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Friday, January 10, 2014

Teşekkür ederim, Türkiye! (Thanks, Turkey!)

Yup.  Brad scored major points on this one.  15 years ago he worked in Turkey.  I have wanted to go for the entire time we were dating and then married.  What better present for our 10 year anniversary but a family trip to Istanbul!?  I had no idea where we were going until we arrived at the airport and we walked up to Turkish Airlines.  Levi had seen Turkey many times while working his Europe puzzle, so he could at least appreciate where it was, that Daddy used to work there, and he knows it's by the Black Sea.  (He almost always puts Turkey and the Black Sea in first, for some reason.)  Other than that, he was mostly just excited for the plane ride and that we parked in a parking garage.  Ah, the simplicity of being 3.  

After this post you will probably feel like you went to Turkey with us.  I obviously couldn't stop the picture taking the whole 5 days we were there.  It was a wonderful trip and I highly, highly recommend Istanbul to any and all who love history, amazing sights, fantastic food and friendly people.

Cheers to 10 years!  (Like the sippy cup sneaking in the picture?  We tried to get his whole self, but that is as much as he would deign to give us.)
Levi almost made it.  We got in pretty late and he fell asleep in the cab right after asking, "Where are the  old things?" 
Food (Let's start with the important stuff:)
My first real Turkish baklava and coffee.  Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
Levi was a fan of all the food, but when is he not a fan of food?  This night we went to a Georgian restaurant.  He scarfed down the beets and dips for appetizers and then his homemade dumplings and yogurt.  The little grandma-like lady who ran the place came out and took a picture of him with her phone.  This was one of our first signs that people were going to be extremely welcoming of our somewhat unique family.  (More on that to come…..)
Another spot in the old town on a street popular with city workers and tourists alike, Levi got scooped up and carried right into the kitchen to see the spit for the meat.  Again, we were amazed at the reception he received.  They then gave us gifts of many Turkish "blue eye" medallions before we left.  
They really were fantastic kebabs.
A fancy dinner at our hotel, Levi ate a ridiculous amount of his kale/yogurt/egg dish.  He loved it so much I asked the chef how to make it.  
One of the more famous baklava shops.  Trays and trays from which to choose.
This is how many of the cafes draw you in.  Windows of gorgeous food.
A really neat "tea garden" we enjoyed by the Blue Mosque
Levi loved his yogurt drink.
Entering the spice market.  
And another shop in one of the main shopping districts where I bought nuts and figs.
Brad getting our food in one of the best cafes we found.  We actually went back for seconds.
Levi learning air hockey in the kids' play room at a large restaurant famous for its fancy and varied kebabs.  You could actually leave your kids in this room while you ate your dinner upstairs.  I didn't opt for that, but we did have fun going down and playing with the very kind nanny.
Everywhere you look all over the massive city the towers of mosques are a constant.  Interestingly, though we heard the traditional call to prayer throughout the day I never saw one person stop and pray. Istanbul is very staunch about its secularism (long story, very interesting).  It's a strange paradox with the skyline surrounding you.
The Sultan's Palace
Hugely interesting for its history and panoramic views. (And also for the fight Brad had with the audio guide clerk, who accused us of breaking ours!)
Levi learning about mosaics in the mosaic museum.  Fun to find the animals for him.  Truly amazing for a history loving adult as the mosaics are from the Byzantine period.
The Blue Mosque
The view of this unbelievable building changes with the light throughout the whole day, depending upon where you stand in the huge garden in front of it.  Even Levi was properly impressed and wanted his picture taken when we visited late one evening.  (A (VERY) rare occurrence.)
The Hagia Sophia
Directly across from The Blue Mosque is this hugely important historic church/mosque/museum.  The center for Orthodox Christianity from 537 - 1435, then a mosque until it was made a museum in 1935.  Now it houses unbelievable, ancient mosaics.  The architecture alone is a marvel, showing its growth over the years.  
The Roman Cisterns
Originally built in the 6th century, it was the main water storage for the Byzantine and then Roman city.  
Levi's favorite part of the city, bar none: the street cars.
A very interesting solution to the problem of feral cats and dogs: They are treated as community pets and seem to be tagged (probably to show vaccination?).  They are all very calm, look well fed and well cared for, and know in which neighborhood they belong.  
Istanbul was dotted with many playgrounds.  The skyline of towers in the background is definitely a new look though.  This one was in a neighborhood outside of the old town and along the water.
Then a walk along Istanbul's version of The Magnificent Mile or 5th Avenue.  Crowded any time of day and certainly had any store you could wish for.
A beautiful day for a boat tour down the Bosphorus.  The city is massive, going on for miles and miles and miles.  The views are spectacular as you look at the old city, the new business districts, the old palaces, and huge, bright red Turkish flags flying everywhere.
Brad knew enough from his days in the city to get off at a more "locals" port rather than the touristy stop at the end of the boat ride.  There was a park right by the ferry stop so we had to pause for a good play session.  The woman in the red scarf immediately made friends with us, giving Levi sections of a clementine.  Our boys were fast friends.   We couldn't communicate beyond the boys' ages and names, but a kid is a kid at a park anywhere in the world.
We found a beautiful restaurant for lunch where we could watch the boats pull in the catch we were about to consume. 
"Cheersing" our octopus bites
Exploring the whole fish before we dug in
Levi loves lemon and lime on his fish and especially squeezing it himself!
Once again!  The waiter scooped him up and carried him around to other tables, introducing Levi as his "brother."  (After days of this rock star behavior, along with people going out of their way to talk to him, cuddle him even on the street cars, we knew there had to be something up….)
And then Levi was out.  Brad and I enjoyed a post-lunch turkish coffee before a long bus ride back up the river.
Perhaps our favorite activity was the "Locals Tour" we were given by the manager of our wonder hotel (The Sirkeci - highly recommend).  He's not a professional guide, but just takes you for 3 hours on a walk in the neighborhood where he was born.  We saw amazing sights, like the head of the Orthodox Church (below), the largest farmers' market in Turkey, old, windy streets where only the locals would go, bakeries where they make the Turkish pastries for the street vendors, beautiful views of the city.  It was just a wonderful morning.
The principal seat of the Greek Orthodox Church, Church of St. George
(Basically, the Orthodox Church's Vatican)
I'm not kidding, in the church the have (they claim, at least) the bones of ST. NICHOLAS!  This was said casually by our guide.  I looked at Brad and gaped, "Did he just say these are the bones of Santa Claus!?"  I mean, the real Santa WAS from Turkey.  Incredible.
This relic, they say, is a marble column Jesus placed his hand on while walking to Calvary.  It is a place of pilgrimage and rubbed smooth from Christians and Muslims alike wanting to feel it.
The largest market in Istanbul, where I promise you will be the only non-Turk.  It is our guide's main shopping destination and he knew all the vendors, best stands, showed us that you can taste anything you want before buying….It was all lovely and wonderful.  (Except for when a bee flew under my shirt and stung me, but, you know, those things happen?  Right?)
Olives, olives, olives
Spices.  I brought back cinnamon and mint for our Moms.
Again with the rock star attention!!!  A vendor came out, scooped Levi up, and showed him off to the other vendors around.  Again, we were baffled.  And shortly after we found out the reason for all the extreme attention throughout our visit:

We saw our guide a few ours later in the hotel.  He said that he had gone back to the market to do some shopping and the vendors were asking about our family.  When our guide explained that we had adopted Levi from Ethiopia, the vendors told him to tell us that the market would be praying for us.  What!?  Amazing.  Apparently, much like in the Christian religion, adoption is a concept of huge importance in the Muslim religion.  Being a family obviously made through adoption made us a bit of a celebration walking around, apparently.  What an amazing experience and lovely surprise.  
Beautiful views above the old city.
For good measure, right before going to the airport we got lost in more shopping streets on the outskirts of the old city.  Again, most definitely not a place most tourists probably venture, but hey, we love off-the-beaten-path stuff, even when by accident.  Each crowded, winding street had a theme - the bed linen street, the clothing street, the bridal gown street, the camera street, the sports equipment street….
Then it was time to fly home, thankful that I finally got to experience Istanbul.  It had changed drastically from Brad's time there 15 years ago, but was still the wonderful food, history, and culture he remembered.  Fingers crossed for a return trip some day.
Levi Says, Turkish Edition
  • [In the airport before leaving]  Daddy!  Don't leave us!  You can't stay here by yourself!!
  • [After he hides Tigie under his stroller]  Where'd Tigie go?  Maybe….under here?  Tigie you get out of there.
  • Became quite good at saying "Teshekur!" for "Thank you" in Turkey and "Merheba" for "Hello."
  • [When leaving just about any place]  Mommy, Daddy, I will go first and you can follow…ok.  I'm going…
  • Mommy.  Did YOU notice that the trolley has wheels?
  • I love you because you're you.
  • [Leaving a restaurant after being given a Turkish Blue Eye, which signifies good luck] Okay!  Good luck!
  • [After our room was made up]  This pillow smells like "ferpume" [or sometimes, "perpume"]
  • Mommy and Levi want to camp in the living [aka, Mommy and Daddy's room at the hotel] and Daddy wants to sleep in my bed with Tigie.  Yes.  That's what we'll do.
  • [JUST as a businessman walked into the hotel lobby bathroom]  I just pooed and it smells AWFUL!!!  [Business man immediately walks out.]
  • Daddy you're curious about puddles.  You're better than that.
  • [Asks constantly]  Is it time to go?
  • [Looking at the huge bridge over the Bosphorus]  Are we going up THERE!?  I NEED to go up there!  I'm CURIOUS about that!!"