November 07, 2012 - Oxford residents Darryl and Carla Lambertson thought they'd be taking a trip back in time when they visited Turkey from Oct. 4-16, but instead they found a very modern country with everything from high-rise buildings to top-notch infrastructure to grocery stores "that look just like ours."
Carla and Darryl Lambertson pose next to some ancient
ruins in Turkey. (click for larger version)
"I was really blown away by how modern everything was. They're as modern as Italy or Spain, which we've been to," Darryl said. "In that respect, I was kind of disappointed. I was hoping to see a more primitive way of life. We had no idea that Turkey had evolved this much. I expected more of a Third World country."
Darryl was particularly impressed with the roads.
"Their roads are as good, probably better, than ours," he said. "They don't have as many, but they're fantastic."
Despite its modernization, the Lambertsons found Turkey to be brimming with the remnants of a rich history that spans thousands of years.
"There's a lot of Bible history there. It was interesting to see that," said Carla, referring to their visit to the City of Ephesus, which has links to the apostles Paul and John and is mentioned in the New Testament.
Ephesus is an ancient Greek city that later became a major Roman city. It has the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean.
"There's a lot of Roman and Greek ruins (in Turkey)," Darryl said. "They haven't even begun to unearth them all. No matter where you go, any big city's got all kinds of Roman ruins (such as) old amphitheaters. I imagine they have as much as Italy has."
The Lambertsons also visited the fabled ancient city of Troy, or what's left of it.
Made famous as the setting of the Trojan war in Homer's epic poem "The Iliad," Troy is now an archaeological site and tourist attraction, complete with a replica of the famous Trojan Horse – a giant wooden ruse created by the crafty Greeks to trick the Trojans into letting them into their city, so they could sack it and win the war.
One of the highlights of the trip was taking a hot air balloon ride over the Cappadocia Region, which features unusual rock formations, called Fairy Chimneys, created by a combination of volcanic eruptions and erosion. The Lambertsons were aboard one of 120 balloons floating in the air at the same time. Their balloon alone held 28 people.
The Cappadocia Region is famous for its dwellings and churches carved directly into these rock formations and its unique underground cities.
"I can't imagine with their primitive tools how they could hammer that out," Darryl said.
In addition to sight-seeing, the Lambertsons did some shopping and they were amazed by the Grand Bazzar in Istanbul.
It's one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world with 61 covered streets spanning nearly 76 acres and more than 3,000 shops that attract 250,000 to 400,000 visitors each day.
"There's probably nothing in the world you couldn't buy there," Darryl said.
Carla noted the main corridor was filled with enough jewelry to fill a sultan's palace.
"There was so much gold, silver and jewels for sale, I don't know how any of them make a profit," she said.
The only thing Carla couldn't purchase was a legendary Turkish towel, widely considered by many around the world to be the ultimate in luxury. The towel itself was invented by the Turkish people and theirs are renowned for their thickness, durability, absorbency and cozy feel.
"You cannot buy a Turkish towel; they're all for export," said Carla, who noted the only ones for sale were the "cheap seconds."
Fortunately, she was able to acquire one from a hotel they stayed at.
"I gave it to a friend," Carla said.
Despite their differences in culture and religion, the Lambertsons indicated they were always well-treated and felt completely safe during their stay in Turkey.
"Everybody was friendly," Carla said.
"The people were really nice," Darryl said. "There's no animosity towards us. They're very educated."
Carla was "really impressed" by how despite the fact that Turkey is a strictly Islamic nation, the remnants of its Christian heritage have not been destroyed or removed.
"Even though it's all Muslim over there now, all the Christian symbols are still within these mosques (some of which were churches at one time or another)," she said.
Her two favorites were the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. Both are located in Istanbul, which was originally founded as Constantinople and served as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, also known as the Byzantine Empire.
Built from 1609 to 1616, the Blue Mosque is well-known for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior and its elaborate architecture.
The Hagia Sophia was originally built in 326 A.D. as a Christian church. Rebellion, fire and earthquakes forced its reconstruction over the years.
The structure spent 916 years as a church and 481 years as a mosque. Since 1935, it's served a historical function as a museum. Breathtaking frescoes and mosaics on the walls depict Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, Christian saints and Byzantine emperors and empresses.
The Lambertsons agreed that tourism seems to be one of Turkey's largest and most prosperous industries. "There are so many tourists over there. It's unbelievable," said Carla, who noted the airport was absolutely packed with people coming into the country. "It brings in a lot of money."
Turkey is just one of the many foreign and exotic places the Lambertsons have traveled to over the years. Since 1992, the couple's visited 38 countries, plus the frozen continent of Antarctica.
"It's amazing what's out there," Darryl said. "It's fun to travel and meet people."
Next up is a cruise around Germany, Austria and Hungary.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.