The streets of Istanbul are full of fascination for the first time visitor.
This city of 14 million linking two continents, sprawling around a sea or two, with a history of conquering and conquest going back thousands of years is exotic but challenging. The language is difficult for English speakers.
But around the main tourist areas it is fun and friendly.
Sure you will be enticed to buy, beckoned and cajoled from the front of shops and restaurants but tossing out a smile and a “no thanks” is not a hardship. You adjust to the crowds and the noise of people, cars and trucks and the regular clang of the trams warning people, cars and trucks. (Incidentally this is a very efficient tram system linking almost all the main attractions.)
You have been watching intrigued at the white clad ladies sitting in the window of a restaurant rolling a precise lump of dough into a precise paper-thin circle, making to order the delicious spinach and cheese gozleme, when you are surprised by an alien sound. Cow bells.
Cow bells in the city?
Yes, and there is a vague link to dairy.
Up the street you go where a small crowd, locals and tourists, are watching a couple of boys wrangling ice cream.
They each have a long stainless steel rod with a small diamond shaped paddle on the end. Set into their counter are four small freezing tubs. The product (Dondurma) itself has an amazing elasticity. One of them pulls a football sized piece out with the rod and stretches it like a thick skein of wool then re-rolls it and returns it to the icy chamber. He happily rings the bell.
Oh, you want to actually enjoy some ice cream? No problem.
Well, just the little problem of their sleight of hand.
The diamond tip flashes. Here’s a scoop of chocolate into a cone, a split second and there’s some vanilla on top. Flash again and here’s another scoop. The cone is wrapped in a paper napkin and offered to a small girl. She reaches. And misses. It is turned upside down. She reaches again and finds only the napkin in her hand. Another lunge at the full cone. What? She has only an empty cone. Another go, another empty cone. How? The hand is quicker than the eye. She is about to give up when, with a wide smile, the boy hands her the full cone. Happiness. And a clang on the cowbell.
The show is repeated with variations as tourists like us try to capture on video what our eyes fail to pick up.
You can have a look at some of the highlights right now.
Now, because you’ve seen it here, that’s no excuse not to visit Istanbul. And the other unmissable attractions:
The Topkapi Palace and Harem (1478), The Hagia Sofia (360–532), The Blue Mosque (1617), The Grand Bazaar (1461), the Dolmabahce Palace (1855), The Galata Tower (1384), The Basilica Cistern (527) …