Monday, March 30, 2009

Sorry guys but I ate one of you!

Istanbul. An amazing city – I have never seen anything quite like it. It is a must see for anyone going to Europe – and we will be back.

(Yes I know – most of you Europeans have already been there but it is a long way from Australia).

It certainly knocked my socks off.

Our driver was Mehmet. This is the name of a great number of men in Istanbul – all of whom own or have connections with carpet shops.

Mehmet was the driver for Cate and Larry during their week in Istanbul so Cate and I decided to let our heads go and take him on for a day and a half so that we could see as much as possible. Cate was buoyed by the potential saving of $600 on the $46,000 carpet so was feeling pretty good.

I told her that I thought that once you left the store the rules were that you had to start again so this knocked her about a bit and made her ears bleed again but I said that, If we ever went into a carpet shop again, I would do the first 10 hours of negotiations and she cheered up immensely.

Mehmet was an outstanding guide and was very solicitous of us. (It was his avowed intention to get us to buy a rug and he was not about to let anyone else rob us until he had his go).

So anytime we tried to spend anything at all he would berate the merchant, or store owner, or potential guide and make them give us a discount.

His crowing achievement was when I bought a Simit (circular bread with Sesame seeds) for Cate. This cost 1 Turkish Lira (about 1/2 of a Euro) and Mehmet made the poor blighter give me a 25% discount.

I wanted to give this back to the man but Mehmet was watching me like a hawk.

(It would have been better if he had been watching my camera bag. Someone made off with this and I lost a telephoto lens and other bits and pieces).

He was very solicitous of us – particularly me – and always helped me in and out of the car. He stood in the road and stopped the traffic when we wanted to cross. He moved people out of the way when we wanted to take photos and he made some poor sod in a tram move so that Cate would have a pole to lean against.

He apparently knows everyone in Istanbul. Anytime we wanted to go anywhere or park anywhere at all he knew the man who was running the place and exchanged secret handshakes - and was always allowed to do what he wanted to do.

And he took us everywhere we wanted to go – all over the place. We took 600 photos and you will see a small selection of these.

He would consider the trip a failure because we did not buy a carpet from any of his his uncles or cousins – but we were really happy.

On Saturday he sent in reinforcements. He asked if we wanted a guide for Topkapi and when we said yes he made a phone call and a young lady appeared to show us the Palace – and yes – talk about carpets.

We left her at the end of the tour but she reappeared later and took us to the Basilica Cistern. I think she was supposed to talk about carpets – and conducted a number of animated phone calls – but did not push us at all.

She said that she is supposed to get people to carpet shops but doesn’t really try very hard. If they say no she just stops asking.

Well – you are never going to make it in Istanbul with an attitude like that and I imagine that she is now receiving remedial training.

On Friday night we went to a very trendy restaurant called Vogue which was on level 14 of an office block. Astonishingly good food and we had our first bottle of Turkish white wine – which was also quite delightful.

On Saturday we went to Naz, the traditional Turkish restaurant attached to the hotel. The food was just amazing and – all things considered – not too expensive at all. We had two more bottles of Turkish white wine – and – not content with that – went back to listen to Larry singing in Les Ambassadeurs Bar.

He was delighted to see me and said that things were improving in Zimbabwe since they started paying the Public Servants in US Dollars.

He also sang ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ and ‘Pennies from Heaven’ for me.

Cate had to work on Sunday so I crept around the hotel taking pictures of carpets and railings (which I won’t bother showing you).

There are, as far as I can see, no ducks in Istanbul – but Merisi may have been there before me.

I must confess – I ate a duck – or part of one – on Friday night and it was terrific (sorry guys). I will not tell the troops in Stadtpark about this traitorous act.

I am able to tell you with some degree of confidence that arguably the most incompetent and assuredly the most unhappy shop assistant in Turkey works in Gloria Jeans in Istanbul airport. He is worthwhile checking out if you are there (his name is probably Mehmet) – and his unhappiness may be because there are no opportunities to sell carpets in Gloria Jeans.

I was very lucky to escape from him without receiving a good thrashing but as punishment for my cheek he provided us with two unspeakably bad cups of coffee and a very, very old and stale cookie.

Cate is off the Prague today but I may not be able to join her on Thursday as she may have to come back early.

I will put a bunch of Istanbul photos on the blog soon and the rest of the 600 will be on Flickr.


  1. We visited Turkey by yacht in the early 90s. Arriving from the Greek island of Samos we were greeted by Turkish customs and immigration officials. When they saw we had British passports, they demanded that we pay the arrival fees in pounds sterling. Fortunately, two of our party had joined us from the UK and had the relevant coinage. They would have liked us better if we had been dinky di Aussies.

    My experience of the carpet selling was that the vendors insisted that first you drink a Turkish coffee, for which I have no inclination. As a result, I was off on a bad start. Secondly, I detest haggling about prices. Tell me the price and if it's not ridiculous, I'll buy it. I'm not interested in spending the day bargaining, it gives me no pleasure.

    Our visit was to Kusadasi from where we arranged a mini bus with driver to take us to Ephesus. He very quickly arranged for us to have lunch at some friend's or relation's place on the way. In the end we had to insist that we not be shown any more food because (a) we were too full to contemplate it and more importantly (b) we wanted to go to Ephesus, which we really enjoyed when we finally got there.

    But Turkey and the Turks had it all over the Greek islands, infested with German tourists...

  2. Glad that allis well.. Have no desire to go but it is nice to see the photos!