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!

The City of San Ignacio in Belize

San Ignacio Belize Bridge

Though the ATM Cave tour was the highlight of my trip to Western Belize, I enjoyed my time in San Ignacio.  A small town which gently sprawls along a beautiful, slow moving river a brief 15 minute taxi ride from the Guatemalan border, the city of San Ignacio definitely harbors its own character and charm.

Eva's Bar and Grill in San Ignacio, Belize

The evening before had been enjoyable.  Earlier in the day I’d bumped into a friend i’d made during the Raggamuffin Tour in the local internet cafe.  When I’d last seen him we’d been setting sail and heading south towards Placencia, leaving him marooned on Tobacco Caye for Christmas (upon his request).   After finish up our e-mails home and quick blog posts, we struck out on the town to rustle up some chow. The place we eventually found started out promising but ended up being disappointing.  A small place, upstairs and across from the main tourist hangout in town – Eva’s, pictured above – they offered a menu with several cheap specials.  Upon inquiry as to what  the “pork” plate came with/entailed I got confused shrugs and mixed answers.  Ordering a 2nd Belkin Stout I figured what the hell and ordered it anyway.  The plate ended up coming with a variety of rice, beans, salsa and some sort of pork chop/pork loin that was so over cooked I was tempted to use it as coal. It turns out, the cook was playing computer games behind the bar…which explained a bit about the service, and even more about the over cooked nature of the food.

From there it was down to Eva’s for a drink or two more before turning in.  I ended up crashing at the PACZ Hotel which was very clean, affordable, ideally located, and had a wonderfully warm and friendly owner/manager.  If you find yourself in San Ignacio, definitely stop by and ask for Landy.  He not only was friendly and helpful, but had a wealth of stories and even went so far as to share with me a local DVD of Belize’s marine life and natural wonders.

San Ignacio Outdoor Market

The following morning I set off to find a bit of food, only to discover that the town’s outdoor market was bustling with activity.  As I wandered through the outdoor market, it struck me that the wealth of bananas, colors, and fresh produce made for a beautiful sight. With my mouth watering I paused briefly and picked up a shucked Coconut and fresh Banana before setting off to find lunch.

Belizean Food - Stewed Chicken, Beans and Rice

Just across the street, a few paces down a small side alley I stumbled into an open front restaurant bustling with local activity.   The kitchen was a small open area off in a corner with a small flat space for plate preparation and a blender for fresh horchata and juice drinks.  I sat down at an open table, only to realize that it didn’t offer any leg room.  After a few minutes with my legs sprawled out to either side one of the girls working as part chef/part waitress noticed, chuckled at me and herded me over to a different table, which had just cleared.  In heavily accented English she told me the two plates they were offering and offered a suggestion.  I followed her suggestion and opted for the Belizean specialty; stewed chicken, rice and beans served up with a side of salad and a fried plantain served up with a side of horchata, which i later followed up with a Coca Cola.  It was hands down the best Chicken, Rice and Beans I had in Belize which is saying something.

Chicken Bus in San Ignacio

Stuffed, I continued my exploration of the city.  Wandering down along the river I paused to watch and ponder the strange garb, traditions, and out of place appearance of the local Mennonites in the market place, before poking a hole in the coconut I’d purchased earlier and downing the fresh coconut water.  One of the things I love about traveling in tropical environments is the presence of fresh coconuts.  Coconut water is a great way to re-charge, very healthy, and perfect for re-hydrating.

After exploring the town for a bit, I made my way back past a colorfully painted bus to the hotel where I settled in for a relaxing afternoon.

The following morning a new adventure, and country awaited.

Prague Part 2, Vienna & Bratislava

Bit of time to kill before I catch my bus to Croatia, so hopefully I’ll get caught up! It’s brutal how easy it is to fall behind and I hate writing when things are not still fresh in my memory…but here goes!

Prague continued: The show and ballet I saw were both the highlights, but in general Prague is a very musical city. It was not unusual to find street performers which always livens up the experience. On the first day I explored the natural history museum. Quite a different experience than many of the others I’ve seen. The whole thing seemed stuck in time. The exhibits came in basically three different forms…the mineral exhibit, the early human artifact exhibits, and the stuffed animal exhibit. The early human exhibit was interesting, but fairly small. It consisted of a few old artifacts prior to and including the start of the bronze age and a bunch of bones. The mineral exhibit was large, but very different in feel as all of the gems were locked away in old wooden cases with viewing windows. It would not surprise me to learn that they dated back to at least the early 1900s. The stuffed animal exhibit was just that. Rooms and rooms of anything and everything they could kill and stuff…a very weird vibe to it, especially as some had not weathered well and as a result the various butchering cuts and stitches were becoming evident. The building itself however was gorgeous with a beautiful interior.

Night life – while I spent just about every night mixing and meeting people, I only spent two of the nights out at the main bars/night clubs. The first night I did a pub crawl. So far these have been a fantastic way to explore the city’s night life and meet other people. The crawl was lead by an odd American and his sister, and took us to 4 or 5 bars and clubs before ending at a night club. Both were friendly and the crowd on the crawl, despite being almost all guys, was a good group. We wandered the bars, hitting up some interesting ones, some dead ones, and some boring ones. At one point, while walking through the bottom levels of a club that was just starting to pick up, I encountered a group of friendly Nigerians selling weed and smoking it in the bottom part of the club. It struck me as really odd, especially since the people working at the club must have been aware of what was going on. Needless to say, I ended up back upstairs fairly quickly.

The second major evening out was my final one in Prague. I formed up with a couple traveling from England that were at the hostel and then set off to meet an Australian guy I had met in Frankfurt at a club recommended to me. To be honest, it was really bizarre. There were loads of beautiful girls on the subway and around parts of town, but at night in the bars and clubs they were nowhere to be seen and it was mostly tourists. When we arrived finally at the club recommended as a locals joint there was a massive line. I think we were the only 3 (4 once Brad joined us) foreigners in line. But, as we talked to the people around us it turned out the club was all inclusive so the door cover included unlimited drinks even though it cost a good bit more. We’d all hit up happy hour at our hostel and decided to check out another club instead – apparently one of the largest in Europe that was in the tourist district and a good 5 stories tall with different themed floors.

We set off for the club and after a brisk walk and quick tube jump we were there. The place was just starting to pick up. We did a quick walk through of all the floors and then because it was a bit brighter and completely ridiculous, ended up on the 3rd floor which was oldies with light up squares on the dance floor. There is nothing like a huge white dance floor with bands that lit up in different colors to the music. It was definitely fresh out of the movies. We grabbed a beer (the great thing about Prague was even at the club half a liter was only about 2 dollars US) and started dancing a bit. Before long others came out and joined us and we had stumbled into several others from the hostel including a big group of girls from the States of all places. We spent the next few hours dancing (during which I realized that the beer I had been ordering was 12%…ouch). It’s been a slow process, but I guess my ballroom stuff is finally starting to help me on the non-ballroom dance floor. Within about 15 minutes, I had two of the American girls repeatedly tell me how good I was and that they were intimidated. They would rotate intermittently throughout the night until the night club got so hot that I took my leave and headed out for air.

The Prague castle is interesting but was a bit disappointing. Overlooking the city it’s not a castle, even in the more Eastern Euro-German sense, it’s more a monstrosity with a wall stuck on top of a hill with large marshaling grounds and a cathedral in the middle. Still the view was beautiful.

On the day I caught the quartet in the small library that I loved I got out right around sunset and made my way down to the river. Luckily there was just enough cloud cover to make for a few fantastic minutes as the buildings and trees reflected on the river water and cast everything in a rosy hue.

The main Prague cathedral was pretty impressive with fresco and gold paint everywhere. They definitely were all about the gaudy look. The inner city itself was beautiful with a great mix of architectural styles. Many of the buildings had fantastic doors with a very old, medieval, almost castlesque feeling. It was also really interesting to see how many small courtyards there were and in many cases there were arches and small walkways between the streets creating a kind of interconnected maze. There is also a large astrological clock in Prague which draws a lot of tourists on the hour for a little animated show. The clock itself was beautiful…the show was dumb. It’s just a bunch of figures on a circular piece inside the clock. Two small doors open and they walk up to the window and look out as they revolve past.

It’s an odd thing how in Prague and Vienna to a lesser extent they often build right up to/around their cathedrals. They usually, but not always, still leave the public square part, but it can also be a ways away from the cathedral.

Vienna: Vienna is a very different city than Prague. Every bit as beautiful as Prague, if not more so. It still has the rural industrial feeling but the inner city is composed of large grass areas, squares, and ornate buildings. You can see the wealth that the rulers had and invested in the city in their massive palaces and buildings. While some of the buildings are gothic, most have been designed with greco-roman architecture in mind. In fact one of the main buildings (I believe it was the Parliament) is a massive building that was obviously based upon the Parthenon in the Acropolis though it also has distinctly Roman elements (two curved, sweeping walkways to the entrance). Located between the walkways is a huge statue of Athena with various figures at her feet. I believe it’s closely based on the statue of Athena that was originally located in the Parthenon. At each of the 4 corners of the building’s roof there are huge bronze chariots with horses in motion. They are elegant and beautiful.

Located in the heart of the city is the palatial area which now spreads between the city hall (a stunning gothic building) and the old palace which is now a set of classical reading rooms, modern library, set of museums and galleries. Between the two sets of buildings there is a huge park with gardens, statuary, another much smaller greek building, and large grass areas. Off to one side mirroring each other with fountain-filled gardens are two identical buildings which are now used as art and sculpture gardens. These buildings are massive and incredibly elegant.

Beyond that area are Vienna’s wandering streets. In the older parts of town each building is strikingly different though they are all based on the same uniform architectural style. Most of the facades have some sort of figure or scroll work supporting, surrounding, and adorning every window, corner, and door. On some of the buildings the null space is then painted with ornate images. The theaters and opera houses are exactly what you would expect and right in line with how i envisioned them. They fit right in with the rest of the Viennese theme.

While I would have liked to have seen a show like I did in Prague, many were expensive or playing odd pieces I didn’t have a desire to see. I did however attend an Opera at the old opera house. The ticket was 2 euro for standing space, which while a fun thing for a quick peak at the house and the show, was definitely NOT the way to see the opera. Despite enjoying the show, at the first intermission I took my leave, my legs were killing me, it was hot, the view was poor and the acoustics were marginal (we were located all the way at the back in the top). While not as small or ornate as the opera house in Prague it was definitely very impressive.

I met an Englishman who was killing some time after having plans fall through. He was staying at the hostel, but had lived in an Austrian town a bit outside of Vienna for a while a bit back. On the day I’d set aside to tour the city, he was eager to join me, and offered to play tour guide. Apparently, he’s also a fairly proficient musician (level 8 cert) and about to start a masters program in linguistics. As we wandered the city he had all sorts of fun tidbits to share. In addition to covering the bits I mentioned above, we also walked through a large outdoor market street which runs all week long. While there we were passing a wine shop selling (I believe it’s called Vino?) and we stopped for a drink as he introduced me to it. Made from the thicker parts of the wine that they sift off it is apparently only available a few times a year and because of how it ferments cannot really be exported or sold elsewhere. I tried a red, he had a white – it was a potent wine, but also had a champagne feel to it. Much thicker than wine, it would settle if you left it sitting for more than a minute or two. It had a much sweeter and juicier element as well. All around a very pleasant drink.

Later, again ready to rest our feet after hours of walking, we made our way to a small dingy coffee shop he had found during his time in Vienna. The sign looked like it was straight from the 40s and the interior was dark, musky and brown. The walls had mismatched wallpaper, which definitely came from a wide variety of mixed fashion styles and decades. (It reminded me my childhood when my grandparents would take me to the old Brown Derby for hot chocolate. This place though was much older and grungier.) In some places the wallpaper had peeled off…in others it looked as though it had burned and in others people had written all over it. The chairs and tables were piled into the place and the lighting was marginal. The place was fantastic! We made our way to a corner and ordered our coffee and rested our feet. I felt as though I should be madly writing an opera, book, or poetry.

Yesterday I decided to check out Bratislava (some of you may remember it from Euro trip) – located about 50 k (or miles I’m not sure) from Vienna. It is a 10 Euro round trip bus ride and takes about an hour and a half. Lewis (the guy I’d toured Vienna with), Sarah (A kiwi girl I bumped into in Prague and saw again here in Vienna) and I were preparing to set out when we also picked up another American (his name escapes me at the moment). We set off, caught the bus and were in Bratislava by noon with open minds and high hopes. I’d heard that it was worth a visit but not worth an overnight stay. That was an exaggeration. The city itself is an industrial mess with a skyline that is interesting only because of the number of smoke stacks. It has cheap multi-story residential buildings being built and smog. The old city itself has one or two beautiful buildings. The rest are built in a very simple, very plain architectural style that was generally bland and boring. Even the castle perched up above the town on the hill reminded me more of a Holiday Inn than a castle. We explored the city for 2 hours or so, then looking for more to see and feeling like there had to be something we were missing started looking at postcards…unfortunately, everything on the postcards we’d seen. The only really cool thing was a set of bronze statues they have built on/into the streets. One is a camera man peaking around a corner, another is a classicaly dressed figure leaning on a bench, and the third is a chubby construction worker up to his shoulders in a manhole leaning out.

Hungry and done with the city we looked for a restaurant. We’d each converted between 5-15 euro into the regional currency. For me that meant my 10 Euro got me 330 or so SK dollars. Initially we’d expected to find keepsakes, have to pay for museums etc. No such luck. Not wanting to take the hit transferring it back we looked for a restaurant with what might be regional food willing to pay a bit more than usual to get rid of the notes. The place we found must have been an old monastery or wine cellar. It was a a maze of small rooms that wound down into the earth with small domed ceilings, brick walls, and odd paintings on the walls. We settled in, ordered, then waited eagerly for food…which unfortunately ended up being nothing like what we ordered. The waiter completely messed up two of the 4 orders (I think he just didn’t want to cook the pork knuckle i was going to try) bringing us instead plates of spaetzel with goat cheese, and another with sauerkraut and bacon instead of the goat cheese. Not having the time to wait 40 minutes more for them to correct the order we made do and ate hungrily. After finishing the meal we still had some time to kill and a few SK left. Somehow we found an old lady selling a bottle of Bratislavian mead (of all things) and decided to try it. We chipped in for the 150 SK we needed for it, got 4 cups and headed down to the river (Danube i think) where we sat around waiting for our bus, reflecting on how shitty a town it was and commenting on how odd the mead was. I guess at least now I can say i’ve been there, and it only cost me 20 Euro.

Next stop Croatia. Catching the 6 o’clock bus this evening. Wish me luck!