There are days on the road when all you want to do is explore. You leap out of bed with the sun, walk all over town, talk to dozens of strangers, find excitement everywhere. You’re full of energy, and nothing can hold you back.
And then there are days when leaving the house seems far too hard, and you’d rather sit around in your underwear watching stupid cat videos on YouTube.
It was our last day in Istanbul, and we were tired. After ten days discovering the city, the underwear option looked very appealing.
But, well … it was our last day in Istanbul. We had to do something, right? It would have to be somewhere nearby. Something easy to find, that we could wander round for an hour and then leave. Ideally, it’d be something pretty that we could take lots of photos of.
And just like that, we were off to the Spice Bazaar.
On the south side of the Galata bridge beside the New Mosque, the market was an easy 20 minute walk from where we were staying in the Beyoğlu neighbourhood. It’s hardly a hidden gem, apparently featuring in every guidebook, but I hadn’t even heard about it until I read this post.
Dating back 350 years, the Spice Bazaar is one of the largest in the city – and it felt like it. Crowds hovered around the entrance. Tour groups were herded past, braying gently as they went. Once the beating heart of Istanbul’s spice trade, the tourists had now definitely taken over.
The glorious sights and dramatic nasal symphony, however? They hadn’t gone anywhere.
I’m not really a spice person. Not that I don’t enjoy the taste of them – give me a brightly-coloured jar of ground something-or-other and I’ll happily spread it all over my food. It’s just that I usually can’t identify what the hell it is. Take the label off and I don’t know my saffron from my salep, my cumin from my cardamom.
I was in for a crash course that day.
It wasn’t only spices that made an appearance, however. Some stalls specialised in dried fruit of every shape, size and texture. There was an unbelievable variety of tea – rosemary, jasmine, rosehip, apple, the beguilingly-named ‘love’ and dozens more. Tempting sweet treats were piled high – it’s luckily I’m not a big fan of Turkish delight, otherwise I’d still be there now.
For reasons that escaped me, though, many of the stalls in and around the Spice Bazaar had nothing to do with food at all. Ornate ceramics, unattractive leather jackets, knock-off shoes and the ubiquitous souvenir t-shirts all made an unwelcome appearance. I was there for the spices, damnit, and quickly tired of pushing through the throngs gathered around a wide selection of fridge magnets as soon as we left the main area.
Something that has surprised me about my time in Turkey is how quickly I’ve developed a taste for tea. I’ve been a coffee drinker for a decade, and yet in the space of a couple of weeks I was converted. The apple-flavoured version is aimed far more at tourists than locals, but I don’t care. It tastes amazing no matter who the target audience is, and was the one thing I was sorely tempted to buy. In large quantities.
And yet I didn’t. Not due to lack of desire or opportunity – there was plenty of both – but because of a far more boring practical concern. Carrying the stuff. I searched high and low for a plastic container with a screw-top lid, but could I find one? Not a chance. Much and all as I fancied scraping chunks of apple out of the bottom of my pack for the next three months, it just wasn’t to be.
Plastic containers at the Spice Bazaar. There’s an opportunity right there.
And so, gazing wistfully behind me and dragging Lauren kicking and screaming away from the baklava, it was time to go. In and out in 45 minutes tops. Perfect.
Sitting under a tree outside and watching sticky Turkish ice-cream drip onto our feet, we remarked on how easy it would have been to not bother with the Spice Bazaar – and how glad we were that we had made the effort. Even though we didn’t buy any sweet kazandibi, or delicious tea, or impossibly expensive saffron, we had thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Now if only I could have found that damn plastic jar…..