Turkey: Still Quite A Bargain
 Despite Its Foot-Long Prices
by Mark Hopkins
From Oriental Rug Review Vol 15, No. 2 (Dec/Jan, 1995). Copies of this issue may still be available for purchase - please consult the Oriental Rug Review website. 
  Don't 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 35-minute ride.   

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  cares?        

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.


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