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Is Istanbul worth going again? Major improvements are needed

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Kuala Lumpur...
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Is Istanbul worth going again? Major improvements are needed

Just came back from Turkey. Some thoughts on Istanbul.

Not sure if other tourists think the same as me.

1) How can illegal taxis be controlled in the city? I noticed the ratio of legal to illegal taxis is 1: 10-15, especially at the bus station. I had no choice but opted for an illegal one to take me back to Alaaddin Hotel, Sultanahmet from bus station. The driver said he knows the place and charged us 25 liras. After a while, he went to the wrong direction and asking for proper address (maybe purposely doing so ??? ), and charged 30 liras (extra 5 liras), dropped us 1 km away from our actual destination, saying that he can't send us to sultanahmet as taxis are not allowed to enter the area. It was 7am, hard to find someone around to ask/communicate in English, dragging our luggages for 300m before spotting a legal taxi who safely brought us to alaaddin hotel for 10 liras.

By the way, we had been told by our tour guide that illegal taxis do not have contact no and name of companies as legal taxis do.

2) We as tourists are afraid of carpet sellers whether or not we have the intention to purchase one. They are so harsh to tourists who bargain so hard or telling an unexpected price (or insulting price) . Some tourists may not know the value of silk carpets until they observe the hardwork of Turkish ladies sewing carpets in factories. Sellers asked for our budget. Shall we tell them? Too low will be kind of insulting them. We as Asians do not earn pounds, euro or american dollars. I remembered a lady (could be a European) says her budget is USD 150 for a small piece of carpet. Well, if sellers feel that is too low, they should tell the lady nicely and not barking her by saying "You broke our hearts + Do you know how hard we produce it + Do you know the material of this carpet / Do you know how small is USD 150? " Very fierce just like terrorist act. We wanted to leave the shop but being blocked by two sellers. At last, we settled for a silk around 8 by 6 feets for USD 2500 (initially was USD 3500). They were happy as we could be their first customer for the past few days ???

Pottery and carpets companies will eye on European, American or Australian tourists before us :)

3) We had a fierce and impatient tour guide who was fasting during the holy month of Ramadhan. Our tour was supposed to finish at 5pm, but he left us at Topkapi Palace at 2pm, telling us to walk back by ourselves. Fasting is not an excuse to yell at tourists. He said to a Filipino family of 3 - "You know how hot is it? You are like this since morning. Everyone is waiting for us". Anyway I have complained his attitude to my tour agency.

Yet we did enjoy our tour guides' experiences and attitudes in Ephesus and Troy City. Totally different from the one in Istanbul. And not to forget a lady guide in Cappadocia who turned back and hiked by herself for almost 2 km searching for two Singaporeans who get lost at Red Valley.

4) It will be better to tour on our own rather than hiring a guide. We did not enjoy much honestly. Limited time was given for pics as we had to continuously walk, hardly stop for pics, as the guide was committed to take us to pottery, carpet and leather shops. Another nonsense.

Is Istanbul worth going again?

Kah-Hui Wong,

Kuala Lumpur, MALAYSIA

In turkey from 3-12 August.

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1. Re: Is Istanbul worth going again? Major improvements are needed

It is most certainly worth going again and again and again!And there are many thousands who do just that every year.

Point1.If you knew the taxi was illegal why did you get in it? How did you know it was illegal btw?Where do you get your ratio figures from?If I visited Kuala Lumpur and knowingly got into an illegal taxi what would you say to me?Stupid?

Point 2.Carpets sellers are an amazing act!All the waving arms and anguished looks and 'you are robbing me!'is all an act.They have been doing this for years.You need to enter into the spirit of the game and do the same back :) This is haggling and you are dealing with the kings of the haggling art.

Point 3.Tour guides are human beings and so there will always be good and bad.You were unlucky to get a couple of bad ones from a sector that has some really wonderful,enthusiastic and knowledgeable people working in it and I am truly sorry this happened to you.You have done the correct thing in complaining to your tour company about them.Did you book these tours yourself or where they optional tours provided by your tour company?It would be useful for other visitors to know the name of the tour agencies who provided these guides so they can be avoided.

Point 4.Unless you book a private tour then this will always be a problem.The guide has X number of hours to take Y number of people around an itinerised schedule.If the group lingers too long at any point it can throw the whole day out so it is important that a time frame is kept to.

I agree totally with your issue over shopping stops.Tour agencies take commision from sales which helps to bolster the profits for them hence they are eager to take visitors at a cost of losing sight seeing time.It is possible now though to find tour agencies who do not include these on daily tours now and of course on a private tour you can stipulate you do not want them.

I feel the issues which you have raised are partly due to just bad luck(the bad guides) and partly due to lack of research on your part which would have prepared you beforehand not to get cheated by such as illegal taxi's.There is certainly nothing here that would make me reconsider visiting again but I would make sure I was better prepared.

Edited: 14 August 2013, 21:49
Istanbul
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2. Re: Is Istanbul worth going again? Major improvements are needed

I agree with "sarikanarya" mostly. Howewever I also think that Istanbul is not for everyone and there will always be a small minority of people who will not be happy with their visit. I also do think that the municipality and the local government can do a lot in the way of imrovements for taxi rides, street touts and carpet salesmen (especially outside their stores promoting their business). Finally better preparation for a trip to Turkey using Tripadvisor, guidebooks, internet, etc. can not be overemphasized.

enigma...

Mount Dora, Florida
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3. Re: Is Istanbul worth going again? Major improvements are needed

Hi KahHui, The only person who can determine if you should return to Istanbul is you. Many of us fall in love with this magical city. When we arrive it is like coming home. When we leave it is a painful parting. When we are away we dream of returning. Others, as Enigma observes, may not enjoy the city. Not everyone loves the same things.

I am sorry that you had some bad experiences, but I am also surprised that some of these things happened to you. I have spent hundreds of days in Istanbul, and I have used a taxi on almost every day of my visits. In all those many experiences I have only encountered one illegal taxi. I do not know why you believe that the ratio of legal to illegal taxis is 1:10-15, but you have not correctly perceived the taxi situation in Istanbul.

It is very easy to spot an illegal taxi, and it is simply not very smart to use one. I cannot imagine why you did? Not knowing the address of your hotel, however, is not necessarily simply because you used an illegal taxi. I use lots of legal taxis, and they have problems finding addresses as well. I carry a copy of Google maps for my driver, as well as the telephone number of the place where we are going so he can call there and get directions. Finally, my husband has finally developed enough skill with the Turkish language, that we are sufficiently familiar with the city and can provide directions to our drivers. If you cannot do that you need to provide and map and a phone number.

This does not speak highly of Turkish taxi drivers, but many of them are new to the city, and frankly, if I had lived in Istanbul all my life, and never left the city I would not be able to find every hotel and restaurant.

I am not quite sure about your complaint about the carpet salesman. Did you feel that the only way you would be allowed to leave the shop was if you purchased a $2500 carpet? If so, you are easily intimidated. Perhaps it is a cultural thing, but I would never permit a carpet salesman to prevent me from leaving his store regardless of how large he was. I would move him out of the way. I cannot really believe that you were forced to purchase this carpet.

If so, I hope it was something you really loved, and that you also truly wanted it. I have never paid more than $1000 for any of the many Turkish carpets that we have purchased. Carpet sellers, as Sari explained, have elevated salesmanship into a high art. I am always amazed at the subtle tactics they use with me to persuade me to enter their store. They know if they can get me in the door they have dramatically improved their chances of selling me a carpet. Personally, I quite enjoy watching all their persuasive techniques because some of them are just amazingly skilled. I have sipped tea, exchanged conversation, watched the entire unrolling of the carpets by the two or three young carpet boys and had a lovely time with the entire process, and then I have left without making a purchase.

I listen to the same arguments from carpet salesmen, ceramic salesmen, people on the street who want me to eat at their restaurant, leather salesmen, jewelry salesmen, candy salesmen. Actually, I cannot think of anything I purchase in Istanbul that does not have a forceful salesman selling such an item. They all have sad stories about how hard they work, and how precious and special their merchandise is. Turkish people are great story tellers, but I have equally sad stories which I am happy to share if pushed in that direction. I suspect (my husband agrees) that I am almost as aggressive as a carpet salesman. I really have to take exception with your reference that carpet salesmen are terrorists. I have seen what terrorists do, and I can assure you that carpet salesmen are not terrorists.

Your final account of your experience with your tour guide is exactly why I do not use a tour guide unless he has been arranged by someone I know and trust. It is so difficult for a guide to maintain his energy and enthusiasm day after day in the heat of the sun, and I am sure that even the best of them have days when they are not quite as good as usual.

Turkey is so easy to manage on your own. I use a guide only in Cappadocia, and then only because I cannot walk to the sights myself. I do not use a guide who has not been recommended personally by someone whom I personally know and trust.

I do not know if you should return to Istanbul. GTTD often says that Istanbul is paradise for an extrovert and hell for an introvert. I do not necessarily agree. My husband is an introvert and he loves Istanbul. I do, however, acknowledge that some people just do not manage Turkish customs and culture as well as others. I think your problems were basically the result of insufficient research and the luck of drawing an exhausted tour guide. I think you should give the city another try. If however, you truly did not enjoy yourself, and if you are afraid to return, perhaps you should spend your vacation days in a less dynamic and enthusiastic culture.

Kuala Lumpur...
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4. Re: Is Istanbul worth going again? Major improvements are needed

Appreciate your thoughts. I agree problems happened due to lack of research. But over research could be stressful for myself and looking forward to some surprises by not knowing everything. Just my personal opinion. 90% of Asians do not walk around holding a city map. We just need a relaxed holidays. About the illegal taxi, I have stated that it doesn't have company name and phone no displayed on body of taxi as told by our tour guide on the first day reaching Istanbul. We had no choice on the 8th day after 10 hr journey from Ephesus by hiring an illegal one back to hotel from bus station. I did not see a legal taxi around. We were supposed to be picked up by our guide at bus station who didn't turn up or perhaps unable to spot us among the big crowd. Again wrong timing travelling there during Eid. The fierce looks of carpet sellers will be implanted in my memory for quite some time.

Kuala Lumpur...
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5. Re: Is Istanbul worth going again? Major improvements are needed

Dear Busy-retired,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts from a tourist point of view.

Our guide in Istanbul was arranged by a registered tour company in Cappadocia (Yuki Tour). The boss is the owner of one of the cave hotels. I really love the way he dealt with his guests' needs in his cave hotel. Highly recommended for those who plan to stay in cave hotel.

Ok, back to Istanbul.

Sorry I did not make myself clear about the carpet situation.

We actually wanted to get big sized carpet but would like to walk around and survey a few shops before buying one. When we were in the middle of bargaining at the shop in Old Bazaar, the incident of the European lady happened all of a sudden. After they scolded her, we didn't feel comfortable continuing sitting there and wanted to get out of there. However the boss stopped from doing so and said he can reduce more for us. All of us are ladies who had no way to run off but to watch his so called persuasion skill. We were OK with the price offered. In return to his "kindness", we were given 40 pcs of business cards to be distributed to our relatives and friends back home.

Interesting, USD 1000 for a carpet? Would you mind telling me the size of your carpet at this price? :)

Istanbul, Turkey
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6. Re: Is Istanbul worth going again? Major improvements are needed

It is difficult to give an accurate price for carpets as this depends on several factors-what it is made from,where and when it was made,size,design etc,and then of course how much profit the seller wants to make.He wants a lot you want him to settle for a little less!That's where the bargaining comes in :)

Thnking about the European woman in that shop;you don't know how long she'd been there,perhaps she'd been in there for some considerable time being shown carpet after carpet before finally telling them she only wanted to spend just 150$.If someone wasted my time like that then I think I too would be angry.

Again this comes down to research before shopping.When one is buying a hand made carpet one is not buying a cheap little trinket but something of very high value that will become an heirloom in your family.So beforehand you need to decide your budget and then investigate(online there is so much info now)about the different types,production area's,styles and colours etc.Decide what you want and importantly what you don't want and check out roughly the type of prices your choice costs.Does your budget allow for your choice?If not increase your budget or choose again or a smaller size.Again there are companies selling online where you can get an indication of prices.Hand knotted carpets are not cheap but neither are they expensive for the hours of tedious work involved in making them.

So bearing all that in mind if this woman thought she was going to get a nice room size carpet for 150$ she was way out of line!This little snippet of info may well have been given to the salesman after an hour or more of negotiations remember.Very unrealistic and totally wasted his time.No one likes to have their time wasted do they?She would have paid more than that for a synthetic machine made factory carpet at any furniture store in Turkey.For a wool on wool or wool on cotton hand knotted carpet you need to think around 500TL per square metre as a rough rule of thumb.If your carpet is genuine silk then you paid a fair price IMHO.

It is also worth mentioning that some people go into these places with absolutely no intention of buying ,they are just nosy as to what there is and how much they cost.These are the same people who go around car showrooms with no intention of buying or go to look at houses for sale simply out of nosiness,no buying intention at all.Just time wasters.

Of course there are some aggressive salemen,unnecessarily aggressive or forceful and these are unpleasant it is true,but even for the most polite and genial salesman dealing with some tourists can test their patience to the very limit and drive them crazy :)

But you should not have been intimidated by the salemen.You need to remember YOU are the customer and have the right to leave a shop when you wish.Perhaps you may have had cat calls ringing in your ears if you were unlucky but that is all,nothing that would have harmed you.

People do often feel that way when dealing with salesmen because,as I said earlier,they are consummate professionals and have raised selling(especially carpets) to an art level.

I so wish you had done a little more research prior to your trip and also asked up far more questions here on the forum.There are so many forum users here with a wide experience of Istanbul who could have given you tips and advice and warnings etc.so you could have avoided the things that upset you and had a far more positive experience in such a beautiful city.

Re;your tour guide.I hope you have contacted Yuki Tours and told them how unhappy you were with the standard of the guiding given.I would be interested to know what their response is/was to your complaint.

At the otogar there are always,always taxi's around 24/7,even if you couldn't see them they would have been nearby.Had you gone into any of the bus company offices there someone would have either called one for you or pointed out where they wait.I would never advise anyone to use an unmarked taxi,never whatever the circumstances.

Finally trip research.If it is stressful then you are doing it all wrong :) It isn't an endurance test or an exam it is about reading up all about the places you want to see reading travel forums such as this,not over analysing things too much and not planning down to finite details,just a good overall view asking up on any points you aren't clear upon.Ironically your tour agency is not always the best source of advice as they just want to sell you a tour or something.

Would you consider reading this forum as stressful?I would not think so,I would say fun,educational,informative but not stressful.For me the research and the joyful anticipation this gives is as much a part of the pleasure of travelling as the trip itself.

If you are not a city type person then probably no,you wouldn't enjoy Istanbul but if you are not a city type person why would you visit it anyway?I hope you return again one day but before you do make sure you do some research and don't be afraid to ask for advice on travel web sites too :)

Mount Dora, Florida
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7. Re: Is Istanbul worth going again? Major improvements are needed

It is a bit difficult to shop around to compare prices and carpets because the process of arriving at a selling price is complex, and if a salesman accepts your offer you have to complete the transaction. So what I think you are saying is that you somehow felt forced to purchase a carpet before you had time to look in several shops and compare carpets and possibly prices.

I understand this. If I am going to spend more than $20 I am probably going to want to look around and make sure I get exactly the item I want. When we purchase carpets we probably look for at least two weeks. We go in and out of a carpet shop several times. Carpet salesmen do not like this. They want to catch the customer and sell the carpet in one quick transaction. It is, however, my money, and I decide what I am going to purchase and from whom I will buy it.

If you remained in the shop because you felt like the offer from the salesman was fair and reasonable that is one thing. If you stayed because big men frightened you and you were afraid to leave, that is a completely different situation. How exactly did the boss stop you when you became uncomfortable and wanted to leave? Were you in any way physically restrained? What prevented all of you from running off, and forced you to listen to the salesman? I do not quite understand how that happened. No one in Istanbul has ever prevented me from leaving any shop when I wanted to leave. If you were held captive I would think you should have reported this to the police.

In answer to your question the largest and most expensive carpet we have is a 12' x 14' (I am sorry I do not know metric equivalents). It fits well in the largest room of our home. It was supposedly made in eastern Turkey. I suspected at the time that it was Iranian rather than Turkish, but that did not concern me. I actually prefer the patterns in Persian rugs to many of the more ethnic patterns in Turkish rugs. Our local carpet seller also believes that the carpet was made in Iran because of the pattern. It is, however, a good quality carpet, and it is now difficult for us to purchase Iranian carpets in the US. We have been very happy with the carpet. We looked at this carpet many times over a period of nearly three weeks, and we ultimately paid $1000USD for the carpet. It had originally been quoted to us as a $5000 carpet.

I would guess that we had about fourteen to twenty hours invested in the selection and purchase of this carpet. If I found this process unpleasant it would not be anything I would be willing to do. It is, however, an activity I enjoy. I really find the process of negotiating prices with salesmen to be a pleasant and challenging activity, but I refuse to be rushed or pressured into a purchase. I certainly would never purchase anything from someone who refused to let me leave his shop, but absent ropes and handcuffs, I am not sure how anyone could prevent me from walking out.

phila
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8. Re: Is Istanbul worth going again? Major improvements are needed

Your last comment is very telling. We spent 8 days in Istanbul this summer, mostly on our own. Other than an Istanbul Eats Tour and picking up a guide inside the Hagia Sophia, we explored using a guidebook, a map and our own internal compass.

We hung out smoking Nargila (though we usually don't smoke) near the University like the locals do. We took the tram and the funicular and the ferries. We sat on the roof for dinner and watched the sunset over the Sea of Marmara. We walked backstreets in Asia.

Do these things at a pace that suits you and perhaps you will fall in love with Istanbul as we did.

Columbus, Ohio
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9. Re: Is Istanbul worth going again? Major improvements are needed

Oh yes, Istanbul is definetly worth visiting again! And I finally get to go back! Next June, I will take a cruise from Italy to Istanbul and spend a few days there with some friends who have never been. I can't wait for them to see some of my favorites that I think about often! Basilica Cisterns, the Blue Mosque, hearing the the morning call to prayer, the Spice Market and I could go on and on! And I wasn't even there for that long. I (as a few of you who have been on here for a long time will remember) spent 3+ wks in Turkey all alone and travel around the country on buses and rental car. I loved every minute of it! I enjoyed the carpet salesmen and the other street touts. Just think of them as street entertainers and see who makes you laugh the hardest! I spent an hour or so sipping tea and some cold soda(it was quite hot out) with a carpet salesman who had seen me walk past his shop a few times and couldn't get me to come in until he said, I know you don't want to buy but you sure look like you could use a rest! So I did. It was very enjoyable. I did end up buying a small carpet handbag that I use quite regularly. I can't wait to get back there! I have such good memories!

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10. Re: Is Istanbul worth going again? Major improvements are needed

Superm I am so happy to read you are returning at long last after the disappointment of having to cancel your last planned trip due to illness.This must mean you are now fit and well again-and that too is good news :)