Sunday, 11 October 2015

Sensational Istanbul

We spent four days in Istanbul before our cruise of the Greek Isles in late September and discovered a beautiful old city with magnificent mosques and palaces but above all, we were struck by our encounters with honest, friendly and helpful people.  

We had come to Turkey likely with some subconscious notions stemming from listening to children's tales like the Arabian nights - exotic and treacherous territory.  More than once, we were happily surprised by the honesty we encountered - a ticket collector who disappeared with our money but came back with change; a fellow passenger (visiting from Saudi Arabia) on the Bosphorus cruise chasing after us through a fishing village to bring us a bag we had deliberately left on the boat during a stopover (we knew we were going back on the same boat); the cashier at the Whirling Dervish show who promised us front row centre seats and came through with it even though we didn't pay extra.

The one incident that will stay forever in my mind was the friendly shopkeeper who helped me remove something stuck to my shoes. I had tried to remove this mysterious substance (maybe Turkish delight??) by scraping my soles on the pavement without success.  This man, who was just randomly standing in front of his shop, stooped down and helped me with his stick, and after many attempts, finally removed the stuff.  There was no reason for him to help me, a complete stranger, and a foreign one at that.  There was no ulterior motive - he wasn't trying to sell me anything.  It was sheer helpfulness on his part, beyond the call - hard to fathom for someone used to big city indifference.

We were also thankful we stayed at a boutique hotel with a helpful staff.  The guest relations officer sat us down the morning we arrived and told us the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market would be closed for the next four days because of the big Muslim festival of Eid.  We reshuffled our plans and visited the two markets the day we arrived.  Other tourists were not so lucky and missed these two key sights.  And sights they were, remarkable array of stalls set in a maze of internal streets although after a while, all the stalls looked similar and it's not really a place I would like to shop in.  But both were very photogenic.

Here are some photos from our walk through the old town.

We found our way to the Grand Bazaar holistically, the map wasn't really helpful as the streets are not on a grid and it got quite confusing.  But there were plenty of signs around, including this one on the pavement!

The gate to the Grand Bazaar - one of several entrances

A maze of internal "streets" like this one with more branching off on each side

Love these lamps!

Carpets galore!

Neat way of packaging candy

Pistachio stuffed baklava - delicious!

Turkish delight in any combination of nuts and fruit - love the pomegranate ones!

So many options for water pipes! 

The spice market entrance (it's really another Grand Bazaar on a smaller scale - spices were not the only things sold)

Street hawker selling roasted chestnuts - note the gloves

We happened upon the New Mosque when we left the Spice Market.  This is a beautiful active mosque.  We went in the door for worshippers, not realizing there was one for tourists.  No one stopped us.  

We also stumbled upon this amazing sweet shop that had been around since 1864.  It had an impressive array of sweets and because it was so busy, likely the freshest you could find anywhere.  The place is packed at all hours of the day - once we found it, we kept passing by it until we finally found time to go in and try it.  The second floor had open windows - great place for people watching as it is situated across from the Sirkeci Station, one of the busiest train stations in Istanbul.

We got lost a few times on our first day in Istanbul, but always received helpful directions to our destinations from locals.  We caught a glimpse of Istanbul at sunset as we ate the first of several grilled sea bream dinners at the end of a very long day after a 10 hour flight from Toronto.

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