I visited the Istanbul Spice Bazaar on Saturday morning and it’s truly a feast for the eyes and nose! It’s exotic and crowded and you’re literally shoulder to shoulder and toe to toe with a diverse group of shoppers. Inside the bazaar it’s a bit claustrophobic, but if you catch the eye of someone else lost in the thick of the crowd you’ll almost always get a big smile.
Experiencing the spice bazaar is well worth any discomfort and you feel swept up and part of the lively gathering. Bought some perfect looking dried apricots, almonds, and trail mix. Everything was reasonably priced and the freshest I’ve ever tasted. Unfortunately once inside the crowded bazaar it’s difficult to take decent photos.
After the Spice Bazaar, I decided to jump on a random ferry (first ride) from Eminönü to the Asian suburb of Üsküdar, which has a large Muslim population. The ferries are clean, fast, and always on time. Most have three levels – open lower and upper decks and an enclosed middle deck kept warm and cozy in the winter and air-conditioned in the summer.
The seating is modern and comfy with tables for writing or using laptops. The enclosed deck has a snack bar serving espresso, tea, juice, and tasty fresh sandwiches and cakes. A waiter circulates taking orders or you can go to the snack bar and order yourself. I chatted with a friendly Muslim man who asked where I was from and seemed surprised when I said the US – not sure what that meant.
Since the first ferry ride was so pleasant I decided to end the day by taking another one – the Kabatas ferry to the Princes’ Islands. Before it reached the islands the ferry docked at Haydarpaşa where there was a large public demonstration in process with police present and ready to intervene.
Marmara University is in this district and some students and graduates are members of the Ülkü Ocakları. The group is “a racist offspring of Turkish / Turkic ultranationalism, with an increasing record of violence and militancy. Nicknamed the Grey Wolves the group’s ideology is known as Türk-İslam Sentezi (Turkish-Islam Synthesis)”. It probably wasn’t a good place to be during a potentially violent demonstration but with a hat and sunglasses it’s easy to slip away and melt into the crowd.
The police cordoned off the loud demonstrators who had gathered in a park near the ferry pier. I’m not sure what they were demonstrating about but they had red signs (not English of course) and there must have been around 500+ people. I didn’t hang out near the crowd and instead went to Café Kafka – also a bookstore – but didn’t see any books in English. By the time I came out of the café the demonstrators were gone so I boarded the ferry again and continued to the Princes’ Islands. Guess that’s the semi-scary story of the week…
The Princes’ Islands consist of nine small islands in the Sea of Marmara. Cars are not allowed on the islands. “They are named after a Byzantine emperors’ practice of sending bothersome princes to them to be blinded, exiled, or executed”. In medieval times they were the sites of monasteries, away from the bustle and temptations of the city. The four larger islands – Büyükada, Heybeliada, Burgazada, and Kınalıada – became summer resorts. Istanbul’s wealthy Ottoman families, especially Greeks, Jews, and Armenians, built elaborate Victorian summer cottages along the narrow island-village streets.”
One notable former resident is Leon Trotsky who moved there after being deported from the Soviet Union in 1929. His first residing place in exile was a house in Büyükada, the largest of the Princes’ Islands. He lived there between 1929 and 1933.
“The five smaller islands – Tavşan, Yassıada, Sivriada, Sedef, and Kaşık – are not served by ferries and are mostly uninhabited. Yassıada was the detention site of ex-prime minister Adnan Menderes in 1961 while standing trial by a military tribunal for subverting Turkish democracy. He was found guilty and executed there.”
I’ll return to the Princes’ Islands another time – earlier in the day – to bicycle or walk around. You can also tour the islands on a horse-drawn carriage. It was getting late and I didn’t have much more time to explore but just the same enjoyed the excursion.