Istanbul Part III: New Mosque, Markets, and the Turkish Coffee Incident

by Heidi Obermeyer

As I sit here and write in my apartment in Berlin, one of the afternoon thunderstorms we’ve been getting around here lately is rolling in. They always send such a refreshing breeze through my apartment and the rest of the city, which is a relief after the muggy heat that generally precedes them. I start the day too warm in pants and a longer sleeve shirt, but by evening I’m grateful for an extra layer. The mild summers in this country are something that I will miss when I leave in July.

Day two in Istanbul we had planned to explore the bazaars, which were on the top of my list of things I wanted to visit while in the city. The two most famous ones (or rather, the two best-known to the tourist cohort) are the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar met my expectations and had all kinds of things to offer from food to clothing; by the end of the trip both Katelyn and I had accumulated a variety of gifts and self-indulgent purchases to bring back to the U.S. with us. I really enjoyed the Grand Bazaar, but didn’t take many pictures- it looks (like most tourist-infested markets) a little more kitschy than one would like, but it hasn’t been completely saturated with souvenir stands yet and you can still get good deals on some nice jewelry and linens. We browsed for several hours at the Grand Bazaar but purchased most of our stuff at the Arasta Bazaar, which is near the Blue Mosque and a little bit more upscale. Prices were also a little higher, but nothing that a good bargaining session couldn’t bring down. I’ll have to do another post detailing the goodies that we found.

After wandering around a bit and lunch at the Grand Bazaar (in this restaurant, which I would recommend if you have to eat in Sultahnamet, but if you can get out of that neighborhood there are awesome eats to be had at rock-bottom prices) we went to the Spice Market. I didn’t take any pictures (Well, minus a couple sneaky and blurry shots- most of the shopkeepers weren’t too pleased to have tourists snapping photos and not buying anything) and was generally dissapointed with the commercialized mass of humanity and spices that we found there. I don’t like to begrudge quaint locations their right to gentrify as much as they’d like to, but every single shop in the market had gaudy neon signs and the exact same spices sitting out front, which got old after two or three storefronts. It’s a space that must have a been a hub of activity a hundred years ago, when spices from around the world were a rarity and a treat, but in our flattened world piles of cinnamon, ginger, and tea just don’t do it for your average traveler like they used to.

The New (just 400-year-old) Mosque wasn’t initially on our must-see list while in Istanbul, I had read about it in the guide book but didn’t plan on visiting until we popped out of the Spice Market essentially on its doorstep. It turned out to be my favorite mosque that we visited on the trip! The colors on the inside were stunning, and fewer people made for a more subdued atmosphere than the slightly more chaotic Blue Mosque. It’s hard to capture how everything looks in person on camera because the light is so low, but I think you can get the gist of it from the pictures above.

Tired from wandering around the city in the sun, we decided to try and find ourselves some baklava and Turkish Coffee, which we ended up getting at a historic café near the spice market. It wasn’t terrible, but I bet you could find much better versions of what we tried hidden away down some alley where a Turkish grandma has been making all these treats fresh every day for 50 years. We ordered a plate of various baklavas and Turkish coffees, eager to try the ultra-strong brew that’s made in pretty copper pots. Due to a language-related misunderstanding, I added an entire packet of sugar to mine, not realizing that the coffee is brewed with your requested sugar already added. The result was a bitter, sugary mess that I took a few sips of and shamefully abandoned on the table when we left. The baklava, however, required no added sugar whatsoever, and it was nice to get to sample some different kinds (mostly nut-related, with a particular tendency towards pistachio). I’m not a huge fan of the desserts that we tried in Istanbul- even for my sugar-lovin’ tastebuds, they were wayyy too sweet- but it’s always fun to see what dessert is like in different countries.

Next up: Archaeology, archaeology as far as the eye could see at the mosaic and archaeological museums!