January 25, 2009
When my husband and I visited Turkey recently, we found it to be a remarkable study in contrasts.
On one hand, it has ruins of ancient civilizations at Ephesus, considered one of the best-preserved classical cities.
Ephesus is one of the few places in the world that one truly feels the presence of its ancient Greek and Roman inhabitants. The Temple of Artemis, now in ruins, was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
On the other hand, with a modern and vibrant move toward Western culture, it surprises visitors with dependable telephones and bus systems. English is widely spoken, and tourists feel comfortable knowing that Turkey takes its commitment to NATO seriously.
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of modern Turkey, was a forward thinker. In 1923, as president of the secular republic, he separated mosque and state, liberated women to some degree and replaced the Arabic alphabet with the Roman one.
One of the stops on our tour was in the bustling city of Kusadasi.
In the heart of a colorful bazaar, we watched the nimble hands of a young woman weaving a Turkish rug.
Trying to woo his captive audience into buying, the carpet merchant offered us local beer or the anise-flavored national drink, raki. Similar to Greek ouzo, raki has a cool and refreshing taste of licorice, but admittedly, it is an acquired taste.
We were amused to see a sign in the bazaar advertising "Genuine Fake Watches.
"The beautifully tiled fountain positioned near the mosque for the required washing before prayer was a reminder that Turkey's vast Muslim majority take their faith seriously. Yet in Turkey, all three major religions -- Christianity, Judaism and Islam -- have co-existed peacefully for centuries.
Another reminder of the remarkable contrasts in Turkey came while we were returning to the port city of Izmir on the Aegean Sea: A shepherd was talking on his cell phone while tending his flock.