Always been captivated by the allure of Greece? Skip it, go to Turkey, and experience everything you imagine Greece will be, just better and more of it.
Far fewer tourists go to Turkey than Greece, so locals dealing with tourists aren’t tired of you, and it is still possible to have ruins all to yourself. Like Greece, you can relax on the beach, but in Turkey you can also relax on a blue cruise or in a hammam. Turkey has unique shopping, as it was the crossroads of the world, and you can even buy almost-antiques. In Turkey there is an otherworldliness you can experience nowhere else on earth … underground cities, a hillside of cascading white rock pools, and flames that spontaneously ignite from the ground. Not to mention the Turkish sense of hospitality which is also otherworldly. The only thing you can’t get in Turkey that you can get in Greece? Pork.
A good introduction to Turkey is on a “blue cruise” on the turquoise coast, i.e. Turkey’s southern coast. An ideal trip is about four days, and a good base is the town of Fethiye. From here you can go north to Marmaris, or go southeast to Andriace harbour, from which you can bus inland to Olympos to see the chimera flames (see below). Relax aboard, and tell your captain whether you feel like snorkelling, sunning, cliff diving or flying high above a beach like Ōlüdeniz, which is often cited as one of the top five beaches in the world.
A Turkish hammam is the ultimate in relaxation. It is easy to spot recent partakers on the street as they are scrubbed pink like a baby and have trouble keeping their eyes open. Wrapped in a pestemal (a thin cotton towel), you first sweat in a sauna or steambath for a while. An attendant then brings you to a warm marble plinth where s/he will lie you down and scrub you with olive oil soap that will make you look like you are covered in whipped cream, and exfoliate your skin with a kese mit.
Once you get over the shock of how much dead skin you were walking around with, you’ll relax into the massage. It is a sort of combination of Thai and Swedish — your knots are worked out and your arms and legs bent and stretched. You are doused with cold water on occasion (but it feels good), and will probably receive a slap on the ass. And you will love the entire experience. Ask your hotel for advice about where to go (say you want an authentic experience) and when to go (since many hammams have separate hours for men, women, and couples).
The Crossroads of the World
Don’t forget to pick up some “nazar boncugu”, blue and white glass amulets meant to ward off the evil eye. You will see them everywhere in Turkey – hanging in restaurants, hotels, taxis, even in airplanes, and personal ones on necklaces, key chains, cell phones and baby carriages.