Bazaars, Mosques and Cheesecake

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March 27th 2018
Published: March 29th 2018
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Enter Istanbul's Grand Bazaar at your own peril, for those who are not quick of wit and sound of mind may find themselves trapped in the labyrinth of criss crossing alleys and walkways forever doomed to wander past shops of gold! Dazed shoppers can be seen at various gateways exiting with a mixture of relief and confusion. 'Where the f am I?', they ask random strangers still clutching onto their redundant street maps as if their life depended on it.

As our group braves the Bazaar (safety in numbers we kid ourselves) we are dazzled by gold jewellery, brashly and unashamedly begging us to buy. Here gold is king, the stuff of dowries and bridal dreams. There are colourful ceramics, plates, bowls, lanterns and sumptuous patterns on material fit for a Sultan. There's Turkish delight and piles of baklava with enough sugar to give diebetes to anyone who just looks at it. This the kind of stuff I'd buy in bucket loads if restraint and baggage allowance didn't come into play.

We are spewed out into a little courtyard where we find a veritable library of literature presided over by the statue of Ibrahim Muteferrika, the guy who first brought printed books to Turkey, all 17 of them.

Avoidance of shopping and successful exiting of Grand Bazaar completed we make our way over to the Süleymaniye mosque named after sultan Suleyman in 1557. On the outside wall is a row of taps each with an accompanying stool for men to carry out ritualistic ablutions prior to entering the mosque for prayer. Women do this in a private place inside the mosque as their bunions are far too horrendous to be seen in public. We don our headscarves and remove our shoes before entering the mosque.

Inside it's so calm and quiet after the hustle and noise of the bazaar. Hung from large, circular metal bands are glass containers that used to hold oil lamps, the burning of which created acrid black smoke. Ventilation had to be created in the roof to protect the artwork. They even worked out how to collect the sooty black residue to make ink that was used to scribe religious texts.

We are sat behind a low wooden barrier behind the main carpeted area of the mosque where the men come to pray, bowing down in the direction of Mecca. Women have a smaller room at the back of the mosque - bunions remember? The 5 prayers are part of the 5 pillars of Islam: 1. Testimony; 2. Prayers 5 times a day; 3. Ramadan (fasting for 28 days during daylight hours); 4. Zekka (giving away 2-3% of your wealth as charitable donations); 5. Once in a lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca. All the prayers are recited together in Arabic. Burak tells us that most Turks don't understand the Arabic they are chanting during prayer.

After we've sat for a while in the quiet of the mosque we exit onto a terraced area and find a nearby cafe from the top of which we can see all across Istanbul from on high. Down below us is the Bosphorus. On one side of the water is the old city and the other the new. We can see boats winding their way up and down looking as if they won't fit through the low bridges. I spot the Galata tower nestled among the more modern buildings of that district of Istanbul. It used to be a lighthouse but these days its light would get lost amongst the domestic lighting that surrounds it. I spot the bridge with cafes and restaurants underneath and fishermen dropping their lines down from above. Every so often the diners will see a wriggling fish on a hook being wound up past their window to the fisherman above.

I order a cheesecake and milkshake - perfect accompaniment for whiling away some time on the terrace while enjoying the amazing view. Some cheeky seagulls seem to agree as they fly in to land on the railings near our group hoping to get some scraps of food from us. Not this time guys, sorry!

We have one more stop on our walking tour, down the hill to the Spice Market. The place is heaving with people. Little stalls and shops line the walkways with colourful piles of spices, dried capsicum, aubergine and sheep intestine hanging in bundles, even sea sponges and gourds. Of course there's more piles of baklava and Turkish delight. There's a guy with a large, metal urn with 'Salek’ written on the side which turns out to be a hot, milk drink flavoured with roots of the orchid flower.

Soon we emerge from the spice market hustle and bustle and carry on down the hill towards the waterside. Here we see some little stalls selling corn in the cob, roasted chestnuts and bagels.

It's the end of our walking tour so we head off to do separate things during our afternoon of free time.

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