Time to reminisce

I’ve been home for a about a week.  My month in Istanbul now seems an almost-distant memory.  But I am left with an overall impression of Turkey and  Turkish people that I hope to never forget: it is a beautiful, fascinating country, and they are  beautiful people.

I am pretty sure  that I would find this to be true in every corner of the world.

A few things that I learned from my travels:

1)       English is the language everybody knows.   

There were people from countries all over the world in our tour groups – and they seemed to know at least two languages: their native tongue and English.

That, along with English signage in international airports and the apps available on smart phones, makes it pretty easy to communicate,  even if you know very little of the language.

(Although, knowing a few phrases in the native language goes a long way.  In Istanbul, the locals appreciate your efforts in trying to speak Turkish)

2)      Most people are kind, goodhearted people

– not the thieves and murderers and rapists that fill the nightly news broadcasts.  They are living their lives the best they know how, working hard, and finding opportunities to laugh and love –  just like us.

There was never a time when I didn’t feel safe.  It was nice.  It made me more excited to travel to other places.

3)      What we see on the news doesn’t necessarily reflect reality. 

I arrived in Istanbul May 29th.  On May 31st  the Taksim Square Protest was international headlines.  We watched the news from our 5th floor apartment in the “Old City.”  The same violent clips were shown, over and over, on a dozen different news channels, for days.  It looked the the whole city was in turmoil.

Yet people everywhere in the city – tourists, locals, business owners, and families – went about their normal, everyday lives.   The most popular tourist spots were still crowded.  The trams and Metros were full of commuters and travelers. The businesses and vendors were busy trying to sells their wares.

Taksim Square protesters were limited to a small area.

According to the Freedom Press Index, out of 179 countries ranked, Turkey is 154 (described as a “very difficult situation”).  The media reports only what the government allows.

 Freedom of the press is a high ideal – but it’s not the reality.  (Not even in America.  There are restrictions to what we get to see – as well as biased, slanted reporting (I know – really??!) )

4)  Turkey is pretty average – pretty normal. 

When I told people that I was going to Turkey, I sometimes got a response like this:  ” Why would you want to go to that dangerous, violent, scary place?”

I admit that when Wesley suggested Istanbul, it wasn’t on my “Top Ten” list of places to go.  Then I started learning about the country.  It not only changed my mind, but it became the Number One place to go.

I had a stereotypical idea of Turkey before I had considered visiting there.  Much of it came from what I have learned from news sources.  And it wasn’t good.  After all, people going about their everyday lives doesn’t make the news – sensational events do.  And most of what I knew about Turkey was not favorable.

I came away with this:  Turkey is interesting but not outrageous.  It’s a perfectly wonderful place to visit!

5)      It’s okay to say I am from America.

I had the impression that Americans are hated everywhere – but I didn’t get that response in Turkey.

I was often asked where I was from.  When I said, “America” the response was usually a big smile, sometimes accompanied by a short anecdote in broken English:  “My English teacher was from Manhattan.”  “I went on an Alaskan cruise with my family four years ago.” “I was in New York for two weeks.”

The American Dream is alive and well.

6)      Few Americans travel.

I thought Americans would make up the bulk of tourists –  the people who travel the world.  But in group tours, we were typically the only Americans.  There were dozens of countries represented.  Australia, Germany, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Canada, Sweden, Japan, Russia, China, Italy, Pakistan, Syria – these are just some of the countries represented in our tours.

7)      Turkey isn’t some backwards, undeveloped country.

It’s 2013 in Turkey, too – so why was I surprised that everywhere I looked, people were on their smartphones?  Satellite dishes crowd the rooftops.  Internet access was everywhere.  Men and women alike (even women who wear headdresses and burqas) dress quite fashionably.  And Istanbul is full of skyscrapers, modern transportation, and freeways – like any other large city.

8)      Turks are proud people –  proud of their heritage, and proud of their country.

 Turkish people long for the same thing that we long for in America – the same thing that people all over the world long for:

Freedom.

9)   It’s culturally acceptable for men to show affection for each other.

I love how the men greet each other with a kiss on each cheek.  Well – it may not actually be a kiss – but a cheek-to-cheek  greeting.   Every day, all day long, you see men reach out to each other and shake hands, and then draw close and and do the cheek-to-cheek greeting.

I also noticed that the men seemed to take good care of their mothers and grandmothers – always making sure there was a seat for them on the tram and leading them by the hand down the street.

10)   The food is delicious and fresh

Turks don’t eat a lot of processed foods.  They serve and eat what is in season.   If you are a meat-lover, you won’t be disappointed – there’s lots of  fish, lamb, beef,  and chicken.  And it’s also very easy to be a vegetarian in Turkey.

A full turkish meal usually starts with soup (the lentil soup is amazing) followed by mezes (appetizers) of cheeses, breads, olives, and dips.  The main staples are familiar foods: beans, rice, onions, garlic, cucumbers, eggplant, tomatoes, breads, fruits – but it is the abundance of spices that make it different and delicious.

11)   Most people want to help.

  If you are standing at the corner looking lost, strangers are more than willing ( in their own language, often) to help you.  They give you directions, using short phrases, hand gestures, and smiles.  Then you go off in the direction that you understood, and sometimes end up farther from your destination…

I hope that we are as friendly and helpful to strangers.

12)   Drivers do NOT wait for pedestrians. 

In fact, if it says “go” on a particular street, you better GO quickly.  The split second that drivers have the green light, they gun it.  It doesn’t matter if  you are still crossing the street – you’d better get out of the way, and fast.

13)   It’s okay to ignore street vendors’ pleas to buy. 

It’s not rude.  Well, even if it is rude, if your first inclination is to smile and say sweetly, “no thank you!” they will interpret that as a “Yes!  Of course I am interested!  How many can I buy?”

The best way to shop is to look, but not comment –  unless you are interested – and even then, don’t act too interested.  Negotiation is all part of the game.  The asking price is only a suggestion – it’s up to you to negotiate a lower price.  It’s expected.

  14)   Ice is a precious commodity.

It’s rarely used.  Asking for ice in drinks gets you two cubes.  In fact, a Turk would probably feel like it was a rip-off if served a soft drink that was full of ice.

15)   Tea and coffee are served in tiny little cups.

Big men and little women use these same, tiny cups.  No big, steaming mugs of coffee or tea.

16)   Everybody smokes. 

Everywhere.  Except on Turkish television.  If someone is smoking on a television show or movie, they block out the cigarette.

17)   Turks know how to keep their white clothes sparkling white. 

How do they do it?  I’ve got to learn their secret!

18)   94% of the country is Muslim. 

But I saw no one pause or stop what they were doing when the “call to prayer” sounded during the day.  I learned that they call themselves Muslim, but few practice it.  Or they practice different forms of it.

And this is what the Turks expect in a democracy.  Freedom to practice their religion or not to practice it.

It’s no different from what we expect in America.  Freedom to practice our religion or not to practice it.

19)   All of the honking is not necessarily angry-honking. 

Istanbul is a noisy city.  Horn-honking is continual.  Using the horn is a way to communicate.

Short taps on the horn are friendly warnings: I’m coming; get outta the way!

Longer taps show a little impatience: You’re pushing it – better move – and make it fast.

If the driver leans on the horn, it’s become quite serious:  Now you’ve really ticked me off and you’re lucky I just don’t mow you down.-of-way.

I had to get used to that, quickly, after almost getting ran over by a cab driver the first night I was in Istanbul.  It was clear to me:  we’re not in Moscow, Idaho where people cross the streets anywhere, anytime, and know the drivers will wait for them.

20)   Spoons come in two sizes: very large and very small.

A soup spoon – big enough to be considered a serving spoon, and a tea spoon – about the size of a play tea-set spoon.

21)   Overnight bus trips are for younger, smaller people.

Enough said.  (Even if they advertise that the bus has “roomy, reclining seats!  television! wifi! – save it for the youngsters.  Fly instead.)

22)   Western influences are not always positive. 

Does Istanbul really need McDonalds? Burger King? Starbucks?

23)   Café owners want you to linger over lunch/dinner.

  Please don’t hurry.  The more people eating at their place, the more people will join.  So, eat slower.  Order more.  Stay longer.  Have another cup of tea.

24)   Cats are everywhere.

And they aren’t considered strays.  Everybody takes care of the cats.

25)   The “Call to prayer”

occurs five times a day from every mosque in the city.  It became part of the whole experience of living in Istanbul.  I tried not to be annoyed when it woke me up at 4:00 in the morning.

26)   “Cat and Mouse” street vendors

Our neighborhood was close to bus stops and the Metro, so there was a lot of foot traffic.  Each afternoon, dozens of vendors would set up shop on the sidewalk, selling jewelry, clothes, purses, souvenirs, fruit, and all kinds of other products – until well after midnight.

One night we noticed that the vendors suddenly packed up their goods and disappeared.  Several cops were cruising through the neighborhood very slowly.  After the cops left the area, the vendors set out their wares again.

We later learned that it is a game of “cat-and-mouse”  – something to do with licensing and authorization.  I don’t know if there was some sort of bribery going on as well.

27)   Playgrounds aren’t just for kids.

At first, it looked like men in suits playing on the playground equipment – until I looked a little closer and noticed that they were using adult-sized fitness equipment.  What a great idea!

28)   You think you’ve got traffic jams?

We were in a mega-size traffic jam – it took several hours to go three miles.  But the locals take advantage of the opportunity – it wasn’t long before there were  vendors between the lanes of cars selling water and snacks.  Some people decided walking would be faster, so they abandoned their cars on the side of the road.  Some families knew it would be a long haul, and pulled over, spread a blanket, and had a picnic.

TRAVELING TO TURKEY CHANGED ME A LITTLE

I think that I am a little braver

 because of my month in Turkey.  It has made me feel like I could go anywhere – wwwwell – except for places like Iran or Libya

and

I learned  that half of the experience is getting there!

I made a conscientious effort to appreciate every step of my adventure, whether it was getting to Istanbul, or traveling inside Turkey.  This included long layovers, crowded trams,  cramped buses, traffic jams – all of it was part of the whole experience and I (for the most part) loved every bit of it.

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“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”   Mary Anne Radmacher

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Talking Turkey

When Marie left Istanbul, I had been in Turkey almost three weeks.  After taking her to Ataturk airport, I remember heading home to our empty apartment feeling worn out, weary, and satiated.  I wanted to go home.  I was done.

The wonder and newness of my travels had worn off.    What had excited me when I first got here – the energy of the city, the different culture smacking me in the heart,  the haunting sound of the call to prayer, the craziness of the drivers,  the crowded trams – became something different.  Now it was the cacophony of horns, the screeching moan of the call to prayer, the over-crowded, smelly trams, the seas of people…  I was  over it.  I wanted to be home.

 What was it that seemed so alluring about traveling to foreign countries?  Why did I think that this  is what I wanted to do with my summer breaks, now that I have a job that offers me the luxury of time off?  What kind of woman leaves her husband at home while she goes halfway around the world?  These were questions that I asked myself.

Wes,  Jessie and Caleb came home later that evening, and it made me feel a little better to have them near.  We had a few days with Caleb before he headed back to Kiev and we had a good time together – but I was still struggling with the urge to be home.  As Caleb was leaving, he said, “Wow – you guys have ten more days – what are you going to do?”  I wondered the same thing.  In fact, I toyed around with the idea of changing my flight.

I wanted to come home earlier, particularly because of one new detail.  Wes and Jess had just booked their flight home.   They were leaving at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, June 29.   I was booked to leave 6:00 a.m. Sunday, June 30.

What was I going to do for  16 hours, alone in Istanbul?  The logistics of  when to go to the airport and how to get to the airport became a huge dilemma.  Leaving at 6:00 a.m. means that I need to be at the airport by at least 4:00 a.m. – but, I prefer to be early rather than late – so leaving the apartment at 3:00 a.m. – even 2:00 a.m. is more reasonable.  But do I want to walk to the Metro alone at night, with my luggage?  It’s only a block, after all.  Or should I call a taxi?  Surely I can  trust a strange taxi driver to take me to the airport in the middle of the night.   Maybe I’ll just go to the airport with Wes and Jess and hang out there for hours and hours – yes, that’s what I’ll do.  I won’t be able to bear being alone in the apartment after they leave, anyway.

That is how I was feeling.

I battled with my feelings and emotions and prayed about it – and decided if it’s a reasonable fee to change my flight, then I’ll go home a couple of days early.  If it’s not, then it wasn’t meant to be and I will make the most of it – and I’ll figure out the airport thing.

It was way too expensive to change my flight.

And these last ten days with Wes and Jess have been perfect.  

Some of the days we explored new sights and some of the days we just chilled in the apartment.  We saw a couple of concerts,  toured the Black Sea, visited the Princes’ Islands,  went to a couple of movies, cooked yummy meals, ate delicious turkish food at local cafes, walked all over (and got sorta-lost in) many other areas of Istanbul, and got our shopping done.  

Just spending time with Wes and Jess has been amazing.  

It’s about 10:00 a.m. Saturday morning and Wes and Jess just left for the airport.  I will be leaving later – in the wee hours of the morning.  Tufan, our landlord, has arranged for a cab to pick me up at the apartment.  

This span of time alone in the apartment was what I had been dreading the most when I had my “melt-down”.   I had told my kids that I didn’t want to be here alone.  They were a little surprised that me, the adventurous one (!) was feeling abandoned, but were very sweet about it – and didn’t make fun of me (Wesley said that will come later!).  Jessie said she imagined me just relaxing, packing, cleaning things up, reading, napping, and getting ready for the long flight home.   

And now that the time is here, the hours that I will spend alone before the taxi takes me to the airport, that is exactly what I will be doing: reading, packing, cleaning, napping, and getting ready for the long flight home.  

And I am feeling wonderful!  

And I can honestly say that it has been an amazing month – all of it.

And the anticipation of going home fills me with happiness.

And Henry is at our home, waiting for Grandma ♥ 

“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.”  Lin Yutang

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Winding down – feeling a little nostalgic

Can’t wait to get home.  Nothing better than being home.  But…knowing that these are the last few days in Istanbul makes it kind of bittersweet for me!  I hope I never forget the time spent here.

Today we took the Tram across the Golden Horn; destination:  Galata Tower.   The Galata Tower was built in Constantinople in 1348.  You can see it in the skyline from many parts of the city.

After getting off the Tram, we walked a few blocks toward the Tower.  We also had to climb a rather long stairway.

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As usual, there were cats around.  I haven’t done a very good job of getting photos of the “cats of Istanbul” but there are cats everywhere – and everyone takes care of them, making sure they are fed and happy 🙂  It’s a little different from home, where stray cats are immediately picked up by Animal Control!

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A glimpse down some side streets on our way to Galata Tower

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Here we are coming upon Galata Tower.  It was used as a watchtower to defend the city and was the tallest structure in the city when it was built.

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Beautiful panoramic views of Istanbul from the top of the tower.

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Instead of taking the Tram back across the Golden Horn, we walked.  Loved walking across Galata Bridge.  It was so beautiful.

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Always lots of fishermen on the bridge…

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You can see some large mosques in the background.  These aren’t even the big, famous ones!

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Walked a few more neighborhoods, enjoying the sights and sounds of the city

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Last stop:  The train station of “The Orient Express.”  The international railway service ran from Paris to Istanbul and was synonymous with luxury travel during the 1900s.  I think I should read Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” when I get home.  Or, at least watch the movie 🙂

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And with that, I will say “Gule gule”  (Bye bye!)  It’s bedtime and my eyes are playing tricks on me!

Posted in Going Home, More sight-seeing | 2 Comments

Welllll, I wasn’t going to post, but…

I have been told to not slack off from blogging these last few days in Istanbul – so here you go, for what it’s worth.

Our lovely trip to Turkey is coming to a close soon.  I really am excited to get home to Dale, my sisters, my brothers, my ma and pa – but we’re still having a wonderful time and there’s only a few more days left in Istanbul, so I plan to make the most of it.

One of the things the guide books say is a “must do” when visiting Istanbul is a ferry trip to the Princes’ Islands.  They are the only islands around the city

So, we got on the ferry, to make our way through the Bosphorous Strait.

Wes is doing his best Leonardo diCaprio “I’m King of the World!” impression.  Aside from the minor detail that we hadn’t left the dock yet, it’s not too bad 🙂

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The Bosphorous Strait forms the boundary between Europe and Asia, separating Istanbul into two continents.  We headed toward the Sea of Marmara, where the islands are located.  It takes an hour or so by ferry to get to there.

The Asian side of Istanbul in the background

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I’m trying to fix my hair before Jessie snaps my photo…

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Okay – now it’s their turn

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No motorized vehicles are allowed on the islands – everyone gets around by walking, bicycling, or horse-and-carriage.  Yes, horse-and-carriage!  So, naturally, Wes, Jess, and I participated in the horse and carriage tour.  Bethany would have been mortified – playing tourist like that!

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But it was a fun way to get a glimpse of the island that we visited – the Princes’ Islands are the playground/weekend/summer escape for “rich” Istanbullians.  Lots of beautiful summer homes everywhere we looked.

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It was soooooo hot that we pretty much  sat in the shade, ate a nice lunch, and did a (very little) bit of walking around before the return trip home.

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The heat sort of zaps any energy!  We felt like we had done a hard day’s work when it was over!

Wes and Jess ♥

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Time for some ice cream and bed.  It’s a rough life but someone’s gotta do it.  Until next time,  always remember:  “Cok guzelsiniz.” (You are very beautiful!)

Posted in Living like locals, More sight-seeing | 2 Comments

Black Sea Tour

Istanbul is a beautiful,  fascinating city – and so large that I could spend a whole month within the city walls and never run out of things to see and do. But there is much more to Turkey and I am so glad that we have had the chance to explore other areas: Cappadocia, Ephesus, Pamukkale…

Yesterday, we took a day tour of the Black Sea.

If you look on a map, you’ll see that the Black Sea is bordered by Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, and Turkey. Our day trip involved going only about 50 miles or so from Istanbul – but it was a different world!

We took a bus tour, because driving in this country is something that I personally NEVER want to experience. There seem to be no rules. Two lane highway? Ha! Vehicles make their own lanes – sometimes three or four, and pass other vehicles on the shoulder of the road. Unexpected lane changes are par for the course. I’ll leave the driving to others! Our bus was a nice, air-conditioned Mercedes, and the driver was amazing. I couldn’t help but think of Sandra – she would have surely been kicked off of the bus before we had gone 50 feet 🙂

The coast line of the Black Sea is spectacular.

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We stopped at a little fishing village called Sile’ – which has been a fishing village since 700 B.C. During the summer months, the population of about 13,000 swells to over 35,000 as it has become a get-away destination for “rich” people from Istanbul, who have built holiday homes there. I can understand why – it is an absolutely beautiful area.

There are some beautiful beaches along the coastline. Our guide warned that because of the undercurrents, the Black Sea is a dangerous place for inexperienced swimmers and people drown there every year – so “be careful!” Some of our group decided to spend a few hours swimming; others (Wes, Jess,and I) strolled through the village, checking out the little shops lining the streets.

Sile’ is also known for Sile’ cloth, a crimped-looking, light, see-through cotton fabric made on the Şile’ coast. I bought little Henry a cute shirt – hope it fits the little fatty 🙂

A 150-year old lighthouse, still in use

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After driving along some more coastline, we stopped for lunch at another quaint little fishing village and dined on fresh fish at an outdoor cafe.

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After lunch, we took a leisurely boat ride down a beautiful little river that flows from the mountains of Istanbul into the Black Sea – the Goksu River. Dale would have liked this♥

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Our tour guide, Sulleyman, and one of our group, Eduardo (from Brazil)

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A 700-year old tree 🙂

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Our requisite self-portrait 🙂

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We took the forest route on the way home, stopping for tea at a little village cafe in the forest.

On the ride home, we ran into a bonafide traffic jam. It took 3 hours to go about 3 miles. I’ve never been involved in anything like it. The turkish people actually make it fun! Always entrenpreneurial, vendors started showing up,  pushing carts of “simit” (a fresh-baked pretzel-like bread with sesame seeds) and bottled water through the small spaces between the chaos of cars. Many drivers gave up trying to go anywhere and decided to wait it out – they pulled over, spread blankets in the dirt next to the road, and watched.

This is about an hour into the traffic jam

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Two hours later

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We finally made it back to our neighborhood around 11:00 p.m. – stopped at Kebab King for a cup of tea before heading up to our apartment. ‘Twas a good day♥

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My favorite shot of a day – a little girl in her doorway

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Posted in Living like locals, More sight-seeing | 3 Comments

A good day

We had to say goodbye to Caleb yesterday.  That wasn’t fun.  I didn’t cry, though.  I’m getting better.  I love watching the friendship between Wes, Jess, and Caleb.  It’s a beautiful thing♥

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Bye, Caleb.  See you in a few months.

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It’s waayyyyy too hot here during the day.

So our new routine: sleep late, get up and talk about what we are going to do later,  leave the apartment late in the afternoon, stay out until 10 or so, come back to apartment and stay up ’til way past midnight, and do it again the next day.

It works.  So we laze around in the air-conditioned apartment, venturing out only to go to the neighborhood market to buy some groceries for breakfast and lunch – then head out for an adventure in the city.

This afternoon we had two goals. Find a (sort of obscure) museum – called miniaturk.  Then, in a totally different part of the city,  find the Opera House that is beyond Taksim Square.  There was a  concert pianist playing tonight as part of the Istanbul International Music Festival.

We were venturing into parts of Istanbul that I hadn’t been to yet.

First:  Get on the Metro  after re-charging the pass card

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This is the entrance to the Metro – it wasn’t very crowded this afternoon.

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Then, after riding on the Metro, we got off, walked a few blocks, and hopped on the Tram.

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 We stopped at an Internet Cafe, drank tea, played backgammon, and tried to figure out where we were going by checking out Google Maps.

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Wes and me

It doesn’t matter too much if you can’t figure out how to get to your destination – there’s always people-watching and wonderful sites to see everywhere you go!

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I always think of you, mama, when I see the street vendors selling freshly-roasted corn-on-the-cob.

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One of the things to do on my Istanbul Bucket list was to have a fresh fish sandwich from one of the cafes/vendors on Galata Bridge.  Check.

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We and me   me on galata bridge

Well, we didn’t find miniaturk, and we didn’t find the Opera House near Taksim Square.  So we made our way back to our neighborhood, stopped at the market for ice cream, and stopped at the bakery for baklava and headed home.   It was a good day!

Until tomorrow – Cok yasa ♥

Posted in Living like locals, More sight-seeing | 6 Comments

Our Asian Adventure

Visited a new continent yesterday.  We took a ferry ride across the Bosphorus Strait, traveling in less than an hour from Europe to Asia.

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Nearing the shores of Asia.

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The streets of Asian Istanbul have a different feel than the European side.  It seems less conservative and more influenced by Western culture.

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The highlight of the afternoon/evening:  Wesley, Jessica, Caleb, and I each willingly paid 60 liras to attend a music event at the Sureyya Opera House.  Beautiful classical music by a internationally-renowned group called “Berlin Counterpoint”.  There were six members: flute, piano, bassoon, oboe, clarinet, and horn players.  Amazingly gifted musicians.

Berlin Counterpoint

Posted in Living like locals, More sight-seeing | 5 Comments