Istanbul 6, Turkey – 4/2014

March 30, 2016

We are market junkies, and we’ve wandered through some of the best, but there is only one Grand Bazaar. Call it a “shopping mall” if you want to homogenize it, but Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is much more. It started as a small market in 1455, and grew into an important trading center on the Silk Road, expanding into what must be considered a city within a city. Today it’s a labyrinthine of some 3,000 covered shops selling virtually everything you can imagine. It incorporates 16 caravanserais, (stopping places where traveling caravans of camels, horses and men could safely rest and trade their goods), connected by 64 lanes, (actually marked lanes if you can find the sign), mosques, banks, a police station, restaurants, cafes, and work shops, all under one roof, surrounded by walls and locked gates at night. Outside those gates are hundreds of other shops and two of the most impressive mosques in the city, the Süleymaniye and the Beyazit.

Istanbul #6 54I recall my first experience in the Grand Bazaar. Every shop keeper invited me for a cup of tea and by the time I had worked my way past the gold section, the meerschaum pipes, the leather and clothing lanes, the rows of hand-painted pottery, the amazing selection of teas and spices—–I was thoroughly lost. Finally, by chance, I emerged from a gate several blocks from where I had entered.

With a proper map, you can weave yourself to specific sections if you’re looking for a new suitcase, a teapot, a belly dancing dress, carpets, gold, silver or pearls, or just a place to have lunch. Along the way you’ll pass little boutiques offering an amazing selection of teas for that beautiful copper teapot you should have bought. If you see something you like, bargain hard and the price may come down 50%, but you may never find it again and a GPS is useless inside the covered domes. After several forays into the Grand Bazaar, Monika, professional navigator that she is, could actually find the same pottery shop three times in a row.

Istanbul #6 30A few blocks away near the Galata Bridge is the separate Spice Bazaar where, along side stalls selling dried meat, fish, cheese, olives and Turkish Delight sweets, you can find piles of every spice known to man; Cumin, Ginger, Turkish and Indian Saffron, sweet and hot Paprika, Garam Masala, and various mixes for meat, fish, chicken and your imagination, all sold by the gram and you can taste before you buy. Little hand grinders are a specialty.

We quickly became aware that being a tourist put a mark on our forehead for pickpockets and the elbow-to-elbow crowds required caution. These bazaars are where locals do their shopping and there was not a Wal-Mart in sight.

Aside from being overwhelmed by the selections, getting lost and the relief of actually finding the same shop twice, (not to be confused by not still being lost), you soon realize that you will never see it all, a good enough reason to come back the next day and start over——lost.

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