Day 15: Bazaars

Today we plan to spend basically all day at the Gran Bazaar before having dinner at a chef’s menu restaurant called Cooking Alaturka. We have some goals on things we want to pick up before we head out: Turkish Tea, Pillow Cases for our house, some gifts from back home, some of the eyeball charms we see everywhere, some scarves for Jenn, and maybe some gifts for our wedding party.

We started out with the Spice Market just up the road from us. It was pretty easy to find and sits right next to another of the famous mosques, the New Mosque. We had been recommended this one, but we were over seeing mosques at this point. Right at the entrance we saw the eye talismans in bead form just like we were looking for, but figured, nah the GRAND Bazaar would have them for sure, and cheaper. About every brightly colored stand has teas along with their spices and we ask to try some. I’ve never had tea that astringent, and it’s bitter to boot. I can’t tell if it’s the tea or how it was brewed (too long and too hot), or if it’s the tea itself. We try a few places but they’re all the same. I’m guessing everyone has the same stock. I guess tea isn’t on the list anymore, none of this is even worth drinking.

Well on to the Grand Bazaar! It’s up the road and we wind our way. The entire road there is filled with stored selling everyday things. This seems like where the locals shop. We wound our way stopping to look at a couple of scarf shops, but we’re convinced the Grand Bazaar is where things are cheapest because of how many people go through.

The Grand Bazaar is absolutely packed with people and shops, it’s like a super dense mall made up of a million little stores. The aisles are more like streets with names and everything. We have a map from Lonely Planet, but decide to just wonder for a while.

Yesterday we’d made a joking bet on who was the better haggler.

We find a carpet salesman with various pillowcases that we like and he says normally its 80L but he’ll give it to us for 50L, Jenn gets him down to 40L and I tell her with my eyes that’s not good enough, and we start to walk away. He freaks out “what happened!” and she says I didn’t want to spend that much. That I’d told her 20L and that was that. He came back to us quickly to 25L and I knew he’d get down to 20L so we told him we’re going to look around and he finally said fine 20L and we made our deal. Onward!

We wandered for a while stopping every so often to look for those beaded eye charms with no luck.

Jenn spots a scarf she likes and we hop in a little store. The guy working the stand is just a kid, barely out of highschool. He’s keen to talk to us about how far it was to fly from the US and how much do tickets cost. He asks me if it’s hard to get girls in America. I tell him it’s no harder than anywhere, everyone is looking for their match. We haggle and I don’t think the scarves Jenn likes are as low as they could be but we’re kind of worn down and it’s a question of how much is it worth to you as much as what you can get it for. I like one of them especially, a dark red with different backing thread colors giving it different shades and interest.

We walk some more looking for the clothing section hoping to find the beads we’re looking for.

By now we’re hungry and check our guide. Apparently there is a pretty well recommended place inside the Bazaar but it takes quite a while to find. At one point we end up outside of the Bazaar walls, and have to turn around and make another try. Eventually we find a street with a name on our map and suddenly we’re in an atrium with a really nice looking, large restaurant. Its buffer style sort of, but we order 3 mains (we thought they were a la carte!), lamb iskender kebap, and a baked eggplant. The lamb was the clear winner for me, it had so much flavor and was very tender. Just delicious. The server was quite the character too, telling us he lived in Texas, and in Texas they say “Okie Dokie”.

Back to the shops! Jenn has some new goals for things to look for and an idea for the bridal party. We wind our way through the areas we haven’t been to at one point outside in the area where pots and pans are sold looking for some nice copper pots on the cheap, we wander a bit outside the walls. One of the shops the door is closed and locked, perplexed we go to leave and we’re let in. The shop owners are having lunch. Ah now it makes sense, they’re trying to be quiet about breaking the fast for their neighbors.

It begins to rain. We’ve hardly seen a single cloud this trip until yesterday’s nice white poofy clouds, but now it’s actually raining quite hard! We figure it’s better to just be inside.

More wondering and Jenn finds what she’s looking for as a wedding party gifts, but we’re not convinced on the price. It’s more than we were planning to spend. I’m starting to get less convinced that it’s not cheaper outside of the Bazaar.

We start toward the last parts and eventually the exit, finally finding the little eye charm beads we were looking for! The best we can do is the same price as what we saw at the Spice Market. Oh well.

I’m getting really tired and Jenn can tell so we head out. It’s drizzling a bit but the tram is right next to our exit. It takes us a while to figure out the ticket system, and we didn’t have the right bills, but a good samaritan trades us for smaller bills and we’re off.

Back at the hotel the plan wasn’t to take a nap, but it happens. Before passing out though I had the front desk try again getting in touch with the restaurant we hoped to visit tonight, but still the line seems dead. She told me she’d call if she was successful. By the time we woke up though, we hadn’t been called, so we pick a new restaurant out, planning to cross to Galata Bridge to Lacanta Maya, but when we get downstairs we’re told they made us a reservation for 8. We have time though so now what? We ask about our suspicions that things are more expensive at the Grand Bazaar and she says often, but it can be cheaper at the Arasta Bazaar near our restaurant so we set out to see if we can get better prices on the items Jenn wanted for the wedding party

The Arasta Bazaar is much cleaner and less cramped feeling than the Grand Bazaar, more like a series of small shops along pedestrian road. They’re all nicer than at the Grand Bazaar and the prices all seem about the same actually. We find what we’re looking for and get an idea of what we can get them for and decide we want to look at the shops down by our hotel before deciding.

Cooking Alaturka is decidedly upscale, and the food is well thought out and well presented. It’s four courses and all good, but not especially impressive. It’s a bit bland compared to our lunch let alone Top Deck.

On our way back we checked the store prices close to our hotel, and sure enough they really were the cheapest we’d seen! We hadn’t gotten taken for too much of a ride in the Bazaars, but here there was no negotiating really and the prices were better. The Grand Bazaar really is for the tourists. We didn’t have enough cash for the wedding party gifts so we had to find an ATM which took us past our hotel and back, but that was the last of our goals, and no need to run out tomorrow before starting our day to take care of anything.

Not the most entertaining of days for me, but hey, it was an experience.

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