Saturday, February 28, 2009

Apartment Hunting!

So Mel and I found a new apartment down the road. We had actually thought of moving out of this area, closer to where all the action of istanbul is, but when we looked around, I realized that we would be living in the middle of a dense city, Taipei-style all over again. I need to be in the green.

 I love the parks, churches, mosques and history of the old city. I love the little streets and I love that I am blown away by Haghia Sophia, a massive building that has been standing there for 1500 years. 1500 years! Ok it's not the pyramids, but what was Canada like 1500 years ago? And in another 1500 years we'll all be gone, but Haghia Sophia will still be there. Did the creators ever imagine that 1500 years after they built her, she'd still be standing? I love living so close to a building that sparks the imagination like that. 

As an extra bonus, due to the crisis, rents have fallen a bit in Istanbul.

So Mel went on facebook and asked if anyone knew of an apartment. One woman who lives on my street, an American lady named Virginia, replied that there was one on the street near her house. She'd seen it and thought it was not bad. We decided to take a look at it. 

Musa met us at the door. He was an older man and spoke English quite well. He invited us in and showed us his business on the first floor. He gives courses in dying and weaving. All over the walls were pieces of weaving he, or past students had done. The floor was covered with intricately woven kilims. There were balls of coloured string in baskets, coloured cloth in neatly folded piles, and out back, huge vats for dying his silks, cottons and wools. 

"You will see!" be bellowed with excitement, "This summer people from all over the world will come here to learn how to weave! You can try too! There will be a lot of girls like you here!" 

He introduced us to his assistant, another girl who spoke English and Turkish and was working on the computer in the office. She smiled and welcomed us warmly.

Then he took us up one floor to the apartment.

It was small, with one big bedroom and one small 2nd room. The kitchen was really rundown and shoddy, but the bathroom was OK. We poked around the whole place and thought it was just....OK. 

But Musa was trying to sell us on the view from that teeny room, which was great, but it's in the teeny room, who ever gets stuck there will see it, but I was sure you'd get a double bed in there and not much else. 

The floor was a bit dingy here and there, and I'm a bit spoiled and wasn't crazy about the central heating system scheme. 

"Don't worry about the floor", he re assured us, "I can provide you with all the kilims you need".

To his credit though, the kitchen came equipped with a fridge and a cooker, (but no oven). These don't usually come with apartments, you have to buy them on your own. Having these 2 items there was a huge bonus, I wouldn't have to find them, haggle for them and pay to have them delivered. I wouldn't then have to find and pay a professional to hook the gas up properly and pay again to have the gas inspector come and verify that it was done properly. 

Mel asked Musa about a washing machine, and musa went into the bathroom and brought out something that looked like a large garbage can. He plugged it in and it started rotating inside. 

"You see this!" he squeeled over the low hum of the "washing machine" "this is the same technology NASA used to send men to the moon in 1969!" He giggled at his own joke, unplugged his machine and took us out onto the balcony to further sell his view. He pointed out the double glazed windows, insulation and told us it was quiet, clean and a safe place for two girls.

We ooo-d and ahhh-d appropriately, and Musa got an idea. He beckoned us to follow him, through the apartment, past the washing machine that was still turning even though it had been unplugged a few minutes before ("Technology!" he yelled and pointed at the machine as we passed.)

Musa was not to be stopped. Now he had us climb the stairs to the roof terrace where there was a huge patio and a glassed in room he called his "birdcage" , (the sultans had these kind of pleasure rooms too on top of the palaces). I have no idea how old Musa was, (probably in his 60's) but he bounded up those stairs effortlessly.

He explained he would give us the key to the roof on weekends and we could invite our friends over. During the week he'd arrange his own parties! We would meet his family! We would BE his family! We would never be lonely again!

Now I understand that this would probably scare a lot of people off, but this man meant it. He was a real mover and a shaker and had an undeniable love of people and thirst for life. Mel and I felt a connection with him right away. Musa explained that back in the 70's he resigned from his job at Unilever and travelled to London. His dream was to open a donair kebab shop, but that dream never came true. Instead, he became a "Silver Tea Service" waiter at the Savoy Hotel. He perfected his English there. 

"I have so many stories to tell! Amazing stories! I'll tell you girls, I have no regrets. I look back over my life, and I have not one regret."

The view from the terrace was amazing. I could see the old city spread out below including a perfect view of our old house in Kadirga and an unbelievable view of Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Mosque, another mosque built by Sinan, the master Ottoman architect. I mean, I could see right inside this mosque's courtyard! Beyond Kadirga, we could see the Prince's Islands and huge tankers scattered across the Marmara Sea, waiting for permission to traverse up the Bosporus up to Russia.

Mel snapped this picture of Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Mosque from the roof! 

Then he showed us all the other apartments he had already renovated. (Except one, since it was being rented by a German writer who comes and goes.) He explained that he rents out on a weekly or monthly basis to foreigners. Not so much tourists, but writers, artists or people on business who plan to stay a while. 

He showed us the first room and we were confused. The layout was slightly different, there were two big bedrooms and the tiny room was an open, yet cozy living room. He explained that he had moved the wall, and excitedly showed us what he'd knocked out, and how he'd done a bang up professional job of it all. He'd done it in all the 4 other flats except ours. Then he offered, "If you give me a week, I"ll move the wall in the first flat for you!" 

The other thing he explained is that he wanted to offer us an "all inclusive" deal. Our rent would include; gas, water, electricity internet, and the hall cleaning fee. So that would mean we would pay Musa a lump sum every month and forget about it, no tracking bills, (which can be a huge pain here as they all have to be paid at different banks). We would use his wireless connection, (another bonus, because you need a land line installed for that), and have the run of the place. If anything broke, we could call him, if we needed help with anything, we could call him, if we were bored and wanted a tea with someone, they were just downstairs and always free for tea. 

This appealed to me immensely. No hassel with banks, late fees, or dodgy bank hours, (they close for a while in the middle of the day!) 

"You will be just like my own daughters" he beemed. 

We left that day saying we'd think about it. I went home and dug up all our bills from the last few months and calculated. Musa's deal was reasonable. We returned again a few days later and inspected the place again. He came down (only slightly) on the rent, but we agreed to take it. He took no damage deposit from us, as he said he trusted we'd be model tenants.

The next day our friend and neighbour Virginia said he'd definitely smashed the wall down, there was a racket all day. I called Musa a week later, (yesterday) to check on the progress.

"The wall has been moved, and the plaster is almost dry. The air conditioner has been put in. But I was looking at the kitchen.... The dolaps (cupboards) are old, Rene. I think you need new ones. Come on Monday morning and help me pick out some new fresh ones for you and Melanie! The painters come in the afternoon!"

New kitchen cupboards? Air conditioner? Painting? He's going over the top! Virginia bumped into him a few days ago and reported that he is just tickled pink that we were moving in. He loves the sisters!

So Mel and I will ask him to put in some simple picture rails and pick out our kitchen on Monday. The apartment we thought was "just OK" is turning into "perfect".

He advertises the top rooms on Craig's list. This is not our place, but the place directly above.  He could have gotten a much better picture of the view if he'd taken a picture of the Islands or that Sinan mosque, but no worries! Were just happy to be moving in! 

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Day Out on the Bosphorus

A few weeks back Mel and went for a walk along the Bosphorus. (There are about 100 spellings for this waterway, don't pick on me!) The Bosphorus is cool because as you walk, you almost walk from village to village, the areas have their own little centers and squares where people are walking their dogs, taking their kids out to play or cuddling with their sweethearts. 

Here are a few pictures I took along the way. 

Above is an old Greek Church. Mel and I saw it peeking up through the surrounding buildings from far away and walked through the tiny, crowded and crooked streets to find it. 

Below is my favorite Istanbul street food - stuffed mussels or "midye dolmasi". These mussels are stuffed with a spicy rice mixture and eaten out of the shell with a squeeze of lemon. Some people give me a hard time for eating these because of the probability of getting ill from them, but I've never had a problem. (Touch wood). 

And an old man selling bone-dry breadsticks and croutons. The streets of  Istanbul are full of vendors selling everything you can imagine. They push big carts through the streets yelling out things like "Oranges, fresh and sweeeeet! 1 lira! 1 lira! 1 lira!!" Here in Sultanahmet there is a man selling chicken off a cart. He is known for yelling, "Seagulls! Freshly caught seagulls!" The locals love this.

And lastly, here is Mel stealthily stalking the old man for a picture! Naughty sister!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Typically Turkey

 The picture above was taken on the tram on the way to work one morning. The bread is called simit, and is a cross between a bagel and a pretzel. The boy selling these balanced the tray on the seat in front of me. He managed to sell quite a few before he reached his stop as the freshly baked simit smell filled the tram. The sun light that morning was warm and clear as our tram sped along the shores of the Bosphorus. 

I teach 2 ladies at their bank twice a week. This is the view from the meeting room we use for our class. This picture was taken months ago, in October, a week before their Republic Day. Most of the buildings in the area are decorated with flags for the day, but this was undoubtedly  the biggest.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

January Pictures

Welcome to the dreary days of January! They aren't really that dreary. At least not for me, I like cloudy days and my sister is here! At last! Here are a few pictures from the last month!

Above is Mel taking pictures at the Archeology Museum. I've labeled it "Mel and Medusa".

This man is set up near Gulhane park. In the past he's always had 2 or 3 rabbits, but lately he's added a chicken. He uses these animals for fortune telling, believe it or not. You pay him a few lira, and the rabbit or chicken chooses a put of paper randomly from a tray of fortunes. 

And lastly, from the nargile cafe in Beyazit. The top picture are the pots of coals being prepared for the pipes, and the bottom one the pipe. What you can't see is that on the other end of the pipe is my Egyptian friend Omar from Cairo, in town on a business trip for a few days! I hadn't seen him in 4 years...