Rick Steves: Turkey Beyond Istanbul

Rick Steves visits Istanbul and its surroundings.
BY RICK STEVES Published: December 18, 2011
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Turkey is changing fast. And it's modernizing fast. For a recent vacation, I hit the road in Turkey, with romantic memories (a few years old) of horse-drawn carriages and villages with economies powered by hay, dung and ducks.

While that rustic old world is tougher to find, the deep traditions and warm hospitality of the region are as endearing as ever, especially if you venture past the predictable sights and tourist zones. Turkey has a sparse and frustrating train system, but flights are cheap and competitive bus companies provide easy, comfy, and inexpensive connections throughout the land.

At the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Turkey is looking West and getting there. It is a vast land, bigger than Texas and with a population of 60 million. Only half of Turkey's 42,000 villages had electricity in 1980. Now they all do.

Does modernization threaten the beautiful things that make Turkish culture so appealing? An old village woman assured me, “We can survive TV and tourism because we have strong cultural roots.” The Turkish way of life is painted onto this land with indelible cultural ink.

I followed my wanderlust to one of my favorite destinations in Turkey, the village of Guzelyurt in Cappadocia. Families here go about daily life as they have for generations. I walk down streets that residents from 3,000 years ago might recognize, past homes carved into rock, enjoying friendly greetings of “Merhaba.” Time is not money here. It's the perfect place to slow down and experience a true “back door” experience: Playing backgammon in a smoky teahouse, downing cup after cup of tea.

With the help of a guide, I enjoy a home visit, the perfect two-way cultural exchange. A village woman serves me a simple, home-cooked lunch. Then, with the guide as translator, I get to really connect with my host. This is the best way to gain an insight into her world and village life in Turkey.