Grand Bazaar, Istanbul
Shazam! I gotta rub my eyes and shake my head. I feel bombarded by a
meteor shower of eye-catching gadgets and gizmos, trinkets and treasures.
Perhaps it's the intensity of all these bustling shoppers or the
intoxicating fragrances or the
twisting kaleidoscope of peregrine colors or the disorienting cacophony of
clashing languages-but I absolutely in love with
this place! My wife Susan does too. We freely surrender to being captured by the churning chaos of
this international frenzy!
And we are certainly not alone. We're here in the wacky Grand Bazaar
of Istanbul-with some 76,000 other people, just a slice of the 400,000
voracious bargain hunters that will descend upon this retail hodgepodge
today. I've been told the staff alone orchestrating this mercantile
numbers over 27,000 strong. That's almost a half million people in
this cramped market district squished between the mosques Beyazit and Nuruosmaniye.
I'd be completely
mesmerized, but as we set foot through the Beyazit Gate I snatched a
color-coded guide to these 4000 plus stalls and cubbies, scrunched together
in this unique setting of 61 covered streets for the past 550 years. I'm
holding tightly onto this crumpled guide, though Susan and I wrestle over
occasionally as if
it were a coveted map to a buried chest on a desert island.
Although some might call this the stickiest of tourist traps, prudent buyers
ferret out outrageously good deals on silk scarves, leather goods, hand
woven rugs, stained-glass lamps, dazzling jewelry, hammered brass plates, imported teas and scented soaps- simply
anything and everything imaginable.
Haggling is just part of the fun. (An amusing see-saw wrangling
concluding with a handshake agreement of 60% of the asking price is a
showdown that will make both the buyer and seller both smile.) But we're not
limiting the quest for a bon marche just to the Bazaar.
The side streets and out of the way neighborhoods like Cukurcuma, Tophane and Nişantaşi
are hidden harbors offering antique furniture, European designer apparel and
classic quality artwork.
Here, just as in the other parts of this
seductive country, we feast our eyes upon the cataclysmic collisions
of Eastern and Western cultures and of old and new ways. In this seemingly
enigmatic land there exists a treasure trove of history, dating back from
the very dawn of civilization to the commitments to NATO alliances in the
Middle East. Greek, Roman, Eastern Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Chinese and western cultures
are juxtaposed everywhere we roam. How mind-boggling to think that
modern day Turkey once embraced the territories of Mesopotamia, the ancient
sites of Greek mythology, the battlegrounds of the Trojan war, the
bloodstained routes of the Crusades and even the remains of Noah's ark!
And here we'll retrace the footsteps of King Midas, Alexander the Great,
St. Paul the Apostle, Genghis Khan, the Virgin Mary, Marco Polo, Vlad Tepes
and even Napoleon Bonaparte. The land has seen more than its share of
conflict, even up until the past couple of years. But all is calm and
safe for travelers now.
Istanbul is the only city in the world
straddling two continents; Europe and Asia. Home to fifteen million
residents, this megalopolis virtually rumbles with the madness of traffic, commerce
and tourism. Perched on jagged hills rising above the waterways of the
Bosporus and Sea of Marmara, the historic towers, mosques, cathedrals and gleaming new
high-rises dominate the city's distinctive skyline.
The Blue Mosque, Santa Sophia Museum Dormice
Palace, Topkapl Palace and the Galata Tower, in themselves, make the effort
to come here well worthwhile. These fascinating sites have their own
assigned docents. Taxis can easily whisk us directly to one of them
individually, but there's an efficiency to opt for any one of a multitude of
traditional city tours. Legal guides are licensed by the state
throughout Turkey and wear their official
identification in plain view.
Mehmet Tetik, professional guide in Istanbul.
Irresistible personal shopping near the Blue Mosque
Above: Street scenes in the old town of Istanbul
Numerous half day trips by either
land or water to neighboring hamlets along the Bosphorus are available at
reasonable costs. The coastline hosts an unbelievable string of
gorgeous mansions and opulent palaces of past Sultans, Pashas and
millionaires. Susan and I get a kick from a bouncy ferry ride to the nearby Princes
Islands zigzagging through Istanbul's curious jambalayas of
maritime traffic. We disembark on an oasis of the once elusive
hideaways of Turkey's aristocracy. Viewing these magnificent estates
is only possible by horse drawn carriages.
View of water entrance to the Golden Horn
Arrival at Buyukada Island
Except for service vehicles at night, horse drawn carriages are the only
transportation on the island
Dining choices are overwhelming with most 12,000 restaurants scattered
throughout Istanbul's city limits and nearby hamlets. We found ourselves returning to
Kadir Has Caddesi
and Haci Adil Caddesi. Locals relish Konak on Sakip
Sabanci 23 and
at Turnacibast Sokak 14. A truly great fish seafood
restaurant is the ever popular
Sultanahmet Fish House on Gurkan Caddesi, as well
as the romantic
Çengelköy İskele Restaurant
at Meydani #10.
meals often feature lamb, goat or chicken with garnishes of tomatoes,
cucumbers and onions.
It's when we cross the majestic Bosphorus Suspension Bridge
leading out of Istanbul we have actually set foot the continent of Asia. More and
more our eyes are filled with glimpses of lifestyles before the
westernization of Turkey in 1923. Conservative Muslims wearing traditional
Arabic apparel are not uncommon here.
Worshipers at the Green Mosque in Bursa, the
capitol of the Ottoman Empire until Constantinople was
captured in 1453.
We venture by coach first to Bursa, then onward to Turkey's
capitol Ankara. History buffs, like me, find the Museum of the
Anatolian Civilizations to be totally captivating
- a showplace of artifacts
dating from the very beginning of mankind to the occupation of the Roman
Some of the first coins ever minted are on display.
Marvels include Palaeolithic ( pre 8000 B.C.) stone tools, Chalcolithic
bronze figures (5500 - 3000 B.C.) and sunken trophies from
the Greek and Roman occupations.
Ankara also has an atmospheric old section with narrow
alleys, timeworn fortifications, intimate cafes, tea houses and an aromatic spice
A visit here would not be complete without lingering at the Kemal
Ataturk Mausoleum, an impressive, almost surreal monument. Under
Ataturk's direction ruler ship of the sultans was dissolved, giving Turkey
the democracy and freedom it enjoys today.
Ataturk Mausoleum and Museum
With a population of nearly 5 million Ankara boasts hundreds and hundreds of
memorable dining places for every
Above: some plates photographed at different eating establishments, each
typical of Turkish cuisine.
The most mind-boggling region we visit is Cappadocia.
Here the spectacular Ihlara Valley is deeply entrenched within a high
central plateau. The rock formations-all natural- are perplexing, remnants
of the violent eruption of Mt. Erciyes some two and a half million years
valley and surrounding hillsides have been filled with a bazillion of
volcanic ash cones, some towering over 100 feet from their circular base.
These inconceivable geologic formations were once homes for several
centuries. Their cramped interiors were hand carved into multi-story
honeycomb-like dwellings, seen below behind a local vendor.
Nearby are the disturbing, subterranean cities such as
Kaymakli, Mazi Derinkuyu and Ozkomak. Living areas were gouged out of
solid stone as many as eight levels below ground and then connected by
treacherous secret passageways.
One of several rock wheel doors used strategically
For hundreds of years during the early part of the first
millennium these underground labyrinths
were shelter to early Christians, hunted by both the Romans and Arabs.
Nearby in Goreme we toured the remarkable Karanlik Christian churches
(4th to 9 century). Hewn within cliff caves, their ceilings are completely
adorned in vibrant, detailed frescoes. At one time there were 365 such
churches, one for every day of the year, of which 30 are still open to the
Further inland in Central Anatolia is Konya,
home now to over a million residents, but more notably
Said to have been originally inhabited in 500 B.C., Konya is best known for
the mystic named Mevlana(1207 - 1272). Early in the twelfth century he inspired a
Sufi Muslim cult, whose priests spawned a ritual of spinning around in
circles in their long robes as a form of prayer. The practice of the priest
twirling around until he was dizzy, disoriented and introspective led to what we
now know as "Whirling Dervishes." This eccentric form of
dance is performed for
the public every Saturday night. Not to be missed here is Melvana's
Mosque and his elaborately decorated
mausoleum, a destination for thousands of tourists and pilgrims each year.
Fragrant, but crowded garden entrance to the Mervlana Museum... and
the Mausoleum of the great mystic born in 1207
Heading even deeper eastward toward inland Turkey we are
awestruck by the spectacular remains of former urban centers, such as
Aphrodisia (5th century B.C.) and Heirapolis (190 B.C.) with their
substantial museums of locally unearthed statuary, precious jewelry and
other miraculous finds.
Hippodrome at Aphrodisia
The stadium here deservingly holds the title for the largest of
its kind in ancient Greek times. Amazingly it was only recently excavated- an
effort of Turkish archeology professor Kenan Erim spanning over thirty five
years during the last century. In the silence of the morning it seems
strange to put my hands on the gritty, scabrous stone underneath where I'm
sitting. I realize
it was once a single place in the twenty two rows surrounding this stadium
where 30,000 toga clad citizens raucously enjoyed the all-to-frequent gruesome Roman games.
A quirky highlight of this area is a puzzling geological wonder, the Pamukkale
or "Cotton Fortress." Gleaming white cliffs, some over 300 feet high,
form a series of calcified terraces with pools of hot mineral water-all supported by giant crystal-like stalactites.
Within a stone's throw at the top are conventional spa-like swimming
pools, taunted for the healing benefits of their
sulfur-laden liquid contents.
was the capital city this area in 281 - 133 B.C. Just beyond the
outskirts of outside present day Izmir, it's a site with tumultuous
Ruins of Pergamon Acropolis, an ancient Greek dating to 281133 B.C., lies 16
miles from the Aegean Sea.
The Acropolis, seen
above, featured an impressive theater hugging its steep hillside- a venue
that once accommodated 10,000 residents.
Not too far away the ever popular site
of Ephesus (Efes), practically a stone's throw from the Aegean coast, attracts thousands of visitors each
year. Its first inhabitants resided here some 6000 years ago. It
came a metropolis during the Greek occupation, but flourished during the
Despite its share of conflicts and a disastrous earthquake in 614, I stand in
amazement of the integrity of the two story facade of the Library.
deep roots in this city, once the home of the Apostle Paul. Indeed,
Ephesus was one of the seven churches of Asia identified in the Biblical
Book of Revelation. The Virgin Mary lived close by after Jesus'
resurrection. The Book of John is said to have been written here in the
latter part of the first century.
We're thankful we're
wearing rubber soled shoes as the granite blocks of the street are smooth
and slippery from the foot traffic of 1.5 million people a year.
The famous Library of Celsus in Ephesus.
Magnificent amphitheater (Odeon) at Ephesus
The remains of the Temple of Artemis, constructed 550 B.C. It was once
one of the Seven
Wonders of the World.
The 102 degree heat
has given Susan and I a hankering for one of those refreshing Turkish ice cream cones
we spotted in one of
booths that pepper Kusadasi's Ataturk Bulvari. But it's no ordinary
ice cream they serve here; it's a near subzero concoction they call "Dondurma."
It's insane! It seemingly not only refuses to melt but also defies gravity.
Yep, I can literally turn my sugar cone upside down and everything stays in place. Dondurma's astonishing property is the result of two special ingredients, salep and mastic.
is somehow magically extracted from orchid tubers and mastic is
strangely harvested from the gum resin of Pistachio-like trees.
All the flavors have a unique nutty aftertaste. Whatever the formula,
this is a gooey, refreshing treat
savor as we meander back past the quiet harbor up the gentle roadway to our hotel.
Photo courtesy of
Above: Vendor takes request for a Dondurma flavor.
I look out of our
room's window at the water shimmering below in the late afternoon sun.
I ask Susan, who's already kicked off her shoes and sprawled herself out on
the bed, if she'd mind if I'd take a little dip. With her nod of
approval, lickety-split I'm on my way.
View of our hotel pool and the adjacent Aegean Sea from my
room at the Korumar
I scamper past the
tempting Olympic size pool and scoot down to the little sandy beach. The
calm azure cove beckons me to plunge in without hesitation. Whoosh! The
cool Aegean tingles as it gurgles
around me during this briny plunge. The water is crystal clear and teaming with
hundreds of seemingly florescent squiggly fish- Clownfish, the Dottybacks,
the Damselfish and countless more... It's like being in an endless designer aquarium!
How I wish I had my S.C.U.B.A paraphernalia that's sitting back home!
In a flash I promise myself that Susan and I will return and expand
our Turkish adventure from land to
Here in Turkey we've discovered the richness of diverse cultures and the
monuments of times past- a vast variety of experiences rarely found within
the boundaries of a single country. Turkey- a land of intrigue- is a must-see destination for any world