The following bit of dialogue may be a bit dramatized for theatrical flair:
The scene: Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, a bustling and ancient shopping mall flooded with people. The smell of spices wafts through the air. Mass produced rugs are sold to tourists for breathtaking prices all around. Turkish men forcefully sell tea to anyone who passes by. This is the dramatic epicenter of everything you’ve ever seen about Istanbul on TV. Turkish delight beckons you through the glass of the little shops at every corner.
“Hello my friend. I will make you the best price on a real Turkish rug! Where are you from? London?” Says the shopkeeper you’ve avoided making eye contact with as you browse through the bazaar.
“Oh, we may come back to speak with you later. Right now we’re really not sure if we’re looking for a rug.”
“Russell Crowe bought a rug from me last week.” The rug salesman whips out his smart phone and shows me a picture of Russell Crowe buying a rug from him.
“If Russell Crowe is buying rugs from you, your shop is clearly out of my budget.”
Now, this wasn’t the last we would hear of how awesome Russell Crowe is from Turkish shopkeepers and restaurant owners, nor the last photo we’d see of Russell Crowe standing with very proud Turkish men selling their wares, but it was pretty typical of the sales experiences we ran up against in the bazaars of Istanbul. When trying to purchase a suitcase we ran into a really aggressive guy who told us the suitcase in the next stall over (same brand, different color) was “crap” with “shoddy workmanship” and that was why he couldn’t go below 100 lira. I laughed and walked away and he offered it for 50 lira. Then 30 lira. We kept walking. The bazaars were one of the things I was most looking forward to, and they certainly didn’t disappoint.
The Grand Bazaar in the Sultanahmet area is nuts. It’s like a gated city all its own, filled with colorful characters, interesting smells, experiences, and confident Turkish shopkeepers that can locate the place of your birth to within a few meters by your accent. They most definitely speak your native tongue, as well. We walked around through the maze of corridors planning to come back and make some purchases, only to be surprised that the whole thing was closed the day we came back! We were disappoint.
Now, we had spoken to a nice young man in a shop outside of the bazaar that told us to price check anything we found in the bazaar with the outside world, and we did. We ended up getting a much better price on a couple of pillows on the street than we would have in the bazaar, but you know, part of the whole experience of Turkey would have been lost had we not been in one of the oldest continuously active shopping centers in the world, right? When we did make our unsuccessful return to the Grand Bazaar for our final bit of shopping we didn’t really know what to do, so we headed down a side-street that was lined with shops, but they were selling all everyday items like socks, underwear, cigarettes, and that kind of stuff. Seeing as we didn’t really want any of that crap at the moment, we decided to just move right on. Then we found another bazaar. The Spice Bazaar. HELLO.
I was apparently pretty over-it by this point. I do remember it being a hot day, and we walked and walked and walked. When we found the Spice Bazaar we were intrigued, tired, and I think the smell of the spices made me a bit woozy. It would seem that I didn’t take any pictures inside. It was pretty amazing though. Shops lined with buckets and buckets of spices. Saffron so cheap that I almost wanted to buy some, but I didn’t think I’d be able to bring Iranian saffron back into the U.S., the small bric-a-brac we wanted to buy at the Grand Bazaar. It was all there. We made our way through a bit, then headed outside to a nice surprise, one of the imperial mosques.
I’m not sure of the name of this mosque, but it was essentially as ginormous as any of the ones we’d seen in Istanbul, with the added benefit of about a million pigeons circling. People of all origins milled about in the courtyard enjoying bread off the street vendors, feeding the pigeons, and in general having a good time. I think the cool breeze calmed my stomach a bit, and now that we knew where we were again (once you find the Bosphorus Strait it’s pretty easy to tell where you’re at in Istanbul) I felt a lot better about how long it would be before I could sit down with a cup of coffee.
This was basically it. We had to get up super early for our flight back to the U.S. the next morning. We wanted to get cleaned up before dinner, and get to bed early so we wouldn’t spend the whole flight home writhing in agony aboard uncomfortable airline seats wishing we could just get some sleep. We laid down early, watched a bit of TV, and got a few hours of sleep before heading back home.
So, I’d kinda like to toot my own horn a bit. Carolyn was busy planning the wedding after our contracts in Korea ended, and I was busy planning our honeymoon. I think I did a pretty great job. I can’t imagine any better way to start our married life together than by galavanting across Europe together, hand in hand, eating anything that looked delicious and didn’t move, and enjoying more than a few bottles of wine. We saw tons of beautiful, beautiful sights. We heard a lot of different languages. We swam in our fourth ocean together (the Mediterranean), we had all sorts of adventures (getting on wrong trains, getting on out of service trains, overnight bus trips through northern Italy) and even managed to get in an adventure on an alternative vehicle. When life happens now, I think back to how perfect everything was when we were on that ATV in Santorini with the wind in my face and Carolyn holding on
for dear life to my waist as we headed off to some beach, or how dorky I must have sounded reading her facts about the Hagia Sofia as we waited to get in. It was wonderful. Maybe even perfect. The best part was that I got to do it all with Carolyn and we’ve added even more memories and stories to our history together. I’m pretty fortunate, non?