|The Bosporus, Maiden's Tower, Ferry And Asia From Our Balcony|
|The 'Whirling Derveshis'|
|More Whirling Dervishes at another venue|
The dervishes, who represent the moon, spin around the Sheik (Master) who symbolizes the sun. With arms raised, they spin in a breathtaking display. The dancing is in four sets, with brief prayer interludes. The ritual concludes with a recitation from the Koran and a prayer by the Sheik. In 2005, UNESCO proclaimed the "The Mevlevi Sema Ceremony" of Turkey as amongst the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
|Turkish Folk Dancing Troupe|
There are many Bosphorus dinner Cruises that offer a medley of Turkish dances which include performances by Whirling Dervishes as well as Belly Dancers, these, however, are not the real article.
|Selimiye Mosque, Edirne|
The next morning, we took a day tour to Edirne, the old capital of the Ottoman Empire. It's about two hours by car and was highly recommended.
The main attraction is the Selimiye Mosque, built in 1575 by Selim II and designed by Turkey's greatest master architect, Mimar Sinan. Considered his masterpiece, the Selimiye has the highest minarets in Turkey, and at 70.9 meters and a cupola four feet higher than that of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
|Minber-Selimiye Mosque, Edirne|
This mosque's Mizrab showcases Turkish marble work and it's domes are covered with intricate tiles and frescoes. The stained glass windows land it great ambiance.
|Dome - Selimiye Mosque|
The Trakya University's Bayezid II Külliye Health Museum, is an important monument, being one of the earliest mental hospitals in the world and showcases many facilities used in those times.
|Ottoman Stone Bridge, Meric River, Edirne|
The Bazaars in Edirne are less crowded and offer better bargains then those at Istanbul.
|Old Synagogue, Edirne|
That evening we visited the Kervansaray Restaurant to relax over a few drinks and watch 'Traditional' Belly Dances. The dancers were amazing and sensuous, some of them were very pretty too.
|'Traditional' Belly Dancer|
The next morning, we took the ferry to the Asian side and then on to the Princess Islands. These pretty Islands offer a good peaceful contrast to the hustle and bustle of Istanbul.
These are great for nice views of the Bosporus and for fresh sea food. As vehicles are not allowed on any of them, they offer nice walks in unpolluted surroundings.
The ferry terminates at Anadolu Kavagi, a pretty fishing harbour, famous for it's mussels.
|Harbour at Anadolu Kavagi|
The ferry ride is an exceptionally good and reasonable way to see beautiful buildings along the coastline, specially on the European side.
The views are gorgeous and offer great photo opportunities. You can also see fishing boats laying out their nets in the crowded waters.
|Mosque and Fishing Boat - Bosphorous Ferry|
The Princess Islands offer good seafood restaurants.
These while not cheap, offer excellent fresh seafood dishes and are worth the splurge.
|View From Ferry|
Avoid the unreasonably priced wines though.
|Fresh Grilled Fish|
If you have to have a drink, beer is reasonable and of course, Turkish coffee is always excellent, strong and good value.
That evening, we walked along Istiklal avenue, window shopping, and then on to the Spice Bazaar, also known as the Egyptian Bazaar.
|Strolling on Istiklal Ave|
This covered market is smaller than the Grand Bazaar and offers a greater variety of household goods and items of daily life. It, therefore, is more patronised by local Istanbul residents and less by tourists; that, does not mean that it offers a lesser range of goods.
|Egyptian Bazzar -Tall Claims, Hard to Prove|
If anything, some claims are positively hyperbolic!.
|Spices - Egyptian Bazaar|
The ladies, the author's sister Kavita especially; did not allow anything to get in the way of their shopping for spices, handicrafts and artefacts, as it offered better prices. Luckily, the nephew, Akshay, was around to act as a pack horse.
|Galata Tower, Istanbul|
We went on to the Galata Tower to watch the sunset. This medieval tower is on a low hill. As it is another 67 meters tall. The 52 meter high observation deck offers great views of the Golden Horn and other suburbs of Istanbul.
|Galata Tower from it's Base|
We enjoyed nice views of the setting sun and the city while having a cup of coffee at the cafe on the observation deck. One can recommend this option.
Other forms of entertainment in Istanbul include visits to local cafes called Meyhane, which are a good bet for local food and good music, with the added advantage of getting to meet up and mix with local residents, who seem to be a convivial lot.
|Evening View from Galata Tower|
Meyhanes offer a wide variety of colourful and
delicious meze, traditional Turkish appetizers, accompanied by cold beer, wine or tall glasses of raki, a strong, clear, aniseed flavoured liquor distilled from grapes, which turns milky when water is added.
|Mezze Varieties at High End Meyhanes|
You can just make a meal of meze without ordering any main courses and just pay for drinks and appetizers.
|Meyhane - Musicians|
|A Turkish Feast for us All|
Of course, the nephew and the author himself did not let the opportunity to eat Turkish food go by and indulged in an orgy of drinking and dining.
Our final day in Istanbul was again partly reserved for sightseeing, with the Dolmabahce Palace being first on the itinerary.
|State Room, Dolmabahce Palace|
This palace was the last seat of the Ottoman Sultans.
|Dolmabahce Palace Exterior|
It's a happy amalgam of many architectural styles and has influences from the Baroque, Rococo, Neo-Classic and Islamic schools of thought. The public rooms are ornate and beautifully done up.
|Blue Tiled Minber|
|Evening View, Rustem Pasha Mosque|
This mosque is the most exquisite in Istanbul, and has lovely proportions. It’s main claim to fame is an intricate and lavish use and a network of gorgeous, geometric-designed tile-work featuring predominantly Blue, but also some Red, Iznik Tiles; even on its exterior.
|Suleymaniye Mosque, Istanbul|
|Dome and Windows, Suleymaniye Mosque|
It has four minarets, signifying that it was built by a Sultan.
The main dome is 53 meters high and has a diameter of 27.5 meters. When built, the dome was the highest in the Ottoman Empire, but still lower from its base and smaller in diameter than the dome of Hagia Sophia.
|Tomb of Architect Mimar Sinan|
The triangular tomb of it's architect Mimar Sinan, who designed most of Turkey's famous Ottoman monuments; lies just outside, to the north of the mosque walls.
We then visited the Chora Church, one of the best surviving examples of a Byzantine Church. Now a museum, this 5th century church has excellent mosaics and frescos.
|Mosaics on the Dome, Chora|
The mosaics are considered amongst the finest examples of the Palaeologan Renaissance. It's six domes are all beautifully decorated. Like most Byzantine Churches in Turkey, Chora has made the journey from a church to an Ottoman mosque and then to a modern museum.
|Theodosius II's Fort and Walls|
The Church is located near Old Constantinople's formidable land walls built by Theodosius II around 413–414. These walls are worth a look as they are an easy stroll from the Church.
|St. Stephen Bulgarian Church, Istanbul|
|Old Wooden Houses|
The ornate St. Stephen Bulgarian Church, also called the Iron Church, is just a few minutes walk away. It's well worth the stroll to go and view the church's exterior.
|Ali Baba - No 40 thieves around|
The afternoon and evening were devoted to shopping by the ladies, who wanted to make up time lost to sightseeing. The Bazaars in Istanbul, like most Bazaars in the East, often give the shopper the impression of walking into a veritable Ali Baba's Cave. Such is the variety, colour and energy.
|Turkish Handmade Carpet Shop, Istanbul|
Istanbul offers much to the inveterate shopper.
Particularly good buys are Handmade Turkish Carpets. These while not cheap, are lovely and the better ones would become family heirlooms. While Anatolia offers better prices, Istanbul has many excellent shops and vendors, though the prices tend to be higher.
|Instant Antique Carpets|
|Carpets Grand Bazaar - Pile High, Sell Cheap|
If possible, get a local resident, who knows carpets, to take you to a trusted vendor. Like anywhere in the world, tourists are fair game to unscrupulous vendors.
A common scam is to artificially age carpets by leaving them out in traffic, for people to walk upon, to deliberately age them and then offer these as antiques.
|Gurmeet and Kavita shopping for Pottery|
Cheaper souvenirs can be bought anywhere in the Grand or Spice Bazaars. A good choice are the Blue Pottery 'Nazars', charms to ward off the 'Evil Eye'.
|'Nazars' to avoid 'Evil Eyes'|
|Grand Bazaar - Shop Away|
|Handicrafts and Metalwork, Istanbul|
|Lamps and Carpets|
|Hookahs or Water Pipes|
Colourful lamps, however, are a good buy. Decorated 'Hookahs', water pipes or 'Nargile', as they are called in Turkish, are another import from India that make elaborately coloured decoration pieces.
|Kavita Buying Spices and Tea|
Turkish Spices and Sweets - In the author's opinion, Turkish Spice Mixes are the best things to take home. A little goes a long way and these add a fillip to the turkish dishes you cook up.
|Candied Fruit and Turkish Sweets|
Nut, Gelatin and Fruit based Turkish sweets and Candied Fruit are available in great variety. These one an take or leave. Fruit and Spices infused Teas are another favourite with tourists.
|Turkish Restaurant Kitchen|
|Budget Turkish Restaurant Kitchen|
Istanbul offers the traveler a variety of food, simple or sophisticated, reasonable or expensive; to suit every type of palate. Its proximity to both the fertile Anatolian heartland and to the Aegean and Black Seas endows Istanbul cuisine with the best of seafood as well as heartier fare from interior provinces.
As in any major city, the food markets, especially the fishing harbour and grocery markets in Istanbul are worth visiting.
|Fresh Fish Wet Market, Istanbul|
|Artistic Fish Shop|
Some of the fish shops arrange their wares very artistically.
It is possible to pick up choice items of the days catch right at the dock side and either cook them at your apartment or get one of the many sea side fish restaurants to prepare them for you, within minutes of being harvested from the sea.
|Fresh Steamed Mussels|
Mussels are harvested all along the Black Sea coast and steamed, stuffed mussels, sold as street food, are delicious.
There are far too many excellent dishes that a gourmet or gourmand may enjoy.
|Our Big Meals, Meze, Kebabs, Curries, Beer|
The author wishes to express his thanks to the many restaurateurs and street food vendors, who cheerfully described and offered their food and dishes for photography.
|Cooking Classes Anyone?|
There is great variety in street food and there are restaurants that cater to all tastes and price points. Turkish cuisine is so good and varied, that for those time and inclination, a half or full day Turkish cooking class would be a good investment. Some mouthwatering dishes that a foodie should not miss during a visit to Istanbul are.....
|A Simit Baker in Istanbul|
Simit is one of Istanbul's defining snacks. The ring-shaped bread is crisp and crunchy, topped with toasted sesame seeds. Simit is one of Turks' most beloved street food snacks, it tastes great accompanied by a glass of traditional Turkish tea.
|A Meze Platter - Eat What You Want|
Every visitor to Istanbul must visit a meyhane, or taverna, to sample meze. These tapas-style small plates, offered both warm and cold, in many seasonal varieties, are a product of the city's cultural melting pot.
|Fresh Meze Serving|
|Bonito Balik Pinaki|
Oven baked or grilled blue fish, bonito or bass with tomatoes, peppers, herbs, celery, olives, capers, potatoes and sometimes white Fava beans, cooked in olive oil. Light and Delicious.
|Fresh, Fried Hamsi|
Mutancana Lamb Stew with Figs and Almonds
|Mutancna Lamb Stew|
A hearty dish of lightly spiced, diced lamb with apricots, raisins, figs, honey and almonds baked slowly in an earthenware casserole. Another dish from Ottoman kitchens
A famous meat dish from northwestern Turkey, it's widely available in Istanbul. It is prepared from wide, thinly cut grilled lamb basted with hot tomato sauce and generously slathered with melted sheep tail fat, butter and yogurt. Many restaurants pour tomato sauce and boiling butter over the dish, at the table. It is best had with plain Pide bread. A Coronary on a plate, but what a way to die!.
|A Variety of Kofte|
These are usually served with plain rice and a salad, or eaten wrapped in Pide bread.
|Doner Kebab Vendor|
It is a dish of flattened pieces of meat, seasoned with suet, herbs and spices, skewered on a spit and grilled vertically. Cut into very thin slices and wrapped in thin Turkish bread with salad and relishes. It is the ultimate street food, a meal by itself.
|Grilling Sish Kebabs|
Cubes of either lamb, beef or chicken, marinated in onion, yogurt, salt, pepper, olive oil and sometimes tomato paste; charcoal grilled on skewers, sometimes with cubes of pepper and tomatoes.
|Hot, Plain Pide|
Turkish Delight or Lokum
|Turkish Delight and Candy|
A range and family of confections based on a gel of starch and sugar. Premium varieties consist largely of chopped dates, pistachios, and hazelnuts or walnuts bound by the gel; traditional varieties are mostly gel, generally flavored with rosewater, mastic, Bergamot orange, or lemon. Cut into small cubes dusted with icing sugar, copra, or powdered cream of tartar, to prevent clinging.
|A Plate of Pistachio Halva|
|A Glass of Raki|
Along with Beer, Raki is the most affordable alcoholic beverage in Turkey.
|Raki with Breakfast for 'Strong Men'|
The young nephew was a 'strong man' and could even consume Raki with Breakfast.
The Author's days of wallowing with the pigs at night and soaring with the eagles in the morning, were long past, so he denied himself this questionable treat. Even otherwise, one preferred Beer to Raki.
On our last night in Istanbul we went to a nice Turkish Restaurant on Nevizade, just off Istiklal Avenue. This bustling pedestrian street is full of a variety of Restaurants, catering to local residents as well as tourists.
|'Last' night in Istanbul|
All bags packed, ostensibly leaving Istanbul, we set out for the airport. Turkish airlines, in its own inimitable fashion, summarily bumped off about 30 passengers for Delhi, making no distinction between Business or Economy passengers. We later found out that this was common practice with this airline, as they routinely overbook passengers from longer routes in USA and Europe. Our entreaties had no effect on the airline officials. They did, however, put us up for a night at a decent hotel.
This unexpected stay did have the additional benefit of giving us an extra day in Istanbul. The author promptly took advantage of this time to indulge in an 'Hamam' the traditional Turkish bath, which he had missed out during this stay as he was busy accompanying the ladies on their shopping expeditions.
|The Old Cemberlitas Hamam|
In Istanbul, it's possible to find centuries-old hamams, which are still in use. These are often elaborately ornamented, domed structures with marble interiors. The author chose one of the most famous, the Çemberlitaş Hamami.
On entering the hamam, you select and pay for the service of your choice. The options are:
- Self-Service — You bathe yourself and bring your own soap, shampoo and towel. This is the cheapest option.
- Traditional —This one to pick if you want the real Turkish bath experience. An attendant will wash and massage you for about 15 minutes, and you don’t have to bring anything.
- Other Styles — Several other services, such as aromatherapy, oil massage, reflexology, head massage, and facial masks, etc. are offered.
|The Mens section, Cemberlitas Hamam|
I was then led into the Caldarium- the hot room or sauna to sweat out impurities. The caldarium was an impressive room, covered in marble and featuring a big ornate dome, several basins and an impressive Göbektaşı — the central, raised platform above the heating source.
Once really warm, I was laid on a hot marble platform and vigorously scrubbed with an exfoliating mitt to get rid of excess skin, before being thoroughly washed down. It was like being rubbed down with sand paper. The Bath attendant proudly showed me the skin he had removed.
|The Author being massaged at The Hamam|
The finale was the Soğukluk - cooling off room, where one could enjoy tea or coffee and a chat with other patrons. It was a motley group of men, some local businessmen, a Turkish architect settled in the US, but visiting Istanbul and a few German tourists on a high end guided tour and of course yours truly. A nice way to spend 2 hours
Istanbul Archaeological Museum Complex
Having time on ones hands, I decided to visit the famous museum complex, just off TopKapi Palace. With well over one million objects, it is one of the better ones in the world. The complex is divided into three sections: Archaeological Museum, Museum of the Ancient Orient and the Museum of Islamic Art.
|The Alexander Sarcophagus - Istanbul|
The museum's major treasures – sarcophagi from the Royal Necropolis of Sidon – are displayed here. There is a beautiful Lycian Sarcophagus made from Paros marble and dating from the end of the 5th century. The famous classical Pentelic marble Alexander Sarcophagus, is so known as it depicts the Macedonian general and his army battling the Persians. Truly exquisite, it dates from the last quarter of the 4th century BC. One side shows the Persians battling with the Greeks. Alexander, on horseback, sports a Nemean Lion's head as a head dress. The other side depicts a lion hunt. There is an impressive collection of ancient sarcophagi from Syria, Lebanon, Thessaloniki, Ephesus and other parts of Anatolia.
There are six galleries of statues. Look for the Ephesus of Tralles, and the exquisite head of a child from Pergamum.
The children' museum has a large-scale model of the Trojan Horse, which they can climb into. There is also an impressive gallery showcasing Byzantine artifacts.
Those who have an interest in İstanbul's rich archaeology, shouldn't miss the mezzanine level showcasing 'İstanbul Through the Ages'. Here you can appreciate how much of the ancient city remains covered and how many buried treasures might be out there.
|Tiled Kiosk of Sultan Mehmet|
|Kiosk Entry Gate|
This time Turkish Airlines allotted us our seats and we returned home Delhi with very pleasant memories of Turkey, much uplifted in spirit, with major gains in weight, partly offset by a much lightened pocket book as Turkey is by no means a 'budget' destination. Finances permitting, we did plan to visit again; such is the siren call of the country.
|Mosaics and Frescos Detail on the Dome of Chora Church|