On the meeting point of two worlds, the ornament of Turkish homeland, the treasure of Turkish history, the city cherished by the Turkish nation, Istanbul, has its place in the hearts of all citizens. –Atatürk
If you made it through Part One, good on ya! It was long and picture heavy, and I cannot guarantee this one will be any different!
What can I say? I’m a travel/photography freak and it spills over into my blogging habits!
The second half of our five days in Istanbul was spent browsing the Spice Bazaar (Egyptian Market) and Grand Bazaar, cruising the Bosphorus to the Asian side of the city, and wandering the HUGE archaeology museum complex.
Istanbul is a shoppers dream. Sure, you have to deal with overly aggressive and sometimes crude shopkeepers and workers, but overall the experience is very unique and rewarding. Even for people like me who don’t do much shopping while traveling, simply walking around and browsing different street-side stands, small, shops, and the bazaars is a worthwhile way to experience the city.
The Spice Bazaar (or Egyptian Market as it’s sometimes called) is a flurry of activity, sights, sounds, and smells. Piles of brightly colored powders and bins of mysterious substances line both sides of this long indoor market. This is one of the few places in the city where tourists and locals shop side by side. The shopkeepers are loud and constantly yell things as you pass by, including “buy some Iranian saffron!” and “take some of this back to your Mother-in-Law!” In fact, many shopkeepers use the ol’ Mother-in-Law tactic to get women to buy things. It cracked me up. Oh, and I was baffled as to why the saffron was being pushed so much. Turns out it’s supposed to help with weight loss. I think the Turks were telling me to drop a few!
Because the Spice Bazaar was extremely loud and busy, we breezed right through it after I got all the photos I wanted. There were signs up saying no photographs, but no one said anything to me so I just went with it!
We pigeon-watched a bit outside the nearby New Mosque (Istanbul is the only place I’ve ever been where pigeon food is sold–most cities hate the buggers and do everything they can to get rid of them. In London I even remember seeing trained falcons swooping here and there scaring them away!) and then walked the short distance to the ferry stops to look for a boat to take us out onto the Bosphorus so we could check out Asian Istanbul. None of us wanted to shell out the 45 € or so all the tour companies wanted for a two hour tour, so we were just going to hop onto a ferry with locals and see where that took us. Of course there were independent operators at the docks and we took our chances with one who said a 2-hour tour on his boat was just what we were looking for. A mere 15 lira and shuttle bus across the Galata Bridge later and we were boarding a simple open-top ferry.
The weather was beautiful and I enjoyed simply sitting back, soaking up the sunshine, and taking it all in. The skyline of Old Istanbul, with all of the domed mosques and minarets jutting into the sky, is breathtaking. We cruised underneath the Bosphorus Bridge, which links the two sides of the city, and past the Rumeli Castle/Citadel, interesting neighborhoods, government buildings, parks, and luxury hotels.
Istanbul’s Archaeology Museums, located near Topkapi Palace and Gulhane Park, are a definite must for all visitors interested in history. The complex consists of three separate buildings/collections–the Archaeological Museum, Museum of the Ancient Orient, and the Museum of Islamic Art.
The collections are comprised of over one million objects representing most periods of world history. I’ve been to a lot of museums in my travels but these three were definitely impressive, to say the least.
As were were walking into the main building (the Archaeological Museum) a group of local schoolchildren on a field trip were exiting. We said hello and they immediately began asking our names. They were ADORABLE and I could have talked with them all day (even though their English was pretty much limited to “Hello! How are you? What is your name?” Before we walked into the museum I waved to them and got this photo:
Just melts my heart!
The most interesting exhibits in the building included the Necropolis of Sidon (where the Alexander Sarcophagus–once believed to be for THE Alexander the Great–was found), mummies from several different time periods, and the Treaty of Kadesh.
The Museum of Islamic Art is located in a building known as the Tiled Kiosk. It is one of the oldest structures in the city which features the Ottoman architecture style. Inside are different Islamic-styles of pottery. The building also has some really beautiful stained glass.
After checking out all the museums we were eating our lunch and relaxing when the friendliest and most adorable cat EVER decided to join us. He curled up on my purse, which was sitting on my lap, for a nap. He then decided to crawl into my friend’s purse to find some food. It was hilarious. I tried to come up with a way to smuggle him home in my suitcase, but he seemed content living in the gardens of the museums among ancient statues and tombs. Who could blame him?!
Finally, no trip to Istanbul would be complete without a visit to the famed Grand Bazaar. The bazaar is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world–dating back to 1455–and its 61 streets contain over 4,000 different shops which up to 400,000 visitors browse each day. It’s a literal labyrinth of winding alleyways.
Each “street” or area is dedicated to a different type of good–gold jewelry, textiles, rugs, leather goods, mosaic lamps, etc. Haggling is expected and some great bargains can be had if you are willing to tough it out and stand your ground. Because the bazaar is so big and so disorienting, if you find something you like and the price is good, buy it! It is nearly impossible to find your way back to a specific shop after walking away. If you do find something of interest but want to sleep on it, ask the shop owner for a business card. I got a few and they would have come in extremely handy had I decided to return to the shop.
The Grand Bazaar is a lot to take in and, at least in our case, a site to take on in small doses. We visited twice simply because we couldn’t handle being there for too long at one time. Being called into every store by every employee gets a little tiresome!
I did buy a few things and I’ll probably share those with you in another post.
On our last night in the city we went to dinner near our hotel. The restaurant featured outdoor seating, hookah, and a Whirling Dervish. It was a fantastic way to end our trip, even if the hookah did make us all feel a little sick!
It’s hard to sum up a city like Istanbul. I think once could live there a lifetime and just barely begin to scratch the surface of all the city has to offer. The history of the city alone is staggering. It’s a city that everyone should visit at least once in their life. I’ve been twice and plan on returning again.
(Hover over photos for title/description. You can also click the photo to be taken to my Flickr photostream, where lots more photos await!)
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