Whenever clients express an interest in exploring Turkey, we like to have them talk to our friend Filiz, a long-time resident of Istanbul. In addition to being beautiful and charming, Filiz is multilingual, well travelled, culturally connected and a passionate advocate for her homeland. She personifies all that makes Turkey fascinating – and her enthusiasm is infectious.
Filiz lives in the 180-year-old property of an imperial Pasha, and when she isn't running her family business or doing yoga, she deals in rare Ottoman art. She takes for granted that you want to see her city's spectacular Blue Mosque, along with the surreal rock dwellings of Cappadocia and the incredible archaeological site at Ephesus. What she provides is a broader contemporary context for understanding Turkish culture:
"Take interior design. We associate the modern with straight lines, but that's equally true of traditional Ottoman décor. Of course, within those straight lines there is a movement, unpredictability – life. And this is true of all Turkish culture, whether you're talking about religion or the fashion scene. We like defined boundaries, but within them you find flexibility, an openness to new ways of thinking that many Westerners don't associate with the Middle East.
"The point is that geographically, culturally and now politically, we're both Middle Eastern and European. And it's not some neat formula, with one foot equally in each. During a single day in Istanbul you can pass through a dozen different cultures and traditions. Look at our cuisine: it originates in China and Persia, and then you have Armenian, Greek and Jewish influences. We invented fusion before it had a name. And did you know the croissant actually comes from Turkey? That's not widely discussed in the cafés of Paris. And then there is Turkish coffee. You know we have Starbucks here now – but nothing can replace the cultural richness of a traditional coffeehouse in Istanbul.
"Located where we are, bridging two continents at the edge of a sea, we're a country of traders. We embraced global commerce before it too had a name. But we also see how globalization risks making every place the same. That's another part of the Turkish spirit, the need to maintain a sense of difference, to celebrate it. Visitors often say they find Turkey exotic, even a bit mysterious, and we couldn't agree more. That's what we love about our country, our culture – and life itself."