I have always wanted to travel to Turkey so when I received an invitation to attend a trip with the Houston Junior Chamber Consular Forum 2012 and the Texas Turkish-American Chamber, I quickly jumped at the chance. So much so that I found out about the trip on a Tuesday and was on a plane the following Sunday.
Most people probably think that Turkey is part of the Middle East but in fact this is not true. It is however, an amazing place where east meets west, literally. Istanbul is divided by the Bosphorus bridge with Asia on one side and Europe on the other. The amalgamation of the two continents blends cultures; the subtle influences make it truly a land to be cherished. It is more than Turkish coffee and Whirling Dervishes, although both are inherent parts of the culture. It is about the people and the strong economic development and the customs that date back thousands of years.
Most people probably think that Turkey is part of the Middle East but in fact this is not true. It is however, an amazing place where east meets west, literally.
This trip is part of a series of events promoting the 2012 Consular Forum highlighting Turkey at Houston’s only White Tie Ball on Nov. 3 at the Hilton Americas-Houston. Members of the delegation included 2012 Consular Ball chair Carlos Obando, co-chair Ximenja Murillo, Brilliant Lecture Series’ founder Scott Brogan and Celil Yaka, president of the Texas Turkish American Chamber of Commerce.
My excitement was fully realized when, on the first night’s dinner, we dined at a converted palace, which gave us insight as to the delectable food and atmosphere to come. It was my first introduction into chay tea, which I have to say I drank morning, noon and night and during then some the entire trip.
On the first full day, we pushed thru the jet lag and went on a world wind tour of Istanbul. We visited the beautiful Haga Sophia (Church of Holy Wisdom), the Sultan Ahmed Camii (Blue Mosque), ancient underground cisterns and the Hippodrome.
Much to my delight, our guide was able to arrange a stop at the world famous Cagaloglu Turkish Bathhouse, which has been highlighted in 1000 Things to Do Before You Die. I found it very primal yet somehow regal as I imagined myself to be a royal descent and this was just part of my daily routine.
That evening we attended a special dinner at the World Trade Bridge 2012 convention hosted by Tuskon and representing 110 countries. The highlight was a speech by President Abdullah Gül, who spoke eloquently about Turkey’s advancements of past decade.
The search for a belly dancing outfit
Day two in Istanbul consisted of a valiant but failed attempt to find me a custom belly dancing outfit, a shopping tour of the bustling Grand Bazaar, and a quick stop to watch the stoic Turkish army perform their daily hour-long ritual.
A scenic boat ride down the Marmara Sea ended at Beykoz restaurant for a dinner hosted by Mayor Yücel Çelikbilek. After dinner we met with the Junior Chamber - Istanbul Chapter at Club Reina, which for this event planner was a highlight of the trip. This very trendy restaurant and bar sits underneath the magnificently lit Bosphorus Bridge and puts any club I have ever seen to shame.
Day three brought a meeting with Minister of Economy, Zafer Caglayan and a quick trip to market square, where I purchased the most amazing graphite and ceramic bowl. We then toured the unbelievably gorgeous Topkapi Palace (the official and primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for 400 years). After another traditional Turkish feast, we headed to the “Hobby” of Istanbul for a quick flight to the capital city of Ankara.
There we met with several members of Parliament and had an informative lunch with the Honorable Ahmet Aydin, deputy chairman of the majority political party, at the National Assembly. We visited the grand mausoleum of the founding President of Turkey and toured the Anadolu Medeniyetleri, Museum of Anatolian Civilizations.
We spent the afternoon walking down four levels of the Kaymakli Yeralti Sehri, an ancient multi-level underground city with its 11 floors extending to a depth of a football field. It is the largest excavated underground city in Turkey and is part of a network of several underground complexes found across Cappadocia.
Upon arrival at our hotel, the MDC Cave Hotel, I was immediately overwhelmed by its charm and subtle ambiance. Since it is built into the side of a mountain, each room is unique and very quaint. Dinner this night was at the home of a local businessman and his family. The unbelievable display of food was wonderful, as was spending time with the young girls, who didn’t speak English but could still manage to deftly play games on an English iPad.
Up, up and away
Finally, on Sunday morning, very early, we got to experience the absolute coolest thing I have ever done – ride in a hot air balloon ride. The ride through the canyons was thrilling, beautiful and, well, a little indescribable. The captain from Balloon Turca deftly drifted the balloon through the spectacular canyons, and upon landing staff provided us with a much welcomed glass of champagne.
We had our own version of “Sunday Funday" Turkiye style at the CCR Hotel, a fabulous resort property known for its cave spa and magnificent views of the canyons. This is a perfect location for a romantic wedding. In the afternoon, we quickly walked through the Goreme Open Air Museum and marveled at the brightly painted churches in caves that date back thousands of years.
The rest of the group continued on for tours of Ephesus and lounging in Kusadasi. I however had to make it back to Houston to work. I found Turkey to be beyond my expectations. I carry special memories of this trip and hope to visit again (hopefully with a client who has an unlimited budget - hey I can dream can't I?). Now that Turkish Airlines will be starting direct flights to Istanbul from IAH in April that will prove much easier to accomplish. But for now, I am working fast and furious on ideas gleaned from the trip, which will be used to aptly highlight Turkish traditions at the November Consular Ball.
There will be another delegation heading to Turkey in early September. If you would like to experience this informative, cultural and unforgettable experience, contact the Houston Junior Chamber at email@example.com for more details.
CultureMap contributor Deborah Elias is the founder and president of Elias Events.