Bulent’s Take on Airbnb.com

This summer my husband used Airbnb.com to arrange for his lodging while he was participating in a program at the London School of Economics.  Unfortunately he was extremely disappointed and felt exploited by the business. He asked me to post this because, as our friends and family know, he does not use social media, including Facebook or Twitter.

I recommend everyone to not use Airbnb.com. They exploit you like it is their business.

· Bulent rented an apartment in London for 6 weeks to attend a program at LSE.

· He completed the program at the end of the 3rd week, and asked the landlord to leave 3 weeks earlier than planned.

· She said “no problem”. Bulent notified Airbnb about the change, and came back to Turkey.

· After he came back, he realized that Airbnb charged his credit card as if he stayed the whole time.

· Because a chunk of the overcharge went to the landlord’s bank account, he asked the landlord to remind the Airbnb that his stay was only 3 weeks, and to ask for a refund of over a thousand dollars.

· Landlord said that she would “accept Bulent’s offer only if he agrees to pay her nearly twice the daily rate that they had originally agreed.”

· Bulent told her that this offer nearly a month after the whole thing was over was outrageous as she did not mention to him that she would want a higher rate when she accepted his offer to leave the place early.

· Landlord insisted on her condition.

· Bulent entered the case to Airbnb’s “dispute resolution” for Airbnb to resolve it.

· Dispute Resolution required him to accept their condition that “their decision will be final”

· Can’t possibly knowing what is behind that condition, and having no other choice; Bulent accepted it.

· Dispute Resolution reviewed the case, and “ruled” that they would refund $30 to him! (The amount Bulent was overcharged was little over a thousand dollars!!!)

· When Bulent asked how in the world they came up with that figure, they said that “stays shorter than 28 days are subject to weekly rates (his original agreement with the landlord was a monthly rate) and the weekly rate that applied to his case was such that they would only refund $30!”

· Bulent asked for a copy of the contract that shows this “policy”, and how they determine weekly rates.

· They sent him a webpage in their site that only talks about landlords’ options when they receive a request for early leaves (which are either to have Airbnb charge the guest for only the duration of his stay, or for the entire term). The site includes no information about this supposed policy to bump monthly rates down to weekly rates when stays are fewer than 28 days. Nor did it include any formula as to how they determine this weekly rate.

· Bulent pointed out these nonsense, and renewed his request for the 1,000+ Dollar refund.

· Airbnb answered by saying “as you accepted when you submitted the case to our Dispute Resolution Department, our decision is final!

· Next week, Bulent will sue the company for violation of consumer rights to be protected against arbitrary and exploitative practices. He will also file a complaint to the Better Business Bureau in California where this company is registered. But as importantly, he asked me to disseminate this message to all my friends and family so they do not use Airbnb.com.

Tennessee

This summer while I was home in the US, I was incredibly busy, scheduled to go here or there almost every day.  One of the things I squeezed into my travels was a trip to Tennessee.  I am very lucky to have two of my best college friends living in the same state. 

I flew down on a Friday, and was supposed to arrive in Nashville at about 4:30 pm, when my friend would be getting off from work.  After a hellish bout of “How long will that delay be?” with U.S. airways I arrived just at 8:30 (EST).  My friend was very patient with the whole situation and entertained with the fun texts from me.

“We are boarding the plane.”  “We are de-boarding the plane”  “We  boarded the plane!”  “We are leaving!” “Just kidding, we are missing paperwork”  “We landed!”   “We have to wait for a gate” “We are going to get off….oh wait…still no gate.”

 

  After all the delays and waiting on the plane for what seemed like forever (for a gate), we ended up just going down the stairs of the plane and walking across the tarmac to a lower level door to the airport.  Which we could have done when we first landed.  Mmmph.

Despite the inauspicious beginning, the trip was fantastic!  My friend Kate lives in Nashville, the plan was to visit with her, then we would drive down to Memphis to visit our very pregnant friend Katie, or depending on the fates, Katie and her new baby.  

After Kate picked me up from the airport, we stopped by her home to drop my things off before we went out for dinner.  Waiting for us was a package from our other friend friend from college, Katie, who lives in Colorado.  She had sent us a gift basket filled with treats for our visit!  Can you feel the Wellesley love?

KatieColorado

The next day we left for Memphis. Memphis is a three hour drive, so we were able to chat the whole way and had a great time.  Katie politely stayed pregnant while we were in town, so that we could catch-up.  I haven’t been able to see my Wellesley friends as often as I would like.  We are scattered all over the US, and living in Turkey complicates visiting even more.  However, when we do get together, it is as if no time has passed.  I am hoping that soon they will plan a trip to visit me!  In Memphis we relaxed, visited, played with Katie’s dogs and took turns feeling her belly when she was having contractions.  Kate started to time them, but then Katie pulled out her phone to do it.  Apparently there is an app for that!  She didn’t have the baby for another week, but we didn’t let that keep us from getting some snuggle time with the baby.  Katie and I were room mates, so she knows I am pretty hands on. 

Anderbaby

We drove back to Nashville and the next day we played tourists.  Kate took me downtown to the Honky Tonk bars and the tourist areas.  We wandered around for a while, listening to the country singers preforming on the street.  We went to the Johnny Cash museum as well.  Nashville is fun city, with beautiful green spaces, navigable, a vibrant downtown and nightlife and great food. 

Now when in Tennessee, it is best to stick to local cuisine. BBQ.  Kate knows I love barbeque and went out of her way to create a culinary experience.  They have some of the best barbeque I have tasted, very different from other regions such as New England or Texas.  Here, the pork is cooked slowly until it falls apart, and is served dry.  You can then add BBQ sauce (here with a vinegar base) if you would like. 

Pulled pork dinner from the iconic Loveless Café in Nashville, served with fried green tomatoes.

2014-07-28 20.17.15

Pulled pork tacos with roasted corn from the Acme Feed & Seed in downtown Nashville.

2014-07-28 13.27.31

OHHHHH.  The best BBQ I have ever had is from B&C (full name: Bacon and Caviar). 

2014-07-26 12.36.48

It is not a fancy place, but you wouldn’t want it to be.  They have several locations throughout Nashville.    I loved it, the food was fresh and delicious and the people behind the counter friendly and personable.  I am not that familiar with southern food, and they were very patient with all my food questions, some even unrelated to what they were serving.  At B&C you choose your meat (pulled pork sandwich above) and then your sides.  They had many sides, but I asked the girl behind the counter to serve me what she would have chosen herself.  The sides are squash casserole, a sweet corn and summer squash bake topped with a little cheese, and the grits of the day.  Yes, that is right, grits of the day! They have a different one each day of the week, in addition to the regular cheesy grits.  These were buffalo chicken grits, slightly spicy, with vinegar and bits of chicken.   DELICIOUS!

My trip to Tennessee was one of the highlights of my visit home.  Not only did I get to see TWO of my dearest friends for the first time in years, but I also got to be a tourist in my own country and take in a bit of Southern culture.   I would highly recommend visiting Nashville if you have a chance, even if you are just driving though. 

Wellesley Mini-Reunion! Three 2006ers and a future 2032er!

Anderbaby2

Back to NH and Blogging

I flew back to NH in the beginning of July.  I was really looking forward to this summer, I had many visits with friends and family scheduled.  Actually, I had only 4 days unscheduled for the whole five weeks I am here!  So many fun things to do, so little time!

My mother has been getting really active and adventurous.  Once I had made it from Turkey to Boston, then Boston to New Hampshire, she asked me if I wanted to do something fun that weekend.  My brother was away on a cruise to Alaska with all of my cousins, so it would just be the two of us.  I was game, so we went up to North Conway on an outdoorsy adventure. 2014-07-11 14.17.10

Pumpkin, the family dog, came too. First we went mountain biking at the trails at Echo Lake Park. It was great, there were these narrow trails all through the woods.  At the end, we went down to the beach to relax. 

bike

The next day we drove up to Jackson to visit my mom’s “God Parents”.  They are always fun, and we love spending time with them.  Freddy, the God Father, is this incredible diminutive man, who until he broke his hip last winter, could probably out-hike or out-ski you, even though he is in his early eighties.   On the way to our visit we stopped at Black Cap Mountain, and did a quick hike. 

2014-07-12 10.47.34

For a short hike, Black Cap has some beautiful views. 

2014-07-12 11.00.01

After our visit, we went up to Cathedral ledge, a beautiful spot, and one very popular with rock climbers.  There were men and women scattered all over the rock face that day. 

2014-07-12 12.28.43

The view of Echo Lake from Cathedral ledge.

2014-07-12 12.31.34

After our visit,  we stopped for the short hike to Diana’s Bath, a series of waterfalls and a popular swimming hole

2014-07-12 13.03.09-2

The last day we went to the bike paths that run along the old rail tracks from Northern NH into Maine.  We biked along the rails into Maine, and then came back and did a bit of shopping in North Conway. 

2014-07-12 19.00.05

Our visit to North Conway was very fun.  I love Turkey but I do miss New England quite a bit, with the hiking,and biking and kayaking and skiing and snow-shoeing.  I have been able to do everything but the winter sports since I have gotten here.   There will be more belated posts coming on that soon!   The summer has been beautiful here so far, and I am working on enjoying every minute I can until I leave. 

Turkey during Ramadan

Ramadan or Ramazan started today.  It is the 9th month of the Islamic calendar where observant Muslims observe a month of fasting from sun up to sun set as one of the Five Pillars of Islam.  Not to say that all Muslims fast, it is the same as every religion, some people are more observant than others, just like during Lent.  It is based on the lunar calendar and so it moves through out the year.  This year it has fallen during summer, which makes it more difficult because it is hot and the days are longer.  There are of course exceptions, if you are ill, traveling, pregnant, breastfeeding, diabetic or menstruating you are exempt.  Those who are fasting refrain from eating, drinking liquids, smoking and sex during those hours.

During this time people get up before dawn and east their pre-fast meal called sahur, and at sunset people usually break their fast with a date, and then eat a large meal  called Iftar.

How does this affect your vacation or non-fasting residents?  It won’t. But…

For one I try to be more patient and less reactive with people.  When people are fasting they have not eaten or drunk for hours, and may have given up smoking cold turkey (pun not intended).  This would make anyone cranky.  So if I run into people who are a little brusque, I just go with it.  I also let my cleaning lady off early because she worked all day without drinking anything and has to get home and prepare dinner before she can break her fast.

My husband and I try to be discreet about food as well.  We will still eat in restaurants, but we try not to sit in street view parts of the dining areas.  We do not eat or drink on the street during this time either.  I am also more discreet about alcohol as well.  Alcohol consumption is forbidden in the Quran, and I know some Muslims give up alcohol for Ramazan, even if they do not fast.

In tourist areas with large amounts of foreigners, not too much changes.  Restaurants are still crowded, alcohol sold, etc.  They understand they you are not fasting, do not expect you to, and honestly tourism is their livelihood. They need you to buy food and alcohol.  However it is polite to be sensitive and eat mostly in restaurants or defined eating areas, not in the street.  You make want to make a reservation for dinner, as restaurants may be crowded during iftar.  Also, do not be alarmed if you hear drumming at 2 or 3 in the morning.  It is to wake up people for sahur.

So welcome to Turkey, enjoy your vacation.  The people here are still incredibly hospitable and warm, just give your hosts a break if they are moving a little slow…they may not have eaten or drunk all day and are still trying to serve you yours with a smile.

 

*Idea from Adventures in Ankara hold off your grilling until after iftar, even though it is prime grilling season.

Lojman (Corporate Housing)

One of the benefits about working at my school is lojman or corporate housing.  This concept is not uncommon in Turkey, actually we live pretty close to the Belediyesi or public works corporate housing.  What I really love about living in the lojman is the company and community.  Getting together with friends can be so difficult.  Going out after work can be exhausting, you are tired and often times have to get up early the next day for work.  If your friends have kids it can be complicated, they need a sitter, or plans change and their husband has to work late and can’t take them for the night, etc. 

In the lojman it is easy to have an hour of two of company.  My friend often watches her kids play at the apartment complex’s park.  Getting together for a chat is as easy as peeking out the balcony to see if she is there, and then going downstairs.  If you need help, a potato or a cup of sugar, there are at least 30 apartments in the building you could probably pop in to ask. 

We all help each other out.  When a co-worker had to go on bed rest during her pregnancy, we organized a schedule to drop off food.  I have stayed at the complex’s park with toddlers while their mothers’ ran up to their house to use the bathroom. The other day I called in sick to work, and several co-workers called to see if I needed anything.  In the past when Bülent was away and I was really ill, my co-worker sent her teenage son to walk my dog.

It is such a luxury to be able to pop upstairs for for a coffee for a hour and talk with a friend.  We are able to get together so much more often because we do not need to  arrange our schedule and a time and place to meet.  Just send a text, are you there?  It also works really well before formal events.  I had a wedding last week and needed accessory advice.  My friend popped down and consulted on belt, purse and jewelry.  What was funny was after all that I forgot to put my second earring in, and rocked an asymmetrical look all night. 

It is also great for people with children, there are always lots of kids playing in the apartment complex playground.  The older boys organize football tournaments, and some neighbors live close enough to tuck their babies in, go to dinner at a friends and still be able to listen to their child via baby monitor.  

Now that I have experienced the lojman -if I ever move out of it, or back to the US- I would search out an intentional community or a communal neighborhood.  There are some amazing benefits to living in an area close to others and cooperating with them!

Shows!

We have had some awesome luck lately when it comes to shows.  We took Bülent’s parents to an interactive show called “Dövüs Gecesi” or “Fight Night”.  It was an interactive political piece to get people thinking about why people vote for their chosen candidates.  It was very illuminating.

At the end, one of the most charismatic candidates called for a change to the system and for people to not vote, to abstain from voting.  In the US it is called apathy, in Turkey it is ILLEGAL to not vote.  It was a call to conscious progress.  The show was fun and interesting and a political call for change.  A great show!

The second show we went to recently was the Ankara Jazz festival. We went to see Karsu, ethnically Turkish, raised in the Netherlands, named after her father’s village in Hatay.   Bülent has been following her for a while, and really loves her music, so when he found out she was coming to Ankara, he could not wait for the concert.  I have to say, her sound is great.  Her voice is amazing, her band really strong, but on top of that her choice of songs are eclectic, Türkü, English and Turkish jazz, Blues, 60s rock, and Ottoman songs.  Her whole set was dynamic due to her interesting set and her charming on stage personality.  She was really endearing, not too polished, with semi-fluent Turkish with a strong Hatay accent (adorable)!

This week we are going to Cer Modern for open air Turkish independent/art movies.  They have English subtitles, which is great, because I haven’t really been able to watch any before now.  We watched one last night and it was really fun!  It was Şarkı Söyleyen Kadınlar, or the Singing Women, slightly depressing but really interesting.  It was my first Turkish movie because usually they do not have English subtitles.  We are going to another tomorrow.  I can’t wait!

Uzungöl

The road to Uzungöl was a lot more pleasant than the place itself.  We had heard it was a lovely lake, pictures with places to hike and bike ride. It was a lake, and there was a walking path, and bike rentals.  That is about as close to the description as it came.

We left the lovely snow capped Kaçkar Mountains and the Ayder Plateau, for Uzungöl.  We decided to do some sightseeing along the way.

P1017051

We stopped by one of the Fırtına River bridges on the way.

  P1017071

Built in the Ottoman era during the 18th or 19th century by local stonemasons, they are still architecturally sound, and very charming.

P1017076

P1017082

After that we traveled deep into Fırtına Valley (Stormy Valley), we went to Zilkale, or Bell Castle.  It was only about 20 km but on the winding steep road, it took almost an hour.  We kept seeing villages up on the steep mountain sides.  They were amazingly isolated and beautiful, with their dark wood buildings, surrounded by the deep green of the tea bushes.  P1017087

Almost impossible to reach by road, some of them only seemed accessible by funiculars or teleferikler

Photo from http://www.son.tv/haber-213915

After we made our way through the mountain passes we finally reached Zilkale.  It was striking, high up on the edge of a cliff the castle had been restored and was worth the trek into the wilderness.  From its vantage point we were also able view of the deep canyon and the waterfalls from the castle walls.

P1017090

From here we went to Uzungöl.  On the road to Çamlıhemşin we had been struck by the green mountains, covered in tea plants, the clear water of the rivers and streams, and the mountain vistas.  In contrast, the road to Uzungöl was industrial, the river muddy and filled with silt from the mining and hydroelectric dams.  In comparison to the mountain villages, with their wood houses high up on the hills on the Çamlıhemşin road, on the way to Uzungöl the roadsides were filled with typically Turkish concrete multi-storied buildings and tea processing factories.

Uzungöl (Long Lake) is no longer a natural lake, dammed up and the embankments covered in stone, it actually resembles a man made lake more than anything else.  The lower end of the lake is built up, pensions, restaurants and neon lights creating a hodge podge of tourism.  The area is fairly conservative as well, catering to more devout foreign tourists.  I was surprised at the number of women wearing full covering, or burkas.  While Turkey is an Muslim majority nation, and some areas are more conservative than others, full covering with only ones’ eyes showing is not typical.

We also had a major issue with our hotel.  We stayed at the Aygün Motel, the accommodations were clean and it was a spacious bungalow, with plenty of room for all three of us for a decent price.  However, when we woke up in the morning it was very cold inside our room.  See your breath cold.    There was also no hot water.  Reception kept telling us the heat would come on soon, in two hours.  In an hour, in 45 minutes…  After huddling in our room, wearing our jackets for several hours, we went out to eat just to warm up.  After hours and hours of a freezing cold room, the heat finally came back on.  It never really warmed up though.  We tried to change our tickets to fly out that night, but the plane was full, instead we paid the penalty just to move our tickets up by a few hours.  The next morning, the room was frigid again,  it was then we learned that they actually turn off the heat each morning, and turn it on back at night.

In the morning we planned to leave at 8 am to be to the airport 9am, at for our 10 am flight.  However, when I woke up at five to use the bathroom, I saw outside there was at least 6 inches of snow, with more falling steadily.  Uzungöl had been transformed to a winter fairy land, but we still didn’t want to stay.

P1017143

Afraid we would be trapped there if it kept snowing, we left the motel by 5:20 am to make sure we would be able to make it down the mountain.  The switchbacks  were a little hairy at first, but once we were halfway down the mountain the snow turned to rain, and we were all relieved.

Bülent and I were talking last night and we honestly have not had a trip with so many challenges and unfavorable conditions.  We have traveled all over Turkey for the last five years, staying in five star hotels, motels, pensions and even hostels, and have always had a great time, with warm and hospitable hosts. It was certainly a memorable birthday trip, one that none of us will forget in the future.  We still had a great time though.  I was with my two favorite men, one who had flown thousands of mile to surprise me!  I felt lucky and beloved to have such a grand adventure planned for me, and an adventure it was!

Bakla Köftesi (Fava Bean Balls/Burgers)

Fava Bean köftesi, a type of vegetarian köfte.  Since we have gone mostly vegetarian I have been trying to find alternatives and interesting food.  This seemed to fit the bill, interesting, healthy and seasonal.   

400 grams of cooked, shelled fava beans
1 onion
1 carrot
clove of garlic
Cilantro about 1/3 cup, half a bunch or so (parsley would work too)
1 egg
salt and pepper (I used chipotle pepper)

  First shell your fava beans. Then simmer the beans for five or six minutes, until tender then submerge them in cold water to make it easier to take off their outer skin.  You will need about 400 grams of the cooked shelled fava beans in total, so the original weight should be more. Dice and sauté the onion and carrot until soft, add the garlic, minced and cook until aromatic.

In a food processer add, onion, carrot, garlic, fava beans, cilantro, egg and spices.  Pulse until combined’, but not a complete puree.  Roll into small balls or flat latke type shapes.   I made two batches using different methods.  The first I baked at 350 for twenty minutes.  I sprinkled sesame seeds on top for crunch.  These held together well, and would be great for burgers.

20140421_173609

The second batch I “fried” in a nonstick pan with a tiny bit of olive oil.  This batch was more tender but not as sturdy.  Both were tasty.  Even Butterfinger liked them. 

2014-04-23 17.30.51

Doğa Karadeniz

Recently I went on a trip to the Doğa Karadeniz with my brother and husband.  I will blog about the places separately from the experience…which was a doozy.  While certain parts of the trip were very lovely, it was sort of a comedy of errors.  We flew into Trabzon and from there made our way to Çamlıhemşin. Bülent booked a bungalow for us, Eko Danitap, it was supposed to be lovely and beautiful.  The directions were wrong. We followed them to a T, and in following the signs we were led up a narrow, scary series of switchbacks, and at the top of the mountain…no Eko Danitap.  Even asking for directions we were unable to find the hotel and when we called for directions, the land line had been disconnected and no one answered the cell number.  Even knowing we were coming, as we made a reservation, we never got a response or a call back. 

P1017050

We had to find new accommodations.  However, one of the the reason we had a reservation was because it was early in the tourist season and not all hotels were open.  We decided to  head up to Ayder Yaylası, we had heard it was incredibly beautiful.  It was, but also cold.  We managed to find an open hotel, and the rooms were very nice.  The owner said it would take a little while for the water to get hot for the showers.  We didn’t think much of it.  Except the water never got hot, and the toilet in our room didn’t work.  They couldn’t get it fixed.  The toilet in my brother’s room worked though, thank goodness…Welcome to Turkey, thanks for flying thousands of miles for my birthday—the least we could offer would be indoor plumbing.2014-03-15 08.29.34

Despite the issues, we decided to stay the night, as it was getting late and we were far from anything.  When we woke up there was still no hot water.  We had breakfast and then decided to take a walk. Ayder was absolutely breathtaking. 

2014-03-15 10.17.30

We were near the Kaçkar Mountain Park, so we walked up that way.  It really was gorgeous. Icy mountains, crystal clear brooks and pristine air. 

2014-03-15 10.17.51

After a brisk walk we all felt the need for a shower, and decided to leave Ayder Yaylası, for a place that was heavily recommended by a local we had met, Uzungöl.  The wonders (or lack thereof) of “Long Lake” or Uzungöl deserve a post all of its own.  

Yumurtalı Ispanak (Spinach with Eggs)

2014-03-28 19.14.55 (2)

This is a traditional breakfast, lunch or light dinner meal.  If serving it for lunch or dinner, it is often made with ground beef as well (500 gr.)  If you want extra protein, vegetarian style, you can add cooked red lentils.  My husband likes his eggs scrambled in, in addition to lentils in this dish.  I like my eggs poached with runny yolks.  The beauty of this dish is that I can do both in the same pan.  Add lentils and mixed eggs to one side, and poach my deliciously runny eggs on the other.  I always serve it with bread or biscuits to soak up the yummy juices!!

Ingredients

2 bunches of  spinach (about 1 kilo with stems) cleaned
4 eggs ( you can poach them or scramble them)
1 small onion (finely chopped)
1 small garlic clove (minced)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp of tomato paste
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper
½ tsp red pepper flakes

Heat the oil and add the onion, and allow to soften.  Chop the spinach roughly.  When the onion is softened and translucent add the minced garlic, salt, tomato paste, black and red pepper.  Add the spinach to wilt, and cover.  If you prefer your dish saucier, add a half a cup of water.  You may need to add a little more liquid if planning to poach your eggs in the spinach dish.