Shopping in Istanbul

Haggling is an art and psychological warfare, or maybe a sport. At first it's distastefull to alot of Americans, especially us Southerners. But, after you've been here a short while, you realize that you've got to let go of some of your ideas about politeness. Here are a couple tricks...
The merchants here have a superstition about the first customer of the day; not neccesarily the first person that walks through the door, but the first to take an interest in something enough to ask the price. If they make a sale to that person, the rest of the day will be good for sales. I went to a shop the other day where the owner would not come down on the price of the pieces I wanted. When I went back, I was the first customer and he was much more flexible.
Ted and I will sometimes play off each other. One of us will ask a price; the merchant counters. If I don't think he's coming down far enough, I'll look at Ted; he shakes his head. No, we don't want it that bad. I start to put it down. That's usually enough. If it's not, you can start walking out the door. We once had a merchant catch up with us 5 blocks from his shop to accept our last offer. If you buy more than one, it's easier to offer less. If he says 14 lira, you can more easily say "3 for 30 lira?"

Watch out for this trick. A merchant will tell you the price of something and then, when you're getting out your cash, suddenly it's "that was 100 euros, not 100 lira" , though you're sure he said lira at first. Don't be shy about putting your cash back in your wallet till he agrees to the original price.

Click here for a Google map of our shop-til-you-drop tour.

It's often worth it to shop in the courtyards off the main roads of the Grand Bazaar. They are less visited by tourists, so they are quiet and often cheaper.

You've got to check out Aziz's shop. If you make your way to the back of the Grand Bazaar where the bath linens and fabrics line the street, go into the little street where you see the lighted sign that says "Pedaliza". Go straight back until you see the courtyard, but go up the stairs just before. Turning right at the top, you'll see the big window with all the textiles.
Aziz supplies alot of other merchants in the bazaar and elsewhere and he has beautiful textiles and other things.
Just before you get to the stairs to Aziz's shop, on the left is another nice shop selling suzani and more. Salih at Nazar Textille is a nice guy who's English is very good.
There are some nice, quieter places to find lunch in that area, as well.

Click here for a map of the Grand Bazaar, with info about getting around.

If you are looking for a dance costume, they are not hard to find...usually. We did have trouble finding one shop. We had an address right near the Hagia Sophia and walked right past the entrance a couple times before we spotted it. There is a pedestrian walk along the far side of the little park across from the Hagia Sophia. Turn down the side street that goes up from it and look on your right. Down a little hallway is a dance shop. The people there were nice and spoke English well. There are many shops in the Bazaar; take your time scoping them out. (video clip) The largest one I've seen is "L" shaped. It offers folkloric costumes as well as cabaret. Keep going to the last row of the Bazaar where they sell mostly textiles. There is a little alley leading out to one of the "hans", or courtyards. These hans usually have a speciality. There's one that has many belly dance costumes. Many places can fit and alter it for you as you wait, so don't despair if the costume you are salivating over does not fit perfectly. Lately, we've been seeing tons of super fancy embroidered Indian skirts and tunics for sale.
Dancers looking for zils (finger cymbals) in Istanbul, click here.
We also found a reasonably priced shop in the spice bazaar. (Click here for a video of a walk through the Spice Market) Like many others, this shop looks tiny, but has an upstairs with tons of great stuff. We found alot of shops like this, that displayed only a few costumes out front, but had a huge inventory upstairs. We were surprised to find out that these shops even had an upstairs!
One of the lower gates of the covered bazaar leads to a street that goes downhill to the spice market. This is Mahmutpasa Caddesi and it's lined with shops that sell formalwear. There are many fancy folkloric dresses here.

Some merchants will buy things from you, or trade with you. We found this out on our third trip to Istanbul. We had taken a gift of sea shells to a friend, who as it turns out, had moved and could not be found. He had taken us to a shop that sells them because he used them in the inlays on his sazes. We didn't want to take them home again, so we went and found this shop and sold them there for more than we paid for them. On our last trip, with Sheque and Kay from Touch The Earth, a shopkeeper stuck his head out his door to offer to trade amber jewelry for Sheque's baseball cap. He ended up bringing home lots of stuff he had traded for.

One place that most tourists don't bother to go to is Unkapani neighborhood. There is a mall there that is nothing but music stores. You are pretty safe buying CD's there without knowing much about the artist. They are very inexpensive, and if there is a folksy picture on the cover, it's probably pretty good. You can always take it to the counter and ask "halk musik?" (folk music) and be more sure. We've bought tons of CD's from artists we didn't know in this way, and rarely been disapointed. If it has a picture of a belly dancer on the front, you're taking more of a chance. If you want belly dance music, the Romani stuff is your best bet. Look for the word "Roman" on the cover. We also took a chance on our last trip and bought some "VCD's" (video cd's). They worked fine on our DVD player and we ended up with some real gems! Lots of great folk dance.
This mall is on Ataturk Bulvari, not far from the aquaduct. Just tell your cab driver, "Unkapani, Ataturk Bulvari, IMC 6 Blok". Or, it's maybe a 30 minute walk from the Covered Bazaar up Divan Yolu.

The first time we went to Istanbul, the Turkish Currency (Lira or TL) was 73,000 to the Dollar. The last time we went, the rate was about 1,500,000 TL to $1! Making purchases could be a little confusing. On Jan. 1 2005, Turkiye changed their currency (Yeni, or "new" Lira, or YTL) and simply dropped several zeros! Yay! I haven't been there since the change, but I expect it will make purchasing things less confusing. (Update....gone back since,and yes, it's SO much easier to deal with making purchases now!) My poor little brain would seize up when it saw so many numbers. For those of you who feel the is now safe to come back to Istanbul.
Also, the last time we were there (2006)
they had lowered the visa fee. An entry visa stamp to come in to Turkey had been $100. But at the time of this writing (3/30/2006) the visa was dropped to $20 for Americans! Great surprise! More $$$ to spend in Istanbul's fabulous shops. But, check before you leave to find out what the current entry stamp fee is and make sure you've got that much cash (USD is ok) when you get off the plane.

For the longest time, we never saw a supermarket in the old neighborhoods of Istanbul, where you'll probably be staying. And you'll probably not have a kitchen, or even a microwave, though you may have a mini-fridge in your hotel room. The restaurants are very inexpensive, though. And don't forget to pick up a Turkish cookbook to take home for those times when you really miss Istanbul. (*update*...Grocery stores are much easier to find now. For about 60 cents each, we brought home a million packets of lentil soup mix. (ezogelin corba) It's pretty good and easy to make; and one of our favourite snacks in Istanbul.) We like the little convenience stores that dot the neighborhoods. It's good to keep snacks and drinks in your room and these C stores are great for that. They're cheap and you can get paper quarts of cherry (visne) or orange (portakal) juice and alot of the American junk food (candy bars and chips) that we're used to. Some have Turkish baked goods and other fun and interesting things. Most of the pre-packaged stuff has a picture of the product on the package, so try some new stuff! If you need any kind of medicine, look for an eczane. One handy thing to know is that it's the law here that when a drug store closes, it must put up a sign telling you where the nearest 24 hour eczane is located.