My trip to Turkey was a quick one.
In planning our trip to Lisbon from New York, the only airline offering a fare that was even close to reasonably priced was Turkish Airlines, and, being a Turkish carrier, the majority of their international flights include a layover in Istanbul. Now, Istanbul is most definitely not on the way to Lisbon when you are coming from New York. In fact, it is almost laughably out of the way, but in the interest of saving about $400 on the airfare and getting in a short trip to Istanbul, we decided to take the plunge.
Our layover only gave us 21 hours in the city, so we just decided to see the best known sites and save the rest for another trip. After being there for less than a day I can now say that I will most definitely be back, because even the little taste that we got of the place was incredible.
After a ridiculously short night of sleep in a hot, smelly hostel, and a very early wake-up call facilitated by the azan of the Blue Mosque and some very noisy seagulls, we took off to make our rounds. Our first stop was a quick run-through of aforementioned Mosque, followed by a trip to Hagia Sophia, which was shockingly beautiful. Then we had an obligatory visit to the Spice Market, where we stuffed ourselves with free samples of Turkish delight and some fabulous, sweet apple tea before heading over to the main event. The Grand Bazaar.
I feel like I wanted to go to the Grand Bazaar before I ever really knew what it was. When I was little, the idea of a bazaar, any bazaar, was so exciting and so exotic that I always fantasized about the possibility of exploring one and picking up all kinds of wonderful things to bring home.
Unfortunately, after a week in Portugal where I eagerly snapped up all kinds of ham, canned fish, seasoned salt, and other goodies, I had very little room left in my one bag. In the end, that didn’t stop me, but the initial hope of finding the perfect compact souvenir from Turkey led me to a few stalls selling these:
After a bit of poking around, I learned that these are peshtamals (peştamal in Turkish), or hammam towels. They are basically vey soft, very thin towels that come in a variety of beautiful colors and shapes, and they can be used for just about anything, from actual towel to scarf to beach blanket to tablecloth. They are made to be portable, lightweight, absorbent, and fast drying, which makes them awesome for all kinds of things.
One of the most practical souvenirs I ever brought home was a picnic blanket that I bought on a whim in Paris and now use ALL THE TIME like six years later, so I thought this could be a very useful gift to myself. It also is overall a very practical travel item as it can be used for a million different things without taking up too much room in your suitcase. I’ve gotten used to traveling with some kind of lightweight cloth that can be used as a towel or blanket while traveling, starting first with a cheap sarong, then graduating to a more durable microfiber camp towel (quite possibly in one of the best purchases I’ve ever made), and it’s shocking how convenient it can be to have something like that with you on the road. I love my REI towel, but a peshtemal is a much more fashionable alternative, and almost as compact. If there is any possibility of having a beach visit or an impromptu picnic, either at home or while traveling, I love to have something like this in my bag.
I ended up buying a lovely, soft, white and light blue one and my friend picked up two more in other colors. They packed down into nothing and were the perfect soft blanket on the lonnnnng plane ride back to San Francisco. Even better, they were cheap! About $6 or $7 each, which, for the quality that we got, is a lot better than what you can find online in the states, though there seem to be some good deals available on Etsy.
My only regret is that I didn’t get more! I ended up buying a set of actual Turkish cotton bath towels that were not very practical for packing into a tiny suitcase, but I probably should have invested in a few more peshtemals instead. Right now I’m using mine as a throw in my bedroom, mainly because I don’t want to get the pretty little thing dirty, but I might have to bust it out and use it as an actual towel come summer.
Istanbul was absolutely overflowing with wonderful things that could be brought home as gifts, but if you’re looking for something easy and practical that’s not a food item, a peshtamal is the way to go! For more information on where to get them while at the Grand Bazaar, see here or here, or just look around for a while, you’re bound to see them all over the place.