The next stop on our tour of Istanbul was the Grand Bazaar. I have to say, this was the part of the day I was least looking forward to. While researching Istanbul before our cruise, I stumbled across reviews of the Grand Bazaar and many of them warned us of pick-pockets, pushy salesmen, and vendors out to rip you off. Not the sort of thing you want to remember Istanbul by at all. So, we made mental note of the warnings and asked our tour guide to make a quick stop there anyway. When in Istanbul, right?
Upon arrival to one of the 18 different entrances to the bazaar, we could already tell this place was a total tourist trap. Hoards of people clambered around everywhere, pushing and shoving their way to the entrance (and to the teeny tiny bathroom just outside the gate). Once we were inside, the crowds spread out. With over 5,000 shops and 60 different streets to turn down, to say this place was large would be a complete understatement. It was MASSIVE. Not at all what we expected in terms of size. But it was quintessentially Turkish, like a scene out of a particular Disney movie. Ahem. I wholeheartedly expected to see Aladdin and Abu peek around the corner (I realize Aladdin might not be Turkish, but the bazaar totally had that Aladdin vibe). Anywho...the Grand Bazaar, while expansive and maze-like, left much to be desired where shopping is concerned. Even with 5,000 shops in house, many of them were the same as the next. Rows of carpet shops, chachki sellers, pashmina stores, jewelry huts, and tea houses...but very limited variety in each. After walking through multiple alleyways, we rarely saw anything unique. Just the same set of shops, one right after the other. Prices were quite expensive, too...especially for the kinds of things being sold. So, we bought a few postcards, tried some Turkish Delights (ehhh, so-so), and purchased an ornament for my travel Christmas tree, then made our way back outside (after begging for directions) to meet back up with our tour group. As part of our tour on Day 2 in Istanbul, we made a stop at the Spice Bazaar.
More on that below...
The Spice Bazaar was very similar to the Grand Bazaar, but on a much smaller scale and included more tea, nut, and spice vendors than souvenir peddlers. D and I enjoyed the Spice Bazaar much more than the Grand Bazaar, partially because it was less crowded, but also because the vendors were friendlier and the prices were lower. You seemed to get more individualized treatment in the Spice Bazaar. D and I got to sample a wide variety of pistachios (I had no idea there were so many kinds!), traditional Turkish Apple Tea (brought a box of it home, too), and ate our weight in Turkish Delights made with real organic honey instead of sugar like the stuff sold in the Grand Bazaar. Much, much tastier! Don't get me wrong, the Grand Bazaar is still something to be experienced, but save your Lira and belly for the treasures of the Spice Bazaar. You can thank me later. ;)
Missed any of my recaps of Istanbul? No worries, you can catch up here!