Turkey: A land of gracious hospitality
June 3, 2013
Editor's note: This is the 10th and final story in a series of installments from photographer Dennis Jones, who is traveling in the eastern Mediterranean.
Gaziantep, our final stop in Mesopotamian Turkey, has an architectural esthetic different from anywhere else. The narrow streets of the old section have a distinct Ottoman feel, but I have difficulty putting my finger on the difference. Perhaps it's the baklava.
Gaziantep is the baklava capital of the world. This is no overstatement. With more than 180 baklava bakeries and a tradition dating back several hundred years, competition is fierce.
It's the soil they'll tell you. The pistachios, honey, butter, even the wheat for the flour must be grown in the soil of Gaziantep. These factors, plus the 20 years required to become a baklava master, coalesce into making Gaziantep baklava the best. Local baklava is overnighted to connoisseurs all around the world.
The buttery richness and dry kishing feel as you bite through the innumerable, flaky layers of phyllo makes Gaziantep baklava unique. Never again the wet, syrupy stuff that passes for this delicacy elsewhere.
The baklava was a bonus. My primary goal was visiting the Zeugma Museum, built specifically to house the finest collection of Roman mosaics in the world. Disappointingly, travel plans took us here on days it was closed and we had to move on to take advantage of an invitation.
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A return to an earlier era
Friends we met in Bodrum invited us to visit them at their home on Buyukada, the largest of the nine Prince's Islands in the Sea of Marmara, south of Istanbul. Knowing that motor vehicles were prohibited and all transport was by horse and carriage, this opportunity to experience an earlier era couldn't be passed up.
Our friends met us as we got off the ferry and walked us through the tiny town center and into the queue for the carriages. Being one of the few winter residents, most drivers know them. We climbed into a colorfully painted two-horse phaeton and we were off through the deserted tree-lined streets of Victorian-era Ottoman mansions.
The Prince's Islands, so named because Ottoman princes were exiled here, became a favorite retreat for 19th century aristocracy. Gingerbread-adorned mansions were built in the ornate Victorian style. The wealthy then, as now, sought refuge from Istanbul's sweltering summers.
Grand homes for extended families sprang up, each outdoing the other in opulence. Today, upkeep in this damp environment is very expensive. Though there are many, stunning mansions, there are probably an equal number bereft of paint; forlorn, grey edifices decaying from neglect.
That evening, we walked together down the path through the gardens of our friends' development. Spring was all around us. Clouds of fragrance from blooming flowers greeted us.
Awaiting us on the street was a phaeton. The driver, knowing today was our friends' birthday, figured we would need a ride to a restaurant. As dusk descended we rode through the quiet streets, up and down gentle hills, passing a myriad of architectural styles.
The end of a long journey
From the waterfront restaurant, the lights of Asia sparkled across the narrow strait. After a memorable fresh fish dinner, we caught another phaeton home and experienced a wonderful feeling of tranquility and nostalgia riding through the dark streets of a town without motorized vehicles.
The following morning, our friends returned to Bodrum where they're finishing off their new, vacation condo. We moved into a venerable hotel in the village and spent the next few days luxuriating in long walks along the shady streets and into the forested countryside.
Lush gardens abound within the realms of the mansions. Carriages of tourists galloped uphill toward us, the subdued clippity-clop of their rubber-shod hooves resounding in the quiet. Horses graze beneath the boughs of a verdant pine forest, munching on the grass and tiny yellow and white flowers punctuating the fields of early spring.
Sadly, on our fourth day, reservations awaited us at a hotel near Ataturk airport for our 7 a.m. flight home. With the first sunny day we had, we took advantage of our final hours, wandering the waterfront, enjoying the view across the strait to the Istanbul suburbs of Asia.
This was the perfect end to an amazing journey. We left Turkey with a greater fondness and respect for the Turkish people than before. All the wonders of this ancient land have been enhanced by the unfailing gracious hospitality of the Turkish people. We cannot wait to return.
Dennis Jones is a local professional photographer and writer. He and Yolanda Marshall were traveling in the eastern Mediterranean. To see more photos, visit his blog at http://www.dreamcatcherimaging.com.