Navigating Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar

by thehipmunk

Ever a city of cultural convergence and commerce, modern Istanbul’s 11 to 12 million annual international visitors can find themselves beckoned into shops and restaurants in their native tongues. There are a great many things to see in Turkey, but for the traveler looking for a truly unique experience, the Grand Bazaar is a feast for the senses. Constructed in the 1450s following the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople, the Grand Bazaar is alive with color, smells, and sounds. With over 5000 shops, the market is open from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday, with closures on Sundays and bank holidays. Here are some tips having an optimal shopping experience in the Grand Bazaar, so grab some Turkish Lira (currently 0.36 to the US dollar) and hit the market where the wandering visitor can find everything from fortune telling rabbits, to vibrant textiles, rich spices, and much more.

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Where to Stay

If you’re looking for a place to stay in the middle of it all, at Niles Hotel Istanbul – Special Class, the rooms have Ottoman style décor, and air conditioning or the DoubleTree by Hilton Istanbul Old Town for modern chic with affordable prices.

Hitting the Grand Bazaar

Upon first entering the Grand Bazaar, expect to immediately see a dozen things you want to buy. It is a rookie mistake to commit to the first eye catching object, so try to refrain from buying the first thing you see. Instead, spend some time walking around and observing many shops (with a smartphone, it’s easy to pin the location to return later) to get an idea of price range and item selection. With some 5,000 shops stretching 60 streets, there is a lot to see. The high domed Cevâhir Bedesten at the market’s center was originally constructed by Sultan Mehmet II as a dedicated area for the trade of textiles. The building still stands, and continues to house some of the market’s most precious objects and antiques. There’s much to see, so consider staying at the Barcelo Saray Hotel for easy return trips.

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Local Hospitality  

Many shopkeepers will offer çay, or tea, to browsing patrons. To refuse is rude, though acceptance at some 16 shops might very well be a bit much. To avoid coming out of an afternoon feeling like a water balloon, politely accept and sip, accepting does not commit the shopper to making a purchase.

Haggling like a Pro

Many Americans are inexperienced with haggling or bargaining, but it is typical in a great many countries around the world. It is common to feel uncomfortable or embarrassed when starting out, but trust us, it can be quite fun and exhilarating once you’ve had some practice and walk out of a transaction with a great price! Vendors will often intentionally inflate prices because they 1) expect patrons to bargain, and 2) generally charge more to tourists. To get a feel for fair prices and how to bargain, it can help to try to inconspicuously observe locals haggling. If the price is wrong, one might try thanking the vendor and moving to leave the shop, at which point, the vendor may counter by asking what price you want. Alternatively, the vendor may walk away, but if you refuse to cave, and the last price was not too far off from reasonable, they may return to resume haggling. It can also be helpful to find two vendors with the same item and play them off one another. While you should be confident and firm while bargaining, keep your tone light and friendly. The business owners often have families to support, so don’t be rude.

When a particular item catches your eye, avoid showing too much interest or enthusiasm, especially if that item is rare as the shop owner will know they have the upper hand as they know you cannot find another vendor with a potentially better price and will stay firm.

If haggling still feels uncomfortable, there will be shops with fixed sticker prices, but expect to pay much more at such establishments.

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No trip to the Grand Bazaar would be complete without shopping for a Turkish carpet. However, this can be quite an expensive process, and it is very difficult to know the value of the prospects. If you want to be safe, try a trusted shop, as many carpets are now manufactured in China and it can be difficult to tell—there is a list of trusted shops here (though it is certainly worth while to visit small shops in the Bazaar). There is a range of materials, like silk or wool; designs, which are specific to the different cultures who hand-make the rugs (the more intricate the pattern, the more expensive); dyes, natural and chemical (natural dyes are less subject to fading, and do so more gracefully than chemical dyes); number of knots per square meter (the more knots, the better made, the more expensive); sizes (prayer rug sized to large).

Visit several carpet shops, where the vendors will treat you to a show of their wares (this can take hours). Do not buy on the first day, but rather, return to your favorite shop after having visited several, getting a sense for colors, patterns, and prices. Always buy handmade rugs. Again, definitely haggle for the price, but do so respectfully and with some humor.

Consider how to get a purchase home—a canvas duffel bag lined with plastic can help protect the textiles, though some shops offer shipping services.

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Dressing to Local Customs

While foreign visitors are not expected to dress according to local customs, when visiting any of the mosques, one must dress appropriately for admittance.

At the Aya Sofya or Blue Mosque, which are very close to the Grand Bazaar, men must wear long pants, and women must wear cover to mid shins. Women must also don a wrap or pashmina covering their heads. Wraps are supplied at the entrance of the Blue Mosque, free of charge or more stylish choices can be purchased easily in the Grand Bazaar.

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A day of haggling can work up an appetite. There are incredible options available to the traveler, but we recommend heading over to the Galata Bridge for an Istanbul fish sandwich. Fishermen catch, grill, and serve their catches fresh on their boats so you can enjoy a delicious, fresh dinner while watching the sunset over the Golden Horn!

This post was posted by thehipmunk on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog on November 1, 2015.

The best cafes in Wellington for a flat white

photo by CC user Clilly4 on wikimedia commons

Looking for a cafe that doesn’t just get a flat white right in New Zealand, but also delivers on what a cafe experience can and should be?

The best cafes in Wellington do just that. Below, these four establishments belong in that category…

1) Maranui Surf Lifesaving Cafe

With locals recommending that outsiders visit this place while in Wellington, the Maranui Surf Lifesaving Cafe should be at the top of your list when it comes to the search for the perfect flat white in New Zealand’s capital city.

With the choicest of choice views over Lyall Bay, outstanding food that caters to a variety of dietary styles (check out their brunch), and with a location close by to Wellington’s international airport, those seeking a cuppa fresh off the plane, or those looking to spot planes landing or taking off will love this place.

2) Kaffee Eis

With summer well on its way in the Southern Hemisphere, you’ll want to duck into a place on your visit here that does not only coffee well, but ice cream as well.

New Zealand locals consistently recommend the gelato that Kaffee Eis produces in-store, which is the best kind of endorsement that any business hope to have for its products.

With its flagship location occupying a place down by the water, this cafe is also an excellent place for people watching, so if you have time to kill on a fine afternoon, keep this place at the front of your mind.

3) CQ Restaurant

Have members in your party that uses sign language, or want to have a mind-expanding experience on your holiday in New Zealand?

If this is the case, then having coffee or a light meal at the CQ Restaurant will be a great thing to do on your trip to Wellington.

Employing wait staff that have hearing disabilities, orders are communicated to them by using the sign language phrases outlined on the menu.

It might be a little uncomfortable at first, but the personal growth you will undergo with a visit to the CQ Restaurant will make the hilarious stumbles you make well worth the effort.

4) Scorch-O-Rama

Located out in the bay roads some distance from Wellington’s downtown core, Scorch-O-Rama may be busy on a weekend afternoon, but that’s only because the coffee and food that it serves up keeps loyal customer coming back on days when the weather outside is fabulous.

Known particularly for its seafood chowder, this place is the perfect spot to go before hopping on the ferry to go to the South Island.

5 Best Seafood Festivals

by thehipmunk

If you are a seafood lover, set your sights on at least one of these top annual seafood festivals. No matter where you turn, you will find mouth-watering fresh seafood delicacies sure to tempt your taste buds and have you singing the praises of these local delicacies.

New Jersey Seafood Festival

At the New Jersey Seafood Festival in Belmar, over 40 restaurants display their finest seafood creations for visitors to sample. The event is fun for all ages, with pony rides for the little ones and wine tasting for the adults. The Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel is located close to the festival, and ideal for an evening stroll on the nearby beach.

Maine Lobster Festival

The celebrated Maine Lobster is the star of this event, which focuses on family fun. Compete against fellow festival-goers in such contests as balancing on lobster traps over the water; or just enjoy the parade, carnival rides, food vendors, live music and lobster specialties. The festival is held at Rockland’s Harbor Park. Find a local B&B and explore the area, or stay in a hotel in Portland, which is about two hours from the event.

Texas Shrimporee

The Texas Shrimporee is an annual weekend-long festival in Aransas Pass. Enjoy a wide variety of shrimp delicacies, or just peel and eat your own. There are also carnival rides, live music, craft booths and beer sampling to enjoy. If you plan on spending a night or two in Aransas Pass, the Comfort Inn is a favorite stopover for festival attendees.

Crab Days Festival

It’s hard to be crabby at the Crab Days Festival in St. Michaels, Maryland. Hosted by the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, the event features educational demonstrations about the crab, and talks that focus on the history of the local crabbers. And, of course, a wide array of crab dishes to sample. The festival takes place each year in July or August. Rooms fill up quickly, so book early at the nearby St. Michael’s Harbour Inn Marina and Spa.

Port Clinton Walleye Festival

Ohio’s Port Clinton Walleye Festival takes place over the extended Memorial Day weekend along the Lake Erie waterfront. The five-day event features a large parade on Saturday and non-stop live entertainment, while chefs create dishes that feature walleye and perch from Lake Erie. The America Best Value Inn, close to Fisherman’s Wharf, is a favorite lodging choice for attendees.

Each one of these seafood festivals features the freshest regional seafood. Bring the whole family, and enjoy the rides, crafts, music and fun events together.

This post was posted by thehipmunk on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog on November 4, 2015.