Country of the month: Turkey

Understandably many people may question why Turkey has been chosen as our Country of the Month due its involvement in the Syrian Civil war and the growing tensions between Turkey and Russia. Since media coverage focuses on the negativity surrounding this county, it’s time to bring our attention to why Turkey should not be overlooked as a country with nothing else to offer.

As Rudyard Kipling’s famous ballad goes: “East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” Well, in fact they did meet in Turkey, and the outcome is pretty outstanding. Different layers of history and religious influences ranging from Islam to the Orthodox Church constitute Istanbul, a city full of complexity and wonder.

Where Europe meets Asia

When you are in Istanbul, a boat cruise on the Bosphorus cannot and should not be missed. The Bosphorus is the waterway that divides Europe and Asia, meaning that Turkey stands between two worlds.

After the Ottomans conquered the city (which back then was still known as Constantinople,) Sultan Mehmed II ordered it to be turned into a mosque. Now, the Hagia Sophia Mosque is the most visited museum in Istanbul. Should you wander through its charming halls, be careful, what Napoleon said to the soldiers under the pyramid remains valid: “hundreds of years of history are looking down on you.”


A visit to the Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is one of the oldest and largest traditional bazaars around the world. 5000 shops are spread out over what seems to be an infinite amount of streets going in every direction. You can purchase anything from leather to ceramics and from carpets to souvenirs of every kind.

Before you venture out into the bazaar, here is a tip: bartering is the art of bargaining to get a great deal, and you would be wise to give it a go yourself. So sharpen your negotiation skills and you’ll be able to get a steal!

When you are leaving the bazaar you may ask yourself: “Did I walk through the same gate when I entered?” The answer is no. You got lost, again. Sorry about that.

Mevlana Festival 2015

The city of Konya hosts the Mevlana Festival every year (December 10 – December 17:) Dervishes will dance to commemorate Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, also called Mewlana (our Master,) who died on the 17th December of 1273 and is considered the founder of the Islamic mystic doctrine of Sufism. The Mevlana Festival is one of the greatest spectacles you will ever behold. Undoubtedly a must-see.

Dervishes“Many roads take you to God. I chose the path of dance and music,” said Celatettin Rûmi, one of the great mystic poets of the thirteenth century. Watching the Dervishes dance is allegedly one of the most enchanting things a human eye can see. Their white skirts twirling while they whirl, their arms up in the air to call the blessing of Allah upon themselves; they dance and dance while you hold your breath. It is truly a mesmerising ceremony to witness.

Reaching Konya is not difficult, flights to the Konya go from both Istanbul and Ankara every day. Don’t miss Mewlana’s tomb, buried in Konya, and check also the other displays about Sufi culture. Remember to be tactful: Konya is a conservative city, therefore your clothing must be considered.

Saint Nicholas Day

The 6th of December is an important day for Orthodox and Christian believers around the globe. In fact, it is the day when St Nicholas died. In remembrance of St Nicholas people began to exchange gifts. Nowadays St Nicholas Day is celebrated in many countries including France, Germany and the Netherlands. Sounds familiar, right? In fact, St Nicholas is none other than Santa Claus (only slimmer, and without the Christmas hat).

So how did St Nicholas become Santa Claus? For this we have to trace back the history of this patron saint. Saint Nicholas was known for being helpful to the poor and helpless, and secretly gave presents. Saint Nicholas was buried in Myra, but sailors from Bari seized part of the remains of the saint and brought it with them to their city. The basilica of Apulia, now a popular site for pilgrimages, houses part of the relics.

Interestingly, the legend and stories about his miracles were spread all over Europe by sailors. Allegedly, any father who could not pay his daughter’s dowry used to hang some stockings on the fireplace. The next day, if he was lucky, he found them filled with gold. So if you’re in Turkey, you could give it try, it may be your lucky day!

Don’t miss anything that Turkey has to offer this month. If you are planning to move there soon, make sure you read our Turkey country guide.

[Images by Cavann, Dmgultekin, Ajaiberval]

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