Chapter Twenty - Shopping day in Istanbul
Trip Start Sep 28, 2011
23Trip End Oct 14, 2011
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Where I stayed
This is a day for our ladies. We will be visiting a couple of Istanbul's iconic markets, as well as traversing local shopping streets. The males gird their loins in preparation for a tiring and expensive day.
Indispensible Rick Steves offers us his "Old Town Back Streets Walk" and we start off up the main drag of Sultanhamet, passing an impressive cemetery with grand Ottoman mausoleums.
“Must have been just for the bigwigs” comments Michael.
We pass a strange looking column, seemingly held up by metal rings, called Çemberlitaş
Just around the corner we espy the entrance to the Grand Bazaar. Referred to as “The World’s Oldest Shopping Mall”, it’s a labyrinthine warren of little shops, arcades and workplaces. This bazaar was the commercial centre of the Ottoman Empire and contains around 4000 shops.
“4000 shops?” gasps Cecilia. “How many days do we have to spend here?”
“Sorry Ceci, we only have a few hours” I reply.
We have been recommended to circumvent the main alleyways full of tourist traps and enter the nether regions where we will find tiny squares with small primitive workshops and we will be able to get a genuine feel of the East. We ascend narrow stone stairways and find artisans beating copper sheet to make plates and bowls
Bryan and I feel we’ve had enough of the bazaar, so we give Michael and the ladies an hour or so to browse and buy, while we explore the surrounding area. This is the traditional shopping neighborhood of Istanbul, not flashy like Istiklal Street that we had visited on our first day, but really down to earth. Just outside the bazaar is the book market, then we pass hardware stores and arrive at the imposing entrance of the University of Istanbul.
Past the university, perched on top of a hill is the mosque of Süleyman the Magnificent.
“Another mosque?” Moans Bryan. “Thank goodness, it’s closed for prayers.”
“Not so fast mate! We’re going to wait until they’ve finished. It’s only five minutes.”
As its name implies, it is indeed a magnificent mosque and there is no end of argument as to which mosque is the more magnificent, Süleyman’s or the Blue Mosque
“I can’t judge either way as they are both absolutely stunning.” I remark.
Just down the street is the Süleymaniye Hamami, the oldest Turkish bath in town and the only one that's “unisex”. As we go by the door an American couple exit. Their animated conversation confirms what seems to have been a wonderful experience.
Checking our watches, we rush back to our meeting place at the bazaar, but there is no one waiting. It’s useless trying to find them in the maze of passageways, we’ll just have to wait at the assigned place. Bryan stands sentinel while I scout the area for a lunch spot. Exiting by the Beyazit Gate I’m back on the Divan Yulu and the tram line. There are several restaurants facing a square and as we seem to have left the tourist zone, they are all packed with locals. Our shoppers eventually appear and we enjoy an excellent kebab lunch.
“You know, I don’t recall a single meal in Turkey that wasn’t delicious” remarks Miryam
We now immerse ourselves the narrow lanes surrounding the bazaar. The Uzun Çarşi Market Street is packed with shoppers and we find the prices here more realistic than inside the bazaar. Bryan and Michael purchase backgammon sets and I’m surprised to find Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit board games in Turkish. Cecilia buys a hookah pipe. She doesn’t go into details why.
“It’s just for decoration” she insists.
At the end of the street is the famous Spice Market. This is the second largest covered bazaar in Istanbul, and although it was exclusively a trading venue for spices, it’s much more diverse today. It certainly looks much more “oriental” than the Grand Bazaar with stalls filled with colourful spices, dried fruits and nuts lining the long, vaulted central hall.
Regrettably we are quite bazaared-out by now, and even the shoppers cannot raise enough enthusiasm to explore this wonderful arcade. We soon wander out the other end and find ourselves near the tram stop at Eminönü Square by the Galata Bridge.
Tonight we try another Trip Advisor restaurant recommendation. En La Luna (strange name for a Turkish restaurant and they don’t even have an English or Spanish language website) is located just across the street from us. Even in October it is busy and we are assigned an outside table. Regrettably we have chosen a cold evening and the management kindly shuffles tables and squeezes us inside. Well worth the effort as the food and service are outstanding, and the prices very reasonable. I order the Lentil Soup, then a vegetarian dish called şakşuka, deep fried eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, thick homemade light yogurt and tomato sauce. Delicious!