Monique Chambers takes us to Istanbul.
Get ready to feast your senses, Istanbul holds familiar sights and sounds, and then just when you are getting comfortable, you are pleasantly surprised by and old or new tradition, alive in the bustling city.
Modern day Istanbul still holds a mysterious feel. The juxtaposition of old and new, East and West, Christianity and Islam makes for a melting pot that is interesting, intriguing and addictive. The suq is alive with locals and foreigners jostling around the 4000 stalls and bartering for a bargain. Embroidered cushion covers, linen striped hamam towels, tea sets, spices, Turkish delight, oversized slippers and turbans for the stag night brigades and of course the carpet shops.
It’s obvious the Blue Mosque is the number one place to visit; it is magnificent and is overwhelming in size, though its beauty stunted by the modern light fittings but you can imagine how it would have been before the modern invasion of technology.
Take time to visit the incredible Basilica Cistern under the city; the colours, the craftsmanship that is evident in this most critical yet mundane of utilities is breathtaking.
My personal favourite spot is Topkapi Palace. You will need a few hours to truly appreciate this amazing palace. Sit for a moment and imagine the rainbow coloured silk clad people wandering around, the abundance of figs and fruits, the music wafting through the gardens.
The whole city is walkable and street food is abundant to keep you going on your travels. Roasted chestnuts, corn on the cob and interestingly shaped and seeded breads make each journey a tasting experience. The ice cream vendors are entertaining to watch – and you should reward them by having one!
Taksim Square is a thriving metropolis, one bridge yet one million miles away from the old district. It is is packed with modern shops, a boulevard style high street, throngs of teenagers and chain stores. There are some shops worthy of note around Galata, Nursace for the shoe and handbag lovers out there, YKM a department store which is great to hide in on a chilly day and Vakko for ladies. For the International designer label district, head to Nisantasi; all the usuals are there.
Raki is a great way to taste many examples of food in one meal, one speciality is a fava bean terrine, there is a famous antep ezme very hot sauce, and to cool down, try a kematpasa tatlisi – a baked milk pudding served with milk curd. One dessert that I also made at home was a baked halva with a squirt of orange juice with cut apples to dip.
Turkish Hamam Etiquette
On entering, an attendant will show you where to change into your towel / top & bottoms and footwear. You are generally expected to wear a towel too. Hamams are generally single sex.
The first stop is the hot room, where you will probably be seated near a basin or bowl. You are usually just left alone to sit and soak in the steam you may douse yourself with hot or cold water.
When it’s your turn, you can opt for a scrub and then a massage, and a wash down – though this part is more comfortable if done by oneself. Relax a while longer in the hot room before dressing and leaving.
A 20% tip is reasonable for the extra services of scrub and massage.