Landing at the Ataturk airport in Istanbul, a 13-hour layover lay in front of me. I purposefully scheduled my flight from the States to land around 9 am and my second flight, to see my sister living in Tbilisi, Georgia, for 11:30 pm. Timing wise it was perfect, with enough time to get into Sultanahmet to see the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, the Grand Bazaar (site including map here), and roam around for a little bit before needing to head back to the airport.
For a reasonable sum, I checked my bags into the baggage check area and took the Metro downtown.
For a reasonable sum, I checked my bags into the baggage check area and took the Metro downtown. It was a sunny and bright July morning so I headed to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia before tackling the Grand Bazaar. The Blue Mosque was closed for a couple of hours for prayer so I visited Hagia Sofia first. It is amazingly beautiful and the building’s rich history and crumbling archangels and saints on gold adorned high domed ceilings make it worth seeing. If you are seeing more than the Hagia Sofia, consider getting a Muze museum pass. For 85 Turkish Lira (Fall 2014) you can visit most of the major museums for 72 hours while skipping the ticket lines. In summer, the lines can last anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour. When confronted with heat stroke, it’s worth the money.
The sun shone on the area in front of the Blue Mosque, highlighting the splendor of its fountains glimmering in the sunlight, among statues defiantly keeping their ideal people watching places. Taking the hint, I found a bench and pulled out the book while passing the time before the Blue Mosque reopened its doors to visitors. Little did I know that the whole statue thing works only for them. For tourists, people watching is more interactive.
How you handle it may determine whether you have a good or bad trip to Istanbul.
The thing about Istanbul as a tourist is that you will be approached, pitched, hassled, and hounded by the peddlers of goods and services. How you handle it may determine whether you have a good or bad trip to Istanbul. While reading, I had numerous people approach me to try sell me something ranging from boat tours, to cell phone service, to a date with them. For the most part, I chatted with them almost to the point of annoying them since it was clear that I wasn’t going to be buying whatever they were selling. This is a sliver of what you will find when you walk into the Grand Bazaar and worked as a good preparation.
Walking in to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is like walking into a sea of people. Thousands mill around on narrow streets with seemingly no sense of order or organization. I had no idea what direction to go or what roads to take. The street was so crowded that I had to force my way through to move forward. Not exactly the easiest for actually looking at the merchandise so the vendors bring it to you. As I pushed my way through, every vendor said either “Hey lady,” or “Beautiful, this is for you,” while holding up the item they wished to sell me.
If you go far enough into the maze, you will find the old section of the Grand Bazaar where you can find a mix of everything.
On my wanderings, I discovered that the Grand Bazaar is divided into sections. The outer stalls are full of popular brand merchandise like Levis, Tommy Hilfiger or Gucci. The front road is the gold and diamond jewelry. Next comes the typical souvenir stalls with apple tea, scarves, and other trinkets. The center has mostly carpet stores. Finally, if you go far enough into the maze, you will find the old section of the Grand Bazaar where you can find a mix of everything. I found some unique items in the old section of the Grand Bazaar.
I also learned that I am a bit of a sucker and more willing to listen to the vendors than most. I have been stuck in stores because I wasn’t willing to be a bit rude and walk past or leave. In one shop, a vender selling goods to another customer took up all of the 4 feet, blocking me in. In another, the vendor was laying on the compliments (apparently I have the eyes of an angel, who knew?) and all I wanted to do was flee. Ultimately, I ended up buying one of my favorite scarves, for a small fortune, just to get out of a stall. I still have no regrets about that scarf. I am learning how to smile, say thanks, and keep moving. In most cases, the smiles are generously returned and show you another kind of unexpected beauty at the Grand Bazaar.