Yesterday’s post attempted to cover some of the historical sites of Istanbul; this one will hopefully cover some of the more colourful and tasty side of Istanbul.
The Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi)
The Grand Bazaar is incredibly large, chaotic and sprawling labyrinth of market stalls with a splattering tea, coffee and kebab shops to keep you well fed during your shopping spree.
The Bazaar has been around since 1461 when it was built by the order of Mehmet the Conqueror and has grown over the centuries to also include the shops on the surrounding cobblestone lanes. I think it is probably covers a square kilometre or so of the main bazaar building and surrounds. The Bazaar is more or less split into sections: carpets, spices and sweets, leather, gold, antiques, copperware, silverware, fabric, clothing and tacky souvenirs. It’s huge and easy to get lost in – literally and figuratively.
Of course, as you walk through, the invitation from the touts is never-ending: “You must come into my shop – I have something for you.” Each negotiation for souvenirs is accompanied by a cup of tea or three, depending on long the negotiations continue. I didn’t buy anything for two reasons: I didn’t want to lug stuff all around Turkey, and I also wanted to wait until I got to the more provincial areas to find something more unique to buy.
It was certainly colourful, busy and chaotic – and that was just when I visited during the quiet periods! Lucky for me, it was close to my hotel, so I wandered through a couple of times, first thing in the morning, or near closing time.
Spice it up at the Misir Carsisi!
The old Egyptian Spice Market was built in the 1600’s and back in its heyday, was the last stop for the camel caravans that travelled the Silk Road routes from China, India and Persia.
This is where you come for your edible souvenirs: Turkish Delight (locum), spices, cheeses, fresh product, tea and Turkish-style desserts like the hone-laden baklava. It’s another hive of activity, and I may or may not have gone several times to stock up on pistachio nuts, dried apricots and other sweets to keep me going.
Just like the Grand Bazaar, the spice market is jam-packed with people (tourist and local), chaotic and noisy.
I took the video below as I walked along one section. It’ll give you an idea of the chaos there.
Fresh fruit and veges
The Grand Bazaar and Spice Markets are not the only markets around. There were fresh fruit and vege stands everywhere in Istanbul – with the fresh produce always beautifully presented.
Countdown and Pak n Save could learn from the Turks on how to present their produce!
There were a lot of street vendors selling fresh juice: orange and pomegranate were even season. What gorgeous colours!
Round and round we go – the Whirling Dervishes
Close your eyes and spin yourself around for 10 seconds. Open your eyes. Feel dizzy? Now imagine doing this for 10 minutes or so at a time, in the same spot, without falling over!
That’s what the Whirling Dervishes do. Although a show put on for tourists, the basis of the Whirling Dervish sema (ceremony) is a religious ritual practiced by the Mevlevi brotherhood for over 700 years. The ceremony begins and ends with a reading from the Koran. The ceremony represents man’s ascent to heaven, his spiritual journey. The head dress that they wear represents the tombstone, and the white skirt a shroud. It was a surprising simplistic by spellbinding ritual that lasted about an hour in total.
I haven’t mentioned the cats in Turkey yet. There are stray cats to be found everywhere. They aren’t owned by anyone, but are cared for and fed by everyone. At the start of the Dervish ceremony, one of the men laid out a small red carpet to which the Dervishes perform salutes to God. I assume God was represented by the rug. Not long after they laid the carpet down, a cat wondered over and made himself at home. The unexpected interloper was almost the star of the show.
I’ve put on short video clip to give you an idea of what it’s like. Keep an eye out for the cat at the beginning.