Istanbul IV: Taksim Square, Asia, and the Grand Bazar

To catch you up to speed check out earlier posts about my trip:
My travels around Israel
Istanbul I: Exploring The City + Suleymaniye + The Blue Mosque
Istanbul II: Topkapi Palace
Istanbul III: Hagia Sophia and the Cistern

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Well, it’s time for the last trip post. I know it took forever to get through it all, but it’s helpful having all this info saved incase I plan a trip back. And hopefully, it helps you with your trip planning as well.

For this last post (and basically our last day of the trip) we crossed a lot off the Istanbul to do list. One place which had been in the news when we were planning our trip was Taksim Square. Here we were mapping out our time here and yahoo’s front photo was the riots right here in this square.

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You’d hardly know it though! There were no signs of riots or any unrest, but there was a strong police presence.

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Toward one end it was much more crowded, but this area is clearly a more modern section of Istanbul with lots of shops.

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After exploring Taksim Square we met up at the dock where all the ferry/taxi boats come in. I think the ride cost us a dollar or two each, and we got into a boat which took us to ASIA! My uncle insisted that since I was the only one who’d never been, I had to touch Asian soil and Im glad we did this. It was super cheap and didn’t take much time. Plus it gave us a 10 minute boat ride on the Bosphorus.

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We even got to see the water-side of the Palace.

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The bridge where Europe and Asia meet here.

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I was disappointed there wasn’t a “Welcome to Asia!” sign. All I wanted was something that said “Asia” that I could point to and it was hard to find, but we found it.

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Once on the Asia side, we went for a short walk and decided there was more to see on the Europe side, so we hoped onto another ferry which took us back closer to our hotel.

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Another BIG thing in Istanbul which I haven’t talked about yet is the Grand Bazar! You can’t miss this place, and it’s truly unique.

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Here’s one of several entrances above.

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Not only is it a market indoors in a maze of passageways without windows, it’s also got an outdoor section. Above you can see the cats on the left. Cats are EVERYWHERE in Israel and Turkey. The whole trip we always had a cat within eyesight if we were outdoors.

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Here’s the inside of the market. It’s not packed with people, but it is packed with merchandise and vendors. Everyone talks to you as you walk around. You can’t just browse here. For fun I was looking at knock-off (or fallen-off-the-truck) handbags to get a sense of the pricing. Just by looking, the vendor, was throwing out numbers and “facts” about the bag. Knowing I didn’t want it, it was fun to see how low he would go with the price, especially as I walked away.

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Thankfully I didn’t really need anything, so the pressure was off me to buy anything. I bought one little soy sauce dish for the equivalent of a dollar. I probably over paid, but it was worth a dollar to me. And now I have something from the Grand Bazar!

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I actually really enjoyed the building where the market is held. So much stone and tile work. I wouldn’t want to be in here during an earthquake or fire (as exits are NOT easy to find).

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Another fun treat in Istanbul is the baklava. It’s so good and fresh from these bakeries spread around town. It was a fun treat in the afternoons to pop in for a piece of baklava.

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More kitties.

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One of the treats I bought for myself and as gifts for others is some soap. Brian, who I was traveling with, has some Aleppo (Iranian) soap that he got in Istanbul his last visit and he raved about it. This type of dried olive oil soap is very moisturizing and a specialty for this region. As someone with many soap allergies, this soap is completely natural and I love it. Buy soap when you visit.

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On our last night we walked along the water by the bridge.

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The next morning we said goodbye to Erica as she continued to tour around Turkey, and we caught our plane back to the US. I flew from Istanbul to Germany to Denver (where my uncle andI parted ways) and then on to LAX, where I took one of those ride-share shuttles o my house (about 2 hours later). Phew, it’s exhausting even thinking about it all. But it makes you really see how small the world is. How with a days worth of energy you can be on the opposite end of the world, that’s pretty miraculous.

Well this trip was amazing and I still feel like there’s so much to see in both countries. It’s also opened up my eyes to the beauty of the Middle East and how different everyday life is in other parts of the world. Well here’s to hopefully more travel in the future!

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Istanbul III: Hagia Sophia and the Cistern

To catch you up to speed check out earlier posts about my trip:
My travels around Israel
Istanbul I: Exploring The City + Suleymaniye + The Blue Mosque
Istanbul II: Topkapi Palace
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After seeing Topkapi Palace, we high-tailed it over to Ayasofya (or Hagia Sophia) hoping to get find a short line. All the popular historical sites are walking distance from each other, so it makes this jumping around pretty easy. We also used the metro system once while we were there, and it was pretty easy and handy.

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Above is the Hagia Sophia from the mid point between this mosque and the Blue Mosque. See how close they are?

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You can see this former mosque (and church) is currently being repaired. It’s no longer a mosque and instead a museum, so they charge admission. When telling people I went to Istanbul, everyone asks about this place. I liked it, but I also really enjoyed the Blue Mosque and the Suleymaniye Mosque a lot. In fact most of us agreed the Suleymaniye was our favorite Mosque. It was quieter, less crowded, up on a hill with beautiful views and the building was equally as gorgeous and well maintained as the Blue Mosque. Be sure to visit the Suleymaniye.

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Back to the Ayasofya. Once tickets were purchased we made our way in.

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Just as we got inside, my camera said “card full” so of course I was freaking out and furiously erasing earlier blurry photos and unfortunately some video so I could photograph this day’s sites.

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This late morning timing made for excellent light in the structure. I love the yellow of the light and the blue of the stonework.

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An important note is that this building wasn’t just a mosque but also a church. It was a church in 360 (it’s crazy old), and then a mosque from 1453-1935.

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It’s such an unusual architectural mix, to see the layout and structure so iconic with mosques and yet there are jesus murals and mosaics all around.

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After leaving the museum, we made a quick stop at another site from my tour book, as it was just across the street. We went to the Basilica Cistern. It was pretty inexpensive and worth seeing at least once. This is how water was moved throughout the city and was built in the 6th century.

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It’s a great place to take photos as it has a Venice water-ways feel to it. You just walk the paths, take photos and look at the koi fish below.

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There are 2 Medusa heads as part of columns in here. Since this was underground, built by slaves in the 6th century, and not meant to be seen as a museum, but as a functioning part of the city, when it was built they recycled these old Medusa heads to be part of columns within it. They weren’t even placed right-side up- they were just put in because their dimensions fit the bill. It’s a popular spot to photograph down here.

The Cistern is also seen in several movies (James Bond + Inferno) and written about in novels.

Next up: My LAST post of the trip, as our time here winds down. I’ll cover Taksim Square, The Grand Bazaar, and oh yes, my first trip to ASIA!

 

Istanbul II: Topkapi Palace

To catch you up to speed check out earlier posts about my trip:
My travels around Israel
Istanbul I: Exploring The City + Suleymaniye + The Blue Mosque
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For this post I’m focusing on Topkapi Palace. While Istanbul has many palaces, the palace is the one to see. It’s where the Ottoman Sultans lived for 400 years.This is such a prime site to visit in Istanbul, that we decided to start our day early here in an attempt to avoid the crowd. You can see above, we were the only ones with this idea.

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The patterns and textures in this palace are unreal.

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We decided to buy the entrance fee as well as a ticket to the Harem, which our travel book said was a highlight. And how often do you get to see a Turkish Harem?

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Some rooms seem to have no purpose other than to show off all sorts of patterns. So pretty.

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Of course a Harem has lots of beds.

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They are all about the patterns! Even down to the last detail.

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After exiting the Harem we walked the grounds, saw the royal jewels (amazing) and then had to continue on to cross more off our list.

Next up: we beeline it over to the Hagia Sophia, which is also a prime tourist destination. We wanted to go the day before, but the line to get in was so long we skipped it, so today we aimed to get there as early as possible.

Istanbul I: Exploring The City + Suleymaniye + The Blue Mosque

To catch you up to speed check out earlier posts about my trip:
My travels around Israel
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Last I left off, we were taking off on a Turkish Airlines flight and heading from Tel Aviv, Israel to Istanbul Turkey. Now it was about 80 degrees in Israel (even in November!) so I was wearing a long thin skirt, hot pick tank top and thin cardigan. We get off the plane in Istanbul and I notice that everyone in the Turkish airport is wearing dark pants, dark thick winter jackets, and big black scarves. Everyone was in dark gray or black. Um… I clearly didn’t pack for the weather of Istanbul. Since most of our time on the trip was to be spent in Israel, I packed for the desert. I’ve made a huge mistake. In the passport line, there were 100 people and I was the only one in colorful clothing and not in a thick jacket. Crap.

We arrived midday and took a car service to our hotel  in Ortakoy (wear I promptly layered up anything I had packed with long sleeves. We were starving and walked down the hill (Istanbul’s very hilly) to the water and ate at the Hanedan Restaurant over looking Bosphorus. 

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It was strange to think we were a quick 2 hour flight from Israel, and yet the weather was SOOO different. Everything was different. Israel is the Middle East, Turkey is very European (and Asian). Istanbul is a city in two continents, which I did not realize until we arrived. We spent most of our time on the Europe side (since it has the main city attractions) but I will talk about a quick trip we made to Asia in a later post. 

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Since this city is so hilly, there are beautiful views everywhere. Every restaurant we ate at the entire time here, had excellent views. 

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After our late lunch, the sun started to set (it was around 3:30p) so we decided to walk along the river and explore the city by walking until dark. 

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This is the view looking south into the touristy/historic section of Istanbul. See all the silhouettes of the minarets and mosques? So pretty. Plus in the evening (and several other times a day) they do the call to worship. It’s really beautiful and after a few times of hearing it, you get used to it. In fact it’s like a clock, as the singing alerts you to what time it is. It’s also helpful as a tourist because after the call to worship, the active mosques will be closed to tourists for about 20 minutes. So when you hear the singing, you know you have 20 minutes to get to where you want to visit. 

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This is at the Dolmabahce Palace. There are many palaces in Istanbul. 

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Not only does Istanbul still have pay phones, but they are all different animals! Too fun! What a photo op! 

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We walked well until after sunset (which happens so early). It was very beautiful and very very cold. 

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I was telling our friends Brian and Andy about my secret stair walks when we spotted these not so secret stairs. Up we go! 

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We meandered up and downstairs just exploring. It was a fun first taste of the city. 

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We passed many beautiful mosques and walked through Sanatkarlar Park (which was a little sketchy, so don’t hang out here alone after dark). We meandered into shops and a beautiful art gallery. 

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We made our way back down the hill to the main road and Tophane-i (Ali Pasha Complex Mosque), and caught a cab back to the hotel. We had 8p dinner reservations at the top of our hotel at the Meze Restaurant and we all needed to warm up. 

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Since it was chilly we sat indoors instead of on the terrace. More excellent views and a delicious meal.

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The next morning we decided to start our day at one of the many famous mosques, the Suleymaniye Hammam

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It was so quiet here. We were the only tourists for a while. 

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Since it was cold and I was wearing basically all the clothes I had packed, I had a hoodie on which was handy at the mosques. Women have to cover their heads and I didn’t bring a scarf (since I knew I would buy one while I was there- why pack one?). You also have to remove your shoes outside and you can see we (tourists) are restricted to certain areas of the mosques. Tourists men and women stay together, although if we were members there to pray, women have a tiny section in the back and the men get all this floor space above. It’s like this at all the mosques. 

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We walked through the Grand Bazare (more on that later) and then made our way to the back side of the Blue Mosque to a special lunch spot. 

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What beautiful walkways. It’s so European compared to the winding pathways of Jerusalem. 

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Above is the view of the Blue Mosque from our restaurant spot at Seven Hills. Even though it was cold, we had to sit on the outdoor patio level. How could we miss out on looking at these buildings. 

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Here’s the view of Ayasofya from the restaurant. 

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The Blue Mosque, above. 

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This is the inside of the Blue Mosque… it’s more red than blue- false advertising! It’s beautiful in here. This is also an active mosque (unlike the Ayasofya. 

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Prayer time was ending as we were allowed in after lunch. This was a beautiful yet very crowded mosque. You wouldn’t know it from this photo, but the tourist section is packed with people.

This evening we ate a special dinner at the Sunset Grill and Bar. It had beautiful views (like all the restaurants), it was a delicious meal and it was fun to be with good company. 

My next Istanbul post will be about our time exploring Topkapi Palace Museum

 

2013 Resolutions: The Final Weigh-in

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Greetings from a wintery Cape Cod. As you know I make a huge resolution list, and in 2013 it was no exception. HERE‘s my initial 2013 list. HERE is when I checked-in and took stock of my progress in July. And now here we are, on the last day of 2013 and it’s time I see how successful I was.

Resolutions for 2013:
– “SAVE SAVE SAVE!” – Check! In 2013 I knocked off 1 of 2 student loans and got rid of all my high interest loans. I’m hugely proud of myself for this because otherwise I’d still be paying off these loans at 50 years old. Just a little more to go.
– Go Cross Country skiing for the first time! – it didn’t happen in 2013.. maybe 2014?
– White water rafting. – I didn’t get to go in 2013, but hopefully next summer.
– Go kayaking – Check! I went in Cape Cod in the fall.
– Walk 5 times a week at least (mornings + nights!) – Check! I was pretty good about walking and added the Silver Lake Reservoir to my regular walks.
– Do a Monster Walk! – Nope, but I still did plenty of walking in 2013.
– Do more hikes from my hike book – Nope, in 2014 I need to hike more.
– More camping! – I hope to do a lot more in 2014 and I’m aching for it!
– Run a race! 5k and work up to 10k? – It’s about time I trained again.
– Whiten Teeth – Check!
– Do a secret stair walk with the facebook group and meet other stair walkers. – I still need to do this. It will happen in 2014.
-Do taxes in January (to get money back sooner!) -Check!
– Take an art class – Check!
– Do more artwork. I have the supplies, so no excuses! – Double Check!!
– Learn French I- Rosetta Stone – Check!
– Learn how to sew – Check!
– Learn how to knit – I still need to do this.
– Take vitamin b – I’m bad about doing this every day, but I’ll work on it in 2014.
– Keep up water intake! – Check!
– Clean bathroom drawer + cabinet – Check!
– Do projects from the Young, House Love book – Check!
– See a dermatologist – I’ve put this off for years now. It’s time.
– Read typography book I got for Christmas – Check! I’ve also read a handful of books in 2013, which is the thing I have the most trouble making time for.
– Clean out closet again this year- Check!
– Clean garage and organize with plastic bins – Done, but I wonder if I should do this again.
– Clean out wallet – Check!
– Clean out all emails – Check! But this is a life project and will have to happen again.
– Clean out computer and back up files – Check! But this is another thing that is a constant issue.
– Get a new cell phone – Check!
– Keep going out during the week -I’m always up for week night fun, I’ll sleep when Im dead – Check!
– Do more running outside – Check! But I still hope to do this more.
– Living on my own?? – Not this year, but it’s another year of saving for something better in 2014.
Improve my blog! Change is a good thing! – Check! I redid the header and I’ve been working away on my shop site.
Keep saying yes.. to everything! Yes to life! YES!
GROW A PAIR!

Trip Ideas:
O Visit 2 presidential libraries – Went to the Nixon Library, still need to see the Reagan Library.
O Take the train somewhere for a day trip outside LA -I haven’t taken the train, but I’ve been north and south for day trips outside of LA in 2013.
O Chicago again? -We shall see
O Beach camping up the coast?
O San Fran? more north? Portland? -I decided to skip this and some of the expensive travel items because I went to Israel and Istanbul with my sister and uncle in November. When I made this list last year I had no clue this was doable, and we made it real!

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Well everyone, thanks for reading in 2013! Tomorrow I’ll be posting my 2014 New Years resolutions and in January my Israel + Istanbul travel posts will begin. I can’t wait to share all of this with you, as well as all the excitement that 2014 is going to bring. My horoscope has been saying for years that 2014 is going to be a big year of change for me, and I’m really looking forward to the needed change!

Bringing Israel + Istanbul to Los Angeles

Every time I travel anywhere from home for a New England weekend or a month in Spain (which I don’t get to do either often), I like to bring back some aspect of that lifestyle. This can be a smell, a plant, type of food, or activity. Like after a visit to Cape Cod I’ll buy hydrangeas, cook more seafood, and take time to go to the beach. After spending two weeks in Israel and Istanbul, I’m noticing a lot has come back with me.

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1: Dreams- I can tell every night since I’ve been home, I’ve been dreaming that I’m still abroad. In my dreams people have heavy accents, and I wake up feeling like I spent all night visiting religious sites and walking the narrow cobble stone streets. Every morning I’ve woken up to the thought “where am I?” It’s disorienting, but a relief that in my brain I’m still on an adventure exploring the other side of the world.

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2: Walking- I always love walking, but when I walk it’s often to do a loop for exercise (or secret stairs) and not about walking due to necessity. In Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Istanbul, walking is an essential part of every day. In Jerusalem, it’s nearly impossible to drive in the Old City so you see people (usually women) with their rolling carts for groceries they’re buying from the stalls. Lettuce from one vendor, meat from another, dessert from another. Tel Aviv and Istanbul both have similar markets (the Grand Bazar) where people buy their goods. Today was a rare drizzly LA morning and it was a delight to walk from my home to complete all my errands and shop local at the farmers market. It reminded me that I may be in a very modern city, but by walking it made me feel very connected to the past.

80016dbe584c11e39bef0e0423ac1ff3_7 (Photo courtesy of @asherworldturns) I’m the bottom left.

3: The Spa Lifestyle- I have to thank Brian for this phrase. While in Istanbul we all were brainstorming about hospitality needs and Brain said he’s decided to live the “spa lifestyle” and the phrase has stuck with me. I also equate this phrase with Israel because of the Dead Sea. I brought back some Dead Sea salt (Ahava) and just took a soaking bath. Amazing. There’s something really special about that salt. I also brought back some dried olive oil based soap (a Turkish specialty) which made the bath extra fun. The Middle East knows how to do baths right. It’s made me think about redecorating my long neglected bathroom, as baths are calming and stress releasing which is key to happiness. It’s time I also embraced the spa lifestyle.

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(Photo courtesy of @asherworldturns) This (minus the chicken) was amazing. Hummus!

4: Food- Where to start with this one… I love hummus which was so readily available in Israel. It is common to order hummus as a meal. Just a plate of hummus with some pita. It’s all anyone needs in life. And mezze’s are what all meals should be: many tiny plates of food. In Israel it’s common to eat mezze’s before you even order any food, although by the time you eat the mezze’s you’re often too full for the dish you ordered. An example of mezze’s would be many small plates filled with mashed eggplant, hummus, olives, diced cucumber, plates of cheeses, guacamole (their equivalent), felafel, and so many more that are continuously refilled. Did I mention Israel makes great wine?

I think all travel is invaluable and you can’t put a price on these life experiences that end up changing parts of your everyday routine. It’s fun to travel and to see what everyday life is like for people in other places and absorb some of their ways. This trip has made me see how small this world is which puts things in perspective.

I’m baaaaack!

I made it back from my epic Thanksgiving Adventure! Turkey in Turkey was a success! I hope you followed along through my instagram photos. If not, no worries as posts will be up in the next week or so. It’ll take some time to organize all 1500 photos, but I promise to do it. Since I got in late last night I’m still catching up on work/blog emails so I’ll have my “Do This Today” post starting back up tomorrow. Here are some instagram photos (since the others are still on my camera):

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Temple Mount, Old City, Jerusalem

4b7e2b5e56d511e3a2bd12f060f13058_7The Western Wall, Old City, Jerusalem

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50083208560a11e3b148122f255355e2_7Mt. Bental (looking over to the DMZ + Syria)