Istanbul, Turkey

[ 2 ] July 9, 2011 |

Istanbul, Turkey is unforgettable. We arrived on the 4th of July to this city situated in both Europe and Asia along the Bosphorus River. It’s a magnificent city of 16 million people with a history of over 5000 years.

Because it was our national holiday I was determined to celebrate somehow. I satisfied my 4th of July craving with a bowl full of watermelon. Even before we found our hotel and put down our packs we devoured some street vendor melon while listening to the loud speaker calls for prayer that rang out from the mosques across town. (One of the 5 times everyday this happens.)

Happy 4th of July

We stayed in the heart of the Sultanahmet -Old City where most of the historical sights are located. Officially the Old City was previously named Constantinople. With the help of our favorite deal finder we ended up at a brand new hotel Hotel Broken Column ( located on a great street filled with restaurants, shops, markets, hotels, etc.  It was walking distance to all of the sights and included breakfast daily as well as excellent friendly service.

Hotel Broken Column

hotel rooftop terrace

Sultanahmet - Old City

This part of town (and the entire city) is filled with shopping. Specifically shopping for authentic special Turkish goods. Rugs, carpets, kilims, silver, jewelry, silks, textiles, linens, spices, tablewear, hooka waterpipes, gords, glass works, etc.

I personally was fascinated with the embroidered textiles. You can find pieces that are old (antiques), semi-old (100 to 50 years old) and new. Many of the pieces were stored in dowry chests and have never been used although they are hundreds of years old. The majority of semi-old and new pieces come from villages far outside the city where women spend an incredible amount of time making them.  The craftsmanship is impeccable with only hand stitch work. There are sometimes ink lines showing from the pattern being drawn on the cotton as a guide. The threads are all made of organic dyes. This means the colors will not fade or bleed like chemical dyes. The colors come from all natural sources:

Aubergine (Eggplant)- purple

Indigo- blue

Walnut skin- gold

Saffron- yellow

Cherry- pink

Pomegranate- red

Pistachio- green

embroidered silk on cotton

silk on cotton runner

These are the same thread types that are used for the famous Turkish Rugs and Carpets. There are an unbelievable number of carpet shops all over town with crazy price ranges. When you enter a shop they often offer you tea or coffee while you browse.  We saw a demonstration of a carpet being made.

Rug Making

Bartering is the style of price setting – so bring your tough guy face- and always be able to walk away.  To me bartering can be exhausting and maddening- so my plan of action was to A. find the best shop first B. lay it out from the start that I like a short story for price setting and a good deal means I’ll buy more from them – so everyone will win. C. Shop alone. Turkish men are much more patient than husbands.   I think I did pretty well with my negotiations.

Most carpet vendors were honestly interested in building a relationship with you so you’d become their family carpet shop. Unfortunately for them I wasn’t in the carpet-buying phase of life, but I did ship home some gorgeous embroidered pieces I’m pretty excited about!

The famous Grand Bazaar is made up of over 4400 shops all covered and somewhat organized by their wares (jewelry shops together, leather shops together etc.) We spent part of a day strolling through it totally overwhelmed. There is massive selection but not necessarily the best prices.

After comparing many many areas of town and shops I found a winner. I highly recommend Artemis Rug Store. It’s a family run and owned store. The owners get the pieces directly from villages mostly in Eastern Turkey.  It was a highly pleasant shopping experience and the owners were willing to do anything to help me. I’m sure they made plenty, but I don’t feel ripped off at all. They handled all of the packing and shipping of items and even let us put some other things we had with us in the box for them to ship all together back to the US.

Artemis Rug Store

On our way to the Egyptian Bazaar (Spice Bazaar) we stopped for a snack of Baklava and other Turkish delights as well as some muddy Turkish coffee. With Turkish coffee you sip the liquid off the top and avoid the grounds at the bottom of the cup. There is a tradition of being able to have your fortune read from your coffee grounds dumped out and cooled. Pat let the guy read his fortune- apparently he loves a flat faced woman and there is a bad man in his life- but he will live long and be wealthy. Lol…

Baklava and Turkish Delights

Turkish Coffee Fortune

When we arrived at the Spice Bazaar I was overwhelmed with colors and scents. Most unbelievable was the price of saffron. You can purchase the equivalent of a packed cup of saffron for 5 lira. That is about $3 UDS. Crazy cheap!  I also was interested in the apple tea.  They serve it everywhere and its really good.

Spice Bazaar

By the last day of our time in Istanbul Pat had some rather shaggy stuff growing on his face- so he went in for a Turkish shave- straight razor! When he walked out all of the guys on the street we had seen over the few days pretty much congratulated him as though he was now in the locals club. It was great.

Turkish Shave

Our final night in town one of the best and most random things happened. We were walking down the street and a total stranger walking behind us approached us to tell us a good place to eat. At first we just said ok thanks and tried to start walking then he continued to ask where we were from- we answered Texas. His eyes lit up. He was a Turkish man 54 years old named Ishmael. He went on to tell us he once knew a man from Texas who showed him kindness when he worked with NATO while in the army in his 20s. He then insisted he would walk us to this place he was telling us to go eat- so we went. It was about a 20-minute walk in the dark to a more local area of town. He showed us around talking to the various restaurant owners. I asked if he could tell me where to get good Baklava and he quickly walked me to this particular shop. We got some to share and sat down to continue talking. He was on his way home. He’s a tailor and has been for 38 years. He moved to Istanbul when there were only 400,000 people and 8 tailors making custom pieces. He gave us some words of wisdom and asked all about our lives. He told us about his family. He gave us his phone number to use the next time we are in Turkey and we gave him ours incase he gets to America. Before we went our separate ways he insisted he take us to the absolute best and most fair carpet store. I was rather hesitant but didn’t want to be rude. It was late and the shop was closed- but we followed him up several flights of stairs to a room full of carpets. 2 other men joined us and started rolling out carpets for us to see. They were all speaking in Turkish and we were trying to explain they were lovely- but we weren’t buying. Ishmael thought if we came to Turkey and left without a carpet it would be incredibly disappointing for us so he wanted to show up the place we could get one- it was really a kind thing to do- but we eventually left with a business card and without a carpet. After more kind words and double cheek kisses we parted ways and headed back to our hotel. It was an emotional high from such a pleasant random few hours in our day and from making a new friend in Turkey.

Ishmael and Pat


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Category: Alison's Blog, Blog, Featured Posts, Turkey

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  1. Jack Scott says:

    Istanbul is one of the most magical cities in the world. It sounds like you have a wonderful time.

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