Istanbul - SCA Shopping Paradise
by Kharajin of Turku

More and more, SCA folk are making their way to Istanbul. The layers of history there are stunning; Byzantium to the Ottoman Empire. Everyone who goes to Istanbul knows about the Grand Bazaar; but most have no idea what it has to offer until they find themselves wandering with their jaws hanging wide open.

It's not just for belly dancers anymore. Just a dozen years ago, only caberet style belly dancers could get outfitted there easily. Since then many Afghani merchants have moved into tiny stalls in the bazaar with kuchi dripping from every surface, as well as textiles and tribal stuff you never knew existed. They are slowly beginning to understand what the tribal dancer is looking for; and they are doing their best to make it available. For the serious Ottoman persona, the search is trickier. One thing that is getting easier to find is Ottoman and other Central Asian textiles by the yard. Why? One reason is suprising. Muhteşem Yüzyıl is a wildly popular Turkish TV show about Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. The costuming is not at all accurate, but has none the less spurred a mania for all things Ottoman here. You can see many dresses in the bridal shop windows made in the fashion of the times. Some look like Mardi Gras floats, some are just about SCA legal and gorgeous. There is also some mind boggling jewelry coming out of this craze.

To find the Afghani merchants, head towards the back of the Bazaar. For the textiles, go to the same area and then head out one of the back gates and walk downhill on Uzun çarşı. Also check out Arasta Bazaar beside the Blue Mosque. Another wonderful thing to be found in the Grand Bazaar, especially in the antique bazaar, are antique metal belts and buckles. You can find lovely little pillbox caps with old gold embroidery, shoes, and pouches.
Oh yeah, pouches. Good luck picking one. There are purses and pouches for most persona available in the bazaar. Simple leather ones of all sizes to embroidered silk and Central Asian textile bags.

Armor? Yes. Head to the back of the bazaar to the metal workers courtyards for militaria. Swords, helmet replicas, shields, battle standards, occasional chain mail (usually antique). One wonderful thing I've been spotting lately is Central Asian bows; the small kind that is not hard to get home with. Not sure of their usability. Also to be found in the metalworker's shops are hookahs, cezve (Turkish coffee pot), tankards and other feast gear, lanterns, toppers for pavillions, trays and tables, braziers, lamps (candle and oil), stuff you didn't know you needed til you spotted it. How'd you like to cook on this at Pennsic?

Books. You will find books that you will pay $200 for even though they're in Turkish. Go to the bookstore on Isteklal street and hit the gift shops in the museums. Musical instruments, hit the Galata tower area. Drop spindles, hit the antique stores in Çukercuma.
I know I've left plenty out, but you get the idea. Use your baggage to bring extra empty baggage.

One bit of advice for Belly Dancers wandering Istanbul; it's unwise to tell everyone you meet that you belly dance. Many Turks equate it with prostitution and will regard you accordingly. Many dancers come here with a naive view of dance. Of course, to us, it's an art form; an empowering self-expression. That is not how it is seen here. in general.

More information, shopping advice, and blogs on travel to Istanbul can be found on TurkuGuide.com