Under the spell of Istanbul MzansiBride

Winona Griggs

Under Istanbul’s Enchanting Spell

Here I am, back in Istanbul, Turkey, after more than 40 years. It’s hard to believe that my last visit was as a 10-year-old on a family vacation with my parents and siblings. This trip down memory lane evokes a strong sense of nostalgia. Istanbul and I have both undergone significant changes in the intervening years!

As a child, everything about Istanbul felt enchanting and captivating. Now, the question lingers: will it live up to my cherished memories? I’m filled with anticipation as I imagine laying my eyes again on the glistening, bejeweled thrones of the Topkapi Palace, the exquisite Blue Mosque, the majestic dome of Aya Sofya, and the world-renowned 15th-century Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi) – where, in 1967, I purchased a replica of the iconic Topkapi dagger, my very first tourist memento. Our family home even boasted a marvelous Turkish hookah, which never failed to spark lively conversations.

As I rode the ferry down the Bosporus, memories came rushing back to me. The beautiful skyline of Istanbul with its mosques, palaces, and domes seemed like a dream. I sat on the deck, sipping sweet lemon tea and occasionally taking a sip of raki with my father. It was in that moment that I wished to explore the world when I grew up.

Once we disembarked from the ferry, my father used a Turkish/English guidebook at a restaurant on the Bosporus. However, there was a bit of a mix-up and he ended up ordering enough fish ‘n chips for an entire tour bus! The waiters were convinced that the rest of the tour group was right behind us. It’s a funny memory that still brings a smile to my face.

Now, many years later, I find myself visiting my sixtieth country as a travel writer. It’s amazing how far I’ve come, and I’m grateful for the adventures and experiences that have shaped me along the way.

Under the spell of Istanbul MzansiBride

Maiden’s Tower in Istanbul. Image by jellybeanz

I love taking a boat ride in Istanbul. It’s the best way to see all the famous places and experience the unique geography of this city with its peninsulas, rivers, and sea. Today, we’re starting our day by visiting the amazing Maiden’s Tower, also known as kiz kulesi.

The Maiden’s Tower is a Byzantine fortress that was built on a rock in the middle of the bay back in the 12th century. Legend has it that a nobleman locked his cursed daughter inside the tower. Sadly, fate caught up with her when she was killed by a serpent hidden in a fruit basket that was brought from the mainland. Thankfully, our breakfast isn’t poisoned!

As I sip my glass of lemon tea, I learn an interesting tidbit. Did you know that croissants actually originated in Turkey? They were shaped like crescents, just like the ones we enjoy today. It makes you wonder if this is fact or fiction, doesn’t it?

After all these years, Istanbul has a magical allure. This captivating city, once known as Constantinople and Byzantium, has been ruled by many empires, including the Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans. The view of minarets, domes, basilicas, and palace ramparts on the hill of the old town, overlooking the Sea of Marmara, is truly breathtaking. Today, I ventured into the heart of the old city, the Sultanhamet district. I couldn’t resist buying a freshly squeezed pomegranate juice from one of the stalls on the old Roman hippodrome. As I stood there, I was mesmerized by the beauty of the famous blue mosque, which gets its name from the 21,000 exquisite blue arabesque tiles that adorn it. I also marveled at the Hagia Sophia, a magnificent church built in AD 537. This church is renowned for its basilica, stunning mosaics, and the legendary weeping wall!

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Under the spell of Istanbul MzansiBride

When I visit Istanbul, I’m always filled with a sense of awe. It’s like stepping into a magical world, especially when I explore the ancient Topkapi Palace. This magnificent complex has stood since 1478 and once housed the Ottoman Sultans, their courts, treasury, and even a harem protected by castrated eunuchs.

Imagine a fortified city within a city, bustling with life. Around four thousand people called this place home. As I wander through the palace, I can spend hours getting lost in its rich history. The Topkapi museums offer a glimpse into the extravagant lives of the Sultans. From the grand costumes they wore, with their enormous kaftans, to the impressive displays of armor and holy relics, there is so much to see.

However, it’s the dazzling jewels that truly captivate me. I can’t help but be spellbound by the kasikci diamond, a breathtaking 86-carat gem. Its brilliance is impossible to ignore. And then there’s the emerald Topkapi dagger, a legendary piece that has retained its allure throughout the centuries. It’s just as magnificent as I always imagined it to be.

Istanbul and its Topkapi Palace are a true testament to the wonder and beauty of the past. It’s a place that transports you to another time and leaves a lasting impression on your soul.

Whenever I go on adventures abroad, I make it a point to experience the world’s magnificent cities from unique perspectives – whether it be soaring through the sky, sailing the seas, perching on hilltops, climbing belfries, or even exploring beneath the earth’s surface. Once, I embarked on a fascinating “Third Man” tour, navigating the sewers of Vienna to witness its ancient medieval roots, which form the foundation of the contemporary city. In a similar spirit, I venture underground in Istanbul to traverse the city’s old Byzantine cistern.

Istanbul, known for enduring countless sieges throughout history, boasts an extraordinary network of aqueducts and subterranean reservoirs constructed by Emperor Justinian in AD542. These remarkable feats ensured a consistent water supply for the city, even during prolonged periods of conflict and turmoil.

Imagine escaping the scorching heat of summer by venturing into the serene and refreshing oasis of the ancient cisterns. As I make my way through the hidden depths beneath the bustling city streets, a softly-lit wooden walkway guides my path. I find myself surrounded by breathtaking pools teeming with vibrant fish, accompanied by an array of majestic columns and capitals that reach towards the heavens. It’s truly a sight fit for royalty – no wonder the locals refer to these hidden wonders as saray, meaning palace.

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Despite their underground location, the cisterns are anything but gloomy or dull. In fact, they possess an ethereal charm that captivates the senses. As I stroll along, I marvel at the intricate stone sculptures of serpents, frozen forever in time on the ancient columns beneath the water’s surface. These mesmerizing medusa heads add an enchanting allure to the already majestic atmosphere.

But the cisterns offer more than just visual splendor. They provide a sanctuary where you can indulge in the delights of Turkish culture. Picture yourself savoring a refreshing glass of lemon tea or a delectable piece of Turkish pastry at the underground cistern café. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience that combines the historical significance of these hidden gems with the warmth and hospitality of the Turkish people.

So, if you’re yearning for a respite from the summer heat, I highly recommend exploring the enigmatic world of the cisterns. Prepare to be awestruck by their beauty and transported to a realm where past and present converge in a truly magical way. Trust me, this hidden treasure is an experience you won’t want to miss.

When it comes to Turkish cuisine, I am always excited to explore its delicious offerings. From succulent Aegean squid, shrimp, and sardines to flavorful lamb and chicken dishes, the variety is immense. These dishes are marinated in olive oil, tangy lemon juice, and yogurt, which is actually a word that comes from Turkish. They are also garnished with crushed almonds, pistachios, and walnuts, as well as dried fruits, tarragon, and saffron.

As for appetizers, we start with meze platters that are packed with flavor. We enjoy dips like ezme, which is a spicy tomato dip, along with fava beans, hummus, and eggplant (also known as babaganoush). We also indulge in shrimp and chili peppers to give our taste buds an extra kick. To experience the spice route from the East, we savor pide breads, similar to doughy pizzas, alongside dolme, which are vine leaves stuffed with spicy goodness. Other popular dishes include spicy kofte, succulent lamb and chicken kebabs, and cracked bulgur wheat.

If you want a quick bite, you can find street stalls selling simit, a sesame bagel that offers a satisfying crunch. For a more filling option, you can try corn on the cob or rice-stuffed mussels. The unique thing about the mussels is that you pay per shell once you finish eating.

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So, if you’re in the mood for a culinary adventure, Turkish cuisine is the perfect choice. Its rich flavors and diverse dishes will leave you wanting more. Trust me, when it comes to exploring new tastes, Turkey has got you covered.

Under the spell of Istanbul MzansiBride

Ah, Kumkapi! What a spot we stumbled upon, just at the perfect moment – right when the annual fish festival in Istanbul was kicking off. Down by the waterfront in the charming old town, the fish market was abuzz with fishmongers enthusiastically calling out, “Fish, fish!”

We found ourselves in the lively Kumkapi quarter, surrounded by numerous local seafood restaurants. Music filled the air as street performers strummed their violins, tambourines, and lutes, entertaining diners who sat at long rows of tables out on the street. We indulged in a mouthwatering feast of cold and hot mezze, calamari, shrimp, and sea bass. And just when we thought we couldn’t eat another bite, we remembered the irresistible desserts Turkey is known for.

Oh, the sweet pastries! The baklava and kadayif, filled with almonds, pistachios, and walnuts, were simply divine. And let’s not forget about the halva and sutlac – the rice pudding in rose syrup – and of course, the iconic Turkish delight. Keep an eye out for the enticing sweet shops, known as tatlici, where you can satisfy your sweet tooth.

What a memorable experience it was, finding ourselves in the heart of Kumkapi during the fish festival. Good food, lively music, and delightful desserts – a true feast for all the senses!

Kumkapi. Image by jordillar _fotos

Under the spell of Istanbul MzansiBride

When I think about visiting Istanbul, one of the things that excites me the most is having dinner at Asitane, a renowned restaurant. It’s like stepping back in time and immersing yourself in the rich history of this ancient city. The word “Asitane” is actually the old Persian name for Istanbul, and the restaurant aims to recreate the royal Ottoman cuisine that was once enjoyed here.

Asitane has gained quite a reputation, with critics from both the UK and the US singing its praises. They’ve managed to take recipes from the Sultan’s palace, which are over 500 years old, and give them a fresh, modern twist. It’s culinary artistry at its finest. The restaurant is tucked away in a serene courtyard, right next to the famous Chora Church, so you can escape the hustle and bustle of the tourist crowds while enjoying your meal.

When you step into Asitane, be prepared to be transported to a different era. The ambiance is perfect, with live music playing in the background, creating a truly immersive experience. The menu is a feast for the senses, with dishes that are packed with delightful flavors and aromas. They have carefully crafted every dish, layering them with aromatic spices that give them a unique and exotic taste.

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