Istanbul’s Wonderful Outdoor Markets – A Photo Essay

Outdoor Market in the Snow

Outdoor markets are fantastic.  Eclectic mixtures of goods. Vibrant colors. Strange plants and creatures on sale. The chaotic roar and hubbub of people hustling to and fro seeking goods and services.  I find the whole experience intoxicating.  So, you can no doubt imagine how excited I was to have arrived in Istanbul – a city known for its wonderful markets and home to the Grand Bazaar.

Market Snowball Fight

Unfortunately, the weather was brutal.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts I arrived in the midst of the worst winter storm Istanbul (and the region) had seen in more than 25 years. The entire city was covered in snow and a lump quickly grew in my throat.  With poor weather conditions, what would I find?  Would the shop keepers close up their outdoor stands?  Would the city come to a standstill?  I needn’t have worried.   The store keepers braved the cold weather, and even paused to have some fun with it.  The entire city devolved into one massive snowball fight.

Market Snowball Fight

Some were more obvious than others opting for conventional snowballs.  While other shop keepers presented the guise of stoic calm, eyeing passerby’s casually, all the while evaluating how antic-friendly they were.  Then, with a perfectly timed but ever so subtle poke of a broom they would empty an avalanche of snow from their shop’s awning onto a passerby.   The look of smug gleeful-happiness as a snowballer scored a successful throw quickly turned to alarm, and then ever so briefly frozen terror as waves of damp snow left them covered from head to toe in fresh, damn, wet snow.  That brief look of terror never lasted long, as everyone nearby burst into laughter and the unlucky victim leapt into a comical dance trying to empty the snow from their shirt.

Fish Market in Istanbul

While the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market are the two most popular outdoor markets for tourists, the city is awash in streets dedicated to various types of goods.  These streets and semi-permanent outdoor markets offer everything from rugs and pipes to antiques fresh fruit and fish.  As a periodic fisherman and someone who had the childhood dream of being a marine biologist I always find fish markets to be one of my favorite type of outdoor market.

Fish Market in Istanbul

As I explored Istanbul my favorite market district was located on the Asian side of Istanbul in the Kadikoy district.  While it lacked the age of the Grand Bazaar and uniform structure, I found it to be a much more authentic marketplace with vendors selling real goods, at real prices to real Turks.

Fish Market in Istanbul

The fish stalls were particularly impressive boasting a wide assortment of fresh caught fish creatively displayed. In many instances the fishmongers had taken extra time to flare out the fish’s gills exposing them like a red neckerchief. While somewhat morbid when written here, the visual effect when viewing the stands in person was quite impressive.

Eels in Istanbul

Just how fresh were the fish? I think this goose-bump instilling photo of these slimy eels gives it away.   Perhaps it is their snake like appearance, but I’ve always had a hard time with eels.  I don’t mind eating them when cleaned and cooked, but seeing them alive in the wild, dead on a vendor’s stall, or even smoked or cooked whole sends a shiver down my spine.

Fish Market in Istanbul

Unfortunately, the hostel I was staying at didn’t boast a kitchen so purchasing fresh fish for dinner was off the menu.  Given the opportunity during my next visit, it’s definitely something I hope to remedy.  As I find myself sitting here writing this post, and looking back over my photos I can’t help but find my mouth watering.

Spices in Istanbul

The markets also boast wonderful herb stands wish shop-fronts overflowing with massive bags of fresh herbs and spices.   I often found myself pausing in front of these stores as much to enjoy the rich scents that surround them as to peruse their wares.

Outdoor Market in Istanbul

Fans of Mediterranean food won’t be disappointed, you’ll find stands overflowing with large tubs of different flavored grape leaves, dolmas, just bout every type of pickled vegetable you can imagine and other similar foods.

Olive Market in Istanbul

Then there are the olives stands which boast a veritable rainbow of different colored olives. After the fish stands, these are probably my favorites. Presentation is a key point of pride among many of the street vendors and it really shows in the care and thought that goes into many of the stands. It has always amazed me, especially when one considers that they set up and break down the displays every morning and evening.

Food Stand in Istanbul

While most of the stands in the area were dedicated to selling raw food and basic ingredients, there were a few that offered pre-made treats. These included things like Dolma and pickles, but also often included one of Istanbul’s local delicacies – fresh mussels stuffed with flavored rice and some of the other regional treats which were delicious, but I dare not even begin to speculate on.

While I’ll only mention them briefly in this post, two other must visit destinations are the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market (see footage from both in the video above).  The Grand Bazaar is a warren of small covered streets (more than 60) that boasts some 3,000 shops and dates back to the mid 1400s.  While the Grand Bazaar is heavily touristy, it is still possible to find some great antique shops and a fun venue for a bit of shopping.  In response to heavy demand and traffic the Bazaar has slowly taken over the surrounding area where you’ll find slightly more affordable shops, small eateries, and wonderful chai tea houses.   These market streets stretch down and toward the old Spice Market and the market sprawl which has sprung up surrounding the Yeni Mosque.   While significantly smaller than the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Market (also called the Egyptian Bazaar) is a long L shaped building which dates back to the mid 1600s.  It serves as home to a number of traditional spice vendors with multi-colored spice displays, as well as a number of dessert and lamp stands.  You’ll find that the Spice Market is fun to walk through, but tends to be extremely pricey and feels somewhat touristy.

Carpet Market

Istanbul is an incredible market city, overflowing with vendors and a wonderful mixture of goods. No matter what you’re looking for, you’ll find a street market in Istanbul with vendors eager to share their wares with you. Make sure to set aside at least a day or two to explore the city’s wonderful markets and as you do so, make sure to venture beyond the main markets and into the city’s more authentic districts.

Enjoy your visit! Amazing scents, sights, and sounds await!

A Burgeoning Love for Bergen and Norway’s West Coast

Overlooking the City - Bergen, Norway

The ancient seaside city of Bergen is one of Norway’s best known destinations.  Situated in the heart of Norway’s spectacular fjord country the city offers a rich history, pristine location, spectacular seafood, and perfect starting point for those interested in a breathtaking voyage down one of the region’s nearby fjords.  The city which dates back to approximately 1050 AD is Norway’s 2nd largest city with about 260,000 citizens and a total regional population of around 380,000. The city is readily reachable by air from most or Northern Europe, train through a rail line that connects it to Oslo, and bus/ferry which connects it to Trondheim in the north and Stavanger in the South.

Summer in Norway - Flowers in Bloom - Bergen, Norway

My experience with the city started as nearly all introductions do.  Curiosity, enthusiasm, and a bit of anxiousness over the unknown.  As I disembarked from the ferry from Stavanger into a gentle mist of light rain I immediately noted a general approximation of my location in the small map in my Lonely Planet guide book before setting off through the city’s densely crowded harbor area.

The Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

I’d booked several nights in the hostel after an extensive search for budget accommodation in the area.  Unfortunately, despite its popularity as a destination Norway has a fairly poor hostel network which is heavily dominated by Hosteling International (HI) hostels. Regular readers of the site may recall that while I’ve had positive experiences with HI Hostels in the US, I have a very low opinion of them in Europe and tend to view them as out of date, dirty, and poorly serviced.  As a result I’d opted for the privately run despite a limited number of reviews on the profile and extremely mixed reviews. Luckily, what I found was completely different than what the reviews had portrayed.  The hostel was clean, fantastically located, comparatively affordable and modern with ample bathrooms/showers, clean rooms, a kitchen and decent common area.  My only real complaint was that they enforced a lockout which is a huge pet peeve.

Pink Boat in the Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

Relieved that my accommodation not only met but beat my expectations I set out to explore.  The city of Bergen is every bit as active as it is picturesque – at least during the summer months.  Nestled between two large hills the city has a number of large open squares, a park with a large fountain and statuary and a beautiful old harbor lined by old warehouses and a fish market.

Fish Market - Bergen, Norway

My obsession with the ocean goes back to well before I could walk.  A cornerstone of my childhood was the month+ every year my family and I spent on the Sea of Cortez outside of Puerto Penasco in Mexico.  As a result I’ve always harbored a love for the ocean and seafood.  As one might imagine outdoor fish markets are one of my favorite destinations.

Fish Market - Bergen, Norway

Overflowing with fresh fish, live crabs, lobster and shrimp all accompanied by a wealth of pre-cooked and smoked seafood the Bergen fish market is a mecca for tourists and locals alike. While the prices may be somewhat higher than seafood prices in the super markets, the experience is quite an adventure.  The seafood is fresh and a great mixture between northern fish, deep water species like Monkfish and of course all of the usuals from arctic shrimp to dungeness crab.

Fish Market - Bergen, Norway

A lazy stroll through the tightly packed tents is an absolute delight.  The area is all open air which cuts down on the smell, and the combination of fresh seafood and ready-to-eat dishes encourages the vendors to maintain clean cooking conditions.

Knife Balancing in the Fish Market - Bergen, Norway

As if the wide assortment of browns, oranges and reds wasn’t sufficient to keep the curious passerby entertained the workers are also eager to put on a bit of a show. While most were not overly dangerous, I stumbled on one individual who had a pension for balancing a razor sharp fillet knife on the bridge of his nose.  Not half bad right?

The Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

Located a quick hop and a skip from the fish market is the old warehouse row. A must for anyone visiting the region, the old shops have been restored and painted beautiful to create a picturesque waterfront.  Add to that, they’re one of Norway’s most famous UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Warehouse Row in the Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

The buildings which have served a wide variety of uses over the years predominantly date back to the 1700s when most of the water front was re-built after a large portion of the city burned to the ground.  Given the close construction, wooden materials, and forms of heating available throughout the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries it’s no surprise that Bergen has a long history of catastrophic fires.  In many ways I found it absolutely amazing that the city still exists after reading excerpts from its history.

Warehouse Row in the Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

Though snugly interconnected in front most of the warehouses have small alleyways that cut between them.  These alleys are lined by leaning ancient wooden walls that show the cuts, scars, and old nails from hundreds of years of constant use and near constant re-purposing.  Many also show the signs of ancient wooden doorways or windows that have since been boarded over.  The roof-line is also a cluster of enclosed windows, doorways, and loft entry points which hang over the street and would have helped workers lift large bundles up and into the buildings.  Many are also connected by 2nd and 3rd story walkways as well which give the whole thing a disorganized, charming appearance, even if it is slightly claustrophobic.

Warehouse Row in the Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

As I explored the buildings immediately behind the warehouses I paused briefly to snap the above image.  It’s hands down one of my favorite shots from the trip.  The young lad pictured was exploring the area and decided to march off determinedly, leaving his parents behind as he explored the area.  I couldn’t have asked for a better contrast between young and old.

That’s it for now.  Stay tuned for more from my time in Bergen including live music, squares, cathedrals, and even a trip into the bowls of an ancient coastal fortress.