I’m not sure any guidebook can fully prepare a person for the colors, sounds, tastes, smells and sheer diversity of collectibles offered while walking through the labyrinth (and archeological marvel) that is the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar of Istanbul, Turkey. For me, it was as I had imagined it to be and more.
Armed with a camera, some Turkish lira, and open minds, we made our way on the jam-packed T1 tram line along the Bosphorus from Kabatas to Bayazit. One thing about Istanbul that must be understood is that it is an extremely congested city.
I’ve lived in London and have visited many large and chaotic cities, but for me, no one holds a candle to the crowds of Istanbul – and to think, we were not even visiting during the high tourist season. No matter the time of day or the weather, there are masses of people, consisting of locals and tourists, everywhere, rushing to shop, to eat, to pray, to catch the ferry or tram – it’s a city on the move (and also determined to win as host of the 2020 Olympics).
At Bayazit, given that everyone seemed to be heading there, it was easy to spot one of the 21 entrance gates to the Grand Bazaar. Upon entry, however, I felt as though I had been transported back in time to when this city was the trading link between East and West and was still the capital of an empire (from 330 AD to 1922, Istanbul was the capital of four successive empires – Roman, Byzantine, Latin and Ottoman).
The vibrant mural colors, mosaics, and chandeliers coupled with the intense bargaining over teas, jewelry, antiques, carpets, and scarves as well as the calls to prayer that were echoing from the mosque minarets nearby was surreal.
We took it slow, got lost, bargained, had some tea, got lost again…and while we felt quite safe, it was at times puzzling such as when we were confronted with a huge container of leeches for sale and overwhelming such as when found ourselves at a crossroads in the Spice Bazaar. We wanted to go straight across (a mere 15 feet), but the crowd wasn’t moving at all. People were friendly and helpful so as not to cause pandemonium, but after 5 minutes waiting, we had no choice but to turn right and exit the area entirely.
Overall, we spent two days roaming around the Bazaar and I’m still not sure that we saw all of it! However, I was thrilled with my bargaining of an embroidery work depicting Hagia Sophia Church and that I finally saw one of the oldest markets in the world.
Have you been to Istanbul? What were your experiences?