Istanbul (2010)

The Bazaar and Taksim

We are (once again) lost in the Grand Bazaar, and we make the crossing to Beyoğlu and Taksim.

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After yesterday’s long treks, we do wake up feeling rather exhausted. After breakfast—less olives and more cucumber this time around—the rain that was pouring out over Istanbul has decreased to a light drizzle. If this is the melting pot between West and East, then our weather has undoubtedly won the battle for the skies. Today’s plan is to go and visit the Grand Bazaar, and then cross the Galata Bridge to the boroughs of Beyoğlu and Taksim. Onwards!

To the Grand Bazaar

An ascent onto one of Istanbul’s hills from our hotel brings us near the entrance to the Kapah Çarşi, the Grand Bazaar. Any idea you might be getting from hearing the words “Grand Bazaar” turns out to be true. On one side a small alley leads on between the buildings, filled with people and canopies hovering over merchant’s wares, whilst on the other side a large gate shows a long hallway filled with small shops, usually jewelers. Information signs tell us that in old times, long before this part of the bazaar was roofed, all the same craftsmen were located together and were forbidden to display shop names or use house numbers. In present days, only the street names still refer to the occupation of their former inhabitants, but it seems clear that this particular one was filled with gold- and silversmiths. From the gate all the way to the end there are more shops carrying golden and silver necklaces, earrings and bracelets than I know jewelry shops in the entire Netherlands. And in every single minor side street, there are many more shops, sometimes in spaces no more than a few square metres!

If you were to think that leaving the gates would take you out of the bazaar, you could not be more wrong: the entire borough behind the bazaar is a spider’s web of small streets filled with nothing but more shops with their wares on display. Streets filled with clothiers; from coats, suits and jeans to bridal gowns, traditional dresses and harem/belly dancer outfits (which Vonne adamantly keeps on refusing to buy). We find a street with home appliances, a street with all kinds of woodcuttings that in older times must have housed carpenters and woodcarvers, and at one point we turn into a small alleyway that delivers us into the Egyptian or Spice Bazaar.

I have everything except customers! Do you want to be my customer?

Once again roofed, this part—as the name might suggest— is where you will find all of the spice shops. Filled with exotic scents, the hallways lead you alongside salesmen who have herbs and spices in every single colour and shape (beads, cubes, ground) on offer, although they often carry more wares. In the words of one Turkish merchant: “I have everything except customers! Do you want to be my customer?” And indeed, we also discovered nuts, clothing, lamps, tea cups, carpets and pillows in his store.

Having walked around for a while, we finally leave the Bazaar near the Golden Horn. For a few TL I purchase a dürüm and Vonne spends a mere 75 kuruş on a warm simit, a doughnut-shaped Turkish bread that tastes very good. We decide to cross the Galata Bridge to Beyoğlu. At the bridge, you will find many more of the stands carrying simitçe, corn cobs and roasted chestnuts that you will find throughout the city. In an odd mix of the scents of chestnuts and fish we make our way onto the bridge, which is filled on both sides with Turkish fishermen bringing in catch both large and small. From the bridge, we enjoy an excellent vantage point onto the Golden Horn, the Bosporus and various parts of Istanbul.

Beyoğlu and Taksim

Having reached the other side, the road starts ascending very quickly and after a good climb we suddenly find ourselves in front of the Galata Tower, a high structure with a wide view of the city. As it is still rather gray and somewhat foggy in the distance, we decide that tickets to the tower might not be the best investment at this time. As such, we continue in the direction of the Istiklal Caddesi, the large street with many stores and a small tramway going up to Taksim Square. We persevere on foot however, and after arriving on the square we figure we might as well carry on to the Dolmabahçe Palace, even though we probably will not make it there in time to get inside. As it turns out, the complex is also surrounded by a high wall, so we swing by Beşiktas’ Inönü stadium and the imposing and luxurious Ritz Carlton hotel.

We set ourselves down for drinks on a terrace near the Taksim Square, and then head into the many side streets of the Istiklal Caddesi looking for a restaurant. This area has a lot less of the suave gentlemen giving you a thousand and one reasons to have dinner in their restaurant, and it does not take us long to find a decent looking place that gets us our meals out in quick order. The waiter informs us that the lamb şiş is unfortunately not available, although it is no problem for Vonne to get lamb off of the grill, so we surmise that the cook must have misplaced his skewers. The meat is delicious however, and I myself fill up on a plate of anchovies as we wonder whether these would also have been caught by fishermen on the Galata Bridge.

In retrospect, it might have been a good idea to memorise the Turkish word for ‘check’, because the words check, bill and even pay do not at all sound familiar to the waiter. Without skipping a beat, however, he walks out of the front door, shouts something in Turkish (“does anyone here speak bloody tourist?”) and within no time there is another Turkish customer next to our table in order to translate our request. Allow me to take this moment to say that any stories you might have heard about the Turkish being very hospitable and helpful are absolutely true. Earlier today, as we were walking along the Bazaar and I was paying attention to the contents of a shop, a complete stranger tapped me on the shoulder to point out that I was heading for the corner of a canopy, which had rainwater pouring down it. I could actually have gotten wet, but an random stranger protected me from that. Try to find something like that in Amsterdam!

We return to the hotel, but not before we capture Istanbul-by-night from the Galata Bridge, and have cappuccino at the most charming tapas bar ever. On our way back, we walk through the streets of the Bazaar once again, and what a world of difference! As these were buzzing with activity by day, filled with people and merchandise, they are now completely abandoned. Everywhere the shutters are closed and only a single cleaner is still sweeping the streets. It is a very surrealistic feeling to walk through this empty world and as we pass through one of the smaller alleys, a complete sense of being within Thousand and One Nights overtakes me; I could actually not be less surprised if two of the sultan’s guardsmen would suddenly come around the corner, wearing soft cloth pants, turbans and carrying large scimitars.

However, they do not and eventually the little Bazaar streets come to an end. We once again enter the inhabited world of Kumkapı where we find our hotel and crawl into bed, preparing for another new day.

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