Early the next morning we had a small bus pick us up to the airport and then to Istanbul. It genuinely felt like a return to a place so familiar. It’s amazing how quickly our definition of home can change.
Once we settled into the Airbnb, the only thing we had on the “agenda” that day was the ceremony of the swirling dervishes. There was a mismatch in the timings on the online booking vs the timings on flyers in our hotel for the same place so we first decided to drop in-in person to put our mind at ease. Once that was done, having covered the “main” places in the first part of the trip, we decided to just wander around the city. Passing by the cats, the offers for pictures in traditional attire, restaurants, markets strolled around the streets to reach Eminonu.
A boat ride on the Bosphorus is considered a must-do in Istanbul, but at first-glance seemed way over budget. Every single option online or via flyers in the hotels had options promising belly dancing, dinner and a long almost overnight ride. If that’s what you’re looking for you’ll find that easily. But we weren’t interested in spending as much nor did the experiences particularly interest us. To our surprise, right at Eminonu there was a gentleman simply calling out to passersby about the boat ride for a price of just 20TL! Mildly suspicious, we still decided to have a go at it. It was just enough for what we were looking for. There was modest seating on a passenger boat and it takes you for a ride of over an hour passing by all the landmarks on either sides of the Bosphorus. There are beautiful homes of the rich and famous by the riverside in addition to historic monuments.
It seemed to be a popular activity to throw food at the seagulls who enthusiastically swooped in to grab at it just before it fell to the water. It also gave us a bit of breathing space on the trip to zone out and do nothing but watch the city, the seagulls and the ripples in the water.
Once we got off the boat we realized we were starving, and quickly decided that our supper would be any street food that looked appetizing. The fish sandwiches made on a swaying boat seemed like quite the tourist favourite but I was afraid it’d make me too full to enjoy much else.
However, we couldn’t but try the Midye Dolmasi (Mussels stuffed with rice). Served with a generous slice of lemon it was a fun peppery snack.
The spice made us crave something to drink and there were young boys walking in between the tables selling drinks one of which looked like a fresh watermelon juice. We bought a glass of it looking forward to a refreshing sip only to realise we had bought pickle juice!! Though it had the opposite effect of quenching our thirst it made for a memorable moment as we then tried to decide which of the pickle we liked the best- cabbage, gherkins etc.
Wandering further we entered the Spice Bazaar, only to be faced with endless arrays of amazing pickles, sweets, spices, dry fruits, and treats. It’s quite a challenge to pass some of them by, but we decided on some sweets that would survive our journey in various flavours. At one store, the Turkish boy teased the young Pakistani one telling us that he was our enemy! The poor guy was embarrassed but kept quiet. I couldn’t but disagree and assure him that he was in fact family- just a little distance away from us in India! Many smiles were smiled as he filled bags with dry fruits for us and bid us a shy goodbye.
The pickle juice quickly made us crave some sweets, and we first tackled the Kunefe made of vermicelli and pistachios. This was more fun for the performance that accompanied its making, with a lot of quick movements and taps on the special vessel used to prepare the dish.
Amongst the vast array of sweets available, we also tried the Tulumba -a firm and sweet fried dough, which was a fun little treat.
We then made our way to watch the performance/ceremony of the Swirling dervishes. I’ve liked what little I’ve read of Rumi and have been intrigued by Sufism for a while so after being there in his homeland during his birthday we couldn’t but help wanting to view the ceremony of the swirling dervishes which have become synonymous with the image of Sufism in popular culture. There are several shows available to book online and you’ll possibly also find flyers with your hotels too. We picked this one in case you wanted a reference. While we had no complaints we can’t really comment on whether it’s the best/most authentic/accurately priced because we don’t have a comparative barometer.
With all the glimpses of it in Indian music videos, it’s easy to forget that at its core it is a religious ceremony- so our advice would be to not go expecting to be entertained. This mismatch in expectations led to a few members of the audience falling asleep and a few walking out of the hall.
Before the performance, we had time to regard a display of Sufi artefacts from attire to musical instruments to writings of Rumi. The sounds of the ceremony itself- both the voices of the priests and the music very easily lulls you to a comfortable, numb state of mind and even sleep. It’s quite entrancing to see the dervishes twirling almost endlessly and seemingly without any strain but there is much more to the ceremony before and after. For us, we were glad we tried it because it was definitely a memorable and educative experience.
After the performance we took the tram (our now favourite means of commute) back to Eminonu just to spend more time by the Bosphorus, people watching. Not very hungry by now, fresh cobs of corn and warm chestnuts made up the rest of our supper before we headed back to the Airbnb looking forward to the last 2 days we had in Istanbul.