Istanbul is home to some of the most staggering and impressive architectural sights in the world. The Hagia Sophia would be reason enough to visit this tantalizing land that has been a cultural melting pot for thousands of years. A physical bridge between Europe and Asia, Istanbul is as fascinating today as it was when it was still called Constantinople.
The people are amazingly friendly and open to anyone visiting from the West. One thing that charmed me day after day was the food! Just about every item you discover on a local menu is fresh and delicious and made in Turkey. From lamb kebap, to Simit bread, to ripe Pomegranates found on every corner, Turkish cuisine will knock you off your feet. This land is overflowing with fresh produce and the Bosphorus River is abundant with fish as hundreds of fisherman line the Galata bridge daily for the daily catch. Click Kebap for a great website to give you some Turkish cooking how-to.
One of the most exciting experiences I had in Istanbul was buying a carpet - or rug. The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul can overwhelming to the senses as there are thousands of booths offering everything from food to furnishings to festive clothing. It is arguably one of the most exciting shopping sites in the world. There is so much folklore about buying a carpet and the process it entails. I must say it was a great experience and a true education about something I knew nothing about.
Learning the difference between a Kilim (flat pile) and a Persian, and the concept of New, Semi-Old, Old, and Antique was like discovering a foreign language. I met a great Carpet expert by the name of Selcuk Bali aka Brian at Guney Carpet. Guney is a family business and Brian grew up working with the finest carpets and kilims in the industry. While the process can be overwhelming, Brian took the time to explain everything without making me feel at all pressured. The process took most of the day with tea, and lunch, and so many laughs and stories about the Turkish culture and experiences of the Grand Bazaar. With the extensive Guney inventory, Brian was able to find a huge selection for me to make my choice. I had planned to have the rug shipped to me, but the folks at Guney were able to package my rug in a parcel that was as easy to bring home as a suitcase.
Of course you cannot visit Turkey without taking home the most obvious memento - Turkish Delight. The Turkish love fresh produce and delicious food and they also love all things SWEET! Turkish delight comes in many flavors and forms, from rosewater to pistachio. Although you can find it on every corner, but if you look a little harder you can also find some delicious gourmet versions at the Grand Bazaar.
I spent 10 days in Istanbul and I only scratched the surface of things to do and places to see! Plan a trip to Turkey soon and I promise that it won't be your last. I'm planning my next visit already. If you plan to buy a carpet, be sure to visit Brian at Guney Carpet in the Grand Bazaar.