If you ever visit Istanbul, you will notice that the skyline is scattered with unusual dome shaped structures with spires extending from each side. This typical mosque outline resembles a spaceship sandwiched between two rockets ready for blastoff...something surely from a sci-fi movie.

With a population of four million and 99% Muslim, there are mosques nearly everywhere you look. Mom and I counted ten from just standing in one spot! Along with the mosques comes the five-time daily call to prayer, announced through the loud speaker attached to the spires on each mosque and many many women clad in burkas and head scarves (not sure of the official term for this). Mom and I have become really skilled in singing the call to prayer. It goes something like this, "uhhh-ahhhh-ahhhhh-uh-ohh-ayyyy" and so on. This doesn't nearly do it justice, so ask for a personal demonstration next time you see one of us!

Our four days in Istanbul have been jam packed! We explored much of the city on foot and became quite familiar with the mass transit system (which is very nice!).

The city is divided into two parts-west and east or Europe and Asia-by a strait called the Bosphorous. The European side is more modern and urban, while the eastern side is lined with Victorian houses and has much more greenery.

On our first day in the city we took a boat tour of the Bosphorous and got to see the cityscape and architecture of both sides. The coastline is so beautiful, the water is clean and dark blue, and all the buildings are vibrant colors. It looked like pictures of Greece and Italy, and I had to keep reminding myself I was in Turkey and not somewhere else!

Afterward, mom and I enjoyed a fish sandwich (traditional Turkish lunch) and were befriended by a young man named Toga-my first Turkish boyfriend! Toga asked if I was my moms son, and I knew I was going to like him! We talked for awhile (mom enjoyed making references to her "son" when possible). When it was time for Toga to leave, he insisted on buying us a present. We each picked out a postcard and he signed them for us.

The Turks as a whole were very hospitable. Our host, Ayse (we rented a room in an apartment of a local) gave us detailed directions for getting around, loaned us her bus pass and even paid for us to take a taxi to the city center. While it was hard to come by English speakers, we did a pretty good job getting by pointing and gesturing. Ayse told us about the city, government and Turkish culture, something you surely wouldn't get in a hotel. It was also cool to see how the locals live.

Some other highlights of our visit were:

-The Egyptian Spice Market: a large market with spices, food, clothing, jewelry, and pretty much anything else you could dream up!
-The Bosphorous shore: it's lined with tables and chairs and the locals relax in the sun drinking cai (small glasses of tea) and playing backgammon.
-The Prince's Islands: a cluster of six islands off the coast of Istanbul. We took ferries to three of them and spent the day wandering around. There aren't any cars on the islands, so everyone uses horse carriages or bicycles to get around. The view of the city is incredible! Skyscrapers and high rises stretch for as far as the eye can see, we didn't realize Istanbul was so big!

We're on the plane now headed to Ephesus to see the ruins! Farewell Istanbul-you are a lovely city and hello to a new adventure!
Mom & me drinking Cai on the boat
I haven't been on top of the time situation, so I hope you're not disappointed by my lack of countdown.  I will be boarding the plane for Istanbul in a few short hours, and I am lucky enough to have my mom joining me on my journey for the first two weeks! 

The past month has been full of browsing online travel forums (Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree Forum has saved my life many times), getting travel vaccines, memorizing airport codes and vigorously studying world geography.  The last one wasn’t so hard since my shower curtain is a map of the world.  Needless to say my obsession with maps paired with said shower curtain was probably not conducive to saving water.  Now, I have everything necessary to live stuffed into my little backpack and I am ready to embark on my new career as a nomad.

When I tell people that I'm traveling the world, I get one of two responses. 1: wow, that's awesome, I've always wanted to do that, I'm jealous! Or (the critical) 2: Is that safe? How do you have enough money to afford that anyway? Have you made all your reservations and plans, how will you get around?

Now, I'm glad I no longer have to respond to these questions (or at least I can ignore them).  As my departure time creeps up, I'm calm and relaxed, just as if today were another mundane day.  In the back of my mind, I'm thinking I should be bursting with excitement (or anxiety) over this huge life change.  For me, this is just a learning experience—like going to school.  I want to absorb everything I can, being a student and teacher amidst the jumble of people in the world.  

I don’t have many plans, just a few one way airline tickets and email addresses of friends of friends in each city.  Many of you have been asking for an itinerary, so here it is thus far:

Sept 8-Istanbul, Turkey

Sept 13-Ephesus, Turkey

Sept 16-Greek Islands

Sept 24-Bari, Italy

Sept 28-Dubrovnik, Croatia

Oct 3-Budapest, Hungary

Oct 6-Prague, Czech Republic

Oct 9-Stockholm, Sweeden

Oct 13-Trip from Helsinki, Finland to St. Petersburg, Russia


Cheers and Farewell US of A.
First stop-Istanbul.  Stay posted!