Monday, November 9, 2015


I was told I would love Turkey and I really, really did.  I'm already planning my next trip.

Istanbul was amazing. I saw the major attractions - Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Aya Sofya, Basilica Cistern, Suleymaniye Mosque -  as well as two museums I probably would not have visited if I hadn't wanted to get the most out of my Istanbul museum card.*  The Great  Place Mosaic Museum and the Archeology Museum were wonderful and I am now obsessed with mosaics (and the wooden houses on Buyukada Island and other areas of Istanbul).

In addition to the tourist attractions,  Istanbul is a really fun city to explore. There are great neighborhoods full of shops and cafes and public transportation is easy and inexpensive.  My cousin Rachel gave me a tour of the Grand Bazaar and helped me buy a couple of things.**  I could have spent a week just walking around.

On top of all that there is the food.  My cousins took me to a meyhane (Turkish tavern) for a delicious dinner and I tried raki, similar to ouzo but much more refreshing, melon with white cheese, mezes, and perfectly grilled fish. The food is freshly prepared and inexpensive and I tried pretty much everything that didn't have red meat or pork. Stay tuned for a separate blog post devoted to food.

After a week in Istanbul,  I flew to Cappadocia and spent almost four days exploring. Cappadocia has beautiful landscapes, underground cities, rock-cut churches, and pigeon houses. I went on a balloon ride (without pharmaceutical assistance!), hiked, ate, shopped, enjoyed a traditional Turkish bath, and hung out at my fantastic cave hotel.


*Thriftiness pays!

** I am so bad at bargaining that my picture is posted all over India with the caption "Charge her as much as you want, she'll pay."

Things I Learned

• The number one attraction in Istanbul is my cousin Baby Esther. Thanks to Esther and her parents for hosting me and putting up with me.
• The correct way to drink raki - fill your raki glass half way with raki. Add cold water and an ice cube. Enjoy!
• Pigeon droppings make excellent fertilizer.
• In almost every country I've visited  kindergarten students are called zeros, i.e., "What grade do you teach? " "I teach the zeros."

                              Aya Sofya

Mosaic from the floor of the Great Palace


My room is the one on the bottom

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


Just before I left, I decided to skip Albania and Macedonia and go to Israel instead.  That meant I didn't have to rush through Bulgaria to get to Turkey. My main objective in Bulgaria was to visit the Rila Monastery outside of Sofia and it was one of the highlights of my trip. Sofia was nice but in retrospect I should have done a hiking trip around the Monastery instead of spending three days in the city.

My next stop was Plovdiv and even though I had to drag my ridiculous suitcase up a steep hill on the most cobblestoned street in the world, the minute I walked into the hostel I decided to extend my stay.  Plovdiv is full of craft shops, art gallaries, beautifully restored homes, and Roman ruins. My hostel was located in a renovated house built in 1868 and it was one of my favorite hostels.

My last night in Plovdiv I heard about the "UFO", an abandoned communist structure built in 1981 as a monument/meeting facility.  My hostel in Veliko Tarnovo (also located in an 1860's  rennovated building) organized trips to the UFO so I signed up and hoped that enough other people would want to go. In the meantime I explored Veliko Tarnovo which was an ancient capitol of Bulgaria.  Another city built on hills with a wonderful fortress which was fun to explore even in the rain. The murals in the main church were fantastic.

The hostel was unable to organize the UFO trip so four of us got together and rented a car.  It was so foggy and rainy we almost drove right by the building. It is forbidden to enter the structure but there is a small opening in the fence that a person can climb through to gain access. The structure has not been maintained and the interior mosaics of the faces of various Communist leaders have deteriorated. Most of the marble has also been removed and there are holes in the roof. It was absolutely amazing and I am glad I got to see it before it totally falls apart.

My last stop in Bulgaria was Varna, a city located on the Black Sea with great bus access to Istanbul. The beach and parks were really beautiful and it was a great place to relax before going to Turkey.

Things I Learned

• Bulgaria doesn't use the Russian alphabet - Russia uses the Bulgarian alphabet.
• Pepto Bismol is not sold in Europe.
• It is much better to take the train in Bulgaria.

More information the UFO:

Rila Monastery

Frescos - Rila Monastery

Roman Amphitheatre - Plovdiv 

19th Century Baroque House - Plovdiv

Church Mural - Veliko Tarnovo

UFO (since it is forbidden to enter the building, I used my imagination to take these pictures)

Black Sea - Varna

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