Friday, April 11, 2014

Revisiting The Grandest Bazaar Of All

One of the long halls
Spices, spices, spices

I first visited Istanbul's Grand Bazaar two years ago during our first, post-child couple's getaway weekend. This week we're back with a four year old in tow and introducing Sidney to the sights, sounds, and smells that make Istanbul Istanbul. And since no trip to this city would be complete without a stroll through the Grand Bazaar, this is where I spent an afternoon with Sidney. My impressions remain the same but visiting with a child only magnified the lights, sounds, and colors. It was once again overwhelming to the senses but exciting at the same time. In honor of this visit I'm reposting my original blog entry....

While in Istanbul we succumbed to what all first time visitors do and visited the Grand Bazaar.  Having visited sauks in Dubai I thought I knew what to expect but nothing could have prepared me for the epic scale of Istanbul's great bazaar.  There are numerous smaller shopping areas throughout the city and we inadvertently wandered through several of those during our stay.   The Grand Bazaar, however, is the granddaddy of them all.

The bazaar itself dates back to 1461.  It was originally designed to be a local shopping market and in some cases it still is today.  However, I doubt any of its original architects would recognize it as such.  Today's bazaar encompasses over 60 streets and 5,000 shops and attracts upwards of 350,000 visitors a day.  Fortunately we visited on a "quiet" Monday but I still found the crows overwhelming.

That's a lot of silver
So what did we find?  A mix of locals and fanny pack wearing tourists wandered the catacomb of hallways lined with everything from spice, leather, and carpet vendors to suave looking young men hawking fake Levis, perfumes, and knick-knacks with unidentifiable purposes.  It was loud, chaotic, and truly an experience.

Bright lights
We could hardly walk a few feet without someone calling out a sales pitch to us.  We were undeniably recognizable as Americans; so much so that when people asked us where we were from we started answering with "Albania".   That would usually throw them off long enough for us to make a hasty escape.  Carpet salesmen were the worst.  It was hard to admire the beautiful Turkish carpets on display in windows without being pestered by pushy salesmen.  The more aggressive ones chased us down the hallways using sales pitches that made me want to run rather than linger.  Salesmen at silver and diamond stores looked more distinguished but used equally cheesy pick up lines.

Some body's watching you
It seemed as though the infamous "evil eye" was sold in every other booth.  Those salesmen appeared particularly desperate.  My favorite sales pitch started with the words "I've been waiting for you."  Really?  Do people really fall for this?  I felt an incredible urge to go back to the hotel to shower after some of these come-ons.  Unfortunately when I browsed at a local soap vendor I was so turned off from the sales pitch that I just couldn't bring myself to purchase any of the olive oil soap.

We did walk away with a few small sales. It turns out that Glenn is a haggler.  Who knew?  I knew I wanted to purchase some saffron from one of the spice vendors.  Glenn stepped up to the plate and haggled our way into a significant purchase that would have broken the bank had I ordered it from my regular on-line spice store.  I also scored a kilogram of delicious apple tea.  We had tried it on several occasions and I wanted to recreate our Istanbul experience back in Tirana.  We also bought a few other items which I will refrain from discussing since the lucky recipients just might be reading this.

We think we roamed most of the hallways of the bazaar but after a while everything began to look the same and we had reached our saturation point.  It was a truly Istanbul experience which I'm glad we braved.  Will I return on our next trip to Istanbul?  I just might.

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