Saturday, June 21, 2014

Gold in Istanbul

Following the theme of a post I wrote a few years back (Gold in Japan, October 2010) I thought I'd write up a short travel blog on some precious metal related highlights from recent overseas travels (Istanbul via Kuala Lumpur).

I flew to Istanbul via Kuala Lumpur (from Adelaide). The flight from Kuala Lumpur to Istanbul was on Qatar Airways so had a stopover at Hamad International Airport (Doha, Qatar). The airport only opened earlier this year and is very impressive. Along with rows of Apple computers setup for use in family areas, giant TV screens and impressive internal architecture, I spotted this Gold jewellery store, simply marked as 'Au'.

'Au' at Doha (Hamad) International Airport
After landing in Istanbul, one of the first things I was keen to checkout was the Grand Bazaar which has some 3,000 shops and hundreds of thousands of visitors each day.

Approaching from the Galata Bridge side of the market, I was not disappointed as I walked up the hill to the markets (through tight city streets covered in stalls)... this path led me through what I could only describe as the 'Gold district' of Istanbul (although there may be others) with dozens of Gold jewellery stores adorning the streets.

The windows were absolutely packed with Gold necklaces, rings, bracelets and more. Some of the pieces were very intricate, others were quite simple, but almost all of it was of a high finesse with a large selection of 22 Karat, along with some 14 - 18 Karat. Very different to Australia where most jewellery store windows are filled with 9 Karat or even 'filled' pieces.

Once under the cover of the Grand Bazaar there were many bullion dealers (some of whom also did currency exchange), much of their inventory was similar between stores with lots of Nadir or Istanbul Gold Refinery bars and coins (mostly Gold, some Silver). Only the occasional foreign coins and bars were seen... I did spot these heavily worn Perth Mint coins in one of the windows...

Perth Mint Coins - Bullion Dealer Window @ The Grand Bazaar
I didn't purchase much as I was wary of being ripped off on any high value purchases (although I'm sure most of the jewellery stores there are reputable). All I picked up were these cheap 5 gram Silver bars as a memento:

Istanbul Gold Refinery - 5 Gram Silver Bars
While in Istanbul I also took a walk to the Turkish State Mint which was around a 5km walk from my accommodation near Galata Tower. From the outside the Mint was fairly nondescript and off the main streets, only a small window with coins and the word 'Darphane' meaning 'Mint' in Turkish were the giveaways.

Turskish State Mint - Retail Shop
Unfortunately I was unable to visit the museum which is onsite as it was closed (website was out of date with opening days and I didn't have time to return). The retail store had a few display cabinets, but was fairly unimpressive (relative to the Perth Mint & others I have visited). Most of their coins appeared culturally significant, the assistant in the shop didn't speak much English so I wasn't able to get much more information than prices on the coins. I purchased a 1 gram Gold coin (generic) and a 1 ounce sterling Silver coin celebrating the XVII Mediterranean Games - Mersin 2013.

On my way back from Istanbul I stayed a couple of nights in Kuala Lumpur and visited Berjaya Times Square Shopping Complex as there were a few coins stores listed. I was disappointed with only two of the stores being open and having very limited content, though the shopping centre itself was pretty impressive with a roller coaster running through some of the upper levels. I only bought a couple of trinkets in Kuala Lumpur, namely a certified (LOL!) Gold foil keyring and some fridge magnets.

It was a great trip and although I haven't covered the general tourist aspects of Istanbul in this post, I think it's a city well worth visiting if you ever have the opportunity (not only to see all the Gold).

View of Istanbul From Galata Tower

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