40 Hours in Istanbul

Back in December, we started seriously exploring our options for a long visit with N’s family in Belgium. International airfare was considerably more expensive than the last time he went home, so we spent a lot of time looking at every possible route. Much to our surprise, it was cheapest BY FAR to fly through Istanbul.

With two flights out to Brussels each day, we determined we could either have a very short layover or a very long layover, albeit overnight. OR we could book as a multi-destination flight, and spend 40 hours in Istanbul, which is what we did.

After an exhausting and, for me, harrowing flight, we arrived in the early evening and were immediately overwhelmed. Istanbul is an enormous city, both in terms of population and geography. It is also populated by intensely crazy drivers, as we learned on our ride to the hotel. We were later told by a family member that riding in cabs in Istanbul cured her of her fear of flying. I would believe it!

Our hotel was located in the Sultanahmet district – tourism central – and anyone who has done any traveling knows it’s hard to really judge the nature of a city by these areas. With such a limited amount of time, however, we were happy to be proximate to the major tourist sites, which is where we headed after dropping our luggage. We arrived in the gathering dark, just in time for the final call to prayer of the evening. It’s hard to really explain how breathtaking it was.

Aya Sofya
We took more than 300 photos in the 40 hours we were there, so please assume that for every photo shared here, there are several more on my Flickr.

After a quick dinner followed by sahlep and baklava, it was back to the hotel for a relatively early bedtime. With our schedules turned upside down by long flights and time zones, we were awake half the night, falling back to sleep suddenly and soundly after the first call to prayer of the morning.

Turkish breakfast

After our highly satisfying hotel breakfast, we set off in search of the Spice Market. We found the Grand Bazaar:
Grand Bazaar

a number of street cats:
I am a crazy cat lady.

Istanbul University:
Minaret

and the beautiful Süleymaniye Mosque.
Süleymaniye Mosque

Süleymaniye Mosque

We also found urban chickens, a small botanic garden, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and a bridge across the Bosphorus:
Walking to Asia

We did not, however, find the Spice Market, despite quite a lot of famished wandering around on our part. Conceding defeat, we tracked down lunch in a very strange basement “restaurant”, crossed back through the Grand Bazaar, and went on to the Basilica Cistern, which was at the top of N’s must-see list. Built in the 6th century to provide water to the city, it can now be accessed from an unassuming building near the much more grand (at least above ground) Aya Sofya and Blue Mosque. It’s an incredibly dramatic place – hard to imagine the same grandeur from our contemporary public works projects:

Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern

From there, our day went a bit downhill. We arrived at Aya Sofya after it closed, and at the Topkapi Palace just as it closed.

Aya Sofya

N talked me into trying an ear of corn from a street vendor, and it was gross.

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The Blue Mosque didn’t disappoint, but also lacked some of the peace and quiet of the smaller, less centrally-located Süleymaniye Mosque from earlier in the day.

The Blue Mosque

After not getting to see any of the things I really wanted to see, the restaurant I chose for dinner either didn’t actually exist, or the map was incorrect. I was about ready to throw in the towel on Istanbul when N found a restaurant that didn’t have an annoying barker out front AND had Iskender kebab on the menu. I promised a street kitty that I would give her a bite of my food if she came back later, and let me tell you: it was hard to keep that promise.

Iskender Kebab

Iskender kebab face

We finished the night with Turkish Delight and a quiet walk back to our hotel before our early morning flight to Brussels.

A month removed from the whirlwind visit, I feel like we did a reasonably good job of seeing the touristy parts of Istanbul. We did a lot of walking, ate some traditional foods, and saw a few amazing things. Our long layover provided me with what will likely be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore that part of the world; while I enjoyed it, I doubt I’d go out of my way to go back. But stranger things have happened, as indicated in these warning signs:

Warning signs

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In June, I went to Seattle (again)

Annette wanted to do a destination race, and I had a $500 travel voucher to burn, so in June, we hopped on a plane to Seattle. We ran the Rock N Roll half marathon, saw a lot of naked people on bikes with Natalie, got sunburned (me), climbed a giant hill to eat amazing burgers with Emmi and Mike, and toured a library and took a ferry ride with Carly.

We had hoped to go to Vancouver for the last night of our trip, but poor (passport) planning on my part meant scrapping the border crossing and instead heading south to Portland, which was 100% as expected. We watched the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup, went to the Queen Bee mothership, saw some backyard chickens, ate good sandwiches, and were joined in an absurdly long donut line and a wardrobe_remix photo shoot by Patrick.

It was a good year for making good memories of the PNW. Here’s to more of the same in 2014!

2014 Resolutions

  1. Eliminate my credit card debt. I made progress in 2013 but not as much as I’d like.
  2. Bike 2,000 miles. A repeat from 2013. I made it more than halfway thanks to hacking my commute, which resulted in biking more than 500 miles in the last quarter of the year, so this should be easy enough.
  3. Bake one new pie per month. A repeat from 2012, when I made this resolution and then baked zero pies. Savory pies count, but not quiches, as I mastered them a number of years ago.
  4. Leave the country at least once. A repeat from 2013, with the added incentive of loved ones of my loved one living on another continent.
  5. Read 25 books. This was my goal for 2013, but I fell short by several books despite increased commute reading time.
  6. Score a new PR. This means either besting one of my 2013 times in the half or 5K, or running a new distance.
  7. Complete at least one item per month from my Chicago bucket list. Because if I don’t make a list, it won’t happen.

Right Now

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  1. Settled in a great new apartment in a great new neighborhood with a great new roommate.
  2. Spring and maybe summer have arrived in Chicago. On Tuesday, it was 85 and sunny for my post-work run.
  3. A couple of great overnights in Champaign, and vacation on the not-to-distant horizon.
  4. Lunchtime walks in beautiful places.
  5. Lots of demands at work, but most of them are interesting and stretch me in good ways.
  6. So much good music in the next two weeks: Zoe Keating, Emily Wells, Front 242 (DJ set), Colin Stetson, Four Tet (DJ set). And then Movement not long after.
  7. Back to back PRs in a set of races where I PR’d last year.
  8. A new relationship that isn’t really new at this point, but that continues to fill me with wonder and joy and peace.
  9. A battery of tests proving that I’m in excellent health.
  10. Horoscopes that tell me to follow my heart:

CAPRICORN (December 22-January 19): Despite everything I wrote to you last week about weighing self-gratification against fairness-to-others (which probably still requires some consideration), I can’t help but encourage you to veer slightly more in the direction of pursuing whatever the hell makes you happy. While it’s useful to reflect enough on your privilege relative to your friends or colleagues so you’re not blind to their potential responses, you can’t live a satisfying life by concentrating too much on assuaging others’ discontent. In fact, with multiple 5th-house planets now moving into a supportive trine to Pluto in your 1st, I’m sure you’re feeling pretty emboldened to make the personal most of any situation… and why the fuck not? These energies sure seem to be formally inviting you to intentionally put yourself at the unapologetic center of this week’s decision-making—and not just out of some future-minded commitment to ‘becoming your best self’, but in order to choose whatever will bring you immediate joy, creative fulfillment, and/or positive flirtatious attention. In closing, yes, I suppose I should reiterate the possibility that certain social allegiances could suffer tension, as envious or disapproving others react to seeing you so unapologetically serve your own pleasure. Maybe it’s because they’ve become too accustomed to you taking care of their needs first?

The Bahamas

A prelude from the Lakefront on a cold Wednesday in February. I had errands to run, and good company, so I played hooky, signed a new lease, and walked by the lake in the falling snow.

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24 hours later:

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Ocean!

Sunset, Day 1

On Friday, we borrowed bikes from the resort and rode all over the central island

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– from the resort to Port Lucaya

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Miami Vice

then to the International Bazaar

International Bazaar

Payphones

then to downtown Freeport, where we visited the post office and the only vegetarian-focused store on the island, then back to our resort, 20 miles in total.

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This was my first time traveling with Karen – my first time traveling with anyone except a partner since the road trips to Bonnaroo – and it worked splendidly. We complained in equal measure, shared a mutual disinterest in being social with other resort guests, and savored naps and free girlie cocktails. We avoided the resort staff like the plague, called in a noise complaint at midnight, and were unduly interested in Cool Dad’s mealtime choices. On our last day, we didn’t do a damned thing.

Doin' it right

Braids!

And it was perfect.

Beach. Sunset.

Happy