The Hagia Sophia

All I can say about it is oh. my. gawsh.  Just look at these:

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This is definitely one of my favorite places in Istanbul so far.  It has just the right mix of glamour and artful disheveled-ness.  It’s showing it’s age, but that just makes you realize how OLD it is (completed in 537).  It was also featured in From Russia With Love, not nearly so empty in there as James Bond had though.

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4th of July

Yeah, I know the timing’s a bit off, but I figured a quick blurb about my 4th of July here in Istanbul was in order.  Celebrating the 4th always has a different feeling when you’re not in the U.S., you feel a strong need for a taste of HOME.  I wanted to do stereotypical American things so what we (the au pairs and I) had planned was to nab some late night McD’s and get a hold of some sparklers then enjoy both along the Bosphorus by Bebek.

When I told my host mom of our plans she managed to find a pack of sparklers in the kitchen (used for birthday cakes) aaaannnddd she told me to put the last of the sangria she had in a couple water bottles so I could share and have a good time – I really wish I could have seen my host mom when she was my age, I bet she was crazy.

I headed down to Bebek to go to a cake shop for more sparklers after work (Zeynep was also the one to tell me where it was, seriously, couldn’t have asked for a better host mom) BUT it was closed.  Ok, no worries, I still had that one pack (though the joy of a sparkler is so short-lived…).  Keirsten and I hunkered down in Bebek park to wait for the other girls to show up then we all headed over to McDonalds to grab some burgers.  It was going to be perfect because there was a mosque literally right next to the place which would make for a funny photo: us holding our cheeseburgers and sparklers, wearing red/white/blue, standing defiantly in front of the mosque…

But alas… that icon of American culture betrayed us!  We rolled up at ten to 11pm, some dude was making a huge order and stuffing tons of burgers into multiple bags.  He left, and the guy behind the counter said, “We’re closed.”  Um, what?  It’s ten to 11… how can this be?  There are still burgers sitting on the shelf behind you, you’re not even closing on the hour… We were shocked and incredulous.  I’m pretty sure all of us were standing there with our mouths open while Bethany tried to argue for us that we should get those burgers behind him (he answered, “they’re not warm”).  We’d built this up all weekend, looking forward to partaking in some fine American cuisine, and there he was rolling the gate down right in front of our faces, an unmistakable sign that we were not getting our fatty fix.

I was NOT about to NOT have my burger on the 4th so I marched on towards Dükan Burger – a Turkish burger joint a little classier than McD’s – and we had ours grilled up there.  Sigh, not the same, but you make due.

Happy 4th of July!!


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Sun and a little bit of sand in Bodrum

Not much to say today, but here are my impressions of Bodrum from my host family’s week-long vacation there.

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Bodrum wasn’t what I was expecting.  I was thinking there would be long sandy beaches and a party every night (everywhere I read said Bodrum was a party city).  The reality: AMAZING views of the beautiful blue Aegean and great weather, but turns out it’s a whole peninsula divided up into different bays which are further divided up into different beach clubs.  The travel time between these bays is actually quite long – I was living in Bitez, the bay next to Bodrum bay and it took a 35 minute bus ride to get to the main city.

SO, Bodrum is the name of the peninsula that’s off the western coast of Turkey, but it’s also the main city center in one of the many bays all around the peninsula… Did I explain that well enough? hahaha.  No long sandy beaches and the water was f-f-freezing (still nothing on the Michigan lakes in the spring though), but the houses and plant life were stunning.  White-washed houses with brown roofs and bougainvillea draped over everything.

The beach clubs my host family took me to were the type of places I never would have gone with my own money (what with the entrance fee and expensive food and drinks inside), but it was oh so nice to sip on a glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade with mint while reclining on a cushioned chair looking past a pebble beach at the blue Aegean 😛

I got my sun and swim fix, and that’s all that matters

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Papa Wu Stops By

Lucky for me, my dad was able to squeeze Istanbul into the middle of his business trip to Europe so I got to show him around the historical peninsula/old city and a bit of the Galata Tower/Taksim area.

Pops and I in front of the Blue Mosque

We did A TON of walking.  We didn’t go in too much, but we saw the outside of practically everything in my guidebook so it really helped for me to get a feel for that whole area since I don’t go down that far too often.  When I went with the other Au pairs to a hamam last week I was able to give everyone the details of which tram stop to get off on and an estimate of how long it would take, plus lead people after to the Grand Bazaar and Galata Bridge.  Not bad for a girl who has one of the world’s worst senses of direction.

Aya Sophia

We started off in the logical place – Sultanahmet.  Where the Blue Mosque and Aya Sophia sit on opposite ends and stare each other down.  Both buildings are spectacular and huge.  There’s also the Hippodrome running along the side with some other fantastically old monuments (like the obelisk from the BC times and a bronze sculpture that used to sit in front of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi).

Blue Mosque

We didn’t go into the Aya Sophia because the line was ridiculous – it was a Saturday after all – but we did go into the tombs that were in the complex. They were free entry with no line 🙂  It was just multiple mausoleums dedicated to different sultans and their young princes and families.  Some of them had very elaborate decorations on their domes and were like mini mosques  (you had to take your shoes off before entering all of them but I didn’t have to have my hair covered), others were a little plain.  It was cool to see all the fancy tiles (iznik tiles) and calligraphy.

We walked to the gate of Topkapı Palace next and then the Archaeology Museum (going in neither… really though, we didn’t have a single moment where we weren’t seeing things, even though it sounds like we didn’t do much!).  Both places, so I’ve read, require a couple hours’ visit in order to see everything important.  Thennnn we walked to the Cisterns… so cool!  It was my second time inside.  The first time I didn’t get to see the Medusa heads because there was a school field trip all waiting in line.  This time – no line, even though it was a Saturday and we waited to get inside!  It would be cool to go really early in the day when there are fewer people.  They play classical music from hidden speakers and the columns are lit up really pretty… but the echos from all the people walking and talking cover up the music.

Basilica Cisterns

featured in James Bond: From Russia With Love

The sideways Medusa head, the other one is upside down






The Grand Bazaar is a huge covered bazaar, definitely a tourist trap but so worth it to go

Guess what we did next?  (Well, after some walking and walking to see a few other notable places in the area) We went to the Grand Bazaar!  That was my second time there, then I went again last week so I think I’m done with it for a good while (don’t worry mom, I’ll be ready to see it again in August).

It’s super hectic with things to see everywhere and people shouting at you to look at their stuff.  Every corner you’re bombarded with sights and sounds – it’s pretty overwhelming.  And plus, if you suck at bargaining like me you’re gonna get ripped off.  My advantage in Beijing was that I could speak Chinese with them (earns me brownie points and gives me confidence), here, none of that.  It’s an experience no one should miss though if you’re coming to Istanbul.

There are different sections in the bazaar selling different things

For the time being though, I’m gonna stick to some of the less touristed places in Istanbul where there’s either no bargaining or there are less people coming by to rip off so I have a better shot.  My two favorites are near the mosque in Ortaköy and an alley I just found last week off İstiklal.  It was just a bunch of stands with piles of clothes on top.  Everyone was pushing up front to grab shirts (or shorts, or dresses, or whatever) and open them up to take a look then throw them back.  Got a shirt for 5 lira (about $3).

Next up, we walked to the Spice Market which is pretty close to the Grand Bazaar.  Inside they sell things like tea, spices (duh), lokum – aka Turkish Delight, dried fruits, nuts, and a few places selling purses and jewelry.

The Spice Bazaar sells spices, tea, dried fruits, and much more

Each time I go I can’t resist getting a baggie of the dried fruits with nuts stuck inside – so good!  Once again I heard the person saying they sell poison for your mother in law.  It was still funny to hear the second time.  My other favorite line, from the Grand Bazaar, that completely didn’t work was, “Lady, come let me sell you something you don’t need!”  Yeah, that’ll work.  Not with my dad, but with the other Au pairs I heard, “You like?  Come inside, let me show you my special collection.”  Um, I’d rather not.

After we were fed up with shopping, we walked to the Galata Bridge and had a fish sandwich  from underneath.  It was only the next week that I read you should never get one from there because they’re way overpriced and mediocre and that instead you should buy them from the boats cooking them up right by the bridge.  Oh well, next time.  At least from under the bridge there was a great view of the New Mosque and of Galata Tower on the other side.

The New Mosque, or Yeni Camii, at the end of the Galata Bridge

The Galata Bridge was lined with people fishing

View of Galata Tower from across the Galata Bridge






We crossed the bridge then walked up up up to the Galata tower, which was unfortunately already closed (apparently the closing time is for people already inside, they stop letting people inside a half hour before that).  To end our night we walked up İstiklal Avenue (that pedestrian street I told you all about) to Taksim Square then back down and grabbed a couple beers, Efes of course, from one of the side streets at a tavern that was playing live music.  All the Turks were singing along, dancing, and clapping – it was really fun to be there listening!

cool graffiti in the vicinity of the Galata Tower

times like these I wish I had a nice camera and could take wide-angle pics

The Republican Monument on Taksim Square







The next day we did some more walking on the Historical Peninsula (to the aqueduct and to a few more mosques).  We tried to go to the Botanical Gardens but they weren’t open on weekends.  We walked across to the Tower and finally got to go up inside – the 360 view of the city was amazing – especially after walking the Old City the day before since we were able to guess at what all the buildings were.  You can see up the Golden Horn side and the Bosphorus side, across to the Asian side… Istanbul is just so huge, it’s hard to wrap your head around it.

After, it was time to say goodbye to pops since he had to catch his flight so we headed back and I waved him off.  No preview this time of what my next blog entry will be… probably of Bodrum though – it’s a city to the south that’s on the Aegean.  My host family and I leave on Thursday and will be there for a week before returning to Istanbul.  Maybe I’ll do some more sightseeing before then though…

I’m glad you could visit me dad, thanks again and I hope you had a great time!

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So I lied, and I’m bad at updating

Here’s my belated post about Büyükada, the largest of the Princes’ Islands.  I’ve been twice now and I’d be willing to go back again.  It’s nice to get away from the city and even though the island is heavily touristed (by both Turks and foreigners), it’s big enough that once you get away from the main pier it gets nice and quiet.

There are no cars allowed on the island except service vehicles, just like Mackinac Island.  You can rent a carriage for an hour to take you around (still haven’t done this yet).  I was told that they’re usually pulled by Turkish horses – smaller and less impressive, but able to run for much longer periods of time.  Next time I go I’m definitely renting a carriage!

The carriages you can rent on Büyükada

The first time I went, I walked.  The island is BIG.  You should rent a bike.  The second time I followed my own advice and convinced the au pairs to rent with me.  It only costs 10TL to rent them for the entire day and even though it was reaaaalllyyy hilly there, it was nice to ride around and stop whenever we felt like it.

There are a couple beaches there too and that’s where all the young Turks seemed to be going so next time I’ll have to make that my mission (and to ride a carriage).  I’m messing around with the “featured image” option on wordpress but I’ll post this image here too just in case it doesn’t show up in the normal blog post.  Next up will be a post summarizing the sight-seeing explosion I did with my dad when he visited this past weekend.  If anyone else wants to come visit I’d be more than happy to show you around as well 😉

Note the bikes and old buildings

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Peace Corps and some funny quotes

Hello everyone,

Sorry for the lack of updates recently – I’ve been having problems with my camera and haven’t been able to take any pictures for a while.  So another picture-less post this will be.

This post is mostly an announcement about my Peace Corps status.  As many of you know, I was in the process of applying to the Peace Corps when I left the U.S. and was in the nomination stage.  I heard back from my recruiter and there is now the chance that I won’t be able to leave until around May of 2012.  So, I’ve decided to suspend my application.  I have one year to change my mind and they’ll keep all my information on file and I can pick up where I left off, but in the meantime I’m looking for a yearlong teaching position in China (perhaps Nanjing).  Gaining actual teaching experience will make me much more qualified for when I decide to re-apply to the Peace Corps, something I think I’ll do later in life rather than now.  But thanks to everyone for your support and I promise I’ll keep doing interesting things so you can have fun keeping up with me! 🙂

Now, to lighten this post up a bit, here are two of my favorite quotes since I’ve been here:

At my host aunt and uncle’s place: Host uncle: “Would you like anything to drink?  We have wine, rakı…?” Me: “No thanks, I’m good.”  “Beer?”  “Really, I’m fine.”  “What are you, Muslim or something?”  Everyone laughs, everyone is Turkish except me.  “Ok, I’ll have a beer.”  I think this really shows what Istanbul is like – yes, there’s the conservative, Muslim side, but there’s also the very liberal and modern Istanbul.  My host family is firmly in the later group of Turks.

Walking through the Egyptian Spice Market with my host mom.  We are ignoring all the shopkeepers yelling at us about their schtuff.  I hear from behind me, “I sell poison for mother-in-law!”  Hahaha, I almost wanted to turn around and see who this guy was and what he was selling (probably just spices).

Maybe you had to be there, but I thought these moments were pretty funny at the time.  Update to come soon about Büyükada, the largest of the Princes’ Islands, an hour ferry ride from Istanbul.


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Roman Holiday

I really wanted to title this post “When in Rome…” but I resisted.

There was a holiday in Turkey last Thursday (Youth Day) so my host family left for Rome – and took me with them!  The weather was just getting hot in Italy so standing in the sun was uncomfortable, but I’m still happy summer is finally arriving.

What I didn’t like about the city – touts in all the major tourist areas throwing noisy toys and trying to sell me straw hats and Asian-style umbrellas.  Let me be a tourist in peace – sheesh!  Also, I was part of the family’s Turkish tour group so I didn’t understand a word of the history he was explaining.  That’s what wiki is for though.

What I liked: Everywhere I looked things were old and beautiful.  So many sculptures and stone buildings, the messy streets that don’t form a grid, the little water fountains everywhere, and all the obelisks (the city of Rome harbors the most obelisks in the world – wiki).  I would love to come back and just walk around more and sit in a cafe somewhere and people watch.  There’s a whole area beyond the Colosseum that I didn’t get to see called the Palatine Hill (Palatino).  I love looking at ruins and a walk around there would have hit the spot.

A word of advice: make sure nothing in your purse even remotely resembles the shape of a knife when you’re trying to enter St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City.  My bag was taken aside after they put it through the X-ray machine and I was asked to go through it.  Much to both my and the security guard’s embarrassment my tampons had been mistaken for knives.  On the other hand, if you are trying to smuggle a knife in, I suggest using tampons in your first purse pocket as a decoy.  He didn’t even ask me to go through any of my other pockets he was so uncomfortable.

The basilica was BEAUTIFUL though.  I got shivers looking at it all.  Every inch was adorned and lovingly created – Michelangelo and Bernini worked there!  I’m amazed by how a block of stone can become a person adorned in rippling cloth.  Fortunately some random lady found me and gave me the history of the different artworks inside so I was able to learn what the different statues and mosaics were depicting.

Later on the bus continued around the city and past the Colosseum… I FELL ASLEEP WHILE LOOKING AT THE COLOSSEUM – WHO DOES THAT?!  Don’t judge though, I’d woken up at 2 in the morning to get to the airport and had stood in line all morning to get into the Basilica then the bus ride just made me so sleepy… I remember drifting in and out of sleep and glimpsing images of the Colosseum and trying to keep my eyes open.  I was so sleepy I started hearing the guide’s Turkish words in English and had weird dreams about the nonsense things my head was hearing.  Fortunately we came back another day so I didn’t have to beat myself up over it too much.

Lessons learned from Rome: never bring your 6 year-old to a crowded, historical city.  They will hate it and only want to go into toy shops.  They will also get very cranky from the heat and try to run away.  And I learned about the tampon thing.

All info about the pictures is from Wikipedia:

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