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.
“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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