Yes, the British and the Japanese have their tea customs and rituals, and I wouldn’t want to take away from the special nature of either of those cultures. But if I had to choose where I would most like to have a cup of tea with the locals, it would be Turkey. Tea shops are a focal point for street-level Turkish culture and most good things happen in the presence of a cup of fine Turkish tea. The Turkish people prefer the black tea (or Cay in Turkish) and it is at the center of daily life there, offered everywhere as a gesture of hospitality both before and after meals. Because the drink is served strong, it is typically offered in small cups, boiling hot. The locals drink it sweet, but with no milk, and cut to taste with additional hot water. Find a traditional setting with cushions on the floor and low copper tables or sit at an outdoor cafe, but slow down, relax and enjoy.
Tea is a good place to begin understanding how to visit Turkey. This is a land of relationships, where time sits still to permit you to go about getting to know your surroundings. Here, travelers are welcomed and greeted with both respect and curiosity. The antiquities, thermal pools, coastline, and Turkish baths are all there waiting to be explored, but it is in the marketplace with the people that Turkey is best experienced because it is there that the warmth and culture of this ancient civilization are authentically expressed.
Besides the tea, here is a short list of “must do” experiences when you visit Turkey:
- Experience a Haman – the Turkish bath with its vigorous scrubbing, hot water, and ambiance is an experience, a cultural episode that ranks with running with the bulls in Spain or a Thai massage. There are a number of historical Turkish baths in Istanbul and practically every city of any size. Do yourself a favor.
- Visit the covered bazaar – The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is one of the oldest and largest covered markets anywhere in the world. Bargain like a friend and true traveler, and you will find many original and unique delights. This is the place to begin your search for the perfect rug, the tea set, and the talisman to ward off the evil eye. Again, this is the archetype of all shopping experiences.
- Enjoy a thermal pool – the country is blessed with a large number of rich mineral water springs. Turkey’s geographic location right above a volcanically active belt provides the nation with a rich abundance of natural hot springs and mineral baths with temperatures that vary from 68 to 230 degrees Fahrenheit! The healing properties and therapeutic effects of the waters are renowned.
- Visit Pergamum – once the cultural center of the region, the ruins here hint at the grandeur of the civilization that has camped on these hillsides in times past. The extraordinary theater at Pergamum was constructed in the 3rd century B.C. In the Acropolis, you will see the remains of both the temple of Athena and the ruins of the Library, which once contained 200,000 texts, a wedding gift to Cleopatra by Mark Anthony.
- Cruise the Turquoise Coast – the rugged coastline of Turkey shares with Greece a sense of history unmatched elsewhere. Here are the beginnings of classical civilization, and the mists of history lift only in part to give us a glimpse of the stories of Turkish and Greek mythologies. Day-long excursions provide a leisurely opportunity to take in the beauty of the mountains and the ruins, the bluest of waters, and the wonderful breezes. Or spend time at Ölüdeniz Beach and let the Mediterranean sun do its work.
- Explore the Lycian Tombs – the sarcophagi carved into the vertical cliffs are dramatic and mysterious. The quality of the stone masonry, the originality of Lycian art, and the visible detail after all of these centuries are remarkable. The tombs are often integrated into the daily commercial areas of the towns and markets or visible from the water.
- Visit Nemrut – A UNESCO world heritage site, the colossal statues on the top of the Mountain of Nemrut in the north-east of Adiyaman are the tomb of King Antiochus I (69-38 B.C.).
Turkey is not a destination to hurry through. Experience it slowly, like a fine cup of hot, black Turkish tea.