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Bare bums and books

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I’ve a thing for markets. I can spend hours sifting through other people’s junk. The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul was high on my list of places to see. What I hadn’t bargained for though, was the matryoshka effect. Just like the Russian nesting dolls, the Grand Bazaar opened on to other, much smaller, delights.

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I wandered in through Gate 7 and came out through Gate 14. I have no idea how many gates there are but it is, apparently, the biggest indoor market in the world. And it’s impressive, with its 56 interconnecting vaulted passages, housing over 4000 shops.There’s even a website advising you how to prepare for the experience (which, of course, I found after I’d been).

It’s a warren of small boutiques and stalls selling everything imaginable and more. I had a few moments of blind panic when I lost my way and couldn’t remember from which direction I’d come, so that was a tad distracting. But for the most part, while the glitz was something to be seen, on my market meter it ranked a 6. It takes more than bare bums to impress me.

The joy came later, when wandering through the maze of streets surrounding the bazaar, I ventured through an archway, went around a corner, and came across the Sahaflar Çarşısı, a second-hand book bazaar.

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I let out an audible gasp of awe when I happened upon this quiet courtyard lined with booksellers, a welcome respite from the heaving crowds two streets over. Its only drawback (from a selfish, mono-linguist tourist’s point of view) was that there was nothing in English, other than English language primers. [Mind you, I did find an English-language bookshop later and man were those books expensive – my quest for translated contemporary Turkish fiction will have to wait.]

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And then, through another archway, I found my Mecca – a flea market. Give me blankets on the ground over stalls and boutiques any day. What was interesting was  that all the sellers were men. Not a woman in sight, other than those buying. In the calm light of a waning afternoon sun, these men just hung around chatting. Some deals were struck but for the most part, men on their hunkers passed the time of day, smoking and drinking coffee. Despite the cacophony of conversation, it was a tranquil place, a social place, one where I’d imagine you’d come in search of solutions to all sorts. Were I living locally, I’d be a regular.

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