Posts Tagged ‘around the world trip’

A Short Jaunt Back to London

Since Evan and I left London, I’ve wanted to go back. Luckily, we had tickets waiting for us (the last leg of the around-the-world trip plus our original return tickets). We thought we’d be using them over Thanksgiving, but since we’re still unemployed, we decided to move up the date and head out the first week of October.

We left what felt like summer in LA for what felt like winter in London — it was cold, rainy and windy. Thank goodness we remembered to bring our winter coats, though we should have brought hats, gloves and scarves, too. Still, despite the London chill, we were thrilled to be back in our temporary hometown and see all the friends we’d made.

We took the Heathrow Express into town, since we were staying right by Paddington Station, and started a new London adventure, where we mixed going to the sights we’d skipped over the first time around with catching up with our new friends and former co-workers. We even managed to sneak away to Barcelona for a few days to visit Bernat.

We’re back in LA now, but I’ll write more about our trip soon. Unfortunately, we didn’t take too many photos because it was so dreary out. But I may need to add on to my Top London Travel Tips guide with some of the cool things we did, like listen to an open orchestral rehearsal at St. Martin in the Fields and take a tour of the Chiselhurst Caves.

Oh, and check it out: Evan and I are front and center in the Tuttle Club photo on Tech Crunch UK since we went to the Social Media Cafe’s last meeting at the Coach and Horses. I wish I could be there now to check out their new meeting space at the ICA.

Check out our photos in Evan’s Facebook album.

Packing for an Around-the-World Trip

When we decided to go on our around-the-world trip, we knew we wanted to pack light. We didn’t know how much we would need to carry our bags and we didn’t know where we’d be staying each night, but we knew we didn’t want to be weighed down by unnecessary items. We went completely basic on this. Our packing list and what we’d recommend for any very lightweight packer:

  • Backpacks: We bought 50-liter Gregory backpacks (we could have gone even smaller) that were top-loading and had plenty of straps to expand and compress our space. When we checked them on airplanes, we tucked all the straps in so nothing would get caught or ripped.
  • Day packs: Evan bought a Domke camera bag that just looked like a small travel bag and concealed his nice, new camera; I got a medium size nylon, collapsible, zip-top purse. We also bought a small fold-up day pack from Kathmandu to take on hikes and other excursions where we would need more than our normal day bags would hold. The bag was very comfortable and folded up into a tiny pouch — definitely one of our best buys.
  • Clothes: We each brought…
    • 1 pair of quick-drying North Face pants which could roll up to be capris
    • 2 short-sleeve quick-drying collared shirts — we chose collared shirts to help keep the sun off our necks and to look a bit more presentable wherever we decided to go
    • 1 lightweight long-sleeve shirt
    • 1 warmer long-sleeve shirt or fleece
    • 1 bathing suit
    • 4 pairs of underwear (plus 2 bras for me — one sport and one regular)
    • 1 pair of socks
    • 1 set of clothes to sleep in — for us, it was shorts and a T-shirt
    • 1 long skirt (just for me, of course)
    • 1 headscarf/sarong (also just for me — and I bought it once we already started traveling)
    • 1 hat that provides good sun coverage (Evan ended up also buying a baseball cap along the way)
  • Shoes: We each brought…
    • 1 pair of Tevas/sport sandals
    • 1 pair of flip flops
  • Toiletries:
    • Toothbrushes and toothpaste
    • A travel-size brush
    • Hair ties
    • Sunscreen (SPF 40 or 50)
    • Basic makeup for me for when we’d go out at night (foundation, mascara, eye liner and lip gloss)
    • Shampoo and Conditioner
    • Deodorant
    • Pumice stone for our feet
    • Razors
    • Nail clippers/scissors
  • Other necessities:
    • Bug spray — 50% deet
    • Money belt — though we realized we didn’t need this once Evan found a hidden interior pocket in his pants
    • Mini sewing kit — we mended both Evan’s pants and my shirt
    • Laundry detergent — for washing clothes in the sink
    • Universal sink plug — also for washing clothes
    • First-aid kit including Band-Aids, neosporin, blister pads, hydrocortisone cream, Immodium, ibuprofen, Pepto Bismol, Rolaids and Benadryl
    • Pack towels, medium size — good for showers if necessary, as impromptu pillow covers on less-than-clean sheets and on day trips where you’ll be near/in the water
    • Plug adapters
    • Ear plugs
    • Toilet paper and tissues — came in very handy as long as we remembered to take them out with us
    • Anti-bacterial hand gel and wipes
    • Cell phones and cell phone chargers
    • Small Swiss Army knife
    • Guide books — we would buy them one or two destinations in advance

Well folks, that’s it. We did laundry every few days and tried to get rooms with balconies so our clothes would dry faster hanging in the breeze. We were surprised at how much we used things like the sink plug and the blister pads. If we were to do it again, I think we would both bring one more pair of pants, one or two more shirts, and two more pairs of underwear, though it was perfectly doable without any extra items — it just felt like we were always doing the laundry.

Another thing we would consider buying is quick-drying underwear. We laughed off the concept when we saw it at the store, especially since a pair cost about £11, but my underwear always seemed to take the longest to dry — and it’s certainly not an item you’d like to put on wet.

As far as brands go, we were very happy with our North Face gear — we both had North Face pants and I had a North Face snap-down collared shirt. We were also happy with our Gregory backpacks and all our day packs.


Evan and me in 1 of our 2 outfits, wearing our day packs and holding our hats. This is what we looked like every day.

I wasn’t as happy with my Berghaus shirt. Berghaus seemed like a good brand, and I liked their organic cotton shirts, but by the time we got to Turkey, a mere two weeks into our trip, the shirt had three holes where the back yoke met the bottom half of the shirt. These weren’t holes that appeared from anything I did, they were areas where the shirt wasn’t constructed properly — there wasn’t enough material to hold it together and it was coming apart and fraying at the seams. I tried to sew it back together, though there wasn’t much to sew. And another week or so later, one of the buttons started popping open at random moments and the whole shirt just started to look seriously ratty. I wouldn’t buy Berghaus again for travel clothes.

Evan also had some problems with his shirts. He had a Mountain Hardware half-zip shirt that suffered from snags right from the start, and his Kathmandu button-down started fraying around the buttons.

Our Tevas gave us some pretty bad blisters along the way. They got a bit better after a few weeks, but then they started coming back. It was nice to have shoes we didn’t have to wear socks with, but our feet certainly paid the price. Our shoes also developed a horrible smell — it started in Thailand after we wore them on our Marine Park excursion and they got wet. They never really dried out before we had to pack them up to fly to our next destination, and when we took them out of our bags, they absolutely reeked. We tried shoe deodorizers, soaking them in bleach and vinegar and leaving them out in the sun, but they never really recovered from the stink. The days when they couldn’t completely dry out — which happened a lot in Thailand — were particularly bad and embarrassing. I don’t know how we could have done things differently on this front, but I’d love to hear anyone’s advice on the subject. And boy were we glad we had another pair of shoes we could wear at least part of the time.

I bought a few items of clothing along the way because I did get bored with wearing the same thing over and over. I bought a skirt and a dress in Thailand as well as a shirt in Istanbul, but that’s it. We also picked up novels along the way — from swaps in hotel lobbies and used and new bookstores. We went through quite a little library by the time we were done.

6 Days in Kyoto

Getting to Kyoto from Bangkok involved a very long day of traveling, which seems to be a recurring theme on this trip. First we took a 5-hour flight to Tokyo, then had to hop on an hour-long train to get to the 3-hour-long Shinkansen — where we had to stand in the unreserved smoking car for about 45 minutes before getting seats. We also had a bit of a failure in planning here — we had no baht left to exchange for yen, so we didn’t get any in Bangkok. Then we missed the exchange counter at the Tokyo airport, leaving us with 0 yen, and thus no food or drink possibilities. We thought we’d be able to find an ATM at one of the train stations, but that didn’t happen, and when we finally got to Yamashina, where we just needed to take a Kyoto subway 4 stops to Daigo, we got stuck. Our Japan Rail passes wouldn’t cover the trip, the ATMs we found wouldn’t take foreign cards and at 10:30 p.m., we didn’t have any exchange options we could see. We were also caught in a thunderstorm. Thankfully, we were able to call the person we were staying with, Ted, to come pick us up. He even had dinner ready for us when we got to his house.

The front gate at Kiyomizudera

We spent our first few days in Kyoto exploring the city — going shopping, eating at vegetarian restaurants and checking out the temples. Kiyomizudera was my favorite, with its pretty trails, beautiful views and quaint wooden shrines. The complex also has a waterfall that people drink from to gain luck and knowledge — we made sure to drink up! We also spent some time in Gion, where we saw a Geisha in her full get-up, with white face makeup and all. Tons of people were snapping photos of her just crossing the road. There were many other women in traditional kimonos, but not many were fully made up.

We visited some other temples in the hills that form the city’s border, like Nanzen-Ji, where we walked through an enormous gateway and under a red-brick aqueducts and up into the woods to visit a small shrine by a waterfall. And we walked down the Philosopher’s Path, a quiet walkway by a canal, until we found Honsen-In, another temple, which was closed for the day.


A temple garden in Kyoto

We were able to scramble over to the Ginkaku-Ji, the Silver Pavilion, shortly before closing time, but were disappointed to find the structure undergoing a complete restoration — it was basically a shell of a building covered in tarps. The gardens, however, were well worth the visit, with clear ponds, stone steps leading up to a view point, sunny and shady areas, plenty of moss groundcover, and a sand garden shaped to represent Mount Fuji and the sea. We took a second loop around the grounds because we liked it so much.

The rest of the time we were based in Kyoto, we took day trips to nearby cities. Also, we were surprised by how hot Kyoto, and Japan in general, was — the heat and humidity made Thailand feel temperate, and we had to buy little towels to wipe the sweat from our faces. Who knew?

August 11, 2008

First, we took the Shinkansen to Hiroshima, where we visited the peace park. We saw the A-Bomb Dome, the ruins of a neoclassical building that was very close to the hypocenter of the blast, which was eerie — parts are still standing, other parts are totally mangled, and there are Japanese families taking photos giving the peace sign in front of it. From there, we walked on to the island where most of the park is, and saw all the paper cranes that comprise the children’s memorial, then went by the eternal flame and the cenotaph, which looks back on the A-Bomb Dome.


The A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima

We also visited the museum, which gave a detailed history of Hiroshima and a good amount of insight as to why it was bombed. It also had a lot of information on nuclear weapons and really showcased the devastation of the city through photos, models and artifacts from the day it was bombed, like warped metal girders, burned clothed, melted roof tiles and some gruesome victim portraits. The museum isn’t only a memorial of what happened there, though — it is truly a call for peace and an end to nuclear proliferation. It was very powerful to see such a tragedy turned into a positive mission.

After taking in the museum, we also checked out the memorial hall, a large, echoing sunken space with a fountain at its center and the names of Hiroshima’s neighborhoods set around it. Also, we noticed that water played an important role at the peace park — many visitors were leaving water bottles at the memorials — and we learned that it’s because many of the bomb’s victims died begging for water.


The floating gate in Miyajima

Once we’d toured the park, we were ready for some lighter fare and headed to Miyajima to see the tori gate in the sea. We took a ferry over to the island and were surprised to find lots of deer to greet us. We walked down the coast to the shrine, which was closed because it was a bit late in the day, then watched the sun set pink behind the bright orange floating gate.

August 12, 2008

Our second day trip was to Himeji to see the castle. From the train station, we walked right up the main road until it stopped at the big, scenic moat. We walked across the bridge and onto the castle grounds and went to the main tower — a big, white, multistoried building on a tall stone foundation. There were lots of small spaces for people to throw rocks or boiling water down on invaders, and these came in square, circle, triangle and rectangle shapes. It was also a no-shoes building, so we climbed the stairs to the top barefoot, carrying our shoes in bags. I don’t know why they insist in putting metal caps on the ends of the stairs for people going barefoot — it’s quite an uncomfortable climb.


Himeji Castle

The view from the top wasn’t all that great — Himeji looks pretty industrial — but it was nice to see the castle.

When we returned to Kyoto station in the evening and took the escalators up to the roof garden on top top of the cool modern bulding to take in the nighttime view, then walked across its glass walkways.

August 13, 2008

Our day trips started feeling like doing suicide sprints backwards — we started with the longest, Hiroshima, and just kept on the same train lines, going shorter and shorter distances each day. We definitely made the most out of our JR passes. The bullet train was basically our daily transport, which really helped us get back and forth quickly, though we wish we could have ridden the super-speedy Nozomi trains, which had better, longer routes.

Osaka is only a short ride away from Tokyo, yet it feels quite different. It’s much more modern, and much more crowded. We first went to the aquarium, since it was highly recommended. Apparently it was highly recommended to all of Japan, though, since there were some really incredible crowds. There were people blocking every tank and sign and women on bullhorns yelling announcements every few feet. It made for a pretty stressful visit, though we did manage to at least get a glimpse of the dolphins, otters, penguins, rays and whale sharks. The best part was a smallish exhibit with baby otters, which was set apart from the main path and nowhere near as packed.


Looking up at the Osaka Sky Building

Next on our sightseeing tour was the Osaka Sky Building, a transformers-looking structure, with two tall buildings attached at the top, with long escalators running to the roof garden observation point and a thin bridge at the 22nd floor. We made it to the top just in time for sunset, when the clouds and sky turned a beautiful pink over the sprawling city. And riding up to the top in the glass elevator and then taking the glass escalator the last five stories was quite a thrill.

Check out more photos in Evan’s Facebook gallery.

3 Days in Bangkok


Golden Buddha at Wat Pho

Sorry again for the long delay between posts — it’s tough to get a good deal of time to blog while on the road. I did keep up my journal, though, so let’s take a look at the rest of my around-the-world adventure, starting with 3 days in Bangkok, Thailand.

On the night of August 4, we took the sleeper train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok because we’d heard it would be a fun way to travel. In retrospect, we probably should have just spent the money on booking a flight. We rode in a second-class car, and I had an upper bunk while Evan had a lower one. The food was inedible, and there were no veggie options, though we had the good sense to bring some snacks. The car seemed to be infested with what looked like baby cockroaches — I squished quite a few, and saw many more scurrying about under our seats and on the walls. And sleeping on a train is no real substitute for sleeping in a bed, especially when there’s some anxiety about vermin, so we arrived in Bangkok exhausted.


Ronald McDonald saying “Sawadee-ha”

We caught a cab to our hotel — the New Siam III in Banglamphu, the backpacker area, but the room wasn’t ready. To keep from falling asleep, we went for breakfast at a nearby cafe, then went downtown to buy our Japan Rail tickets. We spent the rest of the day wandering around the downtown malls, and went to visit the Ocean World Aquarium, which is conveniently located in the basement of a mall.

The underground aquarium was surprisingly expansive, and we even got to ride a glass-bottomed boat around the top of the biggest tank. We also saw the sharks and sting rays at feeding time from the tunnel that goes through their tank.


The Grand Palace

The rest of our time in Bangkok, we visited more classic sites, like the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Wat Arun. The palace was as extravagantly and elaborately decorated as I ever could have dreamed, though a good deal of it was off limits, and at Wat Pho, we put coins in the long row of bowls along the giant, temple-sized reclining Buddha for good luck and a long life.


The towering Wat Arun

We climbed up the pottery-encrusted Wat Arun, also known as the Temple of the Dawn, which is the oldest temple in the city. And we spent a lot of our time traveling between sites on the express river boats, which aren’t too fast, but have good views, though the river is a scarily murky brown color, and they don’t get stuck in traffic. Still, we did take a cab across town once, and we ended up paying only a little more than we would have had we taken the sky train-express boat combo that we would have needed to get back — and got a comfy, clean, air-con ride for about $3.

Check out more Bangkok photos in Evan’s Facebook album.

A Temple Tour of Chiang Mai

We left Ko Samui on July 31 from its adorable, superbly landscaped, hut-based airport. It’s really very charming. We flew through Bangkok to Chiang Mai, where we rode in the back of a pickup truck, also known as a songthaew here, to our hotel — Your House Guest House — where we got a nice, big room with a big bathroom, air conditioning and a balcony for about $21. The only drawback is that we’re right next to 2 bars, which play competing loud music until 1 or 2 a.m.

Our first order of business was getting lunch, and we went over to Aum vegetarian restaurant and used book shop for our best meal in Thailand so far — eggplant, mushroom and tofu stir fry, and khao Soi, a peanutty noodle dish that’s a northern Thai specialty. Yum!


A temple in Chiang Mai

Then, we wandered to the river, where we were hoping to catch a boat. The boat was broken, though, so we turned back and explored some of the temples that were on our way. They all had elaborate dragon banisters, lots of gold Buddhas and plenty of colorful and shiny decor.


Temple ruins, Chiang Mai

We continued our temple tour the next day, with some of the larger temples in the city center — an area surrounded by a square moat and some old and crumbling defensive walls. Once again, there were lots of big Buddhas, dragon ornaments and red and and gold decor. We even got to see some young monks chanting in the main temple, then go on a procession around the buildings carrying flowers.


Royal relic tombs, Chiang Mai

We also visited a temple out of the city center that had a royal graveyard (or at least tombs for royal relics), which consisted of a lawn full of white structures that looked like a play palace complex.

Since it looked like it’d start raining (and it did soon after), we headed to the mall to go see The Dark Night, which we’d been meaning to see for a while. The tickets? 180 Baht for the 2 of us (about $5). Thankfully, there was no intermission, though we did have to stand for the national anthem before the movie started.

It was still pouring when we got out of the movies, so we hired a tuk tuk, a three-wheeled motor cab, to take us to the night bazaar. We shopped, ate and marveled at the expansiveness of the nighttime-only stores that sell everything from toys to clothes to dried fruits and more.

While walking home, though we got the surprise of the day — we saw a baby elephant and some people (its owner?) just hanging around outside of a convenience store. We didn’t go over to gawk or ask to touch it.

See more Thailand photos in Evan’s Facebook album.

Relaxing on the Beach in Ko Samui

bophut beach ko samui
Sunset on Bophut Beach

Our first stop in Thailand was an island in the gulf called Ko Samui. We stayed at the Smile House for the first two days on Bophut Beach at the north end of the island, which was a nice place, set back a bit from the beach, then we moved a bit farther out in Bophut to the Cactus Bungalows where we had a bungalow just steps from the sand.

bophut beach
Bophut Beach, Ko Samui

We spent the July 25 to 29 sitting on the beach, reading, napping and not going very far from our hotel. It was only on our last day on the island that we actually got out to do something — we went to Ang Thong Marine Park.

We took the Action Islanders Adventure speed boat tour, and somehow got on the slow boat. Well, the boat itself went quickly, but we had to make a stop at a neighboring island before heading off to the marine park, which was quite a bit detour. The ride between the islands was quite choppy and Evan was NOT happy — he’s not exactly a huge fan of boats or water. About 5 minutes into the ride, he turned to me and said, “I regret coming out here.” He decided to stick it out, though, even though our driver said that the trip to the marine park would be as bumpy if not more so than our first leg, and he took some Dramamine, which helped a bit.

When we got to our first stop — a cove to go snorkeling in — we relaxed on the boat for a while before going in. When we decided to put on our masks and head in, we both ended up having a good time. I was a bit scared at first, since I don’t like fish very much, but I steered clear of the biggest schools and the areas where people were throwing bread in the water, and some quite a few types of fish as well as lots of coral.

ang thong marine park
The Lagoon

Our next stop was an island with a saltwater lagoon in its middle — the island that inspired The Beach. We hiked up to a viewpoint, then hiked down to the lagoon, though you can’t go in. The hike was short, but it was on some super steep and treacherous staircases.

We then boated a short ways over to a picnic area for lunch where there were wooden swings between the beachside palms and beautiful views of other islands.


Kayaking — does the pose look familiar?

The best stop, though, was our last — kayaking. Evan and I shared a kayak, and our guide took us around a small island, going into some seaside caves on the way. It was beautiful and peaceful, except for when the guide started splashing everyone. We also stopped at a very small and quiet white sand beach to do a bit of swimming — definitely an island paradise.

Thankfully, the trip back couldn’t have been more different from the trip out — it was essentially flat, totally smooth cruising to Ko Phra Ngan. Evan said it it were always like that, boating could possibly be considered pleasant. The shorter inter-island trip was a bit bumpy, but it was pretty quick, and a one-eyed van driver took us back to our hotel. Thank goodness the sea got calmer and our activities were fun because aside from the trip over Evan did end up having fun.

Exhausted when we got back, we had a little snack, then while Evan napped, I read and napped on the beach, then had a Thai massage in a hut on the beach. It felt like I’d imagine a visit to a chiropractor would — lots of stretching and pressure — and I felt very relaxed when it was done.

Next stop: Chiang Mai.

See our photos from Ko Samui and our first days in Chiang Mai in Evan’s Facebook album.

12 Days in Istanbul

Sorry I haven’t written in a while — the keyboards in Istanbul are a bit hard to type on because some of the letters and punctuation marks are in different places, and I just haven’t spent too much time in front of the computer lately. Good thing I’ve been writing about my days in a journal. Here are some of the highlights…

blue sultanahmet mosque istanbul
The Blue Mosque

July 13, 2008

After our adventures in Jordan, we headed over to Istanbul on a very annoyingly timed 3:30 a.m. flight, which left us with no sleep for the night and brought us into Istanbul so early in the morning, we had to wait about 5 hours for our hotel room to be ready. In our waiting time, we had breakfast at our hotel, Hotel Tashkonak, on the rooftop patio, and took a short walk through Sultanahmet, the old part of the city where the Aya Sofia, the Blue Mosque and plenty of the other tourist sites are. Then once our room was ready, we slept the rest of the day.

July 14, 2008

Once we were well rested, we started exploring Istanbul in earnest. We started out with the Little Aya Sofiya, which is a pretty church-turned mosque with a graveyard surrounding it and a pretty domed roof. Then we visited the tomb of a bunch of sultans, which we happened to come across. All their individual grave markers/sarcophagi were standing like little houses under a domed roof.

Next we went to the Blue Mosque, or  Sultanahmet  Mosque, which is one of the most beautiful sights in the area. It has soaring minarets, domes everywhere you look and a lovely courtyard and garden. Inside it looks like a pretty standard mosque, though it does have some nice tile work, with mostly blue floral designs on the tiles. I’m glad I bought a head scarf when I was in Egypt so I didn’t have to use a loaner.

We couldn’t go in the Aya Sofiya, which is right across from the Blue Mosque, because it’s closed on Mondays — we explored it a few days later — so we headed across the street to the Basilica Cistern, an ancient roman cistern with a hodgepodge of columns taken from across the city and a vaulted roof. There were some carp swimming around in the water, and in the far corner, there were two columns whose bases were upturned Medusa heads. The theory as to why one is on its side and the other is upside down is that the Romans, being Christians, meant to show that they were just using the blocks as building materials, not worshiping false idols.

Continuing our super-tourist day, we went to Topkapi Palace, a huge complex for the sultans and their families. The treasury had an interesting collection, with lots of rubies, emeralds and diamonds, and there were some very elaborately tiled walls in the harem. It was also neat to learn about the palace’s history, complete with scheming concubines, murdered princes and the sultan’s mother ruling the roost while the sultan walked around in silver-soled shoes.

We also walked around the hippodrome, which isn’t much to see, except for two obelisks, a column and a fountain. It functions more as a pedestrian thoroughfare and makes a pleasant place to stroll.

basilica cistern istanbul
The Basilica Cistern

July 15, 2008

We decided to head out of the city for a day to explore the Princes’ Islands, a set of 9 Islands in the Sea of Marmara where people from Istanbul keep summer villas. The only transport allowed on the small, hilly islands are bicycles and horse cards, though there are some motorized vehicles allowed for the police, garbage men, etc.

We went to the biggest of the Islands, which we got to by ferry, and got some ice cream straight away, since it was a hot day. Then we started our walk to the monastery up in the mountains, which ended up being more of a church than a monastery, but maybe we missed something. The walk was really lovely — the big houses had huge gardens, and because of all the trees, we had lots of shade. There were also great views of the sea, the other islands and Istanbul.

When we finally got up to the monastery area, we had a nice lunch, explored the small Greek Orthodox church where people had left little trinkets, like watches and jewelry, in hopes that their prayers would be answered. There were also lots of white bags, papers and cloths tied to the trees and bushes on the path leading up the hill, which apparently also symbolize prayers.

July 16, 2008

We woke up to rain for the first time on our trip, but by the time we had breakfast and set up a lunch date with a friend who lives in Istanbul, it had stopped. Before lunch, we decided to tour Aya Sofiya, which is much more impressive from the inside than the outside. Outside, it looks old and staid compared to the blue mosque, but inside, it’s all gold and there are some incredibly detailed mosaics in its gallery. It would have been amazing to see it in its original glory, with its large open spaces and soaring dome, which were unfortunately obstructed for us by scaffolding put up for reconstruction work.

By the time we were ready to leave, there was a thunder-and-lighting storm raging outside, so we ran to the nearby tram stop, getting soaked in the process, and trammed and funiculared to Taksim to meet our friend who took us out to a lunch of traditional Turkish food. We had dishes like “The Imam Fainted,” a tasty cold eggplant dish, dolmas, stuffed peppers and pureed eggplant. I also had Turkish coffee with dessert — strong and bitter as expected.

July 17, 2008

It was time to see something of contemporary Istanbul, so we went to the Istanbul Modern, a great museum that showcases Turkish modern art. We were introduced to plenty of talented artists we’d never heard of, and toured the temporary “Design Cities” show, which showcased important works from cities that influenced popular design over the years. The museum also has a fantastic cafe overlooking the Bosphorus, though it seems like just about every restaurant in Istanbul has some sort of water view, which is always a nice touch. The rest of the day’s tour included a trip up Galata Tower and down the Kamodo Steps.

July 18, 2008

We thought we might avoid it because of our crazy experience at the bazaar in Egypt, but we ended up going to the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market anyway, and boy were we surprised. It wasn’t crowded, the shopkeepers didn’t hassle us too much, and the shops had some really interesting and colorful items. We also went in to a bunch of mosques, though at this point they all started looking a bit the same.

July 19, 2008

We had a nice relaxing day of sleeping in, then sat at a tea garden eating ice cream and baklava and playing checkers for most of the afternoon. Evan beat me every time.

July 20, 2008

We went to tour Dolmabahce palace — another home for the sultan’s, though newer than Topkapi and in a European style. The grounds were beautiful, with manicured gardens, fountains and little ponds with lily pads and an expansive view of the Bosphorus. Touring the interiors of the buildings, though, we needed to go as a group with a guide. The groups were pretty big, and the palace’s big rooms echoed and made it hard to hear our guide. We also kept running into the group ahead of us. Still, the building was impressive, with huge chandeliers, carved ceilings and a lot of trompe l’oeil painting. Touring the harem, our guide did a better job, though we had some rogue tourists who kept arguing with her and trying to strike out on their own.

After getting lunch at a vegetarian restaurant near Taksim, we took the metro to Levent to go to the mall. The Kanyon mall was huge, modern and gorgeous. It’s an indoor-outdoor multi-level space with posh shops, curving walkways and a spherical movie theater. We shopped a bit and saw Hancock — with an intermission that included commercials (not cool to interrupt a movie so abruptly like that and then make us watch even more ads!).

July 21, 2008

Lazy day lounging at the hotel, researching Thailand and reading. We ordered in food with the help of the super-nice staff at the hotel and spent a lot of time using their free lobby computer.

bosphorus
View of the Bosphorus

July 22, 2008

It was time to get out of the city again and go on a Bosphorus tour. We caught the ferry at Eminonu and took it up to Anadolou Kavagi, where we climbed up a hill to a ruined castle, where we had great views of the Bosphorus and the Black Sea, which were both a  tranquil turquoise blue.

When we got down from the mountain, we caught a bus down to Kanlica where we had a strait-side lunch featuring the town’s delicious yogurt, which really was better than any of the yogurt we had elsewhere in Turkey. We watched plenty of ships passing by and even saw a dolphin. By the time we were done with lunch, it was too late to visit any of the other sites we’d hoped to get to — just about everything around Istanbul closes at 4 or 4:30 — so we hopped on another bus to Uskudar, then took the ferry back to Eminonu.

We walked along the coast back to our hotel, passing swimmers and sunbathers on the rocks (there’s no beach there).

July 23, 2008

One of Evan’s brother’s friends who we’d met for drinks earlier in the week played tour guide for us all day. She brought us to a Greek Orthodox neighborhood where we visited a church and an impressive large high school on top of a steep hill. We also toured Bosphorus University, which as its name suggests has some beautiful views, then had a long and relaxing lunch at a waterfront cafe in Ortakoy.

We spent the rest of our day in Istiklal, hanging out in a cafe reading while avoiding some rain, then going out for a makeup birthday dinner, since in Jordan we never had one, at a rooftop restaurant.

July 24, 2008

With our flight to Thailand in the evening, we had one last day to spend in Istanbul and I knew what I wanted to do — go to a hammam/Turkish bath. Evan didn’t want to come, so he went on his own errands while I headed to the Cemberlitas Hammam, right near the Grand Bazaar. The Hammam dates back to the 1500s, and the men’s side is supposed to be grander than the women’s, though it was still a neat experience.

The main bathing room has a warm raised central platform, where most of the activity takes place. I started out relaxing there in my bath sheet while others were getting bathed around me, staring up at the small circular skylights in the pink domed ceiling, and soon an attendant came in to give me my bath. There was lots of water, soap and scrubbing with a loofah mitten. There was also a bit of a massage and I also had my hair washed in an adjacent alcove. The most surprising part of the experience, though, was that the attendants don’t really wear much clothing. Like only bikini bottoms. The guide book did not prepare me for that — I thought I was the only one who was going to be exposed.

Well, I chalked this one up to being an interesting cultural experience, and I despite some initial anxiety, ended up enjoying myself and feeling squeaky clean and relaxed by the time I was done.

Evan and I spent the rest of the day relaxing at the Dervish Tea Garden, drinking tea and playing backgammon. I won every time.

When it was time to finally leave, we had a nice time at the airport, hanging out in the Turkish Airways lounge, which was really nice (we somehow managed to fly business class to Thailand — our longest flight!). There was a business centers with computers to use, a big dining/drinking area, a separate kids’ room, a TV lounge and a sleeping lounge. The flight itself was fine — we both slept most of the way — though Turkish Airways has the worst business class food I’ve ever had, worse than most economy meals I’ve had. There were at least huge TVs, and on their flight monitor, we could check out the front and rear views from the airplane — it was quite cool to see it approach the airport and land!

Check out our Istanbul photos in Evan’s Facebook album.