When in Istanbul ..... the bazaars

No trip to Istanbul would be complete without a visit to the colourful labyrinth of shops and alleys of the world famous Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian (Spice) Bazaar. What you heard is true - this is the world of the pushy salesman. And it does not start when you enter the bazaar. Oh, no. As you walk in the streets around the big tourist sights, you are often approached by overenthusiastic carpet touts who, with a reply on his “excuse me,” immediately tells you that he has been to or wants to visit South Africa or my favourite, South Africans bring him luck (one even invited us to come and have a look at his collection of Deon Meyer books :-), at which point he then offers to take you to his brother’s or cousin’s or friend’s store just around the corner.

Sidestepping all of them, we managed to enter the Bazaar on our own, determined to haggle with the best of them. The main street of the Bazaar is home to jewellery shops, and here the shop owners do not call out to the people passing their shops. I was a bit surprised at how modern and organised it all looked. But it did not take long for us to get lost in the alleyways, all of a sudden being bombarded with shopkeepers wanting our money. It’s at this point that the size of the bazaar dawned on us. Dating back to 1461 the Grand Bazaar has over 60 different streets housing more than 4000 shops under a chaotic red tile roof (remember that scene in Skyfall when James Bond chased the baddie on the motorbike?) At its height, during the 17th-18th centuries, the bazaar was bigger, better and more important than any market in Europe. Shop after shop after shop sells carpets, leather goods, “real” fake bags from all the big fashion houses (I mentioned the word “Birken” to my husband in an Afrikaans conversation and the nearest salesman immediately told me had stock :-)!), really great antiques, silk scarves and Turkish delights. My favourite item was the beautiful Turkish bath towels – I was willing to buy a second suitcase to fill it with the beautiful towels, but alas, sanity prevailed!

We left the Grand Bazaar and the nearby Spice Bazaar (much smaller with a focus on foodie stuff) without buying anything, but we had a great time. The extremely endearing Ali who wanted to sell me a leather jacket and who tried to convince me he does not like profit (he started with a price of 1200 Turkish Lira and even before I entered negotiations he brought his price down to 300 Turkish Lira!), will forever be one of my favourite travel memories of Istanbul.

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