On our second day in Istanbul we took in the colors and history of the city, which included a considerable amount of Turkish Delight and ice cream that is both a theatrical event and a rather elastic sensation (video below, yes that is me snorting with laughter in the background).
The Blue Mosque (above) is quite majestic in its size from the outside, but completely breathtaking from within. A very friendly man offered to give us a personal tour of the mosque, IF we agreed to visit his carpet showroom after. When in Istanbul there are thousands of opportunities to view carpets, and since we were on an adventure we decided to go along.
He gave us a very thorough tour of the mosque, which is filled with intricate blue tile work covering every surface, hence the name.
The colors and textures seem as vibrant as they must have been in the 1600s when the mosque was built. I was in awe of the scale and beauty, but I have to admit my mind couldn’t help think how gorgeous some of these designs would be on a wedding cake.
As promised we visited our “brother’s” showroom and were again given a thorough tour, this time of the history and culture of Turkish carpets. We were served tea and showed about a dozen gorgeous rugs, but much to his dismay we didn’t bring any home.
Instead we stopped in at the candy store and bought a variety of Turkish Delight. Thanks to The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe we have all heard of this confection, but until traveling to Istanbul I’d never eaten it. It tastes a bit like a giant perfumed chewy jellies, with a powdery finish. It comes in the more traditional flavors of pistachio and rose water, which were hands down my favorite, but there is something for everyone. Despite its gum-like texture it contains no gelatin and is actually made with a mixture of sugar, cornstarch and flavorings.
It is most commonly found in little squares, but we also sampled it in these spiralled rolls. I can’t say that we fell in love with it, but just like Edmund in C. S. Lewis’s tale we couldn’t stop eating it.
After we refueled with a bit of candy and some simit we headed to the Hagia Sophia which is a layering of the religious history of Istanbul since it was first built in 360AD. Originally it was an orthodox basilica and remained a church until 1453 when the Ottomans took over the city and turned it into a mosque. That is why the Virgin Mary is sitting over large round plaques adorned with Islamic calligraphy. The basilica turned mosque was made into a museum in 1935 and just recently they started to rip down some of the plaster that was put up over the original art from about 1500 years ago.
The Hagia Sophia is also home to the “sweating column” that has the reputation of granting wishes. All you have to do it stick your finger in the hole and turn it, if your finger comes out wet your wish will come true. Hmmmm, a wet hole that several thousand people have stuck their fingers in…good idea? Well the boys did it and claimed their fingers were wet. I think they wished we would leave the get ice cream.
A wish come true. Just outside were several Ice Cream vendors, all with bells ringing and fanciful tricks done with ice cream cones. As you can see in the video I’m game for a cheap laugh. The Ice Cream is made with a ground up root called salep, which is derived from orchids and makes the texture thick, elastic and chewy. Think frozen creamy Turkish Delight.
As we ate our Ice Cream we decided to take a break from all the cultural intensity of the mosques and go shopping. Where else but the Grand Bazaar, which is truly enormous and bizarre. A maze of stalls selling everything from apple tea, linens, swords, leather everything and football (soccer) jerseys.
By the time we made it out of the Bazaar we were starving and exhausted, so when I saw these women rolling out this impossibly thin dough for Gozleme in the window of a restaurant I looked no further.
Luckily the seats were just giant pillows spread out on the floor, which served our tired bodies well.
As we sat and ate wonderful kebap and drank cold beers I got more relaxed. Charlie fell fast asleep and my eldest got his first job!
As was true all over Istanbul the waiter took a liking to Henri and decided to put him to work as his assistant. Here he is making menu recommendations, based on his vast knowledge of Turkish cuisine and the language.
All he needs is an apron! Another incredible day in Istanbul and we haven’t even been to the spice market yet.