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haggling for silk pillows in the Grand Bazaar

Day 23 - Sultanahmet, the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar

Istanbul is too tempting. We pike out on our planned trip to Ephesus and Pamukkale. My brunch is brilliant. It's at the stylish House Cafe. I am basically eating a slab of cheese swimming in olive oil, topped with a poached egg, micro greens, and a juicy tomato. Holy cheeses! Rob orders a double espresso and it comes with a meticulously sliced and arranged green apple fruit salad and a teeny tiny cookie.

Rob disappears into the barber shop across the road from our hotel to get a hair cut. I come back to see him drinking Turkish coffee and waving to his barber, Machmoud from Syria, like old friends. The hair cut is good; sharp, trendy, distinctly Turkish man-styles. Rob reports that Machmoud used a round brush and a blowdryer to curl the front of his hair up and out a la Tintin. Sadly, Rob destroyed this aspect of the haircut as soon as he got out of the barbershop. The haircut cost only 30 lira. Machmoud tries to get me in for a blow dry. I gracefully decline.

Our reservation for Letter Hotel on the Beyoglu/Taksim area of Istanbul runs out today and it's fully booked. So, we mission it out across the Galata Bridge in a taxi to our next hotel in Sultanahmet. We ask the taxi driver how much the ride will cost. He says, "70". We both say, "Noooooo!" He shrugs and flicks the meter on. As we near our hotel, the meter clicks onto 18 lira. "I think he meant 17," Rob says. That makes more sense. Jordan-mode is still with us. It comes with a hard-to-shake and deep mistrust of all taxi drivers. 

Hotel Ilkay is amazingly situated for all the classic Old Istanbul sites - Aya Sofya, the Sultanahmet Mosque (also know as the Blue Mosque), Basilica Cistern, the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar, the ferries and the T1 tram. Becaue of this, it is lot more touristy. The shopping, apart from the Grand Bazaar, leans towards tourist knick knacks. The eating places are mostly kitted out in Ottoman/Turkish schtick. I mourn the loss of modern Istaklal Caddesi but my wallet breathes a sigh of relief. We luck out at the hotel though and get an enormous corner suite with a living room, a huge bathroom, and a separate bedroom.

We have plans to hit up the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar but before we do, there are two things to accomplish. One, we have to buy a new camera lens. Our 35mm Nikon lens has been so well-used, loved, and carelessly knocked about in a variety of bags that the focus ring is coming loose. Also, we've been on manual focus the entire time during the trip. AF would be nice. Rob does some internet research and the Hayyam Pasaji is, luckily, only five minutes down the road. The internet forums promise us four floors of serious camera stuff and it delivers. We end up buying a new 28mm f1.8 Canon lens, but only after seriously uhmming and ahmming at a Sigma 25mm f1.4. It's so much more expensive, bigger and heavier. We buy the Canon lens, get out invoice for the tax refund, drink celebratory Turkish tea in the shop and leave.   

Our second thing is to eat profiteroles at the Eminonu branch of Saray Mullahebicisi. Of course. I luck out again and the waiter gives me an extra large serving of profiteroles. I talk about profiteroles for a long time. We drink more Turkish tea.

Finally, we got around to some classic sightseeing. We crush into the narrow halls of the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar. We're on the lookout for a Turkish coffee pot, a small egg pan, and socks (because why not?). We buy the six pairs of socks for 10 lira. I get stuck in front of all the cheap jewellery stores and have to be pulled away. One man actually says to me in disgust, "Touching. No buying," after I do, in fact, touch almost every single earring he has on the stand and walk away. Ha ha! 

We haggle for a Turkish coffee pot at two stalls and come out with nothing. We almost get one guy to give us an entire Turkish coffee set for 50 lira ($25ish NZ) but we hedge our bets that someone else will give it to us for less somewhere else. That doesn't happen. 

Instead, we come out of the Grand Bazaar with silk pillow covers screenprinted with 18th century paintings of scenes in harems. Rob executes two classic haggling tricks. First, the bulk-buy. If you buy more, they come down in price per piece. Second, rubbish the stock. Rob mutters something vague about how he could get these from the internet. The two of them snipe at each other. There's the classic I want to help you, my friend, but I don't want to lose money. Rob replies, No. I want to help YOU. He pulls out his internet line again, this time about his supreme ability to bulk buy from Ali Express. I stand quietly and fondle the silk. 

Pillow covers secured, we weave through the labyrinthine bazaar. It is less claustrophic and touristy than the souks of the Old City in Jerusalem. We pass kitchen supply alley, lace trims alley, fabric alley, wedding alley, turkish coffee alley, tight tshirts alley and suspect meats alley. We eventually find an exit in the vague direction of our hotel. As I wander out, I eat lokma; delicious, deep fried, crispy balls of pastry soaked in rosewater and honey. Rob eats one, declares incoming diabetes and leaves the rest for me.

Later that night, we walk up the road to Sultanahmet Square. The grand fountain located between Aya Sofya and the Sultanahmet Mosque is lit up in ever changing colours of purple, blue, and red. It is unashamedly gaudy. There's three stray dogs guarding one narrow road. They chase and bark after every single car that is not a taxi or a tour bus. One sits next to me and ignores me while I gleefully pat his back. I try not to think about possible fleas. We eat some terrible barbequed corn from a street cart. Then, we hurry back to our hotel after gathering two chicken kebab sandwiches from a hole-in-the-wall joint (5 lira) presided over by a very hairy man, chocolate baklava and pistachio halva from Baklavaci Said (8 lira), and beer and fizzy drinks from a dairy (10 lira).

classic tourist day in Sultanahmet

it's harem time