For US travelers considering venturing to new and exciting destinations previously undiscovered, Turkey should be at the top of any list.
Mysterious and majestic, inviting and fascinating, the land that was part of Sargon of Akkad’s vast empire, is today a place of still existent legend, and maybe even more immeasurable beauty. In this article you’ll discover a bit of this marvelous place, and a mode of real discovery you may not have considered.
Argo Travel News recently had a grand opportunity to discuss travel there with one of the world’s leading experts on the region, Joel A. Zack, President of Heritage Tours (U.S.A.), Inc. In a world enamored with new techologies, the lure of cheap and easy online travel choices, professionals such as Joel Zack show us how come travel agents will always be a vital component of the travel world. More on this later, but for now discover a bit of Turkish love.
By way of a short biography, Zack is a Fulbright Scholar, a Kinne Fellow and an author who has traveled all extensively all over the planet. Aside his focus on supplying exclusive destination experiences for Heritage Tours clients, Zack’s Master’s in architecture from Columbia University belies his real passion which has been exhibited via participation in cultural tourism and preservation of historic throughout his career. Long story short? Joel is a world famous travel agent who continually makes Travel + Leisure’s A-List.
I spoke with Joel via Skype last week about Turkey’s hidden gems, the best times to visit, best values, and his personal favorites to visit there. Perhaps the best way to reveal these is pictorially, so enjoy a bit more knowledge about this fascinating place on Earth, via the advice of an expert on the subject.
Turkey’s Hidden Gems – Amasya and Tokat
Amasya and Tokat, just North and East of Ankara, these are names you maybe never heard, but just have to know. For the traveler intent on discovering the true wonders of Turkey, venturing into the narrow gorge through which the Yesilirmak (Iris) River flows will reveal Amasya where a third century B.C. Ottoman palace was, and where the most impressive tombs of the kings of Pontos are. This kingdom, in Greek lore the home of the Amazons, royal retreat hewn deep into the rock face of the gorge.
Despite the awe inspired by these fascinating remnants of a long lost empire, the true beauty of this part of Turkey resides in the countryside, in the cultural and even architectural richness ever since the time of the Hellenistic era. Attractions such as; the Burmali Minare Mosque, the Torumtay Tomb, Gökmedrese, and Kapi Aga Medrese, these and a hundred other wonders wait patiently on the new discoverer.
Then there are the wooden mansions (konaks) that line the North bank of the Yesilirmak River (above), remnants from a more recent time of splendor in this fantastic hidden valley. The list of things to do and explore here is, to be totally honest, absolutely too extensive to list in any news article. I’ll clue the reader a bit more here, just finding good images of this place is not a simple task, it’s just that “hidden” a jewel of travel. But moving on…
If you have not sensed it already, this place in that country not so many know a lot about, is that “treasure” travel magazines all-too-often banter about. The natural beauty of the Amasya has appealed to human beings since the Stone Ages. From Mongol mummies to fabulous tea gardens and restaurants, and most significantly there are the people of this region – the real bounty of the land. But let me share this suggested discovery of Joel’s via the Amasya Tourism video below, showing all this and more. [Please visit the official culture and tourism site of the region here.]
I find myself a bit remiss now, writing this it occurs that the world Joel Zack has opened up for me personally, is simply too full to relate in one piece. In fact, we had discussed this over Skype, the richness of unknown (to the traveler) places in the world. According to Joel, once people travel to, say Istanbul, they almost always return for a trip into the interior - Cappadoccia, the Turquoise Coast, even far into the East of the country.
To end up what will be several articles on Turkey, another of Zack’s “gems” was the ancient Hittite settlement of Tokat. A walk down Sulu Sokak in the city center of this city will clearly reveal how come an architect such as Joel Zach would be fascinated in this place. The streets, lined with the still existent hans (warehouses), mausoleums, bazaars and baths, are architecturally fascinating. The Gazi Emir (Yazmacilar), for one example, are places I am sure most readers are unfamiliar with.
Again, Tokat’s relative seclusion is evident in the lack of photographic representation online too. The very best images exist in the library of Dick Osseman here. (I have contacted him so we might provide a gallery here) There are a few images available on Tokat.com (above), and scattered about on blogs and obscure sites, even Wikipedia shows an almost complete ignorance of this marvelous region.
Tokat, Niksar, which was once the capital of the Danismend Emirs, retains a well preserved citadel, but the best example of a solid castle remaining in Anatolia is in between Tokat and Amasya in the city of Zela (Zila). The images above and below from the Zile Otel Konfor there, shows off a bit more of the beauty and cultural color of this area of Turkey.
I love my job. For your reading this I hope it is easy for your to see and understand, delivering places like this to you is a discovery for us too. Before I spoke with Joel Zack, I had my impressions of Turkey. As it turns out (so far) I was wrong in my assumptions. Let me clarify here, I was wrong even in my very positive, semi-educated anticipation about Northwest Turkey. And too, the relative inaccessibility of information online reveals a lot too. This is where Zack, and professionals like him, enter the travel picture.
For several years now we have reported, professed, cheered, even evangelized online travel tools, agencies, innovations, and the coming of a mobile saturated tourism sector. And this, pretty much to the exclusion (and detriment too) of professional travel agents and agencies. Just like me finding the city of Zile up there, finding out one is wrong is a discovery too. In short, overlooking the expertise, passion, and value experts like Joel Zack afford travelers, it’s almost criminal.
Now that that is out of the way, encapsulating the reasons why YOU will sometimes need the Joel Zack’s of the world – well, I’ll get into this more in the upcoming continuation of this story. For now just suffice it to say an educated insider’s help is a valuable thing; “Thanks Joel for a sneak peak at a Turkey a geographer and historian dreamed of.”
To be continued…
Photo credits: Many thanks to all the photographers linked to, but especially the Zile Otel Konfor-Zile’deki Eviniz for another wonderful discovery.