Istanbul – Been There

For some, this tourist trap is a tourist treat

A merchant checks his messages in a shop selling Turkish costumes in the Grand Bazaar. Under Atatürk’s reforms in the 1920s, anyone found wearing a fez was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment but mass smuggling of fezes continued until it was made a capital offense in the 1930s.

Photo by Ton Koene

Istanbul – Been There

For some, this tourist trap is a tourist treat

When my friend Caitlyn – a professional bellydancer in the UK – has a six-hour layover in Istanbul Airport, she gets on a bus and goes straight to the Grand Bazaar.

Tara Isabella Burton
Tara Isabella Burton Travel Writer

“They remember me here,” she says of her favorite shop. They offer her good bargains – and cup after cup of tea.

From the outside, the riotous Grand Bazaar might seem like an enormous tourist trap: a labyrinthine tangle of carpets and teapots, caftans and fezzes. But most shops stock both cheap souvenirs – for the everyday customers – and higher-quality items: like the 19th-century rose-colored caftan Caitlyn and I buy after several hours’ haggling.

Get to know one shopkeeper – sit down for tea, for conversation, for a display of the wares – and prepare for the long haul (and for them to haul out the good merchandise). But remember: never stop negotiating. Haggling is a delicate art here, and a blood sport: shopkeepers may be insulted if you refuse to bargain with them, or even take the first price they offer.

When I leave with my caftan and my loose trousers – paying about a third of the first-quoted price – Caitlyn settles up for her belly-dance gear.

“I’ll be back next year,” she says. They know she means it.

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