Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Mystic Hotel in Istanbul

When trying to plan our trip to Istanbul we knew we would need to find a place to stay. We used all the common search and seizure sites for the best price. One of the main things we found were that it was much pricier to book a room from inside Turkey then from the US. We solved this problem by giving credit card information to Brian, in the states, and having him book the room. We found a lovely hotel online called the Mystic Hotel. It was complete with internet service, breakfast, and the promise of "charming hotel with a mystic atmosphere." The pictures looked lovely. It was in the Sultanahment district which is the old town. The streets are narrow and built like a maze. Many of the homes are abandoned or falling down, more than likely from an earthquake from several years ago.

The first obstacle was finding the place. After 2.5 hours and six taxi cab drivers later (the taxi drivers were just used to ask directions as we had rented a car) we still had not found the motel. We called the motel to receive help with directions. They were as much help as the taxi cab drivers. Luckily we had Yelda, our lovely Turkish friend, to speak for us. It didn't help. It became an adventure and we seriously wondered if the hotel perhaps either 1. didn't exist or 2. seriously was mystic and changed locations on a regular basis.

We finally found the place and remarkably across the way was a cut out perfect for parking. Our first experience here was being yelled at by a man that insisted it was an "otopark" and we had to pay him money to park. There were no signs indicating such, but the nice man in the hotel said that we should pay him.

We have found that there are many places in Istanbul where they insist we pay for parking even though they do not look like parking spots. Such as yesterday parking on the sidewalk for 5 tyl while we went to visit a bazaar. Later we found another parking spot where Ilkon, Yelda's boyfriend, said they only charge tourists and they really do not have the right to charge for parking.

In the case of the hotel, however, we believe, in our own pollyanna way, the man is looking out for our car and making sure that the tires still stay on the car.

Inside the hotel we had to give him our passports, which I found odd, and then pay him for our room. Upstairs we were placed in the Zuluf room, which means sideburns in Turkish. There were four beds, two twins and a double, a wardrobe, one small lamp, a 12 inch television, two electrical outlets, and the theme is purple. I say it has a purple theme because according to the brochure each room has a theme.

When we went down for breakfast yesterday we had a table with cucumbers, hard boiled eggs, cheese (some of which had mold), Turkish yogurt, apples, olives, oranges, salami, and bread. You also had a choice of cay (tea) or something that reminded us of Tang.

While at breakfast I informed the owner that we had run out of toilet paper. He said that when they came to service the room they would give us more. That literally meant that we had to leave the hotel in order to get more toilet paper. This did not bode well with Aidan who had to use the facilities before we left. He then had his first experience with a bidet and a towel. (We also found that the soap canister did not pump, they do not provide any type of wash cloths, soap, shampoo, or lotions. We have resorted to pouring the soap out of the container.)

Aidan also has indicated that a bidet is not an adequate substitute for toilet paper. I hope to never find out.

Upon our return to the room at 11:30 in the evening we found that they also do not clean the room, make the beds, or provide new towels. They simply put in extra toilet paper.

This hotel is supposedly three stars. The brochure is photoshopped and the building does not look like indicated. It is very difficult to find and no one here actually knows where it is. The gentleman that owns it is very friendly and helpful, but his wife or the woman that runs it with him, does not seem overly thrilled to have us here. There are seriously steep hills going to and from the hotel. The building across the way is empty. The building next door has crumbled. There are trucks that go up and down the streets that have speakers yelling about different things they sell such as apples, oranges, or blankets.

I have to say that the hotel does not deserve 3 stars. It's more like a 1 star hotel in the States. You have to police your own room. On the plus side the man that owns the hotel is very nice, speaks English, and is extremely helpful. The extra blankets smell musty and haven't been washed for quiet a while. The shower is extremely hot and has great pressure, but the water kind of backs up the drain.

All in all it's a place to lay our heads at night. All is good.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Turkish Way is a Turkish Delight

Some people thought when I was going to Turkey that it was a bit unfortunate going overseas and not going to some more popular places such as Italy, France, or the United Kingdom. I think it's been the best possible choice for me. I have found a world of wonders here, but the most amazing part of the entire place has been the people.

As in any place you travel in the US there are some people that are on the streets and beg, but that is such a small minority of what you will find. Here the people are all very helpful and kindhearted. One young man told me, "Turkish people have big hearts." I've found what he said to be very true.

My Turkish is non-existent. Honestly I thought that since I was here to visit my son I wouldn't need to speak it so much. After all, I was only going to be here for two weeks. Since I've arrived I've spent a lot of time trying to learn more words and communicate with them better. Not because I feel it is important for me to learn another language (I already speak semi-fluent French, some Italian, and a little Korean), but because I want to show some very deserved respect to some very wonderful people.

People here go out of their way to make you feel welcome and wanted. They put up with you mispronouncing their language and strive to help you be better understood. Not once have I had someone say, "You're in Turkey, speak Turkish!" as some rude Americans have done in our country. They understand that I am here for a short time and seem to be pleased that I have attempted to master some of their even smaller sayings.

Wednesday I experienced the Hamam, a traditional Turkish bath. It was unlike anything I have encountered in the states. This bath in Izmir is over 200 years old and still practices a unique cleansing tradition. It is almost entirely made of marble inside. You run hot water in small sink and dowse yourself to get your skin soft. Another woman comes and lays you down and scrubs you with a harsh mitt to remove all your old and dead skin. By the time you are finished you have nice pink rosy skin and you feel soft all over.

Here you have to let go of any inhibitions you might have. The room is steamy and water drips from the high marble ceiling with round glass windows to let in natural light. In the center of the room is a huge marble slab where the lay the bodies down as the women turn you from one side to another and scrub every inch of you. Not once did my washer become frustrated with my inability to comprehend what she was saying to me. She simply pushed, did sign language, and nodded.

I thought to myself, "In the US the woman would have thought I was an idiot and would have mumbled obscenities." Here she sang and smiled.

Before leaving the US many people told me that I would love the Turkish food. "Turkish food," they said, "is some of the very best." I have found that the thing better than the food are the people. They love their country, they love life, and they help one another. I think many lessons can be learned from their culture and it's an experience I will not soon forget.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Driving Drunk? Call and report yourself. It works!

Eau Claire's Mary Strey not only knows how to go out and have a good time, she also knows her limits and sets a precedent for those people that may have had a little too much to drink.

If we had more considerate and honest drunks like Mary maybe we would have considerably less grieving families.