Turkish ice cream is to die for. And the theatrics in serving it won’t just have the kids screaming in delight. You should have heard my wife.
After postponing our trip to Turkey several times due to illness and the uncertainty of the political environment, my family finally made the trip last month, and what an eye-opening experience it was.
Turkey is the cradle of modern civilization. It dates back to 6500 B.C., with the founding of the world’s first city. The country is so steeped in history that a 15-day trip only gives you a sliver of it, and a need to go back.
The wonder of the ancient world has been so painstakingly recovered by a government determined to preserve it. What a difference from this country, which tears everything down to make a profit, or lets it degenerate into a dump. Visit Estrada’s Chinatown some time; Manila could still be the Pearl of the Orient, and not the filthy, chaotic dump it is.
In Turkey, the ancient architecture and construction would rival anything we could do today with our modern machines. The engineers, way back then, had devised means of moving massive rocks in building those sky-reaching monuments. Pulleys, ropes, levers and hundreds of slaves were all they had. No usable gears, no engines, no electricity, yet they lifted marble blocks that weighed tons, that were tens of meters long.
The engineering feats are truly impressive. Mind you, the short, brutish lives of those slaves were a cruel price to pay for such beauty.
Turkey is among the top destinations in the world, and welcomes more than 30 million tourists a year. Meanwhile, we struggle to reach 7 million.
If you like shopping, you’ll love Istanbul. The Grand Market could fit 10 Greenhills in it. But it’s the shops outside that appeal to the more discerning: exquisite handwoven rugs, tiles and pottery you can hang on the wall, lambskin leather jackets so soft you want to cuddle them.
We have a competitor in friendliness. The Turkish went out of their way to help us. One shopkeeper we developed a rapport with guided us around his beautiful city for a whole day, leaving his shop to his assistant to manage.
And what a city! One could only marvel at the Hagia Sophia’s dome and the brilliant mosaic portraits that are everywhere. Or the Blue Mosque, so called because of the blue tiles that encrust the walls. And there is the Topkapi Palace, the royal residence with its courtyards and harem—grandiose in its enormity and painstaking beauty.
One of my favorites was Safranbolu, a Unesco World Heritage site with its well-preserved Ottoman-era houses and historic buildings. Preservation is so important here that even the minutest change in the design of the house has to pass council approval. How I wish the same could be said of our Chinatown or Pagsanjan, which have some wonderful but far too few historic houses that are falling apart, or, worse, torn down to make way for some modern monstrosity.
But then we flew to Izmir and on to Ephesus, and both exceeded anything we’d yet seen. Ephesus was an Ancient Greek settlement that became a Roman city in 133 B.C. It’s the largest excavation in Turkey, yet only 15 percent has been unearthed so far. You come to it from strolling down an ancient avenue lined with massive marble columns. The Celsus library is the most preserved structure in Ephesus. A 25,000-seat theater can still be used.
It is hard to nominate just one highlight of our trip (we visited five countries, most of which were in the Balkan Peninsula). But for sheer delight, it has to be rising 2,000 meters into the air aboard a hot-air balloon as dawn broke, with 80 other balloons rising from Cappadocia, the land of fairy chimneys and underground cities—a truly unique and magical landscape. Drones can’t view the landscape better.
Then there was Croatia. Its 4.3 million people welcome about 13 million tourists. It has 10 Unesco heritage sites, and parks everywhere. I’ve yet to find a park of any significance in a Philippine city.
Our final stop was Montenegro, a tiny country with a population of 640,000; our malls have more people in them. But Croatia gets close to 2 million tourists. And so it should. Like the other countries, history is there for us to see, in ancient fortresses, towns nestled against cliffs on a coastline that stretches some 300 kilometers, and a people that invites you to join them.
We visited the cradle of civilization and came away in wonder at all that magnificence—and with a desire to preserve Philippine history.
I wish you a merry Christmas, and a most successful year to come.
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