For the first time in two weeks we are by ourselves today without any arrangements with friends. We still have some shopping to do and Sitare wanted to go to the Kapali Carşı, she has a gold chain of her mother, she wants to get repaired or if we can not find somebody who can repair it, she wants to trade in for new one. Grand Bazaar is a fun place where you can spend few hours and even if you don't buy anything just to hop in and out of the jewelry, carpet, embroidery, ceramics, leather goods, and spice shops and checking the prices of goods and items, bargaining with the shopkeepers is a lot of fun. Kapalı Çarşı, or the Covered Bazaar was founded in 1461 and is probably the world’s oldest and biggest shopping mall. On a given day anywhere from 300 000 to 400 000 shoppers visit the Grand Bazaar, which has over 4000 stores on 61 streets. Best way to go to the Grand Bazaar is to start in Eminönü district by the Yeni Mosque and to go through the the Mısır Çarşısı (Egyptian Spice Bazaar) first. The Spice Bazaar is also a like a mall with several stores in it. The aroma coming from the stores in here will make you dizzy and hungry . While the smell of exotic spices, herbs, spicy and dry meats, olives, cheeses and fresh grind coffee will work on your nostrils, the different kinds of Turkish delights, halvas, candy, and dry fruits will appeal to your eyes. Once you are out of the Spice Bazaar all you need to to do is follow the crowd going up hill, on the cobblestone streets going through specialty stores lined one after the other on both sides of the streets selling school supplies and stationery items, kitchenware, towel and bath supplies and so on. The Grand Bazaar has twenty two gates and by walking up hill you will end up coming to either to the Nuruosmaniye or the Beyazıt Gate.
Nur-u Osmaniye gate of the Grand Bazaar
A Street in the Grand Bazaar
We entered the Grand Bazaar from the Nuruosmaniye Gate and immediately walked to the street were all the jewelry and Gold stores are located. We went into a “gold store” which did not have any customers for the moment and Sitare showed the shop owner the gold chain which had a broken link.The shop owner told her that they did not repair these, but he knew the right person who does and told his help boy to take us to Harun’s repair shop and tell him that we were his friends and not to overcharge us. The repair shop was close by on the second floor of a nearby building. We entered the shop which was no bigger than a cubicle and in there a young man with magnifying glasses and tweezers in his hand was working on a emerald men’s ring. There was a cylinder shaped hot pot on an electric stove with gold colored water in it, and several tiny beads, rings, valuable stones on his little work desk. Harun said he could fix the chain but it will take about twenty minutes or so because he was trying to finish another job first.This time Sitare showed him a single diamond earring, she had lost the other one of the pair and asked him if he can make a necklace out of the earring and attach it to a silver chain she had brought with her. Thirty minutes later we came back to the little repair shop and both the gold chain was fixed including a polishing gold bath in the pot over the stove and the diamond earring converted to a beautiful necklace on a silver chain. And all we paid was a mere 20 TL about $ 10. And that is the Grand Bazaar for you !
After buying few souvenirs we went out of the Covered Bazaar from the Mahmutpaşa Gate into the streets of the Mahmutpaşa shops. Mahmutpaşa is the other shopping district going down hill to Eminönü where we have first started. This is a crowded shopping area and probably per square inch there are more people here than any other place in Istanbul and eighty percent of the shoppers are women. The prices are dirt cheap and as you walk you hear the shopkeepers yelling and screaming advertising their goods: dresses , coats, hats, nightgowns, luggage, handbags, purses, you name it. Again all you do is follow the crowd and as long as you go down hill on the streets, you will end up somewhere in Eminönü close to the Yeni Mosque by the Galata Bridge.
A Gold Shop
Spices and Herbs
An amazing operation: Kuru Kahveci Mehmet Efendi's Coffee Shop
On the way going down the streets of Mahmutpaşa we stopped by at a fast food restaurant which had little stools and low tables on the sidewalk. Sitare ordered a vegetarian wrap, I had döner kebab and we had a nice late lunch. I noticed the American accent of the young waiter who was welcoming the tourists to the restaurant. I was not mistaken, he was an American kid, probably one of his parents was of Turkish origin . He was from Seattle and when we asked him what he was doing here, he said he did not know either. Small world it is, this was the third American we had met in the last two weeks in Turkey.
We came back to the Egyptian Spice Bazaar which seemed extra busy today, because the next day was going to be the first day of Ramadan. Here we had one last stop at the Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi’s Coffee shop. Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi, the brand name referring to the dry coffee beans of Mr. Mehmet founded in 1871, is the most reputable and quality grinded coffee used in making the so called Turkish Coffee. For generations Mehmet Efendi’s shops have supplied the coffee to markets and shops all over Turkey and even into other countries in the same old little brown bags. My grandparents used to buy their coffee half a century ago from the same place at the Egyptian Spice Bazaar and everytime when I visit Istanbul, I make sure to stop by and get few bags of the finely grinded fresh coffee. They have an amazing operation with lines in front of the to go window as long as twenty, thirty yards at all times. They employ sixteen to eighteen year old kids who work super fast taking the coffee from the grinder, measuring and packing into 50, 100 and 150 gram brown bags with Mehmet Efendi’s logo on it, then stapling the bag and pushing it to the front window where customers pay and get their coffee. Having worked in restaurant industry over thirty five years I always admire a good operation and workers with good skills and urgency. Wendy’s standard for a customers wait at the drive through window is 30 seconds and they time their workers with a stopwatch. I did not have a stopwatch today, but I know we had at least fifteen people in front of us and we got our coffee within about three minutes. One of the two cahiers already had the change in hıs hand as I was handing the other cashier the bill. And now while we are back here in Columbus, almost every afternoon Sitare fixes us two little cups of Mehmet Efendi’s Coffee which we enjoy sipping on our deck outside.