Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Final full day of the trip :(

We can't believe that it is over, however, we truly made the most of the day!

Breakfast was enjoyed by the group before we headed out for the Grand Bazaar. After arriving around 9:30, we decided to break up into two groups and reconvene at 2:00 outside of the New Mosque (near the Spice Bazaar) so as to give people enough time to shop and also to eat lunch.

Interior of the Grand Bazaar upon entry

Some lovely lamps in a shop within the Grand Bazaar

My group - made up of Dr. Billy Byrd and his daughter Redding in addition to Laura, Michael, and Sophia - bought souvenirs in the bazaar until about 1:00pm. After the bazaar we decided to eat lunch in a place that I recommended located outside within view not only of the New Mosque but also the Bosphorus and Galata area (including, of course, the Galata Tower). 

Our lunch was a truly perfect experience! The food was super, the conversation and people fantastic, and the desserts were wonderful. And, to top it off, Dr. Byrd surprised us by treating us all to the meal! We were so touched...it truly meant a lot.

View from the restaurant - hello, Galata tower!

After meeting back up with the entire group on the steps of the New Mosque, we all got on the bus and headed for Pierre Loti hill. Pierre Loti is a beautiful hill overlooking the Golden Horn and the city of Istanbul, not to mention a beautiful historic cemetery. The view was lovely as we sat in a cafe at the very top sipping lemonades and other icy refreshments.

View(s) from Pierre Loti Hill, Istanbul

Following Pierre Loti, we returned to the hotel for some free time (mostly to pack and prepare for departure tomorrow) before we left for dinner which was tasty as per usual.

Once we arrived back at the hotel, the group surprised we three Group Leaders by giving us gifts of thanks with touching cards, prompting a session of heartfelt testimonials and thank you's from most of the group and Group Leaders. A few of us even shed tears as we realized that it was the last time that our group, which has become so intensely close, would be together. The trip was truly ending. :^(

Thus, some of we brave souls decided that it would not be the end and headed out to a local park to enjoy the last bits of time together that we could! Dr. Byrd and Burak impressed the group and locals with their soccer skills, the students played with the local children (soccer and basketball), and all of us were incredibly delighted to make the most of what little time we had left together as a group.

Brianna and Redding's "King of the World" Moment

Burak showing off his futbol skills...

Dr. Byrd joined in the fun!

Brianna enjoying watching the others play basketball with some of the local kids

Final night-final moments together

Our two wonderful middle school winners!

This has been a mind blowing, life-altering trip for everybody. It flew by! 

However, as we all leave at various times tomorrow we will do so knowing that we have shared a once-in-a-lifetime experience together and forged some remarkable and close bonds of friendship. 

Thank you again to all of the students and participants (and superintendent!) who not only participated in the Contest this year but who joined us on the 2011-2012 Global Connections Art & Essay Winners' Trip to Turkey - you all are amazing, brilliant, and we at Istanbul Center are honored to have been able to host you!

Much love... 

Yet Another Lovely Day in Istanbul

This morning the group got to sleep in until 11am! It was wonderful and much-appreciated.

The group returned to Pirpirim for lunch today. It was delicious, as it was the first night that we arrived and we were happy that Sophia got to join in today as she missed out on it the first time around.

After meeting in the hotel lobby, we departed for a tour of Istanbul University. The campus was beautiful and the college itself is over 600 years old!

Following the university foot tour, courtesy of my fellow Group Leader and Istanbul University alumnus Burak Turkman, we went to the historical district and walked around a good bit before the group delved into the Basilica Cistern. It was, of course, a major hit, being so ancient and cool (temperature-wise, that is). It is always a great respite from the summer heat in the city!

We also went to an historic library in the area. It was beautiful and while we were there, Adam and Michael both played the piano for us! I even joined in with Adam at one point and sang. It was a bunch of fun. Our student winners are just so talented!

Dinner was fantastic, even though it took almost 2 hours for us to get there thanks to the Istanbul traffic! However, the traffic didn't matter as we saw gorgeous districts and scenery along the Bosphorus, which Sherry said even "rivaled" the Amalfi Coast and which also transfixed Billy throughout the drive.

We arrived late to Asuman Dayi's house for dinner, although she was very gracious and didn't mind. She is a wonderful lady and businesswoman with whom I stayed for 12 days last summer. Her family runs Telekurye (a shipping and logistics company in Turkey).

We joined Asuman, her daughter Cazibe and grandson Yavyzcan, and some of their friends in addition to a visiting group from Alabama for dinner. The food was absolutely perfect-we could not eat enough! Salad, breads, Turkish meatballs, mashed potatoes, and various desserts...YUM! We had so much fun that we did not even leave until around 10:30-11:00pm!!!

It is so sad to think that tomorrow is our last full day in Turkey, I must say, even though it is going to be absolutely fantastic. We have had such an incredible time and have become SO close...

Well, that is all for now.

Iyi geceler (good night)! 

The Group outside of Istanbul University's Gate

Headed to a local family dinner!

The whole group with hosts Asuman Dayi (far left) and her daughter Cazibe (second in from right)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Istanbul, round 2

Annnnd we are back in Istanbul!

Last night at 9:50 we caught a flight in from Kayseri after a long and wonderful day in Kapadokya.

After a pleasant breakfast this morning, we headed out for a long Bosphorus Boat Tour. We boarded the boat around 10am and were cruising all day - taking in the sights from both the European and Asian sides of the city, not to mention stopping for lunch in a fantastic little neighborhood (in which we bought souvenirs, ate lunch and to Redding's, Laura's, and my delight, played with a whole litter of kittens!) along the Black Sea, and meeting new friends all along the way - until around 5:30pm!

Once we disembarked from the boat, we walked along the Galata Bridge to the Taksim Square area. Taksim Square is famous for its shopping and goings-on. It is rather like the Times Square of Istanbul. We had a wonderful time walking traipsing through the streets and side alleys and taking in all of the sights, including the famous (historic and historic) Galata Tower.

Dinner was sumptuous. We ate in the Fatih District at Yildiz Saray Restaurant. While eating, Redding spotted an intensely cute young cat which proceeded to join us for our meal and not only sit in both Adriana and Laura's laps but give them kisses!

The group was very happy to head back to our hotel early tonight, arriving back before 9:00pm for once. It is wild to think that we only have 2 more full days in Istanbul (and Turkey) - we are going to make them count!!!

Pre-boat tour shot!

Brianna and Adriana

Dolmabahce Palace

The Asian side of Istanbul


15th-century castle

Adriana taking in a view of the Black Sea from the Bosphorus

Tickle fight!

Souvenir shopping

View from the restaurant in which we ate lunch

New friends :)