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Istanbul – Shopping Delight

It is quite a different experience to shop in Turkey. I am surprised that Istanbul has not obtained a shopping city status such as NYC since there are so many shopping centres and markets.

The experience from the beginning is different. What stood out was the level of security at shopping centres. Your car boot is checked by a security guard before you enter the car park and when you enter the main doors, you walk through a scanner similar to what you see in an airport. It is strange at first because you wonder why it is necessary and aftertime it seems quite pointless.

The Turkish culture of welcoming strangers is present while shopping as you are greeted with ‘hosgeldiniz’ (welcome) when you enter a shop. Istanbul is known for its oriental shopping markets but less known for its modern shopping malls. These are the places where you can avoid all that haggling. The main issue is that such shops aren’t usually in the areas where tourists go, so you need to know where to go and plan in advance.

Firstly before you know about the shopping centres/areas, know some of the Turkish brands. If you are going to shop in Istanbul don’t limit yourself to the known western brands. Turkish designers are just as good.

High budget/designer labels –  Vakko, Beymen, Pasabahce

Mid budget – Mavi Jeans, Koton, adL

Low budget –  De facto, Lc Waikiki

There are two areas which I will state firstly because they are not shopping centres but they are the location of many good shops. Bagdat caddesi is located on the asian side of Istanbul and it really does have a different vibe. It is the only place in Istanbul where I have seen Topshop. You will find many Turkish shops here but also many western shops from Zara to Louis Vuitton. If you are staying on the asian side its a must to visit here not even for shopping but for the cafe’s.
The second area is Abdi Ipekci Street, in Nisantasi. This is a street of luxury brands. Not for the shopper on a budget, it hosts shops such as Prada, Cartier, Chanel and Burberry.

Now onto the shopping centres. Wherever you stay in Istanbul you will be near one but they aren’t all alike. Istanbul is so vast and expands way beyond what most tourists get to see such as the sultanahmet area. It is important to plan ahead and know which are for you.

Akmerkez – located in Etiler. It is a complex of shopping centres and private residences like a lot of shopping centres in Turkey. This makes the most of land in a city which is running out of land to build on. Of course this has come at a social cost and causes concern amongst many groups in society. It is mostly expensive and is located in an expensive neighbourhood. There is a lot of hype surrounding this shopping centre which I personally don’t understand. It has a mix of shops but unless you can afford to splash I would go elsewhere.

Istinye Park – I find this is really the perfect combination of high priced stores and low priced stores. I love the whole design and architecture of the centre. Outside the shopping centre there is an area with the designer shops like Louis Vuitton. Inside you will find everything from Mavi Jeans to H&M. The only disadvantage is that it is quite far being in the north of Istanbul in an area called Sariyer. Yet it does have a metro link nearby so if you are in an area where the metro is then it is really useful. Avoid the busy hours of commuting though because Istanbul is hectic at those times.

Kanyon – I have never been but it is known for its architecture. The name kanyon comes from the English for canyon due to its architectural design. It is located in the Levent area.

Forum Istanbul – I love this shopping centre. It is big and is host to many shops. The design inside feels airy but because it is so big everything seems a bit confusing at first with all the turns and different levels. It is great for transport as the metro leaves you outside. If you want to visit IKEA it is just located across from the centre.

Marmara Forum –  probably my favourite mainly because I go there a lot. It is one of the biggest. I read before that it is also host to the largest Carrefour in Europe and I don’t think it has changed since. This shopping centre is located in Bakirkoy near Merter.

Olivium – this one is for the bargain hunters. It is an outlet centre and has great reductions on last seasons wear. You will find Turkish brand shops as well as western shops like Mango and Nike. A lot of tourists seem to go there and there is a currency exchange inside the centre. It is located in the Zeytinburnu district of Istanbul.

Fly Inn – I have such good memories of Fly Inn because I often go there with my partner . It is so great because not only can you do some shopping but you have a great view of the airport. Shopping wise it is small but there are good shops like nine west and marks and spencers. There are cafes you can sit in which gives you a view of the runway. Be warned though that when the plane takes off, its noisy and you have to stop your conversation for a minute. Lovely place for an afternoon lunch break. It is located in Yesilkoy right next to the airport! It is a bit tricky by transport since it is on the other side of the airport where the metro doesn’t go. Best to go by bus.

Galleria – it is one of the older shopping centres but also one of the first big shopping centres so it is an important part of the history of shopping centres in Istanbul. It is a sophisticated mall and inside the layout is spacious. This centre is host to mostly Turkish brands and the few foreign brands are on the high scale of budgets like Armani Jeans. It is located in Atakoy beside the Sheraton hotel and near the seaside so it is worthwhile staying in this area.

There are other great shopping centres too like Capacity in Bakirkoy. Bakirkoy in itself is a hub for shopping centres. The Levent area is so urbanised that there seems to be a shopping centre every few feet.  Be aware that a lot of skyscrapers contain shopping centres on their ground floors but they are extensive like other shopping centres.

One thing about the shopping centres in Turkey is that they are open to late. Most people from Europe will probably be used to seeing shops close on the weekdays at 7. Not in Istanbul. Shops generally stay open until 10 and sometimes 11. Of course it is good for us but hard for the workers. On the weekend Turkish people love to go to shopping centres so if you have no patience for crowds plan accordingly. The best time to go is on a weekday in the early afternoon so that way you avoid morning and evening traffic. Of course if you don’t need to use public transport or a taxi then you are more flexible in your times. Keep in mind every year in the summer there is an Istanbul Shopping Fest which is a big sale season. Great for the shopaholics. Other important sale seasons are generally after ramadan and after eid ul adha (known as kurban bayrami in Turkey).

I will write a separate post for the markets in Turkey because that is a whole different shopping experience.

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Bayram Bustle

Bayram

I did say that I was going to write again about guest culture in Turkey and I couldn’t think of a better explanation other than Bayram. For those of you still getting used to Turkey Bayram means a holiday and there are many of them throughout the year but two of them are more significant than others. The first is the Bayram that follows the Ramadan month of fasting known as Şeker Bayramı (Eid ul Fitr in Arabic/Sugar Feast in English). The second is Kurban Bayramı (Eid Ul Adha in Arabic/ Feast of the Sacrifice in Turkish). There is lots of information about the religious meaning of these holidays which I recommend you read if you are learning about Turkish culture. What I would like to discuss is the way in which these holidays are celebrated in Turkey.

There is a great atmosphere in the days leading up to Bayram in Turkey as the women prepare planning their food feasts. There is a lot of borek, dolma and a lot of cakes. Shop like koska are popular during this time of year. Koska is a shop which sells lots of sweets such as Turkish delights..basically it’s a candy lovers heaven. Although the bayram after Ramadan is known as the sugar feast, you eat just as much sweets during both! Obviously the meat which comes from the sacrificed animal during Kurban Bayramı plays an important part of the meals. I remember how I wanted to go to see the animal being sacrificed and everyone looking at me as if I was strange. I thought that it was a family event which everyone goes to. When my father in law came back with blood on his clothes and they explained how the streets are very bloody, I was glad I didn’t go. I was quite surprised at how little religious meaning both holidays have. It is a little like Christmas in Ireland where nobody really knows what they are celebrating and it is more about the presents.

This brings me to my next point. Bayram is pretty much a getaway time. Last Seker Bayrami I was returning from Greece. It was on a Friday too which made it worse. Oh how I hated Istanbul that day…it was unbearable. We entered Istanbul on the coach and we were stuck in traffic for 3 hours. Yes 3 hours just in Istanbul. We never even made it to the Otogar as we had to walk the last bit of the way since traffic had literally stopped. It was a pure nightmare. Everyone deserts Istanbul during Bayram either for a holiday or because they originally come from a different part of the country where their family still live. It reminds me of an article I read by Ahmet Hakan, who writes for Hurriyet Daily News. He was discussing why people should stay in Istanbul during Bayram and I couldn’t agree more. In his words:

First reason is that you kind of fly to Bebek from Nişantaşı in six minutes. You pass through deserted bridges. You walk along İstiklal Street without bumping into anybody.

Second reason is that whichever restaurant or café you step it, it is as if you have rented the entire venue to throw a private party for your own self and your friends.

The third reason is that in every step you take, in every breath you take, you remember the enormous crowds in Bodrum and Çeşme and say to yourself, “I’m so glad I stayed here…”

He is so right. It is actually the most peaceful time of the year in Istanbul. No traffic, what more could you ask for?

Now on to more annoying things. Even though the streets are peaceful, you will likely be visiting homes and they will be crowded. For older relatives you visit you should kiss their hand and then touch it to your forehead. This was so awkward at first. I remember a few times I put their hand to my forehead and then would kiss. It is still strange for me. After years of not much physical contact with guests in my own culture it is a big change to kiss and hug everyone you don’t even know very well never mind kissing hands. It brings you out of your comfort zone but you just have to push yourself to overcome your own beliefs. If you make it awkward, it will be awkward for them. For them this is completely normal so you have no reason to feel you are doing something strange. This is harder said than done of course. We often are stubborn in our own ways even though we may complain about how Turks are not willing to compromise on cultural issues. How willing are we to change though is a question we must ask ourselves a lot when we live in a different environment.

My status of ‘gelin’ means work at Bayram. Visitors come and I must serve them tea. It annoys me that they don’t have cups like we have in Ireland, it would certainly save me more trips to the kitchen. I just can’t relax when there are several people drinking tea in such small glasses and you have to watch who finishes. However this is the least of my worries. You will have visitors all day coming and going and you will be running around the place serving everyone. Even though it is good that visitors won’t stay long because they have other houses to visit, it is negated by the volume of visitors. We are much more laid back about visitors in Ireland. Come in, do you want a cup of tea? Ah that is grand sit back and let’s have a chat. I don’t feel like that In Turkey. I often find when guests come or when you go to their home there is a lot of showing off in Turkey. Everything has to be in perfect order and comments on food are very important. There is always one older aunt who has to say something like it isn’t salty or it is too salty. You know the ones you can’t impress. The days leading up to Bayram involve a complete cleaning of the home in areas you didn’t think existed.

Anyway usually by the last day you have time for yourself to go and enjoy the day in Istanbul. One year we actually spent our day travelling to Heybeliada. Such a great time of the year to go to the Princes Islands, which in themselves need a separate post. Another thing people like to do during Bayram is visiting the graveyard of loved ones who have passed away.

I would like to experience Bayram in a smaller town in Turkey to see the differences between there and Istanbul. I wonder is it a more religious experience or is it the same. Anyway if you do spend time in Istanbul during Ramadan just be aware of a few things. Do not leave everything to the day before Bayram as banks and shops are very busy during this time. If you plan to leave Istanbul for Bayram, please travel 2 days before and not the day before because you will be stuck in traffic for hours. If you really can’t do this then go very early in the morning, very early! In my opinion though, you should spend time in Istanbul during Bayram because you can get around so much better and it won’t be as crowded.