Entering Istanbul’s truly ancient ‘Grand Bazaar’ is like wandering into Aladdin’s cave. For almost five hundred years, this is where the commerce of this big, bustling city has taken place. One immediately notices all sorts of Turkish delights: mountains of spices envelope the air in a unique smell, traders barter furiously and try to make tourists understand that their family will starve unless they buy their overpriced wares.
The shopping experience could not be further away from the soul destroying, boredom-inducing nightmare that is a Saturday ‘down the shops’ in the UK. The ‘Grand Bazaar’ is the largest covered market in Turkey, with a total of 3000 shops covering 61 twisting and turning streets.
It’s a wonderland and Alice would certainly be comfortable in this rabbit warren of shops and stalls. As I well know, shoppers have to hide in the back streets in order not to break the promises that they ‘would definitely come back and buy this beautiful item’.
So what to buy in the Grand Bazaar? Well, my advice would be to stay clear of the beautifully advertised ‘100% Genuine Fake Watches’ and instead plump for carpets. The Turkish see carpets as the French see wine. As pieces of art. The workmanship that goes into each individual carpet is breathtaking and therefore they can be very expensive. So how to 'haggle' these prices down? I present to you my guide to haggling:
1. Go in with prior knowledge: for example the No1 carpet makers in the world are the Uzbekistanis (I know, I would have never guessed either!) closely followed by the Afghans. So always ask the heritage of each carpet.
2. Traders are extremely friendly; they’ll always offer you some delicious apple tea. Take it. It’s great just chatting to them, they’ll invariably tell you their whole life story and how they all became the best carpet seller in the whole of Turkey. Most of them will be able to recite every single player of your chosen local football team as well; it’s as if it is on the exam they have to pass in order to be able to rent a stall in the Grand Bazaar.
3. They’ll quote you an asking price. Explain to them that you’re a poor student and couldn’t possibly pay such an outrageous asking price. They enjoy haggling as much as you do!
4. Half the asking price and then add ‘some’. If you stick at 50% of the asking price then you will insult them, adding this little bit extra means the apple tea will keep flowing.
5. Be realistic. They do this for a job and you can’t expect to out haggle an expert.
6. By going to and from stalls then you can play one off against another, competition is never so fierce than that between two traders that are trying to sell an overpriced carpet to an innocent girl on her ‘gap year' that wants some ‘authentic Turkey’ to bring back and pin on her wall when she’s goes back to University.
7. If they offer you Turkish delight then take it. This is proper Turkish delight, not the overly sweet version of ‘Turkish delight’ we have here in the UK. Pistachio nuts and icing sugar are the key ingredients.
So whether you buy a chess set, complete with miniature Sultans and their imperious armies, some fake Calvin Klein tops then Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is a true Turkish delight.
Have you ever been to a market similar to this? Where was it? What did you buy and did you have to haggle?