Turkish Holiday: Istanbul Part One
Everything I've heard about Turkey is true and thoroughly contradictory. It is at once beautiful and rugged. It is chaotic and refined. It is ancient and modern. It is biblical and decadent. It is commercially interesting and culturally vibrant. It is fascinating, and unlike any other place I have traveled.
Granted, the country is quite large, spanning over 300,000 square miles, so there is much to see. Four seas, in fact – the Mediterranean, Aegean, Black and Marmara – claim Turkey's coastal regions, but there are also mountains, hot springs, and a great, central plateau. Several large cities and locales boast features, historical sites and attractions worth seeing, but I have long favored the vibrancy, color and exclusion of Istanbul.
Istanbul is Turkey's largest city, and the heart of its economy. It is also where all those wonderful, contradictory truths converge in a chorus of histories, images, smells, tastes and cultural experiences.
I love, love, love the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, and even though I have been there many, many times I still have not managed to leave from the same place that I entered – it is that vast and circuitous. The Bazaar itself is one great, organized chaos, separated loosely into different market areas, one for gold / jewelry, one for leather, one for pottery, carpets, furniture, clothing and so forth. It's a covered market, like a city inside the city, with pedestrian streets, magnificent drinking fountains, multiple kiosks and over three thousand shops. Yes, there are many other shopping malls in Istanbul, with beautiful, expensive shops and newer amenities, but they lack the character and distinction of the Bazaar.
When you visit the Grand Bazaar, be fully prepared to haggle! It's part of the fun of going, and even expected. My last trip there was during November, and I decided to do some Christmas shopping in the Bazaar, as I enjoy giving gifts that are really different. I wanted to purchase a kilim bag for my sister for her to put her knitting in, so I chose a bag and offered a price about 30% of what the merchant was asking. We could not come to an agreement, so I walked away, prepared to find another. He followed us and we settled on a price; I paid, took the bag and went my way.
Ten minutes later somebody tapped me on the shoulder. Now bear in mind that the Bazaar is manic busy and teeming with people, so momentarily I really did not recognize the man, but it was the bag merchant, who realized he had not given me back enough change, and tracked me down to do so .
Perhaps you can see why my impressions of Turkey are so positive. I have numerous memories of friendly cafés, visits with friends, delicious food and numerous finds in the Bazaar!
If you do not have the time to travel to Turkey online you can find a number of items that reflect the decorative aesthetic touches and social custom I love most about Turkish culture – traditional and modern in character. Choose some decorative jewelry boxes of wood with kilim accents, gorgeous ceramic plates, contemporary rugs, beautifully crafted board games, and, my favorite, authentic Turkish coffee sets!
I'd love to share more with you about my Turkish holidays – many of which were actually work-related trips. But for now, I think you should go shopping in the Ottoman Empire.