How To Get Free Tea In Istanbul

Don’t Buy A Turkish Rug

Prior to leaving for Turkey, I consulted with a friend who had lived there for several years.  He shared with me the following:

At some point you will be approached by a man who will ask you to follow him to his shop to see his rugs.  He may take you down some back alleys before finally arriving at said shop, but as long as you don’t have an uneasy feeling, you should follow him.  Make it very clear that you don’t want to buy a rug, but are only interested in learning about rugs; how they are made, the different kinds, etc.  I know this sounds strange, but you should absolutely take the time to do this.  It is part of the experience of being in Istanbul.

After arriving in Istanbul on Thursday (Thanksgiving) morning just before noon and quickly dropping off our luggage at the hotel, we took off on foot in search of adventure.  Or at least some local tourist attractions.  The first one we happened upon was the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, otherwise known as the Blue Mosque.  Unfortunately for us, we happened to arrive just as the call to prayer sounded from the loudspeakers.  Just as we were discussing what to do with ourselves for the next (mumble, mumble, I’m not sure how long we would have had to wait) minutes, a gentleman approached and asked if we’d like to see his shop.  I couldn’t believe it was happening already!  He led us away from the mosque and past a row of crowded shops, then down a narrow alley (oh my gosh, the aforementioned narrow alley!), which promptly opened onto a wide, well-traveled street, on the corner of which was his shop, the 5K Rug Store (apparently so named for the five brothers who own it).  We were led upstairs and offered either tea or coffee.  I chose apple tea and it was delicious.  They proceeded to tell us everything about Turkish rugs, including the fact that they are sewn by hand, sometimes taking up to four years (depending on the fabric, which can be wool and cotton, silk and cotton, or pure silk), and are woven by a young woman to earn money for her dowry.  I took a picture with one of my favorites, since I knew none of them would be coming home with me (even this small one cost $900).

Be Young, Female, Cute and Not Turkish In a Not-Too-Crowded Street Cafe

Istanbul, at least the part we have been walking around, reminds me of many tourist-rich cities I’ve been to in that everyone will try to sell you anything.  For example, every five feet in Tijuana I recall being asked “Hey lady, can you spare just one Mexican minute?” by street vendors wanting me to buy their trinkets.  The restaurants in Istanbul are so desperate for tourists’ business that one entrepreneurial individual even tried to get my attention by telling me I’d dropped something.  So last night we finally decided on where to eat dinner by choosing one of the least obnoxious places we could find.  We sat down (unfortunately at an end table in an outdoor seating are, so we kept getting approached and asked if we wanted to buy things, the funniest of which was mens’ socks) and ordered.  When the food came, it still being Thanksgiving, we raised our glasses (I actually had a bottle of water) and toasted to the holiday.  The ladies at the table next to us, a mother and her teenaged daughter who turned out to be Canadians who are currently living in Dubai, overheard us and engaged us in conversation.  We ended up talking for over an hour, during which time the establishment began to empty out.  Our waiter approached us (all four of us) not once but twice and offered us free rounds of hot tea, normally 3 Turkish Lira per serving (so a total of 24 TL, or approximately $13) during that time.  The only explanation we could come up with collectively is that we were nearly his last customers and as long as he kept us there, drinking tea and talking, we served as a draw for other tourists to come in and sit down.  Or maybe we’re just that hot.  Or both.

Try the Turkish Bath, Spa Style, At the Hotel

Another friend recommended I wouldn’t have the complete Turkish experience if I didn’t do the whole Turkish bath thing, but warned me NOT to go to the hotel spa but rather to go native.  I completely ignored this advice based on the fact that my travelling companion had attempted to do so in Morocco and had a terrifying experience.  So we headed down to the spa in our bathing suits and were told to first go to the sauna and the steam room.  While sitting in the sauna, a man kept gesticulating to me.  Not realizing that a MAN was going to be doing the whole bath thing, I thought he was another customer and kept trying to tell him to come on in using my best Turkish sign language.  Then I headed over to the steam room, where the same thing happened with a different man.  I finally figured out that I was being summoned to the bath, which, to be perfectly fair, is NOT a bath.  It is the human equivalent of being cleaned and tenderized prior to being cooked.  I’m not saying it was bad, I mean my skin is very pink and shiny and I feel very relaxed, but that beast scrubbed and beat the crap out of me, and put his hands places I didn’t realize he’d be allowed to.  But, in the end, they gave me tea, so all was right with the world.


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