Travel Writing In Retrospect: The Grand Bazaar

Hugh Coates

Nowadays, not alot of travel literature is based on memories as far back as mine. While my own stories may lack the veracity of someone like Frank Gardner’s book ‘Far Horizons’, as I write this 11 years on, I hope that you will still find them full of regalement and adventure.

At the age of 9, I lived in a small village in Turkey called Zekeriyaköy. It was a village overidden with the villas of Turkey’s affluent but devoid of the excitement and adventure to conjure the imagination of a young boy. Fortunately though, we lived in close proximity to the vibrant and exciting city of Istanbul. This tale begins in the place which encapsulates all that is good about Istanbul and indeed, the whole of Turkey: a place of all colours, smells and interesting people – the Grand Bazaar.

I was intrigued, being an unusually frugal child, to find out if there was merit in the claim that you couldn’t leave the Bazaar without buying something – I was determined to buck the trend. To be clear, the aforementioned claimer was not suggesting that all those who failed to make a purchase were shepherded into a pen somewhere and forced to buy a meerschaum pipe. They were referring to the general allure of the place, and they were not wrong. There truly is something there for everyone, whether that is an expertly faked Real Madrid shirt or a pashmina. And even if by some miracle nothing catches your eye, you still have to navigate your way through regiments of some of the most persuasive people I’ve ever encountered. Seriously though Sir Alan Sugar/Donald Trump, if you want a handy apprentice, look no further than the Grand Bazaar – those guys could sell Welsh wine to a Frenchman.

It was within the Grand Bazaar that I encountered one the more peculiar idiosyncrasies of the Turkish people. Somebody had brushed my hair with their hand as I walked down one of the many covered streets, I had noticed it but not made anything of it. The Grand Bazaar is a busy place after all, a bit of hair contact was perhaps inevitable, maybe? As the day wore on, I became acutely aware that what I had originally taken to be an accidental brushing was in fact a concerted effort, on the part of what seemed to be everyone in the Bazaar, to examine/caress my blonde locks. Flattering as this now seems, at the time this ordeal was hugely stressful. It turned out that my Scandinavian hair shade were something of a novelty to the locals. The pinnacle of my embarrassment arose at the end of the day, when, to my horror, one enterprising Turkish gentlemen approached my father in order to negotiate a suitable price to take me off his hands. The smile on both men’s faces, human rights law as it was, and still is, as well as the fact that the agreed upon currency was to be camels, should have told me that this negotiation was in fact a farce…

You cannot hope to effectively describe the Grand Bazaar in words. Hopefully my experience will have tempted and possibly dissuaded some into visiting one of the most of bizarre….and beautiful places I have ever been fortunate enough to behold.