Friday, March 11, 2011

Bazaar Day!

Today was the first bit of sunshine the people of Istanbul had seen for a couple days and they were all determined to use it – me included. I had promised myself that the second the weather was at all decent, I would head out to see the Bazaars – the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar. Little did I know that both are covered. So, basically I waited to go for nothing. The Grand Bazaar is famous, in fact, for being one of the largest and oldest covered Bazaar in the world. Another of the world's largest is New Market in Calcutta, which I have also been to. The Grand Bazaar, however, was a lot less... stressful than New Market. But I think there is a reason for that. I am much wiser to the ways of touts these days and I don't stand out as much here as I did in India.

Just today I have been mistaken for Spanish, French, and Turkish. I have always liked my ability to blend in. In America, sometimes people speak to me in Spanish first before switching to English (another reason, as if I needed one, to learn Spanish). Despite the fact that when I first got here a couple sitting next to me at a restaurant were taking bets that I was American (I attribute this to the fact that I was speaking on Skype for most of my meal), today on the tram, a man who I pegged as American at forty paces asked me if I spoke English.

My ability to possibly be Turkish plus the fact that I had my earphones in so I could legitimately ignore merchants shouting at me, made for a very pleasant visit. I have also noticed that if one trains oneself to not respond to English when it is shouted at you (not easy to do, dear readers) then you will be more successful at blending. The Grand Bazaar, also known as the Egyptian Bazaar for reasons that escape me, is really an enormous place. It has 58 streets and some 4,000 shops which is a number you can't really appreciate until you see it in person. And it is pretty intimidating. The Bazaar, like most of the older buildings in the city, also has arched ceilings and columns, and fountains meant for washing or drinking. The streets are lined with bright displays of lanterns, jewlery, instruments, leather goods, carpets, and any other thing imaginable. Every so often there is a break in the stores which leads to another street branching off, filled with shops as well.

I wanted to buy EVERYTHING. I made myself walk through, sipping a large cup of apple tea before I bought anything and it worked. The place was a maze and only my relatively good sense of direction kept me from getting completely lost. By the time I was making my second stroll down the main avenue, I had less of an urge to buy everyting in sight. I did end up buying a leather bound book, a beautiful 'evil eye' bracelet, and an ukulele. It was at this point that I decided it was time for me to leave. I promised myself that I would come back more towards the end of my visit – and after I had rid myself of most of the weight of my luggage by mailing it home.

My next stop was the Spice Bazaar. Not because I particularly wanted any spices – I have never in my life thought 'gee, America needs more of this spice'. America does just fine as far as my spice needs are concerned. But I knew it would be interesting to see and take pictures. I didn't count on there being so many teas to buy. Not just apple tea, which I bought a large amount of, but also other interesting looking teas named things like 'love tea' and 'spring tea'. They were all vacuum packed for easy storage (though not very well) and I managed to unconsciously buy them from the only Greek-run store in the whole place. Still, the proprieters were very nice and asked me where I was 'from originally'. Though I usually play dumb to those kinds of questions - answering things like 'America' - since I have come to Turkey, I always mention my Greek ancestry just to see the kind of reaction I will get. Most Turkish people are interested, and when I mention Cyprus, most people say 'oh! So you are half Turkish!' This never fails to make me laugh because I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that that is not how my Cypriot relatives see it.

The area around the Spice Bazaar has another spectacular looking mosque, of which there seems to be at least a dozen in the city. I didn't go in because I had left my scarf at home – it being such a beautiful day and all – and I figured I'd come back if only for more apple tea. I did, however, walk across the Golden Horn, or the inlet that comes off the Bosphorous and bisects the European side of Istanbul. I got some beautiful pictures of Istanbul and Galata Tower, the tower that Natalia took me up on my first night in Turkey. Some people were fishing off the bridge and others were just out for a stroll on the river. I can just imagine how awesome Istanbul is in the summer. All the restaurants have plush couches outside, there are teahouses set up in alleyways and smoking parlors around every corner. Its got to have one hell of nightlife in the summer. I am so coming back.

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