Day 7 Ephesus and Turkish Carpets

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Every year when we gather for
Thanksgiving, I ask my family to go through the ritual of saying what we are most thankful for that has passed in the previous year. I am sitting at the moment in a generic looking lobby of a resort hotel in Kusadasi, Turkey, thinking of my daughter in Klamath with the turkey in the oven and safe in a warm house. I am thankful that my family, each of them, has a safe warm home to live in, and good food to eat, and that I have a family. Truly thankful.
I am much less tired this evening than I was when we arrived here in Kusadasi. It’s nice to spend more than one night in a row in a place. Today Mo and I decided to skip out on one of the optional tours and just walk around town and check things out on our own. Nice. Kusadasi is a very popular beach resort town during the summertime, but at this time of year, things have quieted down a bit and it’s really quite lovely.
After breakfast today we all loaded up for the trip to Ephesus. In addition to the ruins, we saw the final home of Mary, Mother of Jesus, at least according to local legend and tradition. This is supposedly the place the John the Disciple brought the mother of Jesus to keep her safe and cared for until she died peacefully many years later. True or not, the shrine was lovely, beautiful and peaceful. Again, it was perched on top of the highest mountain around, with amazing views of the countryside and the distant Aegean Sea. From the road the ruins of Ephesus are visible, as a city much larger than what has been excavated so far.
I had no idea what to expect from Ephesus. I knew it was a cultural center during Hellenistic times, that it mentioned in the bible, that Paul wrote letters to the Ephesians, which I read several times as a teenager, but to be in the city of Ephesus was a surprise. At first, it was a bit of a disappointment. It would take a lot to outdo the magnificence of those huge white columns we saw yesterday at Pergamon, and from the upper road, Ephesus isn’t very impressive. But as we continued to walk the old roads, deeper and deeper into the city, it was more and more obvious what a large, impressive, and civilized city this once was. We saw the baths, the latrines were good for a laugh, with our tour guide demonstrating how they were used as gathering places for the men. The library at Ephesus is truly impressive, magnificent, although much smaller than the one at Pergamon, where there were 200,000 volumes. Here at Ephesus, there were merely 20,000 books, but the edifice is incredibly beautiful. It amazed me to see how the archaeologists manage to piece the puzzle together as they reconstruct this city from the rubble and tumbled pieces of marble and stone.

The theater at Ephesus seated 22,000 people, and was built again in the Hellenistic style that fits the contours of the landscape. For my daughter, Melody, and for her friends in the theater, I took pictures of the backstage area at the theater in Ephesus, the place where there were only comedies and tragedies. Only later with the Romans were the lions and the gladiators brought in. The Greeks were so civilized. The pillars supporting the stage were still there, but after the Romans came, the lower seats were converted to a wall so that the wild animals wouldn’t harm the people in the stadium. You could see the doors where the lions entered the arena. It was interesting seeing the evolution of this magnificent city from a place of learning and culture to a place of Roman sports and indulgence. Ephesus was a surprising wonder.
After our tour of the ruined city, we went to a carpet dealer. I know it might be fun to sit in a little shop in Istanbul and buy a carpet, but I’m still not so sophisticated that I didn’t appreciate a little help. Of course the tour company gets a cut of whatever we buy, it’s like that no matter where we travel, but it still was a lot of fun and a great show. They had carpet weavers making several different kinds of carpets and explained the details of those differences, including the number of knots, the fibers and dyes used, and where the different styles originate. Then while we had a great lunch of Turkish pizza, cheese rolls and beer, we were wooed with a display of Turkish carpets that took my breath away. The emcee started simply, with a discussion of the simplest killims, and went on to talk about silk carpets that have hundreds of knots per inch and the skill needed to make these kinds of carpets. Then the show began. Men came out in groups with carpets, throwing them out on the floor with a flourish, one after the other, more and more, all on top of each other. The colors were thrilling, and then he said, take of your shoes and walk on them, so of course, sensory me again, was walking barefoot over thick silk carpets that went for 32,000 US dollars. What fun! I came on this trip, knowing down inside me somewhere that I would buy a carpet, and sure enough the silk ones caught my heart. Also they caught my breath when the one I truly loved was priced at 4400 US. Maybe not. So then the tiniest one, a lovely piece of silk artistry that I could hang on the wall, maybe a foot by two feet, was 1100 US. Maybe not. Ahh well, they were lovely to look at and wonderful to feel beneath my feet. And yes, I did buy a carpet, a keepsake for a lifetime from this delightful country. Only my carpet is wool on wool with only a couple hundred knots per inch, but it isn’t even dyed, it is made from the natural colored wools of the sheep. I am tickled. Included in the price is the customs, the taxes, the shipping, and in a couple of months my carpet will be delivered to my door fedex. Another nice thing about settling for the tourist carpet thing. It was surprising to see how many people in our group bought carpets, some more than one, and my fellow soil scientist bought one that was 10×12 for their lovely hardwood floors back in North Dakota. Glad I don’t have to pay that bill!!

After the carpet venture, we sipped on Turkish coffee and waited for our van. The van driver’s name was Abdul, and he turned out to be our very own scenery man, a much better trip than the bus to the “village” would have been. He took the 6 of us around the hills to high points over the sea and we got some gorgeous photos of the Aegean we wouldn’t have seen any other way. Home to our hotel, we unloaded our bags, and headed back out to walk the promenade, find a supermarket and a pharmacy, and enjoy the feel of the city, and the gorgeous views along the beach. It was a wonderful way to end the day, with the long walk, and back to the hotel room for a rest before dinner.
This hotel room is way too big, with two rooms, a suite actually, a huge hall, and still you can’t get two people in the bathroom at once. Very funny. But we have big windows that we can open, fresh air, and a view of the sea from the balcony if not from the room itself. Tomorrow we continue on to Pamukkale, although what else is on the menu is completely gone from my memory. Guess we will just get up, put the bags outside the door, and see what the day has to offer.

Day 6 Troy and Pergamon

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This morning started with the call to prayer once again, only this time it was still dark and there was no wind to interfere with the haunting sounds. I recorded it again, and then we managed to get our tired bodies rolling around in time to have the bags out the door by 6:30. Our stay on this one short night was in the Hotel Akol. I read several reviews and expected things to be dicey, but the beds were comfortable, the bath was clean, and there was even a door that we could open to smell the fresh air of the Dardanelles, even in the dark, you can tell you are near the sea.

We went down for another typical Turkish buffet breakfast of cheeses, breads, hard boiled eggs, and yogurt with many kinds of honeyed fruits. The coffee always is good and strong without being bitter, but I have yet to actually drink the official Turkish coffee, according to Suleyman, it’s ground to a very fine silky powder, boiled slowly in a Turkish copper pot and sipped carefully so you don’t stir up the sludge in the bottom of the cup. I’ll have to find some soon.

The first leg of the day was a short bus ride to Troy, Truja it is called here in Turkey. Suleyman is again very good at telling us the history and myths of the area where we are traveling. I have my trusty guidebook, “Eyewitness Guide to Turkey”, but I still enjoy his stories and his perspective. Traveling with 43 people is interesting, some quite nice, others a true pain in the neck, but so far we have managed to keep to ourselves most of the time, with nice pleasantries but nothing too memorable, good or bad.

Troy has been inhabited for several thousand years, for many reasons, no doubt, but probably most importantly for its strategic location on the Dardanelles, guarding this gateway into the inner reaches of Asia Minor, and the Black Sea. What was most interesting was the fact that Homer’s Troy was the 6th level of 9 different levels of civilization that have existed there. When the site was first discovered in the late 19th century, there were no protections in place and much of the wonders were looted, moved, sold, and lost, with some of the finest treasures lost to Germany, then to Russia during WWII. We walked around the ruins, listening to the history and the stories, and I looked out across the beautiful agrarian landscape thinking of what it must have been like to live here. Suleyman discussed the theory again that the cultures of this land existed for millennia without actually having any sign of war, with trade and communications between various people going on for a long time peacefully. But people were beginning to discover power, and war actually became a real concept right here in Troy, and even though much of Homer’s story might be mythological, the strategic location of Troy is undisputed.

As Mo and I left, she said that it wasn’t very impressive, and didn’t feel anywhere near as magical as the temples in Malta felt. I suggested that might be due to the “energy” of the place, the fact that Malta was probably a sacred retreat for spiritual uplifting purposes, and Troy was a city most often functioning as a defense against aggression and war. Maybe, maybe not, but while it was fascinating, it didn’t particularly move either of us.

Back into the bus again for a long drive across the countryside of Turkey, which is amazingly beautiful. We drove up through the mountains, past Mt Ida, mentioned in the Illiad and in the Bible, and winding narrow very high roads gave us our first view of the Aegean Sea. The fall colors have started to turn, and especially in the mountains there are oaks and what looks a bit like birch or aspen that are golden and yellow. The highway dropped down along the coast, through myriad small coastal towns that looked a bit drab until we started getting into areas that still had a bit of Greek influence from the time prior to 1923. It seems that there was some sort of trade made when Attaturk created the present country of Turkey, and a million and a half people had to be relocated as a result. Greek Orthodox people living in Turkey were relocated to Greece, and Islamic Turkish people living in Greece were uprooted and forcibly moved to this part of Turkey.

We had lunch in a hotel restaurant that can handle 43 people and continued on to our afternoon visit to Pergamon. I need the time to sit with a thesaurus so I can come up with words other than wondrous, gorgeous, magical, lovely, fascinating, dramatic, magnificent. These words don’t begin to do justice to what it feels like to climb up the narrow winding road to this temple remains overlooking Bergamon and the Aegean Sea. The history of this place is complex, with mythology and actualities mixed together into a plethora of images, but the hard reality of huge marble columns and quarried andesite walls is right there to feel and to see. The wind was blowing hard, with clouds coming from the west, but giving us breaks in the light that made it all the more delightful. Pergamon had one of the greatest libraries of all civilization, second only to Alexandria, and eventually all the books were moved to Alexandria. Pergamon was also the place where books were actually invented. Until this time, writing was on papyrus, but here they discovered how to use parchment. Since parchment was heavier and couldn’t be rolled, they had to cut it into squares and lay the squares on top of one another. Books. Here. In Pergamon. This was a place of worship and of culture, with a magnificent amphitheater built in the Hellenistic style that used the actual relief of the landscape as part of the structure. It was more than incredible. I need to work on my writing skills for this trip, I am sure, but these words will have to do for now. Thank goodness for photos.

We are on the bus again, and it is dark, after a lovely sunset over the Isle of Lesbos, which is visible here along the coast. Our destination is Kusadasi, where we will actually get to stay for two nights in a row. Ahhh. Dinner will again be some kind of buffet, but if we don’t get there till 830 or so, I guess we will be eating European style at some ungodly hour. Mo is doing better today, with her cold beginning to recede. Hopefully by tomorrow she will be back up to par all the way, and knock on wood, hopefully her cold will remain hers. No sharing needed!

Day 5 Traveling to Bursa

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GoAhead Tours seems to be of the mind that we want to see as much as possible of Turkey, even if a lot of it is at 55mph! We knew that when we signed up for the tour, we knew it was ambitious, however tonight at 6 when we arrived in Cannakkale in the dark after being on the bus all day it seemed like a much less acceptable way of traveling. Ah well. It’s a tour, and I am at the stage in life where I don’t want to be schlepping my luggage around train stations with languages I can’t read sending me off to somewhere weird.

We left Istanbul this morning at 730, after an early wakeup call and bags out the door by 630. The ride out of town was lovely actually, watching all the traffic coming in from the Asia side of the city made us all very happy we were traveling east instead of west. Just a short distance out of town, we took a ferry to cross Sea of Marmara to the town of Yalova. Nice little stop at a very modern grocery store with real flush toilets, and then on to the mountain town of Bursa.

The town of Bursa is really a very large industrial city famous for its textile manufacturing, but the part we were to see was on the mountain at the base of Uludag National Park, where we could see snow and the ski lifts. We visited the Green Mosque, named for it’s green tiles (aka the Blue Mosque and it’s blue tiles), then had lunch at a nice little restaurant with a view of the city. View of the city also means view of the air pollution, the price paid for all that textile work, I guess. Suleyman told us this restaurant had the very best most classic special kabob of all, and so once more I tried it, and once more the sheepy taste got to me and I couldn’t eat it. Now I think I like lamb, but maybe I need something done to it, like bbq, or that great morrocan honey coating I ate with the lamb I had back in Spokane one time. Memories of those Morrocan lamb kabobs are what I thought I was going to find here in turkey, but not so far.

After lunch, the part of Bursa we visited was charming, and quaint, with old and not so old men playing some kind of gambling game on the side streets and a very sweet, very little old lady collecting money for her little packets of tissues. I had an ulterior motive when I pulled out some Lira, she was just so cute and I wanted her photo. She smiled with me and then insisted on a cheek kiss, both sides, and one of our tour buddies, Gong, who used to be from China and now lives in Austin, took my photo with her. Gong is great, and has a killer camera with a lens that needs a man his size to carry. He introduces himself as “gong, you know, like the gong show”. He’s very nice. The scary part of all this, is that when you look at the photo, we match, the little old lady from Turkey has the same chin and nose that I do. She could have been my ancestor from somewhere, except for the fact that she was literally half my size. Still, it makes for a delightfully fun photo at least.
We then shopped at the Silk Market, since silks have been produced here for centuries and the shop was accessible at least. I found a great pillow cover in silk with images of Turkish horses and sultans that I love. However the big tourist bus got into a pickle trying to turn around on the streets, so we all gawked, while the locals looked entertained, and finally our tour driver Zach managed to get the monster turned around. Talk about being a tourist! Geez.

We all climbed back into the bus for the 4.5 hour drive to Cannakkale on the Aegean coast. The drive was boring for a time, but as the countryside opened up it was really lovely, much like northern California coastal landscape with rolling hills of very deep very dark soils and many assorted agricultural fields that were mostly harvested and barren. Views of the Dardanelles opened up to the north, the straits between the Aegean Sea and the Sea of Marmara, and the place where history has been made over and over throughout civilization. Tomorrow we will get more history lessons as we visit Troy.

Today however, Suleyman was focused on giving us a good picture of Islam as he knows it, and Islam as it is practiced in Turkey. Most Turkish people are Sunni’s, meaning that they do not have a hierarchy or a clergy. He explained the 5 pillars of Islam, and that all it takes to become a Muslim is to say basically ‘There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet’. Although he explained that the translation is somewhat distorted and said that the Arabic words mean more closely, “There is no deity but God and Muhammad is his messenger”. He tried to answer questions, but became a bit uncomfortable when I asked where the word “infidel” came from. Suleyman has explained to us how many Muslims pray 5 times a day, and that there are very specific, ritualized ablutions required before prayer, with the men all washing properly at the open faucets lining the exterior of the mosques. The women perform their ablutions in private however. He also said that he only prays once a day, and that many Muslims are reformed in this way, and don’t practice so intensely, yet still consider themselves devout.

Also, we have a large group of Methodist church members traveling together, and they are mumbling, “When are we going to get to some of the Christian history”. Tomorrow, I said, tomorrow. On this next day we will be seeing many of the Christian sites talked about in this part of Turkey, including the final resting place of the Blessed Virgin. It is really interesting having tour guides with different perspectives. In Malta, a Catholic country, we learned a lot about Catholic Christian history, in Thailand, we learned a lot about Buddhism, and here we have a chance to learn about Islam from a person who practices Islam in a sectarian country, without the scary connotations that we have in the US at the moment regarding Islam. It’s one of the great things about traveling, I think. That and the food. Ha!

We landed this evening in the dark in Cannakkale, close to Troy, with the smell of the sea and the sound of the call to prayer echoing all around the hills. Mo is fighting a nasty cold, and we were glad when dinner at the hotel had come and gone so we could go back to our room and rest for the next day of wild GoAhead style travel. I think after tomorrow, though, we will have a couple of days in one place to regroup a bit and relax. Suleyman warned us in the beginning that this was a teaching trip, not a relaxing trip. He meant it. Best part for me is plenty of knitting time on the big bus that manages a fairly smooth ride even on these narrow country roads. My sweater is coming along and who knows, I might get close to finishing it before this trip is over.

Day 4 or second day in Istanbul

I started this morning very early, waking in the dark at 430 am or so. Decided to quietly take a bath instead of lying restlessly in my bed. The bathtub here is small and narrow, but deep, and has a curved bottom that makes standing in the shower rather interesting. The water feels great, but in a bath I could see the brownish tinge that I had read about in some hotels in Turkey. Somehow, with the heat and the bubbles it didn’t bother me a bit. Mo woke a bit later and we went down to our buffet breakfast of yogurt, honey, muesli, for me and hard boiled eggs and corn flakes for Mo.
The group was going on the Bosphorus Straits today, a cruise between Europe and Asia, but we decided it would be a great day to be on our own exploring. After the bus delivery to the Grand Bazaar we had the rest of the day to ourselves. The Grand Bazaar itself it huge, with more than 4000 shops and stalls filled with “stuff”. Lots of stuff. More stuff. Especially jewelry, Turkish ceramics, and pashminas of every possible color and fabric. To think I bought so many in Thailand thinking I had something unique. I must say, though, the pashmina is a fabulous piece of clothing, warmth for cool breezes, a head cover for mosques, a blanket for a picnic, and just generally pretty. Lots of pashminas here in Turkey, as elsewhere.
After wandering for a time down the labyrinthine covered walkways we found a nice little coffee stall and sat for a cappuccino. Our host was young and charming and delightful, and his helper not quite so charming, but the Turkish men are so friendly and talkative, pushy, trying to charm you in to their “family” shop just around the corner, asking always where you are from, and in general being very sweet and cute. They aren’t touchy or pinchy or lewd in any way, which is nice, but after awhile it does get a bit tiresome being followed along all the streets by dark good looking young men trying to get you to go to their shops and buy something. Our cappuccino host, for 13Lira, made a lovely cup of java, and told us how difficult things are in Turkey right now because tourism has effectively died since the economic crash.

You would never know it to look at the streets though. They are filled to brimming with people walking and shopping. We wandered out the main gate of the grand bazaar looking for the Spice Market. The grand bazaar is the oldest shopping center in the world, but has become just a huge tourist attraction, and our guide said that the Turkish people never shop there. The Spice Market, however, is in the same section of the city, but much smaller and much more delightful, with amazing pyramids of saffron and spices of all kinds, Turkish Delight, a sticky sweet Turkish candy thing, and of course more pashminas and ceramics. We managed to get out of both markets with nothing more than a glass of fresh squeezed pomegranate juice. Very red, and surprisingly, very sour.
After a time, I decided that I needed a bathroom, which here is usually referred to as a WC, or water closet. In most of the city, the toilets are the squatting kind and cost a Lira or so to use. We saw no sign of anything at all so in desperation I asked a nice looking gentleman for a water closet, bathroom, banos? He nodded and smiled and then said, “wait here” while he ran down the street to get a taxi. Mo and I said, Do you think he is trying to get a taxi? And sure enough he was. I said no no, and then smiled and made a little short street squat to try to indicate what I wanted. To much good humored laughter, another nice man pointed us to a square with a WC.

Wandering through the market and the streets around the market, we found another square near the New Mosque, sat and watched the people and the cats for awhile, and then found our way to the tram station for the adventure of finding our way back to Taksim. The tram itself was visible, in the middle of a very busy street. We couldn’t figure out how to actually get to the station, so had to run across the street and climb a wall and go over a fence to get where we needed to be. Once there, of course no one spoke much English, so we pointed and managed to get a token, get on the tram, ride very quickly to the Funiculare (another tram going up the hill to Taksim) and emerged from the tunel’ into Taksim Square. This time it was good Mo was paying attention because I was so completely turned around who knows where I would have ended up.

Home to the hotel to rest a bit, write a bit, upload our photos and post to the blog from the lobby where we have wireless access, and then back to Taksim Square and the pedestrian mall. This evening, there were even more people than last evening, and again, everyone was walking very fast in both directions and most everyone was talking on a cell phone. It’s hard to figure out where everyone is going, except it must be the social thing to do in the evening. Thinking about the lifestyle here, with people in very small apartments with a view like our hotel room, and no outside, I can see why a walk on the mall in the evening could be a bright spot in a working day. We walked along once more, watching all the food preparation and choosing one that looked great for dinner. We had the meat thing called “kebab”, differing from “shish” kebab, with rice and tomatoes and chips (fries), and I made the mistake of asking for yogurt. In this place however, the delightful yogurt was strong as a fresh billy goat, and the kebab seemed like a very old sheep rather than lamb. Mo liked this much better than I did, but it wasn’t exactly a memorable meal. We continued our walk, looking for a bakery, where I found a box of mixed baklava for 15 Lira, about 10 dollars at the current exchange rate. I love the pistachio baklava.

Home fairly early, but a cold chill is in the air and it’s nice to be back in our room with full tummies and tired bodies. I’ll upload today’s photos and find my bed early this evening so that we are ready to get the suitcases in the hall by 630 am and our bus trip to Bursa and Cannakale tomorrow. Onward!

Day 3 or First Day in Istanbul

The Blue Mosque

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It’s amazing what sleep will do for you! The room is tiny the beds very narrow, firm (another word for hard), and low to the ground. But the water is hot, and not brown as I had read in some of the reviews, and we both slept really well until about 2am. I guess that was around 4 or so in the afternoon back home so maybe to be expected. There is even a window that opens and we listened to hard rain and thunder, expecting the day to come to be challenging. Imagine our surprise when we woke again to brilliant cool sunshine!

Breakfast in the hotel is a buffet, an interesting one, if not exactly superb, but there were good breads, goat cheeses, many kinds of yogurt and muesli, apricots and olives, and the coffee was strong but not thick and bitter as traditional Turkish coffee is rumored. As we dressed for a cool and possibly rainy day in Istanbul, I felt my spirits rising with the sun.

The bus is big and comfortable with huge windows and open space, so even though I am the seasick/carsick prone one, it didn’t bother me in the least. We began our morning with a trip back through the “new” part of Istanbul, Taksim Square, the location of our hotel, to the “old” part of the city, across the Golden Horn, a brackish water inlet estuary, and to the ancient portion of the city called “sultanamnet” which contains some of the city’s most significant monuments. We first stopped at the Hippodrome, where a gigantic stadium once stood at the heart of the city. Istanbul means nothing in Turkish, and the story is that it was once called only “the city” However the turks couldn’t speak the greek words meaning the city, “is stan” and it morphed into Istanbul, really meaning nothing at all. It was really the only city in the beginning. Most cities in the Byzantine era were smallish and in this city in the 3rd century the population was already a million. So people from the entire known world considered this place “the city”. The Hippodrome was the center of this culture, and we saw the Egyptian Obelisk brought in from the Luxor tomb in Egypt and the Serpentine Column brought in from Delphi in Greece, dating from 479 BC. It’s amazing to see that this obelisk has stood for more than two millennia, even with Turkey being right in the midst of 3 tectonic plates that generate huge earthquakes.

We walked from the Hippodrome to our first piece of magnificence, the Blue Mosque. The history of this building in incredible as well, and the name is simply taken from all the blue tiles from Iznik that decorate the interior. Suleyman, our guide, gave us some fascinating background on Islam, and mosques as houses of prayer only. A Muslim doesn’t belong to a particular congregation, he simply goes to a mosque to pray with like minded people at the proper times. The mosque was commissioned by a Sultan during the time when the Ottoman empire was declining, and there was controversy then about the 6 minarets which were said to be a sacrilegious attempt to mimic Mecca. It was huge, and gorgeous, and incredible, no matter. A bit overwhelming.

We then walked across the square to the Hagia Sophia, a much older building, once a Christian church when it was built in the 6th century. At the time, there was nothing in the world of its stature, and it was a place where people came from all over the world to worship. Later it was converted by the Ottoman sultans to a mosque, and much of the Byzantine art mosaics that depicted people, saints, Mother Mary and such, were covered up because images of people are not allowed in Islam. In the 19th century it was restored and some of the mosaics are now visible. It is a place of great wonder, and I overheard one gentleman whispering to his wife, “This has been on my list since college!” I also remember reading much about this particular place in art history classes as an example of Byzantine art, and one of the beginning places of art and culture in the world. Another amazing experience.

For me, though, sensory person that I am, the highlight of the day came as we were leaving Hagia Sophia at prayer time, and the Muzzein call to prayer echoed throughout the squares across the city. It was a moment in time, of really feeling the essence of a place, and knowing that you are in a spot that isn’t on the list of everyday. I am in Istanbul. Istanbul.

We had lunch at a great little place called the Pudding Shop, which as a cafeteria style eatery filled with amazing looking food. I had cheese stuffed zuchinni, a stuffed pepper of some kind with delightful sauces. There was a photo of Bill Clinton on the door, and the owner standing there was very proud that Clinton had been there not just once, but twice. We walked along the streets after lunch, smelling the great smoky smell of roasted chestnuts coming from the street carts, and watching all the people. The place is filled with people and full of life and energy, even though it’s Sunday and some things aren’t open.

The last stop for the day was the Topkapi Palace, palace of the Sultans, on one of the 7 hills of Istanbul, Seraglio Point, where the Golden Horn, the Sea of Marmara, and the Bosphorus straits come together. In Byzantine times, monasteries and public buildings were on this site, and later it became the residence of Sultans for more than 400 years. It is now a rambling museum, filled with glittering collections of the royal treasury including an 84 carat diamond, a collection of sultan’s robes and other treasures. The views of the Bosphorus from the terrace were wonderful, and we looked across from Europe to Asia just across the water. The Straights of Bosphorus are the narrow channel between two continents. Once we leave Istanbul, our travels will be in Asia until we return at the end of the trip to this amazing city that sits in two continents.

Mo and I decided to skip the organized “Istanbul by Night” dinner and dancing and do our own thing instead. After resting for just a bit in our room, we dressed again in something a bit warmer and headed for Taksim Square, and the “pedestrian mall”, the hub of activity in this part of the city. The square is huge, and marked by a MacDonalds and Burger King, but once you are walking down the street, everything changes. We decided to follow our guide’s advice and had dinner at a nice restaurant called “Haci –Baba”, where we had lamb shish and meatballs from the grill and kabob menu. It was refined and delicious, but after we left there we walked down the streets with the throngs of people and saw food that was beyond anything I ever imagined. Especially fun is the way that they have all the cooks making the food in the windows of the restaurants, smiling and laughing with you, and smells wafting out the open fronts of the shops. I read somewhere today that there are only three unique kinds of cuisine in the world, French, Chinese, and Turkish! I am going to have to explore that whole concept a bit further, but for today I just thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful food and incredible atmosphere of this very energetic, cosmopolitan, ancient and fascinating city.

I told Mo today, a couple of times, I do really love this place, it’s incredible. I felt a moment of wonder as we crossed back over the Golden Horn with the mosques and minarets silhouetted against the skies and thought how incredibly lucky we are to have a chance for this kind of experience. It’s like pinching myself, reminding myself, I am in Istanbul. Istanbul!