Friday, March 6, 2009

Heading home...

Well, it is our last night and we are all packed and ready to go. Not so eagerly awaiting our 2:15am wake-up call :( We have definitely enjoyed our vacation time - full of relaxation, leisurely breakfasts, lots of walking, tons of good food and plenty of calls to prayer! We are both so glad to have had a few extra days to enjoy after a busy few weeks in Uzbekistan.

Istanbul is an interesting city - full of so much history. But an odd mix of Christian and Islamic ties. Early March is definitely not an ideal weather time to come, but great for less tourists. Shoot it was much like Oregon - overcast skies and rain much of the time. We had a great experience, but we did not get used to being harassed by EVERY merchant/restaurant we went past. Every time...."Yes, please" or "Excuse me, let me spend your money" or "Lady you drop something" - it got to be kind of funny waiting for the next line they would use to try to get us to stop...funny it never worked. Needless to say we weren't huge fans of The Grand Bazaar and preferred the more quiet streets where we could shop in peace.

We hit all the main sites - Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia (church/mosque/museum), Archeological museum, Topkapi palace, Chora church, Istiklal street, Galata Tower, the old city walls, Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar, Galata Bridge and of course a Turkish Bath. One of the most surprising things was that many of the "churches" had been converted to mosques at some point in history - so it was a strange mix of both religions. We definitely appreciated Turkish cuisine - we had grilled fish (the whole thing head, bones, tail and all), turkish tea/coffee, baklava, turkish delights; however we did opt out of trying the water pipe.

Let us tell you a bit about a Turkish bath. Torri was the most nervous about this part - as she doesn't like her face wet or "dead" body parts (aka hair, nails, skin, etc.). But we went to a bath that was recommended in serval books and was known for serving us tourists :) It was...lets just say an interesting experience. It definitely deserves a full description in person. Our biggest surprise came from the lack of modesty that exists - not among us bathers but among the attendants who are washing you. Oh the memories made....

We are both glad to have all 3 suitcases coming home with us - I think we are shocked at how many things we bought...especially food items! Hopefully our bags are not too overweight :)

Thank you all so much for your support before and during this trip. Hope you enjoyed some of the stories and pictures that we were able to share. Pray for a safe flight and see you all back in Oregon :)

Steph & Torri

Monday, March 2, 2009

The vacation begins....

So now that we no longer have to come home everyday to our dreaded hotel in Tashkent - we thought that we'd share some of the annoying/comical and daily happenings! We mentioned earlier that this hotel used to be occupied by communist leaders - I'm truthfully not sure it has really been cleaned since that time...or at least the shower hasn't. Every morning was a new never knew when the water would actually heat up, but if you let the water run for more than 2-3 minutes you run the risk of the water overflowing onto the floor. The backed up water conveniently also brought up more dirt than it washed down. Plus it was a hand held shower that couldn't be hooked up to the wall - so you had to quickly spray yourself down before the next flood....Then as you finally finished showering you got the grab the hard, air dried towel that barely fit your body - stepping onto the cold (semi-clean) tile floor. Oh and did you need to use the toilet?!? Don't forget to use the paper towel/sand paper/corrugated cardboard textured toilet paper and then place it in the trashcan, which got emptied (hopefully) every other day. That pretty much sums up the bathroom drama - but don't forget to use your bottled water to brush your teeth need to get extra bacteria :)
Onto the maid service - an experience in and of itself. Let's just clarify that no one speaks English in the entire hotel! So when they come down the hall speaking Russian and trying to explain something in the room that they did - we just smile and nod and say spasibo ("thank you"). Then we enter the room and become detectives.....first it was the missing cookies (half the container mysteriously disappeared while we were out)....we gave up the hunt for our roll of cherry day they decided to clean up after us - moving all our suitcases, folding our clothes and putting everything away in drawers rather than our organized piles. And probably the most annoying of them all.....our final 3 days went sports free because somehow we lost our Russian sports channel (after our remote had been reprogrammed) and every other channel was still functional. english speaking people around!

Not that we want to totally rant - but it's so comical to look back at now. How about our breakfast experience at the hotel??? First, I'm pretty sure that 90% of the time we were the only females in the entire room. We were watched the entire time. And if we were lucky we got our food within 30 minutes of sitting down while everyone else was served around us (and finished their meals). But we learned to appreciate our rice cereal, bread and cheese and hot black tea!

OK - we really are done complaining! Our last few days in Tashkent were nice - time to fit in the last things and say good-bye to the friends we made. Stephanie unfortunately caught a bit of a cold (which everyone thought was because of drinking cold beverages or being outside - not that there were many cold beverages to be found). Saturday we were able to tour the main "highlights" of Tashkent - into many of the parks, down broadway (their walking/shopping street), through their freedom square, capital building and WWII memorial. It was an absolutely beautiful day and we enjoyed walking around with no coats and soaking in some sun! In the afternoon we went to the big local bizarre/market - both goods to buy and consume! Fortunately two of the young girls who helped translate for us accompanied us and bargain for good prices! We bought many souveniers (and gifts). It was pretty nuts - picture Saturday market meets Walmart. Crazy! But also a lot of fun - especially getting to sample the foods :)

Monday started very early - 1:30AM to be exact. Who knew that planes actually left at 4:30 in the morning...but we got to the airport 2 hours early and had no problems getting through all the passport control. Our Turkish Airlines flight was uneventful (thankfully) and we safely arrived in Istanbul at 6:40AM local time (5 hour flight, with a 3 hour time difference from Tashkent to here). We had a few hours to kill with such an early arrival, enjoying a wonderful breakfast at our hotel rooftop cafe that looks out over the Marmara Sea - with classical music (rather than the techno of the past 2 weeks), FRUIT and Coffee! Heavenly! Our Hotel let us check in early, which was really great so we could freshen up before exploring a bit of the town. There is definitely sooooo much to see here! Our next few days will be plenty busy on Rick Steve's & Lonely Planet walking tours :)

We are quite excited and relieved to be in a more western society - where although we do stand out as tourist...we have already met other Americans and there are tourists from all over!!! (with plenty of tour buses to prove it). Our hotel is great - with working shower and all :) Today was just a simple day of exploring - even finding a Starbucks for a nice afternoon latte (and an Istanbul mug for Stephanie)! We're loving wifi internet don't be surprised to see us online more :)

Torri & Steph

Wait...that's ME on TV!!!!

Oleshka is the cutie in the middle who is holding the plastic animals and talking most with the slightly deformed cheek. We fell in love with him!!! He is so smart. He is the one who we taught many signs to during our last few days. Earlier we had recorded him and showed him the video - but didn't get a chance to record his first viewing. We just had to try to capture the excitement and fascination when the kids see a recording of themselves!!!

Orphanage pictures....

A few pictures of the kids....

The caregivers and staff we worked with!
He just wanted to snuggle!

Working on a little core exercise with the staff

Orphanage #1