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Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Monday, November 26, 2012

No fear in Turkey among Ottoman slippers, mosques of Grand Bazaar

Wide walkways in the Grand Bazaar had their origin in the 1400s, when it was built on the trade crossroads between Asia and Europe so camels could carry goods to merchants inside..

Relatives asked if I was frightened or felt threatened during my visit to Istanbul, Turkey at the end of a Mediterranean cruise I took with my daughter in October.
The Thanksgiving Day question surprised me, since these are well-traveled, sophisticated people not given to the general fear expressed at the presence of Muslim people .
I felt neither frightened nor threatened during my short visit, I told them. In fact my daughter and I both experienced many sincere gestures of kindness and hospitality, to which I am ashamed to admit, we both at first responded with suspicion.
The largest city in Turkey has a population of 13.5 million, many of them Muslim, and straddles the Bosphoros, a busy waterway that marks the boundary between Europe and Asia. It's in Northwest Turkey, not far from the border of Greece and Bulgaria, but a long way from either Syria or Iraq, to the country's southeast. In fact, while we were aboard the Crystal Serenity peacefully sailing in the Adriatic and the Aegean seas, we'd both received urgent emails warning us that Syrians were crossing the border into Turkey to escape the turmoil in their own country and didn't we really want to head home right away rather than lingering overnight in Istanbul??
Dazzling lamps were among the purchases we wanted to make but didn't.
It's sweet to know your friends are worried  but we were both well-informed about what was happening in the world and unconcerned that it would affect us in Istanbul.

We had just 15 hours to spend in this great world city and were planning to shop the Grand Bazaar.
Part of that 15 hours had to be sleep time, since we arrived around noon and would depart our hotel at the godawful hour  of 3 a.m. to catch an early morning flight to Paris. We knew that we'd have to save a visit to the Blue Mosque, the Haghia Sofia and other historic wonders of Istanbul for another time. My daughter booked us an hotel in the heart of the old city, where Byzantium rose 2,000 years ago, preceding Constantinople which itself preceded Istanbul.
Our magic carpet ride began once we left our bags in the hotel  which turned out to be comfortable and just about perfect  - and a set out on foot to reach the Grand Bazaar, a dozen blocks away.

We passed street vendors slicing lamb for shish kabob from a slowly rotating cylinder of meat and others squeezing whole pomagranates into juice for waiting matrons. We stood in awe outside the many minarets around the Haghia Sofia when the call to prayer rang out from the towers. We ogled store windows and rug merchants, put our noses to one window with all kinds of lokum, also known as Turkish Delight, and stopped to photograph the entry to a Turkish bath. Soon, by some instinct found only among avid shoppers, we had negotiated the labyrinthe streets and were at one of the four main gates to the Grand Bazaar.
Our greatest adventure was about to begin.

Ottoman slippers with curled up toes, lush purple leather boots and a handcrafted turquoise fabric that has since become a bedspread were among the purchases my daughter made ion the Grand Bazaar. She bought the bag to carry them home.
I'm now preparing the Dec. 9 travel section, which will largely be devoted to shopping at the Grand Bazaar, and I'll update you now and then here. 

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