We spent the first half of our third day in Istanbul wandering through the bazaar district, window shopping for when we would return to Istanbul at the end of our trip. Our first stop was the Grand Bazaar, a maze of endless corridors filled with every kind of Turkish souvenir you could ever want. The bazaar is overwhelming and I’m glad we scoped it out first, making notes on prices and items we wanted to buy.
When we came back two weeks later, I was ready to bargain. We knew we wanted a Turkish lamp, tea set, silk table runners, coffee pot, trivets, and small ceramic bowls. For the smaller items, the price didn’t vary too much and I made sure to check that they were stamped “made in Turkey”. The tea sets and coffee pots varied a bit in price, but it also depended on what kind of detail and material you were looking for, so make sure to check out all the different types of sets before starting to bargain. You can generally bargain between 35-50%. Never accept an item at face value, and if a seller is too aggressive step away. Try not to look too interested, the best bargains happen after you’ve spent awhile browsing and then pretend you don’t want anything. Don’t feel rushed – if you can’t get the price you want at one booth, you’ll definitely find the same item somewhere else and you can start a new bargaining deal. Sellers will always offer you tea, and it’s best to decline the offer, not only is it time consuming (and just sugar water) but you’ll feel more obligated to buy once you accept a free drink.
The most expensive item we bought at the bazaar was a Turkish lamp. These lamps varied in price but basically came down to buying a lamp with good wiring. There are cheaper ones under $100 and then lamps with better wiring and frames that are over $100. After saying that I didn’t want the lamp and trying to bargain 50% off the seller’s asking price, I ended up spending $130 CND on a 5 piece lamp with good wiring and the slightly cheaper frame. He wrapped the lamp up really well for travel and gave me his card and said if there were any problems they would ship me a new lamp. In the end I was pretty satisfied with my purchase.
The Spice Market was just as overwhelming as the Grand Bazaar – huge quantities of every kind of spice, dried fruit, herbs, nuts, teas and pastries are a feast for the eyes! Most spices weren’t much cheaper than Bulk Barn back home, so it was a bit easier to stay focused. I knew I wanted some Turkish tumeric because it was a spice that I couldn’t easily find. I also wanted saffron because it’s such an expensive spice. Here’s where we went wrong. The saffron that is displayed out front is the cheap but fake saffron. The good Iranian saffron is kept hidden away and the seller will try to up sell this to you. The Iranian saffron was pretty much the same price as back home, so we bought the cheaper saffron and didn’t realize we had been fooled until we got back to the hotel. Luckily we only spent about $7 but I still hated being played!
We also wanted to buy a whole bunch of apple tea as souvenirs for friends and family. Here’s the deal with apple tea. The tea that people offer you everywhere you go is pretty much just sugar water, but it’s sweet and the apple flavour is different than what we’re used to so you tend to think it’s a yummy drink. This is why it is commonly known as “tourist tea”. If you try to buy the same tea in the market they will try hard to sell you the powdered tea, which is pretty much like buying Kool Aid. There are apple tea bags if you really want to buy apple tea, and they taste OK, but aren’t sweet like the “tourist tea”. We also bought what I thought was apple tea leaves, but in my haste I didn’t check the ingredients which was pretty much just dehydrated apples, so that was a rip off. My advice would be to buy the real black Turkish tea and just avoid apple tea all together.
In the afternoon we walked back to the Sultanahmet district and took a stroll through the Hippodrome which used to be a large arena where Byzantine emperors would watch chariot races. Now this popular promenade is decorated by obelisks and statues.
We finally toured the Blue Mosque, whose beautiful cascade of blue domes have been on our horizon since we first arrived in Istanbul. The Blue Mosque was the grand project of Sultan Ahmet and features the biggest courtyard of all the Ottoman mosques. Tens of thousands of blue Iznik tiles adorn the interior and is quite impressive. The grand interior also has a huge prayer space and is surrounded by 260 windows. While perhaps not as lavish as the Aya Sofya, I found that I actually appreciated the Blue Mosque’s elegant details and perfect proportions more.
My boyfriend was given a wrap around skirt as he was in shorts, and I had to wear a wrap around skirt, long sleeve shirt and scarf. As I waddled around trying to hold onto all my layers of clothes and take photos at the same time I may have let out a few curse words…oopsy!
As the call to prayer echoed throughout the streets of Istanbul in the late afternoon, we headed back to our hotel and passed through the Arastas Bazaar, a much smaller bazaar but we were pretty shopped out by this point.
Our last stop of the day was a quick walk through the Aya Sofya Tombs, part of the Aya Sofya complex but can be entered separately. These tombs are the final resting places of five Ottoman sultans. This area was nice and quiet, and we admired the tombs from the outside, and took just a quick peak in.
We had a final stroll through the Sultanahmet district on our way back to the hotel, I loved this one street that was filled with patios, nightlife and overall had such a welcoming vibe.
Before hopping on an overnight bus to Selcuk, we treated ourselves to a fancy dinner at Mazbah, a lovely glass roofed restaurant around the corner from the travel agency.
The scorpion fish soup and lamb brains were both delicious – light, flavourful and not too overpowering. The kebabs had a nice presentation but overall nothing special, same with the duck soup according to my boyfriend.
Our hotel had recommended a travel agency pretty much across from the Basilica Cistern. They booked a shuttle to the main bus terminal for us and were really helpful and we found their prices to be reasonable. So off we went on our first overnight bus ride in Turkey!