Sunday, April 28, 2013

Turkey 2013 - Istanbul Day 1 - Carpet Tout Rant

Rugs at a shop in Istanbul.

I was preparing myself for aggressive shopkeepers trying to get you to come into their shops - rug shops mostly but really all souvenir shops and restaurants do this, and not just in Istanbul. That's fine, you can wave them off and keep walking and they're not going to follow you away from their shop or restaurant.

What I wasn't prepared for is that the rug shops have hired people to stake out the tourist areas like Sultanahmet Square near the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque and come up to you with a Hey How Are You Today routine. They offer you some unsolicited tourist advice or other chat. Where are you from? Oh America, my brother lives there. Oh, that's a nice camera, are you a professional? My cousin is professional photographer in Atlanta. That's near New Jersey right?  That's the Hagia Sophia over there, it was built in the year 360, have you been?

You try to get rid of them but they FOLLOW you. So ok, have a little conversation, who cares, eventually they will realize I'm not into rugs and find another mark, right?  No, no.  As soon as you didn't tell them to fuck the fuck off right away, they take that as implicit acceptance of their offer of going to their rug shop (when they get around to actually coming to the sales pitch). My first day in Istanbul I had three or four of these little chats.  They take your friendly response and turn it around on you -- you have to channel your internal dickness to get rid of them when the time comes.  What is the Turkish for piss off? I don't know but I suppose they have a phrase for that. There's "Istimez!" which is "It's not wanted!" but that's not vulgar enough.

So, you say (and I read online, and in the guide books) that is is the way of doing business in Turkey/Istanbul. Maybe so. I don't begrudge anyone their livelihood. What I resent is having to be a dick ten times a day.

My second day went much smoother. Wear sunglasses and make no eye contact. I feel sad they have forced me (tourists) to refuse to acknowledge their presence no matter who it is or what they might actually want.

Outside of all the main tourist sites are licensed tour guides trying to sell you their services. They wear laminated badges. The main benefit of contracting their services, besides their presumed knowledge, is they'll get you in past the lines. They are certainly less aggressive than the carpet touts.  So outside the Hagia Sophia, a guy comes up to me, Hey How Are You Doing (see above) and I just say No.  He says, "I'm not tour guide."  Right, I didn't think so. I said, "No, you're a rug guy. Not interested."  He stops following me and I can hear him say in a wounded sniffly voice, "I'm not rug guy."  Bullshit.  If you're not a tour guide and you're not a rug guy why the fuck are you bothering me?  (Maybe the "come with me to this bar I know" scam where you get socked for a $500 bar tab for a beer and some hoods are guarding the door...)

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Turkey 2013 - Istanbul Day 1 - Arrival and Hagia Sophia

View of the Hagia Sophia from the Galata Tower, Istanbul.

Welcome to my biased, American tourist trip report for my trip to Istanbul, Cappadocia, and Ephesus, Turkey.

My itinerary was broken up as follows: day and a half in Istanbul; 2 days in Cappadocia; then return to Istanbul for 5 more days, one of which was fully committed to the "Other Tour" which I will write about later.  But I wanted to hit up as many of the things from the top of my to-do list as I could early on, particularly those close enough to the hotel to walk back and forth to.  The city is a little bigger than I expected (not the actual sprawl but it looked like shorter walking distances on Google Maps).

Fisheye view of Hagia Sophia dome.
 Had a deal with the hotel I booked that included a lot of perks if you booked directly with them (as opposed to Expedia, whatever): Stay 6 nights, 7th night free; pay cash (euro, lira, dollars, whatever) you get 10% off (I brought euros since everything was quoted in euros and not just this hotel - seems like everyone wants cash euros instead of TL); and if you stay three nights they pick you up at the airport!  So that was a nice perk, a "MR PIRMANN" sign at Arrivals after a ten hour flight and an hour navigating Passport Control.  Lots of traffic on the way to the hotel but we got there.  The hotel was right along the tram line in between two stops which would make getting around the main sights very easy.

Checked in around noon, room was ready (another nice thing after a long trip). Took a shower and a nap for a while, then headed off to the Hagia Sophia, easy walking distance from the hotel.

View of the Hagia Sophia interior from balcony.

So back to the Hagia Sophia. Long line to get in but moved fast. Prebooking the ticket on the Turkish Muze website helped a lot, because otherwise you'd have to wait in TWO long lines. I will let the tour of the Hagia Sophia speak through photos.  I missed the Sultans' Tombs outside the main building (which Rick Steves talks about in his walking tour; hint: always read the walking tour notes for a place BEFORE leaving it. That hurt me in Pompeii in 2012 when I missed the Villa of the Mysteries...) More on the Hagia Sophia

After that, and a couple annoying carpet touts, I went back to the hotel and had dinner at a place called the Red River Pub - looked American Western theme, was playing Cuban music when I got there, and I had the Turkish meze plate of some things I couldn't tell you what they were, but were tasty spread on bread, and a doner lamb wrap with fries. And Efes beer (Turkish). Booze is expensive here since it's heavily taxed-- and it helps discourage the 98% Muslim population from drinking too too much. A rum & coke will run you about 20 TL in a tourist-oriented pub ($10) and I don't think that's due entirely to the tourist markup.  The local beer is more reasonably priced but I didn't think to check what it was before I paid up.