Istanbul, Turkey ~ of mesmerizing mosques and beckoning baklava

The Ottoman Empire…  Constantinople… Turkish coffee …  kilim carpets….How little we know in fact about Turkey, both modern and throughout history! And yet, the very name Istanbul evokes romantic notions of the Orient…  For this reason we have always been eager to discover Istanbul.The drama of discovery, we find, is always affected by the filter of where we have been last or recently.  How can any country even register on the exoticism reichter scale after India?

Istanbul is a massive city, with a current population of 18 million people.  That’s a lot more than New York City or any other U.S. or Western European city.  But its most distinguishing feature is less its size and population than its fantastic geography, straddling as it does, two continents.  Connected easily by a constant to and fro of ferries, one can easily taste the two sides of the Istanbul coin, at one’s leisure.

We come to Turkey at an interesting time.  The current Administration of President Erdogan has taken Turkey on a different tilt.  As a result of Ataturk’s policies Turkey has long been anchored in a tradition of secularism. Despite this pro-western orientation the country’s attempt at integrating Europe economically has been frustrated by decades of foot dragging by European technocrats, weary of including in Europe a mostly Muslim country.

As a result of this European disdain, a form of xenophobia has emerged. Turkey’s leadership has become increasingly frustrated, disappointed and feeling alienated or at least not fully accepted by the West.  These feelings have led to the emergence of a much more pro-Islam tendency in current politics.  This could be seriously bad news for the West, which has benefited fromTurkey being a steadfast ally in a now decades-long struggle against Muslim extremists.

Enough history:  let’s go discover the European and Asian sides of Istanbul…

The view over the Bosphorus, down the street from our home exchange apartment, is dramatic, from dawn to dusk
There are actually three “sides” to the city – connected by a busy waterway
Our neighbourhood – The hip Galata,  where our home exchange apartment is located has the feel of Paris – cobblestone streets, cafes…
The Galata Tower dates back to 1500 or so and it still towers majestically over the city
View form our small apartment’s window
Lots of charm in the streets of Galata
Turns out that Turkey has incredible cheeses – who knew?
If there’s a wall, there’s a stretch!

Having gotten a feel for our immediate neighbourhood, we start to emerge out of  the Galata neighbourhood and visit some of the magnificent mosques just across the Bosphorus.

Below is a sampling of magnificent mosque architecture from several mosques we enter over the course of our stay in Istanbul…

So many mosques – They have similar architecture, but the tile work distinguishes each Mosque. The “New Mosque” – Built in 1550! (later than earlier ones built in 1300s!)

Hard to capture the magnificence of this building, and the size…
The inside of the New Mosque is covered, floor to ceiling in tiles…
The doors are pearl and wood…
Gorgeous calligraphy on tiles decorates the walls of this mosque…
This mosque has gorgeous stained glass windows above tiled calligraphy.
If there is a column…. there is a stretch!
Entering the mosque requires those who come to pray to wash their feet before entering.
Each mosque has exquisite marble washing “stations”
It would be sacrilegious to spend time in Istanbul and not acknowledge the age-old tradition of kilims… A museum of rugs displays some magnificent work…
One of the unexpected pleasures of Istanbul, for us, is… its cats.  It’s many, many, many cats.  They are EVERYWHERE.  They are well fed and we frequently see locals feeding them, but the concept of neutering doesn’t seem to have made it here… so cats beget kittens, who in turn become cats, who beget kittens…
 
All this cat stroking, a calorie burning activity, makes one hungry.  Good thing, as we are next to a great waterfront fish market area…  November is the season that Turks await with anticipation as it is the  time of the year when  Hamsi is plentiful… Hamsi?  Fresh anchovies!  oh yeah!
River front market…
Multiple river front vendors – two items on the menu: hamsi and  delicious mackerel.  Occasionally sardines too.
Ever had fresh anchovies?
But wait!  Equally sacrilegious not to honor the Turkish Coffee!  Thick and very robust.  Not something to drink fast or lightly…
A couple of additional foodie-centric noteworthy specialities…
Now is the season for chestnuts… roasted on street carts… smells great!
Simti – The number one street food, is a sort of bagel-like circular bread covered with sesame seeds.
Everywhere are olives.  Not a food we would naturally gravitate to, but here, olives are unavoidable…

You don’t have to be a “foodie” to delight in what follows… Turkey is the home of many a baklava magicians…  here is a small sample of these honey drenched, nut filled ridiculously delicious bites…

Pistachio, hazelnut, almond filled desserts.
Our bellies full of baklava, we take a night time stroll back over to our Galata neighborhood,
over the Bosphorus bridge, which is full of fishermen catching their dinner.

All these marvels we discover on the European side.  So what’s left to discover on the Asian side of Istanbul?

A quick ferry hop to the Asian side…
We are in search of a Hammam.  We saw several on the European side, but they were extremely expensive. Gorgeous inside to be sure, but at $60 per person, that’s above our budget…  So on the Asia side, we are hopeful we can find a Hamam that will be more affordable. We both have great memories of going to a Hamam in Essaouira, Morocco, (many years ago) and are interested to compare the experience with a Turkish Hamam.
Success! Our first Hammam in Turkey! at $20 each.
Little marble cubicles where one sits on the ledge, to dip the plastic bucket and pour hot and cold water over ones body and head before being steamed and scrubbed.
This room leads to the steam room… no pictures, obviously.  A burly man motions for me (Ben) to lie on the marble base…  what follows is,  a massaging exfoliating of dead skin vigorous scrub. Followed by a soapy scrub. Followed by more hot water pouring.

Walking around the Asian side of town, we are bound to bump into new delicacies…

This is “Manti “- a delicious Turkish variant on Italy’s Tortellini, smothered in cold yoghurt and a spiced oil. Amazing!
Honey and honeycomb everywhere!
Lukum anyone? (Turkish delight!)
Grape leaves sold at the market – to wrap mostly rice and other yummy things.
Turkish fruit stands.  If things don’t jump up, it’s only because of the limitations of photography…  The produce here is of excellent quality and is not expensive.
Any thought on what this is?  A RADISH… the size of a baseball…
Taste like a radish, looks like a radish on hormones…
Figs and walnuts – clear signs we are in a different region now…
Care to guess what this is?  another freak of nature — this is a HUMONGOUS pomegranate!

What else does Istanbul have to offer? Its Grand Bazaar, of course.

With a reputation built over centuries as a massive Soukh where traders presented crafts and produce from the East, still today, thousands of stalls / shops comprise an enormous trading zone, filled with shoppers.  We went by the Grand Bazaar area 3 times, as we walked around the neighbourhood – each time the streets were jam packed.  No recession here!

The ceilings of the grand bazaar have survived throngs of traders and buyers for centuries…

All this walking around makes one want to just stop, rest, read, enjoy Turkish tea… Good thing, as Istanbul has a solid cafe culture…

All that, and they have English language newspapers too!  Ben’s happy!
Another day, another beautiful sunset on the Bosphorous

A night time stroll in the park closes out our days…

6 thoughts on “Istanbul, Turkey ~ of mesmerizing mosques and beckoning baklava

  1. Anonymous

    Finally got a minute to look at your recent pics – absolutely magnificent moments and places you’ve captured so beautifully. Miss you soooo much. xxx
    Fran

    1. GreenGlobalTrek Post author

      Thanks Agness and welcome to Green Global Trek. Hope you get to read some of our other posts of other countries very rich in history. For example, check out Laos and Viet Nam.

      Peta

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