We had a long cruise ship port stop scheduled for Istanbul, Turkey and planned to tackle it without a guide.
We knew the city highlights, and even had downloaded a self guided city tour. The only free city tour I could find was in the evening and the timing just wasn’t going to work out for us.
We headed off the ship, Rick Steves’ Mediterranean Cruise Ports in hand, ready to face Istanbul. We didn’t get far, before we met a very persuasive taxi driver who was happy to show us to Istanbul’s highlights. Hubby negotiated a price, and we were on our way.
First stop, the Blue Mosque with a surprise. It turns out our driver has a brother who speaks English, can give us a tour, won’t charge us any extra money (but will take a tip), and as “random luck” would have it, he was right there when we got out of the cab.
This would have been wonderful had the brother’s command of English expanded beyond,
“I know the answer to that, I just can’t say it in English.”
This is the Blue Mosque
Next stop the Hagia Sophia, where lucky for us our new “tour guide” has a friend who can sell us tickets for “just a little bit extra” so we can skip the queue. If the queue had been long, we might have been tempted. We took a pass an waited the 10 minutes.
Third stop, still a short walk from the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia was the Cistern. For me this was the highlight of the day, especially the Medusa statue at the water’s edge.
As we returned to the spot our cab was to be waiting, we found no one. Still with us, the driver’s “brother” rang our driver and then offered us a cup of apple tea at his friend’s “shop” while we wait. Trying Istanbul’s apple tea was on our wish list so we accepted without questioning what type of shop it was.
If you have been to Turkey (or Morocco) you will not be surprised that it was a Turkish carpet shop. We were welcomed, offered seats on a couch in a private room, and served very tasty apple tea, as promised. We noticed our guide was gone and it’s time for the hard core sell. We explained that we had no interest in buying a carpet.
“No one comes to Istanbul to buy a carpet, but everyone leaves with one.”
I am fairly sure our over five months of traveling is starting to show on our faces and certainly on the wear and tear of our very limited wardrobe. For us he started at $550, but we talked to others on the ship whose sales pitch started in the tens of thousands.
Then a smaller, doormat size rug, “Did you know one girl around your daughters age worked on this for two months. It’s one of her first, a starter rug, so I can give it to you really cheap for just $250.”
This is all part of a “game” I really didn’t want to play. I did have a plan to purchase a carpet in Morocco. So, I got up, took a closer look, strategically placing myself between the salesman and the door. I agreed, it was lovely, that was good price, but I simply couldn’t buy a rug.
Then I signaled with my head and shoulder to hubby and the girls to get up, that we could leave now. They hadn’t finished their tea. Urrgh.
Here are a few more photos from Istanbul. I found the first one a bit yucky – he was smoking his cigarette right over the spices he was selling.
This guy is making and selling ice cream. As he lifts his stirring implement, you can see how thick it is. We had been eating non-stop by the time we saw him, or we would have given it a try.
Unless otherwise noted, all photos on this page ©Rhonda Albom 2012
Have you been to Istanbul? Do you want to go back? I know I do.
We have been traveling around the world since March. We added a last minute cruise deal on the Norwegian Spirit, embarking on Aug 26, 2012 for nearly 2 weeks.
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