Caravanserai: The Hans of Grand Bazaar And Where To Find Them

Caravanserai, the 1st time I’ve heard this word was in 2008 when I came to Turkey for touristic purposes (gosh I sound like I am applying for residence permit!). It was the name of one of few well known restaurant which offers you marvelous belly dancing & other folks’ dances and songs performances while you indulge in your delicious meal. (God, now I sound like I’m selling tours, lol!) 

Back then I didn’t know much about the Silk Road, Turkish culture nor Seljuk history. I didn’t even bother to ask what is caravanserai. I am ashamed to say that I was indeed – ignorant. After living in Istanbul for quite some times, I realized that caravanserai plays an important part in Turkish history. There are many caravanserais all over Turkey, and the biggest one in Turkey is the Sultanhani in Aksaray, which is located on the old Silk Road, heading to Konya.

Okay, what do we know about hans aka caravanserai? They are actually inns for traveling merchants in the olden days. Caravanserai were available everywhere, covering North Africa, Asia, and Southeastern Europe especially along the Silk Road. So basically, in modern day han or caravanserai would be known as roadside motels but with more sophisticated functions, there are rooms to sleep, free services to look after the animals and feed them and also open flea market at the same time. In Turkey itself there were hundreds of caravanserai along the Silk Road and they were all free of charge for the 1st 3 days only. All caravanserais have the same architecture, they all look like a castle, with tall wall surrounding it and there’s always one pavillion mosque for the travelers to perform their prayers in. The government will provide all security guards, imam (for prayers), and general workers to keep the caravanserai running for free. Of course these people got paid by the government, but the government were not making money from the caravanserai itself.

So caravanserai, han, which is which? Well, they are basically the same thing. Caravanserai (Kervansaray in Turkish) is a word originating from Persian language and it was used for huge inn, served as road station outside of towns. However, the smaller inn built inside a town is called by its Turko-Mogolian name, Khan. As time goes by the Turks also started calling it as Han. Since there is no such letter as ‘Kh’ in Turkish language, the Turks find it hard to pronounce it; thus the omission of the 1st letter, ‘K’.

One of many interesting things I have heard about caravanserai or han in the olden days, traveling merchants will drop in, keep their donkey or other animals and belongings there while they have their goodnight rest, but still thievery was something very uncommon. Interesting right? We are now living in a world where we have our doors and gates locked but still people break into your house to rob – Tsk, shame.

Septa Unella Game of Thrones

During Seljuk time, the government assured all people that they can stay in the caravanserai safely, without having to worry if their belongings will be stolen. Sort of like insurance guarantee I must say. It was so safe that the people during those time used to say, ‘nothing will happen to you even if you travel from Izmir to Van with a pot of gold on your head’. ‘Aw, come on! There must be some cases?’ I know some of you will probably be saying this, but as part of the insurance for staying in the caravanserai, if such cases occur, the government will gather all the people from that particular area (to which the caravanserai belongs to) and collect money from everyone to reimburse the person whom his belongings or animals got stolen. But of course, in case of fatality, then there’s nothing can be done for the reimbursement apart from catching the killer. But until now, no such cases had been documented. Cool system I must say.

Okay, end of Caravanserai 101 – Introduction. Let’s move on to Caravanserai: The Hans of Grand Bazaar and Where to Find Them. Okay for those who don’t know what is a Grand Bazaar (Kapali Carsi), it’s one of the famous closed bazaar in Istanbul. There are approximately around 4000 shops in Grand Bazaar, along with its hidden hans.

Many of them are dedicated to particular staff, small and most are run-downs. However there are few that you still can visit safely. Below is the simplified map of Grand Bazaar along with the hans that I found online.

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Istanbul Grand Bazaar Map (credit to original owner)

So, go ahead, try the map and enjoy exploring the hans of Grand Bazaar! Till we meet again next time, and – out!

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Santa Claus

Instant Fun Fact: Santa Claus Was Born in Turkey

Well who doesn’t know this famous guy?

‘A joyous, white-bearded man, sometimes with spectacles and wearing a red coat with white collar and cuffs, white-cuffed red trousers, and black leather belt and boots and who carries a bag full of gifts for children.’Wikipedia

During Christmas’ eve many children around the world will go to sleep excitedly waiting for this guy to swing by and drop their most anticipated gift. Well, the heart wants what it wants. According to the rumor, Santa will come and drop the present for only well behaved children. But do you know that the modern Santa Claus figure is derived from a historical Greek Bishop figure, who was born in Myra, Turkey which is known as Demre today?

Myra, Turkey

Santa Claus, or the Saint Nicholas of Myra, was born on 15 March 270 and passed away at the age of 73 years old. He was born from a Greek Family during the Roman Empire. He was in fact born from a rich family. According to the Wikipedia, he made it a practice on his feast day, which is on 6th December in the Gregorian calendar, to give present in secret, such as putting coins in the shoes for people who had left them out for him.

Well, who would’ve guessed? Ho~ ho~ ho~

A Walk to Remember: Princes’ Island (Büyükada)

If you ever visit Istanbul, make sure you have Büyükada in your must visit list. Büyükada literally means The Big Island. But, Büyükada is also widely known as the Princes’ Island among the tourists. However, please note that Büyükada is just one island among 9 islands in the cluster. This group of island is actually called as Princes’ Islands. It consists of 4 large islands along with 5 small ones:

Princes’ Islands (Descending according to their mass area):

 The Larger Islands:

  • Büyükada (Big Island; this is it, this is the one you must visit!)
  • Heybeliada (Saddlebag Island)
  • Burgazada (Fortress Island)
  • Kınalıada(Henna Island)

The Smaller Islands:

  • Sedef Adası (Mother of Pearl Island)
  • Yassıada (Flat Island)
  • Sivriada (Sharp Island)
  • Kaşık Adası (Spoon Island; LOL!)
  • Tavşan Adası (Rabbit Island)

The best season to visit Büyükada is during April – August. Of course in spring, Büyükada is a home to many colorful flowers which can be found at many classic, Victorian wooden houses on the island.However if you wish to enjoy autumn view in Büyükada, you can also visit the island during August – November.

How to get to Büyükada? There is only one way, which is by boat (well unless you own a private helicopter or you wish to swim all over!) But the easiest and most common way is to catch the boat at the Kabataş pier. From there, depart for Büyükada and you will enjoy a cruise for about 1 hour 30 minutes or even 2 hours to the island (those with mild sea sick, beware, bring a vomit bag or something, just in case!)

Me personally are in a love hate relationship with Büyükada. I love going there, but I hate the fact that I have to wake up really early for it. Because in order to be there at the best time, we will have to catch an early boat to the island. Now, when I say early, the boat will leave as early as 08:40am in the morning. And in order to catch that boat, I have to leave from my home as early as 07:20am in the morning!

And another downside of it, the boat trip to the island are not as frequent as few minutes apart, they are within around 1hour++ interval between each departures. So, if you missed the trip, you will need to wait for quite a while before you can get on the next one.

Timetable for Kabatas – Kadikoy – Adalar Titanic Ship

There are few piers that you can go for to catch the boat to the island. However, the most common one will be from Kabataş pier. And there are few companies that offer a trip to the island, but of course the cheapest one will be the big yellow and white Titanic look alike ship. Please do not buy the jeton (token), they cost 5.50TL which is about 1.83$ USD. Instead, get a hold of the Istanbul Kart (which you can get easily at newspaper kiosk at many tramvay stop for 6TL = 2$ USD). With Istanbul Kart, you will be able to refill this card and use it repeatedly for not just 1 person but for few persons at the same time! And the charge imposed per person with this card is only 4.40TL = 1.47$ USD. Yep, save that 1TL and buy yourself a simit (sesame bagel) instead. And, you can also use this card with the tramvay, metro, metrobus, otobus & furnicular. For more details about public transportations in Istanbul, please check my previous post.

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This is the Titanic ship that I am talking about

So what about other companies? Well, they are charging around 5-6TL per trip, no discount and you can’t use Istanbul Kart, cash only. But the advantage of these boat is their departure time is different compared to the Titanic ship! So for those who missed the trip with the Titanic ship and don’t want to wait, you can always hop on this boat instead and make your way to the island without wasting your precious time.

The boat will make a stop at few other islands before it will make it final stop at the Büyükada. So use this time and have your own photo shoot session in the meantime. And I mean on the boat, do not disembark from the boat at all cost. But please, refrain yourself from losing all control. You see, you still need those memory space for photos once you reach Büyükada later, right?

The bigger question. Why do I have to suffer this 2 hours journey with a cramp on my sweet gluteus maximus on a boat just to get to this island? What is it with this island? Let me tell you something. Büyükada is famous for its lush of nature, antique Victorian like wooden house and fresh air since there is no car allowed on this island (well, except for the manure part). The only car you could find there, either belong to the police, or for small  construction purposes. Do I hear you asking how do people get from one place to another on this island? They use phaeton. A horse carriage just like in Cinderella story, except not as luxury and it’s real! (with smell and all)

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Phaeton ride in Büyükada

One thing that I always see at Büyükada, from the happy face of the young children, until the happy face of an old couple… They all tend to wear the same thing. The flowery head wreath. Sold for about 5TL, I must say that get one of these beauties for yourself, wear it on your head proudly and ride on that Phaeton feeling like a princess! (beware of the opportunist, they can try to sell it at more expensive price!)

Ok, so the Phaeton will cost you around 77TL per cart, which can hold up to 4 people. There are 2 common tours that tourist normally take, the long or the short one. 77TL is for the short tour, which will last for around 45 minutes (6-7 km in total). They will take you around the island and give you a small break of 10 minutes halfway during the trip where you can make some shopping have some tea before the journey continues. Honestly, short tour is enough for you, no need to waste your money on the long tour.

Well apart from the phaeton, you can also rent a bike to explore the island on yourself. Or, you could do something more extreme, like what I did with my friend last time, we walked all the way following the phaeton trails until we came back down to the square. Until today if my friend talk to me about taking that walk again, I, without hesitation will give him a backhand as a reminder of the pain he made me went through… LOL

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You can also rent a bike and explore the island on your own

One fair warning though, please check on the weather forecast before you plan to go to the island. Büyükada is extremely beautiful during sunny days, so you don’t want to be going there when it is rainy. It just ruins all the mood, trust me.

What else is there? At Büyükada there’s a lot of old Victorian like wooden mansions, beautiful but yet scary especially when you realized that that house had been abandoned for quite some times. There are 2 hills in Büyükada, the famous one nearby the pier is called Isa Tepesi (Jesus Hill) or previously known as Hristos (Greek for Jesus). There was a big wooden orphanage on top of this hill before, but it is no longer there since the building was too old so it remains a history. Among these 2 hills that I mentioned, there is a church and a monastery of Agios Nikolaos and also a former fairground called Luna Park.

Last but not least, there is one place that always caught my eyes. The Büyükada Gözlü Ev or it’s real name, Sabuncakiş Köşkü. The mansion with the ‘Eye’. This mansion was constructed in 1904, with 3 levels and its top level, is the entrance level. I guess with the picture I don’t need to explain more what is it about right? According to the coachman, the house belongs to one of the richest guy in Büyükada, one of the electronic tycoon in Istanbul.

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Sanbucakiş Köşkü

That’s all you need to know about Büyükada. And if you guys manage to catch the boat at 08:40am, you will reach there at approximately around 10:40am, take the phaeton ride for 45 minutes and you will be done by 11:30am. After that you will have your own free time to take a lot of pictures, or simply sit at one of the waterfront restaurants at the pier before you leave.

Hope you enjoy the post. Sorry for the long post, here’s a potato for you!

potato

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Bayram Horror Story

Twice a year, the muslim community around the world as well as Turkey will celebrate the religious Bayram. So what is Bayram? Bayram means celebration in Turkish. There 2 common religious bayram that the Turks will celebrate annually, namely the Ramazan Bayram (also known as the Şeker Bayram) & the Kurban Bayram.

So what they normally do as a preparation to celebrate the bayram? They all do the same, going back to their hometown. Just few days before the bayram (might as well be as early as 1 week before the bayram), the Turks will start traveling to their hometown.

Picture this in your mind, the road to everywhere becomes packed with cars as if everyone running to the electronic store on the Black Friday and major cities like Istanbul become totally deserted just like the scene in those zombie films.

You think only zombie film can give you goose bumps? Check this out, young Turks often find this as one of the most horrific scene in their life…

Bayram Horror Story Scene

What to be expected during Bayram gatherings


Eid Horror Story (Turkish Version) :

Evleniyor musun = Are you getting married?
Kilo almışşın = You gained weight
Kaç yaşına bastın = How old are you now
Ne zaman mezun oluyorsun = When are you going to graduate
Maşallah kocaman olmuşsun = Masha Allah, you have become big
El öpenlerin çok olsun = May you also have a lot of people to kiss your hand (meaning that may you have lots of kids and grandchildren, may you get old)
Çalışıyor musun = Are you working?
Nişan ne zaman = When are you going to be enggaged?

However with time, this culture is about to disappear… More and more younger generation nowadays opt to take a lush holiday abroad or even domestically during the Bayram instead of going back to their hometown or village, leaving the old generation waiting for them, with hope glistening in their eyes, every single year. After all, bayram is one of the season where families from all over Turkey get back and spend time to visit each other or share a chat or two…

What’s your celebration’s horror story? Leave a comment below and share your own experiences! Happy Eid Al-Fitr to all muslims out there <3!

With love from Istanbul…

For Posterity

Hagia Sophia Remembers…

 

‘A muezzin’s call to prayer reverberated inside the sixth-century Istanbul landmark Hagia Sophia for the first time in 85 years on July 1.

 

The building in the city’s historic Sultanahmet district broadcast the azan from its minarets following July 1’s Laylat al-Qadr, or night of power, marking the first revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad…’

 

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Istanbul Old City Shopping Guide!!!

Hello everybody! Recently I just noticed that a lot of people managed to find their way to my blog, because they are looking for Istanbul’s shopping guidelines. Therefore, I would like to share with you guys the latest information regarding the shopping areas and what to buy in Istanbul.

1st of all, what do you want to buy? Trinkets? Shawls? Bag of spices? Aladdin Genie Lamp? A handsome Turkish Guy? Then, ask yourself, “Do I need it?” (Lol, cross that. I just watched Confession of a Shopaholic yesterday :p ) OMG So many questions, so little answers! After you finally get it clear, take a deep breath and let’s start with one of the most famous area for tourist in Istanbul:

THE GRAND BAZAAR (Kapalı Çarşı)

The Grand Bazaar is actually a very cool place indeed! What’s funny is that,even the locals don’t really shop here. Some, has never been there! There are approximately around 4000 shops and 61 covered streets inside the Grand Bazaar. It is safe to say that the Grand Bazaar is actually more like a labyrinth. Oh, don’t worry, you will find your way out, but you will most probably drowned inside, along with all the things they got to offer!

No matter what, everything inside is sold at a tourist price. Therefore, shop smart, your magic word of the day is ‘BARGAIN’. Let me give you an example, if they say 100TL, cut it down half. Make sure you start your bargain with at least 50% of the price they offer. And don’t stray far from it.

Another thing and this is important, please for the love of God, do not show your eagerness or desperateness of wanting whatever it is that you are bargaining for. Of course show your interest but don’t show that they got you in their hands, because there’re lots of other similar shops inside, that might offer a better rate. Hey, if you show them who’s boss, maybe they will bow down to you and voila! You will get to buy the stuff you want at your price. Simple, right? Just please try not to exaggerate it with ridiculous price okay? Below are some examples of the prices:

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Inside of Grand Bazaar / Kapali Carsi

  • Shawl – 12TL above (depends qualities and the materials. The normal shawls are sold at this price actually, but you will mostly find them around 15 -25TL) But of course, if you asked for Satin shawl, then of course the price will starts at 70TL. Let’s not talk abou the shawl with the Swarovski stone on it! Gorgeous but deadly for your pocket!
  • Iznik Tiles / Porcelains – I mean those embossed bowls and mugs or cups. Depending on the size, the small one starts from 10TL and increases with its sizes. And if you buy one of these at Grand Bazaar, please refrain yourselves from using them for food, because it contains melamine and it’s not safe to be used as dishware. That’s why they’re cheap, unless you but one from Chez Galip in Cappadocia, one cup is around 90$ USD then crown that one to be your mug of the year!
  • Glass Lamp – Now, this one is beautiful. Truth to be told, it looks like Egyptian/Moroccan Lamp? No matter what, they are definitely an eye catcher. There are many types, some are design for the floor, side table, chandelier, and they even have the candle holders! Pretty, pretty, pretty! And their prices too, are depending on their sizes. For a bedside table lamp, normally the price starts from 40TL, and if it’s for the ceiling, let’s say with a 7 pieces of lamp hanging from it, then it will cost you at least 250TL and above. And yes, the more lamp pieces it has, the more expensive it will be. But one good thing about it? You can ask for a mix color! If you’re feeling fancy, you can opt to choose 7 different colors and make a rainbow out of it! All that matters, money, money, money…
  • Turkish Tea Set – Well, this one too, depends on the design, for a standard Turkish tea set with minimal design it will be around 25TL – 30TL per box. There are a total of 6 cups and plates inside every box. And if you see something bling bling, that’s not the Turkish tea set, that’s the Turkish Coffee set, and yes, it does shine bright like a diamond :D. So, ka-ching!
  • Leather Coat – Okay, this one I really need to advise. I do not suggest you to buy leather coat in the Grand Bazaar. Most are either fakes, or they will have expensive prices. But then again, if you know about leather, be my guest.
  • Carpet – This is another crucial items. Same with the leather coat, Grand Bazaar is not the best place to buy these. You can find a more trustworthy place than the Grand Bazaar itself to buy a Carpet. You don’t want to pay a lot to get cheated don’t you? But, if you are an expert in Turkish Carpets, so again, be my guest.
  • Nuts – You better buy them at Tahtakale or Spice Bazaar. Where are these places? I will explain them later. Next!
  •    Spices – Nope, again, buy them at Spice Bazaar, there will be more choices around there.
  • TShirt – Yup, you can buy them, but again, bargain! Starting price for 2015 is 15TL per piece. But if you ask around, they will probably tell you 25TL per piece as an opening price.
  • Magnets & Keychain – Aha, you can buy these. The normal fridge magnets will be around 3-4TL per piece, 4 pieces for 10TL. Keychains are normally around 1TL per piece. A lot of people asked me before, “what is that blue eye thingy attached to most keychains?” That is called Nazar Bonju. The Evil Eye Bead.

About Nazar Bonju / Evil Eye Bead

Is a widely spread superstitious in Turkey whereby they believe that the Evil Eye Bead could guard them from an evil aura or intentions from others. It is said that the Evil Eye Bead originates from the myth about Medusa, whereby her eyes are known to be blue in color. Whenever people will stare straight into her eyes they will immediately turns into stone and ironically that’s how Medusa was killed, by staring straight into her own reflection on a shield of a warrior who was battling with her and Medusa then turned into stone. People then took upon the concept of this myth and that’s how you got the Evil Eye Bead. There is also rumor about it being originated from the Eye of Horus from the Ancient Egyptian mythology.

How to get to the Grand Bazaar? Just hop on the tramvay and get out at the Beyazit, Kapali Carsi station. There is another tourist attraction adjacent to the Grand Bazaar, it’s the main entrance of the Istanbul University which was built in 1453 by Sultan Mehmed II during the Ottoman Empire. So, go and march straight to that big entrance and don’t forget to take a selfie!

SPICE BAZAAR

Ok, Spice Bazaar, also known as the Egyptian Bazaar. Another one of the famous tourist attracations located in Eminonu just next to the New Mosque, Eminonu (Yeni Camii). Well, just as the name suggest, this place is full with spices. But of course, there’re other things are being sold here. But mostly you will find spice and Turkish Delight / Lokum.

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New Mosque, Eminonu / Yeni Camii

If you want to buy lokum here, especially those by kilogram, please do a little bit of bargaining. Not so much, but still try your luck. Trust me, the standard ready-packed Turkish Delight is around 10-15TL depending on the flavour. But if you want something a little bit different, then go ahead and try those that are lined up neatly. There are so many types to choose from (not to mention more modern and trendy flavour) and what’s more important, a lot of them are made with 100% honey instead of sugar.

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Pomengranate & Pistachio Turkish Delight with Honey and Rose Petals

But just beware of the price. The sarting price for lokum made with honey are roughly around 80TL/kg. Normally I will just buy around 200g just for myself and it takes quite a while to finish it and you don’t have to worry much since this thing doesn’t get spoiled easily. Spice Bazaar is actually not that big compared to the Grand Bazaar. Adjacent to the Spice Bazaar, there are shops selling various kind of cheese, dry meats, pickles and also fish. Even though the Spice Bazaar is relatively small from the Grand Bazaar, there is an interesting place just right behind it. Want to know more? Read below!

TAHTAKALE

Psstt.. Do you want to know? Tahtakale is one of the cheapest place in Istanbul. Located just right behind the Spice Bazaar, Tahtakale is a place where most Turks will come and shop. From coffee to Turkish Delight, nuts, kitchenware birthday party’s decorations, decorated boxes, cheap chocolates sold in bulk, clothes, jackets, dumb bell and even a hoe! (No, not that kind of hoe, the garden hoe!)

So how to get there? Let’s say if you enter the Spice Bazaar from its main door, just walk straight until you will reach the end and get out from that door in the end and you will start to smell that beautiful coffee smell, and you will be at the Tahtakale area. If you are a coffee lover, make sure you buy that Mehmet Efendi Coffee from its stand here, it’s extremely cheap compared to those sold in the Sultanahmet area. Anyway, if you decided to go to Tahtakale, you do not have to bargain that much. This is because everything sold here mostly are sold at a very cheap rate compared to other places.

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Tahtakale

MAHMUTPAŞA

Ok, now this is another interesting spot for shopping. If Tahtakale is situated right behind the Spice Bazaar, Mahmutpasa is located right behind the Grand Bazaar, adjacent to Tahtakale. Over here you can find a lot of textiles. If you wish to buy the Turkish robe worn by the ladies here, you can find them here. If you come to this area from the Grand Bazaar, just walk straight down and you will reach the Eminonu, the place where the Spice Bazaar is located. In conclusion, Grand Bazaar is situated on the higher ground, and when you exit from the Grand Bazaar and walk downhill you will reach Eminonu. My advice is, don’t go the other way around unless your favorite sport is hiking!

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Mahmutpasa

Just a reminder, all items sold in the Grand Bazaar are not that easy to get in other parts of Istanbul, except in those tourist areas along the tramvay line from the Grand Bazaar station, passing the Cemberlitas, Sultanahmet, Gulhane, Sirkeci and finally Eminonu. So if you would like to buy touristic souvenir, just buy them from those area, don’t tire yourself lol.

Ok, I think this is enough for now. If you like this article, just follow my blog for more interesting posts about Istanbul. Till then, görüşürüz!