The ups and downs of travel

11 July 2014

We started the day with what can only be described as a laundry debacle. The day before we had dropped off a few bags and paid $36 for our clothes to be washed and dried; I guess my expectations for what laundry costs and how it comes back to you were set too high in Asia. We picked up the bags last night and what we had were three bags of half wet clothes that were just stuffed into the bags, no folding and definitely no ironing of the undies. Plus Adam’s khaki shorts were now a slight red so we made our way back to the place to complain. At the price we paid it was on principle. It took two trips to the shop the first one we were told the owner would be there in 20 minutes and the second time we waited around for a while before getting some of our money back. So in the end it was a $20 laundry day. In the grand scheme of things it isn’t that big of a deal, but on this trip we are trying our best to live on a set budget so every dollar counts.

After our morning fun, we wanted to check out Vilayet Cami mosque as it was just around the corner from our hotel and we had walked by it so many times that it would be a shame to miss seeing it.

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As we walked in we were quickly asked to leave as the mosque was closed to visitors. I had already forgotten from the day’s prior that Friday prayer is something everyone attends, kinda like Easter or Christmas for Catholics.

Our trip would not be complete without one last pida and tea. There was only one waiter at the restaurant and since we had been there so often and had a few short chats with the guy as a thanks he gave us two complimentary tea after our last lunch in Istanbul a Hoca Pasa Pidecisi

It was then off to the airport to make our way to Greece, a place that has been on my most see list for years! As we were walking between the tram and the metro we ended up taking a wrong turn, but it turned out well as we got to see firsthand just how important Friday prayer was. With the mosque about a block away the streets were filled with worshippers kneeling on small rugs. As someone who isn’t very religious that visual was just so profound and like nothing I have ever seen.

And the complimentary delights continued on our flight as we were served wine and food. I guess this is what it is like to travel on a non-budget airliner.

Once we landed we took the train into town and caught the metro before walking up the street to our hotel.

This makes it perfectly clear which direction we should go for the train

This makes it perfectly clear which direction we should go for the train

After settling in we wandered around the Psiri neighborhood where there were plenty of restaurant options. We finally settled on one. I guess it was our lucky day as we had a complimentary dessert at dinner which was a large plate of delicious fruits. I guess my joke to our waiter about not caring about the wifi password because we actually planned on talking to each other was well received. And to think we have been on the road and with each other 24/7 for a little more than seven months and we still have plenty to discuss.

Today’s Travel: The tram to the metro to the airport and then on Aegean Flight 3993 once we arrived it was then on the metro for another hour before reaching the city center and a few block walk up the road to our hotel

Accommodations: Economy Hotel. After living in hotels, guesthouses, hostels, campsites and apartments for the last 200+ days, the reception at Economy is by far the best. Upon check-in we were given a very quick and detailed description of how to get to the main sites in Athens along with the prices and where passes could be used and for how long. Plus on our way out there was also someone at reception available for help. The location is also another big plus, near the Psiri neighborhood which has many great restaurants and bars and just a few blocks from two different metro lines in either direction. The room had enough space and storage for two and the balcony was a nice place to enjoy a glass of wine from the shop just two doors down or from the refrigerated case in the lobby. Sure the room was outdated, but it was very clean and to me that is more impressive as you really have to maintain older rooms. Plus I don’t visit cities to spend time in my room, I wanted something clean, comfortable and near public transportation so I can explore they city with ease.

Want the best exfoliation?

10 July 2014

We started our last full day in Istanbul by visiting some one of the few remaining big tourist sites that we hadn’t visited yet the Basilica Cistern, and the Grand Bazaar. True to its name the cistern is an underground reservoir that used to hold a lot of the city’s water but now holds a small amount of water and a lot of tourists. Nevertheless though it’s an interesting perspective and not something you ever get to see.

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There are two gant Medusa heads at the bottom of two pillars and no one knows why they were installed sideways and upside down.

There are two gant Medusa heads at the bottom of two pillars and no one knows why they were installed sideways and upside down.

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After emerging from underneath the city we made our way over to the grand bazaar to wander through the shops.

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Much like the spice market a few days ago, we left feeling a little underwhelmed. It was almost too well organized and orderly to be called a bazaar (it was more like a mall with a lot of small stores), plus with us not having a house to purchase for it makes for quick decisions on what not to buy.

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Because we just can’t quit our love affair with Asia we were back on the ferry to Kadikoy. After looking at the costs of Turkish baths in the Sultanahmet region we decided the affordable ones were on the Asian side of the city.

The Turkish Bath we visited. The inside was much prettier than the outside.

The Turkish Bath we visited. The inside was much prettier than the outside.

It was just a minute or two walk from the ferry terminal before Adam and I said goodbye to one another and walked into the separate entrances of the baths. I was immediately greeted by a friendly woman in her 40’s who showed me to a changing room. I had a good laugh when she looked at my feet and the slippers provided and signed to me that she would get me a bigger pair, story of my life this week! Once changed I made my way back out to the main area where the women explained to me the cost and what it included, after I paid she then led me into the bathing area. While I had read that these saunas were very hot I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t too warm. Once inside the main hall I was instructed to sit next to the marble bowl as the women turned on the water and handed me a small bowl to use for bathing. She then left the room and based on what I had read about these baths just assumed she would be back in for my exfoliation in about 15-30 minutes. As the only one in the baths it was nice a relaxing to feel like I had my own spa, plus the tile work and designs on the ceiling creating a nice skylight made me feel so rich. The door then opened and the women was back to give me my exfoliation. With her limited English she told me to lie down and place my head towards the edge of the large marble table in the center of the room. Having heard this called a massage, I would have to say that is a very odd explanation as this should be described as a ‘let’s rip all of your skin off and then give you a nice soapy rinse.’ I knew it would be awkward, but as I sat up for my arm exfoliation and this topless woman and I were chest to eye level, I made sure not to giggle out loud and just looked out to the side at all of the beautiful tile work. After a few more instructions of turn, sit, lie down all the dead skin I had collected over the last few months was gone and now my arms felt as soft as a baby’s bottom. But my time was not done as it was now time for the soapy rub down with an occasional massage like experience to work on some kinks in by back. After that I stood up and had small buckets of water thrown on me to get the soap off. And before I knew it I was back sitting next to the marble bowl for the final cleanse of this experience which was having my hair washed. Normally I love going to the salon and having my hair washed as it is such a nice relaxing time. However this experience made me feel like a little kid in a bath tube. After getting my hair wet with a bucket dumped over me she lathered up my hair and gave a quick neck massage before the onslaught of water began to pour down my head. Spitting out water here and there I could only laugh to myself and think no wonder kids hate having baths, this kinda sucks. It was then all over and I just sat there thinking about what just happened and how amazingly soft my skin felt. At that point a few other people had entered and I assumed that an hour and a half was about to pass at that was the time Adam and I agreed to meet outside so I made my way out.  Adam was already waiting for me outside and when we met up we both agreed that it was quite a different experience and if we had paid more on the other side of town we would have been disappointed.

After all of that we had worked up an appetite so we made our way back to the other side of town to grab lunch at Halal Lahmacum.

And no trip would now be complete without a stop at Caferzade for some Fistikli Telkadayic.

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While we did think about picking up some blackberry, chocolate and pistachio Turkish delights, which were our favorite from the mixed pack we had earlier in the week, we showed some self-control and stuck with just one dessert. Taking it to go we knew that our next stop would have to be Fazil Bey’in for some Turkish coffee to enjoy our dessert with. While I thought the workers might be upset we brought in outside food, I think they were impressed and brought us proper forks to enjoy our coffee and dessert.

Today’s Travel: A walk up the hill to Basilica Cistern then down to the Grand Bazaar and back on the ferry to Kadikoy then to Aziziye Hamam a Turkish bath house and back to Halal Lahmacum for lunch andŞekerci Caferzade Aytekin Erolto pick up some dessert to enjoy with our Turkish coffee at the more central location of Fazil Bey’in

Accommodations: Istanbul Central Hotel

Getting lost in Istanbul

9 July 2014

With our visit to the grounds of Suleyman the Magnificent Mosque two nights ago we decided to head there during the day so that we could see the interior. As we walked up the street that just two evenings before gave us the creeps because it was completely empty was now bustling and full of life. Every shop was open and as we got closer the shops turned from retail that catered to the local people to tourist chachkies.

As we stepped inside I had to wonder why we didn’t just come inside the other night as this mosque is worth two trips. While the Blue Mosque gets the spotlight this mosque steals the show with the tiles and detailed paintings. I just stared at all the details while Adam snapped away.

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As we both sat to enjoy the peace and quiet and very serene surroundings a call to prayer began. We were both so interested in seeing this as we took note of where and how the men began to pray and only saw the women walk to the back section where there was a lattice screen in front of their prayer section. For me I was surprised at how quick the prayer was and for some they seemed to just walk in and out while others stayed for a longer prayer. For me as a Catholic I am always so impressed by those who don’t use a guided prayer, as everyone followed along with the one reading but most individuals had their own sequence of prayer.

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Since we were just had the slightest hunger pain, we decided to make a quick stop at Erzincanli Ali Baba for a snack of beans and rice. They were still serving lunch and just beginning to set up for dinner so we lucked out. And while we both thought the beans were ridiculously good the other night, having them still nice and warm they were even better. If I had only one dish to eat here this would be eat. I know it sounds crazy to say that a plate of beans is amazing, but there must be lots of secret sauce in how they make them.

We then decided since we had not seen the pathway back to our hotel via the water that we should take that route instead. As we made the first turn my gut instance was that we should probably not take this route, but we are on an adventure and we want to see how everyone in this city lives so I carried on. As we wandered thru the neighborhood that looked like it had been abandoned many years ago with burned out buildings, trash everywhere, crumbling walls and plants taking over roofs this is what the cities poor call home. It was shocking to see that a completely burned out home looked like it was still providing shelter for one family. And as we carried on it didn’t get much better it only seemed to get more depressing. I know we have walked thru some very poor neighborhoods in our travels, but as most of those were rural areas the poverty there didn’t seem so drastic and dire. Maybe it was the fact that the land appeared to be clean and people hand land to work to provide some food and they took pride in that. Here it was just families with so many kids running around in trash. I thought I had seen some rough neighborhoods in the states and in our big cities but this area was by far the worst. Once we saw the main street again we looked up to our left and saw the aqueducts just a few blocks up. We had a good laugh after Adam stated, “Well you said you wanted to see the aqueducts and now you can say you have.” As we made it to the main road it was only another 5 minutes’ walk until we were back in the tourist central where you could buy cassette tapes, pants from a guy selling them out of his trunk or a spirograph (seriously it is like the 80’s just ended yesterday).

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We learned our lesson the night before so we made sure to get to the pida restaurant before sunset to have a quick bit before the Ramadan rush.

Today’s Travel: A walk up toSuleyman the Magnificent Mosque and after a few turns thru the neighborhood below the mosque we were back down by the river

Accommodations: Istanbul Central Hotel

A 10k a day…

Will make you very tired. Not only was it all the walking but my quest to find some new shoes. We spent the day exploring the new part of Istanbul by heading across the Galata Bridge and walking up through Istanbul’s version of Champs-Elysees. On our way over to the bridge we stumbled across an old railway museum that has some relics from the Orient Express.

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After having worn our same tennis shoes for the past 6 months we felt it was time to change purchase some new shoes and leave the fish guts from the Cambodia market and cow poo from New Zealand behind. Unfortunately for me, apparently wearing a size 10.5 is unheard of here for women as I get the strangest looks and told only unisex shoes are available in that sizes. After trying countless stores I finally gave up on any chance of finding anything decent, this is when I miss Nordstroms. After giving up on finding normal shoes we wandered around the neighborhood taking in the sites.

Our lunch, a delicous kebab/burrito

Our lunch, a delicious kebab/burrito

Galata Tower

Galata Tower

Istanbul Trolley-001

After all that walking I was ready to fall asleep so we made our way back to the hotel to just hang out. Somehow it was then 9pm and we thought it would be wise to go grab a small bite to eat. As we approached the pida (pronounced pedae) restaurant we realized it was going to be impossible to grab a seat. And as predicted it was, they were already closing up for the night after the evening ramadan rush. So we walked up the street to the carefour to grab some fruit, nuts, hummus and crackers for a picnic style dinner.

Today’s Travel: Awalk across the Galata Bridge to Taksim Square back down the hill past the Galata Tower and back across the bridge, about 5km each way

Accommodations: Istanbul Central Hotel

Back to Asia

7 July 2014

As it had been a full 3 days since we were last in Asia we felt we needed to make a trip across the Bosporus Strait to the Asia side of Istanbul.

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Our first stop was to get some Turkish coffee at Fazil Bey’in.

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This is no normal coffee, it comes as an espresso shot and don’t be like me wanting to get just one more sip after you know it is starting to taste like sludge. To make Turkish coffee you boil the grounds with water so at the end of the cup there is about ½ inch of coffee grounds. I should have just been like the lady at the table next to us and flipped my cup to reveal my fortune, although I have no clue how to read it.

Then we wandered the streets some more and came across a local market. As we saw a handful of groups on food tours, we chuckled as we realized our instincts have gotten us here so all of those food tours we took in SE Asia have ingrained some sort of spidy sense.

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It was slightly unusual to see each shop have their own store front and everything set up in a permanent state but I guess this is just another aspect of readjusting to what is once again our new normal.

Inside the market we found the best sweets shop, Caferzade where we asked the girl what we the best sweets and she proceeded to rattle off a handful of different types of sweets I had never heard of. We decided to settle on a piece of baklava like dessert and what just might be a new favorite, Fistikli Telkadayic.

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I think honey is my new coconut and this just might be a problem. We also picked up a package of Turkish delights which was just a bunch of small pieces of various types, I assume the scrap pieces when they cut the delights into perfect squares.

As we ate standing on the corner and older gentleman began to talk to us. When we shook our heads and shrugged our shoulders and stated ‘English?’ the man just began to repeat himself a little louder. This was the first time gestures and facial expressions did not work as we could not tell if he was asking us if we liked what we were eating or to get the hell out of his way.

After enjoying our dessert we figured it was time to have lunch (that’s the right order correct?) We found a great place for lunch at Halal Lahmacun where just like a good Asian restaurant they serve up one specialty Lahmacun which is like a really thin pizza crust with meat and seasonings on top which you then add a squeeze of lemon and some fresh parsley before rolling it up like a taquito and enjoying.

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After lunch it was time for dessert round two and Adam had to try the local Eta Bal, yogurt and Honey and I just watched in envy like a weirdo.

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As we wandered the neighborhood we found ourselves walking down a street filled with antique shops. While there were many great pieces to be found in those shops the prices were quiet high even as starting points for negotiations. While I know I can negotiate well, I didn’t even want to try as I knew I would just end up offending the owners. Further up the street and back on the main road we saw a mosque in the distance and decided to make that our destination. Noticing that there was no specific tourist entrance here and Adam was in shorts and I in a knee length skirt we weren’t dressed appropriately to enter on our own, we just enjoyed the paintings on the domes outside.

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More walking around the streets one thing I noticed that seems a little strange were these yellow vans that had Dulmas written on the top where you would normally see taxi. From what I could tell people just hopped in and hopped off (and looked like they were running for their lives) to go from place to place. I thought I had seen it all when it comes to transportation, but clearly this was a reminder that there is still so much to see.

After wandering around the streets for a good majority of the day we said goodbye to Asia for the time being and made our way back across the strait to Europe. Once our ferry docked we walked to the Rustem Pasha Mosque which is located in the outskirts of the spice market. We took a few laps around the block and thru the market to finally find the entrance but it was well worth it. While the building was small located in the center of a busy market area gave it a different feeling and once we walked inside we were both stunned by the tiles that lined the walls.

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While the blue mosque is larger in size this is the mosque that should be seen by all. It is small enough that you can really appreciate the impressive tiles and also as there was hardly anyone in there it made for a much more enjoyable and reflective experience. After spending some time inside the mosque relaxing and enjoying the quiet peace we made our way back out to the hustle and bustle of the spice market. While we knew it was going to be a complete tourist trap, we were disappointed in the experience. Maybe it was the fact that there wasn’t anything that we were shopping for or knowing that even if we were able to find a store that sold quality spices there wouldn’t be a point in purchasing them as they wouldn’t last another few months, but we pretty much walked from one end of the market to the other end taking some photos before we were quickly on our way.

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After the market we walked back towards our hotel but first made a stop at our favorite spot for tea, which happens to be next door to the place we get our pida.

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As we watched the tour groups walk by and us the only tourists sitting in this shop with plenty of locals, we had to scratch our head and wonder why no one would stop on in here. I guess we are just so accustomed to constant change and everything always being so different from what we know that we just look for a place with local people and are immediately drawn in as that is our normal.

After relaxing in our hotel for a while we made our way out to grab dinner. On our walk towards dinner we wandered thru a new to us neighborhood just as the shops were closing down for the evening and the last customers were trying to get the best bargain of the day. This also meant that the cabs were working overtime. Now being back in a country where you drive on the right still throws me off and I catch myself looking the wrong way before crossing more times than I care to admit. But the cab drivers here are also a little crazy and I think drive way too fast for these streets. And every time I see one while crossing the street I can feel my heart rate rise. While explaining this to Adam, all I get is this look that says ‘really?’ and I quote “Japan made you soft.” Which is so true with the cab drivers who would stops meters away from you when they saw you at an intersection and when making a turn made hit mock speed of 5km.

Think of dinner service during Ramadan as one giant wedding every night for one month, once a year. These restaurants have it down to a science. While we arrived at Erzincanli Ali Baba just after seven for dinner we were told we should return in an hour so that we can be part of the breaking of the evening fast. We happily agreed and had seats reserved for later that evening. While waiting for sundown we took advantage of the restaurants location across from Suleyman the Magnificent Mosque and spent an hour taking in the feats of architecture and design and making our way to the outside of the temple grounds which had one of the best views of the city.

He loves to mock my love of doors

He loves to mock my love of doors

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Our dinner mates didn’t speak much English and of course we don’t speak Turkish so our limited conversation was some pointing and smiles. But that didn’t stop our dinner mates from snapping a picture with us, when you see an iPhone directed at you there is a universal response. I am sure we made it on to some guy’s facebook page and he and his wife our sharing stories about us and how we ordered so much food and were taking deep breaths to digest by the end. Our eyes were of course much bigger than our stomachs and our waiter advised that we should only get two dishes and after struggling to take the last few bites of our meal, I was glad we didn’t have that third entrée.

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Walking home was an eerie experience and the first time in all our travels where we were both pretty creeped out. While we have walked down many streets with closed up shops this was the first time when the shop owners didn’t live just upstairs giving a sense of security that other people were around. Nope these streets were devoid of any signs of people and as the wind blew and a creaky old hinge moved back and forth I was waiting for someone to jump out from a side alley. I don’t think I have walked so fast in my life and with a full belly I was actually starting to get a side cramp. But of course just a few meters from our hotel there was a section of road that was pitch black, luckily we didn’t have to go that direction, but is was one of those instances where you could hear your mom in the back of your head to not walk down dark alleys and trust our instincts. And when I could see our hotel in the distance and I began to hear two people having a conversation somewhere in the distance, I thought I could sprint to the hotel from here. While all of this was going on, we were of course joking out loud about all of this.

Today’s Travel: Awalk down to the ferry terminal to hop on the ferry to Kadikoy after wandering thru

Accommodations: Istanbul Central Hotel

Getting to know Istanbul

6 July 2014

After a good night of sleep we did a little more research on places to stay in Athens and finally found one that met our requirements. It was one I had poo-pooped the night before but I guess I just need the time to realize that the nice rooms for low prices we had become accustomed to in SE Asia were no a thing of the past. Plus we are now traveling in high season so we aren’t going to have those luxuries of just asking to stay a few more days.

With plans now made for later in the week, it was time to start the day by visiting Topkaki Palace. Topkaki Palace is where many of the various sultans of the Ottoman Empire lived while there were in power. In addition to numerous impressive buildings and tiles (I kinda wanted to take them off the wall), the Palace also contains a museum containing some impressive religious artifacts including Moses’ Staff and swords of the Prophet Mohammed. With all this it’s not a surprise we spent a few hours walking around the taking everything in.

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Not a bad view

Europe on the left, Asia on the right. I would rule my empire from here too. Nice choice Ottomans.

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The Harem

The Harem

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Once finished we grabbed some lunch and then stopped into Hafiz Mustafa for some Turkish coffee, Turkish Delights and baklava.

After a midday break in our hotel we made our way back out to wander some back streets, which as they were a ghost town on this Sunday evening, we made our way back towards the main road. We spotted a tea café with seats on the sidewalk and feeling right at home we pulled up a chair. As we sat there we started to chat with a local guy who thought it was odd that tourists were sitting here at this café. And to us, it felt so nice to be sitting outside on small stools again. It was the way we ate for so many months and it was this place that seemed fancy since the stools were wooden and not plastic. We joked that when we get home we are going to buy plastic stools and eat out on the sidewalk just so to have a feeling of normalcy. Our conversation too came to the topic of clothes as I pointed out that our backpacks are our homes. It is odd that wearing a t-shirt and skirt I have been traveling with for the last seven months has not become boring. When packing I thought that after a few months I would hate all my clothes but it turns out that is not the case and it really is the keeping up with others consumerism that makes me want to buy a new outfit all the time. I am perfectly content with my 10 outfits and have only replaced items when they have become just a little too worn out.

After dinner we made our way back to the Blue Mosque and Sultanahmet Park. We first made our way inside the Mosque to view the interior and see the many blue tiles that gives the mosque its nickname.

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After spending a while relaxing and taking pictures in the peaceful interior we made our way back outside to an impressive sight of hundreds of families sitting on blankets in the park waiting for sunset to break their daily fast for Ramadan.

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As we walked thru the park we saw so many large groups sharing in some fantastic looking spreads. The amount of food the sheer variety was impressive. I thought we always had great picnics/tailgates with our friends by what we saw this evening puts that to shame. I was particularly impressed with the family that had the portable picnic table and benches.

While taking pictures of the Sultanahmet Mosque just after the lights had turned on and young girl approached us with a bowl full of bread. She asked if we would like to try some of the traditional Turkish bread, without hesitation we both said yes. As I took the first bit I was amazed at how sweet and tasty it was. From the looks of it, the bread appeared to be a filled with dried fruit, which can either be great or like a bad fruit cake. Lucky for us the sweetness reminded me of a sugar donut and the fruit was fresh and delicious. The bread itself also had light and fluffy banana bread type consistency. As I took that last bit I was a little sad to think that I would never have a fruit bread this delicious ever again.

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Also after fighting to stay awake to an adult bedtime the past few days, our jet lag is now officially gone. There were no naps and I even made it up until 10pm on a quest to find a place to stay in Dubrovnik.

Today’s Travel: Walking around Istanbul toTopkaki Palace around the Old Town city center to the Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque) and Sultanahmet Park

Accommodations: Istanbul Central Hotel

And so begins the European holiday

5 July 2014

After seeing many temples and shrines over the last few months, I was beginning to wonder if we would start to get worn out with our visits to these sacred sites. As we approached the entrance to Aya Sophia these thoughts quickly disappeared as I was once again taken aback by the beautifully designed Church/Mosque that stood before me. We paid our entrance fee and soon were approaching the entrance.

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Aya Sophia was originally designed as a church back when Istanbul was part of the Holy Roman Empire, but after Catholicism was replaced by Islam the church was turned into a mosque with all the mosaics and depictions of Christianity being replaced by Islamic art. It’s a surreal experience to view the walls of the church and see the different religions overlapping each other; it just goes to show that nothing is permanent. After exploring the whole building we made our way outside to find some lunch at a nearby restaurant.

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We had read that Sultanahmet Koftecisi was one of the oldest and best places in town to get Kofte which is ground meat (usually beef or lamb) seasoned with herbs and then grilled. We ordered up two plates and although they were good we felt they were too greasy and not quite up to par with what we get when we go to the Kebab Shop in San Diego. It continues to amaze us as we travel through all these countries that we are so lucky to be able to get such great food from all different nationalities back home. If that isn’t a testament to immigration I don’t know what is.

After filling up on meat we made our way through the park to the Sultanahmet Mosque more commonly known as the Blue Mosque. On our way we were both just in awe of the crisp bright blue skies. I hadn’t realized that it had been four months since we had seen skies this crisp and blue. I was in such a great mood and could only think to attribute that to the beautiful blue skies. I don’t think I realized how much I missed that until I saw them again. Plus I found myself just staring at the seagulls flying overhead, something else that I have not seen in so long.

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We made our way inside the courtyard of the mosque, but with it currently being time for prayer they had the mosque closed to visitors so we just sat for a while and enjoyed the beautiful architecture and watching all the people flow in and out of the mosque.

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Completely appropriate attire for walking through a mosque

Completely appropriate attire for walking through a mosque

We spent the evening searching for an affordable place to stay while in Athens which is turning out to be more work than I had imagined. It’s such a change of pace to go from traveling in cheap countries during the off season to expensive countries right in the middle of peak tourism season. Gone are the days of having a choice of dozens of rooms within our price range.

Today’s Travel: Around Istanbul to the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sophia) across the square to Sultanahmet Koftecisi for lunch to the outside of the Sultanahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque)

Accommodations: Istanbul Central Hotel

It is true we do bring the rain

4 July 2014

At the crack of dawn, just before 5am we arrived at the Abu Dhabi or what I like to call Tatooine. I am pretty sure George Lucas made a stop at this airport while filming as the dome like structures that are located at the old boarding gates with the desert out in the distance look just like the Mos Eisley cantina.

You can also stock up on gold while you're here

You can also stock up on some pure gold while you’re here

We boarded our plane from the tarmac shortly after 9am. Being inside the freezing cold terminal (Adam even wore his jacket) for so long I was happy to stand on the stairs and soak up the 90 degree temps just to warm up.

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It was surreal experience to fly over Middle East on the 4th. As airplane icon showed that we were flying over Baghdad I had to look out the window to see what was below. All I could see was lots of desert. But it did remind me to be thankful for the ability to fly to so many countries and visit many places around the world so freely. Having a US passport does afford us many luxuries and we have seen some of those first hand.

After a quick nap and two movies we were making our descent at Ataturk International Airport. For being two San Diegans for the past 10+years I still find it odd that we bring rain to almost every city we visit, and Istanbul was no exception. We arrived, hopped onto the metro and soon were in downtown Istanbul where we hopped off the train into a welcome downpour.

On the metro towards the city center as I watched the stops go by, it was a new site to see people who were my height. No longer are we going to be standing on the trains, a whole head taller than most riding, and my pale white skin no longer sticks out like a sore thumb. I am just one of many in the crowd. Although I still have the look that I am not from this region. But for me as I looked around at those that got on and off the train, I had the realization that so many of the people looked like those I had seen on murals at Church or in my elementary school religion books. There were a few times were I thought to myself, that guy looks just like every picture I have seen of Jesus.

Once we got just outside the city center and had to transfer to the tram, you guessed it, it started to rain. So we quickly walked the few blocks to the tram and shoved our backpack carrying selves on to the overcrowded tram. After a few stops we arrived in the heart of the old city and walked up the hill to our hotel to dry and settle into our new home and figure. We did fight thru the jet lag as best we could but after our early dinner of Pida (sort of a Turkish pizza), we were in bed just after 8:00. We did have a good laugh though as we were trying to stay up as late as possible to get adjusted, I thought watching TV would be a good way to do so. I am not sure if it was the fact that I just ate or that jet lag was really catching up to me, but as I changed the channels I drifted off to sleep. I was only briefly awakened by Adam laughing at me because I feel asleep with the remote in hand and on a station we didn’t get.

Today’s Travel: Etihad Airways flight 97 from Abu Dhabi to Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport then a ride on the metro into the city center and a transfer onto the tram

Accommodations: Istanbul Central Hotel. Not far from the water and just off the main road in the Old Town on a very quiet street the location was perfect. The rooms are a decent size and have all the amenities (even a hairdryer), plus being back in Europe means soft beds. The staff is very friendly and the breakfast which is included in the room rate has been one of the best we have had.