My sense is that travelers as a lot are independent and take pride in their ability to navigate their way around the world.

Sure, there’s a smaller subset of travelers who prefer cruises and tour groups for the ease of delegating the planning to others.

Although I have traveled on two cruises for the convenience I needed at that time, I consider myself part of the former group. So it was with great consideration in 2005 when I selected a tour group operator as I began to plan for a 2010 trip to Turkey. Yes, I planned a trip five years in advance. Actually, the trip was more than 30 years in the making, for I had always dreamed of returning to the magical country that I called home for three years as a young child.

While in most cases I will explore places near and far through my own planning, I also can embrace the experience offered by group-organized travel.

I’ve found my thoughts returning to Turkey as I anticipate an upcoming annual reunion in Sacramento with my tour owner/operator and three Northern California members of our 2010 trip. I am happy to call all of them friends since our travels together to this beautiful country rich in history, delicious food and the warmest people I’ve ever met.

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For my three-week trip to Turkey in 2010, my father, sister, uncle and I spent one week on a private tour led by a guide and a driver in the eastern part of the country and two weeks with a group of about 20 others in central and western Turkey.

Bora Özkök, the Turkish owner of Southern California-based Cultural Folk Tours, organized the private tour for us and personally led the group tour.

In eastern Turkey, my family visited our old village of Keban, where my geologist father helped build the first dam on the Euphrates River. Other highlights were traveling to see Harran, known for its beehive mud houses and for its Biblical significance, and to Göbekli Tepe, a temple that predates Stonehenge by 8,500 years.

For the second and third weeks of our adventure, we joined a Bora-led tour. My fellow tour members were a mix of sophisticated professionals and retirees — all bright, inquisitive world travelers eager to further expand their knowledge of history, architecture and other cultures. I soon realized how much richer my experience would be by sharing it with these strangers-turned-comfortable-companions-and-friends.

Among the many glorious places we visited were St. Sophia in Istanbul, Troy of Homer’s “Iliad” and the “Odyssey,” the ancient city of Ephesus, and Cappadocia, where Bora owns a luxurious cave hotel, from where you can watch the hot air balloons take flight at sunrise over the area’s striking fairy chimney formations. I’ll write more about these individual destinations in future blogs.

On Feb. 21, Bora, who has been leading these tours for 35 years, returns to Sacramento for the annual free lecture he gives on Turkey. If you want to experience this country that holds part of my heart and if you want to get to know the delightfully charming Bora, you can find information about his company and his lecture online at I urge you — don’t wait five years like I did to make this incredible journey.


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