Published on October 26th, 2013 | by Ann Rickard0
Turkish Delights – (part 2)
Istanbul continued to reveal its countless charms over two days spent with our local guide Mutlu.
Discoveries on our own had all been of the culinary kind, dining at rooftop restaurants on stuffed eggplant and vine leaves, finishing every meal with cubes of pink Turkish Delight presented beneath tiny silver domes.
We had stood for half-an-hour outside one street-side restaurant, watching a woman sitting cross-legged in the window in front of a large round board where she rolled pancakes (gozleme) with a long stick to fill with spinach and feta before throwing them on to a nearby hotplate. By her fluid and efficient movements, she had obviously made thousands of these pancakes, a favourite street food in Turkey.
At Hamdi Restorant with Mutlu, we reluctantly bypassed the baklava shop on the ground level and headed upstairs to the busy dining room to eat kebabs made famous by Hamdi Arpaci who came to Istanbul in the ’60s and created a street stall.
Now his sprawling restaurant is a drawcard for tourists who eat first and then trawl the nearby Istanbul Spice Market where trade has flourished under its high-domed roof for the past 350 years.
Mutlu quickly pointed out the myriad stalls of Turkish Viagra – a sweet treat said to make you super sexy.
But on our visit on the eve of Ramadan, dates, olives, nuts and cheese were being frantically snapped up – nourishing food to eat before dawn to sustain through a day of fasting.
We had started our day with Mutlu on the Asian side of Istanbul at Camlica Hill, one of seven imposing hills, where every visitor is attracted for the obligatory photo standing before the spectacular views over the city and the Bosphorous.
At 268 metres above sea level, the air is fresh, the gardens green, the teahouse welcoming – an idyllic escape from the city’s summer heat (Istanbul has hot, humid summers, cold, wet winters).
Back on the European side, one of the most fascinating discoveries came beneath the ground in the tranquil depths of The Basilica Cistern, built in 532 as an underground reservoir to supply palaces. Domed ceilings and stately marble columns made it appear more like a cathedral than a reservoir. After three major restorations, this extraordinary underground cistern with its boardwalk, soft lighting and resident goldfish is a tourist attraction that captivates thousands each day.
On the discoveries went as Mutlu guided us to Taksim Square, the troubled place of protests earlier in the year. It was all peace and normality as we strolled to Istiklal Ave in the historic Pera district. Flanked by politically-important buildings, stately houses, apartments, boutiques, galleries, libraries and cafes, this 1.4 kilometre pedestrianised (apart from the historic red trams) strip, is one of the most famous avenues in Istanbul.
We stopped every few metres to watch ice-cream vendors in traditional costume pull the ice-cream from one cone to another. Traditional Turkish ice-cream is thick, with an elastic texture and can be stretched to impressive lengths and vendors will make you go through their bit of theatre for your purchase.
The cylindrical Galata Tower is an Istanbul must-do. Built in 1348 as a watchtower, it still dominates the skyline north of the Golden Horn estuary. Its upper balcony offers 360 degrees of the city.
No visit to Istanbul would be complete without browsing the labyrinthine Grand Bazaar. A wonderland of ceramics, lights and leather goods and carpets, the bazaar is an Istanbul institution and a story that must wait for another time.
The same goes for a visit to the Turkish Bath Houses. There is simply too much in Istanbul – a city of about 13 million people – to cover in a few days. Give yourself a week, stick to a guide and milk everything you can from this vibrant and historic city.
Icon Holidays – will tailor a tour of Istanbul to suit from a group tour to a private guide and driver.
Telephone: 1300 853 953
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Icon Holidays – Will tailor a tour of Turkey to suit, from a group tour to a private guide and driver.