On Christ­mas eve, I was in­side our ho­tel room when I heard the faint melody of an all too fa­mil­iar Yule­tide song.

Quickly, I stepped out­side the room and was greeted with “Let’s sing Merry Christ­mas and a happy hol­i­day, this sea­son may we never for­get the love we have for Je­sus….”. I im­me­di­ately had goose­bumps and I must ad­mit, the sen­ti­men­tal in me got teary-eyed. For thou­sands of miles away from the Philip­pines, “Christ­mas in our Hearts” was mag­i­cally play­ing in our ex­otic cave hide­away, the Kele­bek Spe­cial Cave Ho­tel in Cap­pado­cia. Un­be­liev­ably, there was no es­cap­ing Jose Mari Chan even in Turkey!

I fondly car­ried this cher­ished mem­ory along with other count­less more dur­ing our re­cent Christ­mas fam­ily trip to Turkey where we vis­ited old charm-his­toric Is­tan­bul, Troy, Canakkale, Ku­sadasi, Eph­e­sus, Pa­mukkale, and our hands­down fa­vorite, Cap­pado­cia.

Fairy chim­neys be­yond dreams

Cap­pado­cia is found in the re­gion south­east of the Turk­ish cap­i­tal Ankara. It is world-renowned for its “fairy chim­neys”. These nat­u­ral won­ders were cre­ated mil­lions of

years ago by vol­canic erup­tions which rained ash across what is now Turkey. Ero­sion caused the wear­ing down of the softer tuff which gave way to pil­lars stand­ing tall as 130 feet. Be­cause the harder basalt eroded more slowly, it formed a mush­room shaped cap over each tuff.

Due to its strate­gic lo­ca­tion, Cap­pado­cia was often prized by me­dieval in­vaders, oc­cu­pied and looted after raids and sieges. To pro­tect them­selves, peo­ple took refuge in cel­lars and caves, even­tu­ally build­ing un­der­ground cities. To date, there are 36 un­der­ground cities in Cap­pado­cia and we had the oc­ca­sion to visit the widest one, Kay­makli Un­der­ground City. It was a mem­o­rable ac­tiv­ity for the fam­ily as we nav­i­gated through nar­row tun­nels which amaz­ingly led to cel­lars, stor­age ar­eas, sta­bles, among oth­ers, all once thriv­ing with dwellers and an­i­mals be­neath the ground.

Although the strong wind con­di­tions nixed our sched­uled hot air bal­loon ride, we nev­er­the­less had fun, not ex­pect­ing that a spe­cial sur­prise awaited us very early the next day after the ex­hil­a­rat­ing trip to the caves. When we woke up, snow was fall­ing in Cap­pado­cia for the first time in win­ter. The spell­bind­ing fairy chim­neys were capped with pure white snow and were a mar­velous sight to be­hold. Oh, it made us fall in love with this cap­ti­vat­ing place even more!

Where east meets west

On our first day in Is­tan­bul, known in the old times as Con­stantino­ple, we hit off with a walk­ing tour led by our very ca­pa­ble li­censed guide Tarik Say­lan, who was born and raised lo­cally. He took us to Ha­gia Sophia, con­sid­ered as one of the most im­por­tant build­ings in the his­tory of world ar­chi­tec­ture. In over a thou­sand years, it has served as a cathe­dral, dur­ing the time of Em­peror Con­stantino­ple, to a mosque dur­ing the time of the Ot­toman sul­tans, and now a mu­seum. Ad­ja­cent was the Top­kapi Palace which was the main palace of the Ot­tomans un­til 1856.

The fol­low­ing day, we vis­ited the Hip­po­drome, a cen­ter for sports ac­tiv­i­ties, cer­e­monies in­clud­ing thrilling char­iot races dur­ing the Ro­man and Byzan­tine era. Next up was my hus­band’s fa­vorite, the Blue Mosque. Highly re­garded and ac­claimed for its blue Iznik tiles, the mosque was built dur­ing the Ot­toman pe­riod and is the sec­ond largest mosque in Is­tan­bul. We ended our tour at the Un­der­ground Cis­tern which used to be the largest wa­ter cis­tern in Is­tan­bul and the ma­jor wa­ter reser­voir dur­ing the Con­stantino­ple pe­riod.

After a sat­is­fy­ing trip to the Grand Bazaar where we scored big deals on de­lec­ta­ble Turk­ish del­i­ca­cies and sou­venirs, we boarded the Bospho­rus Cruise which had us trav­el­ing along the ma­jes­tic wa­ter­way which is strad­dled be­tween Europe and Asia and where we en­joyed views of re­mark­able his­tor­i­cal build­ings, bridges, cas­tles and charm­ing man­sions from the 19th and 20th cen­tury.

His­tory comes alive

Our fam­ily also trav­eled long hours on the road to the in­cred­i­ble an­cient city of Troy and the wooden replica of the Tro­jan horse.

We ex­plored Eph­e­sus, one of the great cities of an­tiq­uity, which in­cluded the re­mains of the fa­bled Tem­ple of Artemis, Odeon, Hadrian’s Tem­ple, Li­brary of Cel­sus, Agora and the Great The­atre. An­other place which caught our hearts was the hum­ble and very mod­est chapel known as the House of Vir­gin Mary where it is be­lieved that the Holy Mother spent her fi­nal years.

We like­wise walked along the an­cient ruins at Hier­apo­lis or “Holy City” and vis­ited Pa­mukkale’s pop­u­lar ther­mal pools. In the freez­ing weather, we took off our shoes and ex­pe­ri­enced the sooth­ing hot spring. The pic­turesque con­trast be­tween the glis­ten­ing pools and the traver­tine, a type of white lime­stone de­posited by ther­mal waters, took our breaths away. Near the pools is an­other ther­mal pool which was built by Marc An­thony for the en­chant­ing Cleopa­tra.

A big thank you to Tarik Say­lan of Is­tan­bul Guided Pri­vate Tours for mak­ing our fam­ily’s Turkey trip a trea­sured ex­pe­ri­ence.


Our home for Christ­mas

Ha­gia Sophia

House of Vir­gin Mary

Tro­jan horse wooden replica

The blue mosque

ON THE ROAD. The writer and her fam­ily with Turk­ish tour guide Tarik Say­lan of Is­tan­bul Guided Pri­vate Tours.

YOU LIGHT UP MY LIFE. Multi-hued Turk­ish lamps

LEZZETLI. Turk­ish food is fla­vor­ful, healthy and rea­son­ably priced.

INDIRIM! Great finds at Is­tan­bul’s Grand Bazaar

Tra­di­tional Turk­ish car­pets

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