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Istanbul: Great Shopping, Nice People

Author: PenelopeCorelli
Date of Trip: July 2009

Thursday, July 23: Istanbul, Turkey

Left the ship soon after docking at 4:30pm. Walked all the way out of the pier and to the tram stop. Bought 9L ($6) worth of tokens for 3 trips each (1.5 Lire each person, each trip) — (1L = 67 cents, so 3L = $2) and took the tram to Sultanahmet.

The taxi drivers at the port entrance were very pushy. The ship passed out landing cards for each of us — required for everyone. The stench was bad — once along the road by the pier entrance, and then getting on the tram. I had to hold my nose — smelled like dog poop or sewage. First impressions for me were not good.

Hagia Sophia was 20L each to get in, 2 for 40L — twice what it was a couple of years ago. It was huge, but nearly empty. I was expecting more, I think. It’s a museum with no displays, a few photographs hanging, and a small gift area. The building is so large that Notre Dame can fit inside it, and the Statue of Liberty – minus the torch. The ceilings are painted and chandeliers hang down. Quite beautiful. The walls have frescoes. Much of it is under construction or repair.

After Hagia Sophia, we debated going to the Basilica Cistern, then crossed the street to photograph the Blue Mosque from the park & fountain in front of it. There was a couple standing right in front, where the best photos would be taken & the man was talking into a cell phone. DH noticed them and that when we moved, they also moved. As we were standing there, the woman asked us if we wanted our picture taken. We said no. As we continued walking around the walled park area, they followed, the man appearing to be talking in another language, probably Turkish, to someone on the phone, not directly looking at us, but always right there. When we stopped again, and they stopped, Jim got irritated, declaring loudly that they were following us & lifting the camera to take their picture. The woman hid her face with a water bottle. They walked on, then stopped and turned around to look at us, then walked back. JIm wasn’t intimidated and told them to stop following us, which they, of course, denied it, saying they were American (He had a North Carolina T-shirt). “Then go on”, said Jim. “Just keep walking”, and he took their picture. As they slowly left, another man came up to us, saying that he knew the other man, and he wasn’t following us. Obviously part of the group. This was in a major tourist area, lots of people, all of them tourists — except for these types. They looked Turkish, in their mid-thirties, well-dressed.

I was not at all crazy about Istanbul at this point.

We then took the funicular subway from the eastern end of Tersane Avenue up the hill and arrived at Taksim Square at the end of Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Street) in the New Istanbul area. Much more pleasant looking and very modern. There were masses of people walking all along the wide pedestrian street that was lined with stores and cafes. As we left the station, we saw a grassy, park-like area with a large sculpture in the center, Ataturk Statue. It was then that we noticed a policeman armed with a submachine gun! Then we saw the police barriers around the area. Apparently this area is guarded heavily. It was the scene of a terrorist attack in 2003, and is still a place where protest demonstrations are held.

We bought a roasted ear of corn from one of the many carts (1.50L). They’re every block or so all down Istiklal street. The heated but non-roasted ones were 1L, while the browned ones were 1.5L. After we ate it, we thought that the cheaper ears might be better, as the roasted ones were dry and chewy — although hot.

We also noticed a lot of lottery ticket sellers at tables up and down the road. 4 Trillion was the sign, but I don’t think it could be that much! There were Burger Kings and Starbucks along the avenue — saw 2 of each.

I stopped to buy some pashminas — Sirin Giyim (Sweet Clothing), Istiklal #73 (7) at 10L each — 70L (really nice, I thought, all kinds – all the same price), and then we walked to see where to eat. In Istanbul they eat late, so if we wanted dinner with music, it would begin at 9 pm. It was not yet 7pm. We stopped for a snack of 6 meatball sausages with mashed potatoes, 3 honey-soaked cakes, and a tomato/cucumber/cilantro salad. Also a can of peach nectar for me, and apple tea for JIm. Total = 14L. Everyone at the cafeteria-style cafe would pick up the large chunks of bread at the end of the line. Lots of bread!

The streets were packed — mostly locals, it looked like. On one corner, a group of young people was crowding around, & there were posters on the ground. Looked like a rally of some sort.

I stopped at another grocery-type store, Ozsoy at Istiklal No. 238 and bought a small box of Turkish delight for 2.50L, and a small packet of Turkish coffee for 2L. The receipts all show what the tax would be if we were locals, but they never charge tourists.

Then we had ice cream at Mado Dondurma– teeny scoops for about a dollar each. It was probably the kid size. Jim had 2 small for 3L; I had one for 1.75L. I Googled it and found that this ice cream is extraordinary — made from salep powder – powdered orchid bulbs (you can get something similar to this at the Spice Market), high fiber, low calorie, very creamy. The chocolate tastes like fudge and is stretchy.

The street is really long. We had walked more than halfway down it, past the beautiful gilt and wrought-iron gates of Galatasaray Lisesi (Galata Palace School), which is a high school dating from 1481. Now we walked all the way back to the funicular station at Taksim Square (We could have gone all the way to Tünel Station). There we saw the ferry and bought 9L worth of tokens again, wanting to cross into Asia (thought it would be interesting to go to another continent), but then realized we would not be able to get back, as the last ferry was returning shortly. So we lost 3L on the planned trip (we had deposited it into the turnstile).

Found an elevator in each station for disabled travelers. Lots of people were using it, so we did, too, which made it easier than navigating all those steps.

Walked back from the tram stop to the ship. Always feels so cool as we walk in — A/C — awesome! It was sweaty hot today, even though it was evening.

Spent almost 83L = $53 (other than pashminas) and walked 5 miles today!

Friday, July 24: Istanbul, Turkey

Got up late as Jim’s legs were aching, & I awoke with some muscle pain. Taking it easy today.

At 11:15am we left out of the “special exit” — when I asked a crew member outside if there was an exit to the left, by the Museum of Modern Art, and yes, there was! It’s an exit that has a couple of grocery shops and an Internet cafe. It was a LOT shorter than walking all the way down to the port entrance and then a couple of blocks to the tram. There is also a tram stop close to the other entrance. We paid 12L for several tram tickets & got off the tram to walk to Topkapi Palace.

We walked through a beautiful park; a Turkish family indicated that Topkapi was ahead — but they were just being “polite” as we discovered when we came to a dead end. We met a couple of Cruise Critic members there (who we had met at dinner one evening).

Outside the park area, we were directed to the road next to it, where we walked until we came to the outer wall/gate. Took photos of it — nice shots, but decided we didn’t want to spend 40-80L on it. Back outside the Palace gate we bought 3 sets of Istanbul postcards for 5L.

Somewhere along the way we lost our Rick Steves’ Istanbul book, but since it’s our last day here, we don’t really need it. Hope whoever found it enjoyed it. The ship map we got is poor, and the tourist map we got here has listings in Turkish, so it’s useless, also.

As I took more pictures, some with the Family Dolls, a couple of Muslim women were very interested. When I showed them to the women, and explained that they were my family, they wanted their photo taken with them. So they took a picture with their camera & I took one of them with my camera. Very sweet ladies. They blessed us, & we blessed us back.

Then we walked outside the grounds and raced for a tram. As it left without us, there was 5 minutes before the next tram, so I shopped! Found some cute dishes at a store right there — how convenient.

The smallest bowls were decorated in bright colors and designs. (The ship’s store had a few for $6 each, and I saw them at a store outside the Palace for 12L = $8). There was a ship’s tour meeting there; the store probably gets the ship’s business.

I checked this store out. There was a large selection inside, although the place wasn’t that big. The small bowls were only 5L! So I bought 4 of them — 20L — wanted to buy more, one of every color. I’d love a set of dishes & plates in every color — but no place to store it — oh, well, buy another hutch!

Got on the next tram to go to the Grand Bazaar. Walked down a couple of streets until Jim saw it. Very old gate entrance.

Inside there was a crazy guy — really, just the sight of him was enough to warn you — I guess every city has them. He was cursing and yelling — at us — very creepy. He left, and I assured the nice shopkeepers watching that I knew it was not representative of Istanbul! They were a little concerned, but felt better after I smiled at them & told them I understood.

At the grand Bazaar, many places were selling things at prices 2-3x normal. Bargaining is expected. I asked at one store about their inexpensive pashminas (some can be very pricey — about $50-60) The seller said that all the pashminas were different prices — not true at other places. He wouldn’t list a price, but said he’d make a deal and sell the one I was looking at for a sale price — 30L! Right. I just laughed and walked away, saying that I bought several like that yesterday for 10L each! As I was walking, he shouted out, “20!” Finally, “Okay, 10L!” I didn’t want to bother at this point. I heard that the last price you are quoted as you walk away is usually the best price. There’s a whole system to bargaining, but you have to be in the mood, and I wasn’t.

We walked by places selling tea and coffee sets. Tea sets had 6 glasses and 6 saucers starting at 20-25L. Very pretty.

We decided to buy a coffee set to make Turkish/Greek coffee, and settled on a blue flowered one. The cups are copper bottom holders with handles, and ceramic insets. There are copper saucers to match. The pot is a long-handled copper bottom with a pouring spout. A copper tray holds the set. We stopped at La Tienda Gift Shop (Kazazlar Sokak No. 12-14) and Edip showed us a nice one that we got for 180L. We love it, but Jim thought we might have paid too much. It was marked at 200L, but I saw the little bowls I like, which were marked 5L each, which told me that this place was not overpriced. They also sell tea sets, wine glasses, & waterpipes. (No, different than the one Jim had in the 60’s!). We paid at another place (like a mall office) and they recommended a nice restaurant for lunch, showing us exactly where it was. Havuzlu, a 50-year-old Ottoman Turkish Restaurant in the Grand Bazaar. First you pick out the food in the front area, then they prepare & serve it.

We shared a stuffed chicken breast and a small salad — cucumber, tomato, parsley, & sweet chilies. They brought bottled water and a basket of bread slices. Everyone in Istanbul eats a LOT of bread. We paid 31L for lunch.

A few minutes later, a couple was seated near us at the end of the long table. The woman’s father is Turkish, so they spend a lot of vacations here with family. I asked how to pronounce Kusadasi (heard several ways — Koosh-u-da’-s?, and how to drink Turkish coffee — wait until the grounds settle and drink the 2 sips. No swirling, leave the mud at the bottom (Rick was wrong, on both counts.)

We left Havuzlu Restaurant and took the tram to the Spice Market/Egyptian Bazaar. In the underground station by the Spice Market were crowded stalls with really cheap clothing. The place for it. No bargaining here.

In the Market, Jim bought a lemon granita (3L) & I picket out a pillow cover (12L). The stalls were filled with all kinds of spices and teas. A sign said 25L — for a kilogram! Everything from apple tea to saffron. They’d scoop up the teas and let you smell them: spice, cinnamon, apple, etc. Bought a set of spices, already packed — just for fun — for a few Lire, don’t remember how much, as this was the only thing we forgot to write down.

I went into Kocaoglu, a store, No. 35, to buy a couple more pashminas. I had bought most of them for gifts, but I liked them so much that I wanted more. (The first store – Sirin Giyim — had the nicest selection for the best deal, I think.) There were some very expensive ones, but I asked for ones that were 10L or less — to match my earlier purchase. The shop worker showed me the small section, and I found 3 that I liked. He was a funny guy who said he loved his job. I also bought 3 eggcups and 2 small plates (to go with the bowls I bought earlier). One eggcup was of a different but lovely design from the others. The salesman, Serkan, gave me a good price on the lot (60L), we had some black tea & I walked out happy. The whole downstairs floor is filled with ceramics! They also sell textiles & caviar. Serkan is now a facebook friend.

I asked there about small spoons for our coffee set, and a woman in the shop — a frequent tourist — directed me to a store where they were sold. I paid 5€ for 6 of them, heavyweight and very nice.

We headed back toward the ship on the tram, going through the exit by the Museum of Modern Art. We wanted to use the Internet, but no one was there. We’d have to do it tomorrow. Bought 2 large bottles of lemonade at the mini-market- 2.95L, and went to the ship. Sailed at 5pm.

Spent 326L and 5€ today, about $228, most on shopping! Only spent 12L on transportation, and 37L on food and drink. Walked another 5 miles.

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