Kayan and Ava got a free meal at the Spice Bazaar. The Turkish love for children combined with their love for Turkish delight led to an all out binge as every other store owner stuffed juicy pieces of lokum into their mouths.
Eighty eight shops line the L-shaped 352 year old Spice Bazaar. Since it’s birth, the market has been through two major fires and some personality adjustments. Even though it still services as the center of spice trade in Istanbul, tourists can now find everything from jewelry to tea for every occasion.
We chose to first visit the Spice Bazaar over the Grand Bazaar as we thought the former would be less mobbed with tourists. Wrong. The Spice Bazaar’s size is a fraction of the Grand Bazaar, so every additional body inside the building adds exponentially to the crowd.
I joke around about being the Queen of Rationalization while Sandeep is the King of Paranoia. The truth is that I am paranoid about losing one of the kids. I have this recurring nightmare that we are in some crowded place in some corner of the world. I think Sandeep has the kids, he thinks I do and suddenly they are gone. Our afternoon at the Spice Bazaar definitely had my nerves on edge and I couldn’t relax enough to take many pictures. Oddly, we found the experience in the Grand Bazaar much less chaotic.
The Grand Bazaar is more like a covered city. At 551 years of age, it is one of the oldest markets in the world and welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors a day. The covered bazaar has 18 gates leading to a maze of 61 streets with 3,000 shops, dozens of eateries and cafes. Despite its popularity among locals and visitors alike, it doesn’t feel “crowdy” according to Ava. The quieter vibe also makes it possible for us to rest at a few stores and appreciate what’s on sale while the owners coddle the kids.
It’s interesting how our travel preconceptions can be so far from reality. As a foodie and cook I thought I would really enjoy the Spice Bazaar and almost skipped the Grand Bazaar, thinking it would be a chaotic market full of kitschy souvenirs. In the end, we ran through the Spice Market, each of us holding tightly onto a Turkish delight stuffed child. Not only did we enjoy the Grand Bazaar, we went back a second time to meander its alleys in relative peace.