Tag Archives: istanbul

Expat lesson: the concern of Turks

I’m hardly the first to point out how nice, hospitable, and gracious Turkish people are, and beyond the typical tourist interactions of waiters, guides, and hotel staff, I’m finding out how deeply their concern runs for foreigners. Each Turk that I’ve met and asked for recommendations on restaurants or help on getting errands done has offered to make calls for me or accompany me to the cell phone store, which I often happily accept. In a few situations, I’ve found the concern of strangers to be a little much, albeit well-meaning and thoughtful.

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Expat lesson learned: say okay and pay

After six weeks, four visitors, and two trips out of the country, I’m beginning to settle into expat life in Turkey. It’s a bit like being a retarded child: you speak in stilted and monosyllabic sentences, simple tasks take hours or even days, and you can get away with things regular folk can’t because they know that you don’t know any better. Occasionally or even daily if you try hard enough, you will have a small victory and learn something new about your new city.

One of my favorite (and few) Turkish words is tamam, which means okay, all right, perfect, etc. Most of my transactions here begin with me asking for something in broken Turkish (“Shoe. Fix. Please. Yes?”), them giving me a lengthy response I don’t understand, me smiling and saying tamam, offering what I think the price is, and eventually leaving with more or less what I needed. Once I realized that there is little chance of agreeing to something serious in another language when you are in a shoe shine shop, I figured it was okay to just smile and nod. Additionally, every business that I have had even a mildly successful transaction with has earned my full loyalty. The first time in my local cobbler, I left one shoe to have the sole repaired with no idea how I would claim it or when it would be ready, and returned an hour later to find it fixed, shined to a blinding sheen, and paid about a dollar. I’ve been back several times since with similar results. And maybe eventually the old man’s words will sink in through osmosis and I’ll actually understand the long stream of comments he is making about my shoes.

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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Discovering Istanbul as a tourist

Just another day at the office

Thanks all for reading and commenting on my pity-party post, I wanted to dispell the myth that I’m sitting languidly at a cafe and having charming shopping expeditions to local fish markets.  After two weeks in the city (first at the airport and now in an apartment), I’m starting to adjust to living in limbo a foreign country. A week in an airport hotel made me a crackerjack Istanbul transit user, well-acquainted with all of the hotel staff, and adept at running across highways, and now we’ve been moved to an apartment in Nisantasi for at least the rest of the month. I went to Milan for a few days and returned to Turkey with my mother to play tourist for much of last week, along with running the many errands that come along with settling into a new place. Unfortunately, the internet in the apartment building was down for much of last week, making any updates infrequent and my “to look up when I have internet” list a mile long. Every day as a new expat is a series of major and minor fails, a few satisfying wins, all in a constant state of bafflement and very different from just visiting a city.  More on life as a new expat to come, but first a few observations/discoveries from my time as a tourist here.

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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.

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..

Mary G.’s Grand Tour

While I spent much of my childhood on family trips around New England and the US, save a trip to New Zealand with my mother at age 8, I didn’t really become a world traveler until age 24 and have been accumulating passport stamps as often as possible ever since.

My mother Mary, on the other hand, has never been to Europe but due to my Istanbul move, that’s going to change next month.  To sweeten the deal, I have a cousin in Milan who is moving back to New Zealand over the summer, so now is our last chance to visit a family member in Italy. Originally, we thought about adding London to the trip, as a Europe “warm-up” and a place she’s always wanted to visit, but decided 3 countries was too much for 2 weeks. Besides, the trip is more about visiting family living abroad than seeing the top cities of Europe.

Now that my move and my mother’s trip are imminently approaching, I’m heavily into planning mode. A tentative itinerary:  Mary would fly from Raleigh, NC, arriving in Milan on a Thursday in May. I’d follow the next day, and stay through Monday or Tuesday. We’d then fly together to Istanbul and she’d stay 5 nights with me and return home Istanbul-Raleigh. Some thoughts/questions:

  • Any recommendations for airline booking sites best for open-jaw tickets? I generally use Kayak and was recommended the excellent Skyscanner.com for intra-Europe flights, but always on the lookout for other ideas.
  • Skyscanner found me a gonga deal on the Milan-Istanbul flight: $60 on budget airline Blu Express, any feedback on the airline or how to get from Istanbul’s Sabiha Gokcen airport to downtown?
  • We definitely plan to see the Last Supper and see an opera at La Scala in Milan, other must-sees for first-time visitors? Day trips from Milan?
  • In terms of timing, any advantage to booking the trip for early May rather than mid-May? Since I’ll be arriving in Turkey the last week of April, I’d rather have a few weeks to get acquainted before hosting visitors but if the cost difference for hotels is significant, I could be flexible.
  • Finally, I’m looking at hotels for Milan and possibly Istanbul (in case we aren’t settled in an apartment) and open to ideas. Worth using some Marriott points for the Milan Marriott?

Any and all advice for a European first-timer is appreciated. Though it won’t be my first time to Italy, it will be my first time in Milan, and my once semi-fluent Italian is quite rusty, my hand-gesturing is almost native. I’m excited to experience two fantastic countries with someone experiencing Europe for the first time.

Edited to add: Fantastic linkage and advice from Jessica of http://www.italylogue.com: a must-read for anyone visiting Italy!

Looks like you’re talking about a 4-5 day stay in Milan, yes? That’s definitely time to get all the highlights in, plus take a day-trip (or two, if you end up hating the city!). I happen to really like Milan, but I’m looking at it from the perspective of someone who’s planning to live there – and I’m the first to admit it’s not ideal for most tourists in Italy.

Having said that, I do think it’s absolutely Italian – it’s just not the “Tuscan sun” side of Italy. 🙂

Anyway, I’ve written quite a bit about Milan, so here are some articles that should help get you started:
* General Milan travel guide, with lots of links to other Milan-related articles: http://www.italylogue.com/milan
* My suggestions on the top 10 things to do in Milan: http://www.italylogue.com/featured-articles/top-10-things-to-do-in-milan.html
* Information about seeing The Last Supper (warning: get your tickets ASAP!): http://www.italylogue.com/things-to-do/the-last-supper.html
* Going to the La Scala Museum: http://www.italylogue.com/featured-articles/la-scala-in-milan-its-not-just-for-opera-lovers.html
* A few options for day trips from Milan: http://www.italylogue.com/things-to-do/day-trips-from-milan.html (which reminds me, I need to update this article)

Other Milan thoughts:
* I’d recommend staying in the city center, if for no other reason than it’s close to the things you’ll want to do/see and it’s a helluva lot prettier than the outskirts (although the outskirts are cheaper). Really, even some parts that can be called “city center” are kinda meh looks-wise (around Garibaldi station, for instance), but again, this isn’t “Tuscan sun” Italy… And hey! Look at that cathedral! Now THAT is pretty, eh?
* Milan is (in my opinion) Italy’s most international city, so you’ll run into plenty of English-speakers (your Italian may come back to you, but the English might be nice for your mom).
* Having someone you’re visiting who’s familiar with Milan (your cousin) will help you steer clear of the so-so food and whatnot, I’m guessing, which is never a bad thing. But do yourself a favor – seek out Il Massimo del Gelato (you can read about it on the Tour del Gelato on my friend Sara’s blog, link below) and get a scoop of the mango flavor. You will be transported. I promise.

On Monday the 5th, I have another Milan article set to publish – “Things You Should Know About Milan” – so that’s one I’d also recommend you take a look at… When it’s live, of course. 🙂

Other thoughts:
* My friend Sara Rosso (@rosso on Twitter) blogs at Ms. Adventures in Italy (http://www.msadventuresinitaly.com/blog/) – she lives in Milan and has some good Milan info on her site.
* Another expat friend is Katie Parla (@katieparla on Twitter). She lives in Rome, but is a guidebook author for both Roma AND Turkey, so she’s got you covered on both counts.
* Another blogging friend, Melanie Renzulli (@italofileblog on Twitter), lived in Turkey for a couple of years. I think she just moved back to the US within the last year or so, so she might be another good source of Turkey info.