What I Brought Home: Istanbul

I am not much for souvenirs. Any dollar I spend on a thing could be better spent on an experience. I’d rather see, hear, eat, drink, and do what a place has to offer than purchase a little physical piece of it. However, sometimes my American-ness gets the best of me and I buy stuff. And, whether because it was fairly inexpensive or because I fell in love with the city like none other, I bought more than usual in Istanbul. Here’s what I brought home.

I hadn’t expected much from Topkapi Palace. I’m not sure why. Before I went, it seemed like it would be the Turkish version of Versailles–overblown and underwhelming. But I found it completely breathtaking. The designs of the tiles that cover the walls are so intricate and the colors so vivid, even after five hundred years. There are a million of these knock-off tiles in the bazaars of Istanbul, and it’s complete tourist trinket trash, and I don’t care, because it reminds me of the beautiful, authentic artistry I saw in the palace.

Ottoman spice was a wise choice. I knew I had to bring back something from the spice bazaar, and I couldn’t choose, so “Ottoman” seemed like the way to go. I’m going to try very hard to figure out what’s in it by tomorrow, so I can share a recipe with you.

Not pictured: Turkish delight. This was stupid. I don’t like Turkish delight. I don’t think many people outside of Narnia like Turkish delight. It’s sickening. But I felt like I had to buy some, as I was in, well, Turkey. I paid too much for it, lugged it home, intended to share it with my family, failed to do so, and then threw it out a few months later. The lesson here is: don’t buy anything because you’re “supposed to.”

Also not pictured: evil eye pendant. While I was in Istanbul, a friend of mine back home was going through some really hard times. I bought him an evil eye pendant, figuring that it couldn’t hurt. I don’t know how well it’s working, but last I heard he wasn’t possessed by demonic spirits, so I guess that’s pretty good. I don’t think it’s incumbent upon travelers to buy things for their friends–my mom actually hates when people do this, because she only wants things from places she’s been herself, which I can understand–but if you see something that jumps out at you as being perfect for someone, it’s awfully nice of you to pick it up.

Saving the best for last…

I bartered for this necklace in the Grand Bazaar with the whole traditional ceremony: sitting down with the owner in a tiny nook of a shop, looking through box after box of pendants, him buzzing for cups of strong tea that were delivered instantly by a boy with a brass tray, us making chit chat while also, vaguely, considering prices, back and forth, up and down, him agreeing to throw in a custom-cut chain for me. I’m not usually much for jewelry, but I love this necklace. More than that, I love the memory of buying it. I don’t care that it was somewhat scripted and the bazaar is all touristy and blah blah blah. It was an experience I’d never have anywhere else, and that alone was worth the price.

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