Istanbul is quite a city. We stayed in the old town, which was as hilly as our initial pre-dawn impressions indicated, and all the roads are cobble-stoned. Everywhere you look there are stray cats so I got quite a good moggie-patting-fix because plenty of them were friendly. Very skinny, poor things, except the ones who live around the doner kebab shops. Our moggies at home should thank their little furry stars that they live with us.
Off we went to the Grand Bazaar, and oh dear I can’t say I was particularly overwhelmed. As far as goods were concerned, it was very much like the Stanley Markets in Hong Kong except 100 times bigger and the quality of items was much better. But boy you get hassled a lot, which doesn’t happen in the Stanley Markets. No, we didn’t want leather jackets, no we didn’t want made-last-week rugs, no we didn’t want genuine-guaranteed-100%-pashmina shawls, no we didn’t want brand new Turkish Iznik imitation tiles that are actually cheaper to buy in the Eumundi markets at home. Even Doug was being hassled, which was surprising because it’s usually me that everyone makes a bee-line for in these situations. Alas for the vendors, we were the worst type of tourists – ones wot didn’t intend to buy anything, only look around.
Having said that, I did see some nice fabric that I might consider on the return trip so we can cover the mattress of a charming child’s French sleigh bed we bought a few trips back (Sister Kym: sewing alert!). But all in all, the souk in Marrakech is much better in terms of variety and authenticity (well it was last time I looked) and the huge street market in Isle sur la Sorgue in the south of France or El Rastro in Madrid are miles ahead in terms of variety and authenticity. But anyway, it was interesting to look around for a while and I’m glad we’ve done it.
We eventually found our way into the Old Bazaar which is in the centre of the Grand Bazaar and where the antiques are sold, but my Suss-o-Meter was on full alert here and I didn’t believe that most of what I was seeing was actually antique. What a pity. I saw some lovely jewellery, but I’m about to go to Paris where I shall buy tonnes of lovely jewellery that I have some confidence in being real. The ‘antique’ jewellery sellers weren’t helped by other shops outside the Antiques Market selling really very similar – to the point where I couldn’t tell the difference – antique style jewellery that they didn’t pretend for a second was old. It just looked old. And it also looked just like much of the stuff that was purporting to actually be old. If I can’t be sure of what I’m buying, I don’t buy it.
So okay we saved some money there, which was probably a good thing. On the upside, the Grand Bazaar has really lovely architecture, with its vaulted ceilings and hundreds of arches that are covered in intricate paintings which appeared to have been designed to imitate tiles. And while we were wandering about the call to prayer commenced, which added considerably to the exotic ambiance for us. We decided to regroup over a Turkish coffee while we considered our next excursion, and seeing how it was just down the road we headed for the Blue Mosque. What a spectacular and very beautiful building that is, inside and out. And it is categorical proof that you can go way, way over the top with beautiful blue (and red) tiles and the result will be stunning. There are over 24,000 tiles in the main chamber and it is gorgeous.
Then we did a lap of the Hippodrome – the race course the Romans used for chariot racing back in the day, and checked out the Obelisk of Theoddosius, which is Egyptian and dates to 1500BC but was pinched from Egypt and erected in the Hippodrome in 390AD. How amazing, we thought, as we stood in the middle of the Roman Hippodrome, looking at an Egyptian obelisk with the minarets of the Blue Mosque in the background and a beautiful fountain with gold mosaic a few steps on which had been a gift from a German Kaiser. Everyone got to Istanbul at some point, and it seems that plundering has gone on into as well as out of Turkey for some time. And talking of plunder, we inspected the Serpentine Column which was made by the Greeks (winners) out of the weapons captured from the Persians (losers) after a huge sea battle in 479BC, but Constantine the Great stole the Column from Delphi in Greece and erected it in – yes, the Hippodrome, and in turn the Crusaders stole the golden urn from the top of the Serpentine Column to cart off to England. And yet I’d get arrested and imprisoned if I legitimately purchased an antiquity and sought to export it out of Turkey today. Times, they have changed.
Then we decided it was time for lunch, and spent a leisurely while on a rooftop terrace café overlooking the Blue Mosque and Bosphorus Straits. We collected some baklava for late night dessert in our room, and that was that for the Istanbul Play Day Part One. Part Two will probably include the Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia, but we’ll see when the time comes. So on the shopping front, there hasn’t been any! But wait for it, wait for it. Next stop, Manchester.