be fooled by all the zeroes; traveling in Turkey is still kind
to the budget.
The tab for our cab ride from
Ataturk Airport resembled the
Andorran national debt by the time we made our hotel in
Istanbul, lighting up the meter at 420,000 lira. But converted
to dollars, that's just over $12 ... not a bad outlay for a
That is a stiff hit for
Istanbul, I have to admit, because our cab driver took us
the long way around, ostensibly to "beat the traffic". But who
cared? It's pretty hard to say, "Stop taking us for a joy ride
and get us there" in sign language. And besides, we saw
interesting parts of Istanbul we'd never seen before. Hey, in
Boston that would have been a $50 tab plus tip. And Turks don't
tip their cabbies.
But it surely is easy to be staggered by
all the zeroes that append the price of everything. One of our
new arrivals complained of getting hit up for 2,000 lira just to
use the men's room. "Relax, " we told
him. "That cost you all of six cents."
All of this reflects, of course, the
ravages of ongoing inflation, currently running in excess of 60%
a year. The official exchange rate in October was about 35,000
lira to the U.S. dollar, some 20 times what it had been during
our last trip in 1988. Many Turks suffer extensively at the
hands of such killer inflation. But
for tourists, it's another story.
Hotels, at the least at the conference
rates we were quoted, were very reasonable. Four star hotels
in the Taksim area (Eresin,
Nippon, and Crystal) ranged from $60 to $85 for a double. The
five star Sheraton and Hilton were
about twice that. In addition there are
several very noteworthy smaller hotels in Sultanahmet
that run in the $60 to $70 range. (For winter rates, subtract
another $20 or so.) In general, we found four star hotel rooms
to be comfortable and adequately appointed throughout Turkey.
Except for the toilet seats, every one of
which was loose enough to be precarious if not downright
dangerous. Packing a screwdriver is not a bad idea.
When we last visited Turkey, a decent
dinner for two in a clean, comfortable Istanbul family-style
restaurant cost maybe 50,000 TL. Now the same meal ruptures your
wallet at about a million lira. But not to fear: at either price
that translates to about 30 bucks. The food generally ranges
from tasty to memorable. And if you're on a tight budget and
don t mind the hustle and bustle of the cafeteria style
restaurants, you can eat well for half that.
Getting around the cities is
perhaps the best bargain of all. In
Istanbul the ten-minute cab ride
from Taksim Square to
Sultanahmet with its Blue Mosque,
Sancta Sophia and Topkapi Palace
costs about 100,000 lira or a bit less than three bucks. Of
course many cabbies, once they hear
a foreign language going in the back seat, have ingenious ways
of turning it into a 20 minute excursion. But the scenery
is always worth the extra joy ride.
As long as you're not in a rush, who
As for shopping, there you're on
your own. If you know how to bargain,
there are great buys in a huge range of merchandise. If
you don't, well, you might as well
just hand them your wallet and let them take what they want.
Turks are, on the whole, a gracious,
hospitable, friendly lot. But they're
also survivors. Which is clearly a
principal reason why Istanbul is one of the world's oldest and
most wonderful cities.