A city whose history continues to feed it today, Istanbul’s attractions bring swarms of tourists to Sultanahmet each year, pollinating it with wealth. I fell in love with its buzzing energy almost immediately; a vibration that made me want more. I marveled at the way the touts moved quickly, like busy bees making honey, ready to bring their cousin, brother, or uncle business; at how these people had learned English in the streets, and saw the masses of tourists as a way to survive. Like a carpet’s double knot, the two forces (confused tourist, and hungry local) push against each other, only tightening the piece of art it creates…strengthening the fabric of this city’s life. I wanted to do nothing but explore this magical place and its amazing people, as equally strong and sweet as the tea they continually offer.
With 12 large buildings and 22 entrances, I learned that the Grand Bazaar acts as a sort of divider between the touristy Sultanahmet, with its monumental sites, and the average city streets beyond. Like a kaleidoscope of texture and color, a whirl of motion in every direction, the sparkle of lights on ceramic and glass a drastic contrast to the matte walls of the historic building, painted so long ago. Upon entering the market, Damany saw a scarf that he loved, but with the vendor not budging on the price, we moved on, saying “We’ll come back.”
We were in search of the perfect ash tray, and I had a specific look in mind, which is always recipe for disaster. We went from vendor to vendor, and vendor’s cousin to vendor’s cousin, until finally settling on something almost right. This is about the point we realized we still had not found a similar scarf, but knew we had made so many turns in this labyrinth of carpets, scarves, evil eyes, and hookahs that we had no way of knowing where we started. So again, we went from vendor to vendor, and cousin to cousin. We passed lamb grilling and smelled savory spices from their tapering piles. Our mouths watered, our stomachs grumbled, we were meeting a friend for dinner, and we gave up on the scarf. Now too tired to find the proper entrance, we basically ran out the next door we came across thinking it would be easy enough to walk around the building.
Upon exiting we were thrust into one of the real arteries of the life system that is Istanbul, and there was no turning back. This mass was moving almost as one, the black veiled heads of Muslim women pushing through the narrow street like the cells in a pulsing vein. We moved along with them, down a lengthy hill of not-so-shiny storefronts, much like dollar stores at home, until we came to a corner (our escape).