I thought I would write about where we are staying in Istanbul and talk about some of the interesting things, well interesting to me, that we have noticed so far.
We have rented a two bedroom apartment for a week. There are a number of reasons we went this route versus a hotel room. It is nice having a place where we can cook if we want to, store leftovers in the fridge, has a living room and eating area where we can relax and chill out. It costs a little less than renting two hotel rooms. Probably more importantly, it is in a residential neighborhood, so we get more of a feel for the people, you get a little bit of experience of living in Turkey rather than just being a tourist. For me, I get a rush out of being in a place where I don’t speak the language and have to try and get by and function by piecing together things through using a phrase book, the few local words you know, or a combination of that and sign language.
Istanbul is a big city. The twenty-third largest city in the world, about 14 million people. That is a little less than half the population of the entire country of Canada. In the USA, only New York City (8th) and Los Angeles (17th) are larger than Istanbul. It is the only major city in the world that spans two continents. We are in the European side of the city, but will fly out of one of the airports on the Asian side to visit Cappadocia and Efus (Ephusus) later in the week.
Many of the big tourist attractions are in the Sultanahamet section of town, for example, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Grand Bazaar, Topkapi Palace. This is the old section of town. By old, I mean really old. The Greeks settled the area that is now Topkapi Palace in about 667 BC.
We decided to find a place in the Beyoglu area, a newer area of Istanbul. By newer, I mean, it wasn’t really settled significantly till the 16th century. What attracted us here was that it is more of an actual residential area versus Sultanahamet, which is pretty touristy. Don’t get me wrong, we are going to do a lot of touristy things, but we will travel over there by public transit and come back at night. There are some major shopping and somewhat touristy areas over here as well, but this area is definitely more inhabited by locals.
|The blue dot is where our apartment is|
We found the place on a web site call Homeaway.com It seemed to be pretty respectable. We booked it on line and through a series of emails. A representative of the management company met us and gave us our keys when we arrived.
The “flat” is two bedroom one bath. The bedroom Parker has is equipped with a single bed. Our bedroom has a “queen” bed. This was one of the first differences or things that I noticed between what you would find in the US or Canada. In the emails back and forth, they asked us how we wanted our bed arranged, two singles or one queen. I noticed this in other places I looked at. Most beds advertised as twin, double, queen or king are actually two single beds pushed together and a sheet covering the two mattresses. Susan and I still get along pretty well after 32 years of marriage, so we had them make up one bed.
The next difference is the toilet. The toilet itself is regular enough at first glance. Wall mounted, which is pretty common throughout Europe. However, upon closer inspection, there is a “bidet” like feature. On the back rim of the toilet is a water jet that is operated by a knob you turn with your right hand while sitting on the toilet. All the toilets I have seen in this country are like this – in hotels, airport bathrooms, ferries, restaurants….. everywhere. I know people might get uncomfortable as I talk about things scatalogical, but, how can something so basic be so confusing for me? How is this supposed to work? There is toilet paper too, how am I supposed to use the paper? Before? After? Is either the paper or the water optional? It’s not like you can go up to someone and ask, “Excuse me sir, I just pooped in the toilet and am confused about what I am supposed to do next. Can you come and show me?”
The kitchen is pretty straightforward but there were a few things that I had never seen before. The first is a double decker tea kettle. Apparently what you do is boil water in the bottom pot. Once this is boiling you pour half of it in the top pot with the tea leaves and let it steep. You pour the tea from the top pot into your cup until it is about half full and then pour hot water from the bottom pot to dilute it to the desired strength. You keep the burner on low the whole time you want tea available. This could be half the day. The burner keeps it warm and the hot water can be used to dilute as the tea gets stronger.
The next unknown is what I have learned is called a cezve. It is used to make Turkish coffee. To make Turkish coffee you take finely ground roasted coffee, put it into the cezve, boil it (with the sugar if you desire sugar, you don’t add it later). Once it starts to foam, you pour it into the cup. You let the grounds settle and then you drink it, leaving a sludge at the bottom of the cup. There are three cezves in the apartment, so I guess they are pretty serious about their coffee.
The last thing that is really different from what I am used to seeing is the tankless water heater that is used for both hot water for showers, etc. and for heating the apartment. The tank has one knob to adjust the hot water temp for showers, washing dishes, etc. and another knob to adjust the heat level for the radiators. It took a little to get the room temperature adjusted properly. There is no “thermostat” per se on the wall in the living room or bedroom, only the control on the heater itself. Maybe there is something I am missing to adjust the temperature in the room.
As far as I can tell, the actual neighborhood is called Firuzaga. The streets are lined with four to five story or so buildings. Some are completely residential. Others have a shop or two on the ground floor and residences above. Our building has no elevator, and I suspect most buildings do not have one either. The streets are quite narrow and have sidewalks that are only about two to four feet wide. They vary in width depending on where you are on the street. One way traffic on most streets. Parking is hard to come by.
Our apartment is on the middle of a hill that leads down to the Bosphorus Strait. If we go down the hill about 500 meters (550 yards) we get to the tram station that takes us into Sultanahamet. Going up the hill, in about 500 meters we come to Istiklal Street, a broad pedestrian only street full of shops, bars and restaurants. On Istiklal Street there is a mixture of Turkish shops and international chain shops and restaurants; H&M, Gap, McDonalds and a Starbucks every 500 feet.
However, along our street and the streets both up to Istiklal and down to the tram there are no chain stores or chain restaurants of any type. There are many small grocery stores. About the size of a really small 7/11. But these stores carry mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh bread and a few staples like coffee, tea, sugar, etc. Yes, they do have a few cans or bottles of soft drinks and a few bags of chips and things that you would find in a US or Canadian convenience store. However, the bulk of what they sell are basic food stuff you would use to make your daily meals. We are not doing a ton of cooking here at the apartment, but it is nice to be able to cook up a few eggs in the morning, make our own coffee and tea, heat up left overs, etc. We can just stop next door at one of the groceries and pick up whatever we want.
The shops are pretty flexible with the amounts you can buy. Eggs? How many do you want? You don’t buy them by the dozen, just get the quantity you want and put in a bag (carefully). Laundry soap? Sure you can buy a box of laundry detergent or a container of the liquid stuff. But, if you are like us and you only need a little, there are a couple of open 5 kilo bags of detergent. Tell the shopkeeper which one and how much you want and he will put it in a plastic bag for you and sell by weight.
We are having a great time and seeing and experiencing lots of cool things. I’ll keep you updated in future posts.