1992. Dad comes home with a used Volvo Estate car. We’re driving to Turkey from the north of England. So, a few weeks later with maps at the ready, routes planned, ferry booked, visas obtained and four children crammed in the back, we set off on a six week summer adventure!
Our love of Turkey began in 1987 when £50 flight tickets got us to a beautiful land of glorious family-friendly beaches, child-friendly cuisine (no chillies unlike the Indian food we were still not used to), women-friendly masjids and the friendliest folk we’d ever met! We would return home from school on the last day of summer term and Mum would announce that we were off to Turkey the following day as she had just bought last minute cheap flights from the Teletext and got everything packed and ready whilst we were all at school and Dad was at work. We didn’t need to pack much for a family of six as we travelled light along the southwest coast mainly by dolmuş, Turkey’s reliable and very packed (as per its meaning “stuffed/filled up”) shared public mini-buses.
My dad is an adventurous, free spirit type, masha Allah, who cannot think of anything more restrictive than a holiday in one hotel or resort. Therefore, as there were no airport transfers booked in advance, we would often (as in every time) land at Dalaman airport, hail a taxi to the nearest town and whilst we would wait either in a stuffy AC-free taxi, or if we were lucky, a cool nearby masjid, Dad made enquires with the locals for a place to stay. A few nights there and off we ventured to the next town. Boy, did we grumble and fight with one another, all hot and bothered! Looking back now, that was the best way to do it, as it had coincidentally made us yearn for independence and the ability to come and go as we please without relying on public transport.
Accommodation consisted of family-run B&B style guesthouses known as pansiyons where a homely and extremely hospitable Turkish family would serve breakfast each morning on a rooftop terrace or in a garden covered by vine canopies. The standard Turkish breakfast consists of sliced loaf bread (ekmek) with a platter of sliced feta cheese, often homegrown tomatoes, cucumbers, boiled eggs, olives, fresh local honey, watermelon and oranges. We quickly became good friends with the owners and their children, who would take us to the less touristic places to swim, eat and shop in the markets for local goods to take home, like barbeques, hammocks and brass ornaments. Sometimes we would go out for dinner, other times our friends would cook us their specialty dishes. Occasionally, Mum would demonstrate how to make Indian curry or a biryani in the pansiyon owners’ kitchen, and the two families would all sit and enjoy a fusion of different cultures and cuisines.
Before 1987, we went on long trips by car around the UK for our annual summer holiday, staying in our family tent or caravan at various UK campsites. I’d say it was from there that our dad’s love of adventurous road trips developed. From 1987 to 1992 we went to Turkey every year by plane, however, it was travelling there by road that finally gave us our independence.
So in 1992, in the crammed Volvo, we drove down from Blackburn in the northwest corner of England to Dover on the southeast tip, ferried across the English Channel to Calais in France and headed off through Europe: Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Hungary, what was then Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria and down to Erdine just past the Turkish border, before reaching Istanbul. We sped through Europe, driving in the early hours of the morning and late into the night with only the long distance truckers on the road for company. Mum would occasionally take the wheel but when Dad tired or we needed a food break, we would park up on the roadside and she would whip up a simplified biryani or a spicy egg and potato stir fry served on bread with crisps and ketchup! Waiting at border control with passports and visas, which were required for the Eastern European countries, we grew impatient, restless and tired – quite understandable for four children aged between six and thirteen. We slept in the car at service stations and felt safe with the long distance trucks also parked up nearby and the toilets and shower facilities on site throughout Western Europe which catered for our freewheeling needs.
However, once we entered Turkey four days later, alhamdulillah, parking up on the side of a petrol station did not mean you could just wake up, quickly use the loos and hit the road! Firstly you would be woken up by a light tapping on the driver’s side window. A stern but simple-looking Turkish man would be standing there counting passengers, then leaving only to arrive 30 seconds later with a tray of six small clear tulip shaped glasses filled with çay (pronounced chai), a bowl of sugar cubes, a huge warm smile and his equally grinning petrol station staff by his side! If I had to pinpoint the chief demonstration of hospitality of the Turks I would certainly say it’s in that tea from the Black Sea coast! Whether visiting markets or fuelling up your car, tea is offered as a sign of friendship and accompanied by the warm and welcoming phrase “hoş geldiniz” meaning “welcome”.
Our trip most certainly did not end at Istanbul as our destination was the south coast, our second home! In just a few days, we explored so much in the bustling and spiritually uplifting city of Istanbul: the breathtaking and beautifully designed mosques such as Sultan Ahmet Camii which is also known as the Blue Mosque because of its blue tiles, Aya Sofiya or often called Hagia Sofia (once a church, then a mosque and now a museum), Suleymaniye Mosque which was ordered by Suleiman the Magnificent (AS) and Eyup Ansari Mosque in which lies the tomb of Abu Ayub al-Ansari (RA). Another significant place of interest was Topkapi Palace to see our Prophet Muhammad (SAW)’s relics, such as his footprint, hair, sword and bow; swords of the Caliphs and Jaffar Al-Tayyar, Khalid bin Walid, Abu Ayub al-Ansari, Abu Dhar al Gifari (RA); old keys of the Holy Ka’bah and much more.
Raeesa Patel marvels in the history that the beauty of Turkey uncovered to her.
After our stay in Istanbul we headed slightly east for a quick discovery of the north coast and Black Sea beaches up to Cide and then south, weaving through Bursa, Eskisehir, Kutahya, Nevşehir, Cappadocia, Konya, Antalya, Mount Olympos/Çıralı, Patara – to name but a few of the places where we stopped to stay and enjoy the Turkish scenery, culture and way of life.
Reaching Fethiye and Dalyan, we felt well and truly “at home” for a week enjoying the beaches, mud baths and boat trips before heading back up towards Erdine via Denizli, Pamukkale, Kuşadası, Izmir, Ephesus, Çanakkale and numerous quaint and charming villages in between. Stopping to eat lentil soup, pides, okra, casseroles and kebabs at local village lokanta (restaurants) and picking our own giant watermelons from roadside fields which farmers sold and cut for us to eat on the spot. The adhan calling out throughout the day always brought a sense of belonging and peace in this simple yet stunningly beautiful land.
Once we were back home in the UK, it was time for the new school year to begin. We walked in, eyes bright with a colourful story to tell and an even deeper tan to go with it!
That summer of ‘92 was a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, only it was not once in a lifetime. Alhamdulillah. Dad bought a slightly newer Volvo Estate for another road trip a couple of years later. And three years after that, a bright red Toyota Hiace minivan, donned with floral Mum-made curtains, which suffered a disastrous engine breakdown in Bulgaria, but that really is another story!
Would I consider following in my father’s footsteps and undertake a similar road trip with my children? Absolutely! Insha Allah, if an opportunity arises. But it would never be the same. Bearing in mind the fact that the early ‘90’s was a time before the Internet was available in most homes (let alone on mobile phones – “a mobile what?”) for using Google Maps, and that satellite navigation gadgets were most likely not even invented, Dad’s trips were brave feats, masha Allah, and ones which will be cherished as delightful and memorable experiences.
Since our third road trip in 1997, we have continued to travel to Turkey quite frequently, hiring a car from the airport in order to retain our independence. Although it has to be said, our next trip may just have a guesthouse pre-booked – well, at least for the first night!
This year, however, I plan to go back to my very early childhood and pitch a tent at a UK campsite with my children. I think my dad will be proud!
The ‘Best of Turkey’, based on the Sidat family’s summer vacations:
The following are not ranked in any particular preference order, and the very obvious favourite Istanbul is not included.
Pamukkale, meaning the ‘Cotton Fortress’ in Turkish has been a natural spa since the Romans built the city of Hierapolis around a warm water spring. The original Roman outdoor pool is still there for tourists to swim in, dotted with marble columns and ruins and surrounded by beautiful palms, oleanders and pine trees. The travertines are hot springs that rise from the earth and cascade over the brilliantly white calcium cliffs, leaving warm pools filled with natural clay. As children, we would spend full days lounging in the pools, slathering the white ‘mud’ all over ourselves as face and body masks and basking in the hot midday sun waiting for the mud to harden and crack before washing it off in the warm spring water or under a waterfall.
The unique historical area of Cappadocia in the Central Anatolia region of Turkey is known for its mysterious-looking volcanic rock formations, caves, rock-cut churches and underground tunnels. Hot air balloons soar over the ‘fairy chimney’ landscape in a stunning and breathtaking display of colour amidst a bleak, yet captivating, backdrop. We stayed in a very sparsely furnished cave during our visit and went trekking in the surprisingly green gorge of the Ihlara Valley, following a scenic one and a half hour drive southwest of Nevşehir. Insha Allah, now as an adult, I hope to go back one day and experience the area by air in one of those balloons!
Surrounded by magnificent mountains, Fethiye has a lively promenade lined with handmade jewellery stalls, boat trip operators and street food vendors. I have very fond and varied memories of this bustling fishing town: driving (with dad finally in the passenger seat!) up the rocky winding mountain roads and back down on the other side to the stunning Ölüdeniz, one of Turkey’s most photographed beaches; strolling lazily along the harbour at night when everything comes alive, admiring the boats whilst eating ice cream and roasted corn on the cob; racing up the steep steps to the ancient Lycian rock-cut tombs in the cliffs above the town after sunset; spending days on end in the local markets buying fresh fruit and vegetables, seafood, cinnamon or apple tea and of course Turkish Delight; crossing by taxi boat to Çalış beach, a long sand and pebble bay and walking into the Saklikent Gorge (pictured) across a stream of icy cold water.
A visit to Dalyan cannot be complete without a boat trip from the quayside past the dramatic ancient Lycian tombs in the cliffs on the opposite bank. The boats move past the natural reed beds to Caunos and, where the river meets the Mediterranean sea, Istuzu beach – a protected turtle nesting zone. Between May and July it is possible to see female turtles come up to the shore from the ocean to lay their eggs. Boats also sail up to the nearby Lake Köyceğiz, a freshwater lake where you can swim for a cool and refreshing change from salty sea water and then jump into the mud baths at Sultaniye, or the other way round! Getting slathered in the slightly ammonia smelling mud is always fun but less so as an adult as we are now conscious of keeping ourselves covered. However, soaking in the hot thermal baths during women-only sessions is certainly a treat not to be missed!
Ephesus attracts thousands of tourists who flock to view the spectacular sacred city of Artemis, famous for its temple and Roman ruins from a time in history when Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia. Wandering across the white marble streets on a scorching 40 degrees summer afternoon was not the most delightful time for a child. However, I was old enough to be awestruck by the majestic and impressive Library of Celsus, the Roman theatre and the Temple of Artemis which is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Knowing that barely 18% of Ephesus has been excavated and that a vast city lurks underfoot has given this ancient city a firm place on my list to visit again insha Allah, perhaps this time with a parasol!
Aneesa Sidat grew up in Blackburn, UK as the eldest child of four siblings and still lives there with her two children. She is the Advertising Executive for SISTERS Magazine but does not usually contribute as a writer. She’d much rather take photographs to express herself, and her photography can be found at www.aneesasidat.com.