In Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar men sit passing the time of day on low stools, prayer beads dripping from their fingertips. Tea is delivered in tiny glass and filigree cups, delivered on a tray.
Nearby at this extensive covered market a rug seller sits on a great pile of kilims, completely surrounded like an Arabian Nights story.
Outside the bazaar, through the haberdashery quarter and into the Christmas decoration street, I soon find the fragrant delights of the Spice Bazaar. There are towers of nougat, pyramids of spices, dishes of chestnuts, baskets of dried flowers and tubs of Turkish delight.
But there are also an overwhelming number of souvenir shops and a surprising sense of tacky glamour.
Exploring the local markets is an essential part of travel in Turkey, and nowhere more so than in the capital of Istanbul. The European side of Istanbul has so much to see that many visitors fail to cross the Bosphorus to discover the Asian side.
This fascinating geographical point has traditionally divided Europe and Asia. The ferry is a solid old thing, with wooden seats and panelling and vendors selling cups of fresh yoghurt dusted with icing sugar.
The Asian side of Istanbul was actually settled a few years before its neighbour across the straits on the Golden Horn. Pulling in next to the impressive Haydarpasa Station, the sun pours through the beautiful stained glass windows of the elaborate 1908 building.
Up the hill is the massive Selimiye Barracks, where Florence Nightingale famously walked the wards with her lamp during the Crimean War. But it’s plunging into the market streets that reveals the true contrast.
On Istanbul’s Asian side the shopkeepers take great pride in displaying their wares in the lovely streets of Kadikoy up the hill from the bustling waterfront.
Stacks of giant broccoli and celery are carefully arranged alongside shoals of shining fish and layers of vine leaves.
The streets are festooned with reddening grapevines and meals of pilaf and kebab come with glasses of sherbet and black mulberry. Loads are carried by basket on a special carpet-covered harness.
This is where Istanbullus live and, although the Asian side of Istanbul may not have the famous sights, it is all the more authentic for that.
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you been to Istanbul? Did you cross to the other side?