another great day in turkey! we had the old city walking tour on schedule for today, so after a good chat with the owner of our rental, we were off exploring. we had a yummy brunch at a place near the docks called bej’s cafe. we split a panini, veggie soup, and chicken wrap. it was nice to eat in the breezy sunshine.
then, we wandered over to the spice market, after watching some kids feed the pigeons in front of the new mosque, also known as the yeni cami. the birds were everywhere. i decided to pass on feeding them, lest they bless me with what the turks believe is a sign of good luck.
in the market, there were bins piled high with spices, seasonings, teas, and candies. it was so colorful and lively, full of people bartering and beckoning from all ends. since we are here in march, there are very few crowds, and we feel so lucky that we don’t have to be cramped and rushed as we see all these sights. we didn’t buy anything inside the market, but once outside we saw a man frying up patties of cheese and sprinkling ground pistachios on top at a restaurant called lezzeti sark, and we knew we had to try it. it’s called kanafeh, and it’s actually a dessert, and it was heavenly!
we finished our little savory/sweet snack and continued winding through cobblestone alleyways. we visited 2 more mosques on our walk (the rustem pasa mosque and the mosque of suleyman the magnificent) before arriving at the main attraction of the day – the grand bazaar.
i must admit, i was nervous. we’d read lots of things about the bazaar in various guidebooks, and knew it was a sprawling maze of shops with owners who could be pushy, loud, and in-your-face. bartering was expected. and to top it all off, the area had the highest concentration of pick-pockets in all of istanbul. i kept picturing all the markets i have seen in senegal, guinea, cambodia, and thailand. they truly are sensory-overload, and to the uninitiated, you can walk away dazed and confused by all you just purchased. in many of those markets, i had gotten lost down dimly-lit, narrow passageways, with people pressed up against all sides, and i wasn’t too keen to jump back into another one of those scenes. but in the spirit of tourism, i figured we ought to venture in.
we were pleasantly surprised by what we experienced. the bazaar is covered, but the walkways are breezy, wide and the entire place has a very open feeling. each shop keeper calls out to you, but most are very laid-back and friendly. we ended up purchasing a beautiful green-glass covered turkish lamp from a man who had been selling lamps in the bazaar for 35 years. after we decided on one, he welcomed us in to sit down, share tea, and have a chat. a transaction here is more than just an exchange of money, it’s an exchange of conversation, and the making of a connection. we also bought two pillow covers from some very smooth-talking carpet-men, who also grabbed chairs for us to sit on and brought us the amazing apple-tea to drink. in their shop we even got a brief demonstration on turkish rugs, even though we insisted that we couldn’t buy anything. it was all a part of the experience, and no one was too rough or pushy at all. i walked away convinced that the turkish people are the best salesmen in the world (and thankful that we didn’t buy any more items than we already had!).
after the bazaar we predictably got lost for awhile, walking down bustling streets that reminded me of new york. there were commuters coming home from work every which way we looked, but we finally asked for directions and got back on track. we walked to the hagia sofia, only to find out that it was closed (again!). so, we’ll have to wait for another day to get into istanbul’s main attraction. we then stopped by a couple more souvineer shops to pick up things we’d seen earlier. then we hopped the tram home.
back at the apartment we consulted the istanbul eats guide and found a hip little place nearby for dinner, only to discover that it was basically reservations-only. so, we settled on a nearby 2nd choice – sofyali 9. it was a classic small restaurant with attentive waiters. upon being seated they brought over an impressive array of cold mezes on a wooden tray. they show and explain to you what each small plate is, then you choose the ones you want. we got a tzatziki sauce and a red peppery walnut spread. then, they bring you all the bread you could ever want as you eat these little appetizers. we then got some hot mezes – 2 small pasteries (one with meat, one with cheese) and some cheese covered mushrooms. we just stuck to the small plates since the main dishes were a little steep, and we loved sampling all the little yummy options more anyway.
our last goal of the night was baklava, and we were not dissapointed. we stopped in a small candy shop where a chubby, high-school aged employee used his limited english to give us our 2 pieces for free! it was the first baklava we’ve had here, and it was like nothing i’ve ever had before. it just dissolved into our mouths. we were silent as we ate the small, flaky, diamond-shaped delights. it was the perfect end to our evening!