Istanbul and beyond
The Library of Celsus in Ephesus.
Photos by PEPPER TEEHANKEE on a Leica C Digital Camera

Istanbul and beyond

THE PEPPER MILL - Pepper Teehankee (The Philippine Star) - January 10, 2020 - 12:00am

Turkey is one of the most popular destinations for new and seasoned Filipino travelers alike.

Recently, I traveled to Turkey with the Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA) and definitely fell in love with this amazing country.

From Manila, I took Turkish Airlines  — one of my favorite airlines — which has direct flights to Istanbul. As usual, the flight was smooth, the service was impeccable and the food was great.

It was my fourth time to fly with Turkish Airlines and usually for me, Istanbul was just for layovers to get to other parts of Europe. But I was excited for this trip because I was not there in Istanbul just for a layover, but to actually explore Turkey for the first time!

What better way to explore as much of Turkey as I can than with the PTAA, which is an organization born out of a union of the national associations of outbound travel agencies and inbound tour operators in 1979. Out of 466 PTAA travel agency and tour operator members, 430 of them deal with outbound services all over the Philippines. 

Since November 2015, PTAA, in partnership with Dorak Tours of Turkey, started conducting familiarization tours to members to give them firsthand experience of Turkey’s sights, hotel accommodations, and food. This, in turn, will give them the confidence to answer inquiries and convince customers to book Turkish tour packages.

Exploring Istanbul

It was early in the morning when I arrived in Istanbul and I marveled at the sights of the city as I headed for a traditional Turkish breakfast. I was greeted by the aroma of strong Turkish coffee, lots of different types of cheese, meats and bread. I ate enough so I would have enough energy until lunchtime as the group had a full day ahead exploring Istanbul.

The group walked through the streets of Istanbul that morning and saw doner stands being prepared with meats that would be roasted for the day, and souvenir shop owners getting ready to sell their goods. As we walked further, we smelled the aroma of fragrant chestnuts and corn being sold from street food vending carts.

We reached the 17th-century Sultan Ahmed Mosque also known as the Blue Mosque (lines of people getting in the mosque were manageable) and marvelled at its beautiful interiors. A short walk from the mosque is the Hagia Sophia built in 537 AD, whose interiors, in my opinion, are more beautiful than the Blue Mosque’s.

We then went to Topkapi Palace and headed to Dolmabahçe Palace on the European coast of the Strait of Istanbul. From there, we took a cruise on the famous Bosphorus strait that separates Turkey’s European and Asian side.

From the port, we walked to the Spice Market, a food lover’s heaven. Though smaller than the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Market has an astounding array of goods like souvenirs, lamps, jewelry, spices, tea, nuts, and sweets like Turkish delights, baklava and pistachio nests!

Beyond Istanbul

The next day, we boarded the very comfortable Dorak buses (equipped with Wi-Fi) and headed to Gallipoli, where we took a ferry on the southern coast of the Dardanelles.

Upon arrival in the province of Canakkale, we visited the ancient city of Troy and its ruins. Our group gathered by a replica of the Trojan horse for a photo-op.

We then drove to the lovely seaside city of Canakkale where we had dinner and where our hotel was. This city has a bustling port filled with shops, bars and restaurants. This is where I finally got to try Turkish street food — sweet corn and mussels stuffed with rice and drizzled with lemon. (Also found here is the Trojan horse used in the 2004 Brad Pitt movie Troy.)

We also went to the beautiful city of Bergama Pergamon in the province of Izmir where Asklepion is found. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was a famous healing center during the Roman empire and is said to be the very first psychiatric center in the world. It was here where I first tried a glass of delicious, freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, which is widely available throughout Turkey.

We then headed westward toward Ku?adas?, a beach resort town on the Aegean coast near Ephesus. The first major stop, especially for Catholics, is the house of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which has a chapel, remnants of a cistern, and a wall where one can put one’s written wishes.

Our next stop was the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ephesus, a remarkably preserved ancient city. The highlight of our visit there was the Grand Amphitheater and the picturesque Library of Celsus, both near the exit of this beautiful city. *

To be concluded.

To check PTAA member agencies and inquiries on their Turkish package tours, visit These Turkish tours can be tailor made to your preferred touring pace and hotels.

Turkish Airlines has daily round-trip direct flights between Manila and Istanbul. For more information, call 8894-5416 or 8864-0600, e-mail or, or visit



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