Ship’s log, Fethiye Bay, along the Turkish Mediterranean Coast: Did you know that the way to count to five in Turkish sounds like,”beer, icky, ooch, dirt, bash”? Or that neighborhoods in Istanbul cluster their shops by what they sell? (In fact, there is a whole street that sells string guitars.) Or that Cleopatra’s baths are sunken Roman ruins right in a cove along Gocek Bay?
I’m five days into my most recent trip to Turkey, and it’s just before dinner on our 100-foot teakwood yacht, known locally as a gulet (pronounce it like ‘goo-let’). The sun is painting the Mediterranean an orange-purple. Our four-man crew is preparing drinks and appetizers to be followed by another magnificent dinner of local specialties, such as sis kofte (grilled croquettes of lamb), yaprak dolmasi (stuffed grape leaves), and a dessert of kabak tatlisi (pumpkin cooked with nuts and drizzled with syrup). There have been many comments about how our chef, Kadir, should have his own restaurant. But he likes being
on the boat, seeing the coast.
We do too. And what a coast it is. After a couple of days exploring Istanbul’s treasures of Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the spice market and Grand Bazaar, our group of 12 flew to Dalaman to continue our explorations along the coast before heading to the Grand Canyon-esque region of Cappadocia.
Along the way we’ve learned that Turkish people are exceptionally friendly and hospitable. They are quick with a smile and eager to offer a visitor a warm welcome, usually in the form of their local tea. Skip the apple “tourist tea” and go local. In Istanbul, it’s deep black with a single cube of sugar. Along the coast, it’s sage served by the wife of a goat herder at their little stone hut that sits astride our footpath. Our hike was just under two hours, from our yacht…to our yacht. That’s right; no roundtrip required as Ali our captain sails the yacht during our walk to meet us at another cove.
The walk yesterday encapsulated everything I love about the way Classic Journeys explores a region. A small group of 12 guests (two elected to stay back on the boat and relax with their books, and even do some yoga). No roads at all to provide access for tourist motor coaches. Shepherds’ footpaths worn into landscapes dating to the Lycian period in Anatolia. (That’s about 400 BC if, like me, you find it hard to remember your world history from high school or college.) And real nomads like Hanife who invited us into her home for a glass of tea and to watch her girls play a game remarkably similar to our kids’ version of ‘pickle’, but with a soccer ball instead of a baseball.
Orchestrating it all is our guide, Cemil. Pronounce the ‘c’ as a ‘j’ and you’ll get it right. His name means handsome. For us, he’s brought together an
amazingly beautiful series of experiences that would be almost impossible to
arrange on one’s own here for a variety of reasons, even for an experienced traveler.
First, the language. In our group several languages are spoken, including French (by a native Parisian who lived in Los Angeles for 23 years) and Arabic (by a pharmacist from Lebanon who was educated in Boston). Collectively, we have visited something like 70 countries. Yet none of us speaks Turkish. And that’s a real issue if you are going to get deeper than the tourist rug shops and English holiday resorts. Turks at the professional and university level are well educated and learn English in school. But the average man on the street (much less the goat herder) does not likely speak a word of English. So even asking for directions in Istanbul is likely to be met with a smile and ‘helpful’ reply in Turkish. If you know what ‘duz git ikinci isiktan saga don akbankin yaninda’ means, you are in good shape and may not need a guide. But if you don’t, it’s very good to know Cemil. (Hint: you won’t need to know where to turn.)
Next comes the logistics. At last count, there are over 2000 gulet yachts registered along the Turkish coast. And many look impressive above the water line. But I’ve been looking at
gulets in dry dock at yacht harbors in Bodrum and Marmaris for 15 ½ years, and I’ve learned that not all gulets are created nor maintained equally. Many have cracks in the hull or other severe problems that are covered with an annual coat of paint. Classic Journeys rejects dozens of boats before settling on the best afloat. Often visitors find a gulet on the Internet and book it only to learn on arrival that they have been sold a totally different, and inferior, boat. I won’t even get started on the internal flights, the best time to visit Ephesus to avoid the cruise ship crowds, and the footpaths to provide the most memorable views and experiences.
There are many places where planning a trip is as easy as clicking “bir, iki, üç” with your mouse. In Turkey, it really helps to have an experienced friend. If you’d like to immerse yourself into the history and culture of this welcoming and exotic land, click here to begin your research.
Classic Journeys operates cultural walking adventures and private journeys May through October in Turkey. To speak with a personable and knowledgeable guest services coordinator about a trip there or in any of 70 regions in 33 countries on 5 continents, just call 800-200-3887 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.