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The Rambling Family

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Turkey

The Potato Rock

Today we had no plans, so we slept in til 8 and got the room packed up.  Fortunately we got to talk to Bryan on Skype, which was great since the kids are so happy in the morning.  Avi jumped up and down for him while Zoe showed him the pictures she had taken with her little camera.  We checked out around 11 and stowed our bags with the hotel owner.  He and the older gentleman have been such a great help. 

We sauntered up to the tram stop and crammed our bodies into the tram one last time for a final trip to the Grand Bazaar.  I was on a quest for a copper tea kettle and Bethany wanted to check out the jewelry again.  It was packed today!  The nice weather and impending weekend must bring out the crowds. Before going into the bazaar walls we grabbed some grilled cheese, hotdog, and muffin breakfast.  yum. and cheap.  After wandering around for a long time we stumbled into an old caravansary or han in the market.  It’s an old building that used to be a sealed off home with a central courtyard that housed travelling merchants and their camels.  The architecture was neat.  The other big success was finding the copper section where I was taught about the different copper pots and kettles.  Eventually I found one that I loved that was usable – many are lacquered for decoration and not actually usable.  The vendor wanted 70 lira, but after a lot of chatting, laughing, describing, and a potential sale walking away I got it for 45.  Sweet. I love bartering…especially here where they are polite.

 By the afternoon we were tired and hungry and low on cash.  To avoid hitting the ATM again we ate at mcdonalds.  It tasted as usual.  The big fun for the afternoon was a nice walk to the park for a leisurely afternoon at the playground.  Zoe had fun playing on the playground and throwing stuff into a puddle.  Unfortunatley she got her shoes and socks all wet and had to deal with cold wet feet for the rest of the day.  It was cool today, but sunny.  The wind, however, was cold especially when a cloud covered the sun.  brrr..  Avi really liked playing in a small field of daisies.  It was the perfect photo op below the Topkapi palace.  As the kids tired we got them setup in the strollers for a rolling nap and Bethany and I quested for a post office to send a postcard.  That took forever, but also took us past all the sights again for some lovely sunny pictures. 

We picked up some Chinese takeout on the way, and when the kids woke ended up staying for some tea and warming up.  Zoe enjoyed the Chinese tea and Avi enjoyed being the center of attention playing in their front window for all the passers-by.  Bethany and I were tired of walking and tired of the city and tired of the crowds, so at 6pm we rolled into our hotel common room to watch some Ice Age, color a bit, eat our Chinese, and do the blog before heading off for the train station.  We’ll do that in 10 minutes.  Our train departs in an hour and the walk over to the train will take us about 20 minutes.  Better to be early.  Tonight we ride the Bosphor Express from Istanbul to Plovdiv.  I’m excited to get to sleep.

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Crammed on a… bus? ferry? tram? Yes.

We slept in today and then wandered down to the Egyptian Spice Bazaar for some shopping.  Picked up the breakfast of Istanbully champions:  grilled cheese from a kiosk.  Yum..  Enroute we stopped at the train station to buy our tickets for tomorrow’s overnight train to Plovdiv.  One of numerous Istanbul kitty’s was at the train, and this one was super friendly with Zoe.  She has enjoyed all the cats and taking pictures with her camera of the random things she finds interesting.  It’s a great way to keep her entertained. 

At the spice bazaar we saw all the spice vendors, tea vendors, and turkish delight vendors.  In fact Zoe was rarely without a turkish delight in her mouth since all the vendors would offer her a free one.  She would lick off the sugar, take a bite, and then hand it to me if she didn’t like it.  The pink strawberry flavored one was the only one she ate.  Most were rose flavored which is my favorite! 

We wandered down to the ferry dock to find a ferry up the Golden Horn deeper into Istanbul; there was a church there Bethany wanted to see and this was a cheap way to get out on the water for a ‘cruise’ without committing the time and money to a half day adventure up the Bosphorus.  So, for one Jaton (tram, ferry, train token – $1) we got a mini cruise.  Avi needed a diaper change, so I did that and he freaked out.  I think he was tired….took a while to calm him and nursing didn’t even do it.  Eventually he decided Aunt Bethany was better than me and played with her.  She got him calm and cooing out the window.  The ferry was double-decker and we could, amazingly, wheel the stroller right on.  That is a rarity here…it’s a very non-stroller kind of city.  It took a while for us to find the right ferry dock as there is massive construction and we had to walk a ways around the construction area. Luckily we didn’t have to wait at all as a ferry showed up right away. 

When we disembarked there was a nice little playground so we had some playtime which Zoe really enjoyed.  It is such a nice sunny day today, thank goodness.  Such a difference in this city when it’s not cold and rainy.  We were in the Avansaray part of the city which isn’t a very touristed area.  Seemed very average-life, slightly dodgy, and a bit run down near the ferry but got nicer as we trudged up the hill to the church.  The walk was rough, but interesting through a ‘normal’ part of town and along an old city wall.  Eventually, with Bethany’s amazing navigational skills since we forgot the detailed description, we made it to the Chora Church museum.  It is another church-turned-mosque-turned museum dating from the same area as the Aya Sofya in the 350bc time.  The outside is small, but the interior was amazing with incredible mosaic of biblical scenes.  Zoe really liked the flowers outside and took alot of pictures; she also liked looking for mosaics of baby Jesus from Christmas….otherwise she was not impressed. 

Avi had fallen asleep on the trudge up the hill, but woke when we left the church.  We backtracked to another playground where Bethany watched the kiddo’s and I popped into a grocery for some picnic lunch – bread, jam, bananas, chips, pudding, and a drink.  Great lunch and a nice warm sunny playground.  There were a bunch of other moms – all in headscarves – out with there kids too, so Zoe had alot of fun playing with the other kids.  It was fun to hang out with other moms and kids; we all seem to laugh at the same goofy kid stuff no matter how different. 

After this we walked to a bus stop and collapsed the strollers for a really packed ride toward Emanonu.  It was so crowded that even with the collapsed strollers I was so in the way; people moved so Bethany could snag a seat with the kids and eventually I got one as well.  Unfortunately, the bus went TOWARD where we were going, but skirted it and started across the bridge to the other side of Istanbul (not in Asia, that’s really far).  We got off as soon as we could and walked back across the bridge to our area of town, which turned out to be quite a nice walk.  We got to see all the boats and people fishing off the bridge.  It was neat.  Once we got to Emanonu we lugged the strollers down and up the stairs onto the tram platform where we rolled onto a super packed tram.  To the point where I was running over feet and people were leaning over Zoe asleep in the stroller to fit their bodies into the car.  If she hadn’t been sleeping we would’ve done well to collapse it, but I won’t wake a sleepy Zoe. 

We took the tram back to the Sultanahmet part of town where the Blue Mosque and big sights are to wander for some nice sunny pictures and find an artisan center.  It took a while of wandering up and down cobbled roads listening to the afternoon call to prayer until we found it…there were artists painting and doing other crafts without any pushing or haggling for prices.  Bethany bought a trivet.   Our next goal was a rooftop restaurant, and here is the catch, WITH an elevator.  Found one!  Actually, I had spotted it a few days ago.  The view was amazing – out over the Bosphorus and up to the Aya Sofya.  We had a corner table with views and sun as far as we could see.  It was great, too, that Zoe was still asleep.  Avi was awake an happily ate his food.  I bought organic dehydrated baby food before leaving the states, and it has come in so handy. We carry that along for him and he is happy as a clam eating it; it’s also smaller and lighter than jars or containers.  Baby food has also been quite elusive here, so I’m not sure what he’d be eating if I hadn’t brought it. 

Bethany and I each had a nice big beer with a toast to celebrate our Istanbul trip….she had steak and I had fish as it was a fish restaurant.  The food was OK, but the view was awesome.  As always the servers wanted to hold Avi for a bit and take pictures.  He’s such a cute happy guy everyone loves him!  We have found that if we have an early dinner – like 5:30 or 6pm then the restaurants are empty so we aren’t disturbing other guests with our crazy kids.  We stayed for a couple hours and then walked back to the hotel via the lamp shop where Bethany finalized her purchase.  She also went to pickup our laundry.  There is a place up the road that will do it for you for cheap, so we had a bunch of clothes washed. what luxury! 

Tonight is our last night here at Yeni Hotel, and the owner has been so nice and helpful to us.  As I left this evening to pickup our lamps he asked if we wer happy and I said yes that we’ve had a great trip and thanks for all the help.  He told me he is happy if we are happy because I have such a kind heart.  I really think he has taken to us in a grandfathery way.  After seeing him interact very matter-of-factly with a few other guests I feel like we’re a bit special to him and the other older gentleman that does the jobs around the hotel.  It has been a nice stay.

And then the sun came out

After our big morning out – taking the hour long bus to the hospital, getting Avi’s arm adjusted, cab to the airport, train and tram back to the hotel – it was 1pm and I was sleepy.  He and I got back to the hotel while Zoe had spent the morning with Aunt Bethany. 

Zoe and Bethany stayed in for a while during the torrential downpour I walked through to the bus stop and then took the tram to the Cistern.  It’s a very old very large underground water storage area made from ‘leftover’ marble columns and structures from older buildings.  I guess Zoe loved it…she keeps talking about how cool it was and they threw some coins in the wish fountain.  There are some columns supported by older chunks of carved medusa heads – one was too big to lay upwards so it’s layed sidways. After that they visited the beautiful park within the Topkapi Palace walls that are right here near our hotel; I guess there were lots of kitties to see.  The stray cats here are everywhere, and kind of nice and tame….not too scraggly. Zoe fell asleep in the stroller so Bethany whiled away lunchtime at a coffee shop.

Meanwhile, Avi and I were getting situated for a nap back at the hotel.  It felt so good to just rest.  Bethany and a sleeping Zuzz came in after a bit and also napped.  We all woke up around 5 pm to an amazing site – the SUN shining in the windows.  It was awesome.  We haven’t seen the sun since we left Germany.  In fact, the owner downstairs told me this is the first time in some 35 years it’s been so cold and rainy for more than just a day.  Great.  We packed up and went out to the New Mosque (which is 400 years old) and the spice market. 

This morning while waiting for the bus I discovered where it was; I was wandering trying to find something for breakfast at a dry place.  The mosque was truly beautiful inside with tons of blue tiling and a wonderful big courtyard.  Zoe wanted to do a prayer while we were there.  As we left she bought a corn cob from a street vendor on our way to the spice market.  It’s really a neat place – candies, spices, teas, and the typical tourist Tshirts and stuff in a small version of the grand bazaar.  It also locks at night, which we got to witness since it was past 7 by the time we left. 

We found a nice cheapo cafe with an eating area in the market walls to grab some dinner, chill out, and watch the world go by.  During the call for prayer it was noticeably empty on the streets. Then as we walked back to the hotel we realized we hadn’t been out after dark yet.  It was a nice night so we grabbed some baklava for dessert and walked around.  There are lots of nice indoor/outdoor cafe’s in our area that just haven’t gotten business with the bad weather.  Tonight, though, its bustling!  Bethany even found a great deal on a lamp before we returned to the hotel for a nice shower and off to bed.  It has turned into quite a nice visit to Istanbul – now that Avi’s arm is better and the sun is coming out tomorrow.  No rush to see everything, since we have a couple more days.  I guess it has all worked out well.

The emergency cab ride and it’s aftermath

Last night after we returned to the hotel we started packing up for our early morning flight into Cappadocia (central Turkey) and realized we needed to get some money for the shuttle back to the airport.  So, I went out on a trek to find an ATM.  It took a while to find. 

When I returned to the room Avi was asleep, but still crying.  I picked him up to nurse and he wailed, but calmed after eating.  When he switched sides he wailed again and it became apparent it was his arm.  At first we thought it was just sore, but then realized he wasn’t moving it at all an it hung pretty limp.  If I held it close to his body he seemed releaved.  It seemed to me his arm was dislocated.  So, a few phone calls to Tricare Europe and he and I were on our way downstairs to the International Hospital of Istanbul. 

Flashback to the hotel room before I arrived:  Bethany was getting a movie on the computer ready for Zoe while she was on the bed beside Bethany playing with Avi. Avi was standing on the floor with his hands on the bed playing with Zoe.  They were both laughing and giggling and playing nicely.  Out of the corner of her eye Bethany noticed Zoe had Avi’s hand – not abnormal – then he plopped on the floor and wailed until he fell asleep.  It seems that Zoe had either pulled his arm or held onto it while he plopped down.  Dislocation.

Regardless, I was on my way downstairs where the nice man at the desk who speaks little English ran out to get me a taxi.  His buddy, I’m sure.  They were so nice and serious.  Isa from across the street also came over and was worried about his bald buddy.  He was super helpful since he is fluent in English.  I showed them the info I had from USAA about which hospital to go to, they said there were other hospitals closer, but I clarified that I need to go to that specific one and we were on our way.  Avi was wimpering, but seemed OK as long as I kept his arm swaddled tight and squished against my body.  The taxi driver definitely felt empassioned to become an ambulance driver.  He put on his four ways, honked and flashed at everyone while driving like a madman.  I decided just to look at Avi since the ride made me fear for my life!  He weaved and went 70 km an hour in town, and then 140 on the parkway.  It was nuts, but we made it.  The trip took about 20 minutes – it was well past the airport in sakelshoy. 

When we got there the cab driver just shooed me in with Avi.  It was a nice emergency room – no waiting at a desk, just go to a triage bed in a row of 10 beds separated by curtains.  No paperwork, nothing.  The nurse saw him first, and brought a translator for me who helped the whole time.  Avi actually had a bit of a temp so they gave him a suppository with a medicine of some kind to lower it and the inflammation.  The doctor came and I explained what happened.  He ordered 2 x-rays and within 5 minutes we were in the x-ray room.  Back up in the emergency department a pediatric doctor came to look at him and then the x-rays.  They just weren’t sure it was dislocated; since he’s so small it just didn’t feel the same and I guess it’s very hard to see on an x-ray of an infant.  Plus, his shoulder was fine, this would be an elbow dislocation which is odd.  So they called the Orthopedics doc at home who came in within a half hour!  He also looked at it and thought it dislocated but not convinced after seeing the x-rays.  He wanted it to rest for the night and see him tomorrow to let the arm rest, and lower the inflammation so when he popped it in there would be no muscle or nerve damage.

 It was all very serious and the translator did a good job.  They gave me a RX for some pediatric Ibuprofin and directions back to the hospital on the bus for the next day.  I did have to call Tricare a few times to get the referral in order, but it worked out fine.  Also called Bryan who was on his way to work. I was very impressed with how attentive they were and nice and into Avi.  I never filled out any ridiculous paperwork or waited ever.  They took his passport and my ID for copies, thats it.  So, after all that, and worried about nerve damage I went out to get a taxi back to the hotel.  To my surprise, my driver from earlier had waited!  He was so nice and concerned. I cant believe he waited the two hours I was at the hospital…without running the meter.  He took me to a pharmacy and back to the hotel…this time at a nice slow pace which took 45 minutes.  Avi fell asleep soundly. 

Our hotel owner let me use his phone to make arrangements for cancelling our trip to central Turkey (again) and said he’d be happy for us to stay another couple nights.  They’ve become our little Turkish ‘family’ – I think they feel responsible since we are women and kids.  We have come to realize Turkish people really like kids.  When I returned to the room I broke the news to Bethany and we adjusted our plans deep into the night….I was able to get on skype with Bryan for an update.  Finally, too bed.  This morning I took the bus (which was an adventure in itself with all the traffic) to the hospital and was again seen right away.  This time the inflammation was gone and the doc agreed the elbow was dislocated.  He set it and Avi stopped screaming right away!!!  It would’ve been nice to have that last night, but he is the doc and didn’t want to push it if that wasn’t the problem.  Since it was inflamed he wanted it to rest.  fair enough.  I’m happy to have a painfree baby boy and no nerve damage.  Thank God everything is fine, and thank goodness for Tricare.  We took a short taxi ride to the airport to get our flight refunds and then the train to the hotel.  Naptime!!

Bazaar Time!

This morning started out cool but dry; overcast and ominous, though.  With our pink umbrella in tow we made our way over to the nearest tram stop.  Bethany pushed Avi in the big stroller with the little umbrella stroller bungeed to the side.  Zoe and I walked with her and her ‘power band’.  Bethany knit Zoe a power band that goes around her wrist or waste and give the her the ‘power’ of freedom – as long as either me or Bethany hold the other end.  yeah, sure, it’s a homemade kid leash.  Its just so crowded and she wanders that it is necessary….and we were on our way to the Grand Bazaar!! 

We were quickly distracted by the need for breakfast and popped into a small local bakery to try some buns – we’ll call them ‘with’ and ‘without’.  With comes in a variety of cheese, potato, spinach, meat etc… and the guy will cut of a piece, or more, for you and then chop them all up together to eat.  It was adequate, but Zoe didn’t eat much so as soon as we found the bazaar she wanted a muffin from a cart.  Popped her onto the little stroller and we were off!! 

The bazaar is huge and crazy and like a giant maze.  There is a big main part that has very permanent shops and then it stretches out to stalls and the like in the outer area.  It’s all covered and has gates that still lock closed at night.  We were overwhelmed by all the jewelry, leather goods, ceramics, tourist kitsch, antiques, scarves, and more.  The men selling stuff were also fairly pushy – not as much as other places I’ve been, but it got old quick.  Bethany was on the lookout for some specific necklaces and I wanted to find the copper area, but we didn’t have much luck.  In fact we wandered around so much we ended up outside in ‘scarf land’ – an area full of shops selling Muslim womans headcoverings and attire.  After being hassled by all the salesmen we seriously thought of getting some kind of garb, or at least a proper headscarf holder (we both had on a basic scarf) but gave up.  We ended up spending a few hours wandering around and didn’t buy a thing!  Bethany only found one place that sold the style of necklace she hunted and the only copper kettles we saw were in antiques – not for us. 

Oh well, we were starving so we walked out to the main tram road, and then took an unfortunate detour down into ‘shoe land’ thinking there would be a good restaurant down the hill near the water.  Detour over, we came back up to the main tram road and plopped ourselves into a nice ‘crepe’ cafe.  It was like a tiny storefront of a cafe with short tables and tiny Zoe – sized stools for everyone to sit upon.  There was an older woman setup in the corner with a big round hotplate cooking huge flatbreads that we ordered with any number of fillings.  Zoe got a cheese one, that ended up similar to a cheese quesadilla while I got a spinach, potato, feta flatbread sandwhich.  Bethany tried the lentil soup and bread which was also good.  Full bellies, and no rain, and we were fat and happy and on our way to a highlight of an Istanbul trip: the Aya Sofya. 

The Aya Sofya is a huge place of worship built around 532AD as an Orthodox church..a church had been in it’s place since the 300’s, and Byzantine Emporer Justinian had this big cathedral built. It’s incredible that something so gigantic with such a huge dome could be erected at that time.  The interior had been filled with mosiac until Constantinople was taken over by Ottomans and it was converted to a mosque in 1453 by the sultan.  It was a mosque until the 1930 when it was turned into more of a museum as it is now.  It’s so interesting to see the Christian mosaics or bits of etched out crosses surrounded by or covered over with Muslim archtiecture or Arabic writing.  The interior is too big for words to describe and simply amazing.  One neat thing was yiaat there are switch-backing ramps in the corners of the building to get to the mezzanine overlooking the main worship area.  So we were able to push our now-sleeping Avi up in the stroller.  The upstairs area is where the remaining mosaics are, so we got pictures with them.  Zoe especially enjoyed finding the mosaic of Empress Zoe!  By this time, though, she was also ready for a nap so we left Aya Sofya and switched the kids. 

I took Avi in the kid carrier while Zoe napped in the big stroller.  From here it was an up and then down hill walk to the Archaeology museum where Bethany and I enjoyed some quieter time seeing ancient Egyptian, Persian, Roman, Greek, Ottoman and other sarcophagus and statues.  It was interesting and nice to be inside.  Again it had gotten quite cold outside in the afternoon. I was especially excited about seeing a huge black Egyptian sarcophagus and the reconstructed maps and floor plans of the ancient Constantinople Palace. 

Zoe woke as we were finishing up and liked seeing the statuary, well really the kittys, that lived out in the garden.  There are stray cats everywhere in this town – at all the big monuments, in all the big parks, and Zoe gets a kick out of seeing them all.  There were even 3 cats living inside the Aya Sofya!!  The cats make the trip fun for Zoe…Avi seems to like watching pigeons and other kids.  In the evening we wandered around for a bit looking for a cheap place and ended up just eating at “Ralphs” again.  That is the place we ate the first night we were here.  Its a cheap little cafeteria kind of place near the hotel – ‘Ralph” (we don’t actually know his name) makes 4-5 dishes each day and soup and we just pick some.

Cold Hands, a Mosque, and a Carpet

Woke this morning to a dreary rainy cold day.  yuck, but Oh well, we’re here. Walked to the train station to see about our tickets to Bulgaria friday only to be told they book the day prior or day of.  OK, will do. We then figured out the tram token system and took it a measly 2 stops, but up over a BIG hill and out of the drizzle to the Blue Mosque, or the Sultanahmet Mosque.  It’s huge!  The rain let up while we walked throught the old hippodrome toward the mosque.  Stopped at a street stand for a winners breakfast of hotdogs and cheese sandwhiches, which to our surprise, they plopped into a griller and made delicous! 

Saw a giant obelisk that is from ancient Egypt just outside the mosque entrance, and it is simpy amazing to me that people lived so long ago.  At the gate to the mosque were some guys selling umbrella’s.  I promised Zoe we’d get her a pink one if someone had one, and sure enough, there was a clear pink one dollar umbrella.  Sold!  We got more than we bargained for, though, and in a good way….a friend of the umbrella salesman helped us with the strollers over to the mosque entrance and told us to hustle since it will close in 20 minutes for prayer.  Well we rounded the corner for the non-muslim entrance to find a HUGE line.  Umbrella-friend man told us to follow him he was sure we could go a different way.  So he helped Bethany carry the stroller up a big flight of stairs to the primary entrance, got us our shoe-bags, and talked to the Turkish security gaurds who said it was cool that we use the Muslim / Turkish entrance since we had the kids and it had started to pour rain.  Umbrella-friend then, of course, let us know we should stop into his rug store if we got the chance.  well, maybe, I thought.  Anyway, the Mosque was gorgeous!!! 

We parked the stroller by the security guards, and took off our shoes to carry around in little plastic bags before going inside.  The interior is completely carpeted which is unbelieveable with the foot-traffic.  Must be a high quality Turkish rug.  The Blue Mosque is famous for it’s architectural style outside with numerous domes and minarets, and for the amazing blue tile work on the inside.  It definitely impressed and is huge.  When we left the rain had turned into a torrential downpour, so we ran around to the entrance to get our stroller and found umbrella-friend again.  (of course)   We took some more pictures and then he offered to help us out and show us his store.  I said sure…and it turned out great.

If you are open to a fun experience, then negotiating for purchases in another country is the most fun game you’ll have.  I figured we’d check out the rugs, get warm, and go, though I did want to price a bit out just to get a ballpark idea.  I kind of wanted to ~maybe~ get a rug.  I’d read about Turkish sales traditions, but also read they were not typically dishonest. We ended up at the rug shop for over an hour, but had a lot of fun.  First there were drinks – coffee or apple tea.  Bethany and Zoe opted for the tea, but I tried a Turkish coffee and it is the kind you chew at the end.  whew, strong coffee.  Then he told us all about Turkish rugs – the different kinds, the weave, the weft, the sizes.  All the while, his assistant is very flurrilously rolling out samples.  The salesman, not umbrella-friend who had left to snag more customers, was very fond of Avi too.  He kept rolling out rugs just in front of where Avi was crawling so he could touch and feel them.  Avi thought the whole thing hysterical.  Zoe had fun too, “working” at the shop and rolling out the rugs.  It was great.  At one point, though he actually rolled out one that was amazing.  We talked about the types of rug we liked and this and that, and I just couldn’t get my eyes off the one.  It was blue-ish with lots of intricate florals and patterns with a gorgeous sheen to it. 

So, the time came when he asked if any were especially appealling.  This is when we could get out, but I had to say, “that one”, because I loved it.  Of course, it’s the pricey one.  I say, “how pricey” and he tells me all about how it’s hand double-knotted, what it’s made of, it took 8 months to make, blah blah, and I knew it would be way too much.  So he points to another one and says it’s a few hundred.  I said I don’t like that one.  How much is the pretty one.  Well, it’s too much to say outloud so he types it on the calculator.  GAG.  Thousands.  GAG. again.  after that is negotiating and ‘your the first customer’ stuff and joking and he does drop the price a good bit, but I finally just have to say no.  He says, OK and the pressure is off.  Then he asks – and clarifies the deal is over – how much I truly am able to spend.  He wants to know for the future and because he really needs the cash to pay rent.  I tell him my measly amount and he is like, ugghh.  Anyway, no more pressure.  We get packed up to got and ‘Uncle’ comes down to see what’s up and there is discussion in Turkish.  Then salesman says I can have it – that it’s way under cost – that they’ll lose money, but need to get income today. and, the cincher, Uncle said it was OK.  WOW.  ok.  I amazingly negotiated you down from thousands to hundreds of dollars.  sold.  I kid you not, this was a nice, reputable, indoor permanent store.  Not the type of place I expect that you negotiate beyond 1/2 off.  Bethany and I agree we don’t feel the uncle bit was a charade, either. 

They packed up my rug and we were on our way, except that Avi needed to nurse.  So they led me upstairs into their home and let me nurse.  The lady who brought our tea and coffee hung out with me. Bethany and Zoe went out to get ‘evil eyes’ for her, doggy, and Avi.  They are blue ceramic eyes that are supposed to protect you from evil.  It was neat. They then wanted pics of Avi on the rugs and stuff, so I’ll email those.  It was such a great, fun, experience and I love my rug!!! Finally, we had to move on.  It was enjoyable to take that time to get warm and dry too.

We walked up the hill and around toward Topkapi Palace – the famous home of the Ottoman Sultans!  But first, we needed lunch and popped into a small kebab house for a delicous meal.  The highlight was the giant puffed up bread that came out first.  Zoe thought it was hysterical she could put the silverware INTO the bread.  As we left lunch, the call the prayer started.  Its incredible to hear the announcement echoing all across the city.  The afternoon was getting chillier and the drizzle was on and off, but we still went to Topkapi palace as it’s closed tomororw.  It’s amazing. 

Topkapi Palace is a huge palace complex with throne rooms, and jewelry and open squares and marble walkways.  Both kids fell asleep, so we had Avi in the big new stroller and Zoe in the little crappy umbrella stroller from Luftansa.  It made it nice for Bethany and I to actually listen to the audio guide and read signs, but also difficult because there are lots of steps and many rooms the strollers can’t go into.  Topkapi is definitely not stroller friendly  We just switched going into different rooms with watching the kids outside.  The hightlight, though, was visiting the harem because here you get to go into the place where people actually lived. 

So, the harem was where the sultan had all his concubines, wives and kids, and also just where his personal life took place.  It’s super neat to see.  The concubines and wives had a pecking order made apparent by the room they were alloted.  Then, the one with the son chosen for next sultan became head of the household and wife numero uno.  The sultan’s private rooms were the most interesting.  When you think of sultans hanging out on a big platform with cushions and a ornate decorations with food and women, then this is where you are.  It existed.  It was so ornate – beautiful tiles, gilt gold edging, intricate windows, domed ceilings, the whole bit.  Avi woke up for this, so he got to see it and seemed exited enough to chirp and hear his echo in a lot of the rooms.  It was funny.  I told him not to get any ideas about lifestyle. 

When we exited there it was downright cold and rainy.  Zoe woke and was hungry, so we hit up the cafe for some hot drinks and a piece of cake.  It was nice to warm up.  We finished out the palace grounds at the north end which is newest and still a few hundred years old.  There is a great view across the Bosporus and a beautiful ornate building.  Zoe had fun running around the gardens and up and down stairs…got some energy out.  Bethany and I were beat from walking around all day.  We walked out of the palace and headed back to the hotel, which is really close to the side entrance of the palace grounds.  Some of the area is a city park, and that is what we are near. 

After getting to the hotel we realized how late it was and went across the street for dinner.  The guy who runs the restaurant across the street is always hanging out over here and saying hi to us and stuff, so we patronized his place.  The food was similar to our lunch, but it was fun to have the attention of the staff.  Specifically Isa – the guy who hangs out front.  He is bald, and LOVED Avi – kept calling him, “my bald brother”.  They doted on Zoe too, and gave her meal for free.  She requested red fish, and they delivered..a small, whole fish, with red skin, though she noted that the part she ate was white. So nice to avoid a fish stick or fried crap on kids menus back in the states.  She ate the whole fish – well, not the bones and gills and fins and stuff. She then got to go see the kitchen since she kept nosing around the corner to see it.  It was a small cave of a place half in the basement.  cosy. She thought it was great that they had potatoes on the counter. Avi ate alot of his baby food and then Isa carried him around while we finished.  He showed Avi the mirror, the heater, the other waiters.  It was nice.  The best part of the evening though was returning to a warm hotel room.  We all went and got a hot shower together in the big shower room, and then snuggled in to watch a show…now off to bed for another big day tomorrow!

Getting to Turkey

Saturday morning we woke on time, finished tidying up Bethany’s house, got the cats situated, had breakfast and went out to catch the tram to Dusseldorf Hbf.  Our ICE train – the fast ones – took only 2 hours to get to Frankfurt which was awesome. We bought some wurst and pretzels on the way to the train since Bethany had booked us seats around a table.  The trip was going great!  We had alot of fun on the train watching Germany go by at 300km /hr and eating our food. 

This put us at Frankfurt airport 3 hours prior to our flight, so we checked in early and then went through security.  In security we were pulled over to the ‘family’ line which didn’t move for 20 minutes so we hopped back over to the regular line and breezed through.  Just as we finished getting our coats on, though, they halted security and cleared out the room….everyone still in line after us was rushed out and we were told to hurry.  Seemed dire, but then we got out to the terminal and all was hunky-dory.  The line to stamp out of customs took forever.  In the end it was good we got there with 3 hours to spare since it took about 2 to make our way to the gate.  Of course by this time both kids had had it, were hungry and tired.  We plopped at the gate. Zoe played with another little girl while Avi crawled around.  All was well, then things turned bad.

 They announced they would board, so everyone got in line, then they announced a 15 minute delay so everyone got out of line.  Zoe fell asleep on a chair.  Then they announce the plane needed new tires, and it would be 2-3 hours of delay.  If we wanted to leave the area we should be back by 5 (which would be a 2 hour delay), but to check the board for updates and they would announce any changes in the whole terminal.  So, we borrowed a stroller from luftansa and wandered the duty free, walked the terminal, and then went to mcdonalds for a coffee and I needed to nurse Avi.  We checked the board and it said the flight would board at 4:40 now instead of 5pm…so we packed up and headed down to the gate.  Well, when we got there everyone was gone!!! what!!!! The gate agents said they boarded everyone already – since there was a bus that had to take us out to the plane we couldn’t get on.  The flight still wasn’t gone, but we were SOL.  I freaked out. Then, more people showed up who missed the flight.  The gate agents said they made announcements, but no one heard them.  I did not hear a thing in McDonalds.  Anyway, there were quite a few people who missed the flight, disagreed about the announcements, and it all just sucked.  I felt so sick; you know that pit of your stomach sick. ugh.  felt like I would puke.  Bethany kept it together and asked for solutions..no other flights to central Turkey until Thursday, no options, no help from the gate agents.  Here’s a phone number.  gag.  So Bethany called it.  The phone people weren’t much more help, but she did get alot of our money back.

 After that fiasco we decided to look for the USO to use the internet. – but needed to go back out of customs, out of the security area, and into the main airport.  We found it and it was closed!  ugh. they closed at 3pm, which seems a bit early and inconvenient.  So, we plopped on the floor of the USO and got online the European way – by paying.  Internet is very rarely free in Europe we have discovered, so she bought an hour. Bethany realized we could probably switch our trip around and do central Turkey after Istanbul, so she found a flight that left Sunday and got us a cheap hotel at Frankfurt.  I kept the kids busy; by now they were wild.  We were in the basement of the airport, though, with very few people so I just let them run amok.  Zoe played airplane on a cart while Avi crawl around and squealed at her.  At one point I took Zoe to the bathroom and she asked if I was still sad.  I said yes, that I am responsible for her and Avi and Bethany and can’t stand that we didn’t make our flight and ruined the trip.  (at this point I wasn’t thinking we’d ever get to central turkey or our money back, honestly).  Zoe looked at me and said, “me too, mommy, but lets not be sad anymore.”  she grabbed me and gave me a big hug and then said, “headbutt!”  So we head butted to confirm that we wouldn’t let this keep us down.  What a crazy adventure!  Go team Pteranadon! She is an amazing little girl and lifted my spirits so much I felt less sick to my stomach and more determined to get us back on track. 

Of course, we then had to find our checked bag and stroller.  That took more than an hour, since it seemed our stroller was lost in neverland for a while and then appeared over in the bulky items corner.  The final blow to our day that started amazingly was getting on the wrong hotel shuttle.  gag.  it’s a chain and we got the wrong one.  That took time to figure out and fix, so by the time we actually go into the hotel it was 8pm.  We grabbed some, surprisingly cheap and delicious, dinner at the hotel bar/restaurant while I got online to book our flights for the change of plans, contact our hotel in central turkey, and get a hotel in Istanbul.  Needless to say this took longer than the 1/2 hour of free internet that was a perk of the hotel, but the nice lady behind the counter gave me codes for another full hour.  Bethany took the kids to the room and got them to bed while I blitzed reservations and plans.  To bed at 11.

Sunday morning we woke bright and early to catch the shuttle back to the airport where we breezed through security and customs and got some breakfast at McDonalds.  Today we did NOT stay in Mcdonalds where you cannot hear a singal announcement – we tested this theory and proved it.  Instead we waited at the gate to fly Tarom airlines (who’s heard of that?), the cheapest option, into Istanbul via Bucharest.  The flight boarded on time.  We did have to take a bus out to the plane, but it was great.  Our flight was also really nice! The food was great, and it came all packaged in cool little containers with a bag that hooked over the tray table clasp to dump your trash into.  neato.  Zoe got a kick out of it and loved her muffin, brochen, and also had a few carrots.  She didn’t like the baked ziti, but I thought it was good.  Avi also had fun on the flight.  He nursed and fell asleep, played with Bethany, tangled her knitting yarn, stood on the floor and played with stuff on my seat, and went through 2 diapers.

 It was a 2 hour flight to Bucharest, where we got off into a brand-spanking-new terminal that made Frankfurt look like a dungeon.Walked around the gift shop and let the kids run and crawl in the gate area.  There were a couple potted trees that proved to be great kid-attractors.  Zoe collected all the fallen leaves for her collection while Avi played in the dry dirt.  The kids have been so good this trip…I think the variety of transportation – like trains, cabs, trams, airplanes, shuttle buses, etc….is alot of the fun for Zoe.  Well, and Avi too, he enjoys watching vehicles and going up escalators.  When we boarded the flight to Istanbul we realized it was the same plane and we were in the same seats.  too funny. This time Zoe was in the middle instead of the window and got grumpy about it.  This was short lived, though, since she fell asleep as we were taking off.  Avi nursed, too, and passed out.  The flight was super short, but we still got a nice snack with a roll, cheese, and a little cake.  Tarom airlines was pretty nice!  Bethany also fell asleep though I kept bugging her to tell me what the words meant in a few German architectural magazines we grabbed from the free stack yesterday at Luftansa. 

When we landed in Istanbul both kids were asleep so I went out to get the strollers from the gate-check folks and got them setup.  By this time the plane was cleared out, so I got back on to carry out Zoe.  Bethany carried Avi and we had two still-sleeping kids which made for a quick and easy trip through the visa line, the customs line, and onward to baggage claim. I stopped by the Turkish airlines counter to change our flight from central Turkey to Istanbul into a roundtrip, which ended up being very easy and cheap to do.  Bethany and Zoe walked downstairs to the Tourist Information office to get some info and a map. 

We then hopped a taxi to the hotel – the cab ride was great as we drove along the water and got to see alot of the city, the strait, and then the old town from the car.  It was just starting to get dark, so the skyline was quite pretty.  We are staying at Yeni Hotel, which is in the old town just a few blocks from Topkapi Palace. It’s a funny little place with a twisting stairway, teal and yellow paint, mismatched linens, and a bright white neon sign out our window. It’s also a good price, in a great old building, run by a very nice older man, has comfortable beds, and a fun experience.  We’re in a room with three single beds – it’s a corner room with lots of windows.  Avi is in a lounge chair snugged up against the side of my bed.  The bath and shower are down the hall, and there is a bonus asian-style toilet for a little flair.  It’s great.  Tonight we asked the owner where to eat a cheap dinner so he directed us to a place just up the alley and he was right.  The lentil soup was great, the bread unending, the chicken kebabs good, and the meat balls spicy.  Zoe really like the chicken kabab and bread, of course.  cheap.  good. food. yum.  and the guy who ran the place was so nice and helpful.  So far everyone here has been nice and helpful. I’m so glad we’re here!! plans changed a bit, but we’re on our way!  Now, off to bed. I’m beat.

Lentil Soup

This evening we finally!!!!  made it to Turkey.  Details to follow, but it was a bit of a fiasco at the Frankfurt airport yesterday.  We didn’t make it into central Turkey.  But, today we made it to Istanbul.  Yippee.  We’re at the hotel, and will be heading to central Turkey later in our trip.  Tonight we walked down the street for a cheap dinner and had some amazing lentil soup with bread, chicken kabab, meatballs, and rice.  A feast of flavor.  Oh, and the guy threw in some breaded anchovies.  Zoe and I thought they were tasty.

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