Trip Start Dec 03, 2008
Trip End Oct 14, 2009

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Flag of Turkey  ,
Saturday, August 8, 2009

After our long day in Egypt, it was nice to arrive in Istanbul and know we're going to be here for awhile. We spent 2 nights out near the airport just to catch our breath. I don't think I left the hotel at all that day. They had an awesome pool so that got good use.

When we did make it to the city we were really impressed (and overwhelmed) with how beautiful it was and all the things to see and do. We stayed at a good hostel right in the middle of everything. The first night, both our stomachs were upset. We think it was from completely gorging our faces at the hotel with free breakfast. We would have breakfast and sit in the restaurant for an hour or so then eat a complete meal again, stuffing ourselves. The best were chocolate pastries with Nutella on top - yum! They probably have limits on how many you get now. So, its no wonder our stomachs hurt. One thing to know: don't come to Turkey if you have stomach problems. The food here is so delicious and looks even better. Every shop on the street has huge windows that are filled with chocolate cakes, brownies, candies, more pastries than you would believe. They have stuffed breads with cheeses, sandwiches and ice cream on every corner. On every street there are at least 3 donor shops - donors are basically chicken wraps and they are delicious.

Once we could eat again, we had our fair share of the chicken donors and the baked potatoes. They open up the potatoes, mash it all up, put butter and cheese in and mash it some more, then put on your choice of 15 toppings. Oh! So good. They just have the best food here.

Believe it or not, Istanbul does have other things to do besides eating. There is so much history wrapped up in every inch of it. Some of the best where just around the corner from our hostel in Old Town. There is the Hagia Sofia (built in 532 AD) as a Christian church and then turned into a mosque. It is completely unbelievable and you can't imagine how they built such a place so long ago. Even though half of it was under renovation, it was definitely the most impressive structure in Istanbul. Well, even just the scaffolding is unbelievable (it had an elevator).

We also saw the Blue Mosque which was built in 1609-1616 to try and out-do the Hagia Sofia but doesn't quite qualify but still very extraordinary. We went to the Hippodrome that had 2 monuments, one is the Column of Constantine Porphyrogenetus. It looks just like the game Jenga. And the other is called the Obelisk of Theodosius, it was a present to Constantinople by another emperor in 390 AD. It is 3,500 YEARS old!!! It was shipped from Egypt in 3 pieces and only 1 piece survived.

We took a couple different river cruises on the Bosphorus River. The first one we just jumped on a random boat that took us around to a couple different ports. It was our first day and a river/harbor cruise is always the best way to see a place when you first arrive. Our second river cruise took us all the way up to the Black Sea - just before it opens up. The Bosphorus River is the only way from the Black Sea into the Mediterranean so you can imagine how busy it was. We stopped at an old castle that we had to climb to. I believe it was more of a fortress to monitor the ships coming in and out of the sea. Its a beautiful castle up on a hill but over the years has unfortunately been vandalized. There is even graffiti on the outer walls! Back on the boat, I met 3 Iraqi men, one of which told me all about Iraq and how it is today. He told me that my husband and I should really visit there because it is "safe" in the north. I think we will wait until later for that one. Very nice guys though and so interesting to talk to them.

We did other random stuff in Istanbul as well. We went to the Grand Bazaar - one of the oldest in the World - hardly compares to Bangkok though. Things were a lot more expensive and not as fun as rummaging though the Bangkok stalls and, of course, negotiating! We ate lots of good meals here, as I said earlier. The best was on top of a hotel terrace that looked over the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia. We also took a stroll down the famous pedestrian street - the pedmall of all pedmalls. It was about 2 km long and 1,000's and 1,000's of people. This is where the bar scene is, yet we only saw about 3 bars along this entire stretch - probably given bad information as to where to go (again). All the stores were the same though. Small clothing shops and 3 Starbucks, 3 Gloria Jean Coffee shops and donor stall after donor stall. There is a San Franisco type trolley that rolls through the ped mall as well. People jumping on a off of it - just like the intro to Full House.

The Turkish people are so great too. We obviously don't look like we belong there and people will stop us and ask us where we're from. One guy was walking by and asked, I said I was from Vancouver and he turned around while saying he used to live there. He was asking me all these questions. Luckily, he was sidetracked easily when we said we used to live in Chicago. Found a great Happy Hour place. The guy talked us into having a drink. We sat there for a long time talking to him about how him and his brother are going to open a restaurant in Australia. Turkish people are all very friendly and happy to help you. If you look lost, they will just stop you on the street and try to give you directions, without you asking for help. At first you don't know if they want to help or to sell you something. Speaking of selling, we met the world's best Wet Wipes salesman in Old Town. He honestly said he is the World's best. He wanted to make sure I would tell people that.
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