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Archive for July, 2010

A Few Days in Istanbul

Kim and I absolutely loved Nepal.  However, we were both looking forward to heading into the westernized world once again. After a full 24 hours of travel and a bump up to first class on one of our flights (yeah!), we landed in Istanbul, Turkey.  We checked in to our hostel in Sultanahmet, the heart of historic Istanbul.  We had a few days to kill before Seth, one of my oldest friends, would join us for 2 weeks of fun!  We knew he would want to see a lot of the tourist attractions as well, so we spent our first couple of days running errands (shipping things home, haircuts, etc.), relaxing on our hostel´s rooftop terrace admiring the coast, and enjoying ice cold Efes, Turkey´s best beer.

We also made a lot of new Australian and Kiwi friends since they were all in town for Anzac Day.  This is a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand on April 25th every year to honor members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli in Turkey during WWI.  I think we were the only people at the hostel that were not from OZ or New Zealand!  When all them left for Gallipoli, we made friends with some locals that we spent an evening with drinking red wine, dancing and smoking sheesha (flavored tabacco) in their restaruant after hours.  What a great night!

 
 When Seth arrived a few days later, we only had a couple days to see the sites in Istanbul before we moved on.  We went ahead and booked all of our activities for his entire time in Turkey so we could relax and not have to do too much planning. First stop was The Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque).  It was built by Sultan Ahmet in 17th century and was supposed to be bigger, better and more beautiful than Hagai Sofia (Ayasofya), the ´greatest church in Christendom´, across the plaza built in 537 A.D. This is actually a working mosque so it is closed to visitors for 30 minutes, 5 times a day for Muslim prayer.  It get´s its name from the blue tiles that are inside, mostly on the upper level.  Even though the exterior was in my opinion, much prettier than Ayasofya, the interior of Ayasofya was breathtaking and more beautiful.  Both buildings are must sees, just be ready for the crowds.  Afterwards, we headed over to the harbor for a fresh fish sandwich and mussels and a long walk along the coast. That night, we hung out with all the Aussies and Kiwis that had returned from Gallipoli.  The strip of bars and clubs behind our hostel were filled with people enjoying themselves after such an emotional experience.   
The Blue Mosque

 

Dome inside the mosque

 

Seth and Me

 
 
 

The Aya Sofia

Inside the Aya Sofia

 

 

For Seth´s final day in Istanbul, we headed to the Grand Bazaar for some shopping.  What an amazing place!! They have everything Turkish you could ever imagine.  From tea and backgammon sets, to belly dancing costumes, jewelry, clothes, pashminas, sheesha pipes, to sultan hats.  We had so much fun wandering around for hours in the maze of shops with men shouting funny lines to get you to stop and look.  You could literally spend days in there and not see everything.  We also visited the underground Basilica Cistern.  It was built in the 6th century and later enlarged to provide water filtration for the surrounding buildings in Sultanahmet. 

 
 
 

The Cistern

That night, Seth and I went with some friends from the hostel to Taksim, a area where locals and tourists go out for a good time.  There are tons of bars, clubs, live music, and dancing for any taste.  Unfortunately it was Monday, so the scene was pretty low-key.  Even though we were told it was best to go on weekends, we had to check it out.  We still made a great night out of it!! If any of you know Seth….he IS the party where ever we go.

Istanbul is an incredible city. So alive and friendly! Luckily, Kim and I would be back in about a month but now on to Cappadocia!!

 

Our new Turkish friends

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Real Time Update

Big news!  I leave tomorrow to head back to the States, stopping for a few days in New York City on my way home to Texas.  After ten months and seventeen countries, this fantastic journey is coming to an end for me.  Kelly comes home shortly after another week in Spain.

Obviously, we are waaaaay behind on the blog.  Part of it has to do with us just being lazy, but mostly it’s because we’ve been trying to enjoy the rest of our time abroad and not spend too much time sitting in front of the computer.  However, seeing as I have no job when I get home, I’ll have plenty of free time to work on the site and get all our stories and photos posted. 

We can’t wait to share our adventures from Turkey (which we LOVED), Jordan, the Czech Republic, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Spain, and Portugal.  I hope that you will keep reading about the rest of our travels and how we adjust to getting back to ‘the real world’.

Personally, I have very mixed emotions about coming home.  Of course I am excited beyond words to see my family, my friends, my boyfriend (who I haven’t seen in TEN fricken months), get back to Austin for some proper tex-mex and a margarita, and have my very own bathroom.   But…another part of me is extremely sad that this whole crazy journey is over.  It’s been a hell of a year, and  I’m interested to see how Kelly and I cope to getting back into a ‘normal’ routine and not being together 24/7.  I’ll be sure and let you know how it all goes down…Kelly will have her own post about her feelings on going home as well, so stay tuned for that.

On that note, I would like to say thank you to my sister.  Looking back, I can’t even begin to imagine doing this trip without her.  She’s been my compass (literally), my backpack guardian while I went to pee, my translator, my comic relief, my confidant, and my best friend for the past year.  Thanks for being your amazing self and chucking it all to live my dream with me…I love you!

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Nepal Wrap Up

The Landscape

Nepal’s natural beauty is really beyond words. Seeing the the Himalayas so up close and personal is a draw-dropping experience. If mountain trekking isn’t your deal, whitewater rivers, tranquil lakes, valleys, forests, and jungle are all there for exploring. 

The planning of our round-the-world trip revolved almost entirely around our trek in Nepal. We wanted to make sure we got there while the skies were still clear, before monsoon season set in. I’m so glad we planned around the weather…a few days after we finished up our trek, the skies started to get hazy and views of the mountains were not nearly as good.

 The People

The Nepalese are incredibly hospitable. They love to chat with traveller’s and were always interested to know what made us want to visit their country. 

One thing that Kelly and I noticed is that guys are very affectionate with their male friends here. You will regularly see two dudes walking down the street with their arms around each other’s shoulders (even the little boys). It’s so cute. 

The Costs 

Nepal is not quite as cheap as Thailand and Laos, but it’s pretty close. We paid about $10 per night for a private room at a guesthouse and we would spent roughly $5-6 for a meal. 

If you decide to do any of the treks without a guide and porter, you can get by on very little money. A room at a village lodge is about $2 per night…meals run about $3. 

The Food

The primary dish in Nepal is dal-baht. This meal consists of steamed rice, lentil soup, a vegetable curry, and some sort of spicy pickled chutney. Locals eat this dish every day, both for lunch and dinner. It’s very tasty, and while trekking, Kelly and I ate it everyday for at least one of our meals. 

Dal Baht

Another one of our favorite local dishes were the Tibetian momos…small dumplings filled with veggies, potatoes, chicken or cheese. You can’t go wrong with a dumpling. 

Momos!

The Booze

Everest was our local beer of choice, although most of the Nepalese drink the Danish beer Carlsberg.

 

Roxi, the local moonshine and beverage of choice for our guide Powan, tastes a bit like rice wine. Not good, basically. 

Trekking Tips 

Make sure you have comfortable well broken-in shoes for the trek!!! This is the number one rule, people! They don’t have to be high-tech hiking boots, they just need to fit right.  shoes were a bit too small as well and four months later, I still have dead black toenails.

-Whether you buy or rent, be sure to carry a quality sleeping bag. It is cold as hell up in the mountains and if you have some piece-of-crap sleeping bag, you’ll freeze your bum off. 

-We recommend hiring a guide. One can definitely get by without one, but it’s a good way to get to know a local and ask questions about the Nepalese culture…it truly enhances the trekking experience. By the end of the twelve days, Kelly and I got to know Powan pretty well and were even invited to his home to meet his family (sadly, we were not able to take him up on his invitation as a result of some miscommunication). Also, there is no need to hire a guide before you get to Nepal…there are tons of local companies in Kathmandu that you can book through upon arrival.

-Take it slow. It’s not a race. 

-Bring your I-pod and a couple of books. Music is great for motivation and there is a lot of time to relax once you reach your guesthouse for the afternoon. 

Other Random Thoughts 

-One thing we did NOT like about Nepal was all of the loogey hawkin’. Everyone does it here…they’ll be walking down the street and will a hawk a big loogey every five minutes. This sound disgusts me more than any sound in the whole world. I hated this about the Nepalese. 

-Depending on the city or region, there is no electricity for 8 to 16 hours a day (typically in the afternoon and during the late evening hours). We ended up taking more than a few showers in the dark. 

-‘Namaste’ in Nepal actually means ‘hello’, not ‘thank you’ or ‘goodbye’.

Next stop…Turkey!!

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