By Melody Richardson
As a Turkish-American child, I remember splashing in crystal clear waters, enjoying spectacular food, and absorbing the fast paced culture of Turkey every other summer throughout my childhood. The country has always held a special place in my heart. My mother is from Izmir, a small town on the southwestern coast, but spent her teenage years in Istanbul, making both cities a home away from home for me. After the passing of my mother, my younger brother and I decided to make an annual visit. Despite having spent so much time there growing up, viewing Turkey through unaccompanied adult eyes gave me a completely different experience. This time I went off the beaten path, exploring islands, and smaller historical neighborhoods, while still finding time for our favorite places.
When in Istanbul, we stayed with our Aunt in Kadıköy, a local neighborhood. Each day we gazed out from her balcony, across the water, to the Princes Islands. This time we were fortunate enough to visit those islands. We knew after a one to two hour hike to the top we would be greeted by a 200 year old church and beautiful views. We did not, however, expect to be met by wild horses! As we took in the beauty, we fed the horses figs and olives from the surrounding trees. The Princes Islands are often visited by locals for a day trip, and I have every intention of going back each and every time.
After a few days in Istanbul, we travelled to nearby Izmir to visit my grandmother. Izmir has been dubbed Ataturk’s City and has a giant stone monument in his honor. Another thing it’s is famous for is the Karşıyaka Bostanlı Bazaar which is only a 5 minute walk from my Grandmother’s house- we never miss it! It is definitely not the ideal environment for the claustrophobic, but very rewarding if you dont mind a little hustle and bustle. The bazaar is always busy with vendors and customers bargaining for goods. From fresh fish and vegetables to handmade jewelry and traditional Turkish towels, you can find just about anything. I always end up bringing an extra luggage to fill up with treasures to bring back home. After a long day of bartering, a nice ride around the bay on the Bostanlı Ferry at sunset is a relaxing way to take in a once in a lifetime view.
The final leg of the trip we ventured back to Istanbul to visit with our uncle and explore the more touristy areas of Taksim and Karaköy. I always like to visit these neighborhoods because of the incredible combination of new and old, foreign and local. There are modern, trendy shops and buildings alongside centuries old palaces, mosques, and architecture– including the second oldest underground transit system, inaugurated in 1875. You can see Turkish people and foreigners alike bustling through the areas visiting the shops and cafes.
Being in that environment is an experience impossible to find in the United States, that I highly recommend to all that are able. Coming home to Turkey makes me feel closer to my mother, closer to my family, and closer to the culture that I so deeply adore.
Turkey is a magical place with incredible people, sights, and history. It truly is my happy place. If you get the opportunity to go, please don’t hesitate to contact me for information and tips. I’d love to share, give recommendation and wish you: İyi yolculuklar! (Have a wonderful trip!)