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Day 5 Instanbul, Turkey

When you think of Istanbul, imagine a bustling magical metropolis which spans two continents (Europe and Asia), alive with people of every imaginable nationality. Istanbul is a city where locals rub shoulders with tourists, street vendors ply their roasted corn on the cob, and the beauty and architecture of the mosques is awe-inspiring. Of course, no trip to Istanbul is complete without a visit to one of the bazaars – a truly sensory experience. The two biggest bazaars in Istanbul are:

  • The Grand Bazaar
  • The Spice Bazaar (or the Egyptian Bazaar)

Again we made our own way ashore when the MV Coral docked, instead of joining one of the organised excursions. On a previous visit to Istanbul, we toured both the European and Asian sides of the city and visited the world-famous Blue Mosque. As our trip in 2007 was to the Black Sea, we were fortunate to cruise up the Bosphorus at night, going under the bridge with its computerised LED lighting show – a sight which will be forever engraved in our memories.

We would advise anyone on a cruise holiday visiting Istanbul for the first time to take part in one of the organised excursions. This will ensure you see the sights and give you a flavour of the city. The Coral had a choice of three excursions in Istanbul:

  • Highlights of Istanbul
  • Scenic Bosphorus Cruise and Bazaars
  • The Hidden Side of Istanbul

This visit, we headed for the Spice Bazaar for a spot of retail therapy – Istanbul-style. Our journey on foot took us over the river: a hive of activity alive with ferries, water buses, ships, yachts and boats of all sizes dodging each other as they make their way across and up and downstream. How they manage to miss each other is little short of amazing.

The Spice Bazaar is an easy walk from the Port Buildings in Istanbul, just across the Galata Bridge. A stroll under the bridge takes you past a row of restaurants, each with waiters touting for trade. Despite being spoken to at every door, it was a fascinating experience and completely unthreatening. Had we not just lunched on board the Coral, we might have been tempted to stop to sample their food!

There are subways under the main roads, many of which are alive with street vendors. Once in the Spice Bazaar, the sights, sounds and the pungent smell of the aromatic spices are guaranteed to fill the senses. If only we had space in the luggage for some of the amazing hand-painted ceramic dishes, and delicious dried fruits!

We explored the surrounding streets too and made a few purchases. The shopkeepers all spoke English and were helpful, warm and welcoming. While they were keen to sell to us, they weren’t pushy or over-determined.

The currency in Turkey is the Lira, although most shops and cafés will take Euros. In 2007, we couldn’t buy Lira but most shops had prices displayed in both currencies. This time all the prices were in Turkish Lira, and they were readily available over the counter in our local post office. We had bought our Lira here at a much more favourable rate than the Euros, which made shopping even more affordable in Istanbul.

For us, Istanbul really is a city of dreams and top of our ‘must visit again’ list. Half a day in this magical city is just not enough to experience all its delights.