Saturday, 31 January 2009

Coraline junkets (not to be confused with the Coraline Junket)

About 10 days ago,Neil Gaiman Twittered about going on the Coraline Junket – and my immediate thought was ‘Hmm – junket…. I wonder what a Coraline junket would taste like?’

I started to look for recipes for junket, and discovered that it is basically just milk, sugar and rennet, plus whatever flavourings take your fancy. So I decided to buy some rennet and get junketing.

I swiftly discovered that rennet is not an easy substance to get hold of. Apart from making junket, it’s only use would appear to be for making cheese, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that it’s mostly available in industrial amounts only. However, as one of my characteristics is a degree of stubbornness even in pursuit of the pointless, I keep looking and eventually tracked some down.

The next step was to decide what a Coraline junket should contain. Button eyes of some kind, obviously, but what else??

I recently re-read ‘Coraline’ in preparation for the film (Out on 6th Feb in the USA, 8th May in the UK) which I will be seeing in Dublin on 15th February. Coraline, left alone, caters for herself with toast, frozen pizzas (neither of which seems suitable to include in a dessert) but also with chocolate cake and apples.

So, chocolate, apples and button eyes.

The chocolate came from Cadburys ‘Giant Chocolate Buttons’, which after I little trial and error I found I could drill into with the point of a knife to make proper button holes.

The apples were sliced, buttoned and dried in a cool oven, and I was ready to go. . .

In the end I made 2 junkets.

The Coraline junket, made with grated chocolate & cinnamon, and garnished with apple.

And the Other junket, such as one might find on the other side of the door.

I did consider adding blue sugar sprinkles to the junket but could only find multicoloured sprinkles, and I am not (yet) sufficiently far gone as to be willing to sort these by hand and pick out the blue ones.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Last day in Istanbul

My flight home from Istanbul was late afternoon, which meant that I had a morning to spare. So, having packed up (happily, my hotel, the Apricot was quite happy to look after my luggage for me after I checked out, so after packing, I went for a wander around. Having seen all of the sights on my ‘must see’ list, I was ready to buy a few souvenirs I got a tram down to Eminonu to visit the Spice Market (AKA Egyptian Bazaar) this still sells spices, also monumental quantities of Turkish Delight – quite literally – many of the stalls have towers, even sculptures, made out of the stuff , pottery….

I bought a few small gifts for people, and two bowls for myself – when it comes to the china, there are 100’s of different designs, with the cost varying depending on whether they are transfers or hand painted, and how detailed the patterns are. I loved some of the big dishes, but decided that it wasn’t practical to buy one – party because I had no money left, and partly because I would not have had room in my luggage. Maybe another time.

After leaving the market, I noticed some of the local cats, presuambly keeping one another warm..

I then went to look at (or, as it turned out, to look for the Rustem Pasa Mosque. ) This is a small mosque which was described in one of the books I read before coming as ‘the most beautiful mosque in Istanbul’ – It isn’t easy to find, as although you can see the Dome fairly easily, getting to the mosque involved going through a door in the wall of a tiny narrow street lined with booths and stalls, up a staircase and out onto the terrace. There was just one sign on the wall and the first time I saw it I thought it was a sign pointing along the street, rather than in to the entrance. Also, it’s the only one of the mosques which I have visited where the only entrance was by going up a stairway – most seem to have a street level entrance too.

Once I got in, however, I came to the conclusion that the book was right – it is a beautiful building – very small, and will lots of tiling both inside and out. It was also empty. Very tranquil. Because the mosque is small, much more of the tiling is lower and is where you can see it than in, say, the Blue Mosque. Beautiful.

I then caught the tram over the river and to Kabatas where I walked along by the river for a little. There were lots of fish in the water – I could see both fish and jellyfish, just from standing on the quay near the ferries.

A little further along the river I saw this man – I believe the idea is that the balloons are then shot at with pellet guns, but I doubt he would have many takers on a cold December day!

I then just had time to go back to the hotel to collect my baggage, then got the tram to the airport for a thankfully uneventful trip home!

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Rivers and Markets and Mosques (Oh Boy)

A little to my own surprise, I found a boat heading back towards Eminonu without much difficulty. After leaving the dock we had to wait around, marking time, as there was a very large container ship coming down the river which obviously had right of way – there were many other smaller vessels also all having to wait, so once it was past and we were all ready to continue there was quite the little fleet making its way across. We passed directly under the stern of the container ship and can I just say – HUGE !! I took a number of photos, but they really don’t convey the sheer size, either of the ship or the body of water. I enjoyed the trip, but was glad I had decided against the 3 hour long Bosphorus river trip, as I think that would have been altogether too cold and windy.

I sent some time exploring the area near to the ferries. It’s a very busy, bustling area, where you realise that this is a big city, not just a tourist attraction. Outside the ferry terminals there are dozens of stalls selling fish, bread, drinks, oysters ( man with bucket of oysters, knife to open them, and a lemon. I decided not to try .) On the opposite side of the road and the tramway (reached by way of a subway, lined with stalls selling cheap clothes, electricals and toys) is the Yenii Camii, or New Mosque, outside, there are people selling grain and (no doubt as a direct result) there are thousands of pigeons. Beyond the mosque is a market, selling pet food, and also pets and other animals – doves and fancy chickens and, a little disturbingly, leeches. The leeches were displayed tastefully in the big water bottles that fit into water coolers. I have been trying to think of a situation in which one might suddenly want to buy a leech – (do they make good pets?) but I haven’t managed it yet.

Then there is the Egyptian bazaar (spice market) which was closed the first time I passed, and then beyond that a jumble of increasingly (or should that be decreasingly) narrow streets.

I walked up to the Suleymani mosque, but unfortunately it was mostly closed as it is undergoing renovation, so I looked around outside, then found a tea-garden and enjoyed a glass of tea. I could have had a Nargile (water pipe) but I decided to give that a miss, too, Much more interesting to watch others. I got a little lost on my way back (Quelle surprise!) which was a little worrying, as most of the shops and so forth were closed, so I found myself wandering through deserted streets and alleys as it was getting dark, which is never much fun. But after a couple of (well, alright, about 10) false turns I found my way back to the river.

I finished the evening with a meal at an interesting restaurant –clearly designed for tourists, but the food was good, and you got to watch the owners mum making Gozleme (pancakes) in the window, so what’s not to like?

Saturday, 17 January 2009


Having exhausted the possibilities of the Galata Tower I set off once again, determined to find a ferry boat to take me to Asia, but in no great hurry to get there.

I started by walking back up to the street where I saw the ‘nostalgic tram’, then followed the tramlines along to Taksim Square. (I believe I mentioned before what useful navigational aids tram lines can be..) This part of Istanbul seems to be the more expensive shopping area, and to contain a lot of the big chain stores, which, from a personal perspective made it less interesting – I can see chain stores anytime I want! Although I did find a post office, which I felt was something of an achievement. Earlier, in the Hippodrome area, I found a nice big PTT sign, so I followed it, until I reached the end of the street, where I found another big PTT sign, pointing in the opposite direction. Despite walking back along the road 3 times, I still couldn’t find the post office. Generally when I can’t find places I am inclined to think it is my own fault, but on this occasion I think Istanbul must bear some of the blame.

Taksim Square itself is big, but not very interesting. It includes the obligatory statue of Ataturk, and a big flag. And some trees, many buses and many many pigeons. So fairly soon, I found another funicular railway* and travelled down to Kabatas, where there were actual ferries going where I wanted to go.

So I wandered off to look at another mosque – small, beautiful, and appearing not to be on the tourist radar quite so much, mostly seemed to be boatmen popping in, so I stayed quiet and didn’t take any pictures so as not to disturb anyone.

Them hopped on a ferry over to Uskadar, which is officially in Asia! This was a new continent for me. (Only 3 more to go and I shall have the full set) although I would have to admit that one cannot readily identify it as a new continent on sight. (I don’t know – maybe a really experienced continent-spotter could)

I wandered around a little, taking in a little market based in what used to be a Hammam (Bathhouse), a different (mostly fish) market, and another mosque – this one had an outside area for prayer – under the terraced roof and with it’s own carpeting, but outside the main building itself. I couldn’t see any obvious pattern in who chose to go in, and who to stay out, but I decided to stay outside.

Although cold, it was a beautiful bright day, and I enjoyed just drinking in the atmosphere. Sometimes travelling alone, and having no timetable has considerable advantages – aimlessness has its own charm.

* I wasn’t looking for it. I was actually looking for a tram. As I found out later, this would probably have taken a lot longer, as there aren’t any just there.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

In which I get lost in Istanbul once again

I find the idea of Istanbul being a city spread across 2 continents fascinating, and I was determined to make time to visit Asia, if only briefly. The idea that you can catch a local ferry, still be in the same city, but be on an entirely new continent is just amazing!

Maybe a little less exciting in practice – I walked down to Eminonu, which is where the dock for the ferries are. Fortunately, it is on the tram line (There is, I think, only one, which makes it an excellent method of navigation) so I was able to follow the tramlines down from Sultanhamet, without getting lost. Then walked across the Galata Bridge, which links ‘old’ and ‘new’ Istanbul.

The bridge is very popular with fishermen – the top layer of the bridge is lined on both sides with people wielding rods and lines. There are two levels – the road and tramlines go over the top, and from the pavements the fishers fish (with remarkable success) – below, there are restaurants and another pavement. The lower level does not go all the way over the river – about 1/3 in it stops, so that the centre of the bridge is higher, to allow big ships to pass under it, and as a pedestrian you must either turn back, or go upstairs to the road.

All of the restaurants under the bridge specialise in fish, and although there are a range of prices, one of the simplest sells fish sandwiches – literally half a (small) loaf of very fresh white bread, with a freshly caught and fried fish and a few lettuce leaves. The fish is amazing – it’s so simple, but so fresh it really needs nothing but bread - I think the fish I had there on my second evening had been swimming around about 5 minutes before I ate it.!

The 'New' part (Beyoglu) is not, in fact, any newer than the rest of Istanbul – I mean, one of it’s landmarks is the Galata Tower, which was rebuilt in 1348, having started life as a lighthouse in the 6th Century. In the 1600’s someone tried to be Icarus, and successfully glided down on home-made wings from the tower to the far side of the Bosphorus. (About 4 miles, as far as I can tell). The Sultan at the time wanted to reward him but, on the advice of his viziers changed his mind and exiled him to Algeria as a possible threat, instead, which seems sad.

Having arrived at Eminonu I then walked over the bridge - I had originally planned to get a ferry, but I couldn't find one going from Eminonu to Kabatas, which was what I wanted. I think this was just me, and my navigational skills - They had drawn ones going from Eminonu to Kabatas, on the transport map I had, and as later on I found one going from Kabatas to Eminonu I think it's likely they were going in the opposite direction also!

So, having crossed to Beyoglo (which is still europe) I decided to go up to the tower. Again, you might imagine that a tower, on top of the hill, might be easy to find.

It's very sneaky. You cross the bridge, and see it looking all obvious and think - 'Ah, all I need to do is walk up this street and clearly I will get to the Tower'. It doesn't seem to work that way.

As soon as you start up the hill, it dodges away*, and then the road bends, and (if you're me) you spend the next 20 minutes wondering how it is possible to wander around such a small area and not bump into it, if only by accident. After finding several fascinating dead-ends, I ended up by the bridge once again. I felt this was quite an achievement, as I have been working on the basis that if I went uphill I should eventually get to where I wanted to be, so to find myself back down at sea level (or river level, at least) without having consciously gone down hill was, I felt, quite impressive, even for me.

I then found that there is a furnicular railway, so I caught that, and then (after much studying of the map) decided that I was now probably above the tower. So I started working my way down

On the way, I found a 'nostalgic tram' (No explanation was offered as to what it might be nostalgic for) I also found lots of very steep, narrow streets, many with the proprioter and his neighbours sitting outside palying backgammon and drinking tea.

By this point, I was motivated less by a desire to go up the tower (It was pretty hazy, so I wasn't especting great views from the top) than by a grim determination not to be defeated by mere geography and my own navigational dysfuntion.
And eventually, I was sucessful!

See, perseverence does pay off.

Having found the tower, it seemed churlish after all that time not to climb it. As it turns out, very little climbing is involved. There is a lift. (I'm assuming that wasn't part of the 14th Century building.)

At the top, you can go out onto a balcony and walk all the way around, and there are views over Istanbul in all directions, although it was a bit hazy.

You can see across to the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace in one direction, and out over the water toward Uskader and the Asian side of Istanbul on the other.
And of course, you can also look down at the streets in the immediate area.
It was pretty quiet, so I was able to spend as long as I liked wandering around and trying to make out what it was I was looking at. watching the river really brought home ot be that this is a real and very busy shipping lane - there is a constant stream of container ships and tankers, as well as the ferry boats and a few pleasure boats. Having seen my fill, I decided against buying an overpriced cup of coffee in the restaurant at the top of the tower, althoug on a clear day it might be fun to eat up there.
Then, undeterred by previous experience, I set off to explore Beyoglu....
*There's no other explanation.

Friday, 9 January 2009

More Ancient Art.

I also visited the Archaeological museum - this comes in 3 parts - one part has the ancient stuff, including the worlds oldest peace treaty (between the Hittites, and the Egyptians, as I recall, and dating back to 1200 BC), a handful of mummies and several panels from the Ishtar Gate, from Babylon.

Much of the Gate is in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, and having seen it there, the much smaller number of panels here was slightly less impressive,although again, looking at something which dates back to old testament times.

The Gate was built in the 6th C BC, on the orders of King Nebuchanezzar. This is the same King Nebuchanezzar who, in the bible, was responsible for throwing Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the fiery furnace, and also had various other run-ins with god - it's a wonder he had any time over for building works!

A lot of this part of the museum was closed - but in some ways this is an advantage, as you focus on a smaller selection.

The second section of the museum also had several sections closed off, but the parts which were open had a lot of classical remains - various sculptures and carvings from Aphrodisias and Ephesus in astonishingly good condition, a lion from the mausoleum of Mausolus at Helikarnassas, which (The mausoleum, not the lion, obviously) was one of the original 7 Wonders of the World and a whole lot of sarcophagi and Lycian tombs.

I was interested to see the Lycian Tombs, as there is one in the garden of the Post Office in Fethiye, where I started this holiday. On the left, we have the Fethiye Tomb/Sarcophagus. On the right, and in slightly better state of preservation, the one in the Istanbul Museum.

I believe that both date to around the 4th C BC.

One of the most impressive artifacts is the 'Alexander Sarcophagus' - (the Alexander in question being Alexander the Great) It isn't his sarcophagus - depending on which guide you read, it was either given that name because it was originally thought to have been prepared for him, before being used by someone else, or because he is depicted on it,(he's the one on the horse which is being attacked by the lion, in the bottom picture) or both. The museum says it is the sarcophagus of King Abdolonymus of Sidon, who was appointed as King by Alexander, (he was apparently a gardener before he was a King, which seems to me to be pretty good, as far as career progression goes)

The sarcophagus was dug up in 1887, and in places you can still see traces of the original paint - that's what the pinkish bits are. I tend to forget, looking at classical statues etc. that they were originally all painted, and fairly garishly, too. I wonder, would we be quite so impressed if they were still so bright?

It does seem impressive, when you think that you had to wait for the renaissance to come along, 1800 years later, to get this standard of art again!

The final section of the museum is the 'tiled pavilion', which does exactly what it says on the tin. It was built in 1472 for the then sultan, who used it as a base from which to watch sporting events.

This makes it earlier than either the Blue Mosque or Topkapi Palace, and I was interested to see the difference in the style of the tiles - the pavilion had much bigger, bolder designs - I think I would have pegged it the other way around, had I not read otherwise.

Inside are examples of ceramics, and an alcove containing a rather lovely peacock, which appeared to be part of the original decor - I think the alcove was a fountain, originally, but I may be mistaken.

And all of this for just 15 lira!

Sunday, 4 January 2009

The Topkapi Palace

After the Blue Mosque I took a brisk and bracing walk a little way up the hill to the Topkapi Palace.

The Palace is comparatively modern - which is to say it was started some time around 1450 and continued to be occupaied, added to and remodelled until the mid 19th Century. It is a huge, rambling complex which covers most of the top of the hill, and overlooks the Bosphorus and the Sultanhamet area of Istanbul.

It comes in layers - there are a number of different gates - you start with the fairly public courtyards, move in to council chambers and audience rooms for meeting visiting dignitaries and eventually get to the private areas where the Sultans and their families lived.

One of the more interesting (from my perspective, at least) and visually striking areas was the Harem. Contrary to what I had thought, the Harem wasn't just a place to keep concubines and wives imprisoned - it was also the private family space. And, that if they wished, the Concubines could retire after a reasonable length of service...
The interior is lovely, lots of very beautiful, intricate tiled rooms and buildings - all of which were much more accessible that the tiling in the Blue Mosque, most of which are too high to see in any detail.

I particulalrly liked one of the details in the guidebook I was relying upon - one of the Sultan's was not at all keen on women, to the extent that he had all of his shoes made with nails in the soles so that he could be heard as he walked around the Harem, and all the wives and concubines had orders to make themselves scarse while he was there. Presumably they had a lot of spare time on their hands.... He was, I belive, succeeded by a nephew. The Harem has it's own courtyard, with buildings tiled on the outsde as well as the inside, and views out across the Bosphorus. (It was raining when I was there, but I am prepared to accept the the Bosphorus was lurking there, somewhere behind the drizzle). Scepticism has it's limits.

Later, after leaving the harem, I saw the kitchens (they had a staff of 400, and one entire kitchen devoted entirely to making turkish delight)
There is also the treasury (where one is not permitted to take photographs) - which offers the clearest possible proof that conspicuous consumption is nothing new. I never really belived the fairy tales which spoke about 'rubies the size of pigeon's eggs'. I do now (although they were mostly emeralds, as it happened) There was also the oh-so-practical gold suit of armour studded with diamonds. ( I assume, although the display didn't specify, that this was for ceremonial purposes only. I can't help feeling that wearing it on a battlefield would tend to lead to one becomeing the world's least-long-lived commanding officer ) There was also a gold throne. Shiny. Very Shiny. It didn't look very comfortable, but perhaps that wasn't the point.
There is also a room of relics. I understand that for Muslims this is a place of pilgrimage, and that some of the relics (which include hairs of Mohammed's beard, and at least one of his teeth) are considered amoung the most important of the muslim world. I shall therefore say little more except that, upon seeing a small cooking pot labelled 'saucepan of the prophet Abraham', my first thoughts were not terribly reverent. It wasn't a very interesting saucepan.