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THAT MAGICAL PLACE WHERE EAST MEETS WEST
Written By Jodie Linton-Prickett
Drifting back and forth between relaxation and being on edge, I sipped on a hot apple spiced tea, with tiny nuggets of fruit pieces transferring from my cup to my mouth then dancing on my tongue. I wasn’t even sure what led me into the high-pressure carpet shop, slash confectionery shop. Rows and rows of gourmet Turkish Delight filled the shelves in every color under the rainbow, the vivid reds, pinks and greens rolled up covering a chewy gel-like concoction, then coated in chunks of nuts, or rose petals or lotus flowers. The fragrant teas and candies heightened my senses as three men tried to sell me their wares, from carpets, to spices to of course, Turkish Delight.
Overwhelmed and under prepared, I was ready to depart with an eight by ten-inch bag containing a jar of saffron, a jar of honey and six pieces of Turkish Delight, and a free charm thrown in as a gift. After a vigorous pounding on a handheld calculator by one of the men, 4700.00 Turkish Lira was the magic number. Roughly about $250.00. The second the credit card was swiped, I knew I had been had, but it was the price I seemed to negotiate to leave the building, and I was almost glad to pay it. I’m far from an inexperienced traveler, Turkey rounded out my 50th country and my fifth continent. Yet, there I was walking back to the hotel with my tail between my legs.
Turkey had piqued my interest as a teenager, when my grandparents returned from a church trip from Istanbul. My grandmother marveled over the history of the Hagia Sofia and its magnificent architectural feat. How it was originally built as a Christian Church in 537 A.D. and then it was turned into a Mosque then later into a museum. Today it is now a hybrid of an active Mosque and a museum. She told me as you exit the behemoth of a structure, you can turn back and look at what little remnants were left of the Christian mosaics, almost lost completely to time. While only fragments, they were astoundingly beautiful. One day, I knew I would go there.
Due to bouts of unrest, Turkey was on my bucket list and removed, lowered as a must-see priority and elevated. It wasn’t until I read Dan Brown’s novel, Inferno, that I really knew I had to go to see the Basilica Cistern and my grandmother’s beloved Hagia Sofia.
The subterranean palace, the Basilica Cistern, ensnared my imagination. It escalated Turkey back to the top of my list. Unable to even conceive how impressive this structure might be in real life, I absolutely had to see it with my own eyes. The construction began in 428 A.D., in the Byzantine era. As you descend about 52 steps down under the plaza area up above, the engineering marvel comes into view. Over 330 salvaged granite and marble columns that soar 30 feet high hold up the ceiling, grated metal walkways suspend you over the water, which mirrors the columns, giving the illusion you are looking down 30 feet, as well as up. I gazed in awe and walked the 105,000 square feet at least twice. Captivated by the Medusa heads and the heartbreaking column of tears, which is said to commemorate the lives lost during the construction. It absolutely made the trip worth taking,
This exotic land of over 3,000 Mosques, with soaring minarets populating the skyline is absolutely enigmatic. The calls to prayer are otherworldly, transporting you to a place that feels unreal. Istanbul is vast and heavily populated. Cradled in rolling hills, surrounded by two brilliant seas and spreading over two continents. The food is interesting and delicious with flavors and traditions, which I have never experienced. The streets are filled with cats, cherished and protected by the Turks. Ruled by three legendary empires, Roman, Byzantine and the Ottoman, with over 8500 years of history, it is no wonder it is the fifth most visited city in the world.
On my last night, I went on a dinner cruise, seamlessly gliding across the sea, we passed almost unknowingly between Asia and Europe. As I sipped on my Turkish Coffee, I watched as a Whirling Dervish slipped into his trance. Truly a sight to behold. As he spun, his long white robe with a full skirt started to open up and swirl fluidly, pulling me into his daze, as he tilted his head, his tall dark hat balanced perfectly without hesitation. It was then, I once again recognized the feeling, lingering between relaxation and being on the edge. I knew it was in my cards to go to this strange, yet mysterious land, but I somehow felt that it was not necessary to ever return.
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