International Destination Expo
This year, ASTA’s International Destination Expo (IDE) will take place in Istanbul, Turkey. Agents can spend four days, from April 19-22, immersed in Turkish culture, visiting its historic sites and becoming a specialist on the destination. Another added benefit is that this year’s IDE attendees will enjoy free hotel stays and sightseeing, as well as other benefits, courtesy of the Turkish Ministry of Tourism.
When confronted with the idea of traveling to Turkey, I was instantly excited to be going to Istanbul. I couldn’t wait to stroll through the Grand Bazaar, check out the treasures of Topkapi Palace and be blown away by the grandeur of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. These are some of the city’s most popular tourist sites, and I didn’t even consider anything else on my itinerary. In my head, I was already bargaining for trinkets in the bazaar and strategizing how to see the most sites during my short visit.
I’m happy to report that Istanbul didn’t disappoint. The city was a cosmopolitan blend of Asia and Europe. The food was exquisite, and my mind was indeed blown away by the beauty of its ancient attractions, as well as the bazaar’s hidden treasures.
A hot-air balloon rises over the Museum Hotel in Cappadocia, Turkey. // (C) 2010 Museum Hotel Cappadocia
However, what I wasn’t prepared for was to fall in love with the second destination on my itinerary — Cappadocia. I had heard about Anatolian balloon rides and fairy chimneys, but the thrill of visiting the region didn’t really take hold until I was actually there. My inherent preferences tend to be with fancy hotels, fine dining and spa days but, when we arrived at the Museum Hotel in Cappadocia, all of that changed. My room was, literally, in a cave.
I had three stories with an entrance at the top and a bathroom at the bottom (complete with a Jacuzzi tub) and a spiraling staircase that wound from one floor to the next. Every item in the room felt not only traditional but historic — and for good reason — all the appointments are museum-quality, local artifacts that have been kept and preserved over the years and are from the owner’s private collection. My personal cave also offered stunning views. I could see Pigeon Valley, the Valley of Love, fairy chimneys and colorful hot-air balloons as they rose up in the sky in the morning. It was nothing short of amazing.
The next day, we explored underground cities and saw ancient churches carved into the cliffsides. The history of the region stretches back to the Bronze Age and the Goreme Open Air Museum, our first stop, showcased churches that date back to the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries. On display were some of the region’s best-preserved, rock-cut churches and many of the area’s most beautiful frescoes, some of which have retained almost all of their color. The museum has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984.
Next, we visited the Kaymakli underground city. The eight-story city was home to 5,000 people and, as we wound our way through its myriad of caves, we saw animal shelters, a kitchen, a water cistern and even an ancient winery.
It may seem like much of our visit to Cappadocia was spent exploring the region’s caves, but if you aren’t below the ground, apparently you are high above it. So, of course, our next activity was hot-air ballooning. We woke up early in the morning for our high-flying adventure and, whereas in the U.S. our ride may have been cancelled due to weather, ballooning in Anatolia is not put off for a little light rain.
During our visit, we also visited a pottery-making factory — something else the region is known for — and a winery. Cappadocia is a prime region for vineyards and is an up-and-coming destination for oenophiles.