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!

Leaving Leeds, Exploring York and Arriving in London

It’s currently the 23rd, around 3 o’clock. I just arrived at my hostel in London and am taking a bit to update things before heading off in search of dinner.

Day 8 – Cont. (Evening) – After making my previous post I joined back up with Meagan and her flat mates at which time we headed to the local University pub to watch the soccer game that was on. When the game ended we wandered around and explored various destinations before eventually ending up at a fun little pub that consisted of a barge with the side cut out and a building built around it.

Day 9 – Leeds -> York. I woke up around 10, threw everything in my bag and began the trek across old town to get to the train station by 11:00 for my train to York. The weather was nice, with just a very slight drizzle and no wind. I made good time and arrived a good 30 minutes early which allowed me to catch an alternate direct route commuter train. By 1:00 I was in York. Once in York I found the local tourist office, got my hands on a map and made my way to one of the two hostels they suggested. Luckily it was centrally located in the old town and only a 5 minute walk from the rail station.

The hostel itself was definitely C grade. Instead of changing out the complete sheet set each night, they left the bottom sheet, then changed out a sleeping bag like sheet which laid on top of the bottom one. This barely kept the dirty old comforter off of you. The beds were squeaky old metal/wood bunk beds and instead of a common room they had the kitchen or a movie room. The staff was friendly however, and the people I met there were all fantastic. After arriving I dropped off my bag and set off into the city.

The city of York itself is a pretty awesome city. The architecture is great! Most of the interior streets are closed or limited to car traffic and everything is vibrant and fun. York cathedral is fantastic. Not only is it massive, but it is majestic, clean, and had a uniform flavor to it that really makes it special. In addition to the city’s main cathedral it’s dotted with small/medium-sized churches and cathedral’s. During my wanderings I would say I easily saw 8-12 of them. It’s also very easy to see why the city was so popular with the Romans and Vikings. With it’s fantastic location and a decent sized river that flows through the center of the old town it’s no wonder that it’s evolved as it has.

As I wandered I explored the old streets laced with modern retail and eventually found my way to the York Gardens. There I paused for a brief snack before continuing my meandering up past the old Cathedral and then back into the heart of the inner city. The architecture is definitely different from Leeds and Edinburgh, while they had a strong Victorian element. The city of York was dotted with inns and homes that had the classic plaster covered thatch with dark wood boards.

In the inner city I discovered an outdoor market, on – go figure – Market Street of all places. As far as I could tell the market ran every day (at least that I was there) and featured a few outdoor butcher shops, fish mongers, 4 or 5 fruit and veggie stands as well as a number of clothing and odds and ends kiosks. I picked up some fresh meat, a sweet potato and some baked beans.I made my way back to the hostel to cook dinner, converse with the other travelers and grab a quick nap.

After my nap – refreshed and roaring to go-I met up with a few of the others and continued what’s become a hostel ritual… socializing briefly before heading out in a small group to explore the city’s night life.

Day 10 – I awoke to a nasty, rainy day. Eager to explore the city further, I struck out – motivated to brave it. My first stop was the rail station – where I initially planned to book my ticket for the following day to London. As things turned out, all of Saturday’s advanced bookings were sold out, which meant I either had to stay until Sunday and get the discounted rate (more than half the same-day purchase price) or do the same day and pay the 2x rate. I elected to spend an extra day in York, and booked my ticket for Sunday. In the grand scheme of things – it’s a good thing I did.

After booking the ticket and exploring the city a bit more in the rain, I went to the Jorvik Viking center – what I hoped would be an in-depth museum dedicated to the early Viking city and artifacts. It ended up being a big disappointment. On the old excavations they had built a Disneyland type ride – where you sat in little cars that went through a 5-10 minute ride. The ride consisted of slightly animated dummies that had been reconstructed to show what the excavations had found. It was boring, simple minded, and smelled bad. At the end of the ride there was a museum component, but it was limited and consisted of maybe 5 minutes worth of content. Annoyed and wet I wandered around the city a bit longer before finding a cheap place for lunch. I headed back to the hostel to take a nap and watch a movie with some of the others. BTW – English beef/meat sucks.

After the movie and a nap the in-house pub opened up at 10:00, I headed down to see who I’d meet. I connected with another guy from the US, a girl from Finland, and a Canadian. After a drink, as we all got acquainted, we decided to head into the inner city and explore. All in all, it was a pretty standard evening at the pubs – apparently York has a pretty decent night life with something like 300+ pubs within the inner city…it’s a huge destination for Hen and Stag Parties (bachelor/ette). Met a few locals who were all incredibly friendly and fun. Eventually got back to the hostel, then sat around talking until 4:30 in the morning. Ouch.

Day 11 – Woke up and was on the streets by 10:30, meandered around old town a good bit. Explored some back streets, the market, and a huge food and drink festival that the city was having. The weather was significantly better and allowed me to explore a lot more. As I wandered I ended up stumbling into a small furniture/antique/random crap shop. The place was great, full of anything and everything deemed interesting…it was a mess.

York castle is actually just a small tower on the top of a dome, so in that respect I was a bit disappointed. However, the old roman walls which are almost all still intact were awesome. In many ways the day was similar to Day 9 – just checking out odd streets, weird architecture, random stores etc.

On a side note – I’m trying a new travel strategy. As I mentioned previously English meat sucks. They might even inject water into it. While I was in the inner city I passed the equiv. of one of our GNC’s having a sale. In the window they were advertising muscle supplements (protein, amino acids, minerals etc). They had mid-sized powder bottles (it’s for shakes – like creatine supplements but sans the creatine) for a really reasonable price so i picked one up. So far I think it’s been helping. Not only as a tool to offset any dietary failings I might be having as I travel, but also because it’s specifically catered for workout routines. Since I’m walking all over the place – the shoe seemed to fit & so far it seems to have had a positive effect.

After exploring for a good chunk of the morning, I picked up some carrots and stopped at the old merchants hall (think of a banquet hall with thatched/plastered walls etc) and ate them in the garden.

Running out of time – so the evening was spent much like the previous three, but with new people. The Finnish girl again, an extremely tall Aussie over doing security work, and then another American from Florida. Another fun evening, exploring new places and seeing a different side of the city.

Today I woke up – caught a train – and then ran into major delays. Apparently there was an issue with a bridge on the route which delayed our train 40 minutes. After that though it was smooth sailing. I got into London, figured out the metro, and got to my hostel.

Will update soon – ton more photos on facebook as of today!