10 Things I Remember from Berlin

During my recent trip to Paris, I’ve also visited Berlin. It was for only 2 days, and it was my first time in Germany, but I still want to write a little something about it because I LOVED it.

  1. People! I always had the stupid impression that the Germans are cold and unfriendly. Man, was I wrong! Berliners are super nice and almost all of them can speak English really well. All the problems I experienced in Paris vanished when I went to Berlin. Oh, how happy I was when I was ordering in English and not dying.
  2. Speaking of people, as much as I loved Berliners, I wasn’t fond of the amount of Turkish people there was. This may sound strange, but when I’m away from home, I like to be immersed with the local culture. I don’t like to come across with other Turks, it makes me nervous somehow. I don’t know why. So yeah, I knew Berlin was sort of Little Turkey, but I was NOT expecting THAT.
  3. parkI said the same thing for Paris – and maybe this is a general thing about Europe – but I loved the parks in Berlin. My favorite was Tempelhofer Park (pictured on the left). It used to be an airport, and now they’ve turned it into a park. What an amazing idea! It’s this vast, green, beautiful space that just gives you… piece.
  4. The public transportation, man. Coming from Istanbul, I’m always a fan of a good, organized public transportation and Berlin does great on that. And I probably wasn’t the only one doing that so I don’t feel bad saying this. It’s sort of… free. I mean not really. But really. Wink wink. So you don’t have to go through a turnstile or swipe a card to open the doors or something, they just trust you to buy the ticket and hope for the best. For two days, I used U-Bahn several times, didn’t pay once, got lucky. But I heard stories that other people got caught. So you didn’t hear this from me.
  5. Speaking of trains, careful with where you want to go and which train you jump on. We were going to Alexanderplatz from somewhere in the city, we asked the guy there which train to take, and he showed us. We jumped on it, nobody stopped us, and yes, it was passing through Alexanderplatz but it was also going to Hanover. Thankfully, we realized it before it had moved so we got off the train on time, but had they asked us a ticket, we would’ve been screwed.IMG_7184
  6. The bars were really cool. Very hipstery but not as douchy. People are fun, too! I especially liked Klunkerkranich Rooftop Beergarten (pictured above). It’s on top of a mall – basically the last place I would expect a cool bar – and has great view, great vibe and great environment.
  7. Which reminds me. To me, Berlin had this New York vibe to it. Specifically Brooklyn. The streets, the hole in the wall type bars, the way people act, everything. I felt like I was back in New York – a cheap and close-to-home New York. Like a dream come true.berlin
  8. And yeah, can you believe how cheap Berlin is?! Not just the food, the drinks, everything! We went to Primark in Alexanderplatz (yes, I am a tourist, thank you very much) and went NUTS. You would, too.
  9. Street art. Berlin is like a big canvas; the buildings, the bridges, the trash cans, the walls – you can find art anywhere!street art
  10. Well, this part is not specific to Berlin, but it’s the first and only place I’ve tried it. Couchsurfing! I was pretty glad we did it; it was free, the person we stayed with was not only not creepy, but also super helpful. He showed us around, kept us company. (Well, the strangest part was that he was a French guy living in Berlin who can speak Turkish! Unreal.) I was happy that we went with Couchsurfing and not a cheap hostel type of situation.

I’ve also visited Amsterdam for 2 days as well on this trip, but I can’t seem to remember that part well, because reasons. I shall write it as soon as it comes back to me.

I Was Told There’d Be Flying Skateboards

Happy new year everybody!

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I’ll be the gazillionth person to say this but… The year 2015 has come, so where are all the things Back to the Future II promised us? Such a disappointment 😦

It’s actually difficult to believe the little date that’s written on the corner of my computer. 2015 sounds so science-fiction!

For one, had you asked me in 2005 about what to expect from the year 2015, I would’ve at least imagined I would have gotten my shit together by now, had a steady job, maybe in a serious relationship… Going to work in my flying car to my office in the 250th floor.

I am none of those things.

However, being merely a human being, I can’t help but feel hopeful from a brand new year to come. It almost feels like a chance to start new things, maybe even a new life.

So here’s to 2015. And hoping by 2025, I will truly have all my shit together.

O, Astoria!

In the light of Lonely Planet’s recent pick for #1 destination to travel within the US, I shall talk about how much I loved Queens – specifically Astoria, home to the Ranch – when I lived in New York.

photo courtesy of New York Times

photo courtesy of New York Times

Let the hipsters in Brooklyn condescend Queens and let Manhattanites act like the civilization ends with the Queensboro Bridge and you need to commute with donkeys after. I’m a proud former Astorian.

Yes, Brooklyn may have the hippest, coolest places, can it compare to the niceness of Queens people? And the commute… The places you can actually afford now in Brooklyn are so far that it’s really difficult for people who work in the city. Don’t even get me started on the L or the G train… I love the N train! Commute is so convenient to the city if you live on the N line that you start planning your social life based on whether or not where you’re going is close to N,Q line. Both Central Park and Prospect Park are on the N or Q line, I worked in Midtown, and Herald Sq Stop was 20 min. away, Union Sq, East Village, Soho, Chinatown… And it’s on the major transfer hubs, so if you do need to transfer, it’s not difficult.

When I lived at the Ranch, it was at the last stop (Ditmars) of the N/Q trains, so if and when I fall asleep on the train, kind strangers would gently wake me up so I wouldn’t find myself going back and forth and finally at a strange & bad neighborhood (I’m not saying it didn’t happen anyway at 4 AM one night, but it happened much less than any other places).

30th Ave after Greece's win of a game in the FIFA '14

30th Ave after Greece’s win of a game in the FIFA ’14

Astoria has the nicest, friendliest people. There is this shared feeling of ‘I know I live in the coolest neighborhood, but it’s hard for other people to understand’. The local bodegas, laundromat people, coffee shops, waiters and bartenders are always so friendly and give you some slack if you are short on money by dimes or nickles.

And Astoria Park? Just pretty!

Don’t even get me started on the food! Ah, the food. So so delicious. I may be partial to the food because I’m Turkish, and it’s a Greek neighborhood, which is basically the same food (sorry Turks and Greeks, we gotta just admit we eat the same stuff and get on with our lives without caring who came up with what).

Not just the Greek food, almost everything is more delicious there. So here are some of my humble recommendations if you go to Astoria (and you should).

 

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Apartment Hunting Blues

Anyone who has ever lived in New York City at least once suffers the ailment called the apartment hunting – unless you are extremely lucky, or you are the offspring of a president or a king (or you are a president or a king), so maybe I should just change my ailment name to ‘apartment hunting on a budget’ (but of course, anyone who ever lived in New York –or any big city, I suppose– also  knows that ‘on a budget’ is a reaaally relative term. You can live like royals in other places with just your NY rent money. But, I digress). It’s not just the passive-aggresive roommate bullshit or the claustrophobic room sizes, it’s the actual apartment hunting process that’s the pain. After all, there is such a thing called the perfect apartment with the perfect situation (if you lower your expectations, of course) but nobody hands it to you. Actually, more often than not, you can’t even find it. Because there are a handful of perfect apartments and a buttload of apartment hunters. So even if you do find it, the competition is so fierce that the chances are you’re not gonna get it unless you move super fast and have everything ready at hand. So like most New Yorkers, I had my fair share of apartment hunting stories. It actually took me a long and windy road to get to the Ranch. So here’s my tale.

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10 things I’ve learned in Paris

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1. What “Sortie” means. It means “Exit”. If you don’t know that, you will literally not be able to leave places. Seriously, is it so difficult to write – even in little fonts – “exit” under “sortie”?

2. If you’re looking for kind responses from the natives, initiate the interaction with a smile and a “bonjour/bonsoir”. The French are more likely to be friendly when they see that you at least make an effort (almost).

3. You can have a picnic anywhere. Literally. You don’t have to necessarily go to a park; if you have wine and cheese with you, basically anywhere is fine to just sit down and hang out. And Paris has some beautiful outdoor areas.

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La Saine (top left), Jardin des Plantes (top right), Jardin du Luxembourg (bottom left), Jardin des Tuileries (bottom right)

4. If there is ever a place where the weather is at its most unreliable, that place is Paris. Man, I thought New York weather was weird. At least it was somewhat consistent with the seasons. In Paris, there are no specific seasons. In 20 days that I’ve stayed there, I think I’ve lived through all the seasons. Sometimes on the same day! The day may start out shiny and warm, but it may end with a monsoon. So do yourself a favor and do not part with your umbrella.

5. Speaking of umbrellas, being a former New Yorker and a native Istanbullu, I was used to just buying one if it happens to start raining. It would be cheap and EVERYWHERE. So I thought the case would be the same in Paris. Aaand it’s not. They don’t sell it everywhere and it’s expensive. And the ones they sell on the newstands are huge! Once it stops raining, you wouldn’t know what to do with it. So bring your own, and don’t leave home without it.

6. It’s not OK to lose yourself in the city and wander around if you don’t know the area. I was trying to find Moulin Rouge, and I think that was the most scared I felt during my trip to Paris. After I found the famous landmark, I didn’t even stop to take pictures. I thought “ok, that’s done” and jumped at the nearest Metro. I might be slightly exaggerating, but there was a guy following me and he was creepy as hell!

7. While getting lost in an unknown neighbourhood (or a neighbourhood with a reputation) is scary, Paris actually is pretty cool if you just sightsee by walking around and getting lost (in the better neighbourhoods and with a map… don’t find yourself in the bad part of town). You can find the cutest streets. And it’s a flat city – no hills or anything – so it’s easy on the feet (except for Butte Montmartre. Oh, those stairs!).

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8. I skipped to go up the Eiffel, and I would do it again. Not worth those line and the ticket price, in my opinion. The views from the tops of Notre Dame and Sacre Ceour are gorgeous and apparently the view from the new building Tour Montparnasse is the best view in town. At least, you can see the Eiffel Tower from all the others, which is pretty much it in the Paris skyline.

9. Food is pretty expensive, so if you’re on a budget like me, try not to eat every meal at a restaurant. I bought bread & cheese from Carrefour (super cheap & super delicious) so I made sandwiches on the go for either breakfast or lunch to consume at the numerous parks & gardens. If I was particularly lazy, croissant from the bakeries and sandwiches from Monoprix would do the trick. So when I wanted to splurge, I would have money for it, and I would just do it for dinner or something. And if you really want decent food on the cheap side, go to Quartier Latin near Saint Michel. Dozens of restaurants with prix-fixe lunch menus. You can get an entree, a main course and a dessert for like 10 Euros.

10. It’s just pretty. Just go, even if you don’t like anything French, go see Paris at least once.

Take Me Home Tonight

My hometown Istanbul (taken from the Galata Tower)

My hometown Istanbul (taken from the Galata Tower)

Had you asked me a year ago today if I was ever going back to Turkey, I would look at you weird and say “hell, no, son!”. Yeah, that’s how much I hated it there. And don’t even get me started on how attached I was to New York! I would consider myself as a New Yorker, and act like one on many occasions.

And life wasn’t so bad – if you don’t count that soul-sucking job of mine (but hey, isn’t it almost the most New York thing? Hating your day job and drinking your sorrows away at happy hours?). We had just moved out of The Ranch to a new apartment and a new start (paid a lot of fees, that is) and I was really excited about my future there. I was following lifestyle blogs, looking into DIY, buying fabrics and crafts stuff to make furniture into. I bought wood paint; I was so obsessed with painting that old bed frame I had into a beautiful piece of furniture! I guess at that time, I thought a pretty home would make me feel accomplished in life. I really thought it would change my life. But I mean, hello, is it 50’s? I was one step away from buying puffy dresses and curling my hair.

But of course, my enthusiasm was soon demolished, the paint dried out, the fabrics were left in the closet, and those beautiful frames stayed where I put them leaning against the wall.

My life was in such a rut that a change of apartments was not enough to shake me up. I needed a change of pace. And a change of place.

First I worked a bit to get to London. Didn’t work out, of course. Too expensive. And I had almost no savings…

Then I thought a graduate degree in Berlin would be nice. That didn’t work out either.

Then after exactly about 6 months after I thought going back to Turkey would be the worst thing I could ever do, I bought my one-way ticket to Istanbul against the protests of my Turkish friends, against the extreme joy my parents showed over my decision they thought I made because I wanted to start a family, and against my better judgement.

Then on August 11th, I was at the check-in counter in JFK crying at the clerk to let me take all my belongings to the plane even though the suitcases were really overweight. “Please, ma’am, I’m leaving New York after 5 years, it was really difficult to stuff my life into two suitcases, can’t you let this one slide?” Thankfully, she was sympathetic. She told me to at least make them the same weight, so at one point I was sitting on one of my suitcases, and she was trying to zip it close. Bless her. Still, only I know how I felt when I had to take bags of clothes & shoes to Goodwill, and when I had to leave my books (my books!) at the curb only to go back out and sit there to see them safely to people who would actually read them while crying out “Hello, look at these books! It’s a great collection! Wouldn’t you like one – or all of them? It’s free! They need a home! Please, sir! Don’t let the garbage people take them!” to strangers.

My curbside after the moving out. It's actually worse than It looks here. Much worse.

My curbside after the moving out. It’s actually worse than It looks here. Much worse.

All those furniture I handpicked and pinned my hopes of a brand new start and a brand new life on was just left to the hands of Astorians, who needed cheap stuff, and the garbagemen.

But, you know what they say, you shouldn’t get attached to material things. Hit the reset button every once in a while. See if you can survive it. Right?

So after all the hassle, I found myself in the car with my parents, heading to my teenage home. With my teenage room and my teenage books and my teenage bed. I mean it wasn’t the first time I came back home after I moved to NY, but it was the first time that I wasn’t a tourist. That was it. This was my home. No going backsies to New York. That chapter is done. Kaput.

Anyway, it’s not all so bad. But let’s not turn this blog post into a novel, shall we? I – along with my dear old roommate from the Ranch – will be coming here occasionally to tell some sad, some hilarious, some tragicomical stories. We’ll see how that goes. So stay tuned!