Saturday, May 22, 2010

Visiting Julie in Istanbul

On the way back from Azerbaijan, Chad, Heather, and I stopped over in Istanbul for a quick trip to see our friend Julie and celebrate her birthday with her. Istanbul is one of my favorite cities. The people are so friendly, the city is very diverse, and it's located in Europe AND Asia... I mean, it doesn't get more interesting than that! For those of you who have been following our blog since the beginning, you have probably already read (or at least looked at the pictures :)) from my previous trip to Turkey. If not, you can see my previous post on the sights of Istanbul by clicking here. And to read about my take on their culture, click here.

Out celebrating Julie's birthday!
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The Golden Horn - historic inlet of the Bosphorous
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What better way to celebrate than to go shopping. :) This is Istanbul's famous Bazaar:
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They sell all kinds of things here. I thought these lamps were beautiful.
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Here we are in the historic core of ancient Istanbul. The Hagia Sophia...
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And the Blue Mosque...
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We took a boat ride out to the Maiden's Tower for Julie's birthday lunch.
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It was a great view from the top. Europe on the left and Asia on the right...
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Chad and Heather posing down by the water.
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The view from our table
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Trying to get a good taxi fare back to the hotel turned out to be much more complicated than we thought.
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A beautiful sunset that evening on Julie's street.
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The next morning we flew back to Basel. It was a short, but sweet trip. :)

Baku, Azerbaijan

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Awhile back, I traveled with some friends to the country of Azerbaijan. Do you think you can find that country on a map? I know that I couldn't before I found out that I was going for a visit. It is a small country off the Caspian Sea and surrounded by five countries: Russia, Georgia, Armenia, Turkey, and Iran. Caught between Asia and the Middle East, it makes for a very interesting culture. I had the preconceived notion that Baku was going to be very Islamic, but it was much more secular than Istanbul or Cairo. Azerbaijan was actually the first country to establish a democratic and secular republic in the Muslim world. Baku is also much larger than I thought; over 2 million people! It is rich in history that dates back to the 4th century, so it was really neat to be able to travel to such an interesting place. Here are some pictures from the trip:
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Baku has a beautiful old town district with many cobble-stoned streets.
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Looks like it would be tricky to hang those clothes up like that.
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The city is full of construction projects. One of the reasons is to make their tourist sites more attractive... such as the following picture where they're making a new road/walkway.
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They have a long way to go! You can see those same two men working on the left.
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The Azeri people have a superstition about throwing bread away in the trash can.
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You're probably wondering why this next picture is of a toilet...? But I thought this was weird... you're not allowed to flush toilet paper, so you have to put it in the trash can. That was definitely hard to get used to!
While we were there, the weather was pretty cold. So one of the sight-seeing days, we hopped into a carpet store to get warm. The rugs were so beautiful, I almost bought one, but then I remembered I didn't need it... Nate would've been proud.
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The people were so friendly and hospitable. They even gave us a cup of warm cay. :) (chai tea) In this picture: from Ryan, Kathryn, me, & the other Katherine (our friend who lives and works in Baku)
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Back out in the cold, we walked past the only large mosque that I saw.
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Martyr's Alley. A devastating memorial for more than 15,000 people who were killed in a massacre during the independence movement (from the Soviet Union). Read more about it here.
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The view of the Caspian Sea and the big city of Baku from the edge of the Alley.
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I don't know why the background is so washed out, but this is the only picture I have of just the girls: Heather, Katherine, Kathryn, me, and April... we are all friends from Bay Leaf in Raleigh.
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One neat thing about visiting Katherine, was getting to see where she worked. She teaches English at a club called Compass. Compass is a great place where adults of any age, but mainly college-aged, can come to learn English and just hang out. Everyone was so friendly... we had a great time together!
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We played one of my personal favorite games, mafia. But their rules were a little different then what I was used to!
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Azeris are very good dancers. They proved that to us, by showing us a little number... very entertaining!
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Here is a brief clip of their dance. Sorry, it's not the best quality!
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Another day, some of our new friends took us around Baku to see some new sights. This is the beautiful Poet's museum:
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The traffic goes on right by the old city walls.
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And people (as they do in most Eastern countries) walk right through the traffic. Kathryn looks a bit nervous. :)
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Group picture in old town. The new girls that we met did not want to come for a walk with us because it was too cold and windy for them!
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It was actually so windy, that we thought we could fly away on a carpet. I mean, doesn't everyone want to do that since they watch Aladdin as a kid? Or is that just me?
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Instead of flying (since flying carpets aren't real), we hiked up lots of stairs to get to the top of Maiden's Tower (a National emblem of Azerbaijan).
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View from the Top
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You can see that it looks windy and cold! We didn't stay up for long.
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We finished our day by walking along the Sea. :)
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I hope you enjoyed hearing about Azerbaijan. It was a short visit, but I still had such a great time visiting and making new friends. Next stop, back to Istanbul, Turkey!