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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

If I were a letter in the alphabet and wanted to feel popular, I would probably be the letter K in the Turkish language.  That or Y.  Both those letters happen to be in the name of the town that was our next destination after Istanbul.  How we chose Ayvalik is fairly random.  We knew we wanted to spent time in Turkey somewhere in addition to Istanbul.  Antalya sounded attractive, being on the Mediterranean Coast, but a long way from Istanbul.  Ayvalik, on the Aegean Coast, and about five hours by ferry and bus from Istanbul, looked more doable, so that became our next target.

Getting to Ayvalik meant getting a taxi to take us to the ferry to cross the Maramara Sea to the town of Bandirma.  There, we could get a taxi to go to the bus station to catch a bus to Ayvalik, which was three or four hours away.  However, as we've found out more than once, there are the plans you make, and then there is reality.
The ferry to Bandirma didn't leave until 12:30, so we didn't have to worry about an early up and at 'em as we've had a few times on the trip.  We got to the feribot port in plenty of time, and grabbed a bite to eat after getting our tickets.  We had two sets of two tickets in separate rows.  Annie and Marley were seated next to a Turkish woman who spoke little, if any English, but thanks to written notes and hand gestures and a little help from a Turkish-English translation app they managed to have a conversation about our trip.

The ferry ride was fast and smooth, just like I like my soft serve ice cream. (What?)  It took about two and a half hours to cross from Istanbul to Bandirma, arriving there at around 3pm.  Supposedly the bus to Ayvalik left at 4pm, so we ideally had almost an hour to make it to the bus station.  Our confidence in that happening faded somewhat when a cab driver at the feribot port who didn't speak much English shook his head when I mentioned the bus to Ayvalik which gave me the idea that it had already left.

Turns out that was indeed the case when we got to the bus station and went up to the ticket counter.  The clerk, who spoke virtually no English, conveyed to us the message that the bus had left an hour earlier.  You would think they might want to coordinate the bus and ferry schedules a little better to have more ferry customers buy tickets for their buses, but I guess not.  Our next option was to catch a bus to Balikesir, which left in about 90 minutes and then catch a bus from there to Ayvalik.

That process went fairly smoothly, and we actually got to Balikesir a little earlier than expected, which allowed us to catch an earlier bus to Ayvalik.  It still took almost three hours before we made it to our destination, thanks in part to the number of what seemed to be random stops to let a passenger or two off around five or six times along the way.

Tara, our host in Ayvalik was very gracious on our arrival, sending a taxi driver to the bus station to take us on the ten minute drive to what would be our home for at least the next week. Tara, the same age as Annie and me,  is a native of the U.S. but has lived and worked in Turkey for around 20 years, and loves the place and fits in very well.

One of the attractions about the place we booked with Tara in Ayvalik was the fact that it had cats. We left/abandoned six cats several litter boxes back home in Cincinnati and it's always been a treat for us whenever we've encountered some cats or dogs during our trip.

We were all thrilled at the presence of the felines in our latest home away from home.  Ben and Marley were especially fond of having some furriness to keep them company and they both made blog entries expressing that.
My favorite was one named Daddy-O.  That happens to be what Annie and the kids call me frequently, but that's not why I liked him.  Despite having three legs, an oozing sore on his one remaining front leg, various scars and an overall disheveled appearance, he had a great purr, and was very friendly.
Daddy-O and the other cats seemed pretty happy to have some company and the feeling was definitely mutual.

Adding to our mutual contentment was the village of Ayvalik itself.  We had read where it was a popular vacation destination for people from Istanbul and Ankara and Izmir in southwestern Turkey.  That conveyed images of gelato stands and shops selling trinkets and t-shirts, and maybe miniature turkeys with a fez sporting the red flag with a white C and star that make up the Turkish flag.

Turns out, Ayvalik is nothing like that at all.  Our house, which shares a wall with that of the owner, Tara, is on a hillside in the old part of town.  The house is near the top of the hill, giving a nice view of the harbor and marina. On clear days, the Greek island of Lesvos is visible to the west and provides some beautiful sunsets.
The climb up and down the cobblestone street wasn't too bad, and helped burn off some of the delicious bread and bagel-like simits we were enjoying.  
One of my favorite things to do first thing in the morning was to get up, take a stroll down the cobblestone street, and find a bakery.  A freshly-baked loaf of bread cost the equivalent of a US quarter, and timed right, the purchased bread would still be warm enough to melt butter when sliced open back at the house.

As we returned to the house after eating dinner out one night, we were strolling down an alley when a woman standing outside her shop heard Marley speaking English.  She spoke to us, asked us where we were from and struck up a conversation.  Her name was Asu, (USA backwards, which we got a kick out of) and cooked food out of a tiny little restaurant that had two tables inside and two or three outside basically in the narrow.  She offered to cook us some food sometime during our stay, an offer we promised we would take her up on.

Getting to know Asu, enjoying spending time with Tara and the cats, and immersing ourselves in the Ayvalik life prompted us to stay past our initial plan of one week.  The village is beyond charming, and is safe and very friendly, especially if you throw out the occasional tessekur edemir for thank you and merhaba for hello.

Each Thursday, a massive market springs up in the narrow streets of Ayvalik.  Our first Thursday there was our third morning, and I got up and hit the streets, confident I would go back to the same bakery for the third straight day.  However, about five blocks from our house, I turned left to head to the street where I thought I would easily be able to get to the bakery, I ran right into part of the market.
It's a series of stalls and tables and tarps offering up all kinds of clothing, shoes, food, you name it-you can buy it.   All I wanted to buy that morning was some bread and with all the vendors in place obscuring the familiar guideposts that I needed to navigate, I had no idea where the baker was.

I managed to wander the streets and find my freshly-baked bread and take it back to the house.  Later that day, we returned to the market after meeting some fellow world travelers who we met through Facebook.  Pete and Dalene, who are from Canada,  have a slightly different game plan than us.  They have been on the road for three years now, going from one house-sitting job to another.

After sharing some travel tales and picking up some great information from them, we dove into the market.  They were nearing the end of a three-month house-sitting assignment in a town about an hour away, and had been to the Thursday market in Ayvalik before, so they knew the lay of the land.  We especially enjoyed the wide variety of all kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables.

It's an engineering marvel that the vendors can somehow come into the skinny streets and set up the vast amount of merchandise that they bring to sell each Thursday.  And then they tear it all down each time. 

A major allure of Ayvalik is the location on the waters of the Aegean Sea.  There are no modern hotels or resorts, and no building taller than four or five stories.  It's probably a little more touristy during the high season months of the summer, but we really enjoyed the feel of a walk along the waterfront and seeing the small fishing boats docked there.

Enjoying the company of the cats, we did our best to make sure they were rewarded for their friendship.  Being so close to the water, Ayvalik has an abundance of fish shops, and every other day or so, we would make a quick stop to get something yummy for the cats.

There were no major supermarkets within easy walking distance of our house, but there are several small shops offering a variety of drinks, snacks, beer, some wine-pretty much the normal choices found at a convenience store in the States.  One thing I had trouble finding is butter.

Butter was a key ingredient to enjoying the freshly-baked bread, and one morning I set out with Ben in search of butter.  Marley had burned through our initial supply by making popcorn in a pan the night before.  I figured it couldn't be THAT hard to find butter at 9:30 in the morning.  Oh yes it can!  I walked past the bakery on my way into town, knowing that with the market not operating, I would be able to find it again on my way back to the house.

Part of the difficulty was that I neglected to look up the Turkish word for butter before setting out on our mission.  Several times when I asked about "butter" I was pointed to water.  Thanks, no I'm good there.  We must have checked into a half-dozen stores or more and still had no butter.  What do these people do if there's a waffle outbreak?  I couldn't even find a tub of margarine.  You would think I was looking for a kilo of saffron in a platinum-coated diamond-encrusted urn or something.

Finally I decided that since the bakery was located on something of a busy square, maybe there would be a store there selling the exotic delicacy of butter.  Sure enough, when we turned the corner, two doors down from the bakery was a store, and inside:  BUTTER!!  My hands trembling with anticipation like when Indiana Jones finds the Lost Ark, I managed to give the clerk the right amount of Lira and still have enough to by some bread, returning home with my bounty after a 45-minute mission.

A few days later, needing butter again, I returned to the same store only to find they didn't have the same foil-covered slabs of butter.  I hadn't looked up the word for butter (it's tereyagi in case you need that bit of knowledge) because I didn't think I would need it.  I bought something similar, stopped for bread and discovered when I got back to the house that I was in proud possession of cream cheese.  At least Marley likes that on her toast, so it wasn't a total loss.  It wasn't like I came back with a tub of vegetables.  I did manage later in the day to find a market that had some of the basics, including butter that came in the form of the rock formation from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Ayvalik is a truly ancient city, and not too far away are ruins dating back centuries.  The ones that get the most attention and visitors are found at Ephesus, which was about three and a half hours away from our cozy cottage.  Located only about 45 minutes away, are some ruins at Bergama, so we arranged for a taxi driver that Tara uses a lot to take us there one morning.

Hakkan showed up at our house to find something of a groggy group.  I was tired after spending a couple of nights staying up with Daddy-O.  His condition was deteriorating and his breathing was getting pretty labored and he wasn't purring like he did when we first arrived.

He still seemed to enjoy our company, and would occasionally sprint (as much as a three-legged cat could) into the house and plop down on some cushions on the floor.  Sometimes he would try to get up on the couch and snuggle up against one of us, as he is doing next to my leg in the photo above.  He reminded me very much of Bill the Cat from Bloom County, and I was really hoping at some point he would give me a good "ACK!!" but that never happened.

It felt good to be with Daddy-O through the night for a couple of nights, and he would wake up from time to time and seemed comforted when I would let him know I was there.  He made it through both nights and his breathing even got a little better and his purr would return now and then.  I still expected to just find him not breathing at some point, but he was still of this earth when we left with Hakkan for our trip to Bergama.  Tara had a cleaning woman coming to her house, so we felt better leaving knowing at least someone was going to be around Daddy-O who we put back outside on the patio we shared with Taras' house.

The drive to Bergama was easy, with the roads in pretty good shape along the way.  The main attraction is the Akropoli at the top of the hill over looking the city, but there are other remnants of the ancient and powerful society on the way there.  The first stop was at the Red Basilica, or what was left of it.

One structure that's still fairly intact is a tall rotunda that has an opening in the top, allowing a round shaft of sunlight to illuminate the interior.  Some parts of the basilica facade are on display there, with a description detailing what makes the carvings unique.

A half hour or so was all we needed there, so we made the short drive up the hill to check out the Akropoli.  Just getting out of the cab there literally took our breath away.  Not because of any stunning view, but because the wind was howling!  Once we managed to get our balance and get to a place where we could anchor ourselves against the wind, the view was, well, breath-taking.

It was easy to see why this spot was chosen, it's the classic king-of-the-hill move.  The view goes on for miles in every direction, and when the massive structures were in full bloom, the structure must have been imposing and intimidating for any would-be attackers.
There are informational signs at various points throughout the ruins describing how they were built and how they looked when they were first erected.  The signs also provided us something to hold on to as we got buffeted by the strong winds.  One of the signs said that there was no definitive knowledge of how the ruins were destroyed.  An earthquake is mentioned as a possibility, but my immediate thought as I clutched the sign to keep from being blown to Ankara was maybe they were taken down by high winds.  But I'm no expert on that.
We hadn't felt winds like this since the remnants of Hurricane Ike hit Cincinnati a few years ago.  We managed to not get blown away and return safely to Hakkan, who drove us back to Ayvalik and our house and the handful of cats who shared it with us.

Our original plan was to stay in Ayvalik for a week.  Two factors extended that amount of time.  One was how much we were enjoying our life in the village.  For the first time on our trip, we were really getting to know a place and its' people.  Tara was proving to be a great host, helping us with her fluent Turkish to negotiate some transactions that would have been difficult for us gringos to do.  We were enjoying regular stops at Asu's cozy cafe, where she would cook Turkish food for Annie and me and Ben, and serve up some home made tomato soup for Marley.
One of the local dishes in Turkey is a pasta called manti.  We first heard about it in Istanbul, but didn't get the chance to try it there.  We bought some pre-packaged manti at the market in Ayvalik and as we walked by Asus' place that afternoon, she offered to cook it up for us later that day.  Her home-made manti is only available on Wednesdays, but the sauce she made for the bagged manti we bought was delicious.  The key ingredient seems to be a garlic yogurt that combined quite nicely with the tomatoes she dished up.  The following Wednesday, we had a first-hand taste of the difference in the packaged manti and the home made kind.  The dish that Asu served up was some of the best food we had on the entire trip.

One grim reality that was unfolding was the condition of Daddy-O.  Despite our constant care and attention, he wasn't getting any better.  Most of the time he would just lie on the cushions on the floor, or hang out in the back terrace area.  We kept a close watch on him, making sure that he was still breathing.  About once a day, he would make a major move, sometimes hurrying into the house on his three legs, and collapse onto the cushions.  It was almost as if he knew he didn't have many moves left and he was making the most of them.

Tara said she had never had to put a cat down, and asked us about the unfortunate experience we've had doing that with cats we've had over the years.  We told her that it's never an easy thing to do, but it is better than watching an animal you love suffer.  Daddy-O was quickly getting to the point where he had no quality of life, and it was difficult to watch him basically sleep all day.  Plus, the life had gone out of his eyes, we even thought he might have lost his sight.

So the decision was made one morning to take him to a veterinarian.  After I got the chance to give Daddy-O one final scratching around his ears, Tara and Annie and the kids gingerly picked up our failing feline and took him in.  

As we expected the veterinarian decided to do the humane thing and put Daddy-O down. Annie and the kids and Tara brought him back to Tara's house where we had a brief tearful burial ceremony.  Tara picked a spot where her turtles like to crawl around, and get fed and watered every day.

The loss we felt with the death of Daddy-O was more than made up by the friendship we gained from Tara and her collection of cats.  Plus, she's living proof that it is possible to herd cats! 

A second possibly sad development that was developing involved Asu.  We walked by her cafe almost everyday, and one day, it was locked up.  As we at lunch at a cafe around the corner, Tara managed to talk with some of the locals and find out that Asu was sick.  We had about five days left in Ayvalik and really wanted to at least have the chance to say goodbye and hopefully another tasty meal.

The next three days as we walked through town, we would glance at Asu's spot and there was no sign of her.  Finally, on our second-to-last day there, I spotted the man who helped her out at her place.  He didn't speak much English, but let me know that Asu was fine and she was at her cafe.  I went over, gave her a hug and she said she was over her illness and ready to cook for us again.  

But instead of sitting on some plastic chairs in the alley sipping beer out of paper cups because we were a few hundred meters from the mosque, she would be serving up food and drinks at a new place near the water.  She gave me the directions to her cafe and that night, we all happily walked over to the Komshu Cafe and Pub.  

It was a massive improvement over her previous spot, which had two tables jammed into a small interior space and some chairs and a couple of tables outside.  Her new cafe and pub had a half dozen tables, plus four barstools at the bar.  The interior was freshly painted, with new tile floors and a TV over the door.  You could tell how proud she was of her new surroundings.  She wasn't up to full speed in the new spot, so we just had Ayvalik Tost and french fries, with promises from her to fire up some manti for lunch the following day, our final day in Ayvalik.

The thought of leaving Ayvalik stirred up in all of us the strongest emotions we had felt since that day back in late fall when we got on a plane and launched our trip.  We had gotten very attached to so many different people and places in Ayvalik.  The various people we bought bread and eggs and beer and wine from.  The guy near Asu's first cafe who made frequent trips around the village on foot, delivering orders of the very popular Chai, or tea.  

Asu became a true friend during our stay there, and at the end of another delicious meal on our final day in Ayvalik, Annie cried as we said our goodbyes.  

She also teared up as we packed up and left Taras' cottage after 15 days there.  We were all sad to leave the cats and the cottage behind, but the holes in our hearts were filled somewhat by the love we acquired for a very special place that we hadn't even heard of a few weeks earlier.

Ayvalik is for us, the epitome of what we want this experience to be about.  It's great to see magnificent works of nature, like the 12 Apostles along Great Ocean Road in Australia, or Milford Sound in New Zealand, or the beauty of the mountain village of Sapa in northern Vietnam.  And we've all gotten chills seeing amazing man-made sights, like the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal.  And we'll all remember those experiences for the rest of our lives.  But what we really want for this trip is to live like locals.  To go to the small markets and restaurants, meet people like Asu and get to know them.  Even if it's a guy in a Bengals shirt.
Ayvalik really gave us a sense of what it's like to live in a different part of the world.  And for the first time, we now all have the same "favorite spot" on the trip.

Ayvalik really taught us a lesson:  that sometimes seeing less is living more.  Hopefully we are good students and we put that lesson to work in our lives over the next few weeks and months.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cats in Ayvalik

I love cats, so I like it here in Ayvalik, Turkey because, there are cats everywhere. Like when you walk out of your house there is a cat. Then you walk down the street you see a lot of cats. They usually hang out near places that have food, such as dumpsters and fish markets. They are usually pretty skittish because some of the people here don't like them and think of them as pests, so they don't always like humans. Some of them are nice and they let you pet them. They are usually dirty but some times they clean them selves and are clean and softer. I like how some cats know what cat is there friend because we go to one restaraunt and you see the same two cats together every time.

We have cats at the house we are staying in. We have about 6 cats here but sometimes we have 7 or 8 because we have some that hang around often. The cats we have are: Valerie who is a white cat with some black on her head, she is Marley's favorite. 

Then there's Weasel, who is my favorite, he is orange on top and white on the bottom.

 Also Salvatory who everyone likes he is just black with some white on his chest and belly.

 There's Cow Cat who is black and white and everyone likes her a lot.

 Then Yonja who is calico on top and white on the bottom. She is pretty skittish but I like her a lot.

 Then one three legged old boy cat who everyone loves so much. We call him Daddy-o, he is orange and pretty dirty but he still cleans himself a bit. He isn't doing so well so we take care of him a lot.

 They are all pretty chubby except for Weasel and Daddy-o.

We feed the cats a lot with fish and chicken. They all love it and always want more.
There is also a mean orange and white cat with no tail. We always have to shoo him away because he is not nice. Other than him I love all the cats here.

Weasel likes to sleep with me and is usually playful but sometimes bites you really hard, like he wants to eat you. We try to train him not to bite but it just makes him angrier. I still love him though.

The woman that owns the house we are staying in has a shop with six cats in it. Here are some of them.

There was also a cat who loved me so much this happened:

Sadly, we had to take Daddy-o to the vet and put him down.

We all miss and love him a lot. He was a great cat.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Europe-Asia, Asia-Europe: Enthralling Istanbul

Of all the languages we've encountered in our travels through twelve countries so far, Turkish has been the most interesting.  We had NO chance with Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodian, Malaysian or Chinese.  The characters made it impossible to decipher printed words.  We managed to pick up a few words and phrases at each location, and at least attempting to speak the local lingo would usually go a long way toward helping complete whatever transaction we were attempting to make.

Turkish is something of a dichotomy in that some words are wonderfully economical while others make your eyes spin.  Like polis (police) and ofis (office).  Then some other words attempt to use as many letters as possible.  Such as teşekkür ederim for thank you.  Really?  I mean that looks like the sound you make when you sneeze.

We first encountered the Turkish language when we arrived in Istanbul from our stopover for four days in Abu Dhabi.  Leaving Abu Dhabi didn't involve much sorrow.  We were ready to get into Europe, and thrilled to get to Istanbul.   The flight there was interesting if for no other reason than we flew over directly over Iraq for much of the trip.  I wish I could report some fascinating image that we saw but from 38,000 feet all that was visible was sand.  In golf terms, it was a big waste area.  Local rules probably provide a lot of free drops.  And I imagine you can ground your club pretty much anywhere.

We did get a good view of Istanbul as we prepared for landing.  The city is literally on the Asia/Europe border, with the Bosphorus River providing a watery dividing line.

Our first night in Istanbul was spent in the Old City, near an area called Sultanahmet.  I had found a place online that we really liked but it wasn't available until our second night in Istanbul.  Our apartment for night one turned out to be in walking distance to some of the most iconic buildings in the ancient city, including the Grand Bazaar and the Blue Mosque. 

Some things don't live up to their names.  Like Great American Ballpark.  I love the Reds and GABP is a definite improvement over Riverfront, but a more accurately descriptive name would be Pretty Good Ballpark That Should Have Been Built Turned Around So You Can See The Skyline.  But the Grand Bazaar doesn't disappoint.

It's a sprawling complex of shops, almost all of which are inside of a building that dates back centuries.  On our way there, I was thinking it might be like the Ben Thanh Market in Ho Chi Minh City, which was fascinating but also a bit annoying thanks to the aggressiveness of the vendors.  That wasn't the case here at all.  Occasionally you would have someone invite you into his shop as you passed by, but a friendly "no thank you" was all that was necessary to keep moving along.

The shops featured all kinds of products, from watches and jewelry to clothing to rugs.  The Bazaar covers about sixty city blocks and features about five thousand shops.  Almost like an outlet mall back in the States but without all the RVs in the parking lot.

The neighborhood surrounding the Grand Bazaar just oozes with character and history.  There are no US-based fast food restaurants that we've seen so much of on the trip in other parts of the world. 

A stroll up the hill from where we were staying the first night led us to a restaurant with some outdoor seating, called the Why Not cafe.  A sign boasted of Pizza and Pasta and Kebaps so we figured we would find something to meet all our culinary needs.

Our server, Omar, set a good precedent for the friendliness of the Turkish people we would encounter in our first foray into Europe.  He was very kind and courteous, and took time to show off his mad skills of making a rose out of a napkin.  Marley happily sported it in her hair the rest of our first day in Istanbul. 

Day two in Istanbul presented us with some time on our hands since we couldn't check into the next place we were staying until five in the afternoon.  Cemal, who ran the 4-unit apartment we stayed in the first night, was kind enough to let us keep our luggage at his place all day so we could check out some nearby sights without lugging our bags around.

The Blue Mosque was about a fifteen-minute stroll from our apartment, and the weather was perfect.  Mosques are the most distinctive part of the urban landscape in Istanbul, with their minarets dotting the hillsides.

The Blue Mosque was a quick visit, at least for us.  It was built around 1610, which is about 25 years before the Taj Mahal was erected.  It got me to thinking, did these sultans, kings and other emperors know about other massive temples and mosques being built in other parts of the world at roughly the same time?  It's not like Sultan Ahmet I who had the Blue Mosque built was tweeting about it.

If he had been and including some pics in that tweet, other sultans, kings and emperors would probably have had mosque envy.  It's gorgeous, with blue tiles that give the mosque it's name lining the interior walls.

As spectacular as some of the sights to be viewed inside buildings in Istanbul are, it's magic for me is out on the streets.  We discovered that more on day three in Istanbul when we headed to the apartment we had booked for four nights.  It was in the Nisantasi neighborhood, about a twenty-minute cab ride from our first place.

It's a more modern neighborhood, but still has a great feel, with shops and restaurants lining the streets.  The experience was pretty much exactly what I hoped would happen once we got into Europe.  I wanted to have a bakery to go to every morning to get still steaming hot bread and croissants.  There are certainly plenty to choose from in the area around the Osmanbey Metro stop where our apartment was.

The roomy apartment was on a narrow street lined with textile (tekstil in Turkish) shops, so on the weekdays while we were there the sounds of Turks getting on with their day would waft through the windows with the early morning sun.

For much of our time heading into Istanbul and also while we were there I had the song "Wheels" by Cake in my head.  In the song, John McCrea sings about a seedy Karaoke bar by the banks of the mighty Bosphorus.  I didn't see any such establishment as we took a 90 minute boat ride up the river dividing Europe and Asia.

The boat was filled pretty much to capacity as it headed north, certainly the two or three row closest to both sides.  One of the more interesting aspects of the trip was that the boat seemed to be filled mostly with locals.  There were a few people like ourselves who obviously were not locals, but not as many as I thought there would be.

In her best "when in Istanbul..." mode, Annie went along with the Turkish tradition of drinking some tea, which is served with a sugar cube.  Everywhere you look on the streets you see men carrying trays of tea at all times of the day.  It added to the flavor of our river ride.

The only mistake we made was getting on the side of the boat that was furthest from the opposite banks of the mighty Bosphorous.  We still had a good time cruising along looking at the ancient city and marveling at being able to see both Europe and Asia at the same time.  It's a little more exciting than sitting outside at Don Pablo's on the river in Newport and marveling at the Ohio side of the river.  Although, actually, some nachos and salsa would have been a nice addition to the cruise.

Once we disembarked (I like writing that word and love saying it!) we took a stroll across a bridge lined with men fishing.  The bustling crowds on a sunny afternoon made for a fantastic stroll toward where we would catch a cab back to Nisantasi.  We first had to check out a market teeming with freshly caught fish, and then walk down an alleyway which featured some hardware and paint, including a store that had the pigment out on the sidewalk in cans.

The energy of the people on the streets of Istanbul was contagious and we enjoyed just walking along, soaking in the atmosphere.  The colors and the aromas combined with the intensity of the Turkish language made for a fascinating experience.

We managed to strike a comfortable balance of seeing and doing things and just enjoying our apartment and the neighborhood.  Having good internet helped us plan for the next part of our journey, plus allowed for Ben and Marley to catch up on some school work through Khan Academy and help plan the next part of the trip as we head deeper into Europe.  

As much we like to immerse ourselves in local culture, having good internet and a nice flat screen TV with some satellite channels was enjoyable as well.  Three of the four nights we were there, the Fox Sports Channel carried the PGA Tour golf event from Quail Hollow in Charlotte, which is where I saw my first live professional golf back in the late 80s when a Senior Tour event was played there.  It came on at 11pm, so the kids were done watching what they wanted to see, and I could kick back and enjoy what turned out to be a very competitive tournament.

It's always good to get some local knowledge in unfamiliar surroundings, and we got that in friends of friends of ours from back home.  They were a married couple with a seven-month old son, and gave us some great options for meeting for lunch.  The one we chose was on the banks of the Mighty Bosphorus near the base of the Bosphorus Bridge.  The setting and company was spectacular and the food wasn't bad either.

After an enjoyable mid-day meal, Nuray and Can (pronounced John) were generous enough with their time to meet back up with us about an hour later at a restaurant near the Galata Tower that provided a spectacular view of Istanbul, looking east toward the Asian side of things.  It was down an alley off an alley off an alley that we never would have found had it not been for the help of a local.
When we were planning our trip, probably the overall highlight for me was getting into Europe.   I love the feel and the history of the place and Istanbul met both of those requirements. 

We got a serious taste of the local fervor for football as we walked down a caddesi called Istiklal.  It's supposedly the busiest pedestrian street in Turkey.  The feeling was electric, in part because it was just a couple of hours ahead of a big match between Galatasaray and Bestikas at the football stadium close by in Istanbul. 

Fans decked out in the local colors strolled along, singing songs.  They politely ignored my attempts at getting a Who-Dey cheer going, and we were happy to see later that evening that the Galatasaray squad was victorious.

After spending five days in Istanbul, the other cities we will be visiting in Europe have a major challenge ahead of them.  It's going to be difficult to surpass the atmosphere of this ancient city.  The feeling on the streets was truly magical and the people were very friendly and the food fantastic.  The only drawback was the occasional mish-mash of architectural styles.  

Wonderful old buildings dripping with character would be neighbors to some modern monstrosity. It would be like building One Lytle Place in Cincinnati right next to Music Hall.  

Istanbul is the perfect place to make the transition from Asia to Europe.  Our few days there truly whetted our appetite for more experiences in Europe, and as Anthony Bourdain likes to say, I'm hungry for more!