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Ivan Gillis
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Some places remain unscathed by tourist-trampled mediocrity. Eastern Turkey is one of them. If adventure and profit appeal, don't just dream of the Silk Road--take it.


It's ideal for a dabble into suitcase importing. To be frank, you should forget Istanbul. (But allow a couple of days there to soak up the sights.) The farther east into Asian Turkey you go, the better prices get.


Take empty suitcases. So what if you smell a bit freaky after a few days on the road? You won't win any fashion prizes, but you can kit yourself out for less than $18 in the bazaars. Just buy a new shirt and pants, or a top and long skirt. Then dump the relics you traveled in.


Here are some of the best delights we found that are ideal for resale in the U.S. market:


  • For silks, visit Bursa. Take a hydrofoil across the Sea of Marmara from Istanbul and you'll be there in 90 minutes. In its silk bazaar, last season's designs sell at deep discounts. Pure silk ties for $8.60; pillow slips for $4; gloriously patterned scarves the size of shawls from $16.


  • Embroidered towels. Bursa is a happy hunting ground for these, too. 100% cotton hand towels, wonderfully absorbent, start at just $2.50. (Without haggling.) These sell on U.S. websites for at least $10.


  • SMall flat-weave kilims and sumaks, embroidered kilims. They're light--they needed to be for the nomadic lifestyle. You'll easily fit half a dozen in a backpack. Best prices I found were in Sanliurfa, in southeast Anatolia. Bargain hard, and you'll get regional wool kilims for $30, sumaks for $78.


  • Copperware. Hand-engraved sugar bowls and trays from $8.60, cezves (Turkish coffee pots) from $4.50. Investigate the bazaars of Gazaintep and Sanliurfa.


  • Mother-of-pearl inlay. Small jewelry boxes made of walnut wood and inlaid with mother-of-pearl start at around $8.50. Another reason to scout around Gaziantep's bazaar is for the saddle blankets. How much would a horse-lover pay for a distinctive saddle blanket crafted from leather and a bright woolen kilim? Probably far more than $17. Yet that's what you'll find them for in Diyarkabir, the main city of Kurdish Turkey.


  • Kilim caps. In Kayseri, a man makes "baker's boy" caps from kilim fragments. He sells them to Cappadocia merchants for just 84 cents. They mark them up to $2.50. Just think what you could charge. I'll bet kilim baseball caps would sell well, too. Lilac-colored cotton shawls embroidered with silver sequins and thread. I promise, you'll go crazy for these. They're worn as headgear by both men and women in Sanliurfa. Price: around $4.30.


  • Hand-painted tiles are among Turkey's oldest art forms. You'll find 4-by-4-inch reproduction tiles of the stupendous quartz Iznik tiles adorning Istanbul's Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace sell for at least $22 Stateside. I saw them for $5 apiece in Istanbul, and 8-by-8-inch ones from $7. I never got to the town where they're made on this trip, but you could. If you are a tile fan, you should put Kutahya in your notebook.


  • Yemeni slippers. These soft leather shoes have uppers from tanned goatskin, insides from sheep leather, soles from water buffalo leather. All hand-sewn. You'll be able to bargain them down to $17 (maybe less) in Gaziantep.


Never heard of Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, or any of these locations?  Well just google either one, but be sure to add Turkey.  Such as Sanlirufa, Turkey.

Discover Open Road

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