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The Spice Market & a taste of Asia

Istanbul


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The Spice Market was our morning destination on Saturday. Held within a building dating from 1666, it was formerly known as the Egyptian Market because the spices used to be shipped in from Cairo. As well as spices, it sells mounds of fruit teas, dried fruit, shelled nuts, Turkish Delight and wrapped and unwrapped blocks of olive oil soap. I couldn't wait to experience it...

Before we got there, however, we found ourselves wandering around the Main Market, which fills the streets around the Spice Market. In fact we had quite a job finding the latter due to the mazy street layout and all the market stalls! The Main Market was very interesting to look round in itself. It was filled with stalls selling a wide range of household goods, including wicker baskets, cooking utensils, tools, t-shirts, hats, headscarves, jeans, knives, plastic toys, towels, pets (cages of birds, green lizards and white rabbits), pet food, blocks of coloured soaps and some jars of live leeches in water.

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Needless to say, once we found the Spice Market I loved walking round, savouring the colours and the mix of exotic scents. I wished my family were there to appreciate it all, especially the piles of huge juicy-looking dates which they would have loved but were wasted on me. I bought some 'meatball spice' (which smelled genuinely lovely) and some 'Turkish saffron' which I've since found out is not saffron at all but a cheap imitation called safflower. I should have been suspicious about the price not being sky-high!

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These are the surroundings of the Spice Market;

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I had read somewhere that the Turkish Delight at the Spice Market is not actually that great, and the best place in Istanbul to get it is from a shop nearby. Before we set off to find it, however, we went to different shop nearby which apparently has the best baklava in Istanbul - at least we tried to find it, but didn't manage to - it was supposed to be in the main market, but around where it should have been we only found a baklava shop of a different name. We bought some from there anyway, as it looked good, plus some Turkish rice pudding. It was lovely, so no regrets.

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It was between one and two o'clock by now and we needed to move on to catch a ferry to the Asian side, so we decided to look for the Turkish Delight shop on our return to Istanbul before we go back to Bulgaria, instead. Before we got on the ferry we had a tasty 'Balik Ekmek' each; this is an ultra-fresh fish fillet thrown onto a grill and then stuffed into a huge crusty roll with some chopped lettuce and raw onion. Lemon juice and salt are optional condiments. These are made and sold on the seafront.

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The ferry trip was a great experience. It was a commuter ferry, not a public excursion one, so it only cost about 2 lira. It took about 20 minutes and we loved all the different views we got of the skyline. Minarets, skyscrapers, Topkapi Palace, Galata Tower... We passed a French destroyer docked at the headland next to the palace; Dave said he thought the small black and white flag displayed on it was the international quarantine signal.

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On arrival in Asia, we headed to Kadikoy produce market, where the locals go apparently. We just window-shopped instead of actually buying anything, but it was good fun to see all the different goods; fresh fish, containers filled with honeycombs, the biggest cherries I've ever seen, other fruit and vegetables, yoghurt and cheese, baklava, eggs, olives, dried peppers, crystallised and dried fruit...piles of colourful soaps, too.

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Something the Asian side had which we hadn't seen in the historic European area was sideless carts piled with antiques or secondhand books. These were wheeled about the streets and then set down for a while for people to browse at. Some if the books were in English, but none we wanted to buy, though I did enjoy having a look at a book for adult English as a second language learners which was published in the 1950s... I regret not buying that now, actually.

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Another thing we noticed was groups of older men sitting around cafe tables playing a particular game which involved a lot of clicking, sliding about and picking up rectangular cream counters. Some other cafés had younger people playing backgammon and other board games.

The last thing we did before returning to Europe was to have Turkish coffee and a Turkish dessert called 'Kazan dibi'. I tried some Kazan dibi once at the Lucky Man restaurant in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria (a place with a small Turkish population); the stuff I had today proves that what I had in VT was genuine. It's delicious, if filling!

Some photos from the return ferry trip;

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On our return to Europe we decided not to get the tram back yet, but to walk across Galata Bridge to the other European side first for a look around. There were loads of fishermen on both sides of the bridge, using extremely long lines. One of them caught a fish just as we walked past him- it flopped around on the ground for a while before being captured and put into a container of water alive.

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The Strait of Bosphorus, while not crystal clear of course, was much cleaner than I was expecting for such a big city. We spotted a few white jellyfish and some small silvery fish (maybe sardines?).

For dinner we had another 'Balik Ekmek' each, from a cafe on the seafront; they were even better than the ones we had earlier!

When we were back in Sultanahmet and walking from the tram station to our hostel, we couldn't help but notice that hundreds, even thousands of people were pouring in from every direction and settling themselves and their families onto rugs spread out on the grass in Sultanahmet Park. We guessed that it was due to Ramadan- people sharing the breaking of the day's fast with their friends and family in a shared environment. It was nearly sunset by then, so this was more than likely.

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Posted by 3Traveller 08:58 Archived in Turkey Tagged bridges market turkey istanbul asia ferry bosphorus dave turkish_cuisine Comments (1)

Grand Bazaar and the Istanbul Archaeology Museum

Istanbul


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The Grand Bazaar was a wonderful experience, just as I expected. I almost couldn't believe I was finally there! It turned out to be like a giant covered market, with some courtyards attached and also some stalls spilling out into nearby streets.

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We arrived in the gold section, appropriately filled with goldsmiths and silversmiths, and after looking at the windows for a bit (there were some where the entirety of their windows were filled with glittering gold bangles), we made our way round the other sections. Leather, fabric, Turkish rugs and pillows, antiques, colourful lamps... It was so atmospheric. I bought a beautiful white and turquoise- patterned tablecloth/runner for 40 lira, haggled down from 150; then for Dave's birthday I bought him six skewers that he'd chosen, each one having a different shaped end (a duck and a pig were two). Then at a different stall/shop Dave looked at telescopes, but they were way too expensive to buy, even after haggling. One antiques shop had two massive globes which I was very taken by, but they looked extremely unwieldy and expensive, so I never even asked for the price.

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At this point we sat down for some Turkish coffee, which came with a mini glass of water held within a beautiful silver holder and a small platter with two pieces of Turkish Delight.

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Our last purchase from the interior was from another antiques shop; two absolutely gorgeous engraved cups, made from silver-plated bronze. The stall holder said they were made in Afghanistan.

After this we looked round lots of shoe and clothes stalls lining the streets on one side. I bought something I'd been hoping to find; a pair of loose cotton trousers. I bought them for 20 lira, down from 40 - he agreed so quickly I suspect I could have had them for even less, but no matter. It still worked out at about £5!

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After the clothes stalls we came across a large courtyard containing the book and paper market! The books were nearly all in Turkish, but I spotted some notebooks made from parchment, so I simply had to get myself one...

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We headed back to the hostel then to have a bit of a rest. On the way there we stopped for some corn-on-the-cob at one of the many street sellers who sell them. Each stall has a massive vat of boiled ones in water, and a grill with a pile of pre-grilled ones next to it. It also has a metal tray of cooked chestnuts.

After our rest we went to the Archaeological Museum.

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This consists of the main museum (with one of the best collections of Ancient Greek and Roman statuary in the world, plus an interesting 'Istanbul Through The Ages' exhibition)...

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...a tile pavilion...

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...a collection of Ancient Greek and Roman sarcophagy...

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...and the Ancient Orient Museum, containing fantastic artifacts from the Ancient Egyptians, Hittites, Sumerians and other pre-Islamic cultures.

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Special mention to a clay tablet with the oldest love poem ever written carved into it. This is Sumerian and dates from between 2037 - 2029 BC.

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For dinner that evening we returned to the café at Arasta Bazaar. Dave had a lamb kebab, I had a mixed one and we shared Turkish yoghurt with honey for dessert. Just outside the bazaar we stopped at a calligrapher's stall and Dave got him to write our names on a piece of white leather.

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Posted by 3Traveller 08:35 Archived in Turkey Tagged market turkey museum istanbul bazaar dave roman_remains unesco_world_heritage_site turkish_cuisine Comments (0)

The Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern & more

Istanbul


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After breakfast we set off to another must-visit destination, a famous site I was really keen to visit; the Blue Mosque.

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There are two entrances to the main building; one for Muslims who come to pray (it's a working mosque) and one for tourists. It's free entry to all. Our queue was quite long, but moved at quite a decent pace, so we didn't have to wait for that long. Our wait was enlivened by a tour group behind us being given a talk in Spanish by their leader - he spoke very quickly and his Spanish sounded quite different to Ecuadorian Spanish, but I made out something about Ramadan, no drinking and no smoking.

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All women who didn't have something to use as a headscarf were given one to put on; men wearing shorts were also given one, to wrap around themselves like skirts. Dave didn't have to because he was wearing trousers. Before we stepped over the main threshold everybody had to take off their shoes and put them in a clear plastic bag.

The interior was just as large, airy, beautiful and elegant as I'd always imagined. It was full of blue-patterned Iznik tiles which gives the mosque its name to Westerners (out of interest, to locals it's known only as Sultanahmet Mosque). We admired the place for ages before eventually leaving.

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I gave back my headscarf, we put our shoes back on and we went into the courtyard adjoining the main building. This was also beautiful and we took a few more photos.

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From the Blue Mosque we headed over to the Basilica Cistern nearby. We were extremely hot by now, but the Basilica Cistern cooled us down. This huge column-supported underground cistern, used to hold 80,000 cubic metres of water for the imperial palace and other local residents, was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (527-565). It has been renovated on more than one occasion since then, and is no longer used as a cistern, but still holds a foot or two of water, enough to support lots of fish.

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The only light in there came from lights shining onto the bases and tops of the columns, so the atmosphere was ever so slightly eerie, even with the high volume of visitors walking around on the wooden pathways raised above the water. I enjoyed watching the fish. In some parts of the water, people had thrown coins. Right at the back of the cistern there were two sculpted heads of Medusa; each one was at the base of a column. One was set sideways, the other upside down! Apparently nobody is entirely sure why they were placed there.

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After we left the cistern we went into a shop where we bought postcards, a book about Istanbul and a fridge magnet, and Dave picked up a free book of cartoons by a Turkish cartoonist.

After this we went back to our hostel to shower, have cold drinks and rest for a while. We went via Sultanahmet Park.

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When we stirred again, it was to the Great Palace Mosaic Museum down the road. This was relatively small, but excellent, with a great long floor mosaic taking the centre stage. The palace has now gone apart from this mosaic and several smaller ones arranged on the walls around it. The mosaics were magnificent, with pictures of animals, trees and human figure.

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When we left the museum we came out into the Arasta Bazaar. This bazaar is different to others in that it's hassle-free and lots of the goods have fixed prices. I saw some very intricately painted beautiful unframed pictures on special paper, including one of two world maps, but it was extremely expensive so I didn't get it. We wandered up and down the rest of the bazaar, which was small, but didn't buy anything.

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After another short rest at the hostel we went out for dinner at one of the two cafe-restaurants attached to the Arasta Bazaar. We shared bread and hummous and each had a different type of kebab; to go with them I had a lemonade with honey and Dave had some mint tea and a glass of lemonade & banana juice. For dessert I tried Turkish rice pudding, which was cold and had been made with ground rice instead of grains - it was delicious! Dave had baklava, which he also found delicious. We each had a Turkish coffee afterwards; it came with two mini chunks of Turkish Delight.

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As dinner drew on, we noticed the waiters setting out cling filmed plates of food on the other tables. These tables started filling up with locals; we asked our waiter what the event was and he said that it was for the breaking of the day's fast for Ramadan. The food I saw on their tables was flatbreads and bowls of salad.

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Posted by 3Traveller 06:56 Archived in Turkey Tagged art mosque market turkey museum istanbul spanish bazaar dave roman_remains unesco_world_heritage_site turkish_cuisine Comments (0)

Highlights of Skopje

Skopje


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The maze-like big bazaar

Stall after stall of fruit, vegetables, other foods, clothes, household goods and electronics... I passed stalls piled high with hen and duck eggs, cabinets filled with loose frozen chicken legs and fish, stalls with huge mounds of loose rice and beans; the scent of spices filled my nose. I kept walking and walking and at every turn there was something interesting to see! No tourist trinket type stalls at all - it was clearly a place for locals rather than tourists. I would have loved to have taken loads of photos, but although not unfriendly, the stallholders looked at me quite strangely whenever I stopped walking for more than a second or two, so I only took one or two and didn't have time to stop and see if they came out OK. I didn't buy anything as I will be in the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul with Dave soon, where I'm sure I'll be able to get anything I could have got here.

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Wandering the old town

The streets were filled with goldsmiths, silversmiths and wedding dress shops, with the occasional kebab counter, antiques shop or other shop thrown in.

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For example, there was one shop that only sold honey, and a tiny one which only sold syrupy batter sweets made in-store by the owner. I bought myself something a lot like the Bulgarian tolumbi, but longer and in a different shape.

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At one point I was just passing a mosque when the muezzins' calls started booming out over loudspeaker from mosques all over the city. One or two minutes after it began, men started streaming past me from all directions. None of them were in traditional Islamic dress, but they all took their shoes off and gathered to one side. I sat down in the shade on a handily placed bench at a discreet distance and watched as the calls continued and the men knelt down and prayed.

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The church of Sveti Spas was in the old town, too. It has the most magnificent iconostasis; the sheer amount of detail the carvings had was simply spectacular, with each section carved from a single piece of wood. I was given a free tour of it; I was shown the figures from the Bible who the artist carved in 19th century Macedonian traditional wedding outfits, and the executioner of St John the Baptist who was portrayed as an Ottoman Turk.

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The shiny new Archaeology Museum of Macedonia, which contains exhibits which were formerly held within the Museum of Macedonia. World class!

Macedonian denari

Banknotes come in 1000, 500, 100, 50 and 10 denari denominations and coins come in 1, 2, 5, 10 and 50. The MKD has become among my favourite currencies to date, because the banknotes are very colourful and instead of having portraits of famous people, they have pictures of icons and artifacts, birds and flowers. The coins also have pictures of native animals, plus a stylised sun (like on the Macedonian flag).

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Kale Fortress

This provided some panoramic views over Skopje and was nice to walk around, though part of it was fenced off.

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I also visited Macedonia Square, which was very impressive...

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...plus the Museum of Macedonia, which was less so. For a national museum the lighting wasn't very good, plus the exhibition of 20th century history wasn't very imaginatively displayed and the signage was poor. In the ethnographical section the lighting was also very poor in places, but had some interesting traditional musical instruments, painted Easter eggs, facsimiles of old photos of traditional buildings (my favourite was the one that looked like it was all made of wicker) and traditional fishing equipment.

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I also had time to visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum, which was small but held a lot of sobering information about the fate of the Balkan Jews in WWII, plus more general information about their history until then and their traditional lifstyles. I was particularly interested to read about Ladino, or Judean-Spanish, a language which developed from the Sephardic origins in Spain and has not completely died out yet.

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Something I think Skopje could improve on is the state of their river - the water itself looks OK enough, cleaner than the Thames at any rate, but they haven't really done anything to the banks. The concrete is filled with weeds growing through the cracks. It looks quite incongruous actually, because there are so many obviously shiny new statues and monuments everywhere, plus new walkways further back from the banks.

Pictures from my walk back to the hostel at dusk;

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Miscellaneous pictures of Skopje;

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Posted by 3Traveller 08:19 Archived in Macedonia Tagged bridges mosque market museum skopje macedonia fortifications orthodox_church traditional_customs Comments (0)

Fireflies, fireworks & 'Detski Romski' festival

Veliko Tarnovo


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Not long ago I got back from a lovely walk round town. My first destination was a park not far from Mother Bulgaria Square, but on the way I stopped at the wooden-shuttered bakery on the craftsmen's street for a kashkavalka for lunch.

The reason why I wanted to go to this park was because I knew the 'Detski Romski' festival was going on. 'Detski Romski' means 'Roma Children'. Yesterday lunchtime, before work, I'd nipped out to the deli to get some lunch, heard music playing from the park and gone to investigate; I saw there were carnival stalls and lots of groups of children in traditional dress spread around. The fountains were in full flow, the flowerbeds were in bloom and the sun was shining. The last time I'd been in this park was in February or March, when the flowerbeds were being dug up and the fountains weren't in use yet.There was a small stage set up with people standing in a ring around it; the groups of children took turns in doing dances. Every now and then, one boy and one girl sang a song together over loudspeaker. I kicked myself for not having my camera with me, but then noticed the banner which said the festival was between 5 -7th June, so I decided to come back today.

Unfortunately when I arrived there today, at one o'clock, the dancing had just stopped and everyone was packing up. Such a shame! I kicked myself for not arriving earlier. I still took some photos of the park, though, because it was so lovely.

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From the park I moved on to the fruit & veg market. To my surprise, although they still had loads and loads of cherries, the amount of strawberries on sale had halved since two weeks ago. Maybe this is just one type of strawberry, and other types will come into season later in the month. I asked one woman for 100g of strawberries, but she refused to sell me them (maybe because people were just starting to pack up and she wanted to sell them in kgs or 500g only). She was needlessly abrupt about it, though, so I went to a different stall and bought 500g from the woman there (I figured that nobody would probably sell me 100g). There was a noticeable increase in tomatoes and I also saw a very small amount of raspberries - maybe these are just beginning to come into season.

Yesterday evening I went out for dinner with R, Belgian S and a friend of hers. I took them to Taverna, the first restaurant I ate at in Bulgaria, because although it's only round the corner from us, for some reason R hadn't made it there yet. They do lovely chicken kavarma here, plus some of the best tarator in town, so I had both, plus some potato wedges. After we'd finished eating R had to dash, but the rest of us walked along Gurko Street. We saw some fireflies - I've seen these around this part of Gurko Street for a few weeks now. They are so captivating to watch.

On Friday evening, R and I were sitting in F's living room having a hot drink and a chat with her when suddenly we heard the unmistakeable sound of firework bangs. We looked out of the windows behind us but only saw flickers of light. They were clearly going off by the sword monument, on the other side of the hill. Just then the loudest fireworks bang I'd ever heard happened and we all rushed downstairs to have a look! F went onto the terrace, but R and I ran down the steps onto the street and sprinted along it, looking for a good viewing point. We saw a few absolutely fantastic ones, but by the time we reached the first proper terrace, they'd stopped. As far as we were aware there was no special occasion that day, but later that evening we found out a beer festival had been the cause!

On Thursday morning I went to Sarafkina House, the Gurko Street house museum.

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I was very much looking forward to seeing it, especially the displays of all the types of traditional bread, dyed eggs and Martenitsas I'd heard about, and I wasn't disappointed. So interesting!

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I loved the old photos of musicians, traditional trades and general life of VT, too, plus the historic building itself, though I only got to see two of the five floors - the one level with Gurko Street and the one above. I loved the view from the windows as well.

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Posted by 3Traveller 07:01 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged market museum bulgaria veliko_tarnovo house_museum bulgarian_cuisine gurko_street traditional_customs Comments (0)

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