I do recommend that if Turkey is a stop on your journey, save a good chunk of your souveneir budget for Istanbul. If you like buying the knock-off stuff (the good-quality knock-off stuff, not the low-quality stuff) Instanbul is the place to find it. The grand bazaar in Instanbul is massive and you can find just about anything there. Or, if original/authentic souveneirs are more your style, there is a market called Taxim that had quite a few local vendors selling hand-made jewellery, paintings, etc.
We passed through Izmir on our way to see the House of Mary and Ephesus. We made one stop at a ceramic “factory”, which is kinda cool if you’re into that sort of thing or appreciate authentic, hand-crafted art. Honestly, that might be the only thing to see in the city, even so and I don’t suggest going out of your way to see it.
The House of Mary
We passed through Izmir on our way to see the House of Mary and Ephesus. I have to be honest and say the House of Mary wasn’t very impressive, and that’s from a not-so-religious kinda guys’ point of view. If you are very religious, there’s obviously a more sentimental value you’ll get from visiting this site.
What I disliked the most was that it was a big sell out. You pay to visit the site (fine, because the local tourism has to sustain itself via marketing, security, etc, which doesn’t come cheap). But the worst part was immediately after you exit the House of Mary the vendors (hustlers) are lined up forming a guantlet of shops selling Virgin Mary keychains, plates, playing cards, tshirts, hats, magnets, stickers, you name it.
What’s worst is the “prayer wall”. The Prayer Wall i just a little ways away from the sacred spring (which has healing powers – the place to go if you need a miracle). Visitors can write a prayer on paper and stick it on the wall in the hopes of an answer. It’ll cost you two bucks.
Before visiting Istanbul, I heard comments that the bazaars/markets are dangerous and that there are pick-pocketers everywhere. I also hear the vendors will scam you and rip you off. When you hear this sort of thing you really keep your head on a swivel and keep an eye out for suspicious looking characters. While wandering the markets, I never once felt at risk of getting robbed, nor did I “see” any sign of danger whatsoever. Tourists I talked to hadn’t experienced any problems either. I had vendors offer the shade of the seat right behind their counter & till, offer me tea, water, and even given things to me for free. That kind of hospitality is rare. These people earn a living off tourists, and they sure want to protect their reputation and make their markets as tourist-friendly as possible. They don’t “hustle”, they “bargain”, it’s the way they do business over there, “what’s it worth to you…make me an offer” kind of stuff. There’s definitely going to be crime (there is anywhere you go) just use common sense, be polite, respectful, and try not to do anything stupid.
For the record, I’ve travelled to over 25 countries and the only time I’ve ever been mugged was right at home in Edmonton Alberta Canada, not Istanbul, Cairo, Czech, or any third world country.