When Rob and I started traveling we loved to explore the places we were visiting on foot initially with little or no prior planning, just go out and get lost for a while. Seeing a place for the first time this way really helped us feel a destination, form our own opinions without being influenced by opinion on the internet. Now, traveling with Mak, our due diligence is more detailed before we set out to explore. We do more research for safety and comfort and plan a route for our exploration for our little traveler who needs to take two steps for each of our one.
A housesit brought us to Turkey and we were very excited to spend three weeks exploring Istanbul before starting our assignment. We rented an apartment through Airbnb on the Asian side that put us quite far from the popular European side of Istanbul and most of the popular attractions as well. Istanbul is huge! So huge it straddles two continents. There is the Asian side (literally on the Asian continent) and the European side (as you would guess, on the European continent). The Bosphorus Strait separates the two sides.
Given its enormous size and population of 14 million people, we did more a lot more research than usual before we set out exploring. When our first Airbnb rental was ending, we booked our second Airbnb still on the Asian side (quieter and cheaper rentals than on the European side) but closer to the Bosphorus Strait. Mak was very excited to ride the ferry to the European side and check out the sights, especially the Grand Bazaar.
The Grand Bazaar is very, very old and very, very big, one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world actually. It covers 333 thousand square feet, including 61 streets, 4000 shops, 17 inns, 4 fountains, 2 mosques and many restaurants and cafes. Landing on the European side we made our way from the port to the closest tram station, we prepared ourselves for some of the things we had read about the Grand Bazaar like huge crowds, potential pickpockets, inflated prices, and lots of pushy merchants. Braced for the chaos, we hopped off the tram and entered the busy labyrinth of shops.
Packed with both locals and tourists alike, the atmosphere, with the mix of chatting people, colorful and shiny merchandise, smells of tea and spices had an electric feel to it, a true feast for the senses. The first impression was awesome!
We entered through one of the 4 gates to access the market and continued to walk straight up the middle of the first street of shops. We arrived in the early afternoon so the bazaar was very busy, we had to weave through the crowd to continue to move forward. There was a mix of locals, tourists, and shopkeepers filling each row with tea porters expertly darting through the tangle to deliver hot tea to different shops throughout the bazaar.
We hadn’t come to the bazaar to do any hardcore shopping, our luggage space is limited and that helps keep our shopping urges in check. Well, for Rob and I anyway, not so much for Makai. We were doing our best to stick to the middle of each row to avoid engaging and any shop owner, but Mak had other ideas and just like the tea porters expertly made his way through the crowds to check out anything that piqued his curiosity like samples of sweet Turkish delight.
Okay, Rob and I found everything pretty hard to resist too. We were right there with Mak looking at the teas, touching the shiny baubles and tasting the Turkish delight. Shop keepers were friendly and, of course, interested in making a sale, but not in a pushy or aggressive way.
We got more and more adventurous as we wove our way through the market. We explored for a couple of hours and had an absolutely wonderful time. Yes, people tried to sell us carpets and exquisite stained glass chandeliers. Store owners assured us we didn’t need the room in our luggage, they could ship our carpet and chandeliers direct to our home!
We heard some sales pitches and checked out some prices, bought a couple of things as well, and no one was really overbearing or aggressive. Granted we weren’t looking to buy a lot of different things, but the things we did buy weren’t outrageously overpriced. In fact our purchases, some soap, small trinkets and dried fruit were all cheaper than we had seen them in shops on the way to the Grand Bazaar. All and all it was a very positive experience.
After visiting, Rob found a great article about the Grand Bazaar on the Witt Hotels blog, How to Bargain Like a Pro in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar and Elsewhere. After reading the tips and tricks in the article, we were tempted to visit the bazaar again but with so many other things to see in Istanbul we never made it back. If you are planning to visit the Grand Bazaar to do some shopping the strategies and tips in the Witts article will help you understand shopkeepers sales tactics negotiate some good deals.
Do you research a little or a lot before visiting attractions in the places you visit? Does your opinion often differ from what you read online? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments.