Searching for a flat in Istanbul, as a foreigner who knows neither the city or the language, is like reading through a telephone directory in the hope of finding a person whose surname you’ve forgotten.
Most places are unfurnished, for a start. Shelling out a fortune for a load of crappy, mismatched, secondhand furniture is not an appealing option for someone who never tends to stay in one place for long enough to make it a worthwhile investment – and it’s a whole load of hassle and stress when you’re a newbie foreigner, too. Not only that, but by far the most common option for foreigners is to share a flat in order to pay dirt-cheap rent, so practically all the English ads are of the “roommate wanted” variety, and I seriously wouldn’t ever go there again after my previous experiences of cohabitation (with the exception of my sister, but really, how likely is it that I’d end up sharing with someone genetically programmed to be my ideal roommate?). No, I’ve known for years now that I am not a flat-sharing kind of girl. I can CouchSurf, I can have guests, and I can cheerfully fall asleep in my best friend’s bed after a night of high-spirited partying makes going home seem far too difficult, but I need to have a place to call my own, where I can be completely on my own whenever I need to be. I’ll accept that I have to pay double the rent for that.
Which is why I’ve spent the past week or two tearing my hair out as I realised that only pure chance would ever lead me to such a place in Istanbul. Happily enough, that chance occurred yesterday, when I responded to an email from an unknown stranger, offering to show me an apartment that was “wonderful child-friendly” and “all of the modern furnices for the women”. Eh? I ignored the majority of the email, and ended up dubiously meeting an independent estate agent named Kermal. My doubts vanished after about 5 minutes in his company.
Ah, these Turkish men.
Kermal was a good 20 years older than me, no longer meltingly dreamy, but still Turkishly delightful, and ridiculously charming, as all good salesmen should be. He showed me around a few areas near to my work, chatting away all the while and keeping me entertained. He took me to meet his non-English-speaking wife, who hastened to provide a traditional meal for me and is now sending me sweet Google-translated messages asking me when I can come over for my first Turkish lesson, which is to include a tutorial on how to make the perfect cup of Turkish coffee. Then he took me for a walk on the nearest beach, and his son let me fly his model plane. I never thought flat hunting could be so much fun!
After seeing a few flats, which I turned down (too big… too small… too old… too expensive…), he declared that he now knew exactly what I wanted, and that when I saw it I would say instantly, “Kermal, I want this one, please, and immediately!””. Grinning but somewhat resigned to the belief that I was going to have to share in order to afford something that I liked, I went along to a residence with him.
Residences seem to be quite the thing here. They’re like hotels, really, only with apartments instead of rooms behind all the doors. You enter a fancy lobby with a reception desk and a security guard, and you have to get clearance or swipe your key card to get through to the lifts. Residents of the building have access to loads of facilities, such as a swimming pool, sauna, gym, and a residents’ ‘social area’ involving a cafe/restaurant/bar, regular live music, and room service if you can’t be bothered cooking or stepping into the lift and going up a few floors for your dinner.
We stepped inside the vacant, fully-furnished (from the washing machine and dishwasher (yesssss!) down to the cutlery and cleaning products) flat, and I walked to the far end of it and then looked back.
“Kermal, I want this one, please, and immediately!” I said meekly.
A few hours later, I had the keys. For me, it’s worth an estate agent’s commission fee to have someone take care of all the stress for you. Throughout negotiations with the landlord and any issues with the building management, I just had to idly sit there looking out of the window and planning my early morning pre-work swims, the stream of indecipherable Turkish flying smoothly over my head as the agent dealt with everything that would otherwise have baffled, frustrated, and stressed me. I am looking around approximately every 20 seconds in glee. It’s small, but it’s bigger than my previous flats, and infinitely more cheerful and modern than the dump I was living in in Prague. I actually want to make friends with random strangers in my neighbourhood just so I can invite them round for dinner and drinks, as opposed to being terrified one of my colleagues would knock at my door and see the hovel I called home.
Kermal and his wife seem to want to be my big brother and sister, so even when the confusions of dealing with practical issues come up, all I have to do is call him and pass the phone to the security guard or the landlord or the maintenance man. In order to grasp exactly how incredibly liberating that thought is, you might have to have lived as an expat in a country where you don’t speak the language, but I assure you it’s a wonderful feeling!
So: new city, new job, new home. Now to start seeing what life’s like in this part of the world, eh?