The Mad Honey of Turkey’s Black Sea Coast

When to Roman general  Gaeus Pompeius lead his soldiers into battle against the Pontus King Mithridates  in Turkey’s Black Sea region in 67BC, he got a big shock one morning. A good part of his troops lay around in a stupor, unable to get up, leave alone raise a weapon. They all had a smile on their faces though. Mystified, because they definitely hadn’t overindulged in alcohol it took a while to solve the mystery. The enemy’s secret weapon was a sweet one: honey.

The army had moved through the mountainous and humid area near Trabzon where rhododendron bushes grew in abundance, beehives and honeycombs lined the way and the soldiers indulged happily in their sweet tooth. The Pontians had left them there to entice the Romans into consuming them and thus disabled a good part of the soldiers without bloodshed. Because they knew what the Roman’s didn’t: honey from the rhododendrons contains a good portion of grayanotoxin, a natural neurotoxin which, consumed in small quantities causes a ‘high’, in bigger ones leads to hallucinations, respiratory problems, unconsciousness  or even death.

If you have visited Turkey, you’ll know that honey is an essential ingredient in Turkish cuisine. No breakfast without butter and honey, baklava drenched in honey and goezleme, the paper thin pancake filled with honey and walnuts are only a few of the Turkish Delights.

baklava

sweets

Much of the honey comes from the Black Sea region, but the specialty is mad honey or deli bal in Turkish. Still produced and difficult to come by, it’s totally legal in Turkey and pretty expensive when and if you are able to find a beekeeper who will sell it to you.

The Turks use it as medicine because it’s good against hypertension and diabetes mellitus. But… just a drop or two, boiled in milk and consumed before breakfast. Don’t even think about stirring the reddish ‘gold’ into your tea of spread it on your bread, otherwise you can become very ill indeed.

Deli bal is produced in spring, when the beekeepers drag their beehives up the mountains where vast swaths of rhododendrons flower and no other plants are around, so the honey the bees pollinate is pure and the grayanotoxin content high. The countryside is very pretty, with chalets, woods and nearby Lake Uzun. It’s worth a trip even if you aren’t on the trail of mad honey or can’t get it.

chalet

chalets

waterfall

Lake Uzun

Lake Uzun

If you are scared of poisoning yourself a much more risk free use of deli bal is as skincare. Do like Cleopatra and rub it into your face for a smooth skin. If you contemplate taking a bath in milk and mad honey though, you better have a very healthy bank account.

 

 

May Flower Festival in Antalya/Turkey

Spring is the time of year when many flower festivals are held in Europe. Some like the festival in Girona/Spain or the world famous San Remo flower parade are better known than others.

If you want to enjoy a flower festival which you have probably never heard of, head for Antalya on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.

Antalya

Not for nothing is Antalya the 8th most popular tourist destination in Turkey and one of my personal favorites. Located between the snow covered Taurus mountains and the Mediterranean coast, the city is a treasure trove for history fans like myself as well as an ideal destination for lovers of pristine beaches and water sports.

Taurus mountains

Taurus mountains

Konyaalti beach

Konyaalti beach

 

Stroll around Kaleici old town, take a tram ride, chill out on Konyaalti Beach or visit one of the most stunning archaeological museums in all of Turkey.

Antalya Museum

Antalya Museum

Kaleici at night

Kaleici at night

Duden waterfall or the mystical chimera are only two of many excursions you can go on from Antalya.

Duden waterfall

Duden waterfall

flame2

But today, I’m telling you about a very special event which will take place at the end of May.

Antalya’s 12th Flower Festival! Not only are flowers used to make colorful floats, the theme of this year’s  is Kids and Flowers. What could be more suitable and lovely.

antalaflowers

Here is the complete program.

12th ANTALYA FLOWER FESTIVAL PROGRAMME

21 May 2016

Activity 1

: Kids Plant Flowers

Time: 10.00 to 17.00

Location

: Cumhuriyet Square

Activity 2

Stage Performances

Date 20th and 21st May

Time 16:00 to 21.00

Location: Cumhuriyet Square

Activity 3

Competiton for cars made from flowers

Date 21st May

Time 16.30 to 18.00

Location: Cender Hotel

Activity 4

Cortege of Antalya Flower Festival

Date 21st May

Time 18.00 to 19.00

Location Between Cender Hotel and Cumhuriyet Square (Tram Road)

Activity 5

: Cumhuriyet Square Protocol and Award Ceremony for Flower Cars

Date 21st Ma

Time 19.00 to 20.00

Location: Cumhuriyet Square

Activity 6

Landscape Exhibition

Date 20th and 21st May

Time: 10.00 to 20.00

Location: Cumhuriyet Square

Activity 7

Decoration of Cumhuriyet Square with Flowers by the Municipality of Antalya

As you can see, there is plenty of activity in Antalya, accompanied by the sweet scent of flowers and the cheers of kids.. And during the rest of your time, enjoy the many sights.

Istanbul’s Galata Bridge- a World of its own

Every time I arrive in Istanbul, I’m drawn like by a magnet to the Galata Bridge. For me, it’s the ideal place to get into the spirit of things and prepare for some serious exploring of all the marvels of this fascinating city.
First things first though: I settle into my favorite little hotel in Sultanahmed. I have stayed in the Muhlis Bey Hotel so many times, I’m treated like family. I get my favorite room on the first floor with a tiny balcony from which I can nearly touch Hagia Sofia on one side and the Blue Mosque on the other. The hotel, which is located in a beautifully renovated traditional wooden townhouse as are several in the area, features a roof terrace where I enjoy breakfast with an added view over the Bosporus.

Bedroom Mulish Bey Hotel

Bedroom Mulish Bey Hotel

Antique shop in the basement

Antique shop in the basement

My friend, the waiter, care taker, handy man all rolled in one, prepares me the nicest Turkish breakfast imaginable. He has even been known to make a little detourrto the market before reporting for work to get me some fresh fruit. Thus fortified, it’s time for my trip to the Galata Bridge.
The hotel is conveniently located within walking distance of many major sites in Istanbul and I could take the tram to the Galata Bridge, but I prefer to walk. It takes about 25 minutes and along the way I take, yet another , peek at Cirkece Gare, the emblematic train station which was once the final stop of the Orient Express.
Pat the Bosporus and the many stops of the ferries which depart from there other suburbs in Istanbul, on the Asiana as well as on the European side, Galata Bridge looms into view.
Why do I like ti so much? Because it’s not just a bridge which connects one part of Istanbul with another, but really a world on its own.
History of the Galata Bridge
It took several centuries for bridge connecting Karakoy with Eminonu to take the shape it ahs today. The very first bridge spanning the Golden Horn was a pontoon bridge constructed by the Ottomans in 1453 at the time of the conquest of Constantinople.
In 1502, sultan Beyazit II commissioned none less than Leaonrdo da Vinci to come up with s design of a more permanent bridge, However, the designs submitted by the great multi talent da Vinci did not meet with it the approval of the sultan.
Three more bridges followed, one a wooden bridge until in 1994 the current bascule bridge was opened. The bridhe carries cars, the ram and foot passengers and affords a great view over the Golden Horn and the Galata Tower at one end.
Arriving at the foot of the bridge, I indulge in my first Galata Bridge experience.

Fishermen on the Galata Bridge

Fishermen on the Galata Bridge

Nowhere else in the city can you sample the most famous snack of the city: fish buns. Richly carved boasts are moored to the pier and near the bridge where vendors in embroidered vests offer the passers bye toasted buns filled with pickles and freshly grilled fish fillets. You grab a bun and a drink and sit down on one of the many rickety chairs or stools grouped around each boat and enjoy your snack and the world going bye.

Floating restaurant

Floating restaurant

Fish bun vendor

Fish bun vendor

The good thing is, you’ll not find fresher and more tasty fish and the filets hardly have any bones because the vendors expertly remove them before slapping them in the buns.
Then it’s time to cross the bridge proper, past the fisherman who are as much a typical sight of Istanbul as the Blue Mosque or the Grand Bazaar. Summer or winter, hundreds of them line the bridge from one end to the other, casting their rods and fishing for pleasure, their dinner or to sell their catch to the boats below.
Sometimes I make my way to the Galata Tower but as often as not, I turn around and walk back, this time underneath the bridge because the underside is as interesting as the top.

Galata Tower

Galata Tower

One restaurants and shop after another are wedged into the arches of the bridge and it’s one of the best place where to sample a nagile if so inclined. And why not, it’s another Istanbul pleasure not to be missed together with a Turkish coffee and a waiter who, maybe, will read your fortune from the coffee grounds.

Nagiles

Nagiles

To round out my first day back in Istanbul and getting into the spirit of things, I make my way to the Spice market.

Spice market

Spice market

No greater pleasure than walking up and down the aisles, indulging in the smells and colors of countless spices, all heaped in enticing piles and then going around outside where cheeses are sold .It’s also the best place to get an education on the many varieties of Turkish Delight, much more than you might think possible.

Variations of Turkish Delight

Variations of Turkish Delight

Figs stuffed with walnuts

Figs stuffed with walnuts

If you are looking for a suggestion as how to spend your first day in Istanbul, I can’t recommend a better itinerary.

Istanbul Day Trip No. 2 – Goztepe

Day trip No.1 lead us to Sariyer on the Bosporus. For me personally, the main attraction is the fabulous Sedberk Hanim museum. Given my love of museums I was happy to discover that leafy Goztepe is the location of yet another such little gem. But that’s not the only reason why this Istanbul suburb makes for a great day trip.
It seems that poets and novelists have a penchant for founding their own museums. Think about Turkish Nobel prize laureate Orhan Pamuk and his’ Museum of Innocence’ now open in Istanbul’s Cukurcuma district. The museum is closely related to his novel of the same title.
Equally famous in Turkey, although maybe less known abroad is poet Sunay Akin. His passion, apart from his literary work, are toys. To exhibit his vast collection and make it accessible to the public, he opened a Toy Museum in Göztepe.


Toy museum Goztepe

Toy museum Goztepe

As it turned out, a visit to Gözetepe’s Toy museum is a delightful day trip, because you have four experiences all rolled into one outing.

Haydarpasha Train Station

 

Göztepe is a very green and quite elegant residential suburb located on Istanbul’s Asian side and well worth a visit on its own. To get there, I enjoyed a Bosporus ferry ride.

Ferry ride

Ferry ride

I took the ferry to Kadiköy from Eminönü near the Galata Bridge and made sure it stops at the historic  Haydarpasha train station.

Haydapasha train station

Haydapasha train station

Haydapasha train station outside

Haydapasha train station outside

The art deco building is a famous Istanbul landmark which you can visit en route to Göztepe. Then take the suburban train from Haydarpasha to Kartal which departs from platform 2, alight at the fourth stop, cross the road, walk down Tanzimal Street until you reach Dr. Zeki Zeren Street, turn left and proceed to the end.

 

Toy Museum Goztepe

The building itself is attraction number three. The museum is housed in a beautifully restored konak, one of the old wooden houses not located on the water ( those are called yahlis) which, well into the 1800s prevailed in Istanbul over stone houses. Fires, earthquakes and neglect have destroyed many, so it’s a special treat to visit a konak restored to its former glory.

Welcome to the toy museum

Welcome to the toy museum

Pay your admission of approx. $3 and become a child again for the next hour or two. Akin has assembled more that 4000 toys from all over the world and they are displayed over four floors, grouped together by subjects.
German Käthe Kruse dolls, sit next to a splendid Barbie collection. Doll houses, replicas of American drug stores, Indian fortresses and space shuttles, all are rubbing shoulders in this extraordinary museum.

dollface

laden

sultan
Round the visit off by enjoying a coffee or tea in the Café located on the ground floor next to a toy shop where you can buy toys, teddy bears, books and other souvenirs.

Cafe and shop in the toy museum

Cafe and shop in the toy museum

The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 9.30 am to 6pm.

Baghdad Avenue and City Park

 

After your visit to the museum, be prepared for some serious shopping along Baghdad Avenue. The 14km long one way Avenue is the Asian equivalent to Istiklal Avenue on the European side of Istanbul with elegant shopping malls, designer stores , upscale restaurants and cafes. It’s a pleasure even if you just mingle with the crowds and window shop.

shop

käfer
If shopping isn’t to your liking, you can finish off your day trip to Goztepe with a walk in City Park, with 10.000m2 Istanbul’s largest green zone.
With so many different things to do and see, a day out in Goztepe will pass much too fast.

Sariyer, where the sultans escaped Istanbul’s summer heat

During my stay in Istanbul, I made it a point to go on several day trips which took me out of the well trodden ‘must see’ itinerary of Sultanahmed, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar and all the other world famous sights.
Istanbul is such a vast city, that you can easily spend an enjoyable day in totally different surroundings without actually leaving the boundaries of the city. Suburb upon suburb, islands, woods and boat trips are waiting for you to be explored. Additional fun is that you can cross from one continent to another without noticing it.
This post and the next few will show you my day trips, making use of ferries, buses or the metro. No car, taxi or organized tours needed. Bus 25T from Taksim Square will take you to Sariyer in about 2 hours.

Water, woods and fish in Sariyer
Sariyer is the northernmost district of Istanbul where the Bosporus meets the Black Sea. On the one side is the water and on the other steep densely forested hills which make for a very pleasant climate even during the hottest summer months.

Boats in Sariyer

Boats in Sariyer

The many villages which make up this stretch were originally humble fishing communities, but the Ottomans soon discovered the benefits of fresh breezes and came here for picnics and excursions. Then they started to build summer palaces, the famous wooden yahlis, huge and beautifully decorated.

pinkh
In the 18th and 19th century, the wealthy businessmen of Pera and Galata followed and to this day, some parts are the most expensive real estate to be had in all of Istanbul.
There is only a rather narrow coast road which leads from the city to Sariyer which is why you should avoid making your daytrip on weekends. The traffic is horrendous because it’s still a favorite weekend escape for the city dwellers. Any other day is fine and there are several buses which will take you there.
The fishing tradition continues insofar as Sariyer has countless fish restaurants from expensive to very simple which offer the best and freshest fish. In the past, the fish was often cooked on the boats, much as it is today under the Galata bridge, but not anymore in Sariyer.

Fish restaurant in Sariyer

Fish restaurant in Sariyer

I love to walk along the promenade, look at the boats which are docked there, enjoy the breeze from the Bosporus and then indulge in a tasty fish platter in one of the restaurants overlooking the water.
Afterwards, I just cross the coastal road and climb up any one of the narrow side roads between the buildings to lose myself in the forest. Further up lies Belgrade Forest which was a military exercise ground under the Ottomans and is today the no.1 picnic spot for the people of Istanbul.

tree
Sadberk Hanim museum – get you fill of culture
Over the centuries, Istanbul two nemesis have been earthquakes and fire. Many of the wooden palaces have fallen victim to one or the other, which is why it’s a special treat if you can admire one of the old masterpieces which have survived and/or been restored.
The Sadberk Hanim museum is such a treasure. The pink and white yahli dates from the 19th century and was purchased in 1950 as a summer residence by the wealthy Koc family. In 1978 the Koc Foundation decided to convert the residence into a museum open to the public and to house the vast private collection of the family. Later, an adjacent building was purchased to make a home for yet another collection.

Sadberkhanim Museum

Sadberkhanim Museum

The result is a museum which covers archaeological exhibits from Greek and Roman times to Ottoman art and, my absolute favorite, Sadberk’s collection of antique Ottoman women’s clothes. The mannequins are arranged in ‘scenes’ like a henna party, a wedding party or a tea party and you can only marvel at the color and beauty of the fabric.

Henna party

Henna party

The museum is located in a part of Sariyer called Buyukdere. Note, that it is closed on Wednesdays.
Rumelian Castle
Round out your daytrip to Sariyer with a visit to the massive Rumelian Castle overlooking the Bosporus.

Rumelian Castle

Rumelian Castle

The castle was built by Sultan Mehmet II in preparation for his final assault on Constantinople in the record time of 4 months and 16 days from 1451 to 1452. Partly destroyed by an earthquake in 1509 is was quickly restored. Today it’s a museum and a open air theatre.
The fortress is vast with three main towers and 14 smaller watchtowers, a fact which makes the record time in which it was built so much more impressive. Walk around to your heart’s content, just make sure you wear good hiking shoes.
Rumeli Castle is also closed on Wednesday.
The day trip to Sariyer is an ideal combination of culture, history, great food, splendid views and plenty of fresh air. You couldn’t ask for more, just remember to avoid weekends and Wednesdays. It’s a very suitable excursion for a Monday when most of the museums and sights in Istanbul are closed.