Last week we returned from our latest "burn out" trip to Istanbul. We do our best to run off some where on a quarterly basis to rejuvenate and cleanse us from the previous 3 months of balls-to-the-wall working/blogging/living. If it weren't for these escapes, I'd be nothing but a burnt out hollow shell of Sara skin.  

Istanbul was a great addition to our rotation. That place is a force, completely overwhelming in every way. Food. Beauty. People. As the city can be an intense place during your first visit, I put together a list of the most valuable tips for those dreaming about planning a trip to Istanbul. If you arrive in Istanbul armed only with these suggestions, you'll be ready to take on the city. Leave everything else to fate. 

1. Taste before buying

Don't feel like you are imposing. The vendors expect you to taste it before you buy HOWEVER IN BIG NEON FLASHING LIGHTS, some of the vendors hope you don't taste before you buy. Why? Because their product is crap. Instead of curry, you might get crushed bouillion cubes. Sometimes the crushed red pepper varieties (of which there are many) get laced with oil and salt to make them heavier, resulting in a heftier price for you. If the peppers look unusually shiny, there's likely a reason. I personally experienced a salty red pepper and a suspiciously sawdust-like tandoori masala. 

While we're on the subject, stay clear of mixed spices like chicken spice, BBQ spice and, god forbid, salad spice. Whatever is in that mystery concoction, it's probably very little spice. Stick to whole spices if you can, and singular spices if you can't. 

Give it a taste, rub it with your fingers, look at the color and definitely take a big whiff before forking over your Lira. 

2. Shop at local markets

The Spice Bazaar is great for pictures, but is not great for buying things. It's expensive because it's focused on selling to tourists with cash to burn. Many people recommend that you instead shop at the market behind the bazaar, where the Turks shop. However, due to it's proximity to the tourist mecca, you still have to work a bit to find a great deal. 

I found the best deals (and variety) to be in the individual neighborhoods of Istanbul. There you can find the local street market (commonly on Sundays) and hole in the wall food shops peddling olives, pickles, spices, cheese, nuts and dried fruits for a much lower price as they cater to locals. 

3. Be polite

When visiting a city whether it's Istanbul or Paris, in a fancy restaurant or a corner hookah bar, being polite will get you everywhere. This was incredibly apparent in Istanbul. The moment we opened up to servers and proprietors in a personable manner, our level of service shot through the roof. Free drinks, free food, endless samples and a lot more attention. Here are some super easy and simple things you can do to get them on your good side:

  • Ask their name

    This is the most important one. It immediately makes that person feel like more than just a servant and has instant payoff.

  • Tell them what you like

    Was that grilled lamb the most tantalizing piece of meat on your trip? Let them know. They'll only want to please you more.

  • Respond

    Also a big one. If they are trying to engage you on a personal level, always respond. You can be short and sweet without getting into a long conversation you don't want to be in. 

  • Smile

    Like a real one, with teeth. 

4. Don't ignore the maitre d

Istanbul is full of restaurants and cafes. 99% of the time, the maitre d or a server is perched out front trying to woo customers into eating in their establishment. They can be quite persistent. Do not ignore them. If you ignore them, you will likely get yelled at. They might even follow you. A simple "no, thank you" or "I just ate" will typically appease them. 

As most of the restaurants are situated in clusters, you may end up walking past the same dudes many times during your trip. Best to be polite. 

5. Google Maps is almost always wrong

When it comes to Istanbul (or any other Old World city), Google Maps is almost always dead wrong about where things are located. Nothing was ever where the map said it was. Feel free to ask people along the way if you need directions. Again, if you are polite, they'll be more than willing to help. 

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