I’m not sure how many cups of Turkish tea I consumed during our trip, but I soon learned that when you meet someone at their work or home, the first thing they do is offer you a drink.
The black tea is spelled çay and pronounced chai and comes in this curved glass on a small saucer with several sugar cubes.
The first place our tour group had tea was in the Grand Bazaar. Tucked into a corner of this bustling Turkish mall of over 4,000 stores a tea shop caters to locals. While we became temporary locals and enjoyed our tea, we watched some men playing backgammon and also stepped into a goldsmith shop where the craftsman was making gold bricks from gold pieces. Many Turks go to the Grand Bazaar to buy gold for special occasions – births, weddings, etc. as an investment, or as part of a dowry. This is the place to go for such a purchase.
We resisted the very friendly carpet salesmen throughout the market.
However, one of our cultural experiences as a tour was to attend a carpet-making demonstration. This amazing enterprise is also hidden away in a former camel palace. At one time the building housed journeying merchants who would stay in the upstairs rooms while their camels enjoyed the comforts of the downstairs spaces.
As with any art, the more you learn about what it takes to create a piece, the more you appreciate it as well as the high price. We were warmly ushered in an offered drinks, and this time we tried apple tea, served like regular tea, but with a very powerful apple taste, and quite delicious.
We settled in for the demonstration and then saw a grand display of so many different kinds of carpets made of wool, silk and cotton. While we were not in the market for rug, we would have bought one from these people, and they did sell seven rugs to the people in our group. We felt no pressure from these hard-working, friendly people. You can see their website here.
Another cultural experience happened by accident. One of the women in our group had been taking photos near a school, and one of the teachers invited her into the grounds to get a better view of the Bosphorus. He ended up inviting her back to have a tour, and she brought four of us along with her. He had given her his card with a message on it so that when she presented it at the gate, the guards would let us in. They called a student over to us and had him lead us to the teacher’s workshop where he was happy to see Susan again, and had smiles all around for us.
Before we could get started with our private tour, the teacher had one of his students fetch us each a cup of tea.
The students, on lunch break, wanted to chat with us, but we only had time for a hello and smiles before we were off learning about how this vo-tech classroom teaches kids the art of machine shop. Fortunately H could explain to us what we were looking at, for even though the teacher could speak English, the technical vocabulary was a little tough for him.
We also saw the school’s museum, a building from the 1000s that, at one time, had been a sword-making venue during the Ottoman Empire as well as a mental hospital and textile workshop.
Today the school is a vocational high school – the Sultanahmet Technical and Industrial High School.