I made sure to get up early in the morning because I was going to the Topkapı Palace. There are two parts to the palace, and it’s definitely worth visiting both. One is the main museums and palace, and one is the “harem apartments”, where the ladies of the sultan’s harem resided. It sounds like it would have been a quite awful place to be kept in, with all the politicking and possibility for instant disposal if you were not to someone’s liking (sounds a little like the entertainment/music scene in LA, cough cough). The harem-ees were often the “spoils” of war, Circassians from the Caucasus being a popular choice.
The entrance for this part of the museum is a separate fee, and there are often really long lines. It’s worth getting there early to avoid crowds, though being there in the middle of winter I think helped also, it was not overly busy.
Again, I didn’t go insane with the pictures though I did take a few. There were a couple rooms, one in particular, that was sort of a study area for one of the sultan’s sons (I believe one who did NOT go on to become a sultan), that were interesting to me. I had this sense of, familiarity and safety (from official duties) in those rooms, and yeah, I might have been here before. I’m not sure if these things make any sense but I do find it curious.
There could be worse views to wake up to in the morning…
Again there are a ton of better pictures elsewhere. ALSO! all of the crazy jewels and artifacts in the museum- you aren’t allowed to take pictures of most of these. Unbelievable sculptures that are of various tombstones, the most ornate jewelry and accessories I’ve ever seen, clothing, ancient artifacts, just really amazing and breathtaking! If you go to Istanbul, you have to go to the palace.
Afterwards I headed northwest towards the Spice Bazaar. I was in quest of a certain ingredient that is IMPOSSIBLE (wink wink, nudge, nudge) to find in the US, salep. Salep is the root of an orchid that is protected in Turkey and illegal to export. It has a creamy, delicious taste, that same creaminess that you get from drinking hot chocolate (I think hot chocolate is really creamy, even chocolate con agua, which has no dairy in it, anyhoots), but a subtle flavor that’s hard to compare it to. I want to say vanilla, and some saleps do have vanilla added, but there is something additional. It was popularized during the Ottoman Empire, and spread to the rest of the Balkans (where you can still find it today), to the cafes of Vienna, and as far as Germany and England.
I had salep for the first time in Philadelphia at a lovely Turkish cafe called Cafe Fulya just south of South on 2nd street. I’m pretty sure it was the legal type which is okay to export, that has artificial salep flavor. The woman thought I was totally nuts (she was correct, but for the wrong reasons) when I would ask to make it with almond milk instead of regular milk to avoid the dairy in the powder. I’ve found salep mix without dairy in some middle eastern and Palestinian markets in Chicago last year near a place I played at, Brown Rice (now closed), but these don’t taste the same. If I had a boyfriend I would totally want to take him to Cafe Fulya for Sunday brunch every week.
How is this in Philly?
Anyway, I digress. Salep contains glucomannan, a dietary fiber, which some believe can help various conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. As far as I’ve been able to research the jury is still out on this, as high fiber often means high carbs, which is usually NOT GOOD. The major constituent by percentage is mucilage, which is responsible for the creamy texture of prepared hot salep drink. Plants containing mucilage have also been used for cough suppressants and to deal with spasming of the gastrointestinal tract (everything from acid reflux to various bowel disorders).
If you’d like some more info on this very interesting beverage, a great site can be found here: http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/o/orchid13.html