When Hezarfen Ahmet Celebi tried to fly from the top of the 62-meter-high Galata Tower across the Bosphorus to Asia in 1638, most thought it the improbable hallucination of a mad scientist. Yet it was a dream befitting a period in which the Ottomans' imperial aspirations were truly astounding - and, like the winged Celebi, successful.
Standing atop the tower today, with all of Istanbul spread out 360 degrees all around, one appreciates the incredibleness of the feat, even while hoping to avoid trying to duplicate it oneself.
Although venturing onto the uppermost cylindrical ramparts of this narrow tower built by the Genoese in 1348 induces vertigo for some, it is a truly magical experience, especially at sunset, when the low haze of smog hanging over the western horizon turns the sky copper-red, as the distant mosques start to wail mournfully, seabirds circle down over the boats of the Golden Horn, and the bridges below resonate with the burden of traffic. Indeed, it is at the Galata Tower where one can truly experience this sprawling city in all its unfathomable glory, briefly attaining the tranquillity to take it all in, far above the massed multitudes of Istanbul's streets.
Galata Tower- Büyük Hendel Sok, Beyoglu, up from Karakoy
A pursuit dear to the hearts of many foreign visitors to Istanbul is the hunt for an authentic Turkish carpet. Of course, everyone who has ever sought to nab one has experienced, or at least heard of, woeful tales of deception, misrepresentation, false threading and just too much free tea for the trouble.
That said, a little advice picked up from the experts in the business might be useful.
When looking for carpets, be sure to look around and compare before committing (a little home study before arriving is great too). Try to look for shops with serious tradition (family-owned is a good sign) and an attested reputation; such firms are keen to keep up their business and good name and enjoy repeat business- another good indicator.
Further, you'll be wise to demand Turkish rugs only, with certification. The last few years have seen a proliferation of cheap, mass-produced carpets from Afghanistan and Pakistan passed off as the real thing.
Third, avoid the touts and well-attired persuaders strategically located nearby the prime tourist sites; they are working on commission and not particularly scrupulous.
Now that you know what to look out for, where to go?
The Grand Bazaar is of course the prime place for shoppers (though not the only), teeming with over 4,000 shops of all kinds. Although there are many excellent carpet dealers, one unique and rather hip one is Ethnicon, a small but now quite well known outlet offering unique “fusion” rugs and wall hangings, or "kilims."
The vision of the company was to cater to an emerging market (the modern urban interior of varying degrees of minimalism) while at the same time addressing an acute need: the increasing scarcity of antique carpets coming from Anatolian family collections, which have gone from a flood to a trickle over the past 20 years.
To get around this lack, Ethnicon decided to use what was to be found from damaged antique partial carpets, nomad tent coverings, soft casings, scraps and so on, patching them all together through a 15-step process. The result is alluring rugs and wall decorations that combine old ingredients with modern deco tastes. With widespread media attention, the Ethnicon style has become a brand in its own right.
Ethnicon- Grand Bazaar, Kapalýcarsý Takkeciler Sok. 58-60
A very cool café located in the center of Xanthi, though slightly hidden, the soft-lit Antika is framed by well-polished wood beams and decorated with plush couches and antiques, playing ambient or sometimes Greek music and (like other places in Xanthi) offering over 10 varieties of hot chocolate.
Vasileus Konstantinou 86, Xanthi
A remote valley containing weird standing stone figures in the shape of people or dolls, magically changing shape and expressions as the sunlight and shadows shift during the day.
North-west of Kratovo, on a dirt turnoff on the western side of the main north-south road that meets the highway near Stracin
The 11th-century Byzantine Monastery of the Theotokos Eleusa, set above the village of Veljusa, is a sublime retreat amidst gardens and sloping lawns, decorated with centuries-old frescoes.
Follow the road leading up through Veljusa village, only a few minutes by car from Strumica.
Four leading wineries in Macedonia, where you can sample quality wines
The first two are found in Kavadarci, the latter in Negotino. The latter town is on the Skopje-Gevgelija train line, the latter not too far away by road.
In a town full of tempting zakaroplasteia (sweet shops), Nentim is perhaps the most famous, offering as it does an amazing range of authentic Turkish sweets, ranging from several kinds of baklava and wrapped pastries to cream-laden taouk giouksou and ekmek kantaïfi, as well as the famous dondurma- a whipped sort of Turkish ice cream made of sheep’s milk.
But the offering that will really send you to the dentist is the unique local favourite: the soutzouk loukoum, a block of loukoumi dusted over with confectioner’s sugar, all laid out in a curling sausage shape.
Vasileus Konstantinou 35, Xanthi
Xanthi’s folk history museum is located in a double mansion built between 1870-1880. The imposing residence, which today features all the original furnishings and is decorated throughout with paintings and ornamental flourishes, was built by the Kouyioumtzoglou clan, a family enriched by the tobacco trade during Xanthi’s late-19th century peak. The mansion also features various relics and texts of historical value, and occasionally hosts classes for the Open University of Greece. The friendly staff will be happy to show you around.
5-7 Antika St., Xanthi
The Loven Dom (Hunters Lodge) is a new and well placed hotel located 2km north of Berovo. Rooms are relatively inexpensive (25 euros for a double), and the woodland setting is wonderful. The lodge has a traditional restaurant and even tennis. There are also nice, if a little old-fashioned hotels further on, just above the wooded shores of Lake Berovo.
A hidden jewel of a waterfall in the forests of Belasica Mountain, Smolare is not like a thundering Niagara but is a tranquil hiking destination with pure ice-cold waters.
Above the village of Smolare, located just beyond Novo Selo, a 40-minute drive from Strumica.
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