The Hotel That Cannot Be Seen

Just how crappy did I sleep during our second night at the AWH? I had gone to bed around 10pm. At 1:24am, still unable to fall asleep due mostly to the music from the bar next door, I got up. Steph was up, too. We talked about our plans for the day, after we somehow managed to sleep. Then we decided to take the comforter and quilt from our bed and put it on the floor in the hall outside our bedroom because it was more quiet in the hall than in the bedroom. So that’s where we slept, finally.

In the morning I made some coffee, washed the dishes from the previous night’s dinner. From a nearby takeout place we had eaten lamb meatballs, spinach, some shredded beef dish with whipped potatoes and cheese on top, and rice.

The lamb here tastes far better than any lamb I have ever eaten in the US. In the US, to me, lamb tastes as if it has been found feral, killed, cleaned, and then left to hang outside so maggots and flies may introduce their own special flavors to the meat before being prepared for human consumption. The gaminess has always seemed absolutely rancid to me.

I attempted to shower. The knob that you lift on the spigot had broken the night before during Steph’s shower. She managed to finish her shower. When I attempted to wash myself, the water only came out of the spigot in the stall and not the shower head.

The drain was so slow that within a minute or two, the water was ready to overflow the bottom of the stall, push through the doors, and flood the tile floor. So showers were rinse, turn off the water, lather, turn on the water, and rinse. I can live with that. It’s actually better for water consumption.

But without the shower head working, I had to rinse, lather, and rinse again under a spigot that rises only about two-and-a-half feet from the bottom of the stall. Good thing I’m skinny and flexible. This seemed par for the course as far as the plumbing in the bathroom. I had discovered upon arrival that the toilet didn’t flush because there was no water in the tank. There were two water lines leading from the wall into the tank. I turned one and the water spurted all over the floor and I quickly turned that one off. Luckily for our standards of hygiene and tolerance to smell, the second line filled the tank and we had a flushing toilet.

I went to an Internet cafe to check email and attempt to have USC send verification for my Master’s degree to my contact at Yeditepe University. I have to prove to them I have a Master’s degree not to just qualify for the job but also so they can process the paperwork necessary to obtain the work permit on my behalf. But because the browser on the Windows computer did not have Java script enabled I wasn’t able to complete the secured process of having my academic records from USC sent to Yeditepe University.

We ate a very late breakfast at the Krispy Kreme in a small mall on Istiklal street. We bought six donuts so that we could get this fancy metal box.

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We now have our first Istanbul keepsake. (The donuts were just as good, and sugar-rich, as they are in the States.)

We strolled down Istiklal to go take a look at the hotel where I had booked us through Hotels.com the day before. We thought we might ask when we could check-in. We found the building and saw a small sign above our heads that read “Perapart.” But we could not find the actual apartment hotel. We walked up the first two flights of stairs but saw only a hair salon. Then we took the elevator up to the 4th floor where a rooftop cafe was located. I asked if they knew where “Perapart” was and a man told us it was two floors down. We went down two floors and knocked on the doors. No one answered.

A hotel in a major tourist destination should not be proficient at demonstrating the value of not being seen.

This meant we had to find another place to stay as soon as possible. Good thing we didn’t try to haul our luggage all the way over there to try and check-in.

Back at the AWH, I ate leftovers from the previous nights’ takeout while Stephanie went to an internet cafe to see if she could find a hotel near where our apartment will be located in Sisli. She returned with the names of two hotels.

I went out with my laptop and found a restaurant and cafe that offered wi-fi. Fueled by tea and baklava I researched the hotels my wife had found. But they were not available. Then I did another search and found a hotel (Taksim Star) and booked it for four nights. I figured that would enough time to evaluate it.

At the AWH, I announced my findings and we packed our stuff. You’ve seen all we have [link to first post]. I offered to take our green monster suitcase and the large black backpack, while wearing my packed laptop bag, and walk to the new hotel, check us in, and return to get everyone and the rest of our luggage.

It was not a long walk. But up and down brick and cobble stone streets, pulling very heavy luggage, it seemed very far. When I arrived at the hotel (it must have been less than a half-mile away) I was quite sweaty. I told the man at the reception desk I had a reservation through hotels.com. He seemed incredulous and asked for my passport. Then there passed many many minutes of him speaking on the phone and talking with the man from the office behind him in Turkish, with frowns and then the occasional chuckle, all the while holding a printout of my paid reservation from Hotels.com.

My only thought was, “This can’t be good.”

After awhile they handed me my passport and explained that there was no room at that hotel even though I had booked and already paid for four nights. They took me down the street to another hotel, run by the same company, and gave my family and I a much nicer room. I thanked them, feeling quite relieved. Once I’d checked into the room, I returned to the AWH and Steph, the kids, and I took the rest of our stuff to the hotel.

The Grand Star hotel is nice, but we can’t afford to stay here beyond the four nights. The list price for our double room at the reception desk is 300 Euros per night. We did not pay anywhere near that amount. So we will have to move once more. We can deal with that.

The kids fell asleep on their bed while my wife and I typed away on our computers in the quiet, air-conditioned room. Our fancy metal Krispy Kreme box sat on the desk. I managed to complete the online process for requesting my academic record from USC. It looked like we’d get a decent night’s sleep.

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The Apartment We Hate (AWH)

Though the apartment at which we were staying temporarily is tucked into the end of a cul-de-sac, it was only quiet from about 4am until 8 or 9am. That’s because there are several bars, clubs, and restaurants nearby. One bar has a back window that opens to the inner court shared by a few buildings behind our bedroom window.

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The inner court is used as an unofficial storage area for discarded items.

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Every city has this kind of thing. In Chicago, up until a decade or so ago, you could bribe an alderman who represented a not-so-posh neighborhood and he (it was always a “he”) would let you dump your waste on an empty lot.

Plus the rooftop three stories above that bar houses another bar.

During the course of the first night there, through our bedroom window, I heard everything from “London Calling” to “You Give Love a Bad Name.” Then it sounded like a band was playing. Then at one point I heard both Pink Floyd’s “Time” and Def Leppard’s “Pour Some sugar on Me.” Those two songs together do not make a good mashup.

Outside the windows to the kids’ bedroom was the back door of a club that opened to an outdoor area (not accessible from the street) where people congregated to smoke and talk. Every time the door would open the music pounded through the steady din of conversation and hit the entire cul-de-sac with the shock of an M-80.

Meredith came out of the room and complained to me many times that she couldn’t sleep. Several times I went into the room Henry and Meredith shared to try and soothe them. Later, Stephanie went to see what she could do after Meredith got out of bed and turned on the hallway light around two in the morning.

We couldn’t open the windows because then the sound from outside was even louder. There was no air conditioning either. So we were all basting in our own sweat.

It was difficult to think straight because of the exhaustion induced by the noise, the heat, and the jet-lag.

The kids finally fell asleep after Stephanie put the lone fan in their room to act as white noise.

The kids are supposed to start school on Monday. How can they go to school if they can’t sleep? My mind was wondering what the hell we were supposed to do. First, the apartment we thought we were renting turned out to not be available until September 8th. Then we were told we could stay at this other place, which was hot and loud….Finally, I fell asleep.

In the morning, after eating a slight breakfast of some scrambled eggs, peach juice, and coffee, I headed out in a dress shirt, tie, slacks, and sportcoat for my job interview. Thanks to some wonderful friends here who passed around my resume, I was contacted a month ago about teaching writing.

I found my way to Yeditepe University, deep into the Asian side via funicular, ferry across the Bosphorus, and then a bus. Arriving there a half-hour late for my 10am appointment, I apologized repeatedly for my tardiness but no one made a big deal out of it. They said it was okay because it’s difficult to get to the university from the European side. Once I have credentials as an instructor, I’ll get to take a free shuttle bus that runs more quickly than the hour and 40 minutes it took me to get there.

The interview went very well. I had a nice long talk with one of the instructors.

“How long have you been in Istanbul?” he asked early on.

“Since yesterday afternoon,” I said.

“Whoa!”

He told me about the job, the curriculum, the kinds of students, and with the coordinator we discussed what the salary and benefits would be. The university will obtain a work permit on my behalf, but I have to request a copy of my diploma from USC, which is impossible to do if you do not have access to the Internet. (The AWH did not have Internet.) If I had known about this understandable requirement, I would have made a photocopy of my diploma to bring with me. My diploma is in a box, buried somewhere in the basement of our home in Michigan.

I have never taught writing before. My only experience with any form of instruction is in the corporate environment creating training guides and conducting some training. So this is going to be a new experience.

As I left, the instructor helped me get an Istanbul Kart so I can ride all forms of public transport in Istanbul without having to carry coins for tokens with me everywhere. I used it to ride back to the European side via the bus, ferry, and funicular.

When I returned to the AWH, I found three people suffering from cabin fever and more. Henry had thrown up shortly after waking up and was lethargic through most of the morning (though he didn’t throw up again). He had spent the morning and early afternoon on the couch, drifting in and out of sleep. My wife and kids hadn’t been out all day. They wanted out of the apartment and its proximity to bar-life as soon as possible.

I took Meredith with me and we looked for someplace nearby that had wireless internet. We thought that Starbucks would be okay. After we had paid for our drinks and food (a brownie and tiramisu), we sat down and I tried to use the wifi.

Their service, WiSpotter, requires you to use your Facebook account. I said fine. But then, in order to verify your logon, they wanted to send me a code via SMS to my phone, which I was to then enter on a website. I don’t yet have a working phone in Turkey. So other than Facebook, I had no access to the internet. I managed to share our safe arrival and early frustrations on Facebook but that was it as far as communicating via the Information Superhighway.

Frustrated with the text message requirement for logging onto the internet, I ate my yummy tiramisu. Meredith didn’t like the taste of her brownie. So I packed up the brownie and put it in my laptop bag, and we walked back outside into the sun and heat to look for an internet cafe. At least the Starbucks had been air conditioned.

Meredith used my phone to take a picture of the street we had been walking on. This is a wide street by Istanbul standards.

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We wandered a bit, off Istiklal Street, and found an Internet cafe on the second floor of a building. I couldn’t use my laptop; only the Windows computers they had set out.

I paid all of 1 lira ($.50) to check my email, send a message to my in-laws letting them know we were in Istanbul, and to send another message to our Landlord To Be (LTB) that the current place was far too loud and that if her apartment was not quiet there might be a problem. Then I booked a nearby hotel at which to stay for at least four nights, starting the next day. While I did all of this on a Turkish keyboard (there are two keys for the i, one with the dot and one without, and the @ symbol is on a letter key), Meredith fell asleep in the chair next to me.

The upside of a job is that it gives us a bit more room financially to find another place if the one that has been promised is not suitable for a family with school-aged children. We don’t need another apartment to hate….Who knows? It could all work out and we might not have to search for another place to stay.

At the End of a “Çıkmaz Sokak”

The flight to Munich left an hour later than scheduled on Monday night because we had to wait for people whose flights were late and were connecting to our 6:00pm flight.

It’s a good thing we ate dinner at Tortas Frontera before getting on the plane. I saved the other half of my large chipotle chicken sandwich for when we were finally in the air. Other than that delay, there was little drama. In Munich, we had Lufthansa change our seating assignments because initially they had all four of us sitting separately in different rows. The kids slept on the first leg of the trip and then again for a bit on the flight from Munich to Istanbul.

This is what all of our stuff looked like when we arrived at Istanbul airport.

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I don’t know how you pack for 10 months living overseas for two adults and two children.

On our trip into the city we did not get taken by any cab drivers. Though we did hire a larger taxi so that we could fit all four of us and our luggage for a grand total of 60 lira, which is the equivalent of about $30.

Stephanie had printed out the address to the place we are staying at temporarily. The apartment we’re renting for our stay won’t be available until the 8th of September. So a friend of our Landlord-to-Be (LTB) is letting us stay at a place she owns for the two weeks until the other, larger place is ready.

The cab driver was nice and we conversed a bit in broken English and broken Turkish about our reasons for coming to Turkey. We arrived with all of our luggage near our apartment.

The apartment is near Taksim Square (yes, the one you might have seen on the news), off the long pedestrian shopping street Istiklal, tucked into the very end of a cul-de-sac, called a “Çıkmaz Sokak.” The cab driver couldn’t drive down the short road because of all the tables and chairs set out on the street filled with people, who were eating and drinking and talking. Even if the street was clear he would only have been able to drive down and then back up. I don’t think there is enough room for even a Smart car to turn around.

We pulled our luggage down to the end of the cul-de-sac to the apartment building. We were 10 minutes early and our LTB and her friend were not yet there.

Two men who had been been sitting at a table nearby walked over and offered to help us. It was obvious that we were foreigners. We explained we were renting an apartment in the building. Stephanie pulled out our LTB’s cell phone number and one of the men used his phone to call her to let her know we were waiting there for her.

We thanked the men profusely.

Then we got to witness a sample of Tayyip Recep Erdogan’s pettiness. We were settling in to wait our LTB and her friend when people at the tables started to get up and scramble about. We heard cries of “police” repeatedly. Waiters and customers began moving chairs and tables off this dead-end street and into the restaurants, bars, and cafes.

Non-uniformed men walked briskly down the street holding up their camera phones to take pictures and video of the offending restaurant, cafe, and bar owners who had tables on chairs out on the street. They were followed by members of the police who grabbed the chairs and tables not yet brought inside and confiscated them. I’ve never seen police just carry away a chair or table.

The proprietors of the eateries were not happy and they let the police know it. There was a lot of shouting and hand-waving.

Several people we talked to explained that this kind of thing had been happening recently under Erdogan. That the store owners hadn’t paid their bribes to the local police.

(As I’m typing this, tired, sweaty, and jet-lagged after 9 at night, but still only after 2pm “my time,” there are now more tables and chairs out on the street and very few are empty.)

Our LTB’s friend arrived shortly afterward, and the two men who’d helped us spoke to her and they all shook their heads about what the police had done. Our LTB arrived after her friend let us in and took us up to the apartment. It’s on what we would call the second floor. So we lugged our luggage up a wide circular flight of stairs.

The apartment was dusty. She recommended a place across the street from the apartment for dinner, which we took.

The Turkish-style salad and mushroom pizza were excellent. This was my first taste of Ayran. I can’t say that I liked it. Boy, is it salty. It was not the refreshing drink I was looking for after a long day of traveling and landing in a hot city. I might give it a try another time.

Meredith was in a recalcitrant mood. She refused to put on her shoes before left for the restaurant, only doing so after we told her we were going to leave her at the apartment. Then she refused to sit at the table with us.

This is her trying to hide under the chair.

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Then Meredith refused to drink or eat anything. A few of the waiters tried to cheer her up. One managed to gently pick her up and place her on the chair and he even gave her a piece of candy, which she tried and did not like.

“I want to go home,” said Meredith, with her knees pulled up to her face. “Can we go home after tomorrow?”

We explained that no, we can’t do that, even though we miss home, too. After consoling her a bit more, she said she didn’t want to stay “more than five months” and then asked for some red cherry juice and she drank that.

When we returned to the apartment we took out some of the framed photos I had packed and set them on shelves around the place, Stephanie complimented me for bringing the photos. Meredith wanted the one where Henry was holding her when she was a baby.

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I unpacked it from its thick wrapping of clothing. Meredith took it and put it in the room she and Henry will be sharing temporarily.

The Shape of Memories to Come

When we returned from China last summer, I wrote a post about the sadness and relief I felt at the end of our trip titled, “Michigan Seems Like a Dream to Me Now.” That line from the Simon & Garfunkel song “America” was stuck on repeat in my head.

The song is about a restless drive that propels a young man to leave home and “look for America.” I don’t have that restlessness. I’m not looking for America. It was that we’d been gone so long in such a different place, that my memories of our life in Michigan did seem like they’d been converted into the fuzzy-edged, bright images of dreams.

A few months back I was looking at all the photos we took during our trip last summer in order to compile a photo book. Often I had to go to my China 2012 page to double-check when and where some of the photos were taken. I thought to myself, “Did we really do all of that?”

Yes, yes we did.

And here we are a year later about to embark on an even bigger adventure.

The preparation for this trip, with all the fixing, planning, and packing, has been exciting and frenetic. I feel like my wife and I have spent most of our summer doing things to prepare for the move. (She’s also written papers and submitted grant proposals; she doesn’t take summers “off.”)

We’ve also been saying goodbye to our friends, which is full of the wistful bittersweet. We have dinner. We talk about our upcoming trip. We talk about the kids. We eat well. We talk about life. We say goodbye. We won’t see them until next summer.

The other day I took the kids on a short hike at the Harris Nature center. There are numerous hiking trails that cross through so many parks in the Lansing area. Istanbul does not have enough park space for all of its citizens, so I wanted to be sure to take advantage of one more comfort of home one last time.

Our membership at the YMCA will expire on the 16th. This means my wife’s last yoga class was today. My last morning swim will take place tomorrow, Thursday, the 15th. I usually swim two mornings a week (sometimes three). There’s a regular crew of us early risers who are outside the doors just before 5:30am when the Y opens. (One of them, my friend Laura, writes a blog about Bicycle Commuting & Old Books. Check it out.) It will be strange not to see them before sunrise a few times a week. I’m going to miss them and the bleary-eyed camaraderie we have. (Though I won’t miss the body and highlighting the chlorine has given my hair.)

Will Turkey eventually seem like a dream? Or will it stick sharper because we will be there for so long? Or will the sun gleaming over the Bosphorus give our experiences a warm, hazy glow?

I can’t wait to find out.

Never Delivered

Update (8/16): The applications arrived by FedEx this past Thursday. UPS offered to refund our money. Now the school is making us jump through a few more administrative hoops. It’s very frustrating that the kids’ schooling is still not resolved one week before we get on the plane to Istanbul.

Update (8/17): The kids are in school! Now we just have to pay for it…

When moving overseas, there are so many tasks that have to be accomplished that it’s expected that something will go wrong. It’s like that old engineering principle: the more moving parts you have the more likely it is that something will break. But that doesn’t mean that a broken thing ought to remain broken, or that a task can’t eventually be accomplished.

One of the biggest tasks we needed to accomplish before moving to Istanbul was choosing a school for our children. For a couple of reasons we chose MEF International School.

We had to do this sight unseen, based on websites and what little information is out there for expats. No, Fulbright does not pay for a school-research or house-hunting trip. We had to find an apartment online, too.

My wife and I downloaded the applications for MEF. She filled them out (her handwriting is much better than mine), got copies of the kids’ immunization records, paid the $500 per child application fee via wire transfer, and took the kids in to get passport-sized photos taken. The latter we’re assuming is for school ID purposes. The kids were not happy that morning and the resulting photos look like bad mugshots.

The photos, the medical records, the proof of payment for the application fees, and the applications were put in a large manila envelope and brought to UPS. We paid $95 for them to be mailed to MEF in Istanbul.

This was over a month ago.

The envelope has yet to arrive.

First, it was stuck in Customs in Turkey.

Then the Istanbul UPS office said it couldn’t deliver the envelope, that no one was at the school.

We gave them the number to the school.

The Istanbul UPS office said it couldn’t reach anyone at the school.

We emailed the school and explained the situation.

One of our Turkish friends called the school and spoke to a human being.

My wife called the school, International long distance ($12), and spoke to a human being.

The school tried calling Istanbul UPS but by then Istanbul UPS had “abandoned” the package. When a package is abandoned, it is apparently put somewhere and left there. No one even tries to deliver it.

We exchanged more emails with people at MEF (they have been very understanding and helpful).

Then Istanbul UPS claimed they needed power of attorney to release the package.

My wife spoke to UPS here in the USA several times over the past few weeks to find out how to get the package out of abandonment. Finally, they claimed the problem was that the package was valued at $400, and for packages worth that much they need power of attorney or some such legal thing to deliver/clear the package. My wife told the person at UPS she had stated the value as $4. The person wrote “$4.00” which in Turkish means “400.” They use periods where we use commas.

OK. Now this will be sorted out, my wife and I thought.

No. It’s been almost a week since this latest wrinkle and the package hasn’t been released from “abandonment.” UPS hasn’t said how or what they are going to do in order to deliver what we paid them to deliver.

What does this mean?

1) We’re out $95. It would have been more useful to use 95 U.S. dollar bills as kindling in our backyard fire pit to make smores.

2) The applications will not be delivered.

3) I’m going to finish writing out a new round of applications, get the kids’ pictures taken again, and put all of that in another large manila envelope.

This time I’m taking the envelope to FedEx. Fuck UPS.