Istanbul: Wandering the Bazaars

Today was dubbed ‘Bazaar Day’; we’re following a rough schedule I came up with the first night which has of course become known as ‘The Schedule’.

After a somewhat later start than yesterday we walked to the main street, Divan Yolu Cad, where I bought a good pair of sunglasses for £65. Then we turned off at Kurkculer Pazan Sk and found the entrance to Kapali Carsi, the Grand Bazaar, 4,000 shops selling mostly tourist goods on either side of kilometres of barrel-vaulted passages. We broke into wide smiles when we entered the long Kalpakcilarbasi Cad and were hit by the sights and sounds of the bazaar.

The hassling by shop touts was almost always friendly and never persistent to the point of annoyance, despite what I’d been told by other travellers. I’m beginning to believe that everywhere is easy in comparison to India.

Touts tried to catch our attention with “It is my turn now!” and “Here, almost free!” and endless cries of “Yes please!” It seemed there were thousands of leather jacket shops, jewelry shops, trinket shops, brassware shops, cafes; millions of ‘Evil Eye’ pendants, and of course the ubiquitous carpets. In the Old Bazaar, the fifteenth century core of the Bazaar, we looked at beautiful old watches from the first half of the century and old brass microscopes and sextants.

We stopped at a cafe for a drink and later, in an open courtyard, for a lunch of chicken, potatoes, eggplant, spinach and kofte. An hour in a place called The Carpet Inn, and after a lot of indecision over a pile of rugs that eventually grew two feet high, I bought a rug for my brother for his fortieth birthday for US$184. I’ll pick it up on the way back through Istanbul.

After wandering for kilometres we headed north towards the shore and strolled through the Misir Carcisi, the Egyptian Bazaar, where piles of herbs and brightly coloured spices were sold next to tempting displays of Turkish Delight and other sweets, and big blocks of honeycomb wallowing in honey. Back on the street we stopped at Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir Confectionary, established in 1777, to buy two half-kilo boxes of delicious assorted Turkish Delight. The most delicious Turkish Delight I have ever tasted, by far. Wish I had a box with me right now.

Back on the modern, air-conditioned tram to Sultanamet. During our customary late afternoon break I had a beer and played checkers on the terrace with V, who introduced me to his wife A. V beat me over and over, signalling his disappointment after each of my ill-considered moves with “Ohhhh, Peter”, but I occasionally I managed to acquit myself better and receive a “veeery good.” I even, finally, won a game. S arrived and took over later, and we won a game each. P unfortunately wasn’t feeling well and had stayed in bed at their hotel.

Later S & I walked to a nearby restaurant, Doy Doy (‘Fill Up, Fill Up’) and had dinner on a high terrace with an excellent view of the Blue Mosque.

Istanbul really is a wonderful city; it seems to have the perfect balance of exoticism and modernism. People are friendly, the hassling is minimal and there’s an endless amount of things to see.

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