By Muneezah Jawad
A guide to what makes Turkey special
Looking back at my travels around the world, I can safely say that the stopover we took in Istanbul last winter, enroute to Pakistan, was easily one of the most memorable.
There are thousands of blogs and guides that tell you what to see once you get there. First time visitors to Istanbul can easily fill up a five day trip with visits to the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Museum, Hagia Sophia, the Bosphorus and many more unforgettable places.
Certain things in all vacations stick with you forever. A particular food, a favorite spot or an interesting anecdote. By no means a comprehensive list, I wanted to tell you about my list of little things that made Turkey such a wonderful memory for my family.
I found the locals to be extremely pleasant and genteel. They indulged their tourist guests with extreme patience and hospitality. Everywhere you wander they invite you in for a drink of their very own brew of apple tea. I felt very safe walking around with my family despite the great hustle and bustle of the city. Sometimes it was also overwhelming as my little three year old daughter would wander into shops with us and never leave empty handed. Shopkeepers, much to my embarrassment, fawned over her and gave her handfuls of Turkish delight. In the end we were glad as we were kept in a steady and free supply of this delectable treat!
Mentioned in the Holy Qur’an as a fruit in Heaven, if I could ever conceive what it would look like in Heaven, I’m sure it would come in the shape of giant, palm sized, ruby red pomegranates that I saw in Turkey. Almost every street vendor was selling fresh pomegranate juice. It’s a fascinating process. They simply take the fruit, cut into half, then place each half into a juice press; push the lever down and out came the most beautiful blood red juice. They would not skimp, just kept cutting fruit after fruit until the glass was overflowing. We each had 2 glasses a day at least and I could literally feel its goodness seeping into me as I drank it. At only three lira a glass (around $1.50 Canadian) this should be on everyone’s must-try list for sure.
In contrast to the cold, red juice is the steaming hot drink, Salep. A creamy white, thick concoction made from the powder of wild orchids and topped with a dash of cinnamon, Salep is sold in front of all major tourist sites in large samovars in the winters. It’s a favorite with the kids, and great to sit with, drink and enjoy your surroundings. Its warmth creeps into your tired bones and rejuvenates you after walking around all day.
To say that Turkey is steeped in history is an understatement. Of particular importance is of course the Islamic history. In Istanbul we went to the Topkapi Museum where there are thousands of artifacts. From relics of our beloved Prophets (AS) to the very buildings themselves, it was a true honour to be able to see those things and more importantly show our children that these people did exist and are not simply people we read about. One relic that I cannot forget is a showcase containing the staff of Prophet Musa (AS). There have been many questions raised about the authenticity of this but just the very possibility that it could be real was astounding.
The Really Grand Bazaar
I had spent several weeks dreaming about shopping in Turkey before we left. I even went as far as to suggest to my husband that we should probably take a few empty suitcases along to fill with my purchases! Not surprisingly he didn’t agree.
The reality is shopping is not cheap in Turkey. You will have to pay for good quality things as you would in Canada. Your dollar is not going to stretch as much as you think it would. While bargaining is fun, really at the end of the day you will pay what the shopkeeper wants as there is no dearth of tourists willing to spend their money.
The Grand Bazaar was my favorite place to shop. I nagged my husband endlessly to take me as soon as we landed in Turkey. But when I got there, I stood frozen to my spot, mouth open in astonishment and eyes glazed over in disbelief. More than 3000 shops opened their arms beckoning me. I didn’t know where to start! My body wanted to travel in 10 different directions at once. It was a colorful and noisy carnival of people and a plethora of goods. So, my advice is to take a deep breath, spend half a day browsing, getting to know the bazaar and then come back another day and selectively pick and choose what you want so you can avoid buyer’s remorse. There is only so much you can carry home with you. I picked up some lovely jewelry, some ceramics, silk scarves and a Turkish mosaic lamp.
No trip to Turkey would be complete without a trip to the local Hammam. This Turkish bath house is segregated and some are also child friendly. You must not be squeamish to enjoy this experience to the fullest.
Make sure you pick a place that’s clean and not overpriced. Wrap yourself in the towel they provide after undressing and then sweat it out on heated marble slabs that is like a sauna. You will be scrubbed and rubbed and oiled like a squeaky wheel. Finally you will be soaped and lathered and emerge new and shiny like the ugly duckling emerged as the swan. It’s a Turkish tradition and a fun one at that but you must be willing to go along for the ride.
The Call to prayer
Living in Canada one of the things I miss most is the Azaan – our five times a day call to prayer. Istanbul has over 3000 mosques. Come prayer time the synchronicity of the Azaan from all those mosques along with the extremely melodious voices of the muezzins reverberated throughout my very being. It truly makes you stop in your tracks and listen in awe. It was a very moving and spiritual experience. It reminded me that I was in an Islamic country that cherishes is heritage.
About the author:
Muneezah Jawad is the Social Media Manager at MuslimMoms.ca