Our afternoon in Istanbul was more laidback but just as insightful when it came to seeing, living and better understanding Turkish culture. I love spending time in a foreign city doing what the locals do, not necessarily traipsing from one museum to another, though of course, the historical sites and museums are musts. But I much prefer mixing and mingling with locals and getting caught up in their daily activities.

So after lunch, we strolled.

First stop: Sevan Bicacki. The local jewelry designer is rapidly gaining international attention and his pieces are exquisite. He currently has stores in Istanbul and Dubai with plans for expansion into the United States. Visit sevanbicakci.com for more information.

Strolling the streets of Istanbul, vendors selling all kinds of food are everywhere. From fresh fruits and vegetables to pretzels, bagels and these fragrant roasted chestnuts, the options are plentiful.

The Grand Bazaar is nothing like I had expected. Anticipating a typical souk, I was surprised to see that not only was the market fully covered (not open-air as I’d thought), but that it was relatively quiet and … orderly. I anticipated something more chaotic, more aggressive but the Grand Bazaar is a lovely and uniquely Turkish place to explore. You’ll find vendors selling all kinds of wares like handmade, hand-painted dishware, souvenirs, and bigger-ticket items like handmade carpets, THE thing to buy in Istanbul if you can afford it and aren’t intimidated by the prospect of getting it home.

The Spice Market sells every manner of fresh and fragrant spice. I couldn’t help myself … I had to stop and purchase a small and pricey amount of saffron for a risotto dish I love to make. You’ll find more than just spices here; stop for an ice cream or a freshly baked dessert like lokma or Turkish baklava.

As I mentioned, handmade rugs are one of the most popular souvenirs to bring home from Turkey. Punto of Istanbul (Tel: 0212-511-08-53) sells fine rugs and artifacts. To describe the reception I received there as friendly would be an enormous understatement. Customers are offered tea and a comfortable seat to view and choose the rug that’s right for them.

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