Yearly archives of “2013

Trans Siberian - Longest train Journey

World’s Longest Train Journey

A train isn’t only a means of transport but also a roving window. Railways connect expanses covering thousands of miles and provide unforgettable adventures and romantic journeys for their passengers. Here are the amazing details of the Trans Siberian Railway, the longest railroad in the world.

A journey on the Trans Siberian is one of the most forbidable trips a tourist can make. Travellers can go through 7 different time zones and all 4 seasons during their historical journey that binds Moscow to Vladicostok. One fourth of the world is traversed during this journey.

The Trans Siberian Railway is the longest and most famous railroad of the world. Its length is exactly 9289km. Before ending at the Sea of Japan, it connects Russian settlements in Europe and the Far East with railroads coming from China and Mongolia.

Two options are available for travellers. One of them is the Trans Siberian route from which the name of the journey is taken. Beginning in Moscow, the train visits many villages and towns, 9 major Russian cities, as well as Lake Baikal. After 7 days, gliding across Siberia and continuing into Asia, the train arrives at Vladivostok, a seaside city on the Sea of Japan.

The route for the 2nd option, which is mistakenly known as Trans Siberian, actually ends in China and operates on the Trans Manchurian route. This journey also departs from Moscow and stretches into the lower part of the continents into China, arriving in Beijing after a journey of almost 8 days.

Normally, journey durations can be estimated with some precision – within minutes in many cases. However the durations of trips on the Trans Siberian or Trans Manchuria routes are expressed with the words “average” or “about”. The reason for this is very clear: as stated at the beginning, these are journeys of immense distances, embracing all 4 seasons. For this reason, some delays are bound to happen due to blizzards or other problems in the region. Nevertheless legendary journeys on these routes are never left unfinished.

What would you see on your route? The short answer is: three countries, three capitals and 8 important cities. Knowing the names of the cities and other famous destinations only increases the excitement of the journey. A longer answer would be: Moscow, Red Square and the Kremlin … The Volga, the longest river in Europe, the Ural Mountains separating Europe and Asia, Lake Baikal, With the deepest and richest water basin, the Irkutsk where the Russian revolitionists were exiled in the 19th century, a city that has been called the Paris of Russia, Russian taigas and Mongolian steppes, the Gobi Desert, the Cengiz Han Monument, the Tonyukuk Monument, inscribed with Turkey’s first known alphabet, Ulan Batur, the Great Wall of China, Beijing and the Forbidden City.

You can take a break at the most important stops by getting of the train. Passengers can even experience for a while in a tent without electricity or running water, drink horse milk and participate in some ceremonies and local customs.

The Trans Siberian Railway symbolizes “a historical journey”. The construction of the railway started in 1891, during the reign of the Czars, and ended in 1916, at the beginning of the rule of the Soviets.
Kaklik Cave Denizli, Pamukkale Private Tours

Subterranean Pamukkale

Kaklik Cave in the Denizli area is considered parallel to Pamukkale due to its travertine interior, a miracle of nature.

Caves where the first natural shelters of people. Their splendid cavities have always been very interesting and mesmerising to modern man. For hundreds of years people have striven to see and discover and go deeper into these “old houses” that their ancestors once lived in. One of the most magnificent is Kaklik Cave, located in Honas, 30km from Denizli. This natural beauty resembles its above ground kin, Pamukkale. The resemblance is very striking with its ornamented with stalagtites and stalagmites that strongly resemble the above ground travertens of Pamukkale. It is also known as “Little Pamukkale” or “Cave Pamukkale”. Another feature which also draws attention are the termal springs within the cave.

Since many visitors believe that the cave’s clear, colorless and sulfur laden waters cure some skin diseases its is visited by people from abroad as well as residences from the immediate area.  The smell of sulfur might bother you at first but after a few seconds you get used to the smell. Because of the great interest in this healing water a swimming pool, small amphitheatre, areas for viewers and a cafe along with pergolas were built.

One more feature of the cave is the plant life founds on its walls. Normally it would not be possible to see a plant within a cave due to the lack of sunlight however here a bushy moss coat and small leaved ivy like plants grow on the walls moistened by drops of the leaking water and exposed to direct sunlight. These green plants change color accordingly to the angle of the sunlight which emphasizes their incredible beauty and adds to the ambience of the cave.

Kaklik Cave was formed by the collapse of the hollow cell created by centuries of erosion from a large subterranean stream. It has expanded as subterranean waters continue to erode its carbonated and sulfated rocks. Mount Mali, 1277 metres high, and made of marble, stands near the cave entrance. The cave itself is situated beneath a flat plain covered by cotton fields and vineyards.

Kaklik Cave is a natural miracle in every sense. Both the interior and exterior are truly wonderful and awe-inspiring.

Goreme Tours Cappadocia

Discover Cappadocia

Cappadocia is Turkey’s jewel, with its historical monasteries, beautiful valleys and fairy chimneys. Here there are underground cities made from volcanic stone, with labyrinths to explore in an air of mystique and wonder. Churches and monasteries have ancient paintings adorning their walls depicting scenes of early Christianity. Visitors are drawn to the strange landscape and houses that are built into the cliffs here, and they become absorbed by the impressive history and culture of this place. Cappadocia has so much to offer, and this makes it a compelling, surprising destination for tourists from around the globe.

 A World Heritage Site

The Goreme National Park and Rock sites in Cappadocia are a World Heritage site because of the historical significance of the underground settlements and the many examples of art from the Byzantine era to be found here. A fairytale world was created underground in this valley by the chambers and tunnels carved into the rock. Work began in the 4th Century A.D and the inhabitants carved caves, storehouses and places to live underground in the soft volcanic stone that had been formed here after ancient eruptions. Today, visitors come from around the globe to see the wonders of these early settlements situated on the high plateau of Cappadocia in the center of Turkey. There are good public transport links to the region and for visitors who want to do some independent exploring, there are bikes, scooters and cars to rent in Goreme.

Derinkuyu Underground City

Located in the town of Derinkuyu, a 30-minute drive from Goreme, the city has around 600 doors, which are hidden in courtyards, and Derinkuyu is the deepest underground city in Turkey, reaching 85m into the earth. There are many rooms to explore, such as stables, refectories, churches and wineries, and on the lowest floor is a cruciform plan church. Water wells were used to stop the inhabitants being poisoned by raids and there are around 15,000 ventilation ducts spread around the city for fresh air purposes. Stone doors were used to block corridors if an attack took place and were only operable from one side. The Derinkuyu underground city was used to defend its people and was designed so that they could inhabit the rooms buried deep underground for some time.

Fairy Chimneys and Frescoes

The Fairy Chimneys are possibly Cappadocia’s most famous feature, and are situated in Goreme and the villages around it. The volcanic eruptions formed peaks, which the elements sculpted to create cliff faces with curves and surreal fairy chimneys. Beneath the chimneys are the homes that have been carved into the rock and some of these have been turned into boutique fairy chimney hotels. Visitors to the area can marvel at the colorful frescoes created on dry plaster. The Dark Church features angels in multicolor and Jesus’s birth, and the natural low light here allows the frescoes to survive and look as vivid as ever.

Goreme Open Air Museum

This collection of ancient monasteries and churches sits in the center of Cappadocia and can be accessed from Goreme village center very easily. The rock cut churches make an impressive sight with their colorful frescoes. St Barbara Church has a cruciform plan and its dome and walls are adorned with many different motifs, whilst Apple Church features stunning 11th and12th Century frescoes in its cross in square plan. Tokali Church (also known as Buckle Church) can be accessed via the Goreme Open Air Museum and is at a distance of some 50 meters away. There is an Old Church, with a barrel-vaulted design and a New Church with a rectangular shape. The Old Church frescoes date back to the 10th Century and depictscenes from the Bible with colors and detail that draw visitors here every year.

Tips for Visiting Cappadocia

Cappadocia is an unspoilt region where the inhabitants carved their homes into the countryside and complemented what was there in quite a stunning way. Visitors can hike through valleys, fly in hot air balloons over the lunar terrain and admire the ancient art here at their leisure. There is a wealth of adventure activities to enjoy in this summery climate. The pace of life in Cappadocia is slow and relaxed, very unlike the buzz of Istanbul. Tourists using the public transport system should announce Goreme as their destination and there are free shuttle transfers available if you do so. Visitors traveling around Cappadocia may find it difficult to access foreign exchange services to change their money, and may find it useful to do so before they journey to the region, by comparing rates online so that they get the best deal available to them.

Cappadocia is so compelling because of its beautiful countryside, its memorable sunsets and its bazaar markets that date back to Ottoman times. The locals are warm and welcoming and the food is delicious. Cappadocia has a great deal to offer the adventurous visitor.

Many thanks to JULIE LYNDHURST for this great article

Atlas Mountains - Morocco Tours

Mountaineering in Atlas Mountains of Morocco

The Atlas Mountains of Morocco are a popular destination for mountaineers and trekkers, with their enviable position near Marrakech. The highest peak, Mount Toubkal, stands at 4,167 metres tall and there are many other peaks between 3000 and 4000 metres to climb. With striking seasons all year round, this range of peaks is characterised by snow and alpine greenery and there is an abundance of wildlife to see while you are trekking. The Atlas Mountains remain a sought after destination for visitors to the area and trips cater for climbers very well.

About the Mountains

Mount Toubkal was conquered in 1923 by the Marquis de Segonzac, Hubert Dolbeauby and Vincent Berger, although locals had scaled the mountain before this event. The Marquis enjoyed dangerous expeditions and Toubkal earned him respect among the mountaineering community. Soon the range began to appeal to European climbers and geologists and a commercial infrastructure was put into place.

The mountain range features several areas: the Anti, Middle and High Atlas, with the latter being the most popular for climbers.

Where to Start

The Atlas is a premier trekking attraction because of the warm climate and unusual geology and part of its charm is that the activities are very Moroccan in style and not as organised as those to be found in the Alps.

Mount Toubkal is easily reached from the city of Marrakesh and this makes it popular for trekkers, as well as mountaineers. The ‘starting point’ is Imlil, a village at the base of the mountain, which has accommodation for travellers as well as equipment, guides and mules. Mountaineers and trekkers need to make sure they come prepared and know exactly what they will need for their expedition, such as ice axes, boots and crampons, as well as sensible clothes. Mount Toubkal is generally about two and a half days hike from lmlil. Azilal is another suitable base camp for trekkers, and also offers mountain biking and riding in the area. On the north side of the High Atlas, you can marvel at the valley, Ouzoud waterfalls and the lmi-n-lfri bridge. On the south side there are many gorges, such as those of Mgoun, Todra and Dades.

What to See

There are many visual treats for climbers in the area, such as the Berber village of Megdaz and Imilchil for its September wedding festival. There are mosques and kasbahs, showing the rich culture of Morocco, and Berber families offer visitors generous hospitality. The Berbers make ideal guides for mountaineers as they are able to walk quickly along trails and handle the mules with expertise. Their villages populate the mountainsides, with houses called ‘kasbahs’ that are made from mud.

Marrakesh sits below the mountains and is an exotic city, well worth exploring. Here you can see snake charmers and Berber drummers and taste the delicious food of Morocco, from meat and vegetable stews to kebabs and m’choui, which is slow-roasted lamb.

Preparing for your Trip

The Atlas Mountains are a highlight for many people visiting Morocco, but, as with all trekking trips, you should be prepared before you set out. The conditions can change fairly dramatically in the Atlas range and amenities vary considerably depending on the villages en route. Because the Atlas Mountains are not as commercialised as the Alps, a higher degree of preparation will stand you in good stead for your expedition.

Guides are useful for your transportation needs and for food replenishment and Berber guides have the core strength and knowledge to traverse the mountainside with confidence. Guides in the Atlas Mountains are worth their weight in gold.

Water purification tablets should be brought with you, to avoid parasites that inhabit some mountain streams. Remember that out on the trail there are few places to fill up your bottle, apart from the natural sources.

Clothing needs to be considered carefully in Morocco. Whilst you will be hot on the plains, up in the peaks there can be snow in summer. The answer tends to be to wear layers of clothing that are thin and warm. Also remember headgear and sunscreen to accommodate the temperatures and volatile storms that sometimes roll in over the mountains.

Whether you are planning to summit Mount Toubkal or to enjoy a trekking holiday on the trails of the mountain range, the Atlas region of Morocco offers stunning scenery, fascinating geology and a rich culture just waiting to be explored.

Many thanks to JULIE LYNDHURST for this great article

traditional-turkish-coffee

Turkish Coffee

Brings esteem for Forty years – Dates back 1300 years

The origin of the coffee tree is Africa (Ethiopia to be exact), far away from the shores of Turkey. Nor is Turkey a coffee producer. But the Turkish have a very special place in the history of coffee. Turkish coffee is the only type served with its grounds and is the most suitable for fortune telling.

The proverb “a cup of coffee brings esteem for forty years” sufficiently explains its fame in Turkey. The Turks took it as a measure of esteem, offered it to their guests, drank a cup of it after every meal and tried to read the future from the signs in the cup.

Coffee trees like warm weather very much. Very, very much! According to hearsay, it was discovered by a shepherd in the Kaffa region of Ethiopia in the 8th century. For many centuries it was confined within the boundaries of Ethiopia and was used for very different methods than those of today. Locals crushed the coffee beans into flour to make bread with it, boiled its fruits and used the pot water as medicine. Around the 10th century, coffee went to the Arabian Peninsula and it started to be boiled and drunk in a way similar to today, i.e. scorching, grinding and boiling.

Some sources say that the date of arrival of coffee in Istanbul is the 1500’s. However, many other sources go back farther. Furthermore, they also give an address in Istanbul. Kiva Inn, which was established in 1471 in Tahtakale, is said to be the first known café in the world. Sources which indicate the era of Yavuz Sultan Selim and the year 1517 for the arrival of coffee also tell about the same address despite the date difference; they tell that Kiva Inn in Tahtakale had introduced Yemen coffee to residents of Istanbul. Whatever the date was, it is clear that coffee was a center of taste among Ottomans in a very short time and it was even held in high honor in the palace.

Even though Courts of Shariah Law in Mecca declared coffee “nonkosher”, it was announced “religiously permissible” by the Ottomans in 1524. This interest grew stronger during the era of  Suleiman the Magnificent, even a rank in the palace called “head coffee maker” was created. The head coffee maker used to be selected from among “very reliable” names as he would take on such a task. For this reason, he used to be respected very much and even promoted to higher ranks later on.

The Ottomans are also known as the “first coffee importers” in the world. Coffee’s journey to Europe was also via Istanbul as Venetian merchants carried the taste they became familiar with in gradually increasing coffeehouses to Venice. Then coffee went further into Europe as of the 1600’s. It was first sold by lemonade sellers in the streets. Afterwards, just as it had been in Istanbul, coffeehouses were opened. Entering into the Europe continent from Venice, the coffee carried on its journey to more significant stops. According to the records, it reached Paris exactly in 1643 and London in 1651.

Even though it was  born in Ethiopia and developed in the Arabian Peninsula, it is very natural that coffee is mentioned together with the name “Turk” as it spread in Europe and from there in the world from Istanbul. Also the oldest coffee brand in the world belongs hereabouts. That brand is Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi, which has a 150-year-old story. During the 1800’s coffee was being sold as raw beans, scorched in houses and ground in coffee hand mills. A very young entrepreneur, Mehmet Effendi, who was educated in Süleymaniye Madrasah, took a historical step in 1871. He started selling “ready coffee” in a shop he took over from his father. His fame spread through Istanbul instantly just like the smell of freshly ground coffee.

Although it varies in taste and appearance, counterparts of the word ‘coffee’ in almost all languages are very close to each other. It is named as ‘coffee’ in English, ‘Kaffee’ in German, ‘café’ in French, ‘caffe’ in Italian; Dutch call it ‘koffie’, Hungarians call it ‘kàvè’, Romanians call it ‘kava’, Russians call it ‘kophe’, Chinese call it ‘kafei’, and Japanese call it ‘kohi’. Armenians, on the other hand, fall very far away from the word coffee with a name like, ‘soorj’.

Ephesus Sightseeing Tours with Isa Bey Mosque

Isa Bey Mosque – Selcuk

During a guided tour or shore excursion of Ephesus you have an opportunity to visit one of the oldest mosques of Turkey – ISA BEY MOSQUE, built 1375. Istanbul was not yet conquered and the Ottomans had not yet advanced beyond Söğüt and Bursa either. This 640 year old mosque is located in Selçuk, between the remains of Artemis Temple and the Saint Jean Basilica. As its position reveals, Aydınoğlu Isa Bey wanted to hint that the pagan and Christianity eras ended in these soils with the construction of this mosque.

The Isa Bey Mosque is considered one of the oldest and the most  sophisticated works of the Turkish architectural era. Although columns and marble blocks carried from the antique structures in the vicinity were used, the architecture and ornaments carry the traces of the Seljuks. Indeed, its façade, window edges and rims of both domes are covered with Seljuk tiles. The most striking part is the doors. The mosque has two entrance doors: One looks at the west and the other looks to the east. There is also an epigraph on the west door. As the epigraph is only engraved on the door opening to the west, one asks itself whether Isa Bey thought to “make a show of strength to the other side of the sea.” The answer to this question lies maybe in what is written in the epigraph:“Isa, Aydınoğlu, son of Mehmet, the great Sultan, the owner of the citizens of the nation, Sultan of Islam and Muslim people, the glory of the state, religion and world, ordered the construction of this holy mosque…”

The mosque stood as a symbol of power. However, a new era began not only for the beylik but also for the mosque after Isa Bey joined the Ottomans. Isa Bey Mosque lost its importance in this new era and was completely neglected for some time. Furthermore, it also served as a caravanserai in the 19th century, a new feature far from its quality as a mosque.

From the Beylik era to our times the person who revived the Isa Bey Mosque is surprisingly a “Western”, Niemann who headed the excavation works of the Archaeology Institute of Austria. In 1895, he noticed the mosque during the excavations in Ephesus and implemented some minor restorations works. The full restoration was realized in the Republican era, in 1934, led by the Ministry of National Education.

From Anatolian beyliks to the Ottomans to the Republic, this mosque with a modest outlook is like a silent witness of Anatolian history.

Istanbul Forum Turkuazoo

Turkuazoo – Istanbul Aquarium

The Forum Istanbul, is not only one of the largest shopping malls in Europe, great for those wishing to make a shopping trip to Istanbul, but is also one of the first world-wide to have a huge  aquarium inside!

The giant aquarium, Turkuazoo, is located inside a culture park over an area of 8 thousand sqm. 10 thousand different underwater creatures and 25 thousand other species can be found here. Here you have the opportunity to view sharks, stingrays, giant dusky groupers, amazon species, sea snakes,  seahorses, lobsters, crabs and  thousands of others which you might never have heard or or seen before.

Piranhas are among the sea  creatures attracting attention. Piranhas with red bellies, which have been subjects of many films and documentaries, live at the “soft water” corridor decorated with rain forests.

The aquarium offers various activities besides just the opportunity to view these creatures. You can enjoy a spectacular show with fish feeding activities organized by the divers every hour on week days and every half an hour on weekends. There is also the chance, for those with courage, to dive into the magic atmosphere of the underwater world and experience closely hundreds of sea creatures and feed them too.

Turkuazoo helps visitors to have a good and joyful day with the benefit of actually learning something in the process. It also helps make us more aware of and to think about the importance of protecting the environment, not polluting the sea and respecting the life of other creatures. Turkuazoo contributes to the environment consciousness not only through the venue it owns and opportunities it offers to the visitors but also the training programs it prepares and the active roles it assumes in “Deniztemiz” (Sea Protection) projects.

A fun day out and great for those travelling with kids who wish for a bit of a break from just historical sightseeing tours in Istanbul.

Istanbul Tours, private istanbul tours, Istanbul Shore Excursions

History of the Harem

Constantly regarded as an enigmatic matter for European voyagers, the Ottoman  Harem was a popular subject for writers,  who wrote hundreds of pages and tried to unveil this secretive center of attention. As the matter is still being discussed by many, the Harem Quarter in Topkapi Palace keeps attracting thousands of tourists each year.

In the early ages of the empire the Ottoman Padishahs used to marry girls of Turkish origin. As the empire expanded, the Palace started to pick slaves from various nations as concubines. Unlike the general belief, the population of the Harem women was not merely comprised of the wives of the Sultan. The maids and wives of former Padishahs and their families were also members of the Harem community.

Formation of the Harem
The first Ottoman Harem was in the old palace – which now lies inside the Istanbul University Campus – until 1550. As the palace was burnt down by a severe fire, the idea of moving the Harem to Topkapi Palace was brought on the agenda. After a while, Suleyman the Magnificent was finally convinced by his wife Hurrem Sultan and approved the relocation of the Harem into Topkapi. Soon after the Harem was annexed to Topkapi Palace, women started to participate in state management.

topkapi palace, harem room, istanbul tours

A room in the Topkapi Palace Harem Quarter

Management of the Harem
The Harem had a strict ranking system.  In order of command; Valide Sultan (mother of the Sultan) was followed by the head wife, the first, second, third and fourth wives of the Padishah (Sultan), his concubines, female servants, their supervisors and the slaves. The prerequisite of becoming one of the prestigious wives of the Padishah was to give birth to son, a potential heir-to-the-throne.

Picking concubines for the Harem
According to the Islamic jurisdiction at the time, slaves had no rights at all. The master was entitled to sell, donate or even offer the slave as a present. Suleyman the Magnificent liked Hurrem Sultan, who was originally brought from Northern Black Sea region. After Hurrem gave birth to a son, she was liberated. Furthermore, the Emperor married Hurrem, with whom he fell deeply in love. Hurrem Sultan was the first slave to have officially married a Sultan in the history of the Ottoman Empire. In addition, she was entitled to manage the entire Harem community. The concubines, on the other hand, were mainly comprised of female slaves captured during the wars. The concubines picked for the palace were  observed for 24 hours before they were paid for. In case she had some sort of a defect – such as being a heavy sleeper or snoring during the night – the price would be reduced and paid accordingly.

The number of the concubines in the Harem
The number of the concubines in the Harem varied from one Sultan to another. It is known that there were not so many concubines during the initial foundation and improvement eras of the empire. While the Harem’s population was 456 during Mahmut’s reign I, it rose to 688 during Abdülmecit’s reign and to 809 during Sultan Abdülaziz’s reign.

Sultan Murat V noted down his encounter with the first concubine presented to him in his diary: “I was around 13 or 14. One day, I was busy with some carpentry work, when I heard the voice of a lady in the next room. I stopped working. My heartbeat increased. The rustling sound of her silk dress became more evident. I was swirling into feelings I had never felt before. A young and beautiful Circassian girl came in smiling and approached my desk with an elegant gesture. She sat by me whispering something. It was the first time I was sitting in a room with a lady I did not already know. I was inexpressibly ashamed and astonished. As I was too stunned to move, she took the tool out of my hand with a smile on her face. She said “Sir, please leave this activity for a moment and take advantage of this opportunity for a five or ten minute pause. No one can listen to us at this very moment. Your Agha (the Padishah) is also informed. He is not far; in fact he is watching us right now…”

During his second visit in 1898, the German Emperor William II had an interesting discussion with Abdulhamit II. Through his translator the German Emperor asked Sultan Abdulhamit II how many wives he had. At that time the Sultan had four official wives and four unofficial wives – concubines, who were the mothers of the Sultan’s children. He replied “I have eight wives.” The Emperor,  remaining indifferent to the reddening face of his wife, Empress Augusta-Victoria, who  was one year older than the Emperor and  criticized for being sort of vulgar, asked  “Eight women? How do you manage eight women while I cannot deal with only one empress?” Sultan Abdulhamit, who spoke French fluently, put an end to the conversation  without waiting for the translator by saying “This is quite  an art, Your Majesty”

Turkish Cuisine - Stuffed Vine Leaves

Sarma – Stuffed Vine Leaves

Sarma refers to a dish that can be prepared with grape, cabbage, or chard leaves. The term sarma derives from the Turkish verb “sarmak,” which means to wrap or to roll. It can be prepared with rice and spices (vegetarian) or with rice and ground meat.

Ingredients:

  • 1lb pickled grape leaves, pickled in brine then washed and drained
  • 4 medium onions, diced
  • 2 cups rice, washed under cold water and drained
  • 1 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped finely
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup dried currant
  • 1 tablespoon dried mint flakes
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon salt
  • 1/2 lemon, juice of

Preparation:

Step 1: Dice the onions and sauté with 1/4 cup of olive oil. When they turn translucent, add the pine nuts and sauté for 5 more minutes. Add rice and stir constantly for 5-10 minutes until the rice is translucent. Add the spices (dried mint, cinnamon, lemon salt, black pepper, dried currants, sugar and allspice) and chopped parsley. After another quick stir, add 1/2 cup of boiling water and simmer on low medium heat for 15-20 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed by the rice mixture. Take off heat and let cool.

vine-leaves

How to roll vine leaves – a fun experience

Step 2: Place the vine leaf on a flat surface with the veins face up and remove the stem. Place 1 tsp of the rice filling at the bottom were the stem was. Fold the edges over the filling and then roll from the bottom up wrapping the rice. Repeat the process until you have used up all the rice mixture. Cover the bottom of a saucepan with the broken and ripped vine leaves. About 3-4 layers deep. Place the sarma in the pot seam down ensuring there are no gaps so that they don’t unravel during the cooking process. Then lay down another 3-4 layers of ripped vine leaves. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil, juice of half a lemon and 2 cups of boiling water, cover with a plate upside down (so that the sarmas don’t move around in boiling water) and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until all the water is absorbed (roughly 45-60 minutes). Transfer to your serving dish and let cool.

Istanbul Grand Bazaar Tours

Grand Bazaar – Shopping in Istanbul

No Istanbul shopping tour or historical sightseeing tour of Istanbul would be complete without a visit to the world famous Grand Bazaar!

Built by Fatih Sultan Mehmet (The Conqurer), the Grand Bazaar, or Kapali Carsi as it is known in Turkish, is reminiscent of a city. It was an important step in the “Conquerors” target to make Istanbul “his own city”.  Built in a modest scale compared to today, the bazaar was extended during the reign of Suleyman the Magnificent.

It is well known for its jewelry, hand-painted ceramics, carpets, embroideries, spices and antique shops. Many of the stalls in the bazaar are grouped by type of goods, with special areas for leather, gold jewellery and the like.

The complex houses two mosques, four fountains, two hamams, and several cafés and restaurants. In the centre is the high domed hall of Cevahir Bedesten, where the most valuable items and antiques were to be found in the past, and still are today.

The Grand Bazaar extends over a 45 thousand square meters area with 64 alleys and 5000 thousand of shops.  It is one of the largest covered markets in the world. Despite resembling a labyrinth, all streets are linked an amazing order.

There would be separate craftsmanship and guilds in each of the streets. In one you would see quillions while on the next clog makers  awaiting customers. A passage from the street of mirror makers would lead to fabric sellers and from there onto fez makers. Some of these guilds have been forgotten and lost today, but the names given to the street still survive.

The Grand Bazaar has witnessed an amazing flow of people throughout its history. Some Istanbulites would arrive to sell and sometimes to buy. Furthermore, wealthy people of the time would keep their precious jewelry and fur coats in a safe in the bazaar. Part of the state treasure was also kept in a safe here. The Grand Bazaar was the centre of life in old Istanbul and stayed that way for over 550 years.

Although the city’s pulse beats in different corners today the Grand Bazaar is stıll a major centre of attraction. Allowing for seasonal and situational variances around 300 to 500 thousand people visit the bazaar “daily”.  Almost 20 thousand people work here.

A leisurely afternoon spent exploring the bazaar, sitting in one of the cafés watching the crowds pass by, bargaining for purchases, is one of the best ways to recapture the romantic atmosphere of old Istanbul.