It was a common sight in Istanbul. You’d be standing in front of some amazing building like the Hagia Sophia or the Galata Tower, and all the tourists would be completely ignoring it. Their cameras were trained on something cuter than some ancient old structure: a playful pack of mewling kittens.
A hookah pipe is called a nargile in Turkey. It’s a surprisingly popular activity among Istanbullus of all ages, and we partook in quite a few smoking sessions ourselves. You can order tobacco in a variety of flavors, and spend hours lounging around, smoking and drinking tea.
During our first Turkish breakfast, I surveyed the table with fear and doubt. Every conceivable inch was occupied by a plate, bowl or cup. It was a ridiculous amount of food! Had the waitress misheard our order? When I said “breakfast for two”, had she understood “A merry feast for my hungry horde of Vikings”? Because this… this couldn’t possibly be right.
The Imperial Harem, the private pleasure palace of the Sultans, is the most well-known aspect of Ottoman royal life. But why has the Harem proven so persistent in the mind of popular culture? What is the secret behind its fame? Is it the fabulous tile-work which decorates its walls? Or is it the concept of hundreds of beautiful concubines with the sole mission of providing pleasure to a single man? Hmm… it’s a toss-up.
Despite their pleading, we weren’t about to join the group of kids in jumping into the Bosphorus. I don’t care how strong the sun is shining! One by one, these brave young souls ran up to the coast of Emirgan and took flying leaps into the jellyfish-infested water below. They tried to tell us that it was warm, but judging by their incessant shivering after climbing out, I suspect they were lying. Still, it did look like fun…
Istanbul is the kind of place which favors bold exploration, as we learned after a day spent in the maze of streets around the Grand Bazaar. The city is filled with quiet, secret spots… if you can muster up the courage to go down that darkened hall, into that empty courtyard, or up those crumbling stairs.
Marbling, or ebru, is one of the most popular forms of Turkish art. We decided to introduce ourselves to the technique, and joined a workshop offered by Les Arts Turcs in Sultanahmet. By the end of the entertaining session, we had managed to create a few minor masterpieces.
Karagöz shadow puppetry, one of Turkey’s most distinctive art forms, was born in Bursa. And the city is still the best place in the world to catch a regular performance. It might be the only such place. Every day, the Karagöz Museum puts on shows starring the puppets which have kept Turkey in stitches for hundreds of years.
With their heads slightly tilted, arms raised in exaltation and spinning in graceful circles, the whirling sufi dervishes are among the most enduring images of Turkey. Istanbul boasts a number of places in which to catch a ceremony, but we chose to attend the twice-monthly performance in the Galata Mevlevihanesi; the city’s oldest tekke.
As in most other European cities, soccer is king in Istanbul. But unlike most other cities, Istanbul is home to not one, not two, but three major teams. Galatasaray is currently the top dog, champions of the 2012/13 season and the league’s most internationally accomplished side. Fenerbahçe is the wealthiest and has the biggest stadium. But we chose to throw our support behind Beşiktaş.