Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Is It Safe To Visit Turkey?

“Sorry We Are Open”... a sign on an Istanbul shop

Few countries offer the traveler more things to see and do than Turkey—historic structures of religious significance, beautiful palaces, ancient ruins, and shopping opportunities. We have been fortunate to visit many of the sites in Istanbul that had long been on my wish-list of places to visit, such as the Mosque of Sultan Ahmet, or the Blue Mosque; Hagia Sophia, the Church of Santa Sophia; Topkapi Palace, after which Disney modeled Sleeping Beauty's Castle; Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, with over 4000 shops it’s the original Turkish version of the Mall of America; and the magnificent Dolmabache Palace and Harem—pictured here from a tour boat on the Bosphorus, it rivals even the fabulous Palace of Versailles.

While I’ve often answered the question, “what’s your favorite port?” by responding, “Istanbul,” sadly I can no longer recommend that cruisers select an itinerary that embarks, disembarks, or even calls there. With the terrorist attacks in the city on Istiklal Street and at the Hippodrome of Constantinople in the Sultan Ahmet Square—clearly aimed at tourists—and the horrific attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport, it’s become an iffy destination for cruise ships and most cruise lines no longer call there.

Kusadasi, Turkey, the gateway port to the ancient city of Ephesus, is still on many cruise lines’ itineraries and so far seems relatively safe. However, terrorists have made it clear that they are targeting tourists—and popular seaside resorts have cropped up near Kusadasi—so it’s possible that the ‘safe’ designation could change.

It’s heartbreaking that there is so much violence in a country that I love dearly. The Turkish people are some of the kindest and friendliest I’ve met in my travels. In addition to being interesting, the places I visited in Turkey were inspirational. Most notable was the Great Theater in Ephesus. With capacity for 24,000 spectators, it was the scene of gladiatorial contests and it was there that Anthony appeared with Cleopatra before the populace and also where St. Paul addressed the Ephesians. Sitting on a marble seat in the hot Turkish sun, I felt a chill when our guide took the stage and acted out Anthony’s introduction of Cleopatra and then solemnly quoted St. Paul. Following in the footsteps of history is an experience no one should miss and I hope it continues to be safe there to do so.

Some of my colleagues opine that it’s not dangerous to visit Istanbul as long as cruise ships still call there. Two gentlemen bloggers in particular seemed to base their recent opinion on the largess of a cruise line that has hosted them a number of times, but which has since stopped calling on Turkish ports and turning ships around in Istanbul. Personally, I feel their advice has been irresponsible and urge all travelers to use an abundance of caution when planning any trip.

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