We had made it! After hours on a plane that I was pretty sure was going down, the static Frank Sinatra track ceased and the captain came on to announce that we had made it to Istanbul. I was so relieved. I had decided to skip the plane meal of salmon with a sauce that made it vaguely resemble a pussing open wound and came to realize that eleven hours of gripping the arm rests through the “turbulence” on a perfectly clear day, had made me quite hungry. Thank god for the complimentary coffee to hold me over but by now I was jones-ing for some food.
All of my research for this trip ranted and raved about the cuisine. Bordered by eight countries, Turkey is a country fused of crossed cultures. This gave Istanbul the choice to collect and cultivate the most delectable eats and send the others back where they came from. After dropping our bags at the Adamar Hotel in Sultanahmet, my father and I set out to find our first Turkish meal.
Turning a corner, they charged us. Everywhere, we were surrounded! In broken English they swarmed us with menus. “Very good food. Perhaps just a drink?
Look.” We kept focused. Sometimes stopping to salivate over the pictures being thrust in front of us, but ended our search when we happened upon a true achievement to the short order. Istanbul has these great eateries that are everything fast food joints should be; healthy and instantaneous, perfect. Places where you go inside and amongst a scopious lay out of meats and vegetables a cookin’, you simply point to what you want. They fling a hefty serving on a plate, and then you cash out and attack! I watched this; nose pressed to the glass and then sauntered in hurting for whatever was emanating the smells luring me inside. Ogling the sexy spread of sautéed eggplant with garlic, soupy lentils, rice and chickpeas, I beamed. Which one do I choose? I eyed the kofte, the grape leaves, the steamy stewed vegetables, until I pointed to a pot of vegetables cooked together with meat and yogurt. You are coming with me. Boraniye, meet an American appetite.
Turkey is admirable for their easy nutritious cuisine. Guiltlessly, you can start the day off right at breakfast with your choice of assorted meats, cheeses, fruit, muesli, olives, breads, eggs, and of course yogurt.
Street vendors selling kebabs, corn on the cob, popcorn, rice, and roasted chestnuts scatter the streets allowing for some mid-city walk snacking if you are so inclined. Juice stands are piled high with blood red pomegranates, glistening oranges and grapes fruits that they press in front of you. This was a truly impressive food culture that rocked me right to sleep every night satisfied. That night after the Hazir Yamek, “ready food” restaurant, it had me wondering why I hadn’t heard about this glory prior.
All I ever heard about was the coffee, which was in and of itself a dream to a girl from Boston that requires a strong cup of joe to see colors. I needed it to thoroughly explore this city, but even in my best caffeinated efforts a week is just not enough time. The second day, we spread out hitting the top spots first. Checking out the eclectic interior of Haga Sophia and the Blue Mosque, two massive mosques visible from almost anywhere in Istanbul. The Topkapi Palace was straight out of a story book with expansive court yards, gardens and refreshing fountains. This palace turned museum houses intimate relics owned by 400 years of
Sultans past, including jeweled swords and daggers, painted ceramics, plush decorated thrones, and even the Sultans’ bed. This thing was huge allowing for ten to fifteen people to crawl in and…spoon… Which was appropriate considering the Sultan would have had thousands of women at his command. Some he kept around just to look at, who were “noticed but not bedded”, making Hugh Heffner look like a serial monogamist. The Harem, literally meaning “forbidden” is where the bed is on display and at one time housed these women who were given titles to differentiate their status. One commendable aspect of this was that the sultans were real mama’s boys. Padishah Ahmet the III quoted as saying “the world lies at the foot of the mother.” The mothers held status above all others, even the wife. This put the Valide Sultana, Mother of the Sultan, in highest command with the women who bore the sultan children (seniority to those who gave birth to boys) in second rank. (http://royalwomen.tripod.com/id12.html)
Seeing all this luxury and lavishness really makes a girl want to shop. My father with a taste for fashion himself agreed we should probably go buy something colorful and/or shiny so we headed
to the Grand Bazaar. The Bazaar was quite a different world from the quiet streets of late afternoon Istanbul. The doors opened and we walked into a lively swarming of venders and shoppers. Musicians played instruments to promote their albums, merchants yelled to the crowd to come hither, artists exhibited their talents, little electric toys hopped and clapped in circles at the feet of potential patrons. Men hunched over their rugs to make final touches, shopkeepers pumped their fists full of scarves in the air, and consumers tasted samples of dried fruits while the clerks weighed out scoopfuls of spices.
I found a painter and illustrator whose work was striking. Islamic art has always been a thrill of mine. I praise design and a steady hand. Turkish art largely includes calligraphy, an art that bares the traditions of their Arabic based Ottoman- Turkish script before it was changed to the Latin alphabet in 1928 by Ataturk, founder of the Republic of Turkey and the first President. In Turkish art calligraphy is the art of lines. The artist in the Bazaar flipped through his hundreds of pieces, as well as offering me sketches at a reduced price. I settled on a
work of the whirling dervishes that had them spinning across the page. The movement was beautiful and entrancing. So, I haggled, paying not the first price, but being sure not to bargain too low either as to not insult him. We agreed on a price, shook hands, and my father and I pressed on, satisfying our craving for consumerism with a little art and culture. Hey, there are worse ways to go about it than impulse buying.
We walked, browsing, until I saw a stall laden with scarves so silky and vibrant I had to touch them, and then I had to have one. The Turks are very kind, hospitable people, something I would find out more later in my trip. Almost overly nice, where you would think it’s a scam but that is just how they are. They will talk to you at random, they will remember your face days later, they will find reasons to give you things or invite you for tea, to tell you about their country and find out about yours. I am not exactly sure where this comes from, although I would be interested to find out and spread the word to New Yorkers.
The vender of the scarf stall was very attentive and friendly, pulling out various shades and designs of green scarves after I took an interest in one particular green scarf. As we were speaking, he taught me all the colors of the rainbow in Turkish (mavi—blue, kirmizi—red, yesil- green, etc). My profesor continued to teach me a few common language words and then wrote them all down for me so I could practice. My love for this scarf had me at first sight but how incredibly nice the clerk treated me sealed the deal. Even if I wasn’t crazy about it, I probably would have bought it anyway. After I paid, he insisted on showing me all the different ways Turkish women adorn themselves with scarves, loosely draping and folding my new purchase about my neck and shoulders.
After a long day of touring, my father and I headed back for a drink on the hotel’s roof top bar, which gave a spectacular panoramic of the city. It was a bit cold but too nice of a night. With a coat and a few glasses of red wine, the chill didn’t both us as we kicked our feet up and
watched the sunset over Sultanahmet.
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