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SFGate: Rick Steves' Europe: Plunge into Istanbul's teeming Grand Bazaar

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    Rick Steves is a renown travel writer. ... This article was sent to you by someone who found it on SFGate. The original article can be found on SFGate.com
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2008
      Rick Steves is a renown travel writer.
      This article was sent to you by someone who found it on SFGate.
      The original article can be found on SFGate.com here:
      Sunday, January 13, 2008 (SF Chronicle)
      Rick Steves' Europe: Plunge into Istanbul's teeming Grand Bazaar
      Rick Steves, Tribune Media Services

      (01-13) 04:00 PST Istanbul, Turkey -- Dodging four men pushing a cart full
      of honeydew melons, I step out of the noisy traffic of Istanbul, pass
      through the horseshoe-arched door, and trade one commotion for another.
      Suddenly the air - heated by millions of watts of electric bulbs - is
      several degrees warmer. Like carnivorous flowers, merchants seduce from
      glittering shops. They say, "Welcome to the Grand Bazaar."
      This labyrinthine warren of shops is called Kapali Çarsi (kah-pah-luh
      chahr-shuh), literally "Covered Market." It was the first shopping mall
      ever built. While much of the bazaar is overrun with international
      visitors, it still has virtually tourist-free nooks and crannies that
      offer an insightful glimpse into the real Istanbul.
      In its day, this was the "world trade center" for the entire Ottoman
      Empire - locked down and guarded by more than a hundred soldiers every
      night. The Grand Bazaar remained Turkey's commercial hub through the
      1950s, its 4,000 shops bursting with both practical and exotic wares.
      But then the Grand Bazaar was discovered by travelers seeking the ultimate
      "Oriental market" experience. Prodded by shopaholic tourists with fat
      wallets, prices and rents skyrocketed, and soon small shopkeepers and
      manufacturers were shoved to the fringes of the market, crowded out by
      souvenir and carpet shops.
      The main drag is "Hatmakers' Street" (Kalpakçilar Caddesi). Historically
      each street, alley or corner of the bazaar was dedicated to a particular
      craft or item. They still bear those names - even if hat racks are
      replaced by jewelry showcases.
      The many jewelry shops are a reminder that Turks love gold, not because
      they're vain or greedy, but because they're practical. Since their local
      currency has a tendency to devalue, people prefer to invest in something
      more tangible. Traditionally, Turks celebrating special occasions - such
      as a wedding or a circumcision - receive gold as a gift. In fact, in the
      most traditional corners of Turkey, the groom's family still must present
      the bride's family with gold bracelets before the couple can marry.
      Because all this gold is used primarily as an investment tool, and only
      secondarily as an accessory, it's most commonly sold in the form of simple
      22-carat bracelets (24-carat is too soft to wear). If you see a woman
      whose arm is lined with these bracelets, she's not making a fashion
      statement - she's wearing her family's savings on her sleeve.
      The Grand Bazaar is made up of a series of bedestens (beh-dehs-tehns) -
      commercial complexes of related shops. The Sandal Bedesten, one of the
      oldest, dates from the late 15th century. Over time, the bazaar grew
      organically - with new bedestens sporadically sprouting up, each one
      devoted to a particular trade or item. For the convenience of both the
      shopkeeper and the customer, shops dealing with similar items clustered
      Surprises await in the low-rent fringes of the market. Hearing a commotion
      of shouting, I ventured into a cluster of alleys packed with boisterous
      men hollering into cell phones and waving their arms. This was a poor
      man's Wall Street, with currency brokers frantically swapping fortunes of
      euros, dollars and Turkish lira.
      Walking farther, I entered the "Master of All Eunuchs Alley" (Kizlaraðasi
      Han), which led to a humble courtyard where sooty smiths labor before
      furnaces, melting gold shavings and silver fragments from other workshops
      into a more useable form.
      Ethan, one of the goldsmiths here, welcomed me into his charred little
      world, proud to let me watch him work. His fire made his shop almost
      unbearably hot, and then he tossed in some white powder, making it even
      hotter. Within moments, a tiny shovel of gold fragments was melted,
      poured, cooled, and a tidy little brick of gold was placed with a smile
      into my hand. Giving it back, I complimented Ethan with one of my only
      Turkish phrases: çok güzel ("very beautiful").
      Ethan belongs to a dying breed. The few smiths who remain may soon be
      moved to a plant outside the city. Local shoppers and craftspeople such as
      Ethan loudly oppose this new plan. Without both shops and workshops, the
      Grand Bazaar will eventually become a shopping mall only for tourists.
      Ethan steps out of the heat and joins me for tea at a teahouse table
      across the Master of All Eunuchs Alley. The dainty hourglass-shaped tea
      glass accentuates the roughness of his goldsmith's hand. The backgammon
      board - inlaid, with its softer wood worn below its harder wood - smells
      like tea and tobacco. The dots on the dice don't quite line up. Tossing
      them, I'm thankful the soul of old Istanbul survives. You can find it in
      the back streets of the Grand Bazaar.

      E-mail European guidebook author Rick Steeves at rick@..., or
      write him c/o P.O. Box 2009, Edmonds, WA 98020. © Tribune Media Services ----------------------------------------------------------------------
      Copyright 2008 SF Chronicle
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