Last time I was in Istanbul, the Grand Bazaar was my favorite place I visited. In those days I was a shop-o-holic and I thought that this ancient, exotic shopping mall was my Retail Mecca. Even though I sold most of my stuff when I started traveling full time, I did keep a few things and my purchases from the Grand Bazaar from 12 years ago made the cut. My blue intricately designed Turkish bowls, an evil eye mug, and my favorite red leather jacket are packed away in my storage unit waiting to come out one day again and be seen again.
I’m not sure why these items made the cut when I was purging my life possessions – but they did. I think it was more about the memories of how I purchased them rather than the items themselves. The Grand Bazaar was the first foreign market I had ever been to – the first of now many many many markets – I still remember the man lighting the bowl on fire to prove how tough the finish was – I had never experienced this type of ‘extreme’ shopping before!
I also remember sitting in the leather shop drinking tea and negotiating for my coat. I had never had to barter for anything in my life and I remember trying to embrace the fun of it and more importantly trying to lose my Midwest ‘niceness’ so that I didn’t get taken advantage of. Looking back on that situation I’m pretty sure I did a horrible job of negotiating and was completely taken advantage of…but hey…I had some nice tea and a lasting memory.
Returning to the Grand Bazaar was an odd feeling as I’m not really much of a shopper at all any longer. I had lost a bit of my enthusiasm for the shops, and the act of dealing with the vendors – but I did have something I didn’t have on my first trip – a camera. Instead of negotiating for items and drinking tea with vendors I spent my time capturing this colorful old market and reliving fond memories.
The market is a treat to visit – a great place to wander and get lost in the maze of halls. The architecture and associated market culture is worth a visit alone. But go with a great amount of patience for being constantly solicited. And if you are actually going to buy souvenirs – I would recommend going to the more not-as-touristy neighborhoods as I think you’ll probably get better prices based on what I saw around Istanbul. Galata is a great place to shop as is the shopping area behind the Spice Market to pick up souvenirs. But – if you are looking for a great photo walk – you can’t beat the Grand Bazaar!
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