How We Lived a Day in Istanbul… Food, Architecture & Its Inheritance

This sprawling metropolis with a huge cultural and architectural heritage is a melting pot of Eastern and Western history. The only city in the world which is transcontinental i.e located on two continents, Europe and Asia and has 3113 mosques! Isn’t that unbelievable? We had a a beautiful vacation in Turkey a few years back. We loved this beautiful city of Istanbul with its ample blue waters of the Bosphorus strait and the 7 hills with a mosque each.

Skyline of Istanbul

Skyline of Istanbul

While walking through its streets, it felt so much like being in India. The blaring car horns, the shrill sound of calling prayers from the majestic mosques, its busy streets where people seem all over and beautiful colourful spice filled markets. We experienced the lovely tram ride from the Gelata bridge to the Grand Bazaar.

Grand Bazaar

 

The Brightness and richness of the Grand Bazaar

The Brightness and richness of the Grand Bazaar

The Beautiful Grand Bazaar

The Beautiful Grand Bazaar

Constructed in 1461 Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is quite popular today. It has 3000 shops which store dainty Turkish artifacts in small tunnels which is a complete jumble once you enter. It was such a pleasure to see this labyrinth  complex with pushy merchants and colours which your eye would never know.

Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque

IMG_5628

The most illustrious architecture I have ever seen till today is the Blue Mosque . The interiors are adorned with 20,000 blue tiles that fashion in fifty variations of tulip designs. It also has some extravagant resemblances of flowers, luscious fruits and perfectly grown cypresses.

Foooood!!

 

Street Food!

Street Food!

While walking through the Taksim square one chilly day of our stay in October we saw a man selling steaming muscles. This friendly vendor offered one to us and promised it would taste out of the world! It is called the Midye dolma, sort of a munchy that comprises of muscles stuffed with rice. He told us to eat it with using the shell as a spoon… and indeed, it was the most flavoursome eats I ever had!

Awesome Tradition to Relax and Cleanse

The Famous Hamams

The Famous Hamams

 The age old and popular Turkish baths play an important role in Turkish culture. These often beautiful buildings provide a place to relax, refresh and revitalize, but they are also a place for local people to socialize. These baths have long been considered a place to purify the body and give your overall health and well being a boost. I am not a big fan of massages yet I didn’t miss a chance to walk through these Hamams and feel its luxury.

The Bosphorus

Bosphorus Strait

Bosphorus Strait

On the Traditional Steamboat through the Bosphorus

On the Traditional Steamboat through the Bosphorus

Oh what a wonder this Boshphorus is! It is a straits that connects Asia and Europe, also connects the Maramara Sea to the Black Sea.  We took a lovely traditional steamboat ride to enjoy the array of colours and scented breezes, its balmy waters and admire the palaces and old mansions commonly called as ‘yalis’ that adorn the Bosphorus waters.

Sunset over Istanbul

Sunset over Istanbul

While steering through this city…Dusk fell and the setting sun illuminated the everything, gently bathing it in shimmering golds and crimsons. Lights were switched on and the silhouettes of the mosques rose, ready to greet the moon. It was time to go back to our hotel and look forward to the next wonderful day we decided to spend in Trabzon on the Black Sea.

The Wine World in my Eye!

Whats the first thing we think about when we talk about wine? Is the taste, type or the region? Well I think of France though I shall talk about others as well! I know I have a great connection to this country since I studied, ventured and worked for a little bit amongst the Alps. But even then, France is one country predominantly known for its wine! But tell you honestly, Italy is the biggest producer of this majestic drink!

Wines around the World

Let me explain why France is so closely associated with wine. It is because, it is the first country which protected its reputed wines with tight regulations. And since French invented them, we should turn our attention first to France. Fortunately, I had a chance to study them to a small extent. In my two years, I knew that France had vineyards in regions like Bordeaux, Loire, Beaujolais, etc. I tasted many wines and learnt a little from my experience and the techniques of finding out how good the wine is. Pairing it foods came in a bit later. Some of the popular regions in France that I had a chance to visit and taste one of the best wines in the world were from the region Bordeaux, Alsace and Rhône.

Bordeaux

Wineries in Bordeaux

Upstream the Garonne river provides the damp climate suitable for botrytis. A little later I shall explain what this word means but for now Bordeaux sweet wines are the most celebrated wines of its kind. Because of the proximity of the Atlantic Ocean, this region experiences humid misty mornings during the arrival of autumn relieved by the late sunshine during the day. This gentle process of dampening and drying is ideal for this wine. This is how my knowledge of Bordeaux Sweet wine began. My friend scrapped out 3 bottles of wine from his basement. I was impressed by his mini cellar since I didn’t know how important and valuable wines are for the French! He preserved his precious preserves! He made me taste all 3. They looked different though they tasted quite the same. I was confused, I thought they all were from the same family of sweet white wines but couldn’t identify anything. Then came the surprise! He told me that those bottles were 15, 11 and 7 years old! He gave me a small tip on these wines. He said they last for 20-30 years and the very top ones are virtually indestructible! They turn rich yellow to burnished orange and then distinguished deep brown..all still edible! I could only say one thing – ripe and rich was the wine from these 3 bottles as we drank under the deep blue skies with  Gruyere and goat cheese fondue!

Alsace

Enjoying the Wines of Alsace

A place of great history and a constant tug-of-war between France and Germany, has left this region culturally distinct. It is a unique blend of both the cultures and grape varieties. They produce medium or very dry wines. Though I am not such a fan of dry wines, I didn’t want to miss a chance to taste one. After I did, I thought they had a deep colour and a fine aroma with rumbustious alcohol content. Just a glass did make me a bit tipsy! But, right after that I was fed a rosé, which had pastel pink colour and I loved it. It is one of the most famous wines in Alsace called the Pinot Noir! Since I lived in this part of the country, this wine was in abundance! I was happy to know that I liked something from here as well!

Rhône

Grape picking and choosing the best ones!
Honestly, they all looked the same to me! 🙂

North and south Rhône are known for their spicy, rich reds and intriguing whites! I had never tasted spiced wines before. Infact I didn’t even know something like that exists since India never had a big wine culture back then. In Grenoble, the city in the Alps, and the wonderful place I lived in, had a cozy pub which served wines only. I guess they had about 100 different varieties. A bunch of us who practically had no knowledge of wines ended up here and got a bit greedy in tasting everything that we thought sounded cool! Fortunately, the bartender realized our sense of nonsense and started recommending what was different and which could suit our taste buds. Since I was the obvious and the only Indian around, he asked me if I wanted to taste something spicy! I was just happy with the word spicy and asked him to bring it on! As always, I was asked to smell and then sip. It smelled a bit heavy but slowly after a few swirls a musky grape smell arose from the glass. Then came a subtle taste of wine. It made me reminiscent of India, my land, my home!

United Stated of America

Wines from the rest of the world seem to attract me after my experience in France. The next place I ventured was the Unites States of America. And of course that is the Napa Valley in California. I realized that people here were very enthusiastic and were so willing to encourage people to drink wines and also went out of their way to help understand this drink. California is the epicenter of the US for wines. Vineyards spread from north to south along the cool hillside on the side of the ocean. Again a new wine was introduced to me, the Zinfandel! I was surprised that my knowledge of wines didn’t take to me this one, so what was this? A red-purple wine, high in alcohol, with heavy fruit concentration  was this wine! It had sub categories in this like the blush which tasted like a little sour raspberry punch, then a flavour strangely herbal and what not! Despite the fact I liked it, I thought it was made for style and fanciness!

In the Napa Valley – California

Cincinnati

Meier Wines – known for 45 types of cherries

The Meier Wines is a little winery in the heart of Cincinnati. A very cozy place with the best sherries and port wines. They had so many varieties that I couldn’t really count them on my fingers. They had 33 Cream Sherry, 11 Pale Dry Cocktail Sherry, Ruby Red Port, 22 Golden cherry and the list goes on. All these wines are unique to this place. This winery sprouted in the early 19th century and is still going strong. is best known for its 44 Cream Sherry and produces over 45 kinds of wines and a premium line of sparkling non-alcoholic grape juices. The uniqueness of this Cream Sherry comes from its ageing process – it is aged in whiskey barrels and this subtle taste of whiskey makes this sherry interesting. The other interesting fact, especially for people staying in USA, is that Meier Wines ships their product to your doorstep.  The only memento we carried back with us were its simple wine glasses.

Canada

Ice Wine from Canada

During one of our trips to Canada, to the beautiful city of Toronto, we had a chance to taste a very interesting variety of wine called Ice wine. Chilly as it was outside, we rushed into a local winery to warm ourselves. We hadn’t come across anything like an ice wine before. Even though it was ice cold, it did soothe us from the windy chill of the city. This wine was sweet tasting which is made from grapes that are frozen while still on the vines. The grapes are usually picked very early in the day, around sunrise, to ensure the grapes are in frozen condition. These wines are very crisp and refreshing, as if they have trapped the freshness from the morning air when the grapes were picked.

Barrels for picking the early morning grapes needed for Ice Wine

Switzerland

The Wine Cellar

Apart from its natural beauty, Switzerland does have a wine culture. Somehow, they have vineyards long its border with France, Germany & Italy. It is believed by the rest of Europe that Swiss wines are very expensive. Since I lived on the borders of France, I got a chance to visit the city of Geneva quite often. Sometimes it became a backpackers trip, sometimes a clubbing trip and once with Bipin. Since I went there so often and since I was picking up so much about wines, I decided to spend a bit on a bottle of Merlot red. Infact I am not too fond of Merlot but nevertheless I wanted to own one. This was the cheapest and it permitted my students budget. I was told that this came from a region called Ticino which was almost Italian. When I went back to Grenoble, I decided to open it with some friends. I had quite made up my mind that I would not like it, but to my surprise, it was different and had a very pleasing after taste. It was light and grassy with a tinge of the oak barrel taste.

Turkey

Mulled Wine of Turkey

Turkey produces a lot of wines despite being its Islamic population. I was quite surprised! I was also told that it is one of the first countries to produce wine. Anyway the one wine I had in Istanbul was a mulled wine which tasted delicious even when it was warm. On one of our last days in Turkey, we decided to have a nice dinner in a cozy cafe or a restaurant. I think we picked the prettiest cafe restaurant on the Taksim Square of Istanbul. Since it was a bit chilly, I decided to taste the warm mulled wine. I had never heard of this before! Apparently, this wine is made by heating and mixing wines, liquors and spices and is traditionally had on holidays. I was excited to taste this one and also surprised to be served in a coffee mug! The chilly weather, cozy cafe, my loved one and warm cup of wine. It was bliss!

Along with the the usual wines and blends, Turkey has a vast choice of fruit wines. Apple, Pineapple, Pomegranate, Apricot, to name a few. These are quite interesting especially to people new to wines since these are sweet and fruity. We did get a bottle back – one of the locally produced Pomegranate Wines, made an interesting after dinner dessert wine.

India

A pretty display barrel

Yes yes India! 🙂 Wine is an emerging culture in my country! A glass of wine hardly was heard of 10 years ago! Now, it is considered as a sophisticated drink and rates higher than other alcohols . People here still don’t have complete knowledge of wines but generally prefer white wines since they are a bit sweeter. Now and then, we go for a lot of wine fests which happen often during the month of November and December. So, wine and cheese marks the end of every year!

During one of the wine fests, I gathered some information that I didn’t quite believe. As soon as I came back, I looked through google and was astonished to know that wine was a part of India during the Harappan civilization. It was called Somarasa and was consumed during religious festivals. It sounds very strange indeed because generally Indians do not consume alcohol on the day of a religious festival.

The lush greens of the Sula Winery

Then, a  few years back we visited the Sula vineyard in Nasik, north of my city of Pune. A beautiful lush greens, neatly aligned grape vines looked gorgeous! The whole ambiance of the place was pretty. I think Sula wines did bring a small revolution among Indians and introduced the wine culture. From my knowledge it seemed like they made good wines. None of the wines were hazy and didn’t have floating particles in them. The swirl gave a a crisp aroma which made me believe that wine has begun its journey in India.

I agree that I don’t have a far-fetched knowledge of wines but these were some of my experiences and memories of this mystique drink. I think once you pick out the flavour and store them in your memory, you can enjoy it better. Also, I believe that if you like it, just sip it!

PS: Botrytis are infected grapes by strain of fungus. Damp conditions are needed for its growth. 🙂

For a cool wine quiz, click on to http://www.lively-wood.blogspot.in/2009/07/all-about-wine.html

An Experience in the Fairy Land – Turkey

Cappadocia, central Turkey, has a fairy land, a whole lot similar to what we read in classic tales. This fairy land is so breathtaking and yet so realistic that I did pinch myself a few times to make sure, I am in it and a part of it!

Fairyland

The terrain in Cappadocia is very unique, a place where nature and history have created one of the most spectacular panorama of the world. Due to volcanic eruptions in the region a large tableland of tufa rock was formed. Together with the erosion from the Kizilirmak river and wind over ten thousands of years there appeared the chimney rocks or the fairy chimneys. These chimneys were marked by signs of thousand-years-old civilizations by carving houses and churches within these earth pillars and decorating them with frescoes.

Terrain of Cappadocia

The Dark Church of the Geröme Caves

The first time we actually saw them was on a dark dawn of a Tuesday morning. A bunch of us were all geared up in a hot air balloon for a tour in to the clouds overlooking these beautiful rock formations. We had no idea about its exquisiteness until we floated in to the sky, the sun rose, and we witnessed the vast landscape!

Gearing up to fly

The Fairy Chimneys

The pilot of hot air balloon said that the traditional Cappadocian houses, churches, monasteries, mosques and dovecotes were carved into the stone. The soft quarried rock, which is the only construction material of the region, was easily processed and would harden after contact with air resulting in to this natural fairy land.

Orthisar Castle of Cappadocia

Vivid colours of the Rocks & its strange formations

While flying high and also ducking low in to the crevices of these rocks, we noticed a large number of dovecotes. We were told that these pigeon is a symbol of peace and devotion to family in Islam whereas regarded as a symbol of the “Holy Spirit” in Christianity. The reason behind hollowing out dove-cotes was not to catch and eat pigeons but to use their excrement as fertilizer. Some dovecotes are decorated with rich inscriptions and adornments by regional artists.

In the Fairy Chimneys

Dovecotes and Frescoes

We sailed on in the air for about an hour and a half. It seemed like a dream or something much beyond that because I don’t remember ever visiting a wonderland in my dream as well. It was so awe-inspiring and so colourful to be true that the biting cold didn’t bother us even one bit. We just went up to 800 metres, almost felt like I would touch the rising sun and then ducked as low as a few feet from the earth to see if I could peep into the window of the chimney!

Fairyland part II

Touching the rising Sun

Land of the fairy chimneys, unforgettable, unbelievable and so vivid, tops high on my list. Its a place to experience what a true fairyland might be!