So, we're going to talk about Istan-BUL.
Yes, please. As the people there say, Is-STAN-bul. Yes, it's very funny. I've always said Istan-BUL, coming from England. But, there, they say Is-STAN-bul.
I stand corrected. How did you discover it?
I went there as a child with my family, and I just never forgot the Blue Mosque. It's such a beautiful mosque. Then, I went to the Turkish Film Festival a few years ago with my boyfriend and fell in love with it. The Blue Mosque is immense, huge, and it's all blue inside, obviously, as the name suggests. It's incredibly impressive, visually, very romantic and awe-inspiring.
My guidebook says, "It takes its name from the mainly blue tile work. Its minarets are circled by keening animals …"
It has hand-painted blue tiles, calligraphy, and abstract geometric design, which has philosophical, religious meaning to the Muslim culture. If you're interested in that, there's a museum of calligraphy. They're big on calligraphy and geometric design. That's what the tiles have on them.
So where does one camp out in Istanbul?
We stayed at the Yesil Ev, which means "the green house." It's gorgeous, a converted Turkish palace right by the Blue Mosque. We stayed in the Pasha Room, which has a little hamam in your bathroom, a little steam room. It's a traditional Turkish thing to do, which means you sit in a room which fills up with steam, and you sweat and sweat and sweat and you get refreshed. The Yesil Ev is very grand, old Ottoman style, with very ornate four-poster beds and gilded chests of drawers and chandeliers. It's almost rococo or something. It's like Ottoman, European, ornate furniture. Quite fancy. Historic. Gorgeous.
Did you dream of going to Istanbul when you were a child?
Well, I went with my family when I was a child, so I guess I had a young impression of it. I don't remember an awful lot of it, but I do remember the Blue Mosque and a trip on the Bosphorus River. Also, the call to prayer. If you're not brought up in a mainly Muslim country, it's a very unique thing to hear. You know what I mean by call to prayer? ["Yes!" I assure her.] And the market. There's a great market, the Grand Bazaar, where you can buy spices and fruit and handbags. The market's absolutely great. You have to go in and haggle there. It's part of the culture. They don't like to sell something without the bargaining. There's one main one that's a covered market that's just phenomenal. We bought a couple of old blankets, and I bought an old, embroidered belt with a big silver buckle. You can see the great Turkish carpets at the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts. The carpets are all about geometric design, and they all have meanings.
What do you remember from your most recent trip?
We went to the Topkapi Palace, where the Ottoman emperor lived. And you can get a tour of the harem, where the emperor would keep all of his wives. It's no longer in use, of course.
What did the harem look like?
You guys say harem. But I think it's pronounced -eem at the end, actually. Maybe it's double e. You better check. It was just very interesting to see somewhere where somebody had kept all their wives. Our tour guide told us the sultan had 300 wives, and they would all fight for the favor of the sultan. [The Palace has] an interesting archaeological museum, with a sarcophagus of Alexander the Great, which is very cool. The world's first peace treaty. I seem to remember they had Moses's staff, or so they said. It was really short, which made us think he was really tiny. They had letters from the prophet Muhammad.