Adventure in Turkey

Installment #1: Adventure in Turkey with the Muchachas–‘The Girls’ from Philly
I landed in Istanbul, one of my favorite places in the world, on a sunny morning in May. The “Muchachas,” a group of friends from Pennsylvania, had asked me to lead a private textile tour of Turkey and I had arrived a few days early. Although I hadn’t yet met the ladies, they’d been delightful in all correspondence thus far, and I was looking forward to the adventure with them.


At the Kybele Hotel, the friendly owners welcomed me back. Vefa stood smiling at the desk, under colorful hanging lamps, just a few of the thousand glowing lamps that give the Kybele its cozy ambiance. The brilliant turquoise paint job outside only hints at the Bohemian atmosphere of the establishment!
The hotel is named after the Phrygian Mother Goddess or Earth Goddess, Kybele (Cybele to the Greeks). Pretty cool name for a hotel owned by three brothers!
The Kybele Hotel is full of rich colors and beautiful Ottoman-period antiques. A strong kid sprinted up the winding marble staircase with my bulging suitcase, up two floors to my room. The suitcase must weigh about a ton–with all those chocolate bars I bought in Geneva on my way to Turkey–dark chocolate with creme brulé, dark with quinoa, milk with caramel crispies, dark with nougat crunch–all easy decisions in the block-long chocolate aisle. The Swiss have as many chocolate choices as we have cereal.
I headed up Yerebatan Cadessi [Street]. Along the pedestrian street, past numerous ATMs, cafes, fancy jewelry stores, and a Starbucks…in 6 minutes I was at old stone arch leading to the Nuruosmaniye Mosque, next to the Grand Bazaar. The mosque was undergoing repairs and restorations, and a serious heavy-gauge iron-roofed structure covered the walkway, protecting the faithful and the bazaar shoppers from any ancient chunks that might fall from above. Each tall, thin minaret was in a scaffolding cage and workmen tiptoed around the uppermost levels, scraping and patching.
I walked on through the huge arch, into shopper’s paradise. Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, with over 4,000 shops.  Construction on the bazaar began in 1455! The whole complex now also contains two mosques, two hamams [Turkish baths], four fountains, and multiple restaurants and cafes. It’s also a textile collectors’ heaven. And the carpet sellers, who used to drag shoppers in by the sleeve, seem to have been re-trained to realize that tourists are more likely to buy a rug when not harangued into entering the shop and being force-fed little glasses of tea!
I was starving, after 15 hours of tiny airplane meals. I walked past long rows of shops, not pausing once to check out the sequined belly-dance outfits, hand-painted ceramic tiles, sleek leather jackets, pirated Prada bags, or the Evil Eye protector key chains. There it was! my favorite restaurant called Pedeliza, in a little courtyard, with tables all set up for lunch. Like many restaurants in Turkey, here the food is already prepared, which works perfectly for this kind of cuisine, often served at room temperature.
I looked over the selection of savory mixtures, and pointed to my lunch–a stuffed eggplant dish called “The Imam Fainted,” from pleasure I presume, since it is absolutely delicious. Another theory is that the thrifty Imam fainted when he found out how much expensive olive oil is used in the preparation… In the US, we don’t eat much eggplant and I think it’s because we don’t cook it enough; here eggplant dishes are baked in olive oil, into perfect tenderness, with tomatoes, cumin, chile and green peppers. Other eggplant dishes include cubes of lamb or ground beef, and are equally popular. The Pedeliza Restaurant is only open from noon to 3, and by that time the delicious food is GONE!

As I ate, I watched the chef at the outside corner of the restaurant, slicing thin pieces off a tower of meat, called döner kebab, literally ‘rotating roast.’ Traditionally made of lamb, döner kebab is cooked on a vertical spit and sliced off to order. A chicken version has become popular recently, and chefs sometimes layer carrots with the meat, so that the tower of succulent white meat is decorated with orange circles. I devoured my lunch more quickly than is polite, drank water from the little clear plastic container at my place, and paid the bill. Then I hurried off to find the textile stalls.

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