For the few readers who have wondered about my absence the last several days, I just returned from a wonderful trip to Istanbul.
Istanbul is a fascinating city–where east meets west like no other place in the world. This was certainly not my first time to Istanbul, but the trip was different this time. Although I flew through Istanbul several times last year because of their tremendous Star Alliance Gold lounge, this was my first venture outside the airport since 2008. Back then, I was still a bit of a greenhorn traveler, staying in youth hostels, using public transportation, and eating in overpriced and underwhelming tourist restaurants in Sultanahmet.
This trip was different. Better restaurants. Park Hyatt. And taxis to get around. Which leads me to the point of this post.
Taxis are very cheap in Istanbul compared to other places, like (ahem) my taxi ride in Iceland earlier in the week. Consequently, I elected to exclusively use taxis this trip (my impatience over Istanbul traffic moved me to try the subway once, but it took just as long and cost just as much). Taxi drivers live a hard life and it is easy to run into a dishonest one wherever you are in the world. Throw in about five taxi rides a day during this trip, and you are bound to run into a couple bad apples. Which I did.
The first was a short trip to from the Grand Bazaar to the waterfront. Drivers usually get angry at short-distance riders, but this one did not seem concerned. He asked me where I was from, and when I said “Los Angeles” he responded by pressing the meter a number of times, as if I did not notice. We get to the water, which turned out to be less than 2km away, and the meter reads 28.80TRY (about $16USD). It should have read around 5-6 TRY.
In the past, I would have paid the man what the meter said–as I think many tourists would. This time, I simply said no. He became flustered and said the meter was correct. I pulled out 5TRY, handed it to him, and said to call the police if he had a problem. He said nothing else…
The next morning, I was on my way back to the Park Hyatt from the İstiklal Caddesi and noticed the cab driver did not reset the meter from the previous passenger, which registered at 17,20TRY. I also noted, having now been back and forth quite a few times from the hotel, that he took a blatantly circuitous route to get back to the property.
Chucklingly, as we neared the hotel I told him that his meter was incorrect. He insisted it was correct and blamed road work for the delay. Sure…
He was offered a 10TRY note (pretty generous, I thought), which he refused because the bill had a slight tear in it. So he got 5TRY instead. And did not protest.
It probably should not have taken me this long to realize that you can push back against cabbies big time, but the whole cab experience in Istanbul was very liberating. At the same time, it brings back lament over trips to Russia, China, and Jordan where I was totally ripped off. Who knows what circumstances I will find myself in next time around, but you can bet that the next cab driver who tries to rip me off–wherever that may be–will not get off easy.