Good to be home

I’m going to write a recap of Istanbul still.  In the last couple days I spent 17 hours up in the air.  I’m not exhausted, but I’ll be done with long flights for the foreseeable future.

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A different Europe in Istanbul

As I started to type this Saturday night, the call to prayer started to pump out of the Blue Mosque, right across from our hotel’s patio.  It’s really loud.  There are six minarets at the mosque equipped with several speakers on each.

How loud it is can be a topic to reflect upon at 5:45am when the first call goes out.  The power went out Sunday morning and we wondered if the early call would still go out.  It was like having a speaker set in the room with us.

I had typed a bit about religion and decided I just don’t want to get into it.  Why?  Basically I just think there’s a lot more I need to understand, and a whole lot I will just never agree with.

Istanbul is a beautiful, very Westernized city with the feel of other larger European cities.  I really loved spending time here.  Partially because it brings something different to the table — Islamic daily life.  If you haven’t been, put it on your list.

Because I agonized over this post for over an hour at the airport lounge, I’ve run out of time to do a report on what we were up to here.  I’ll put a couple pictures below and try to get a better report out later.  Probably after I get back home (which I’m pretty excited about, a little travel weary).

Stunning and amazing Aya Sofya, former church, former mosque, now museum.

With the Bosphorus Strait behind me. Ferry cruise up the strait, near the Black Sea, on the Asian side of Istanbul.

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Only tourists

Third and final full day in Istanbul. Will write a post tomorrow. For now, a portion of our evening the other night (shared among four).

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A brief moment Dubai

I’m not even sure Dubai is worth a day.  If you’re headed somewhere and it’s a logical connection point, I think spending a day there would be fine.  But I would never recommend it otherwise.

I see now why people compare it to Las Vegas.  There is a strip (Sheikh Zayed Road) where all of the skyscrapers are built.  There’s also nothing old to speak of on that strip.  That’s down in the city center area.

I got in late to Dubai Tuesday night, around 9pm, and the line at passport control was really bad.  Big planes had landed and they were making no effort to bring staff to the empty stations.  An hour later I was in a cab, too late to try and see anything that night.

Early next morning I was up and tried to swim in the rooftop pool.  Something was delayed and the guy wouldn’t let me swim, so I took some shots from the terrace.Then I took there very nice metro line down to the mall and the exit to the sail-shaped hotel.  The metro stations were ridiculous.  Dori Monson would not approve.

Metro stop by my hotel

It’s becoming a storyline of my trip — the mall doors were open, but nothing else.  I walked around there for a bit to wake up and look for some sort of breakfast.  It wasn’t open, but I did see the indoor ski slope (seen in such excellent shows like The Amazing Race).I’d also read the night before that the famous hotel doesn’t allow people in just to tour.  You have to stay there or be eating there.  I settled with a couple pictures from the metro as I headed back towards my hotel.

Too expensive for my blood, but really impressive.

After eating at a Starbucks (every American chain you can think of inhabits the strip), I jumped in a cab for the Gold Souk.  It was only partially open (9am, come on now people, it’s not a weekend) but it was a tourist trap.  If I were looking for jewelry I could see the appeal.  I can’t imagine most that visit this must-see sight are though.

Hallway of the gold city

And with that I had a little over two hours till my plan took off, so I jumped in a taxi.

This isn’t news, but Dubai is a have/have-not community.  From what I can tell there are a ton of hard-working people from India basically making the city a city.  I don’t know the wages, but my taxi rides were very affordable for a city where there are deep pockets.

This also isn’t news.  This is an oil-money society.  I can’t wait to see what this place looks like in 20, 30, or 50 years.

As a traveler I’m glad I saw it and have a brief glimpse into a tiny portion of the Middle East.  I’ll remember my Bollywood-playing cabbie, the 90s American pop pub in my hotel, and the extravagance of a city known pretty much just for that.

In Istanbul now with my friend Beau (reason why I haven’t posted in awhile, he despises the written word, and alone it was easier to burn an hour or two writing these).  Always a favorite, there are stray but nice dogs here:

Not Buster

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Thankfully here for less than a day

But it’s a dry heat, which is refreshing in a sick kind of way.

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I also don’t think I’ve had jet lag yet. My body is just really confused. I woke up around 4am every morning in Japan, but could usually fall back asleep.

In Dubai it’s almost 11pm, 4am back in Japan. Maybe this is time zone change where I become a zombie.

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Hard-to-describe Tokyo

I’ve wanted to visit Japan for several years, and it’s been a rewarding place to discover.  Trying to figure out ways around the language barrier, making my way all over Kyoto and Tokyo using transit, and experiencing the culture (history, religion, food) will leave me with a lot to remember.

The big lens to remember is that it’s been really warm.  Often I’ve checked and it will say “feels like 95.”  Today when I used hand sanitizer after getting of the subway, it wouldn’t evaporate.  So I haven’t been roaming as much as I’d like, and when I’m out it’s a battle to not feel like you’re going to pass out.

It’s also really the only country I’ve visited where a lot of the time I felt really inside my comfort zone.  Paris is a lot different than Seattle, but that’s part of the reason why I love it.  Japan is clearly very Westernized, and English is commonly written next to Japanese on signs.  So that’s part, or a lot of it.

Walking the streets reminds me of home too.  A lot of nice people going about their business, but you don’t see much interaction.  People describe Seattle’s residents as cold (we aren’t), but I can see now how you could get that impression.

I could also see us enjoy living here (not going to, but it’s a test in my mind after we visited Stockholm).

I don’t know, it’ll give me something to think about tomorrow over my two flights, 15 hours in the air.

What have I been doing?  A few things.  One of my favorite spots was the Senso-ji Temple.  It’s a beautiful campus and the buildings were stunning.  It was also Sunday, so there were a ton of people there and some sort of market was being setup.  There’s also a long shopping arcade that leads back from the main building.

The Tokyo National Museum was interesting, but no photos.  They had a nice archeological exhibit out, as well as a special exhibit with a huge line of people waiting in the heat.  Must have been good, but there was no way in hell I was going to find out.

My first hotel was in the Shinjuku area. Their shopping/nightlife/eating area was pretty shocking to stumble into and wander around.

Last night I went to a baseball game.  I speak baseball and had a blast.  Funny moment too when former Mariner Wladamir Balentin pinch hit for the home team Yakult Swallows.  He swung and missed on three straight.

Tonight I’ll get out and see the Shibyu area, and tomorrow morning I’m going back to the fish market as it was closed today (public holiday or something, not a good moment).

And from there I fly to Dubai for about 20 hours, before getting into Istanbul.

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Sushi and more

I have all my iPhone  pictures on my borrowed netbook now, so I can show you some of the things I’ve been eating.

This is the savory pancake thing I mentioned from Kyoto.  It’s actually called okonomiyaki.

Breakfast first morning in Kyoto. Believe that to be some beef and other things over rice.

Soba noodle soup for dinner.

Not pictured are my several ramen soup meals.  These are the places where you order a ticket at a vending machine.  They are a great deal at about $5, but it’s pretty much fast food.

Octopus in little cooked balls at molten lava temperature. Really good lunch after they cooled down.

I’ve had sushi a few times, once picking up from a carry-out spot, once for lunch at a station, and this afternoon by the fish market.  It was really good, of course, and I tried uni, sea urchin roe, per Robin’s recommendation.  He clearly hates me.  Actually the taste wasn’t bad (actually interesting in a good way) after a moment, but boy the texture triggered a vicious gag reflex.

Four types of tuna. Heaven.

Training for the Survivor eating challenge. Uni.

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