Istanbul, circa 17th century. The Ottoman empire rules the trade route between Asia and Europe. The Grand bazaar roof covers 3000+ shops connected by 67 roads, several mosques, Hamams and other daily merchant necessities. The appearance of arguing between vendors is simply polite negotiation. Random trinkets and textiles being thrown in your face “you buy! you buy!” Foreign types of fruit that look alien and a brand new spectrum of aromas, some good, some bad, all jabbing at your curiosity. This is amazing!
Annnnnd exit Shaun’s imagination. In our time, this experience is much more difficult to find. Purposefully without doing much research beforehand, I was naively expecting a loud market from an Indiana Jones movie (darn you western up-bringing). I built this up in my head and it’s my own darn fault. We entered with all the gaggles of other tourists and shuffled through until everyone picked their route through the maze. The Grand Bazaar is meant to be taken slowly. Convenient, since the sheer crowds prevent you from doing otherwise. Doing shoulder to shoulder checks of the stores as I went along the first thing my brain said out loud was: A lot of people are selling the same $#%& here…. followed by argh it’s just a tourist trap! I don’t think I’m going to get much out of this. So much of it just isn’t my style or things I can’t practically carrying with me in my backpack. Yet, if I can only find one neat item here, just one, I could walk away a winner from the Grand Bazaar. So the hunt was on!
I make a decisive left only to face a shiny, towering, and freighting jewelry store. So many colours it’s confusing. “You like?” – “come in” – “Special deal” – “all on sale” – yet, their centuries of “merchantdom” training generation after generation is no match for my, in your face, exaggerated, indifference. I battle the gauntlet. As I move a long, some of the items are pretty cool looking. The lamps, the puzzle pattern bowls, tea sets, rugs and textiles. Yet it’s all still wash, rinse, repeat. The next ally has the same things. “Oh look, another jewelry store” as I mentally facepalm myself and feel like I’ve already been here before. I’ve seen that painting three times already but was this one of them again or is it the fourth? I’m not lost, as I can keep track of where I’m going, I’m just confused. I think I’m just going to give up and get some meat on a stick.
On my way out and as I rolled my eyes by that umpteenth jewelry store something winked at me. A sign, on a pillar stated the “old bazaar”. The bazaar within the bazaar (how bizarre!) can’t leave without checking that out. And in here, is my diamond in the rough, an antique store featuring lots of old navigational equipment.
I had to wait my turn as someone was selling something to the shopkeeper before me. This took longer than normal as mentioned earlier in this article they both employed the unwritten manual of Turkish negotiation. The one that really caught my eye was on a leather wrist strap. It looked very old but clean and I could tell just by looking at it there was a good story behind it. Turns out to be a British, world war one soldiers compass. The price tag: $280 USD. Consider the history of it, totally worth it to me if not more. BUT, I don’t have the funds to drop on that. My second choice however was much more reasonable. Looks like it could be about 50-60 years old, silver, in really good condition.
He offers it to me for approx. $80 USD.
I counter with $50
$75 he says.
I counter with $50
$75 he says again, you won’t find a better deal.
I say nothing
He goes to $70 but cannot go less.
I prepare to leave but as I do, I look over my shoulder and say, “how about $60?”
Okay he says.
It’s a 1960s German compass. I still need to do some research on the maker but this item made this rat race worth it. I really like it and even though it’s not cracked it makes me feel great that I found an antique compass in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar that gives Shaun’s Cracked Compass a little more meaning.
The Grand Bazaar is part of history. If you’re in Istanbul for the first time you can’t miss it (I guess). It’s like going to Paris for the first time and not going to the Eifel Tower. You have to go. But other than getting my compass, it wasn’t really my thing. I will give it a second chance the next time I’m in Istanbul but perhaps I would explore the surrounding area of the Grand Bazaar instead.
Have you been? What was your impression of the Grand Bazaar?