Updated: Feb 27
Two days behind now, it’s not looking good. Thursday a few of us went to the Grand Bazaar, a great structure maybe 20 minutes away from the hostel. Some of the people I visited with had been there before, so I was in safe hands for my first visit. The atmosphere was reminiscent of Camden Market, particularly the Stables area. The interior was an eclectic mix of old and new: food and metals, carpets and lamps, crumbling mosaics and mobile phones, and an endless parade of “friendly” shop owners ready to pounce on your politeness. Even my attempts to deflect by speaking French didn’t work, since they all spoke it better than me.
Still going too slow, let’s speed things up. We wandered around the bazaar for a good while, discovering all there was to see, yet finding it rather repetitive after a while. Unit after unit of carpets, sweets, t-shirts, and jewellery. Hardly the ‘Grand Bazaar’ I envisioned. Despite this, the interior of the building was impressive enough for me to mention here. You could see (behind the renovation works) where there used to be a fully decorated ceiling, but now there appears to be few preserved parts, and what is left of those is fading fast. Then again, they’ve lasted hundreds of years already, who’s to say what remains won't last a few hundred years more? When we moved to the next section, the experience changed drastically. The smell of rows and rows of spices gave the air a terrific smell that carried through the entire section. We stopped at a Turkish Delight stall to try any that caught our eye, and I discovered just how simplistic the Turkish Delight at home really is. The simple cubes of jelly were the cheapest ones, and the ones most in stock. The others were so enjoyable that we spent much longer there sampling every single one. The colours spanned the whole spectrum; some had additional pistachios on the exterior, others had dried raspberry dust, and all were available to taste. It was only after we’d left that I realised that the exact same offerings were being sold at every other sweet stall. Apparently, every single one was homemade, despite them all looking the same and coming in the same branded packaging. It slightly undercut the novelty, but then again why wouldn’t you expect there to be a lot of Turkish Delight in Istanbul?
One thing I did wonder about the availability of spices was why Turkish food was not spicier. If everyone can buy spices in bulk, why is the food (that I’ve tried so far) not exploding with exotic flavours? You think they’d be less frugal. The food has been mostly excellent, so it doesn’t matter to me either way. I just thought it was an odd observation.
A legitimately cool part of the Bazaar was the antique section. The room was darker than the others, but there was a shaft of sunlight beaming through the roof high above. The antique stalls were overflowing with knick-knacks, so much so that more than one owner had to sit outside the shop instead. There were swords, statues, bowls, guns, anything you could imagine. It would have taken me all day to look through all the inventory. Can (pronounced ‘Jaan’) had informed me that the selling of antiques was in fact illegal in Turkey, which meant that what these people were selling were either extremely dodgy or straight lies. We moved on. Gage spent an eternity picking out a ‘breathable’ shirt, since the one he was wearing had begun to rot off with sweat, after which he wanted to try and find a specific shop he had visited the last time he was here. He didn’t find it, which makes its inclusion in this account redundant, in hindsight. We headed back to the hostel.
In the evening, a group of us returned to Süleymaniye Mosque to watch the sunset, and then went for dinner at a place called ‘Palatin’, near the Hagia Sophia. The food was good enough, the cats were better, and the sangria was amazing, but I never thought I’d be drinking it above the Imperial Palace! This restaurant was built on top of the ruins of the old Roman Imperial Palace, which you can partially explore if you go to the basement. You can walk down a staircase and then be inside the place that Roman and Byzantine emperors lived like it’s nothing special. Istanbul is crazy.
After dinner, a group of us headed out to the Asian side of Istanbul to get drinks. Jenya had intended to meet a friend there, and since it was the first time for most of us to be on that side of the strait, we followed her lead. Jenya's meeting place was much further away from the bars than we'd hoped, which meant a lengthy walk through entirely unfamiliar and mostly deserted streets. It was like we'd left Trafalgar Square to go to Canning Town, such was the shift in surroundings. It was another side of the city altogether; local, late night, the equivalent of an A-road, and for some reason swamped with wedding dresses. It became a crescendo of wedding dresses in shop windows, on street level and several floors above, for some inexplicable reason thanks to our limited understanding of Turkish culture. Perhaps we'd simply been walking through the Wedding District? I have absolutely no idea.
Once we did arrive, the bar was bad. Not a single drop of rum. All that effort for naught. One of our party was so tired that he fell asleep shortly after we sat down, and the rest of us were thinking similar thoughts. Gage, bless his heart, unwittingly trapped Rebecca in the bounds of social etiquette and was treated to a lengthy one-way conversation that sounded quite serious for an introductory exchange. once he'd shifted to Jenya, Rebecca and I played a silent game of "Rock, Paper, Scissors" across the table, which I'm proud to say I nearly won. Before too long we were exhausted, and after being scammed out of extra lira by a savvy taxi driver, we arrived home to end the day.