It's a melting pot of cultures and people combining western and eastern flavors.

COURTESY PHOTO: LILISA HALL  - The Hagia Sofia mosque is seen here in Istanbul. Note: In June 2022, the United Nations agreed to register Turkey's official name as "Türkiye" — a name long used by Turks in their official language.

Global history fascinates me. Türkiye's Ottoman Empire, in particular, has been a favorite era of mine since high school. From its strategic location, traditions and people to its architecture, food and music, Türkiye has always beckoned me.

In 2012 my husband and I had spent four days in Istanbul before joining friends for a one-week sailing trip along Türkiye's Mediterranean coast. That trip served to whet my appetite. I knew I would be back for more.

Since then, I devour news, books and podcasts about Türkiye, watch Turkish shows, listen to Turkish music and continue to learn Turkish. I even have theme music from two of my favorite Turkish shows as ringtones! My last Christmas brunch consisted of a couple of spreads: an American brunch and a Turkish kahvalti (breakfast). Our friends thought it hilarious and were great sports, tucking in with gusto!

In April, we were excited to return to Türkiye. First stop Istanbul, a city that epitomizes Türkiye, a melting pot of cultures and people combining western and eastern flavors. As Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic said: "The treasure of the Turkish motherland, the wealth of Turkish history, the Turkish nation's apple of the eye, Istanbul is the city that has a special place in the hearts of its citizens."

Istanbul extends across both sides of the Bosphorus Strait straddling Europe and Asia connected by a series of bridges. Throughout history, armies have fought to claim this strategically positioned city, which was previously known as Constantinople. There's plenty to see and do. Boat and ferry rides on the Bosphorus; tours of the Hagia Sofia, Sultan Ahmed and Süleymaniye mosques, Dolmabahçe and Topkapi palaces, Underground Cistern; shopping at the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market; strolling Taksim Square and local neighborhoods; food tours. Between our two trips to Istanbul ten years apart, we've covered all this and more, but there's tons more to explore. COURTESY PHOTO: LILISA HALL - Lilisa and Harry Hall wrap up a food tour with dessert in Istanbul.

We checked out the historic Pera Palace Hotel, which was built in 1892 to host passengers of the Orient Express. It's been a spot for high-powered meetings and intrigues, especially during the world wars. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was a frequent guest and Room 101 is a dedicated museum to him. Author Agatha Christie also spent time there. Room 411 (Agatha Christie Room) is where she supposedly wrote "Murder on the Orient Express."

Next up Cappadocia. Located in Central Anatolia, Cappadocia is famous for its unique topography, "fairy chimneys" formed by erosion, and cave dwellings. Its history dates back to the Bronze Age — 3,300 B.C. If you get a chance, stay at one of the cave hotels. Early morning hot-air balloon rides are popular to experience this breathtaking topography. Unfortunately, the winds were too strong while we were there, and we had to forgo the experience. Oh well, next time! The area is also famous for its handmade rugs and pottery, still created today in the tradition passed down through generations dating back hundreds of years.

We moved on to Ephesus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the western part of the country. The ancient city was built in the eleventh or tenth century B.C. and was considered the most important city and trading center during the Greek and Roman empires. The Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the world, is located here. Beginning in the first century A.D., St. John and St. Paul traveled to Ephesus and spread the Christian faith. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is thought to have spent her last days here with St. John. Her house and St. John's tomb are points of interest for visitors. COURTESY PHOTO: LILISA HALL - Lilisa and Harry Hall pose at the Ephesus ruins.

Moving south, we took in the natural thermal spa of Pamukkale. We toured the ancient cities of Hierapolis, Pergos and Aspendo, and gazed at the spectacular Manavgat Waterfall. Our southern base was the vibrant city of Antalya on the Mediterranean coast. Home to our guide Fatih, it was lovely to enjoy dinner with him, his wife and 10-year old son.

Other highlights:

• Meeting our travel advisor Orsan, who planned and managed our customized travel and was the main reason for our awesome vacation. We visited with him and the owner of the travel company over coffee and çay (tea). It was lovely to meet them in person.

• Experiencing an age-old Turkish tradition in Cappadocia. As we left our hotel, staff tossed water behind our vehicle so our journey would be as smooth as water and we would return in good health. We were so touched.

• Having a photo taken with my favorite Turkish actor, Engin Akyürek … okay, not the real Engin Akyürek, but his billboard image! He's the face of an international brand in Türkiye.

• Enjoying a Turkish bath at the historic Hurrem Sultan Hammam in Istanbul. The hammam was designed and built by the famous Turkish architect Mimar Sinan in 1556 at the request of Roxelana, the wife of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent.

We wrapped up our vacation with a few more days in Istanbul at a gorgeous hotel with stunning views of the Bosphorus and outstanding customer service. As I sat outdoors gazing at the shimmering Bosphorus enjoying yummy food and basking in the spring sunshine, I thought: Oh Türkiye, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways (a riff on Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning's opening line in Sonnet 43).

A huge thank you to Orsan, Fatih, Olgun and all the other amazing Turkish people at Travel Atelier who made our travels in Türkiye a truly wonderful experience — çok tesekkür ederim

(thank you very much)! We hope to be back in the near future — görüsürüz (see you soon).

Lilisa Hall is a member of the Jottings Group at The Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.

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