by Keira Louis
Turkey is THE place for gold and diamonds. We didn´t know this before we arrived in Istanbul, but almost immediately, hoards of jewellery stores were appearing in front of us wherever we went.
I couldn´t resist the temptation to look at engagement rings. Expecting the prices to be on par with those in Italy and Greece (i.e. VERY EXPENSIVE!!), Adam and I window-shopped at first, until we were coaxed inside one store by its friendly male owner. During our travels, though, we had learnt that actually entering shops before you have made a decision about buying something was a dangerous move. You would no doubt walk away having paid too much for something you didn´t really want anyway. So we were very cautious.
Once inside, we sat down at the diamond ring counter and politely (but non-commitedly) enquired about the price of the size and cut we were after. I was already planning the usual ¨Thanks but no thanks¨get-away line in my head, but when he finally calculated the price for us, we couldn´t believe our ears. It was the cheapest price we had been quoted across Europe, and a good price, too. We could have bought it right there and then, but as this was the first shop we had actually looked in we decided to compare prices in other stores. I opted for the ¨Thanks, we´ll think about it¨ line instead, which our friend seemed to like, and we continued our search.
With a new sense of excitement, we headed into the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul´s massive undercover tourist market lined with rows of souvenier shops, fake brand-name T-shirt and perfume stalls, turkish delight and apple tea sellers, and suprisingly, quality jewellery shops specialising in gold and diamonds. We had a sneaky suspicion that everything would be overpriced (it was a market specifically targeted at tourists) but we thought we´d have a look anyway.
After window-shopping a bit more, we entered our second shop, and again, were surprised by the price we were told. This is ridiculously cheap, we thought, even cheaper than before, but the ring still looked of excellent quality and the slightly bigger diamond sparkled proudly. It was gorgeous! Before we could decide to purchase it or not, however, we had to check our bank balance online. Since our credit cards were stolen in Barcelona, we had been surviving on only one debit card so we would have to pay in cash, IF our current funds allowed (it would take 3 days to transfer money and we were leaving the next day). So we headed to an internet cafe near by, and this is where the story takes a strange turn….
We were in luck – there was just enough money in our account to purchase the ring if we decided to. It was about 2pm and the Grand Bazaar closed at 6:30pm so we had a few hours to think about it (and google ¨diamonds in Turkey¨, just to make sure we weren´t being sold a fake!)
So while I researched, Adam went to get a quick haircut (I know, I told you the story got strange!) from a ¨Salon¨, which appeared to be just around the corner from the internet cafe inside the complex we were in. But to Adam´s surprise, he was followed by a security guard who seemed to be saying (in Turkish) that he wasn´t allowed to be here. Having heard the commotion, a muslim Turkish lady emerged from her office to politely explain to Adam, in English, that he was actually in the Istanbul Cultural and Performing Arts Centre, not the hairdresser at all. Obviously, ¨Salon¨ in Turkish means something completely different to the English word!
The lovely lady introduced herself as Nazmia and kindly showed Adam to a hairdresser, enjoying the fact that she was able to practice her English with him on the way. The haircut turned out to be just what Adam wanted, and so cheap, so we went back to Nazmia´s office to thank her for her help.
Nazmia took a liking to both Adam and I, and we were in her office talking til almost 5:30pm. She gave us gifts from the Cultural Centre, invited us to a theatre performance on Sunday (which we weren´t going to be around for, unfortunately) and insisted on us joining her and her family for dinner at a nearby restaurant that evening. It was such a lovely offer – and we really wanted to go – but we had to get back to the Grand Bazaar before 6:30pm to buy the ring, as we decided it was too perfect to resist. When we explained this to Nazmia, she flew into help mode again. Before we knew it, she was on the phone to her friend who had a jewellery store in the Bazaar, saying her two very good friends from Australia wanted to buy a ring. She told her friend that we would come to her shop, and demanded that he give us his best price, otherwise, Nazmia would not shop there anymore. With that, she hung up, wrote down her friend´s name and shop number, and Adam and I were off. We organised to meet back at 7:30pm for dinner.
We were naturally a bit dubious but decided to check out one last price out of courtesy to Nazmia. And we were so glad we did – the price we were quoted was the best price we had seen all day. We were sold! Our ring would be ready for collection at 9am the next morning. I was so excited!
Nazmia was over the moon to hear that we had purchased from her friend´s shop. We ate dinner at a lovely Turkish restaurant near her office with her partner and two gorgeous children. She was such a genuinely, friendly lady, with so much to give, and we were so glad to have met her. It was a really great night with delicious traditional food and drink – and to top things off, we didn´t pay a thing. In another show of her genuine, unselfish nature, Nazmia shouted us.
When we finally picked up the ring the next day, we were really excited. It was perfect, just what we wanted. Istanbul turned out to be a surprising stop during our travels –an experience we´ll certainly never forget!