24/03/2007

Turkish delights

It's already a few days that I've returned from my second trip to Istanbul within a couple of weeks, but I've been kept from blogging about it. While in the Istanbul Hilton, I had an inexplicable (or so it seemed) corruption of all my system preferences on the laptop. Thanks to the trusted backup, that could later be restored without difficulties. But then I remembered that the same thing had happened earlier in Athens where I also stayed at a Hilton. The common factor most likely is the fact that I left the machine running overnight while connected to the web via Swisscom Eurospot, a disgustingly expensive hotel ISP which apparently somehow messes with my machine's preferences. Rest assured that I am not going to take that risk again.

Speaking of risk taking - I have a funny little story to tell about my close encounter with the Istanbul underworld. I spent the Sunday evening walking the town before meeting up with friends later. So, this regular looking guy asks me something in Turkish, to which I respond in English. Turns out he wanted to know the time, and he's a stranger, but frequent visitor to Istanbul by the name of Ali. We strike up a conversation during which he shows me around. A bit later, we decide to have a drink at a place he knows. Hmm, funny, I think, but ok, let's go.

Not long after sitting down at a table at this place "friend" Ali knows, we were being joined by two very blond, very curvy Russian ladies who developed a healthy appetite for the local bubbly. At that point, all my remaining warning lights went off and I asked for the bill. Not really surprisingly, the tab already stood at 2'340 Lira (EUR 1'270). What came next really took me by surprise though, and that was my reaction: I remained rather cool and asked for the police because there was no way I was going to pay. Naturally, our friendly ladies quickly cleared away, and the room's atmosphere turned distinctly unfriendly. Equally naturally, the manager was disinclined to call the police, nor did I have the local emergency number. Thus, the negotiations commenced.

I offered to pay 400 for the wine and firmly stuck to that offer, knowing full well that I didn't have more than 70 with me. That wasn't satisfactory of course, especially since "my friend" Ali offered to take half the bill. When I still wouldn't budge, he finally switched sides and started boasting his boxing prowess and mafia relations, to which I responded in kind (karate & bankers!). After about half an hour of this back and forth haggling, the manager became increasingly nervous and finally took me up on my offer. When I disclosed that I only had 50 in cash, he suggested to escort me to the next ATM as he wouldn't take credit cards for the remainder (why's that, I wonder ...). But once we were outside (he all by himself), I decided that I'd had enough and bade him farewell, not without shaking hands, and swiftly made it to the next cab.

In the end, that little adventure only cost me 50 Lira, and I learned a lesson or two along the way. On the one hand, I am rather pleased with the brazen way I negotiated myself out of that mess, on the other, I am not very happy about having gotten myself into it in the first place - it could have ended much less satisfactorily. I'll be more careful next time. There will be a next time for sure, as this could have happened everywhere, and Istanbul really is a fascinating place, you can take my word for it!

5 comments:

Joel said...

It's not an isolated event. Must have been quite terrifying in retrospect. Glad you survived without being chucked into the Bosphorus

Chris said...

Indeed - it's bloody cold, they say!

Thanks for the link. I was aware that this is a common scam, but it's interesting to read about others' experiences.

Smaran said...

Oh my, I have no idea what I would have done. Panicked, for sure. But, honestly, I would never enter a shady bar for wine with another gentleman. :-)

Smaran said...

Joel, I just read the forum post you linked to. That's even scarier! I'm now actually impressed by the way Chris tackled the situation. Remember: don't try and socialise with well-dressed and well-spoken gentlemen on the streets of Istanbul when they approach you. You do not want to go to any clubs or pubs or restaurants. Lucky for me, I won't even have enough to go anywhere other than McDonalds. Actually, you chaps should consider avoiding high-profile hotels like the Hilton.

dj said...

I also bought some turkish delight... at the airport. I still like them even though they're really sweet.

This story is really frightening and i am relly glad that nothing bad has happened to you. Now, did this happen on the Sunday I left Istanbul ?