It's been raining heavily over night leaving a fresh feel to the air as we set off on a guided tour of the main sights of Istanbul. We start in Gülhane Park just near our hotel and I'm surprised to see green parakeets flying around the tops of the tall plane trees. There are also a few storks building precarious stick nests in the highest branches.
The Park is heaving with perfect pink and white tulips painted with drops of water, the after effects of the night's deluge. I'm so caught up with watching the bird life I almost miss the tulip story. Tulips first came to Istanbul from Kashmir as bulbs. At first people thought they were some kind of root vegetable and tried to eat them. A few conversations along the lines of 'What the f are you trying to do to me' and dinners being chucked in the bin resulted in the bulbs growing to maturity producing the luscious blooms we know and love as tulips. From then on Istanbul's tulip mania blossomed, the city going crazy for this new flower. In the early 1600s the Roman Empire's Ambassador in Istanbul took some Ottoman tulips to Europe.
Our name tulip was derived from the Persian word turban. Again everyone went crazy for these pretty flowers, so much so that now we trot out the phrase Tulips from Amsterdam without a second thought. Really it should be Tulips from Istanbul.