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Adventures with John & Nina – The True Turkish Experience

There are a few famous places we enjoyed seeing in Istanbul and when you go there you shouldn’t miss them. Plan a day to see these places as they are located right next to one another.

At this point of living overseas, we had been to 33 countries. The year was 2006. We have lived overseas for almost five years, went on four repats and had eight eid holiday trips. Check out our previous blogs to find out more about repats and eid holidays.

Living in the Middle East we felt like we had plenty of opportunities to experience the Arabic culture. That is mainly why our former trips were spent in Asia.

This blog, however, brings us into another Middle Eastern Country - Turkey. This country allows more freedom than Saudi Arabia. Woman still dressed conservatively because it is a Muslim country, but not as restrictive to cover hands and face.

We started our trip in Istanbul. The time of year was winter so most of the days were rainy and cold, but that didn’t stop us for experiencing the true Turkish experience. There were so many broken umbrellas just left on the streets, due to the wind. Broken umbrellas just don’t do the trick of keeping a person dry.

In our preceding blogs, we mentioned that we love to walk and explore all we can in each country. Rain does not stop us from adventure it just adds to the ambiance.

Though we are not shoppers, Turkey is a place where shopping is part of the culture especially when it comes to carpets. The store clerk will bring you in, have you sit down, and offer you Turkish apple tea. It is a delicious aroma, and it takes a lot like hot apple juice, but much better. As I mentioned, it was rainy and overcast most of the time we were in Turkey, so a nice cup of hot Turkish apple tea, hit the spot.

After the store clerk gets you settled with the tea, he proceeds to open one carpet at a time, and discusses the history of the carpet and the material (silk or wool). Each carpet is uniquely made, and no two carpets are alike. We actually had the opportunity to watch a carpet maker use the loom- one thread at a time. We found out the process to make just one carpet can take over two years.

Seeing handicraft stores was also a highlight for us. Not for the shopping, but for the culture. We usually do our best to learn some pleasantries in the language of the country. Some Arabic is spoken in Turkey, but the main language is Turkish. One of the store officials taught us thank you in Turkish. As with most languages learning how things sound phonetically is the best way to pronounce them. We were told to say the following words fast “tea, sugar, dream”. We did our best to use this phrase; some people understood, and some just gave us a strange look. However, we were used to that look throughout our travels.

There are a few famous places we enjoyed seeing in Istabul and when you go there you shouldn’t miss them. Plan a day to see these places as they are located right next to one another.

Ayasofya (Hagi Sophia) is awe-inspiring--one of the first things to see when you're in Istanbul. Luckily, it's right next to the Blue Mosque and the Byzantine Hippodrome, and right across the street from Yerebatan, the Sunken Palace Cistern.

In Ayasofya, don't miss the best mosaics, on the upper level. The Church of the Divine Wisdom (Hagia Sophia in Greek) is one of the most impressive and important buildings ever constructed. Its wide, flat dome was a daring engineering feat in the 6th century, and architects still marvel at the building's many innovations.

The Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii) is just across the park from Ayasofya, on the Hippodrome. The mosque is closed to visitors for 25 minutes after each call to prayer, and for several hours’ midday on Friday. Istanbul's imperial Mosque of Sultan Ahmet I (Sultan Ahmet Camii) is called the Blue Mosque because of its interior tiles, mostly on the upper level and difficult to see unless you're right up there with them. This is one of Istanbul's premier sights.

Enjoy the monuments in the park of Byzantine Hippodrome. Istanbul's Byzantine Hippodrome was the heart of Constantinople's political and sporting life, and the scene of games and riots through 500 years of Ottoman history as well. It's now a calm city park called the ‘At Meydani’ (Horse Grounds) because of its function in Ottoman times. Monuments decorating the Hippodrome include the 3500-year-old Egyptian Obelisk of Theodosius, brought to Constantinople by Emperor Theodosius in 390 AD. You'll also see the spiral bronze base of a three-headed serpent sculpture brought from Delphi in Greece.

Sunken Palace Cistern is at the northeast end of the Hippodrome beneath the little park. Beneath Istanbul lie hundreds of gloomy Byzantine cisterns. They're left from the days of Constantinople.

One thing you don’t want to miss while in Turkey is the Bosphorus Cruise: They have half and whole day excursions up the strait that runs through Istanbul, visiting castles, palaces, and fish restaurants.

The voyage from Eminönü to Sariyer, a northern Bosphorus town on the European shore, takes about 1-1/2 hours, but the entire round-trip voyage from Eminönü past Sariyer to Anadolu Kavagi on the Asian shore and return takes almost six hours. Sites you will see along the way are Egyptian (Spice) Bazaar, the Yeni Cami (New Mosque), Central Post Office (Merkez Postanesi), Rüstem Pasha Mosque, Sirkeci Station and across the water is the home of a Karaite Jewish colony.

We had such an amazing time on the enjoying all the unique sites to this country has to offer.

Stay tuned for our next blog as we take you on our fifth repat first to the United Kingdom and then back to the US to visit family and explore our home country.

Don’t forget to check our Turkey itinerary. It is tailored for the most economical and exciting vacation.

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