I girded myself for our visit to Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. Mr Gallivant is not the most patient shopping companion at the best of times. He generally stands outside any shop I enter, refusing to join me, let alone give me his opinion about what we/I should or should not buy. He will tap his foot and look at his watch until I feel so positively unrelaxed that I have to leave immediately…which is I’m sure the desired effect!
Now I was about to take him into his idea of shopping on steroids. I have been to a few souks and bazaars around the world and know that to enjoy them you have to take a sense of humour, a will of iron and your very best negotiating skills.
We were in Istanbul to celebrate my (cough) ‘special’ birthday, so I was totally taking advantage of the fact that he couldn’t say no.
‘So… you need to prepare yourself for the fact that we will get hassled – a lot’ I said. ‘You are not to react, pleeeeease, because I really, really want to do some shopping’. He dutifully promised. And in we ventured.
The Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest covered markets in the world, established by Mehmet the Conqueror (great name!) back in the 15th century. I’ve seen it countless times on screen – remember that cool motorbike chase scene in James Bond film Skyfall? -and thought how atmospheric it looks. And it is. It’s also big – with over 4000 shops. From the central walkway you can dive off into a maze of little alleyways, stuffed with shops stuffed with everything from spices to slippers, leather to lanterns, pots to pashminas, carpets to candles, Turkish Delight to t-shirts (er, I’ll stop there – you get the picture). There are also men gossiping, smoking, playing backgammon, tourists sipping thick Turkish coffee, barber shops – complete with cut throat razors – and mosques.
I like collecting ceramics from my travels and asked the price of some tiny hand painted bowls.
‘Nine Turkish lira each’ the guy said, barely looking up at me.
‘How much if I buy three?’ I asked.
’27 lira’ he replied, firmly.
‘No discount?’ I asked.
‘OK – will give them to you for 25’.
Big deal, I thought and went to walk away, waiting for him to call me back. He let me keep on walking.
The same happened at the next place we stopped. I saw some cute espresso cups with saucers.
‘They’re 70 Turkish lira (about £12) each’ said the disinterested man reading his newspaper. ‘Wow’, I said. ‘That’s expensive!’.
‘We are the only place that sells them’ he shrugged, by way of explanation.
‘But I saw the exact same ones at the place just down the way’, I said.
‘Yeah, he’s my cousin. We’re the only ones who sell them’.
Mr Gallivant was getting bored by now – the foot tapping had started – but I couldn’t leave without buying something…anything. As we headed towards the nearest exit I saw a large bowl. As I stopped to look, the vendor told me is was 120 lira – about £21. ‘OK, thanks’ I said, and turned away. ‘For you, I’ll do it for 90 lira’ he shouted. ‘That’s still a lot’ I countered. ‘And I’m not even sure I want it’.
‘You pay me 80 lira’ he said. ‘That’s a great discount’.
‘Like I said, I’m not even sure I want it’.
‘OK – what do you want to pay?’
This was a bit more like it.
‘I’ll give you 50’.
‘I would sincerely like to give it to you for 50 lira but I can’t’.
‘OK – I’ll give you 60 but that’s my last offer’.
The deal was done. He was satisfied. I was satisfied. I’d had a haggle and come away with a purchase. Mr Gallivant rolled his eyes.
Since our return I’ve also spoken to other travellers who have been to the Grand Bazaar and compiled a few tips which might help you if you are planning a visit, such as…
- Those manning the stalls are not usually the owners and they have a quota of sales that they must fulfill each day. Once they reach that they’ll be less desperate to get your business. Wish I’d known that before our end of the day visit! Mornings are apparently the best time to bag a bargain.
- Don’t buy straightaway. You’ll see lots of similar things and it pays to get an idea of what different stall owners are charging before making a purchase. Some will try to draw you into conversation but if you keep things lighthearted and insist you’re just looking they’ll usually leave you to it.
- Accept that some shops have set prices and won’t be prepared to bargain. With those that will, start low – at around half the price quoted. That way you give yourself some room for the stallholder to negotiate up a bit. Hopefully you’ll meet somewhere in the middle.
- Never feel obliged to buy – even if you’ve had a long conversation and drunk tea with the guy.
- Visit when you’re not in a hurry – you need patience, and besides it’s nice to take your time and soak up the atmosphere.
- Don’t stick to the main thoroughfares as this will be where you’re likely to pay more money and see more tourist tat – delve right in!
- If you are looking for something in particular it can pay to employ a guide. They can often take you to the lesser known ‘behind the counter’ places.
- The Grand Bazaar is shut on Sundays.
- Remember which gate you entered so that you can leave by the same one – there are 21 of them.
- Don’t lose out on something you really love for the sake of a few lira. Once you’ve flown home you can’t just pop back!
Do you have any other tips for visiting the Grand Bazaar? If so, let us know…