Here’s a recap of our first Christmas as newlyweds. My in-laws kindly invited us to visit Turkey with them–of course we were excited! My brother-in-law, Mitchell, lived in Turkey for 2 years during his LDS mission, so they wanted to go back as a family to visit. While there, we stayed in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, and Ephesus. It was one of the most incredible countries I’ve seen.
We stayed in Istanbul for almost a week. It was incredible to witness this city– the people were full of life, had a passion for good food and conversation, and it felt surprisingly cosmopolitan. It was a mix of conservative Muslim families and secular families as well. We heard the call to prayer 5 times a day, and while some people would stop and pull out prayer mats, others went about their day as usual. It felt like a melting pot of diverse people, cultures, and beliefs.
While there, we went to the Hagia Sofia, probably the most famous mosque in Istanbul. It was originally a Christian Church Cathedral dating back to 537 AD (turned Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, back to Greek Orthodox), and finally in the 1400’s it was converted into a mosque. All of the Christian artwork had been covered up with Arabic writing from the Qur’an. This is obviously glossing over a TON of history, but I’ll leave it at that. It was absolutely gorgeous. I am so grateful I got to see it.
We also saw the Blue Mosque, which was interesting because it is still an active mosque (while the Hagia Sofia is a museum.) My mother-in-law, Kathy, and I had to wear headscarves to enter. We were able to see men participating in lessons and readings from the Qur’an. The inside was so detailed and beautiful.
After we left Istanbul, we stayed in Ankara for a few days. The most notable thing about Ankara was the FOOD. Mitchell took us to this incredible restaurant owned by a Kurdish family that sold dürüms–cooked meat, vegetables, and french fries in warm lavash bread, with the most amazing warm, spicy tomato sauce. We still talk about those dürüm, and joke about opening a food truck to sell them. We need that kind of food in the US!
The last place we stayed at was Izmir. Izmir was very Mediterranean and by far the warmest place we stayed. We went there to see Ephesus, the ancient Greek city. It was beautiful and totally majestic. It is so cool to think that people actually built cities like this, and on the scale that they did. They even had a port that went right out into the water! We spent almost the whole day exploring.
We also went to the House of the Virgin Mary, which is the speculated home Mary went to after Jesus died. This is especially believed by many Christian sects (since the 1880’s), and whether it was true or not, was a really neat place to see.
Overall, I was so grateful to see Turkey and be exposed to such a rich culture. I hope that Turkey continues to be a safe place to travel to, because I would recommend it to everyone. We would go back in a heartbeat.