There is a reason why Turkish Delight is called just that - it's divinely delightful, it is the essence of Turkey. So sweet, so exotic, you bite in to it not knowing what is hidden in it's colourful pastel exterior and its ever so moorish, you can't get enough. This sums up Turkey and definitely Istanbul to a tee for me. The moment we step out of the airport and into the taxi we are surrounded by stunning colour, great swathes of flower gardens with pansies and tulips in swirling patterns adorn the sides and middle of the highway leading from the airport to the area we will be staying in. Elaborate fountains spray forth, laced minarets with magnificent domes pop up through the muted pastel coloured housing blocks. It's all a feast for the eyes.
We arrive at the Sultanahmet area where we will be staying for the next six nights and I'm a little taken aback. I'm not sure what I was expecting but it definitely wasn't cobble streets and ornate timber terraces interspersed with falling down buildings and particle board walls acting as scaffolding and construction screens. Ornate iron grills, bright red and pink geraniums and ochre terracotta pots adorn the walls and entrance ways of the buildings. It's all so quaint, so adorable, so very stunning.
Our taxi pulls up at the hotel we've arranged to stay at and M and I let out a collective sigh of Whew! One of the things we hate is pre-booking. We like to look first then commit but still have the freedom to run away if we see something better. But as we walked up the steps of this stunning historical ottoman building we are delighted. At reception we meet Genna (pronounced Kenner) and feel so welcomed as if coming into someone's home. Genna books us in then after all the formalities, regretfully tells us that we can't have a double room but a twin for the first two nights. I'm a little miffed but accept that this is almost peak season in Turkey and we had only booked two months ago. This hotel was our 5th choice, our first two were booked out until end of July and the other two couldn't give us the full six nights. M and I are shown to a super tiny lift (probably no bigger than the average café table) and it's insisted upon that we use it. I preferred to walk up the spiral stair case that looked very elegant and swish but we complied and squeezed into the miniscule box. Thankfully it was only for one floor. We are shown to our room and my heart sinks. The room stinks of cigarette smoke, I had specifically asked for a non-smoking room.
Another lesson I soon learn, non-smoking is a rarity in Turkey. It appears everyone smokes. And especially at night! As we wander the gorgeous cobble streets, lit by soft lamplight, we will wear the fragrance of scented tobacco from the hookah pipes in our hair and up our noses.
When I was fifteen years old I saw a picture of the Blue Mosque. It was a night time shot, glowing like a precious gem. I remember saying to myself, one day I'm going to stand on the steps of that place. and even after a long flight, it was the first thing I wanted to do.
We make headway down the laneways, turning this way and that, ogling at the intricate delicacies of the fretwork on the buildings, the colour of the pottery that splashes from the windows of the shops and the textures of the carpets that hang everywhere.
We find ourselves at an enormous park area in the middle of two massive dome buildings. To our right, shining soft pink in the afternoon sunlight is the Aya Sofya, to our left the Sultan Ahmet Mosque - the Blue Mosque. And in between, this park is filled with thousands of people. Coming, going, standing, sitting, posing, clicking away. We walk.... or should I say we shuffled, sidestepped, fell backwards, lunged forwards and spun around as we tried to walk to the Blue Mosque. Upon reaching the gates we gasp. The line up for the mosque is tremendous and goes around the corner and disappears. Today would not be the day I would stand on the steps of the Blue Mosque I thought. After hours cramped on a plane, there was no way I was going to stand hours in a cramped line.
We head towards the Aya Sofya and see that it was the same - disappearing lines of people shuffling along. The park between the two is beautiful, filled with flowers and the most gorgeous fountain with fabulous tiled mosaics depicting scenes of Turkey. Across from it is the Baths of Lady Hurrem, a beautiful granite block building built back in 1556. Compared to the age of the Aya Sofya and the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, it is reasonably "new".
The sun is setting and a swift breeze has sprung up, funnelling down the streets. We zip back to our room for warmer clothes, then up to the rooftop terrace to take a look at the view. It's stunning....and there's also another surprise to stun us (or I should say, me). For on one side is the fabulous Blue Mosque in all it's glory, across from it a huge pink and white building that is a roosting area for seagulls, tho they are awfully BIG seagulls and we soon realise that they are small albatrosses. On the other side of our terrace is a full blown construction site complete with pole driving banging and enormous cranes. My buoyant spirits fall at the thought of hearing construction all night. Behind the construction site is the Marmara Sea, covered in massive ships and small boats. The sea is so still, it looks like a painting and the ships have just been plonked there, like models. M is so excited, he just loves boats and anything that goes bang. The call the prayer rings out over the city, more calls echo back from the smaller mosques that dot the cityscape. My spirits lift. The melodic call is mesmerising.
Turkey, you truly are too delightful.