Marketing uses phrases to charm us into thinking "the patina of a bygone era" does not mean "peeling paint, lead chips abound." In the case of my (second) Airbnb stay in Fatih, Turkey (on "the Asian side" of Istanbul), I believe "Cozy Room in Historic Building" really meant "small bedroom in old building not maintained."
It was almost 9 pm when I arrived at my Airbnb by Uber yellow taxi. I say "Uber yellow taxi" because "Uber yellow taxi" is a distinct choice of ways to get from the IST airport to wherever you're going. There's "taxi," "bus," and "Uber yellow taxi." At least, it's a choice on Uber, here in Istanbul.
The Uber yellow taxi driver stopped his yellow taxi on the steep hill we found ourselves on... the one with very old buildings on both sides. He said, "Here," in an uncomfortably questioning tone. His tone sounded like he was asking, "Are you sure this place is ok? reputable? safe? Really, Ami, should I let you out here?" I looked at him like a deer in headlights. "Hotel," he questioned. "Hotel," come to find out, is any place that you're renting... such as this "cozy room in historic building" Airbnb listing. I believe my deer-in-headlights expression remained intact upon my face. I looked to our left, to a young man outside one of the buildings, sitting on the steps. He was on the phone. I think he waved to the driver. It's hard to say if it was a wave. It was subtle. I interpreted the possible wave to be him, having heard the driver, and saying, "Yes, Uber yellow taxi driver, this is the correct place. I am the host. I have been waiting for Ami to arrive. You may let her out now. It is safe. She will be in good hands." I opened the yellow taxi door and stepped onto the cobbled street.
My host meeting me outside felt like a relief, especially after my last (one night) stay in Fatih. You may recall my last one-night stay in Fatih... The one where, upon arrival, I got locked out of the Airbnb app on my phone, and couldn't get in to the building. You remember... The one where, once in, "Building F" was in reality Building B. You know... the one where I talked about carrying my too many too heavy bags (with the help of another guest, who'd just arrived before me, who got scammed by the Uber yellow taxi driver that brought them from the SAW airport, just like me), up those long and winding stairs. Yeah. I could tell that this would not be like that, and I felt relieved. Here, the host was waiting for me outside the door, ready to welcome me in, carry up my bags, and show me around. "So lovely," thought I. And then we stepped inside the building.
The place wreaked of mildew. "This is not good," I thought.
We went up the first set of stairs and rounded the corner to what would be my bedroom. It was a lovely room. It was a cozy room. So cozy (aka small), I wasn't sure where to put down my bags. Outside the bedroom, my host pointed and said, your toilet is down there. "Down there," I would later discover, felt to me to be a dangerously uneven and narrow, concrete spiral staircase...
...leading to a basement area with two rooms, the first being "my" toilet. "My toilet" was a toilet to be used by only me, and I was glad for that. That was one of the selling points for this place. To get a cheap Airbnb anywhere in Istanbul, one needed to choose from rooms in someone's apartment. Apartment dwellers making extra money via Airbnb all seemed to offer a private bed and a "shared toilet." I did not like the idea of sharing a toilet.
I am an older woman who has pushed babies out of a little hole in her body. I have issues with "urgency." I have frequent night-time (and any time) toileting needs. It felt important to me that I have my own toilet, preferably one that was situated very close to my bedroom, and also to the front door. Here, not too far from both the front door and my bedroom was my very own toilet.
Interestingly, this was literally not what I consider a classic "bathroom." It was exactly what was offered: a toilet. This was a closet-sized room with a toilet. And a sink, that did not work. I will tell you about the sink later.
Check out the mosaic tiles. No matter what size the room, the mosaic tiles were sensational, don't you think? Interestingly, there was also a towel warmer... in the toilet-in-a-closet sized toilet room. Priorities.
My host led me up the next batch of (carpeted, not dangerous) stairs and pointed to a room on the right, saying, "your shower."
Again, this was for my private use. Again, I liked that the room I'd shower in would be for my private use. Yet, again, it was a room, with a shower, and nothing else, except for... a towel warmer.
My host led me up more (carpeted) spiraling stairs...
...and pointed to the surprisingly spacious while extremely compact kitchen...
...that was tucked inside the dining area...
...that led to more (wood) spiraling stairs...
...that led to more (metal) spiraling stairs...
...that led to a heavy glass roof that you pushed up so you could open the glass door... onto the roof...
...that was worth every kind of spiraling step it took to get there.
The roof top was indeed the selling point for this "hotel." The roof top was spectacular. I sat in the big brown wicker chair for a moment to relax. I caught both the breeze and the feeling of being above (this part of) Istanbul. I inhabited a glorious spot in the world. The warm sun, the cool air, the sounds of seagulls, the view...
We're in Turkey, dude! Check it out...
And then, what goes up must come down...
When my host gave me the tour, guiding me up and up the spiral staircases, toward the well-worth-it pinnacle-of-a-rooftop view, we passed a woman on her computer sitting at the table by the kitchen. On the way back down, she had been joined by her husband. I learned that they were from Japan... That their flight to Singapore was 6 hours... That their flight from Singapore to Istanbul was 10 or 11 hours... That they had been here (in this hotel) for a month now, and would be here for another 2 weeks... That they both taught language lessons online... That they had one whole year to travel... and that this was the beginning of their adventure.
The next day, when I made my way back up to the rooftop, Atsushi (the husband) was there. He let me interview him while I took a video of the view...
On the way back down to my room, I saw his wife, working again on her computer at the "kitchen" table. I asked her name and she told me, "Yukari." She asked my name and, upon hearing it, said, "Ami! That's a Japanese name!"
Later that day, I would also learn that the prior person who had stayed in "my" bedroom was a student who had been here for 6 months. It was impressive to hear how long people stay at this "hotel."
I am learning this about myself: It takes me a night, or a day, or a night and a day, to integrate the imperfections and inconveniences of a new place before I get to the magic. The night I arrived, my new Airbnb "home" seemed truly imperfect with major inconveniences. Being on the roof and meeting my housemates helped jumpstart the integration process. The magic would happen soon.
On the night I arrived, after my host left, the first time I braved the stairs to the toilet, I realized the water in the sink was turned off. I looked under the sink and turned the nobs on. "A simple fix," thought I. In the night, however, when I braved the stairs to the toilet multiple more times (as I do), something began to dawn on me. Each time I entered, the floor was getting more and more wet. When I went to the toilet room, closer to morning, and slipped in a shallow pond, dawn broke on Marblehead (as we used to say, growing up in New England, where the sun rose on the shores of Marblehead, Massachusetts). "Oh," thought I, "there was a reason the water was turned off. The pipes are leaking."
Upon arrival, the first night, with that initial hit of mildew, after my host had left, while feeling I had made a gravely bad choice in staying here, I opened all windows I could find in "my" spaces. I opened the front window in the bedroom, the one over the head of the bed. While I unpacked, it slammed closed. "Ok," said I to myself, "that one needs to be propped open." I used the little speaker I'd borrowed from Daniel. Thank you, Daniel. I'll bet you didn't know how handy that speaker would be!
I opened the side window, next to the one I'd propped open. The side window came out in my hands. completely. out of the window frame. off the wall. in my hands. "Ok," thought I, "I'll just lean this one over here..."
I opened the window in the shower room. The toilet room did not have a window, so I opened the door.
In the morning, I texted my Airbnb host. I started with what seemed possibly the most urgent news. "I turned on the water under the sink in the toilet room," I said, "and the floor is quite wet. I'm sorry. I didn't know." I added, "Will the plumbing be fixed? I would like to have running water in the sink if possible."
While texting and awaiting a response, I used the toilet a couple more times and noticed that the door to the toilet room, that I had left (wedged) open each time I had been in there, had been closed. I sent my host another text: "Is it ok to leave the toilet room door open? When it's closed, the mildew smell is too strong." "Ok," he texted back, "leave the door open." When I next went down, the door was closed.
There is another door down there, next to the toilet room. I don't know what that other door leads to. I have not attempted to find out. As far as I know, there are not other guests living down there. The only other guests I've met who are staying here at the hotel are the couple from Japan. Their room is on the floor above my shower room, two floors above my bed room, three floors above my toilet room. It is very possible that their bed, toilet, and shower are all inside their one door. I do not know. I just know I've not seen or heard them come out of their "bed" room, except to sit at the "kitchen" table, drink some hot beverage on the roof, or leave/enter the front door of the "hotel." Regardless of their set-up, I do not think they have any reason to go down to the basement. I had originally thought my host had closed my toilet room door. Obviously, he did not. The why and how of my toilet room door being closed is to this (the end of my first) day a mystery.
I also texted my host, "Is it ok that I opened windows in the shower room and my bedroom? There's one window in the bedroom that needs to be propped open. The other one came out. Can you help me with that?" It was at that point that my host texted back that he'd be at my room "around noon." I also texted my host that "The mildew smell is strong. It indicates mold. Mold is unhealthy. It's an easy fix though. You could clean with white vinegar. Vinegar kills mold spores. And maybe you could use a dehumidifier after that. And then keep cleaning with vinegar."
My poor host. It was my first morning staying at his place and I texted (aka complained) about a lot of things.
You know how time is relevant? Like... New York time is quick. African time is slow. An Australian walk-about could take a lifetime. In the case of my host, "around noon" meant 1pm. I was ok with this, being that I'm a Vermonter, and, more accurately, being as I had no place to go and nothing to do.
After texting him a lot of things, first thing in the morning, I fell back to sleep a couple of times. I slept in between vehicles honking and people yelling outside in what I imagine was Turkish. There was a man, walking the street, chanting, loudly. There was a woman upset, seemingly yelling and crying. There were children and adults calling to... I have no idea who or what. They could have been calling to the upset woman who'd run away. They could have been calling to a cat they wanted to feed. They could have been conversing with each other in their normal, conversational tone... that sounded like yelling to me.
I had set my alarm for 11:45am. I got out of bed earlier and showered. Ah, the shower.
When I had stayed for 10 days at the Airbnb in Tashkent, the shower was... interesting. The water temp went from lukewarm on the first night to scalding hot a couple of days later. Michael and Kira had explained that it was not so much about the Airbnb, but more about the infrastructure in Tashkent that did not work well. The internet was spotty. The heat was iffy. Before I knew all this, though, after my first (lukewarm) shower, I had texted my Tashkent Airbnb host to ask if the water heater setting could be turned up. The host texted back that, because colder, winter weather was setting in, the town would be turning the hot water on soon.
The shower at my Tashkent Airbnb was also... large enough for me to turn around in, yet, a bit squeezy (as my Malian friend Ousmane used to say). While washing, if my elbows spread too wide I hit the sides of the shower stall. The drain was slow, too. So slow that the water flooded up to and over the fairly high shower lip and onto the floor of the bathroom.
This shower, the one at this newest Airbnb, in Fatih, was tiled and large, and drained well, and the water temp was just-right hot. Long, hot showers are my savior.
When my host arrived (at 1 pm), he was surprised by the state of things. He did not know there was a window that did not slide easily up and down. He climbed up on my bed, over to another window that I hadn't done anything with, and slid it, easily, open. He showed me how to secure it while open so it would not come crashing down. My host put the side window back in, stepped back to look at it, and said that a piece of the edging was missing. It was at this point that I learned about the prior occupant, the 6-month-stay student. My host also did not know the water under the sink had been turned off. He did not know the plumbing was broken. He got to fixing it right away.
We had a conversation about the mildew and mold and cleaning with vinegar. He said, "It's an old building." I said, "Yes, and there are things that will help." He said he'd start cleaning with vinegar that afternoon. Later, women arrived with cleaning supplies and a large container of vinegar. They asked me to leave my room and I gladly did.
All of that helped me feel more at home and happier about my Airbnb choice. The magic though, came with the first call to prayer.
When I had been in Kodikoy (also in Istanbul... on the "Asian side"), in May, I felt most enchanted by the Call-to-Prayer. This happens five times per day, over a loud speaker booming throughout the city. It's so much a part of life in Istanbul, people seem to ignore it. Unless you're pulled to pray. Everyone else seems to keep talking and walking and eating, and getting on with their day.
Michael, Kira, and I visited two of the more well known mosques on the Asian side of Istanbul (in May). We were walking from one to the other, directly in the middle of them when the call to prayer began. I took a video of what became one of the most vibrationally moving experiences I have had. I realize a video of a live happening is not any where near the same experience as the live happening. Still, I hope it's worth a listen...
So, when I heard the first call to prayer of this visit to Istanbul, the magic began. Sitting in my room, listening, feeling, being done with the grumpiness of imperfections and inconveniences. Magic.
Then, I could hear women singing. Birds cawing. Seagulls. Cats. The buzz. I began to feel Istanbul, to feel the love.