Markets of Istanbul

One of my favorite things to do in Istanbul was to peruse the markets. Whether we were shopping or just walking through, it was wonderful to see so many varieties of foods, spices, teas, and handmade goods. I was constantly tempted to stock up on all sorts of things I never would have had enough room for in my suitcase!

The first one we came across, and maybe my favorite, wasn’t even really an official market. We were wandering around trying to find our way to the Suleymaniye Mosque and ended up strolling through an area of town that seemed relatively untouched by tourists.Istanbul097

All along either side of the narrow road were tables set out with local fruits and veggies for sale, all for a very reasonable price.Istanbul091 The colors of the veggies were so vibrant! Istanbul090 Istanbul089 Istanbul088 I’d never seen so much garlic in one place as this little set-up.Istanbul086 Dried fruits and spices smelled so delicious as we walked by!Istanbul082 Istanbul081 The next day, on our way to the Blue Mosque and Basilica Cistern, we found ourselves walking through the middle of the Spice Bazaar. We passed through here quite a few times during our stay in Istanbul, since it just happened to be right in between our apartment and a lot of the sites we visited. Istanbul283

Sure, there were lots and lots of spices around every corner, but it was also easy to find turkish candies and sweets, and rows upon rows of beautiful teas.Istanbul276 Istanbul279 Istanbul275 Istanbul287

How about this beautiful raw honey comb!Istanbul273

Not only foods, in the Spice Bazaar there we plenty of vendors selling dishware, linens, and scarves. Admittedly some of them seemed intended to draw in tourists, but there were still lots of wonderful treasures to be found.Istanbul281All the beautiful spices and teas made the whole bazaar so colorful!Istanbul284We made sure to stop by Istanbul’s famous Grand Bazaar, which is much more geared toward Turkish goods, like linens, scarfs, ceramics, tapestries, and rugs. The Grand Bazaar is one of the biggest covered markets in the world, and has been around since the 1400’s.Istanbul435

Sadly we were mistaken about what time was closing time, so we got there just as most of the vendors were closing shop. But with the sheer number of vendors that had shops there (somewhere around 3,000), you can imagine how crowded it must be during the day! On the plus side, with the lack of crowds, we were able to take some time to look at the architecture and decorative details of the place.Istanbul437

It was a huge space! Each hallway seemed to go on forever, and all of the arched corridors were beautifully painted. Istanbul443 Istanbul441 Istanbul450Istanbul447 Istanbul444 Of all the markets we came across, I think my favorites were the unexpected vendors that set up shop on carts, sometimes pushing their way into crowds in search for business. Even though much of the city seems to be built of stone, these markets provided delightful bursts of color throughout Istanbul.

Istanbul117What is your favorite find from a bazaar or market?

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Hagia Sophia: A Treasure in Istanbul

It took us a couple days before finally getting to the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, but oh! what an amazing place! In a way, I guess I’m glad we did this on our last full day in the city, because if we had seen it first it might have made everything that came after it seem less exciting. The Hagia Sophia as it stands now was built in the year 537, but it’s the third structure to stand in that location. (The first two were burned to the ground in riots.) Built as a Greek Orthodox church, it was converted into a mosque during Ottoman rule in 1453. Now it is officially a museum. A slew of restoration projects over many years have once again revealed some of the Christian imagery that was painted or plastered over when it became a mosque, but living in the same space still are the names of prophets written in Arabic calligraphy. (It strikes me as an important message in today’s world for evidence of these two faiths to live side-by-side like this under one roof.) The sanctuary inside is enormous, beautifully constructed of marble and stone, with seemingly no surface untouched by decorative details like painted patterns or incredible mosaic frescos made with gold tiles. Certainly pictures could not fully do this place justice!

Istanbul510 Upon entering, we were greeted by a set of these rather imposing looking doors. They actually predate the current structure, and are too tall for the doorway they are in so they are built into the floor and cannot be closed.Istanbul512 Immediately, the pattern and detail begins in the first hallway.Istanbul515 At the end of this entrance hallway we saw our first mocaic, a scene of Emporer Justinian gifting the Hagia Sophia to the Christ Child. Istanbul517On the interior dorrs, you can still see markings where the cross was removed and replaced instead with this arrow-like symbol often seen in the Muslim faith.
Istanbul520 Sometimes it was difficult to discern which details were painted and which were mosaic, because of the attention paid to detail in the design.Istanbul522The first time you step into the sanctuary, it’s admittedly a little overwhelming! The space is several stories tall, the dome gilt with gold leaf. The flowers in the four corners around the dome were revealed in a recent restoration project to be covering images of angels from the days when it was a church. You can see the face of one that was recovered in the lower left-hand flower. (In the Muslim religion, no pictorial depictions are allowed, which is why the preferred decoration in mosques has more to do with pattern and calligraphy. All images in the sanctuary were covered over with paint and/or plaster when it was converted to a mosque.)
Istanbul523Incredible amounts of beautiful marble can be found all over, on walls, floors, columns, you name it. Much of it had been imported from Egypt at the time the Hagia Sophia was built, and some marble types were rare even then.
Istanbul530 Each column is topped with some of the finest carvings I’ve ever seen. It all seems so finely detailed, and perfectly executed. Istanbul531 Istanbul536 This tile mosaic of the Madonna and Christ Child had been covered with plaster before the restoration projects began. Istanbul546 All of the corridors have high ceilings and low-hanging chandeliers, which used to be candle-lit and needed to be close to the ground so they could be reached easily. And while the more modern lighting throughout the entire building was certainly helpful, there was plenty of natural lighting flooding in through large windows and skylights.Istanbul550 Istanbul551 In order to get up t the second level of the sanctuary, we used a dark, undecorated corridor and system of ramps, which were apparently used during construction for pushing, dragging, or rolling materials to the upper levels.Istanbul554 Istanbul590 The sheer size of the space was even more apparent from above, where we could see how small the people below seemed. Istanbul561 Sadly in the years before the Hagia Sophia had proper protection as a museum, people would take the little tiles that made up the mosaics as souvenirs, so many of the frescos are missing the tiles that could be easily reached. Now of course there are security personnel to make sure no one gets too close to these. Istanbul562 But look at the incredible detail! Rosey cheeks, the shading of the beard, the folds in the clothing. Unbelievable! This is as detailed as any painting by one of the masters, but  this is made of tiles. We took our time browsing and taking in all of the mosaics on the second level. Istanbul564 Istanbul574 Istanbul578On the second level, we found this pattern, which we didn’t seem to come across on the ground level. It’s much darker than a lot of what we saw elsewhere.Istanbul570 Also, it was a treat being so much closer to the details on the ceiling of the sanctuary. (And there’s that previously hidden angel again!)Istanbul572 Istanbul589 We even found this little corridor of Iznik tiles, a signature of Turkey.Istanbul591 Back down on the ground level we snapped a few more pictures of this incredible space. Istanbul600 Towering marble columns were on all sides.Istanbul601 Istanbul606 Istanbul616

After one last look up in the sanctuary…Istanbul611…and one last look at the beautiful ceiling patterns in the corridors…Istanbul602 Istanbul603 …we got a glimpse at the few remaining artifacts from the previous structure that this Hagia Sophia had replaced. This was all that was left after it burned down, but it is so important to acknowledge this as part of the history of this place. Istanbul619What do you think of all the detail in this nearly millenium-old place?

Istanbul: An Honest City

During our short time in Istanbul, it occurred to me how honest the city as a whole is. What do I mean by that? Well, everything in the city seems to be exactly what it is, with no efforts to mask it or make something be any different cosmetically than whatever it already is. There are buildings as old as the year 500 and buildings as new as just a couple years old sitting happily side by side, with no attempt to make one look like the other. Some buildings are even dilapidated or abandoned right in the middle of a high traffic and otherwise well maintained area. Even the new storefronts added to old buildings are built with the style sense of the time in which they were built, so that walking around you can see additions from the 1940’s, -70’s, or -90’s among original and new buildings. I love this about Istanbul, especially in contrast to a place like Los Angeles where sometimes it seems everything has a facade to make it appear to be different than it actually is (not unlike a movie set).

Our first impressions of the city were from the rooftop of the building where we rented our Homeaway apartment. We were practically next door to Galata Tower, and could see it clearly over the nearby buildings.

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Istanbul struck me as a crowded city with little park space for its size, so it was not surprising that people had added greenery on rooftops and patios wherever they could find space.
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Looking out at the sprawl, it seems old, new, and a little gritty. And I will admit, I hadn’t thought much about air quality before we got there, but there was a noticeable amount of exhaust in the air. Istanbul018

Near our apartment, we came across this car. It seemed to fit in quite naturally with the cobblestone streets.Istanbul027

With little sidewalk space and extremely narrow streets, I was surprised at how easily people and cars were able to manuver around each other. With little need for car horns, people would part to allow the cars to come through, and then fill in the road again once it had passed. Both pedestrian and driver were aware of each other and their surroundings, and with a little patience could work together to allow passage.

Istanbul030 Some of the streets were so narrow it was hard to imagine a car would even fit, presumably a result of the original city being built long before cars and the subsequent sprawl that came after. But somehow it worked, and the cars got through. (No huge SUV’s here!)

Istanbul671 It was not uncommon to see the Turkish flag flying, or even a flag for Istanbul. It struck me that people were proud of their home.Istanbul040 And perhaps even more frequently than the Turkish flag, we came across buildings that were no longer fit for use, just left to breakdown right in the middle of the city’s commerce.

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This one struck us as particularly interesting. We could still see the decorative paper on the ceiling and even though it was falling down, I could almost imagine what it must have been like inside in the 1800’s. Istanbul289

Some of our favorite moments were while wandering off the beaten path, just exploring the lesser travelled pockets of the city.Istanbul413

This woman happily posed for a photo, and then immediately ran inside to tell whoever was in the house with her. We couldn’t understand her Turkish, but we heard her excitedly saying “California” to her family inside. Maybe we’ll be able to return one day with a copy of the picture for her.Istanbul414

Closer to the more tourist-travelled parts of town, I notice the colors of the buildings became much more vibrant.Istanbul293

Some of the greenery in the area seemed to have been there forever, like these trees that almost seems to grow right out of the sidewalk.Istanbul424

Roman structures still stand in the middle of the city.Istanbul080

And of course, let’s not forget the Hagia Sophia, which was built in the year 537 and was the third structure to stand here. It was a church first, then was converted to a mosque. Now it’s a museum where both Christian and Muslim symbology are displayed side by side. (More on the Hagia Sophia on Thursday!)Istanbul509

And right across the park is the Blue Mosque, built in 1616.Istanbul511

On more than one occasion we came across chickens like these, which belonged to someone nearby and were presumably used for eggs and food. Istanbul104

And there were loads of stray cats around the city. It seemed that the people take pretty good care of the feral cats in the area. Frequently we would see food left out for them, and the adult cats all seemed very healthy (although they definitely looked more like wild cats than the domestic kitties I’m more familiar with).Istanbul291

Every bridge we crossed over was heavily lined with fishermen. They seemed to just camp out for most of the day trying to catch whatever they could.Istanbul064

And there were always men pushing carts around the city selling baked goods or cooked meats.Istanbul071

Day and night.Istanbul263

At night there seemed to be another world of commerce altogether. Individuals selling all sorts of food and goods anywhere where they could find an open enough space to do so.Istanbul258

We drank loads of Turkish coffee, which is offered after every meal. I loved that this cup embraced the beautiful patterns seen all over Turkey. They do patterns so well in this part of the world!

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We drank loads of Turkish tea, also offered after every meal, as a social drink, and even in some shops while you’re looking around. Istanbul493

We played backgammon, and smoked shisha. (It’s just tobacco folks, don’t get too excited.) Both are traditional middle-eastern pastimes that we found incredibly relaxing after a long day of walking around.Istanbul630Cafes seemed to pop up out of nowhere sometimes. This one was in a small, open area and even had tables set up on tiers that looked more suited as a mini amphitheater. Vines had made their way up over the electrical wires and seemed to have been there for years. (We saw this often around the city, and sometimes they were even grape vines!)Istanbul497

Istanbul is also home to Pera Palace Hotel, where Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express. It has been restored to its original glory, including these fabulous skylights and decorative details.

Istanbul673 This cabinet, made of wood and inlaid mother of pearl, houses original copies of all sorts of great classic books by Christie, Hemmingway, and more.Istanbul677

Even the apartment we stayed in held true to its original history. While I don’t know the exact age of the building, the walls were clearly original construction, the bathroom  and kitchen seemed to be afterthoughts (presumably because running water and electricity came well after the building was built), and winding staircase leading up to our 2nd floor apartment had marble steps that had been worn down so much over the years that they seemed to bow, and the edges had rounded over, so that we really had to be careful not to slip coming down the stairs.Istanbul506 The shop owners in the area were so proud of their businesses. (This one was my favorite!)Istanbul686 People walked down the area’s pedestrian street, Istiklal Avenue, even early in the morning before most of the shops had opened.Istanbul681Because of the timing of our trip with the beginning of the protests against Turkey’s Prime Minister, we encountered a few peaceful marches. These people made themselves known by chanting and shouting their cause.
Istanbul035 This one held us up for about 20 minutes on our way to the airport as we were leaving Istanbul. This was the day after they had received union support, and another 240,000 people for their cause. These were happening all over the city that day.Istanbul690 Istanbul692And the views of Istanbul were dreamlike in the evenings. There was a whole level of activity that started aorund the city once the sun went down. And with the glow of the lit-up mosques and the sounds of the call to prayer, it was somehow peaceful, even among such a crowded, bustling city.

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What are your thoughts or impressions on Istanbul?

Mosques of Istanbul

As soon as we had arrived in Istanbul, it was apparent just how many mosques there are all over the city. Hundreds, probably thousands, line the skyline in any given direction. And what’s more, they all seem to carry an incredible amount of history with them. A stark contrast to the very new, glamorous mosque we had seen in Abu Dhabi just the week before.

On our first day in Istanbul, we spent most of the day wandering and ended up at one of the more well known mosques there, the Suleymaniye Mosque. It sits on top of a hill, where it can be seem from all different points around the city.
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It was a huge structure, surrounded by a beautiful green that somehow reminded me of a university campus.Istanbul108

Once we stepped inside the courtyard, we were surrounded by arches.
Istanbul120Outside, the minarets towered overhead.

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And inside, the domes created a cloudlike cover of color and pattern.

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Because images are not allowed in Islamic places of worship, instead of painting murals or frescos, verses from the Koran and the names of the prophets are written in beautiful Arabic calligraphy inside and out.

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Lanterns (now retrofitted with CFL bulbs) hang from long cables attached to the very high ceilings. This allowed the candles to be lit easily from the ground (before electricity was available).Istanbul138

And as we left, we were treated to this incredible view!Istanbul158

The next day we went to visit an even more famous mosque, the Blue Mosque, or the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. Located right across the park from the Hagia Sophia (which will get its own post very soon!), it is most easily distinguishable from a distance because of it’s 6 minarets. Mosques here usually have only four minarets, but legend has it that there was a misunderstanding and instead of the gold capped minarets the Sultan asked for (the work for gold is “altin”), the architect built him six (“alti”) minarets. Oops! Lucky for him the Sultan liked them.Istanbul301

Inside the courtyard, the scene was very similar to the Suleymaniye Mosque’s courtyard, but boasting taller, wider arches with a more airy feel to them.Istanbul309

Admittedly I expected the inside to be more blue (there were plenty of other colors to accompany the blue details) but it was nonetheless an incredible collection of pattern.Istanbul319

One of the historical facts I find interesting and very apparent in this part of the world is that while Europeans had begun to perfect the human form by way of religious depictions of Jesus, Mary, and other biblical icons, art in Islamic countries was all about color, pattern, and calligraphy (being that they were not using human depictions of important religious figures, but rather their written names). Istanbul324

This makes for some beautiful decorative details. Seeing the way they handled pattern has really made me change the way I think about pattern in general. A few more photos to show you what I mean…Istanbul325 Istanbul333 Istanbul336 Istanbul344 Istanbul345

The reason the Blue Mosque picked up this nickname is because of the amount of Iznik tile used throughout the interior. The tile order for this project was so massive that the Sultan forbade any tiles to be produced for any other purpose until this mosque had been completed. There are over 20,000 of these tiles in the Blue Mosque.Istanbul347 Istanbul348

It was indeed quite a treat to have spent some time inside this mosque, an incredible work of art in its own right.Istanbul351

After a long day of walking all over the city, I caught a glimpse of this tile wall peeking out over a balcony above us as we walked by.Istanbul457

We wandered up the nearby staircase, toward the tile, and discovered the Rustem Pasha Mosque. It was almost hidden, sitting in the middle of a densely built area.

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Inside, we were the only tourists sharing the space with a couple of Islamic worshipers. Some of the details inside were quite different from Suleymaniye and the Blue Mosques, like this wonderful carved and painted wood ceiling detail.Istanbul460

And the decorated dome overhead was just as spectacular, perhaps especially in that it occupied such a small space.
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More so than the Blue Mosque, we felt enveloped in blue Iznik tiles. They were everywhere, covering just about every flat surface from floor to ceiling.Istanbul464

And among the tile, some beautiful marble and painted pattern details.Istanbul468

No surface seemed untouched by decorative detail, not even these ceiling panels. Istanbul472

As the sun was beginning to set, we felt privileged to have happened upon this small, seemingly hidden, spiritual space. We were so tired when we entered the prayer room, feet throbbing from walking all day, and yet this space brought us a surprising sense of peace. It was a wonderful place to rest for a few minutes.Istanbul476

What do you think of all this pattern and detail? Do you like it?

Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern in Istanbul surprisingly turned out to be one of our favorite sites we visited. It might have been in part because we really had no idea what to expect. It’s such an ancient place and just feels like it is a part of a significant history (which it is). Built when it was still Constantinople, the Romans built this cistern (among many others) to hold the city’s water. This is the largest of all the cisterns they built. Constructed in the year 476, this was by far the oldest place I have ever been (until we visited Cappadocia, that is… but more on that later!).

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The entire place is just a sea of columns. Of course they are now lit for better viewing for tourists, and they keep the water level very low. But just imagine: all this for what is essentially just a water tank!

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The cistern served a very specific function, and there is no disguising the engineering that went into it. But perhaps the most surprising element of design is that all three styles of columns (doric, ionic, and corinthian) exist here in harmony. Why, you may ask? Well, apparently the Romans were recycling, pulling unused columns from all over and just popping them in here to hold up this underground structure. Istanbul368 Istanbul372

Because the Basilica Cistern is now a museum, they’ve installed boardwalk-like walkways throughout, so you can wander all around. They offer a very affordable portable audio tour, which admittedly we shared but found very insightful!
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Among the plethora of columns there is exactly one of these, decorated with evil eye symbols which ward off evil and persons with nefarious intentions.Istanbul376

Even more interesting recycled elements include two Medusa heads. Their purpose was simply to prop up the columns they lie under, but since the myth was that if you look her in the eyes you will turn to stone they were sure to position her on either her side of upside down as a remedy to the possibility that she may do you in.
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We took our time walking through this incredible place, and even though it was dark and damp there was something quite special about being there. Maybe it has to do with the extraordinary contrast of that depth of history in comparison to the very short history of the buildings and artifacts here in the U.S. Istanbul389

But regardless of what made it feel so special, I loved staring down the rows and rows of ancient columns into the darkness imagining what it must have looked like when it was new all those many centuries ago.

Istanbul397What is the oldest historical site you have visited? What did you love about it?

Istanbul: A Boat Tour On The Bosphorous

I’m so excited to start posting about our trip to Turkey! I’m starting with Istanbul, which was such a cool city, and HUGE! Even being from Los Angeles, Istanbul felt huge. We barely scratched the surface while we were there and we’re already dying to go back!

After arriving early in the morning and walking all over the city on our first day to start getting a lay of the land, we were understandably quite exhausted. But we were so excited to be there we didn’t want to waste a moment of our time in Istanbul! So we decided to take a boat tour on the Bosphorus around sunset. It was so beautiful, and really gave us a sense of just how enormous and widespread this very old city is.

The Bosphorus is the world’s most narrow international waterway, and separates the continents of Europe and Asia. As a city, Istanbul exists in both contents, connected by bridges and boats.

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The port we shoved off from was a busy hub, filled with similar tour boats as well as smaller boats that I would liken to LA’s food trucks; people on very rocky boats cooking up a storm. Fish sandwiches, kabobs; you name it, they had it.Istanbul172

As people were getting settled on the tour boat, one of the people running the tour walked around offering juices and Turkish tea for the equivalent of 50 cents a piece. Turkish tea, served in these little glasses, was a staple of pretty much any meal or social interaction in Turkey, and helped warm us up in the cool breeze coming off the Bosphorus water. Istanbul171

As we started to pull away, we got a great view of Galata Tower on the European side of the city, which was a very important landmark for us as we tried to find our way around the city. (We were renting a Homeaway apartment right next door, so it was so helpful to be able to see Galata Tower from a distance and know whether we were heading in the right direction!)Istanbul190

I love this photo as we pull away from the European side of the city, the Turkish flag flying at the stern of our little ship.Istanbul175

There was a lot of boat activity on the strait. Tug boats, shipping freighters, and of course lots of tours like the one we were on.Istanbul182

The light houses have the same sense of architecture and history as much of the city.
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We made a brief stop at a port on the Asian side. Much like you would expect from any waterside town, homes have been packed in from the water’s edge all the way up the side of the hills and mountains.Istanbul188

This port was a little less busy than ours was, but was still poised to take hundreds of people on tours up and down the waterway.Istanbul180

There were plenty of incredible landmarks and historically significant sites to see all along the water’s edge. This is Dolmabahce Palace. Built roughly around the year 1850, it served as the administrative location of the Ottoman Empire for most of its life.Istanbul198

The Rumelian Castle (Rumelihisari) is a fortress on the European side of the city built by the Ottomans in the 1450’s before the sultan conquered Constantinople.Istanbul203

This was only one of several weddings we could see from the boat tour! Now a Four Seasons hotel, Ciragan Palace was built in the 1860’s and also functioned as an Ottoman palace. Such an extravagant, embellished design on the face of the building!

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Another result of the Ottomans, Kuleli Military High School was Turkey’s first military high school (founded in the 1840’s). Now it’s used by Istanbul Technical University.Istanbul192 Istanbul193

We loved seeing so many different pockets of the city. All over, there seemed to be so many wonderful areas to explore.Istanbul216

We passed under the Bosphorus Bridge right as the sun began to set. This is one of two bridges connecting the European side to the Asian side of the city. At the time it was built, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. Istanbul222

As we headed back to where we began, the warm sunset was just beautiful. Our Galata Tower home-away-from-home peeked out in the distance over the city.
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We were able to catch a great view of the Suleymaniye Mosque on our way in too. (We had been there earlier in the day… but more on that in another post!)Istanbul238

There was so much color throughout the city’s architecture, and the colors were really highlighted in the golden hour light.Istanbul242

Just before we docked, we noticed a huge array of seafood restaurants underneath the very bridge we had walked over earlier in the day. There were so many options, I don’t know how you would even begin to choose one!
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After the tour and a quick dinner, and as we made our way back through the crowds and toward the bridge that would take us home, the area seemed to come alive in the darkness. Street food vendors were everywhere, and the bright lights sparked our curiosity at the very least. Istanbul259

There were even people selling t-shirts and clothing along the pavement.Istanbul263We encountered several mobile street vendors on our way home. We definitely got a sense that there is a huge amount of activity in this city after dark!

Overall, the boat tour was a great way to get a broader sense of what Istanbul is really like as a city. When I look at a map and what we were able to do on foot, I realize how very little of the city we were able to visit (even though it felt like we REALLY packed in the sites!) I was grateful for this view of the city, which gave me a much more accurate idea of the scope of it!

Top Vacation Photos: Turkey

Everywhere we went in Turkey was so beautiful and interesting, it would have been very difficult to take a bad photo. It was so hard to narrow these down, but this will give you a taste of some of the places we saw while we were there.

Note: I pre-wrote my blog posts for the weeks we were away, and so I didn’t have a chance to mention the protests going on in Istanbul while we were there. Between what was likely sensationalized news and the travel advisory issued by the US, we heard of many, many people cancelling their plans to visit Istanbul. It’s such a shame, they missed out on experiencing an incredible city! We generally stayed away from Taksim Square, the area where the majority of the protests were, but we were only staying about a mile or two from it and never ran into any trouble. All protests we encountered were peaceful, and we never felt in danger. In fact, in the heightened energy of the city it was kind of exciting to be there during this time! I understand that in recent days the prime minister has indicated that the police will be instructed to take more physical action against these protesters if they do not back off. I hope that the people are able to accomplish what they are after in their intended peaceful manner without any further injuries. Good luck to anyone fighting for this cause in Istanbul.

After a few days in Istanbul we moved to Cappadocia, which was otherworldly. It was so beautiful, relaxing, and the people were wonderful. In fact Uchisar, the village we stayed in, was not unlike a village you might see on the Mediterranean… just without the ocean. We’re already dying to go back!

Here are some of my favorite photos from Turkey. Enjoy!

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We wandered through this otherwise tourist free side street on our way to the Sulemaniye Mosque. (Istanbul)

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A sunset view of the Sulemaniye Mosque from a boat tour of the Bosphorous. (Istanbul)

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Tempting floral teas for sale in the Spice Bazaar. (Istanbul)

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A Turkish Coffee break while deciding what to see next. (Istanbul)

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The Basilica Cistern, built by the romans to store the city’s water. (Istanbul)

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A woman posed for us in her window on a little-traveled side street away from the tourist attractions. (Istanbul)

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A peak at the Hagia Sophia, built in the 5th century as a church then converted to a mosque in the 1400’s. Now it is a museum for all to enjoy. (Istanbul)

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A peaceful march, protesting Turkey’s prime minister. (Istanbul)

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Hot air balloon ride over the valleys of Cappadocia. (Uchisar)

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The village of Uchisar, one of many towns in Cappadocia with hundreds of homes created by digging caves into the sides of the mountains. Some of them are abandoned, but many still serve as homes, or have been converted into cave hotels like the one we stayed in. (Uchisar)

This Week I Loved… Travel Edition: Turkey

(aka This Week in Turkey We Hope To Have Seen…)

The Blue Mosque (Photo Credit – http://www.bestourism.com)

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Hagia Sofia (Photo Credit – http://istanbulvisions.com)

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Spice bazaar (Photo Credit – http://commons.wikimedia.org)
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The Bosphorus (Photo Credit – http://www.turkeyvacationplaces.com)
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Hot Air Balloons (Photo Credit – http://www.travelpackagesturkey.com)
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Underground Cities (Photo Credit – http://cappadociaturkey.travel)
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Star Cave Hotel (Photo Credit – http://www.cappadociatoursguide.com)
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Next week I’ll be back blogging in real time, and I’m sure I’ll have lots and lots of blog fuel! Stay tuned for photos and stories from our travels.

Today We Are In: Istanbul

At this point in our travels, we have been in Istanbul since Monday morning, with our friends from Abu Dhabi in tow. This is the first time we’ve traveled with friends, and we’re really looking forward to all that there is to discover about each other and our new surroundings! None of us have ever been to Turkey, so there will be a lot to pack in!

Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey, and straddles the Bosphorus. This means that Turkey and the city of Istanbul also straddle two continents, Europe and Asia (which encompasses the Middle East). It is a melting-pot city, where many different people from all cultures live together.

Aside from the plethora of incredibly old historical sites to see (some are many centuries old), we’re also looking forward to starting our mornings with Turkish coffee, which even here in the US is so thick it’s almost like drinking motor oil, yet it’s delightfully sweet. Also highly caffeinated!

We’re also looking forward to visiting the spice bazaar, among the many other markets we hope to discover, and eating some delicious foods, the likes of which we surely have never tried before!

And we’re taking on luxurious morning on this trip to visit a traditional Turkish bath, called a hamam. I think this experience will take our previous knowledge of a day spa to a new level!

What would you most like to see in Istanbul?

The Importance of Travel

Yesterday I took a leap and bought plane tickets for my husband and I to go on a trip to Abu Dhabi, UAE, and Istanbul, Turkey. It wasn’t a leap because of a lack of desire to go (we’ve been looking forward to this trip for quite some time!), but it was a leap because it’s not a cheap trip to take, nor is it a quick flight (and my husband is not the biggest fan in the world of airplane rides.) But travel is important! Traveling can change the way you look at the world, get you out of your comfort zone and put things into perspective a bit. Plus, as my husband was quick to point out while I was laboring over the cost, no one ever regrets spending money on a trip like this!

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Why Abu Dhabi and Istanbul, you may ask? Well, we are fortunate to have close friends currently living in Abu Dhabi, and who share our desire to explore Istanbul. So this is a combo visit-and-adventure trip! The UAE is probably not someplace I would normally think to vacation, but when opportunity knocks you have to answer! And since none of us have ever been to Turkey but keep hearing incredible things about how beautiful is it, we’re using the opportunity of having traveled such a long distance already to all take an exploration vacation together. (We’re not going until May, but don’t worry, I will certainly be writing about it when the time comes!)

So in honor of taking that travel leap, I thought I’d talk about why travel is so important. To be clear, travel doesn’t have to be defined by a 16 hour flight. Travel could be simply visiting someplace by car, either because you’ve never been there or because you love going there. Travel is leaving home for someplace different, and taking the time to experience things you don’t normally get to experience.

Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone

Sometimes it feels so easy to just stay at home. After a long week or a particularly rigorous project at work, I’m the first to admit that the last thing I want to do is to go somewhere! But sometimes that is exactly the time when you should leave the house. It can be like pushing your restart button, reminding you that there is more to the world than the few-mile radius you typically operate in. (Work, home, grocery store, home, work, gas station, home, etc.) One of our favorite quick-and-easy getaways to relieve ourselves of the hustle and bustle of LA life is to take a night or two in a bed and breakfast in Santa Barbara. It’s less than 2 hours away, but feels like we are far far away from Los Angeles!

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Santa Ynez Valley, just outside of Santa Barbara

There’s Always Something New to Explore

A good friend of mine one, a highly traveled travel-blogger, once told me that the more she travels the bigger the world feels to her. This surprised me! I guess I expected that at some point she might feel like she was running out of places to go, but in fact it is quite the opposite. For everything she sees, there is something more to be seen. It’s a little overwhelming to think about it that way! But what that means to me is that there is always going to be someplace you haven’t been before, so you will never run out of new experiences to have! In today’s web-centric society, the world feels somewhat small. You can look anything up at any time, and connect with people all over the world with just the click of a mouse. It’s easy to forget that in fact the world has a huge surface area, covered from head to toe with places you can explore.

Open Your Eyes to Other Ways of Life

When you visit someplace else, chances are there are people there living life quite differently than you are at home! Even just the difference between living in a big city like Los Angeles and living in a countryside only a few miles away like in the wine country of Santa Ynez Valley can be stark. The difference in lifestyles around the world became abundantly clear to me about a year and a half ago when my husband and I visited Costa Rica. We didn’t want a resort vacation, but rather an exploration of the rainforests and wildlife there. Along the way we became friends with our guide, whose family runs a wildlife reserve and animal rescue center, driven by their passion for the earth and the natural Costa Rican wildlife. We met naturalists all over the country, learning about their passions and love for their country and it’s habitat. We even met a fellow whose home is a make-shift house along a river and who makes a living by crossing people over the river in his canoe. He then puts some of his small income into sea turtle preservation. When we got home from that trip, our perspective on what was important in life and how we are affecting the environment around us changed forever.

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signs about Ricardo’s turtle reserve

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Ricardo invited us in for some coffee and cookies

Traveling Can Bring Friends and Families Together

In the most literal sense, traveling can allow families and friends who live far apart to come together, show their love for each other, tell stories of their experiences apart, and create new experiences together. This is becoming more and more important as our society becomes more national and even global, and we move further and further away from the families that raised us and the friends we grew up with. Between my husband and I, our families live in Arizona, Utah, Maine, Michigan, Western New York, Virginia, Vermont, and even Germany! Additionally, we have friends all over the world, in the US, UK, UAE, Europe… But I look at it more as opportunity. With some smart saving and planning, these are all places we may be able to visit and explore one day, with our friends and families by our sides!

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the view from a hike near my in-laws’ home in Utah

More figuratively, traveling together can create so much opportunity for bonding. My husband and I have bonded over some incredible experiences on our honeymoon in Napa, over a Christmas vacation in Chicago, our adventures in Costa Rica, and the list goes on. Perhaps even a better example is a trip my husband took with his oldest brother a few years back. They spent weeks hiking from the Irish Sea to the North Sea in England, through rain and mud and stampedes of cows, and it was an incredibly special experience they will always share with each other!

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the Coast-to-Coast trail in England

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one of the coasts on the Coast-to-Coast trail in England

In the case of our upcoming Abu Dhabi/Istanbul trip, I’m looking forward to the four of us discovering all sorts of things we have never seen before, and discovering them together!

Ortakoy Mosque looking towards the Bosphorus Bridge, under a cloudy sky.

Is there a trip you have taken that was life changing for you? Or is there a trip you have always wanted to take? I’d love to hear about your adventures!