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Brandon in Turkey

In all my 40 years of globetrotting, Turkey never featured in my bucket list of travel destinations, but an invite to the world golfing championship courtesy Turkish Airlines, I found myself aboard, heading to the hottest tourist destination in recent times. Truly impressed by the sights and sounds of Turkey and scrubbed clean of all my sins, I decided to pen this piece!

Tiger Woods on the greens at the Turkish Airlines World Golf Final

BELEK — THE GOLF CENTRE

Hot-air balloon rides, hummus, a magnificent blend of east meets west coupled with a mesmerising

coastline, Turkey offers all of this and much more to those yearning for a wealth of travelling experiences. Catch one of the daily Turkish Airline flights operating from Delhi and Mumbai to touchdown on the Mediterranean land of moustaches and scarves.

We’ll come to the touristy places later but one place worth a visit is Antalya. Antalya is rich in beaches, archaeological sites and historic ruins. Easy day trips can be taken to the Roman ruins at Perge, the

2,000-year-old Aspendos amphitheatre and the Karain Cave. Belek in Antalya is where the golfing action is. This developing golf centre of Turkey is host to the country’s biggest golfing event, the Turkish Airline Golf Championship, where I was headed. The tournament was to be attended by golf bigwigs such as Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose and Matt Kuchar.

Most of us were doubting Thomases, absolutely convinced of them not showing up. But we soon became believers when we found ourselves in the midst of these legends, exchanging anecdotes with them like old chums and hoping to see them appear in flesh and blood on home turf. Thankfully, I have photographic

evidence to prove my presence or else I would have been pinching myself to check if it really happened. While JR (Justin Rose) won the tournament, it seemed the most incidental occurrence through such an action-packed, four-day golf carnival.

For golf enthusiasts, Turkey definitely gets my vote for your next golf holiday. And I would recommend Turkish Airline for a memorable experience.

LIKE A TOURIST

For most, Istanbul is the starting point of their journey across this marvellous land of antiquities. The seven-hill city of Istanbul is sequestered with resplendent mosques and palaces. The architectural grandeur of the city comes from the Hagia Sophia Mosque, the world famous Blue Mosque, Suleymaniye Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Topkapi Palace and the Galata Tower, offering a bird’s-eye view of the entire city.

Legend says Hagia Sophia was the greatest church in Christendom for almost a 1,000 years (360 AD until 1453) and was converted to a mosque by Mehmed the Conqueror (1453 until 1931). Today, it is a museum and a perfect synthesis of the Ottoman and Byzantine influence under one roof.

The 200-year-old Aspendos amphitheatre

The spiralling Blue Mosque dominates Istanbul’s skyline and was built from 1609-1616 as competition to the Hagia Sophia under the rule of Ahmed I. This Ottoman masterpiece derives its name from the spectacular blue tile work making it Turkey’s finest tourist attraction.

Built during the reign of Sultan Süleyman, the Suleymaniye Mosque was commissioned in 1550 and took seven years to be completed. The mosque was ravaged by fire twice and restored in 1956. A little hard to find, it doesn’t draw as many visitors as the other two mosques but is grander and bigger than the Blue Mosque.

Basilica Cistern, Istanbul’s most unusual attraction, is an engineering marvel. This underground water reservoir was constructed in 532 AD to supply water to the Great Palace. The two Medusa heads at the far left-hand corner of the cistern make for an interesting sight.

Topkapi Palace was home to the Ottoman sultans, their wives and concubines for nearly four decades and also the subject of several colourful stories. One can take a guided tour of the harem and stroll in the palatial gardens.

Once you’ve taken in all the breathtaking sights, make your way through the bustling streets to the Egyptian spice market, the world’s longest bazaar. Spread across the Spice Market is a gastronomic paradise and the best place to pick up all sorts of nuts, dried fruits and oils. The adjoining Grand Bazaar is a labyrinth of 61 lanes and 3,000 shops; a one-of-its-kind shopping experience. From leather goods to marble items, objet d’art and what have you; you name it and it is there. This is the place to haggle for Persian carpets and buy Turkish evil eye accessories.

Mint tea

F&B

With food, you definitely cannot go wrong in this country, which has one of the most distinct traditional cuisines. Turkey has given the world baklava (a dessert originating in the Middle East made of phyllo pastry filled with chopped nuts and soaked in honey), mint tea, sumptuous kebabs, and doner kebabs, which I relished in abundance during my sojourn! And, of course, the Turkish delights — sweets made of starch and sugar, stuffed with pistachios and nuts, flavoured with rose or lemon. The Turks revel in good food, good nightlife and good friends.

Speaking of nightlife, the Bosphorous coast is littered with romantic little cafes and restaurants, giving the city a euphoric buzz. Meander up the river on a cruise during the day and spend the evening admiring the enchanting scenery of the Ortakoy Mosque framed by the Bosphorus Bridge. Bite into some delectable fish, sipping splendid Turkish wine (or Turkish mint tea for the teetotaller).

If you are stuck in traffic and can’t make it to the riverside, there is a plethora of lavish options within the city too — smart bars that co-exist with rooftop restaurants.

Hummus

Hookah and hummus are an essential part of Turkish culture and the perfect way to steam away the travel grime. There are several bath houses to choose from, including Cemberlitas, Cagaloglu, Galatasaray, Suleymaniye and the Tahtakale Hamami being the oldest, but it is the Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam, which draws the maximum crowd and has been opened for public ablutions recently. Of hookah bars, there is no dearth, with a few around every corner.

Turkish Baklava