Our last full day in Istanbul had only two items on the agenda. A visit to Topkapi Palace and to hit the Grand Bazaar for The Big Score.
One of these tasks went off pretty well, the other...
Despite an early start our guide quickly let us know that this wasn't going to be pretty. Two large cruise ships had pulled into port the night before. He counted about thirty tour buses in the immediate area and more pouring in. But that wasn't the fun part. Apparently THAT day was "Lets bring every goddamn school kid in Istanbul to Topkapi Palace day".
There were thousands of 'em. The place was thick with them. When I had visited 7 years ago in February my friend and I wandered the grounds with few others in sight. We strolled through the treasury rooms at a liesurely pace, taking our time. This time every building, every room was choked with people. I eventually gave up and sat outside, sending Rossana to see some of the wonders of the palace that was once the heart of the Ottoman Empire. She's wanted to see this place ever since watching a 1970's film of the same name. She was very dissapointed. It wasn't the Palace that dissapointed, just the crush of people. I did manage to meake a friend though. A pretty orance cat came by looking for food, but when he saw I had none he determined that I might still be good for something and promptly climbed into my lap.
We left the area and were led to one of the entrances of the Grand Bazaar. We were told the bus would leave in 2 hours. 2 HOURS?? We knew that that wasn't going to work for us. But we also couldn't stay too long as traffic could very likely trap us as the afternoon wore on. We headed off, having taken note of the exact route to take to the street of the scarf sellers. Then we promptly got turned all the hell around. The Grand Bazaar isn't just a large collection of streets that go in all directions, there are levels. Streets, passageways, gates, alleys and ramps. We backtracked slightly and I took us down a road that I SWORE went downhill last time I was there but was now uphill. I proved to be right and we at last found the shop we had visited two weeks earlier.
The young man we had spoken to recornized us immedielty. (I wonder how many firery red-heads he gets accompanied by 6'2" Arab types). No haggling needed to be done. We set about finding what we wanted. It quickly became apparent to our man that we were very serious and that picking out 1 or 2 items at a time was too slow. We found a color and he sent a minion to get us a stack of ten. When we looked at the velvet scarves he beconed us upstairs to his private stock room where we poured over dozens of designs and colors. When something wasn't available a boy was sent to his other shop to fetch it. When we were finished there was a serious pile of scarves and pashminas on the large table in his shop. He sent his boy off for the last items and he offered us tea, which is the custom of the Turkish people everywhere.
We did some number crunching using a calculator plus my iphone for currency and weight conversions. Then we counted eveything up. Our man started to pull out bags to put the stacks of scarves in but we waved him off. Rossana pulled out her uber duffle bag and rolled it out on the table with a flourish, much to the suprise of the owners. We began loading our goods and counting up money. I had stupidly left a wad of Turskish Lira in my shirt pocket that morning but we managed to scrape up what me needed and cram everything into the duffle. I noticed that a LOT of small merchants had wireless credit card machines now. Last time I visited we had to get a friend of a friend to run a card. Always a dicey proposition. We stuck with cash though because there would be no extra fees for either party.
Almost all of this was done without any of us being able to speak the others language.
I hefted the duffel onto my shoulder and we set out to get something to eat. Although there were other shops on the street we simply had no more room and we were getting worried about weight. Going over our weight allowance could lead to serious fees.
We grabbed some small souveneers and had to come up with a plan to get back across the Golden Horn and to our Hotel in Taksim. Istanbul is a massive city some 65 miles from side to side and as such has a lot of commuters. Luckily this means they have a very good mass transit system. We found a tram platform and with some pointing and maps were directed to the right tram. It was very crowded but much faster than trying to cross any of the bridges by bus or car. In a short time were over the bridge and somewhere closer to our hotel. We flagged down a taxi who rushed down back steeets to avoid the ever thickening city traffic. We made it back just in time to dump our booty, change into clean clothes and head out for our farewell dinner.