Istanbul – Grand Bazaar Exquisite Ancient Calligraphy

Istanbul shops are brimming with exotic crafts, textiles, carpets, jewelry and more. The Grand Bazaar is the most renowned destination in the Imperial City. A maze of 61 covered streets, connecting over 4000 shops under a red tile rooftop. We have access to that red tile roof top if you would like to see where James Bond Hero, Daniel Craig, chased the henchman on a motorcycle in Sky Fall. The minarets of Nuruosmaniye Mosque scrape the sky, one can walk the entire roof line with a special pass.

Nick Merdenyan Calligraphy, Istanbul

Turkish souvenirs abound in the ancient market, a shopper’s paradise. One of the most unusual shops in the Bazaar is a tiny hard to find emporium owned by Nick Merdenyan. Nick’s is an obscure alley, a little treasure trove of intricate calligraphy – a particularly unusual form of calligraphy, as his craft is hand painted on dried leaves.

He calls his art form “Nick’s Missionary Leaves of Tolerance and Peace.” Since 1968, Nick has intricately painted traditional symbols and prayers of three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – on dried leaves and has gained international recognition for his masterful skills.

Nick Merdenyan Calligraphy, Istanbul

His inspiration began when he received a potted plant for the baptism of his only son. As the plant shed its leaves, Merdenyan removed two of the leaves and preserved them between the pages of a book. Time passed, his son grew up, Nick opened the old book to discover the flattened leaves aged by time. From a dry leaf, it had transformed into a perfect, almost transparent silky canvas. Nick shared the leaf with a calligrapher friend. Captivated by the delicate yet sturdiness of the leaf, the two friends begin to experiment. The master calligrapher transcribed the Tughra – the signature of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent – on one leaf and Yunus Emre’s epigram “Love who loves you” on the other with Kufic letters. The experiment, which was nothing more than a test, captured the attention of two American tourists visiting his shop. Wanting to buy the leaf, Nick Merdenyan sold his first work and began his life journey.

Nick Merdenyan, Istanbul

He began by investigating the type of plant and discovered it is a dieffenbachia from Denmark. He imported the leaves for many years until they stop exporting the leaves, at which point he turned to Florida. He uses two types of leaves: Dieffenbachia and Caladium. The leaves take approximately two years to transform into the perfect canvas. His vision and inspiration are derived from the three Abrahamic religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Nick painstakingly inscribes tender messages of peace, love, and unity on the delicate dry leaves. Some details are so intricate, he uses a cat hair brush under a magnifying glass. The deeply painted hues include a dynamic royal blue, a rich gold, deep red and an array of hues as vibrant a rainbow.

He has gained international recognition; acclaimed collectors include Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Queen Letizia of Spain, and me!

Known as The Lord of the Leaves, a visit to this Armenian craftsman is worth seeking out in the labyrinth of Grand Bazaar shops. Our guides can arrange a visit.

Travel Survival Skills – Pink or Blue Currency?

Before any Journey departure, I have a long check list of what to do/what to take. Rarely do I arrive to a foreign country without local currency, VIP arrival translates to tipping, begging for unscheduled help translates to a gratuity, ie in Scotland, after 50+ days of travel, I injured my hip- I struggled with carry on bags on the tarmac at small airports – those steep stairs up to a plane in heat or rain were a challenge – local cash is always appreciated. At every airport, my pockets are stuffed with small bills. Traversing three countries with different currency presented its own challenges – memorizing each currency and value.

In Morocco the dizzying 30 day Camel Caravan Two schedule sometimes left me fatigued, my driver and I developed many code phrases for the Journey, we had a code phrase for please, let the guide go, I’m tired; for tipping, it was simple blue or pink – use the Blue currency for your gratuity. It made me slightly dependent, but it relieved me of calculating rates at the end of a strenuous hiking or sightseeing day!

Turkish Lira may prove more daunting – the 5 Lira note equals .30. When I’m on my own and language barriers are challenging, I’ve been known to just open my wallet and let people take the necessary amount, fresh oregano from a farmer provides immense pleasure when I’m home recreating a local dish – I’m sure they have never taken too many pink or blue notes.

A small spice shop in Marrakesh that I frequented would pick out coins in my wallet – currency is mostly manageable, but coins, takes me so long to read the small font, please take the coins! One of my favorite photos of me is on a country lane in France, me with wallet open ‘negotiating’ a bag of walnuts from a local farmer! I’ll never forget the experience!

Please just take the coins!

Memories and Experiences – are what I crave the most in my travel.