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.

Hugh Rants: The Zebra Crossing Conundrum

Hugh Coates

This next gripe of mine is I’m sure quite familiar to the majority of you. As an impoverished student sustaining himself on the thoroughly underwhelming pay of a waiter, the use of motorized transport is a privilege. As a result, I am often necessitated to join the walkways of Great Britain.

Taking to the footpaths and pavements is in no way demeaning to me nor is it that much more of a hindrance to my day-to-day life as it currently stands. In fact, there is really nothing much to complain about when it comes to using one’s legs to propel yourself from A to B…well, actually there is just one thing.

Pavement congestion of an inner city is logical, you can’t help it. Homeless people practically tugging at your purse strings as you shuffle into Primark doesn’t get under my skin. I can even restrain myself when getting cut-up by a kamikaze cyclist. There is, however, just one aspect in the wanderings of a pavement-traveller that truly astounds me. I am referring to the strange social conventions surrounding those familiar black and white walkways that allow us to safely navigate across a road. Zebra crossings.

My complaint has nothing to do with the way in which you take you’re life into your own hands when navigating these black and white death traps. I have come to accept that you cannot simply expect a car to stop at a Zebra crossing, this is modern-day natural selection which I am merely adapting to. What I do fail to comprehend, is the the ambiguous motorist-pedestrian relationship at this point in our journey. Here we have a recognizable feature of the Highways, one that, if the narrow pass in my theory test has taught me, gives pedestrians the right of way over road users and requires them to stop by law. So why then do some people, including me on occasion, wave to thank these apparently charitable road users for abiding by the recognized laws of this country and indeed of most others?

It is something the more you think about, the more ludicrous this action becomes. To pluck a most extreme comparison, it would be like walking down the high-street, stopping random people and publicly applauding them for not assailing you. Why do we thank people for something they are supposed to do? There just isn’t a reasonable explanation for expressing gratitude towards someone for not maiming you with there vehicle as you saunter down to One-Stop. Maybe people just like saying thankyou.

To date, my most far-fetched conclusion is that there is a widely held idea of a very immediate form of karma. That it has now become mandatory to thank road users as some sort of courtesy to the next pedestrian, and failing to do so may result in said motorist going on a demonic rampage running-down frail old ladies on Zebra crossings across the land.

I am still very confused by this behaviour….