Trends in Turkish Tourism: Expat Tours

By Elizabeth Gündoğdu
Ever dreamed of life abroad? Being able to enjoy a country as a non-native, but with all the benefits of local knowledge? Imagine visiting old friends who've relocated to an exotic place. They'd take you to all their favorite places off the beaten track, and guide you through the major attractions knowing just what you'd most like to see and do. "This is how we live in Turkey, and how we entertain our visitors," say the creators of a new brand in Turkish tourism, Anastasia M. Ashman and Jennifer Eaton Gökmen. The two women are American residents in Istanbul with a combined 18 years of experience in the country.
Expat Harem editors, Jennifer Eaton Gökmen and Anastasia Ashman.

They are also the editors of Tales from the Expat Harem, an internationally #1 bestselling anthology by foreign women about their lives in modern Turkey.  "Now we're offering our insider knowledge to travelers everywhere, allowing them to connect to the Turkey that we, our fellow expatriates, and all our Expat Harem writers have come to know and love!"

The newly launched Expat Harem Expeditions are operated by a Levantine family with 300 years of expat experience in Turkey as well as 38 years in modern Turkish tourism. "These are uncommon outings designed by expatriate insiders," explains Giancarlo Baltazzi, the vice president of Karavan Travel. “They understand the local culture, but since they still view the country from a foreigner’s perspective, they intuitively know what will appeal most to visitors. Our itineraries include authentic local shopping and entertainment, cultural activities and the best in Turkish cuisine, with an emphasis on the Expat Harem style of cultural appreciation."  

Expat Harem Expeditions also allows visitors who have already traveled to Turkey a more intimate experience of the country, offering new adventures and deeper access to its hospitable culture.

With nine offices throughout Turkey, Karavan has been distinguished in destination management since 1969, though the pioneering and refined Venetian family’s roots in Turkish hospitality are much more extensive. In 1863 a Baltazzi ancestor organized the Ottoman Exhibition, the first international show in Istanbul, which created Turkey's earliest tourism group movement. A later Baltazzi was commissioner for the Ottoman pavilion at the 1873 Vienna Universal Exhibition. In their Izmir home in the 19th century, the family hosted Sultans Abdul Mecid and Abdul Aziz, while in the 1990s current Karavan president Alex Baltazzi chaired the organizing committee of Turkey's first International Tourist Fairs.

"Readers of Expat Harem have discovered you don't need to feel like a shy newcomer, unfamiliar with the language and culture, when you can rely on your expat counterparts to unlock the secrets of the country," says Expat Harem coeditor Anastasia Ashman, who hails from California.

Recommended worldwide as one of the best books on Turkey by National Geographic Traveler and the Lonely Planet guidebook, as well as the New York Times Company's overseas newspaper International Herald Tribune, the popular anthology is the literary inspiration for Expat Harem Expeditions. Spanning the entire country and the last four decades, the critically-acclaimed travelogue by 30 expatriates from five nations takes you on a journey to weddings and workplaces, down cobbled Byzantine streets, into boisterous bazaars along the Silk Road and into marble Ottoman bathhouses.
Cover of Tales from the Expat Harem book, an internationally #1 bestselling anthology by foreign women.

The book, which is being studied in at least 6 North American universities for its compelling views of Turkish life, positively reclaims the powerbase of foreign wisdom about Turkey, explains Michigan-born Expat Harem coeditor Jennifer Eaton Gökmen. "Most of the original occupants of the 15th century Sultans' harem were foreign-born. Like them, we modern expats are part of Turkish culture, but will always have a foreigner’s appreciation of the land."  

The creators of Expat Harem Expeditions ask you to imagine exploring the country like this: An evening of jazz on the Bosphorus…Brunch at a 17th century Ottoman hunting lodge… Traditional Turkish fortune telling from the grounds in your coffee cup in an atmospheric nargile water pipe café in Cappadocia…Cruising the Bosphorus in the regal luxury of the Sultan's low-slung caique...Antique-hunting in the backstreets of Istanbul's Bohemian quarter… Dancing at a local wedding party...Enjoying a classical concert in a Byzantine church...Toasting the Republic from historic taverns... Discovering a tiny jewel of a mosque up a hidden staircase…Luxuriating in Bursa's 500-year- old marble hamams.... Starry nights at the smartest waterfront nightspots in Istanbul...Navigating the nation’s bazaars with experts...

"Expat Harem Expeditions are a premiere series, offering the international visitor a true taste of local Turkish history and culture, perfected by our Expat Harem team of experts," explains Giancarlo Baltazzi. The tour operator also points out that even travelers who have visited Turkey before can see a new side of the country with these itineraries derived from the American creators’ own expat knowledge, and inspired by the stories in the anthology.  “From the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, the rocky coastlines of the West to the mountains in East, these are niche tours designed to enchant both first-timers and repeat visitors by linking the sights with real stories of adventure and cultural understanding,” he says.

For instance, travelers on an Expat Harem Expedition may visit one of Turkey’s newest private museums to view works by Orientalist masters like Osman Hamdi, whose enigmatic Mihrab painting is a mystery that Eveline Zoutendijk must solve in her Expat Harem tale “The Painting or the Boy”.  Or witness a sema whirling ceremony performed by Sufi “dervishes”, followers of the 13th century poet and mystic Mevlana Celaddin Rumi—the figure who inspired Kathleen Hamilton’s 1981 trip to Konya, recounted in her humorous tale of solo travel, “Hijacked”. Or be moved with emotion in Cappadocia, the land of fairy chimneys, where Claire Uhr was nursed back to health by Turkish neighbors in her tear-jerking tale, “Saved by Village Intelligence”.

“In the pages of the book readers find, among many other expat truths about Turkey, that traditional Turkish hospitality is justifiably legendary,” says Ashman.

Gökmen adds, “When you arrive on Turkish soil, you will experience it yourself. You've come to the land where ‘a guest is a gift from God’.”
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(February 2008, Tourism Special Issue)









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