Tourism is big business in Turkey, ranking right up there with agriculture, although the latter is declining as the populace continues to move to the cities. In fact, Turkey attracted nearly 30 million foreign tourists last year, an increase of nearly 9 percent over 2010. It ranked sixth in the world in tourism, behind only France, the United States, China, Spain and Italy. Not bad for a country totaling less than 75 million.
That said, our small group of 29 travelers — 11 women who took their husbands and seven who didn’t — set off late last month from Istanbul in a luxury bus on a 1,500-mile circular tour of the western third of the country.
All were veteran travelers, a few had previously visited Turkey and almost all of us were retirement age on up. The group included teachers, engineers, retired military, a political scientist and even a watch repairman.
Most in the group were cellphone owners, but many of the danged devices couldn’t call home from that part of the world. My aversion to cells would have stood out, so I kept my mouth shut.
I did take note, however, that many Turkish residents have the same cellphone habits as do ours — use on the streets and in stores, restaurants and even restrooms. Alas, cellphones rule the world. I just looked away.
After leaving Istanbul, we were dazzled the next 11 days by visits to ancient historical sites, were regaled with historical information that included the religious conflicts in that part of the world dating back 2,000 years, and lay down our weary bones each night in top-rated hotels built to serve tourists. The only complaints heard were about the hotel elevators, each having a mind of its own.
Not being an archaeologist, historian, agronomist, political scientist, religious student, economist or much of a conversationalist, I did what I’ve learned to do as a journalist — observe and ask a few questions. Thus, for a travelogue on Turkey, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
Readers always ask:
How was the weather? In Antalya, a resort city on the Mediterranean on Turkey’s southern shoreline, it was in the 90s — hot and humid. Some in our group took the opportunity to take a dip off in the warm water off our excursion boat. It looked inviting. Elsewhere, the temperature was extremely pleasant.
So how was the food? My palate thought it delicious, and eating buffet style in the hotels, it was lavish. In other words, I ate too much.
And was language a barrier? No, not where we visited. English is becoming the international language.
As mentioned last week, our tour guide, Yesim, was excellent. So was our driver, Zafer, who exhibited superior skills when zipping our bus through congested traffic and around tight corners.
Turkish freeways that carry those giant tour buses full of tourists are good and getting better. Road construction was everywhere, and even the two-lane roads that took us to archeological sites were well paved.
The western part of Turkey, where we visited, appears to be booming. Istanbul, having grown to a population of 15 million, is adding half a million a year. High-rise apartment buildings are going up everywhere. Industry is expanding at a rapid rate.
Lavish use of color
Turkish apartment buildings are stylish with their clean lines and use of strong colors: bright greens, blues, reds and yellows, combined with pastel tints of orange, beige, tan and ivory. The tall residential units all have outside balconies, for it appears the natives do enjoy their time in the out of doors. The beaches are in use from early morning until dark.
Likewise, the skylines of both Istanbul and the capital city of Ankara are impressive with their sleek, modern architecture — far more impressive, let’s say, than San Francisco.
Single-family residences are often three and sometimes four stories in height, again with balconies and often a garage at ground level. Again, color is used to brightly dramatize the homes.
Many of Turkey’s apartment buildings, as well as single-family homes, use solar energy units to at least heat water, far in excess of that technology’s application in this country. Eastern Turkey, where social strife is rampant, reportedly is far less developed and its economy is lagging dramatically.
The use of greenhouses was also noted, and in one area I observed well over 500 such facilities in an area not exceeding five miles (enough to make Grant Craven of Crows Landing’s Craven Transplant Co. drool).
Visits to the World War I battlefields and cemetery at Gallipoli, the ruins at Homer’s city of Troy, and the ancient Pergamon — the Greek center of arts and sciences with its Temple of Trajan — followed in short order.
We took in the forested site where it is thought the Virgin Mary spent her last days while hiding from the Romans. A rock building has been erected on a 2,000-year-old foundation, and it is here in 2006 that Mass was celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI.
We also visited archaeological sites where apostles John and Paul did some of their writing.
Humbling and somewhat mind-numbing to walk on the same ground.
Next week: my favorite historical site.
For the sports fan
Despite the bright sunlight and delightfully warm temperature, Monday was a grim day in Patterson.
That’s because the 49ers, the Giants and the Raiders all fell to defeat on Sunday. Not to mention Stanford on Saturday and the Patterson High Tigers on Friday night.
Nor was there a smile around the Gene Wheeland household on North Third Street. Baseball enthusiasts everywhere recognize the Wheelands as being the most ardent Yankee fans on the West Coast. Losing two games to Detroit on the weekend, as well as a shortstop who is one of the best in the business, was reportedly almost too much to bear. (Hide the knives and handguns on North Third.)
It could only happen in a small town.
We left for Turkey and, as usual, informed the neighbors we would be gone a couple of weeks. Our two children who live in town would be caring for the house and cats.
But I forgot to tell everyone that I was lending out my van to a friend. One day it disappeared, as it did a couple of years ago when it was stolen, and the neighbors called son Ben. Ben, of course, called the local police, who came by and made a stolen vehicle report.
But the same night, the van returned to the street in front of our house, and the calls were repeated, informing Ben that my van was back. Thank goodness our friends weren't arrested for driving a stolen vehicle.
I thought that was the end of the story, but not so. Last week’s Patterson Irrigator reported my van as having been stolen.
At least this time I have it returned without the back seat being missing, as was the case two years ago.
Ron Swift is editor/publisher emeritus of the Patterson Irrigator. He can be reached at email@example.com.