Turkish Delight

I first heard of Turkish delight reading stories where children pleaded for the treat. All over Istanbul one has a chance to sample the many varieties. It is a confection covered in white powdered sugar covering a slightly gooey middle with various flavors added. Many are nut-filled, primarily pistachios, but sometimes fruit flavors as well. One of the things about Istanbul is the chance to buy things almost anywhere whether its on the street, in one of the two major bazars (the earliest shopping malls) or in a store. There are persistent and clever sales people ready to lure you into their shops for a free cup of Turkish coffee or the ever present apple tea. On the way to the airport this morning, a group of us were comparing all the clever ways they have of connecting with foreigners whether as a chance to practice their American English (in my case) or to taste someone’s ice cream (didn’t happen to me). Many of the salespeople are selling carpets.

The first morning I took the tram to the Spice Market, a smaller (yet still huge) market known for its colorful displays of spices. They were there in all their autumnal like colors. Along side were samples of Turkish Delight as well as all kinds of dried fruits and nuts. I loved eating in Istanbul. There were men selling cherries in little bags on the bridge across the Golden Horn, roasted chestnuts hot from their cart, ears of roasted corn, and donar, the sandwiches of sliced meats. Turkey is also famous for their lamb dishes and kebabs. After not eating much meat for many weeks, I made up for lost time savoring melt-in-your-mouth lamb cubes cooked with figs, apricots, raisins and pistachio nuts. I tried kebabs on the street and donar in the market. I started each day with a breakfast of bread, cheese and salad on the roof of my guest house with a gorgeous view of the Marmara Sea filled with huge container ships and ferries.

Like in the story books, I also visited a real palace that looked liked it came out of the illustration of a fairy tale with its pointed towers and crenellated tops. It was especially fun to visit the harem where hundreds of girls were kept for the sultan’s pleasures. The walls were covered in beautiful tiles and the views of the water surrounding the peninsula that is Istanbul were gorgeous.

Nearby were the famous Haghia Sofya church that was converted into a mosque and is now a museum and the also famous Blue Mosque. I did a tour of both places where I heard way more than I can remember about the history of these ancient buildings. I could hear the call to prayer from many places in the city during the day and nights. Outside of the mosques there are places for the men to do their ablutions, where they do a ritual cleansing before prayer. I was startled in one restaurant bathroom where women were washing their feet in the sink as part of their ritual cleansings. Istanbul had many women wearing head scarves and almost as many in their full black burkas.

After hours of walking on cobblestones up hills and down, I decided to treat myself to a traditional Turkish bath. These are mostly for tourists these days but the one my guesthouse recommended was built in 1485 and has been in continuous use since then. The only other woman was from India and we chatted companionably in the sauna as the first step in our cleansing (just as the women of former times visited in the privacy of the baths). From there we lay on heated marble slabs where we were each scrubbed vigorously by older women wearing only their underwear. After the first scrubbing we were rinsed with warm water and then the real fun began. Using some sort of bubble making bag, we were scrubbed again, this time with a frothy lather of bubbles. Using their strong hands we were also “massaged” but with strong, sometimes painful, squeezes. I felt like a piece of meat on a slab but I’ve never felt so clean! After a warm rinse and a shampoo, we floated in a pool of cooler water. My new friend and I both decided to go warm up again on the marble slab where I could easily have fallen asleep.

I was only there for a few days but Istanbul has a charm about it that makes me want to come back and explore again (as well as the rest of Turkey). There was an older man who offered me more than a chance to see carpets. I suppose if I had said yes there could have been a fairy tale ending to go with the Turkish delight and the palace but alas, I said no. Time to keep going west, young woman, and meet up with friends in Berlin.

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4 Comments

  1. Candice Stein

     /  May 24, 2012

    Whew, glad you are safe and sound. I go to a Korean spa for body scrubs. I sometimes worry about slipping off! Kind of a car wash experience, but no bubbles with mine. Have fun in Turkey.

    Reply
  2. pam perkins

     /  May 25, 2012

    I will never forget my turkish bath experience. Sounds like yours was like mine. Isn’t Istanbul just fabulous? I will be anxious to read your blog from Berlin since we will be there for a few days in September. The architecture and museums are supposed to be fantastic.
    Carry forth!

    Reply
  3. Barbara

     /  May 25, 2012

    Istanbul sounds beautiful!

    Reply
  4. Okay, now I need to go to Turkey. I’d been interested before, but now it’s a must. It sounds like you had a fabulous time. Did you buy a pair of those wonderful pants? I’m not sure I could have resisted, if they’d had them in my size.

    Reply

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