I didn’t want to be the tickmark tourist on my recent visit to London. Of course I still ended up doing a bunch of touristy things, of which the most fun was our Saturday morning spent exploring Portobello market. We had been advised to get there real early if shopping was on the cards, but too much wine and excellent company the previous evening ruled out that possibility. So we ended up strolling out of Notting Hill Gate tube station mid morning, eager to experience the famous Portobello all-day market. Here’s my quick run-down of what I loved about it, with some of the zillion pictures I clicked that day!
1- If you’re a crowd hater, don’t go! I loved the hustle and bustle, the jostling… and even the irate look on the face of a well turned out Londoner that had “Bah! Tourists!” written all over it!
2- The colours of Notting Hill and Portobello are so not London. It’s like being transported to the Mediterranean in the middle of England! Pastels and bright colours on building facades make me smile indeed! And the random details too…
3- The antique market is the best bit here, in my opinion. I bought an original map of India, circa 1820 for 40 pounds, quite a steal (Tip: Cash begets discounts)! And just pottering around this section made my day!
4- Food haven, indeed. From crepes to paella, there was quite a spread if you had the appetite!
5- The sheer length of it. Portobello is never ending or so it seemed. Lots to see, lots to do, if you have the patience and the spirit. And if you’re not here to buy, it’s all the more enjoyable with that pressure off!
I haven’t yet done two attempts at the same theme, but I remembered taking these pictures a year ago outside Russell Market in Bangalore. This is an interesting, dense, Muslim dominated area and I went there to see a burnt down historic market that the shop owners collective had decided to rebuild on their own!
Anyway, here are the hats!
We visited the Dastkar Nature Bazar on Saturday. It’s been my favorite place for pre-Diwali shopping in Delhi, followed by the Blind School mela. Blind School’s advantage always has been its fixed location. You know where to go and what to expect each year. Dastkar, on the other hand, keeps moving around and it’s not always convenient to get to. We skipped last year because I couldn’t get to Pragati Maidan.
This time though, the exhibition has moved to the Kissan Haat in Andheria Mod, near Chhatarpur Metro Station. Therefore, on Saturday morning, six of us, all women and all geared up to shop, hopped on at Huda City Centre to troop to the Dastkar Nature Bazar.
It didn’t disappoint. In fact, I thought this was a nice home for the exhibition and was delighted when someone mentioned that Dastkar had signed a 15 year lease for this space. I see no official announcement or press item to this effect though. I looked up to research what the Kissan Haat was originally built for. I always thought there was a mandi here, or some sort of direct selling farm produce type of establishment was going to be set up here. Whenever I drove by, I saw the signs and looked forward to such an announcement. Fresh produce markets would do so well in South Delhi!
But today, I found online that the government had failed to start this and finally decided, sometime during the Commonwealth Games preparation, to set this up as another Dilli Haat, replete with food stalls and crafts outlets. I suppose that is what they achieve by handing the space over to Dastkar. I don’t know what Dastkar plans. I heard there will be 4 exhibitions a year instead of an annual one.
For those of you who haven’t yet gone, do go! If not to buy, to just see. If you love handmade, hand crafted, hand loom; if you love original work and design; if you value authenticity; you will be happy here. Plus you have the satisfaction of buying directly from craftspeople of from organizations that work directly with them. I interacted with founder Laila Tyabji last year at the India Urban Conference at Mysore and was impressed with the depth of her knowledge of crafts-based livelihoods and her advise to urban practitioners on how to design and plan for such communities and how to integrate them into the economy. Here’s a link to a post wrote about her when she got the Padma Shri.
It’s on till November 9th. For pics etc, do check out the Dastkar Facebook page. Happy shopping!
Back in Gurgaon early this morning. I cannot deny it feels good to be home, but my mind still lives in Istanbul and the images will continue to play inside my head for some days to come. One post a day was insufficient to write about the myriad experiences and observations. But then if I had posted more, I wouldn’t be out there experiencing and observing, would I? And so I told myself to hold the thoughts in and keep writing once I’m back home.
So here’s a round-up of the rules that worked well for us for our 5-day halt in Istanbul.
Flexible itinerary works great: We did not pre-plan too much and we took no guided tours. Yet, we managed to see most stuff and some out of the way places, with sufficient time to spend everywhere. I hate the rush-rush tick mark style of tourism, so this suited me fine. But if you do want something more organized, the hop on hop off buses seemed the most suited to offer you flexibility while taking you everywhere.
Most of the heritage monuments are within walking distance of each other, in the Sultanahmet area- Aya Sofya, Blue Mosque, Hippodrome and Obelisk, Basilican Cistern and the Topkapi Palace and museum complex. As a UNESCO World Heritage City, Istanbul ensures all the main monuments are well marked. Entry fees are not exorbitant, 25TL (TL=Turkish Lira, approx equivalent to Rs 30 as of now) for Aya Sofya and Topkapi and 10TL for most other places. Some exquisite areas like the Sultan’s Tombs and Gulhane Park are free.
Best experienced on foot: Do pack sturdy walking shoes. We walked for hours everyday. The scale of the old city is perfect for exploring it on foot and public transport takes you everywhere else, mostly.
Eat when hungry: Food is everywhere in this city. It’s affordable, nutritious and freshly cooked. A street side cafe cost us about 12-15 TL for a main course dish (kebabs are delicious), say under 50 TL for an entire meal for a couple minus alcohol. Chai/cold drink costs about 4 TL. Bottled water about 1 TL. I recommend the freshly squeezed orange (malta, actually) juice if you go in summer, costlier but super refreshing! Fancier places cost us about 100-200 TL for both of us, when we were drinking wine, which is expensive. The variety of street food (nuts, corn(misir), a jalebi type sweet, sesame bread (simit), etc) and food in general is delightful and I’ll pen more on that later.
Use public transport, it’s hassle free: We bought an Istanbul card, which can be used on the tram, the ferry and the buses. You can keep charging it for as much as you want at a multitude of corner stores. A trip costs about 1.5-2TL, depending on the time of the day. Trams run frequently and cover most tourist landmarks. Easy to find transport till about midnight. If you’re far from your hotel for dinner, try and wind up by eleven to be on the safe side. We didn’t use taxis at all, but they’re everywhere in case you miss the trams. Ferries are highly recommended. Being out on the water with the cool wind whipping my face was a great feeling.
It’s easy to carry prams and wheeled baggage on the trams, as we found out while getting to the hotel when we arrived. We used a shuttle, basically a shared car to get to the airport yesterday, which worked out to about 23TL per person. My guess is that a cab would have cost us 60TL or thereabouts.
Be clear about your budget while shopping: Istanbul’s bazaars are great for shopping. Carpets and kilims can be expensive though, and the price differential is huge from one shop to another. It’s hard to tell the value for money in terms of what you get for what what you pay. It’s best to be clear about how much you are willing to spend upfront. Touting does happen, though they are not too aggressive and you can wiggle out without unpleasantness if you are firm and stand your ground. Ceramics, magnets and charms are easy buys, but feel free to haggle like you would in India!
Exchange money into TL as and when needed: There are plenty of places to exchange currency in Istanbul. We found the best rates near the Grand Bazaar. You do not need a passport or ID usually to exchange money, but you do need an ID (and photo ID) if you plan to hire an audio guide. No need to carry passports around. Best to leave them in the safety deposit box in your hotel room.
Totally safe: The best thing about Istanbul for me was the stress-free experience. Unlike even other European cities like Paris, Rome and Barcelona, we saw no pickpocket gangs, no pedlars of illegal wares fleeing from the police. We never felt unsafe even moving around at night on deserted streets (which were few, to be frank!).
I may have left some stuff out. Do feel free to ask if there is something specific you want to know. If you plan to go to Istanbul in the near future, have loads of fun! And if you don’t, do put in on your list. It’s worth it!
Istanbul has been an important trading hub for centuries and its bazaars are an important aspect of its ecosystem. We walked through a wholesale market not unlike Delhi’s Chandni Chowk to get to the Spice Bazaar, or as the locals call it Misir Charsisi, referring to the historical trade with Egypt in spices. Akin to Khari Bowli, which is located at one end of Chandni Chowk, the Spice Bazaar sells an amazing assortment of condiments. We got educated about several varieties of saffron and the shopkeeper actually dissolved a few grains of the fiest Iranian saffron in water to show us how magically the colour seeps out compared to Turkish and Spanish saffron, which are considered inferior. Indian Saffron, to my amusement, was not saffron at all in this market, but a name used to refer to haldi, or turmeric!
The Spice Bazaar, the Grand Bazaar as well as some other smaller little markets on the way are indoor bazaars that pulsate with activity inside beautiful living Ottoman structures, replete with details in paint and tilework, period light fixtures and much more. Well ventilated, the bazaars do not feel claustrophobic and an entire industry of cafes, food stalls and nargili (hooka) places thrive inside.
We ended up buying some ceramic work and were lucky to find English speaking locals who helped us find a good price and refer the right shops. Carpet and kilim traders were out to get us (in a gracious nice way, none of the pushing and shoving type of touting here!), but we escaped them after a short session of looking at some gorgeous old used Armenian and tribal kilims that had been brought in from the villages for restoration! Did not seem polite to photograph those, but they were similar to the durries we get in India, but with richer colors.
Advice to visitors here. Haggling is fine! We saw some kids for India doing it desi style and it worked pretty well!Find out prices from at least 3-4 shops if you want to buy ceramics, carpets or anything substantial price wise.
Whatever the excuse (a transportation glitch, meeting that gets over early, hunger pangs), finding yourself in a shopping mall on a working day with all the shops pretty much to yourself (and kids not around!) can be a fun experience! In my case, I’m not adept at shopping alone and I’m certainly no fashionsita, but window shopping I enjoy a lot! And people watching too!
I did end up buying footwear though, since clothes were out of bounds (on a diet, can’t buy clothes till I reach my target weight!). Here are some pictures I took using my iphone.