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!

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This Week I Loved…

These quotes from my Color Theory class:

  • “Color is a basic need… Like fire and water, a raw material, indispensable to life.” – Fernand Leger
  • “Color belongs to our being, maybe each one has his own.” – Le Corbusier

A date night with the hubby and the best oysters ever at this place in Silverlake.

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Our Turkish vase filled with flowers.

IMG_20130627_112748_804The pre-show before seeing Monsters University at the El Capitan.

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A great friend visiting from the East coast.

1019872_10100525292192275_1468413643_oDaydreaming about the Burj Khalifa.

Dubai141And this photo essay:

http://nation.time.com/2013/06/26/at-the-supreme-court-witnesses-to-gay-marriage-history/

This Week I Loved…

Making our favorite almond cake…

1020443_10100514168988265_1667345829_oInto this…

1020100_10100514182386415_1848088860_oFinding this little guy in the lavender on our front patio.

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A heart shaped breakfast.

1019626_10100517491030865_1134018466_oOur new Turkish rug.

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Finding this picture among our vacation photos.

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And remember Mr. Rogers…

http://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanhatesthis/heartwarming-and-beautiful-facts-about-mr-rogers-that-wil

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)
Cappadocia - Kaymakli Underground City
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: Cappadocia

At this point in our vacation we just arrived in Cappadocia yesterday, and we’re really excited about this part of the trip. Cappadocia is located almost smack-dab in the middle of Turkey, and the city dates all the way back to the 6th century. It’s known for it’s incredible network of underground cities. We’re hoping to spend a fair amount of time exploring them. Some are still fully functioning, and there are even some caves that have been converted into hotels.

Cappadocia is also known as a great place to go hot air ballooning. The hubby and I have been on a hot air balloon ride once before on our honeymoon, but certainly not over terrain like this.

Plus, there’s a little-known wine region in the surrounding area, and as the great wine appreciator, my husband is totally looking forward to tasting what will likely be wines unlike anything we get here in the states.

Because this is a much more remote area of the country, I’m expecting that we will be a bit more challenged to use our Turkish translation book and get some practice in this language far different than any of us will be familiar with. Hopefully we won’t offend anyone!

What would you most like to see in Cappadocia?

How I Fit Everything I Need For A Two Week International Vacation Into One Carry-on Bag

Ok, to be fair, the time of year helps a lot. In the UAE we’re expecting low temperatures of around 85 degrees and highs in the 105 degree range (Fahrenheit). My history in Arizona makes me specially qualified to be able to predict what this will be like (hot, but manageable). Then in Turkey we’re expecting lows of around 62 and highs in the 75 degree range. Just like California! I have to admit, it is definitely comforting to have a pretty good idea of what to pack. I am a chronic over-packer, but this time I was determined to pack light. There is the likelihood of doing a load of laundry at our friends’ apartment in Abu Dhabi before we all jump on a plane to Istanbul. But even so, this was challenging. Here’s how I did it.

Dresses are key! When packing for a vacation like this, I wanted to be able to dress light for the weather, be comfortable, and also have a few different outfit options over the course of the trip. There will be lots of pictures, after all! I started with these four dresses. Dresses take up much less space than a pants/shirt combo.

DSCN0828I do want to switch it up a bit though, so planning ahead I put together a variety of outfits. These lightweight khakis are ankle length and I love that they’re colorful, but not too loud. I’m bringing a lightweight long-sleeved sweater and an easy-going white t-shirt to pair with them.

DSCN0860I am, and probably always will be, a jeans-kinda-gal, so I couldn’t resist including these outfits too. I tried to include a variety of sleeve lengths to account for the range of temperatures we’ll be experiencing.

DSCN0863I’m aso bringing a couple lightweight cardigans and a jean jacket. These will serve two purposes: they will keep my arms warm on a cool night, and they will also function as lightweight cover-ups when we’re in conservative areas that may traditionally prefer women to be more covered. These three basics will work with just about every other item of clothing I’m bringing with me.

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I threw in this catch-all little black number for a night on the town, specifically for the hubby’s birthday dinner at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. It will be a cause for celebration!

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I’m also making sure to bring a swimsuit for those luxurious resorts we’re hoping to drop into in Abu Dhabi, and my favorite yoga outfit so I can go to one of the classes our friend will be teaching while we’re visiting her and her husband in the UAE.

DSCN0845And of course shoes. This is a little more tricky and one of the areas I usually have the most trouble with, but this time I packed shoes on a need-only basis. I’m also lucky that my friend there has the same size shoe as me, so if I need an alternative option I can borrow one of hers. (That’s the plan for shoes to pair with that little black dress I’m bringing for the hubby’s birthday dinner!) So for bare necessities, I chose a loafer and a sandal. Both are Born shoes, which are super supportive and comfortable. Comfort and support are necessary with all the walking we’ll be doing.

DSCN0851Adding in a couple sets of pajamas and of course all the underwear and toiletries I will need, and the suitcase is pretty full. But not too full, so I can carry my bag on the plane if I want to. Mission accomplished! It’s a little heavy, but I’m sure the hubby will help me lift it into the overhead compartment if I bat my eyes a little bit. 

Do you think you could do it, pack for two weeks in a carry-on?

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!