A Basement of Turkish Despair

Irony is a cruel teacher. I composed the last post about Esbelli Evi from a basement room in the Eris Pansiyon in Assos on the Aegean Coast. Little did I know as I gushed about the wonderful setting and impeccable service in Cappadocia that an hour later I would be arguing with the proprietors of my current hotel and having a distinctly different experience. Before I begin to rant, I should emphasize that much of the blame for the argument rests with me. I apparently misunderstood the owners on the night we arrived, a mistake that cost us $150 in the end (a huge amount on our tight 11-month budget). What was so discouraging about the experience was that we, the customers, were made to feel as if we had somehow inconvenienced the proprietors and bore sole responsibility for the misunderstanding. The difference in attitude from Cappadocia where we were appreciated as the raison d’etre for the establishment and afforded every courtesy could not be starker.

So here’s the story. After spending four nights in fabulous, inexpensive hotels with Tom’s parents (more details on those days to come later), we faced a long travel day and did not know where we would be ending up. We played it by ear and at 9:30 pm pulled up to the Eris Pansiyon, the first hotel we encountered in the small seaside village of Assos. I had read in the Lonely Planet that the rooms were “fairly ordinary” but that the owners were American, and I thought it would be nice to learn their story. Lou (Tom’s dad) and I went in to check things out. The small stone buildings looked cozy and the owners, a retired couple from Long Island, seemed personable. They quoted us a rate much higher than our standard, but I was willing to live with it in exchange for a quaint, intimate experience. They showed us two small basement rooms–one that slept 4 people and another that slept 3 (Asher doesn’t need her own bed). Here’s where the misunderstanding comes in. They explained the rates for the rooms, which were steep given their condition, but they promised a good breakfast and a pleasant setting. I assumed that the rates were inclusive for 7 people, the number of people the rooms were designed to accommodate. They went on to explain that normally they charge 20 Euro for an extra person, a price that “barely covers the cost of breakfast,” but that Kieran and Asher would be free. I figured this meant we’d just pay the price of the rooms and consider ourselves lucky to not have to pay the extra person fee for our eighth person. What they really meant was we would have to pay 20 Euro ($27 going on $40) each for Dax and McKane, but I wouldn’t discover that until the next morning.

I should have sensed that things might get difficult when the husband asked that we please all have our eggs the same way so as to make things easier for his wife, who also served as the cook. Or when the wife explained that the heaters would not warm the frigid rooms until after we had left the following day. Or that when we opened the bathroom doors, we were assaulted by a strong sewer smell. The breakfast thing turned out all right, as the wife proved willing to make more than one style of egg and was a proficient chef. The cold thing was tough since the extra blankets they brought were so musty they sent three of us into sneezing fits. The sewer thing wasn’t unbearable, but none of us showered out of fear of acquiring the stink on our person. (Lorelie, Tom’s mom, burned a Harvest scented Yankee candle all night which she had brought from the States for just such a scenario.)

The Eris Pension in Assos Turkey

To be fair, the rooms were clean, but the beds were the worst we’ve had thus far in Turkey; they made a plastic crinkle noise when we rolled over and we could feel the springs in our backs. We’re not spoiled and are more than willing to suffer to save a buck…or a Euro…or a lira. What we’re not willing to do is pay a premium for lackluster accommodations that leave you with a kink in your spine.

The next morning, after a poor sleep, we found some compensation in the hearty, tasty breakfast the wife prepared for 7 of us. According to their “barely cover the cost” calculations, it cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 to prepare, so perhaps this shouldn’t have been a surprise. When we went to check out, the husband produced a handwritten receipt and quoted his figure in Euros, lira and dollars. When I saw the number, my jaw dropped. “No,” I gasped. It’s supposed to be 40 Euros less” (still a high price for what we had gotten). “We were very clear with you last night,” both husband and wife replied. “I don’t think so. I never would have agreed if I had known that was the price,” I sputtered as I tried to catch my breath. It was like I had been hit by a freight train. The amount they were charging would have paid for 2-1/2 nights in any of the other lovely places we’ve stayed throughout Turkey. As I reeled, Lou started counting out dollars from his wallet and Tom started coming unglued. “That’s just ridiculous,” he exclaimed. After more than 230 nights on the road in 19 countries, we know value when we encounter it and this wasn’t value…this seemed more like extortion.

Tom was prepared to pay what he thought was fair and walk away, a usual and necessary practice in many developing nations where vendors often abandon agreed upon prices, but Lou and I wouldn’t allow it. I felt bewildered and Lou felt obliged to eat my misunderstanding. I freely admit my role in the misunderstanding, but I expected the owners to apologize for the confusion rather than blame me for it, especially since the way they were charging us differed from anything we’ve encountered in Turkey or any other country thus far. Rather than offering to meet us halfway or even forgive the disputed $50, a gesture many customer-focused owners would extend, they simply said, “That’s the rate. Sorry.”

As we paid the hefty total, each tried to explain the reasons for the rate. The wife argued that since she holds a master’s degree, her “labor isn’t cheap.” The husband explained that since “Assos is an expensive town” property values mandate high prices. The former is simply a bizarre contention and we dismissed it as such. The latter we would have accepted had we not stopped at the next place down the road, just a stone’s throw away, and discovered we could have gotten three decent rooms instead of two, much better bathrooms, and breakfast for one third (that’s 67% less) of the price. Apparently these folks hadn’t gotten the memo about Assos being expensive. A little more persistence and we could have saved some serious cash. Ouch!

Next time we’ll be sure to shop around.

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3 thoughts on “A Basement of Turkish Despair

  1. What a shame that you had to run into such dishonest business owners. And no wonder much of the world sees Americans in a bad way, with folks like the ones running the hotel there in Turkey they are possibly the only Americans some people get to meet. Thankfully with you traveling the world many will see that there are other people from America, and we are not greedy and dishonest.

    And as for high priced egg scrambling… if she has a Masters…shouldn’t she be smart enough to hire a cheaper cook???? Seems like they have no business sense at all. Glad that the stay there is behind you, and hope that you have no more such run ins.


  2. I traveled to Istanbul a little time ago with a bunch of friends. We stayed at the Marmara Hotels and Residencies. It works out around 85 euros to stay at the Marmara Pendik but, it was well worth it. There’s sea views and swimming pools. For 42 EUROS, between 2 people its hard enough finding a place in Spain or France anywhere NEAR the quality of these places.

  3. I read with great interest your travels around Turkey especially your visit to Gallipoli. I am from New Zealand and now live in Turkey and go to Anzac Day every year. It is interesting to read your observations of a country that I now call home as I had forgotten some of the little things that I first noticed when I came here.

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