Category Archives: Personal

Expat lesson learned: you don’t have to go home but you can’t bank here

Another bit of frustration I’ve experienced here has been financial, and not just the exorbitant prices I’m willing to pay for wine and pork products. While banking and international transactions can be tricky whenever you travel, it gets more complicated when you are traveling long-term and don’t know when you’ll next be home or near your local bank branch.

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Istanbul apartment: a tour!

I’ve started to upload my photos of Istanbul including some pix of our temporary apartment in Osmanbey/Nişantaşı, so I thought I’d give a little tour.

Our street is lined with wholesale fabric shops, making me think of Tim Gunn saying, “Teşekkür ederim, Mood!” every time I walk by. Each afternoon, the fabric salesmen stand outside smoking and drinking tea intensely, and staring at me as I walk home like I’m the Queen of England.

Apartment view

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Abandon all expat fantasies, all ye who enter here

My current view of Istanbul

If you’ve been following my tweets or Facebook updates, you might know that since arriving in Istanbul, I’ve been living in an airport hotel. I wouldn’t say life here is hell (the hotel is nice and new, I don’t have to worry about cooking or cleaning), it’s more like purgatory. The current situation is that H is working at a client site near the airport and after spending his first week in the business district of Levent over in the new city and taking $50 cabs to and from work, he was moved out here until more suitable accommodations can be found. There was a possibility of moving to an apartment in swish Nisantasi (sort of the Soho of Istanbul, full of designer shops and upmarket restaurants), but it would mean a killer commute for H who is clocking 12 hour days for the foreseeable future and more outrageous cab fares. Finding an apartment in a more convenient neighborhood could take awhile, as Big Company has to handle dealing with multiple vendors to set us up somewhere; I can’t just go on Craig’s List and find something. We did discover a few viable neighborhoods this weekend in seaside Yesilkoy and Florya, but we are stuck at an airport hotel for what could be days or weeks, in the middle of nowhere Istanbul, relegated to the inconvenient hotel shuttle bus and taxis. Life right now is sort of like Lost in Translation meets Up in the Air, in a foreign language without subtitles.

Since I’ve visited Istanbul before in December 2008, I’ve seen the major tourist attractions already, and with my mother visiting next week and more friends coming at the end of May, I’m holding off on seeing them again or checking out any I missed on my first visit. Given that I’m so unsettled (I don’t even want to unpack until I know where I’ll be for at least a week) and without a permanent address, I can’t really do any of the neighborhood/moving in type of things like find my local grocery store, dry cleaner, cafe, etc (not that those things exist out here). Nor do I want to buy anything that I have to repack and remove. Basically, this leaves me with wandering around the city (once I can get into it), riding the transit system all over the place, and hanging out at the hotel. The hardest part of expatriation is realizing you can’t recreate your former life. Last Monday, I had lunch at Peter Luger’s, hung out with some of my favorite NYC writers, went to a few fun bars, and got all around New York easily and independently. Today I ate some questionable “veal” bacon at the breakfast buffet, wandered around an industrial neighborhood by the hotel in search of civilization (epic fail, just office parks and Turkish truckers gawking at me), watched Glee on a crappy internet connection that costs 8 euro a day, and pondered which alternate airport-area hotels would be slightly less grim. But it’s not all bad, this weekend I walked along the Bosphorus beaches, ate Turkish ice cream with a knife and fork, and found a park with lambs frolicking. In a few weeks, I’ll look back at this time and laugh, but right now I just want to cry into my çay.

More on my first few days to come (I have gotten out, I swear!), along with some pix.

Lessons learned from preparing for move/bed bugs redux

All my worldly goods

I arrived Wednesday in Istanbul, carrying only two suitcases to live out of for the next five months or so. I took off last week from work in order to pack, clean, and try to purge some of the stuff we’ve accumulated in the last five years in the same apartment. But to make matters more difficult, I had another run in with bed bugs. You can read all about the first nightmare here, but in a nutshell, I went through the bed bug extermination in the bedroom last June when H was in Tokyo, involving umpteen loads of laundry and an apartment full of plastic bags. Our building has had some infestations again and they brought back the dog to inspect all apartments and our living room sofa and chair tested positive, though we had no bites or evidence of the bugs. So I spent the last week in packing and purging hell, having to clear out every item in the living room, including the hall closet and dining area. As a horrible housekeeper and sentimental packrat, this nearly led to the loss of sanity but I’ve emerged a little stronger and a lot leaner in possessions. The process for prepping for a bed bug extermination, moving to another part of town or another country, and packing for a long trip have a lot in common and I have essentially done all three simultaneously, and learned a few things along the way that could benefit others in the same situation.

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One week to Istanbul!

Many thanks for the many comments, emails, tweets, etc, on this blog, all very valuable and helpful! Some updates:

  • I leave for Istanbul on Tuesday, April 27! Flying Turkish Air, hoping for an upgrade since I’m flying a fully refundable coach ticket.
  • I’ll be in Milan May 6-10, staying at my cousin’s place and possibly our fabulous client Principe di Savoia with daytrips planned to Venice and the Lakes region.
  • I bought a Kindle and started loading it with Turkey travel guides, Stieg Larsson novels, and looking for epic novels.
  • My NYC fun list has been cut down due to the mammoth workload I have in my apartment, though I’m still planning on lunch at Peter Luger’s, Tim Burton MoMA exhibit, and a few others.
  • Why is my NYC fun list cut? I’m going through ANOTHER bed bug hell, this time in my living room. This means all the hundreds of books, winter coats, and unfinished projects have to be bagged and stored in another room. AHHH, it’s hard to contemplate, but it will get done somehow.
  • To my dismay, YouTube and WordPress are BANNED in Turkey. I have learned of a number of ways to get around this, including H’s VPN and numerous proxies, but I’ll update (hopefully) once I’m on the ground.
  • Due to the ash cloud, H had an interesting experience getting to Turkey. Original flight was routed through Kiev to Istanbul, but he ended up stranded in Moscow, unable to leave the airport due to lack of visa though he was born in Russia. On the plus side: he found himself drinking beers in the airport with Jeff Koons and Onyx!
  • We finished watching season 2 of Breaking Bad and started season 3, so good! I can continue on iTunes, any tips on watching Showtime/HBO shows online? I’ve resisted watching Treme so far because I know I might not be able to watch the whole season, but want to continue with Nurse Jackie and United States of Tara.
  • Lots of friends plan to visit me in Turkey over the summer, let me know if your plans take you there!

Back to the purging and packing..

TTFN, New York

When I moved to New York in February 1998, subway tokens were still in circulation, smoking was still allowed in bars, and almost no one had a cell phone, smart or otherwise.  Over the past 12 years, I’ve lived in 8 apartments in 2 boroughs, and held 12 jobs ranging from reservationist at now-defunct Tavern on the Green to art model at the Art Students’ League to temp at McKinsey. I’ve been ready to leave/terrified to move for the past few years, and now that my Istanbul move is imminent, I’m thinking about what I want to squeeze into my last two weeks (for now, anyway). In addition to massive amounts of cleaning, packing, and errands, I’ve added a few more fun things to my NYC to-do list:

  • Tim Burton exhibit at MoMA: everyone says you have to go early morning during the week if you have a prayer of having any space to breathe, so I’m planning a midweek visit next week to see it before it closes.
  • Charles Addams exhibit at Museum of the City of New York: I’ve always wanted to visit this museum, but have never made the trek, but this Charles Addams exhibit is the perfect excuse – I remember poring over his books of cartoons as a child, before I permanently associated Wednesday Addams with Christina Ricci.
  • Visit Statue of Liberty: I’m glad I was able to see the view from the World Trade Center years ago, and I’ve also been to the Empire State Building and the Rainbow Room, but never managed to get out to see the Statue of Liberty.
  • See a movie at the Ziegfield theater: I’m not all that jazzed about seeing Clash of the Titans, but I’ve always wanted to visit this old school movie palace.
  • Have lunch at Peter Luger’s in Brooklyn: I’ve actually never been to Peter Luger’s at all but rather than put a big, fancy dinner on the to-do list, I’d rather visit for a midweek lunch and get the elusive burger only available on the lunch menu.
  • Go to the Bronx Zoo for free Wednesday: I’ve been to the Bronx Zoo before, but not in years, and there are a few baby monkeys that require my attention. Wednesday is pay-what-you-wish, worth it for me to sit on the subway for an hour and a half to get there.

While there are many other museums I’d love to revisit and places I’d like to explore, I’m severely underplaying how much non-fun work I have to do before departure. Did I miss anything crucial? Anyone want to join any of my NYC expeditions? Leave a comment below.

Staying connected in Turkey

New calling cards by the amazing Brooklyn Limestone.

Since I started thinking about my pending Istanbul move, after the initial excitement subsided, panic began to set in. How will I find English-language books to read?! Will I have to give up my beloved Android smartphone and my constant connection to Google?! How will I watch the final season of Lost?! I’ve spent weeks researching and pondering solutions and welcome any advice or input.

Books: Kindle or traditional?

I tend to read a lot, a book or two a week, and while that might change as I won’t have 1 hour+ commuting time anymore, I need access to new reading material regularly. Magazines and newspapers I can read online on my laptop, but books are another story. While I’m sure Istanbul has a few English-language bookshops, not sure how the selection and pricing will be, plus I don’t want to be amassing books while I’m living abroad. Kindle is the only e-reader you can use outside the US (to my knowledge) as long as you download on a computer with a US billing address and I’d appreciate the ability to carry multiple books (especially guidebooks) while traveling. Looking at pros/cons of each, I’m still undecided:

  • Kindle pros: large selection, low per-unit price, convenient for traveling, and no buildup of physical books. Cons: high initial price, not the same as actual books, unsure of technology and “feel,” and what if it gets lost or stolen?!
  • Book pros: Proven technology, English-language bookstore or exchange = instant community, no entry cost might add up to less over time, better reading experience. Cons: Higher per book price, less convenient to acquire and smaller selection.

(Legal) ways to watch American TV

I won’t be ashamed to admit I like TV, and I can get over the loss of DVR and set times that I expect to watch shows, but I’ve invested a few years in Lost and need to know how it ends. Also need to see how tragic the new Jersey Shore in Miami will end up. Not to mention 30 Rock, The Office, and the myriad Law & Order-type procedural dramas I watch. So I look to the internet to recommend the following:

  • Websites to download/watch shows outside of the US like Hulu (which doesn’t work abroad)
  • Long-running TV shows I can watch on DVD and pretend they are new. I’m catching up now with season 2 of Breaking Bad and working my way through Freaks & Geeks.

Phone and internet without roaming

H. and I both have T-Mobile’s myTouch Android phones and love the ability to use the internet, Gmail, Google Maps, and other fine products offered by Google. We can unlock our phones and go with Wi-Fi, but I need to read up on the finer points of buying SIM cards in Turkey, I’ve heard things that they limit the time you can use a foreign phone. I’ve set up a Google Voice number that can forward all calls to another number or just be used as voicemail in order to put on my personal “calling” cards shown above and can use Nimbuzz to use Skype on the actual mobile phone device, but welcome other ideas/tips/problems.

News with a capital N: I’m moving to Istanbul

This blog has been quiet for a few weeks while I’ve awaited updates on some big news: I’m moving to Istanbul, Turkey, as of next month. As readers may or may not know, my husband (known as H. as in husband) is a consultant with a Big Company. Big Company has a new client in Istanbul and he’s moving over for 5 months or so to work on the project. After he went to Japan last year for 4 weeks 3 months, I decided this time I was going along to experience expat life in a foreign city, after 12+ years in New York.

What am I going to do in Istanbul? I will remain with my PR agency working remotely, continuing media relations and reveling in my new role as social media curator (see our Facebook and forthcoming blog). Hopefully I’ll also meet with some potential new clients in Turkey and most certainly blog about my experience like it’s going out of style. One of the first things I did when I heard this potential news weeks ago was look up direct flights from Istanbul and began dreaming of weekend trips to Beirut, Damascus, Dubai, etc.

At this point, that’s all I know, though I hope in the coming weeks, I can develop more details and some sort of FAQ. And start learning some Turkish. Have connections in Turkey? Want to come visit? By all means, let me know.

Week of travel, social media, and being social with (travel) media

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking on a roundtable on travel and social media here in NYC along with travel/Twitter savants luxe travel planner Stacy Small, Kim Mance of Go Galavanting web travel videos, and Brian Simpson of Roger Smith Hotel, all moderated by AnneMarie Dooling from FrillSeekerDiary. Though I’ve gone to theater school and done comedy improv, I was nervous as hell before the panel, as it was hard to think and answer in a remotely insightful way about something I use mostly  to share animal videos and snarky comments, but I think it went well. Excellent recaps have been written up on Sosauce and GoBackpacking, I mostly talked about using social media (primarily Twitter) as a “watercooler” to talk with media/friends (the two groups overlap) about travel news, trends, and the odd viral video, sort of like note passing for adults who sit at desks all day.

The night after the roundtable, I organized a casual bowling night for some travel friends at Leisure Time Bowl in Port Authority (chosen for its central location and transportation offerings, but also rather spiffy). Why bowling? It started last fall when I happened to spend an afternoon bowling downtown and noticed a remarkably diverse crowd of bowlers: children’s birthday parties, NYU frat kids, hipsters, etc. I spoke to the waitress who told me it’s also popular with foreign travelers, particularly with kids, as bowling is the same in every language. This is just the sort of quirky travel fact that would appeal to my friend Robert Reid of Lonely Planet, so we began talking about a travel meetup/Tweetup with bowling. Good times ensued over a yard (or two) of beer, Bulgaria talk, and bowling lore. Shouts out to Paul Brady, who tried to teach me how to to do that leg lift thing that guys do when bowling; Erik Trinidad of the ever-brilliant Fancy Fast Food, who made sure nachos were ordered; Jauntsetter Dorothy with her sparkly new ring; Sean O’Neill of Budget Travel, who bowled an impressive turkey or two; Robert for being my Brooklyn subway home buddy, and Sam for spending part of his first trip to the US in a bus station.* Post script: While looking up the leg lift thing, I found this fascinating article on bowling for amputees, but the always-delightful Mary Roach.

That weekend, I found myself braving the snow to the Javits Center for the New York Times Travel Show to visit a few clients with booths on the showroom floor, attend a few seminars, and avoid the swag-grabbing masses. Last year, I took H. along to the show who made me sign up for every free trip at the show, causing me hours of time “unsubscribing” to newsletters and emails the following week. Also last year, I saw a sloth at the Busch Gardens booth and it started an obsession (who knew they were so cuddly and sweet looking?!), but this year I only spotted some penguins (arguably cuter, but much more common). Travel swag and animal displays aside, I attended a few seminars of interest: What do Women Want in Travel? and Travel Through the Eyes of Travel Writers. The audiences and messages could not have been more different: women apparently want security, bonding with other women, and some sort of indulgence (i.e. spas, Italian food) and travel writers like to get to know a place by getting lost, drunk, and friendly with locals. Of course, that’s a massive generalization but I almost wished that the two groups could have listened to each other: maybe the 60-year-old widow traveling independently for the first time *should* try riding a public bus or visiting France just for the cheese, and maybe the travel writer should spend a weekend doing a cooking class with a multi-generational family to see how and why the vast majority of non-industry people travel.

After a visit to meet and pet Mike Barish’s new dog Heath (hey buddy, hope you are less scared next time!), I rounded out the night with David Farley’s Restless Legs Reading Series, which I’ve attended with religious fervor for the past year and a half. Blogger Chris Gray Faust wrote up a great post about it here (I’m happy to have been the person who invited her), and notes how Farley called it an “after party” for the NYT Travel Show. It’s a good analogy in general for the series, while I’ve gone to drink and chat with dozens of writers over the series, I don’t see it as a networking event as much as a chance to be introduced to travel writing I may not have known about and talk with like-minded people. As much as social media has given me a way to meet journalists and other travelers it’s never going to take the place of happy hour or making an ass of yourself in rented shoes.

*Lack of bowling shout outs for Rachel, Greta, Anna, Ashley and Chris due to lack of blogs to link to, doesn’t mean I don’t love you or you did not impress me with your fine bowling skills! The two strikes bowled in the 10th frames bowled by Rachel are not likely to be forgotten in this lifetime.

The goose that laid the golden bedbug

Yeah, sorry, not really travel-related, but this has consumed my life and thoughts for the past week-and-a-half, so I figured I’d write it out.

I’ve lived in New York for over 11 years, in 8 apartments, in 7 different neighborhoods. I’ve lived with all manner of pests: mice, roaches, crazy roommates, ex-boyfriends, weird neighbors.  I’ve bought furniture at thrift and antique stores, even picked up a few pieces off the street.  But until recently, I never dreamed of having bedbugs.

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