagia Sophia, as seen from the grounds of the Blue Mosque

 

The fascinating entrance of Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

I lived in Istanbul over 15 years; it is a city where old and new exists together, it is old but not tired, ancient, yet alive. Here is the breathtaking Hagia Sophia; a pioneer of architecture and once the largest church in the world prior to the St Peter’s in Rome. I must have visited Hagia Sophia over 15 times, it still amazes me.

Entrance of Hotel Armada, with their vintage car in front

I have been staying at the Armada Hotel at the heart of Old Istanbul over 15 years. The location is superb and their hospitality and Turkish breakfast overlooking the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia is unforgettable.

The very inviting Turkish Breakfast at the Armada Hotel

Istanbul is a big city with a population of over 12 million, and the Bosporus strait divides the city into two parts. One of the best ways to appreciate both the old and the new parts of Istanbul is to take a boat cruise, like we do at the tour. Try to take a small size boat, where you zig zag at the both sides of the Bosphorus to see the Yalis (wooden, residential summer houses for the Sultan and high official’s at the Ottoman Empire), Palaces, or just simply to witness how the day goes by at the side streets. Local ferries, Vapur, might also be a good and cheap way to explore Istanbul in both sides.

Traditional ferries, Vapur, provide an affordable way to cruise along the Bosphorus, and you can get to see a part of locals’ daily rutine

How can we not visit the Spice Market when in Istanbul?  Spices are an important part of Turkish cuisine, that’s the way we add flavor to our dishes. So a visit to the Spice Market is a must to stock up wonderful spices, Turkish tea, Turkish Delight, nuts and many more. I could spend hours at my favorite spice shop, Malatya Pazari at the Spice Market.

Entrance to the ancient Spice Market, Misir Carsisi

Spices, nuts, dried fruit, tea, Turkish Delight galore at Malatya Pazari, Spice Market

Now comes the Grand Bazaar; renown as the world’s oldest shopping mall, it is so worth seeing for its architecture, colorful shops selling a huge variety from gold to leather, to china and many more. I would be careful to shop there for big items like rugs, as you will most likely to get tourist prices there. But the atmosphere is magical and well worth it.

Ancient Grand Bazaar is well worth a visit even for its magnificent architecture

Baklava is a delicacy that is perfected at the Ottoman Palace kitchens and Gulluoglu Baklava is one of the best places to sample the real thing. We also like to take demo baklava classes there and witness how this delicious treat is made; it is one of the highlights of the tour!

We are having a go at making the delicious baklava wth Gulluoglu experts

Why not have a go and make baklava at home? It is easy to make baklava with fillo pastry sheets at your home, and you can adjust the syrup to your liking. Here is my recipe, you will be amazed with the results.

My home made baklava with walnuts; so easy to make at home, so delicious

Turks are a very hospitable nation and they regard the visitors as “God’s guest” and their door is open to them. Wherever you go , you will be offered tea, Turkish coffee, or like  in this case some pine nuts and local honey by this local village man near Pergamum.

Friendly local nearby Pergamum, offered us his pine nuts and local honey

You will be offered Turkish tea or Turkish coffee wherever you go in Turkey

At the Aegean, a visit Ephesus, provincial capital of Asia Minor for the Roman Empire and one of the seven churches of the Revelations is always a highlight. As one of the best preserved Roman cities, its monumental theater was where St. Paul preached to the Ephesians. Ephesus also boasts one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Temple of Artemis, and the resting place of St. John the Evangelist is in the Church of St. John.

Ephesus and the library, breathtaking site, still intact

Entrance of the Virgin Mary’s House, Ephesus

While we are at the Aegean, we take a hands-on Aegean style Turkish cooking class, where we knock up wonderful casseroles, mousakka,  gozleme  (Anatolian flat breads with various fillings), and delicious salads dressed with the local olive oil. This experience stay with us a long time, and it is always lovely to hear participants making all these wonderful dishes they learned to their family and friends back at home.

Local ladies showing us how to make Gozleme, cheese and vegetables filled traditional pastries

Hatice Hanim and I making the Mousakka, Aegean style

 

Enjoying the delicious spread we made at the end of our class

Kusadasi is a wonderful port we stay while at the Aegean. Dining out overlooking the turquoise Mediterranean is a real treat.

Gorgeous colors of Kusadasi

View from Kismet Hotel overlooking Kusadasi Bay, so inviting

On the way back to Istanbul, drive towards the Dardanelles to see the battlefields of Gallipoli, view Mount Ida,  the site of the beauty pageant that led to the Trojan War.

It is always a pleasure to share the wonderful treasures of my homeland and this is a tiny little snapshot of what Turkey offers. Participation for our tour is limited to 15 people. If you would like to join us to explore the fascinating land of Turkey, do please contact me, and also view photos from my previous tours. If you can’t, I do hope this post may inspire you to visit Turkey sometime, and give some ideas.  For some additional and fantastic travel posts from Turkey, please also visit Turkish Travel Blog; Natalie’s travels, stories and photos across Turkey are simply mesmerizing.

The entrance to the Dolmabahce Palace through the Bosphorus

Have you ever travelled to Turkey? I would love to hear your experience, please share with us.

Happy Travels to All!

Ozlem

 

 

 

 

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