All right, I was really going to try and NOT go shopping...but I now admit that no trip to Istanbul is complete without visits to the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar. Whether you seek food, clothing, home textiles, lanterns, jewelry, small souvenirs, a nargile (water pipe), a kilim or carpet, a million other things...you will enjoy spending time in these bustling, kaleidoscopic surroundings.
Merchants will offer you tea to entice you to stay in their stalls and shops, hoping you'll be more inclined to part with some of your funds before moving on. As with every other busy street or enclave in Istanbul, there are tea boys (and men) skittering all around, balancing their trays of steaming tulip glasses as they race from stall to stall to tea counter and back again.
I enjoyed a glass of apple tea at a textile shop (and eventually came away with a couple of pillow covers and a tulip-stitched velvet throw for a love seat) in the Grand Bazaar and Turkish tea at a carpet dealer in the Spice Bazaar (where we decided on two small soumaks, a kind of embroidered kilim from the far Eastern reaches of Turkey, Persian/Kurdish area). Naturally you must negotiate for a better price than you are first offered. I am pretty firm when it comes to this kind of deal-making (I buy the cars in my family :0) so I felt comfortable with the prices we eventually paid for the things we bought. We decided to spend our money on things that will give us pleasure and memories every day at home rather than on expensive meals or Turkish baths.
There were also informal stalls set up all over the place, wherever people gathered...near mosques, in the underground passageways that crisscrossed some of the busiest intersections around Karaköy and Eminönü...one of the more unusual sights was the gun shops--yes, you read correctly--in one of the subterranean "malls" beneath the major roadway junction at Karaköy.
One other note about bargaining--in cases where I felt I was getting a good price, and I truly could afford it--I actually paid the price being asked. I bought 6 large scarfs/wraps/shawls from a woman along the subway steps for about $2.50 each. I figured this woman, all covered up in her black abaya, selling scarves and baby clothes for next to nothing, was trying to feed her family and I did not feel like nickel-and-diming her over something that was already so inexpensive and so lovely.
The other shopping we did was in the large Koska candy shop on Istiklal...if you love halva like we do, you've gotta load up. Turkish delight we can take or leave, but don't get between me and my Turkish halva. We got plain, cocoa, caramel, pistachio...also the most delicious walnut nougat I have ever tasted in my life (also considered a kind of halva but vastly different from the sesame varieties).
The day we cruised the Grand Bazaar was a national holiday, so there were Turkish flags and banners hung all around the place. It was April 23rd, which is celebrated both as Children's Day and as National Sovereignty Day, which commemorates the anniversary of the first meeting of the Turkish parliament.