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.

 

 

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.

Playing at sultana for the night in Edirne/Turkey

It is not often that I dedicate an entire blog post to a hotel, but the Tasodalar Hotel in Edirne deserves more than a few words on FB or twitter.


First, a bit of background is needed to make you fully appreciate why this hotel is so special. It was day two on a five day press trip to Thrace, the European part of Turkey, when we arrived in Edirne.
The city is a treasure trove of historical sites and buildings, most prominently among them the 16th century Selimiye Mosque with the highest minarets in Turkey and the Beyazit II mosque and complex with a centuries old famous medical school.

Selimiye Mosque

Selimiye Mosque

Beyazit II complex

Beyazit II complex

Add caravansaries, palaces, bazaars, a synagogue, an orthodox church and two long bridges over the river Tunca and you will see that you can easily spend two or even three days in Edirne to admire it all.

Bridge over river Tunca

Bridge over river Tunca

Of course, one has to spend the night somewhere and that’s where the Tasodalar comes in.

Tasodalar Hotel

Tasodalar Hotel

It is even older than the Selimiye mosque and formed part of the first Ottoman palace built in 1362. The lovely pink stone and wood structure is located right next to the mosque, so you wake up to the call to prayer and can see the sun rise over the tall minarets looking out your window.
Across the road you find an important cemetery and in the back a hamam all of which date from the same time. You are literally surrounded by history.

Ottoman cemetery

Ottoman cemetery

Hamam behind hotel

Hamam behind hotel

What’s more though is that according to records, Sultan Mehmet II, the conqueror of Istanbul was born in this mansion on the 29th of March 1432. If you get lucky, you can rent room 208 which is the Hurrem Sultan suite and supposedly the birth chamber of one of Turkey’s greatest sultans. How cool is that?
Entering the lobby, you already step back in time. Wooden floors and wall panels, mirrors, antique sofas and an ornate desk as reception counter with a computer the only bow to modern times.

Lobby Tasodalar Hotel

Lobby Tasodalar Hotel

After the building of the new palace, Tasodaler served as the residence of Beys and Pashas and reminders of these glories are everywhere.
On the first floor landing, a mannequin dressed as sultana watches over a baby in a cot, a reference to the great sultan who was born in this very place.

A reminder of the royal baby

A reminder of the royal baby

The hotel has only nine rooms, but each one is a different work of art with incredible attention to detail. The rooms are huge and can accommodate a total of 25 people.

 

My key opened the door to the Hurrem Sultan suite and a four poster bed shrouded in transparent curtains woven through with gold thread greeted me. An ornate dresser, two more single beds, a rocking chair and a desk by the window which overlooks the mosque complete the Ottoman style furniture. Small wonder, I already started feeling like a sultana.

The sultana's bed

The sultana’s bed

sofa
The bathroom is ample and modern and you find fine soap and other goodies as well as a hair dryer. Downstairs is a glassed in veranda which serves as breakfast room and also has the best WiF i connection in the hotel which in the rooms is a bit temperamental.
The buffet offers an ample Turkish breakfast with three cheeses, boiled eggs, sausages, cucumber and tomatoes, fruit, yoghurt, bread, honey, butter and a selection of pastries. If you prefer fried or scrambled eggs the kitchen is happy to accommodate you. In good weather you can take your plates outside and sit in the lovely tea garden.

Turkish breakfast

Turkish breakfast

My bed was so comfortable, I could have stayed in it all day, but after a session in the hamam which opens at 7am, the many attractions of Edirne awaited. The incomparable atmosphere of the hotel and its surroundings make you really feel regal, if only for a night

 

Disclaimer: I stayed at Tasodalar Hotel as a guest of Trakya Development Agency but my opinion is my own.

Better stick to what you know

I have to admit that I am a lousy cook. I can boil pasta – al dente, no less and rustle up an omelet, but that’s just about the extent of my skill in the kitchen. I can’t make a sauce to go with the pasta either, but there is always a charitable soul who can.
But, from time to time, I can’t resist to make a fool of myself and try my hand. As was the case on my visit to a charity bazaar in Didim/Turkey. Many hand made things were on offer and, as food is very important in Turkey, a few ladies sat in a corner and prepared gözleme. This is a delicious snack, a very thin pancake filled with cheese, minced meat, potatoes or honey and nuts. I was fascinated by the speed and skill with which the ladies rolled out the paper thin dough and asked, if I could try.
With a lot of giggling, they gave me a lump of dough, a rolling pin and well meaning instructions. The pictures say more than 1000 words and I will not tell what the final result looked like.

That's what they should look like

That’s what they should look like

???????????????????????????????

My turn, ha,ha

My turn, ha,ha

Hard as I tried, the thing just didn't get the right shape.

Hard as I tried, the thing just didn’t get the right shape.

But, a lot of fun was had and my opinion confirmed that I better stick to what I know and leave the cooking well alone.

Trying to make Gözleme in Turkey

I have to admit that I am a lousy cook. I can boil pasta – al dente, no less and rustle up an omelet, but that’s just about the extend of my skill in the kitchen. I can’t make a sauce to go with the pasta either, but there is always a charitable soul who can.

But, from time to time, I can’t resist to make a fool of myself and try my hand. As was the case on my recent visit to a pre-Christmas bazaar in Didim/Turkey where I live. Many hand made things were on offer and, as food is very important in Turkey, a few ladies sat in a corner and prepared gözleme. This is a delicious snack, a very thin pancake filled with cheese, minced meat, potatoes or honey and nuts. I was fascinated by the spped and skill with which the ladies rolled out the paper thin dough and asked, if I could try.

With a lot of giggling, they gave me a lump of dough, a rolling pin and well meaning instructions. The pictures say more than 1000 words and I will not tell what the final result looked like.

That's what gözleme should look like

That’s what gözleme should look like

 

The busy ladies

The busy ladies

Trying my best

Trying my best

 

The thing just won't take shape!

The thing just won’t take shape!

But, a lot of fun was had and my opinion confirmed that I better stick to what I know and leave the cooking well alone.