Thursday, 21 August 2014

In Turkey, a world away from nearby unrest

In Turkey, a world away from nearby unrest

By Tom Stieghorst
*InsightWhile in port in Kusadasi, Turkey, on a recent cruise we heard the ezan, as the Islamic call to prayer is known in that country. The sound carried to the balcony of our cruise ship from whatever mosque it had issued from.

It was a reminder that we were in a country where the predominant faith is Islam. The rest of the trip was a reminder of how different each country in the Middle East is for cruise visitors.

Although Turkey shares a common border with both Syria and Iraq, the fighting in those countries was the furthest thing from our minds while in Turkey. We toured ancient ruins, had a delicious lunch out in the countryside and haggled at the shops in Kusadasi for scarves and pants.

It wasn’t very evident we were any place where religion plays a special role in daily affairs. More women had their heads covered than was true in our stops in Greece, but many wore colorful wraps, not the dour black garb that can be seen in Afghanistan, to pick another Muslim country often in the news.

Our guide for the day pointed out that Turkey is the only country that sits both in Asia and Europe. Kusadasi is far from the Syrian border and closer to Athens than to Damascus.

It was in touring the Greek and Roman ruins in Ephesus, about 10 miles inland from Kusadasi, where I was most grateful that the Turks have order and peace in the volatile Middle East.

The well-preserved ruins include temples and churches of the Greek, Roman and Christian areas, and are part of a Unesco World Heritage site. They’re the kind of thing endangered by looting and religious intolerance sadly plaguing nearby Syria and Iraq.

For cruise passengers, it is important to make distinctions between countries in the Middle East that are open for tourism and those that are a hazard. The magnificent ancient treasury at Petra, in Jordan, can be reached through a port call at Aqaba, on the Red Sea. It is also a Unesco World Heritage site, and unaffected by the fighting elsewhere in the area.

Turkey, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates — all have lots to offer to the cruise traveler with an interest in history or foreign cultures. Travel agents and their clients should not write off going to these countries because of the unrest in nearby lands.