Mutlu Yillar, With Spices And The Sea!

Trip Start Oct 21, 2009
Trip End Jan 12, 2010

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Friday, January 1, 2010

1.1.10                    Mutlu Yillar, With Spices And The Sea!

The one Turkish phrase that I remember from my trip here ten years ago?  Mutlu Yillar, or HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!  After such a fun, late evening last night, we all were moving pretty slow this morning.  Still, Rob and Ron met Murray and I at our hotel around 10:00am, and we powered on for our final day in Istanbul.

Our first stop was the world-famous Grand Bazaar, known locally as the kapalicarsi (covered market).  If you've never been to the Grand Bazaar before, you must go.  It is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world.  It also is like its own town, with 18 separate entrances, more than 60 covered streets, and over 4,400 shops that attract between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily!  Inside, in addition to all the shops, there are banks, a mosque, cafes, and a hamam – so if what you’re looking for is NOT in the Grand Bazaar, you don’t need it!  Opened in 1461, it is well known for its jewelry, pottery, spices, and carpet shops.  In addition, many of the stalls in the bazaar are grouped by type of goods, so there are special areas just for leather coats, gold jewelry, and the like.

Perhaps because today was New Year’s Day, the Grand Bazaar was a bit quieter than I remembered it from my last visit here (because I’ve been here before, I rather enjoyed the more subdued setting – but I think Murray, Rob, and Ron need to return another visit, when it is the more lively place that I know it to be!  I also read somewhere that since my last visit here, Turkey has enacted laws aimed at curbing shop owners and their salespeople from harassing tourists with overly aggressive sales pitches, so that might also have something to do with the quieter, tamer markets…).  The four of us walked around for quite a while, poking through the various shops and enjoying the gorgeous Turkish rugs and ceramics.  And – we only got lost a few times!  At one point, we took a break at the Fes Café, enjoying a strong latte (Murray) and wonderful pots of home-grown spiced tea (Rob, Ron, and I), which had cardamom, cinnamon, honey, and wildflowers in it, amongst other things.   

After the Grand Bazaar, we walked downhill to Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar.  The Spice Bazaar, (Turkish: 'Mısır Çarşısı’; also called the Egyptian Bazaar) is another one of the oldest bazaars in the city, and was (and still is) the center for spice trade in Istanbul.  Located in Eminönü, it is the second largest covered shopping complex after the Grand Bazaar. 

I loved walking through the many halls and isles of the Spice Bazaar, too.  The smells of the spices were gorgeous, and the displays of spices and dried goods were spectacular – hills of Turkish delight; mounds of richly colored saffrons; large pots of tea flowers; and rounds of freshly dried fruit pieces.  It was a delight of all the senses, as my many pictures attest to!  Murray and I bought some pistachio Turkish delight and dried mango, while Rob and Ron bought some amazing teas.  On our way out of the Spice Bazaar, we all grabbed a light lunch of salads and Turkish pides.

From lunch, we walked down to the Galata Bridge, a bridge that spans the Golden Horn (from the end of the 19th century in particular, this bridge also has been featured numerous times in Turkish literature, theater, poetry, and novels).  The waterfront area leading up to the bridge was filled with people eating from the various fish stalls there, and the bridge was lined with people fishing.  (Needless to say, the air was full of fish flavors – not an altogether pleasant smell, for someone like me who doesn’t eat fish or seafood…)  After walking around a bit, we jumped on a ferry for a 2-hour tour of the Bosphorus.

[Side note: again, the Bosporus, or Bosphorus – also known as the Istanbul Strait – is a strait that divides the European part (Rumelia) of Turkey with its Asian part (Anatolia).  Here’s the part that I love: its English name, "Bosporus," comes from mythology.  Zeus had an affair with a beautiful woman named Io.  When Hera, his wife, discovered his infidelity, she turned Io into a cow and created a horsefly to sting her on the rump!  Io jumped clear across the strait.  Thus bous = cow, and poros = crossing-place; Bosporus = “crossing place of the cow.”]

The ferry ride was excellent!  It was another gorgeous day in Istanbul, and the sun lit up the Bosphorus, its waters sparkling back at us.  We enjoyed cups of a hot, spiced yogurt drink (I now forget the name) as we boated across the Golden Horn and the breeze blew through our hair.  The four of us also enjoyed more down time together, catching up on each others’ lives.

The only downside?  We were seated on the first floor of the ferry, outside at the back of the boat – which happened to be right near the very, very smelly bathrooms!  So, every time someone went in or out of the bathrooms, the four of us had to pinch our noses closed.  It was a bit disgusting at times – but also pretty comical.

Our tour of the Bosphorus included seeing both Turkey’s European and Asian shores, as well as marvelous monuments, districts, and sites, like the Maiden Tower (Kiz Kulesi); Dolmabahce Palace; Ciragan Palace; Ortakoy; Fethi Ahmet Pasa Mansion; Ortakoy Mosque; Beylerbeyi Palace; Kuleli Military School; Arnavutkoy; Sea of Marmara; Bebek; and more highlights of Istanbul, located on both sides of the Bosphorus.  We also saw the Rumeli Fortress (Rumeli Hisari), which was built by Mehmet the Conquerer in 1452 (for preparation of his planned siege of Byzantine Constantinople), and the City Walls (Constantinople’s original city walls), which were breached only twice in 1600 years.

After our tour of the Bosphorus, it was after 5pm and we were all knackered (none of us thought we would last as long into today as we did!).  So, we walked back through the underpass near the very busy Galata Bridge (which was filled with thousands of people – very hot and crazy!) and hailed a taxi back to our hotel for a nap, saying our goodbyes to Rob and Ron once we got there.  (Thanks again, Rob and Ron, for such an amazing time together in Istanbul!  It was more time together than I could’ve hoped for, and I am so grateful for the reconnection with one another.  I will never forget the images of you guys belly dancing for the crowds of New Year’s Eve guests, either!) 

Once we had slept a few hours, Murray and I walked to a local place called the Turquoise Restaurant, and enjoyed a late, sleepy meal of Turkish pastry and lentil soup; chicken salad (me); and lamb baked with mushrooms and tomatoes in an oven (Murray).  For dessert, we split one of the best rice puddings I’ve ever eaten (I adore rice pudding, and consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur – this was good).  When we got back to our hotel room after dinner, it wasn’t long before both of us were back in bed and sleeping again!  We are off to Thailand tomorrow, but our time in Turkey has been phenomenal.

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