Talking Turkey

Flying into Ankara on Lufthansa Flight 1588 from Munich may well be the best way to arrive in Turkey. It certainly produces the most culture shock - and an instant realisation that Turkey, bridging the gap between Europe and Asia, has one foot firmly in the East. One minute I was sprinting along an autobahn at 200 km/h with glimpses of Europe's most industrialised nation flickering past the windows of the BMW. After just a few hours flying, I was rattling along in an old rented Renault 12 down a road that looked as if it has been hit by an air raid. The only other traffic on the airport highway was a few trucks lumbering around the potholes, and the occasional taxi.

As I came closer to the centre of town, I saw groups of Turkish men inexplicably gathered under street lamps. By then I was compelety lost so it may have been the same group and I was trapped in an endless loop. In desperation I stopped and asked them for directions to my hotel.

On a dusty shelf of a University library somewhere is a thesis that would make fascinating reading. At least, that's what I believe. Everything else in tourism has been researched endlessly so I'm sure some academic has studied why we go where we do.

If you sat me down with a globe and asked me to pick the places I'd most like to visit, I could give you a lengthy list in a couple of minutes. (Fortunately, finding the time and money to get to them all looks set to take me a lifetime.) However, the list I'd make now would be very similar to the one I no doubt made in my teens when my horizons hadn't been tested much beyond Port Macquarie.

There are only four destinations that I can clearly remember the exact moment when my need to visit them came into existence: Canada's north, London, Lhasa in Tibet and Cappadocia in Central Turkey. I was about 12 and halfway through a collection of Jack London's "Boys Own" style of short stories when I decided that I had to see the frozen north for myself - it seemed so impossibly different from life in a hot and dusty Australian town. (That turned out to be a momentous decision as I met my Canadian wife in Vancouver, B.C.)

Like everyone else, the Monopoly board was my childhood street map of London. About the time my elder brother held me to ransom over a second mortgage on Park Lane, I knew I had to go there one day. Little did I know that the prices would have risen to Monopoly figures by the time I got there. And my desire to visit Lhasa, the mystical model for James Hilton's paradise of Shangri-la in "Lost Horizon", was triggered by a wall poster of the Potala Palace (the Dalai Lama's traditional home) that hung in a Kathmandu cafe.

The overland trip that took me to Kathmandu also led me to meet a few Kombi vans full of wide eyed hippy enthusiasts declaring "You have to visit the Goreme Valley in the Cappadocia region of Central Turkey, man. The villages are like a moonscape - and all the houses are dug into the hills. There is nowhere on earth like it."

The seasons were against us and we followed the more temperate shores of the Black Sea instead of the snow covered interior of Turkey. It was 12 years before I returned to Turkey. But when I was there last year, the destination that over-ruled all others was Cappadocia. I can only endorse the hippy chorus: "this region is like nowhere else on earth. You have to see it for yourself."

Indeed, statistics indicate that a lot of people have taken that advice to heart. Turkey is the fastest growing tourist destination in the world. While Australians are still saying "where" and "why", Europeans jaded with traditional holiday areas such as the coast of Spain are flocking there.

David McGonigal © David McGonigal Pty Ltd