Whirling Dervishes and Other Illusions

When the concierge at the hotel n Istanbul where I was staying suggested I might want to see the Whirling Dervishes, I remembered the skill-full dancer that did the incredibly beautiful Sufi whirling dervish dance in Cairo a few years ago.

The dancer started off with a white costume, but the invisible bottom layer of the costume was like a Joseph's coat.  During this performance the dancer turned the top layer of the skirt inside out, then displayed the top and bottom layer like a funnel, and then ended the dance with the white layer on top again.  This was even more spectacular than the belly dancers who were part of the same show.

This is what I expected:

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I was ready for this beautiful spectacle with my camera.

However, in Istanbul the Whirling Dervishes are dervishes (Muslims who have taken a vow of austerity and poverty – or were these just actors?).  They wear white tops, white skirts and black cummerbunds.

And they whirl – for fifteen minutes at a time on the same spot, without losing their balance.  Then they rest for a minute, and whirl again – working themselves into a trance - and repeat that once again.  All the time two men take turns doing some Turkish or Arabic chants in the background on the beat of Turkish music.  And then the show is over.

And the tourists (who were instructed in no uncertain terms that applause and photographs are not allowed) look at one another in astonishment, leave the theatre and head for the nearest shop selling Turkish Delight.  That's it – the Whirling Dervishes.  With no photos to show.

Turkish Delight, on the other hand, was a new discovery for me.  I had tried it before – and I was not impressed.  However, in Istanbul I discovered it was probably like whiskey – if you don't like it, you have not yet discovered the brand and flavour that is perfect for you.  I saw more flavours than I could imagine and discovered the one with pistachio, and the divine one made with honey and pomegranates.

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Of course my favourite food that I discovered on a previous trip to Bodrum is doner kebab (lamb prepared on a spit and sliced thinly) with yoghurt.  Delicious.

There are street stalls all over the place selling roast chestnuts (I could pass on that), maize (not totally hygienic but fresh and delicious and I am here to tell the tale) and of course pomegranate juice (I supported every stall).

I did not buy any hamburgers, especially not this "fiyasko" with its grinning potato teeth:

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 I went on a day trip to the Asian side, taking the ferry from Kabatas (in Europe) to Kadıköy (in Asia).  I am not sure what I expected, but my impression of Kadıköy was technology shops and people – not much more.

From Kadıköy I took a bus to Uskudar to see the Maiden Tower.    I was not sure of my directions and asked the bus driver, who could speak English.  A young Turkish lady boarded, and the driver asked her to confirm with me where I wanted to go.  I showed her on the map and she confirmed in English that I was on the right bus.

A Turkish lady who also could not speak English sat on the bus next to me.  She saw on the map I had where I wanted to go and indicated that I should stick with her, because she would take me to the right place.  She had a bag with simit, fresh from the oven, and insisted that I have half of it.  I did not want to be rude, and decided that the indigestion and sugar rush would be for a good cause.

In Uskudar we left the bus and she showed me the Maiden Tower in the distance.  I thanked her, but she made it clear that she intended to take me to the tower.  So I followed her.  Along the way she stopped a few times to point things out to me, indicating what she liked.

After about ten minutes we were across the street from the ferry that would take me to the Maiden Tower.  I thanked her, but that was not the end yet.  She insisted on taking me to the restaurant for Turkish coffee – the extent of her vocabulary in English.  I thought that since she so kindly brought me to the right place, the least I could do was buy her a cup of coffee, so I agreed,

The waiter spoke English and spent most of the next fifteen minutes at our table, translating for us.  It turned out that the lovely Nisa is a retired bank employee who was on her way to meet a friend at that restaurant.  She apologised for having to leave me when her friend arrived.

When the bill arrived she insisted on paying – the least she could do to show her Turkish hospitality.  How sweet is that?

Here is a photograph of Nisa with the Maiden Tower in the background.  She is not on the internet but I did give her my business card – you never know.

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From Uskudar I took a minibus (cost 1.50 Turkish Lira – I could not walk there for cheaper) to see the Beylerbeyi Saraij (the summer palace of Sultan Abdülaziz).

Guess what?  It was one of the buildings that no-good tour guide from the Blue Brothers Travel Agency did not identify:

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Did you know that the history of Turkish furniture only goes back a few hundred years?  The Turkish were nomadic people and did not need furniture – until some of the Sultans visited Europe and brought furniture back with them.

This Saraji is stunning inside.  No photographs were allowed, but have a look at this link to give you an idea:


The chandeliers inside this palace are breathtakingly beautiful.

I took the minibus back to a Uskudar where I got a ferry back to Eminönü – right across the street from the Egyptian Bazaar.

Transport is incredibly cheap – a ferry ride of over an hour to Princes Island cost 5 Turkish Lira (less than 2 Euros).  Princes Island is famous for not allowing cars on the island.  I did a round trip of the island with this chariot:

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The one disappointment of this trip was the Hagia Sophia.  This museum was initially built in 537 as a Greek Orthodox basilica.  In 1204 it was converted to a Roman Catholic Cathedral , and then in 1261 it became an Eastern Orthodox cathedral.  Rom 1453 until 1931 it was a mosque, and now it is a museum.  For some reason I expected something spectacular. This is what I saw inside:

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Yes, the most exquisite, extensive ... 21st century scaffolding.

Aia Sophie, as it is pronounced locally, is tired and the restoration work may be too little too late.

On my last day I saw this stunning earthenware (specifically the red set):

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The debate started – my debate around holiday purchases.  I have a series of questions that I ask myself.  The questions are:

  • Is it beautiful enough to take home?
  • Will it still be beautiful once I have unpacked?
  • Will it still be beautiful a year from now?
  • Will I use it regularly and enjoy its beauty?

Sadly this one failed on the last question and I walked away – to the disgust of the teenager who promised me "the best price" and exceedingly good packaging that will ensure no breakages.

I will be back.

Elsabe Smit

Elsabe Smit is a well-known author, clairvoyant, and public speaker.

Elsabe helps people to understand the mysteries of life and Love, so that they can regain control of their lives. What would you like to resolve?

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