Istanbul’s Bazaars

We landed into Istanbul late Friday night and arrived to our hotel after midnight, and got to bed around 1am.  I’ll spare you the story about the disaster of our pre-arranged transport story.

After sleeping in and a full Turkish breakfast, first on our list for Saturday was to hit the Bazaars.   There were two reasons:  one, they were closed for the following three days due to Ramadan, and two, we heard that you need FULL energy in order to manage the energy, bargaining and physical stamina required!

The New Mosque & adjoining Spice Bazaar

We walked to the Spice Bazaar, or as locals call it, the Egyptian Bazaar.  There are endless stands of spices and sweets.   We lingered over one and were helped by a really friendly lady so that is where we ended up buying our edible souvenirs.

Here are the goods we bought:

  • Iranian saffron (most expensive spice in the world, we just got a few pinches)
  • Yellow curry
  • Meaball spice (Gabe’s pick)
  • Ottoman spice
  • Mixed apple tea
  • Pomegranate orange tea
  • Jasmine balls for tea
  • Turkish delights – pomegranate gel with pistachio
  • Pistachios, the most delicious I ever tried

After the Spice Bazaar, we headed to the Istanbul Grand Bazaar.   It dates to 1455 and is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the entire world.  We had heard to take a map and have an intention, so armed with this knowledge, we dove in to the splendor of this Turkish tradition.

Good thing we had a map.  Sultan Mehmet II’s idea has blossomed from a simple textile market, to a massive bazaar with 61 streets and over 3000 shops.

We purchased two things – a silver guilded double-teapot and a Turkish towel for a gift. We had hopes for purchasing a carpet but soon got overwhelmed after looking in a few stands.

Here are the tips we learned:

-always negotiate.  Offer 25%-50% of the price they say.   I found that none went as low as 50%, but a 30-40% discount of the original price was offered to me.

-never offer an amount unless you intend to buy.  You can ask how much, but don’t try to get them down in price unless you are going to follow through.

-accept a drink and a seat if they offer – it is customary and not an obligation to buy.   This happened a few times as we looked for carpets.  They’d shut the door, turn on the A/C, and offer us a seat and the most delicious tea.

-pay in Turkish lira vs. another currency (some accepted euros, US dollars, and credit cards)

-if you buy a carpet, handle the shipping yourself. Several of my books talked about the switcheroo that can happen with a lesser quality.

-at the spice bazaar, request that they vacuum seal your goods so they’ll travel better and last longer

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