A Nevada Girl Moved to Denver

Whenever I tell people that I was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada, inevitably the reply is Whhaaa? People live there?  It makes for a unique distinction to be sure.  I mean, who comes from Vegas?  Where do they go when they leave?  The answer for my husband and I was the beautiful state of Colorado.  Denver, CO to be more specific.  We got out of Nevada at the first opportunity, and boy, were we lucky to end up here.

The biggest difference I noted with awe when we arrived in our new hometown was the buildings.  This might sound strange, but the buildings downtown got me excited.  I’ve been around tall, bedecked, extravagant high-rises my whole life, but the ones here in Denver, in a real city, were completely different in one key aspect.  They weren’t casinos.  This is the first thing I tell people about the difference between Vegas and any other city is that everything there is a casino.  There are slot machines in the grocery stores.  When you want to go out and do something, see a movie, go bowling, go ice skating, you go to a casino.  Teenagers hang out in food courts where an edge of carpeting is all that separates them from the dinging, flashing, gambling machines a few feet away.  After a while, you don’t even notice them.  The pervasiveness of the slot machine is universal there.

Things I love about Colorado:  There is green.  I mean the color green, outside.  There are changes of season beyond hot wind/cold wind.  Snow!  The smell of rain on the air.  Parks you can walk in and trails to take your bike.  Giant mountains.  Purple mountain majesty?  I finally get that now.  Vegas is surrounded by mountains too, but they are nothing like the Rockies.  It is like comparing a sickly circle of shrubs to a lush forest.  Restaurants are all over the place downtown, and you don’t have to hike a mile and a half into a casino to get to them.  Broadway plays at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts (also not in a casino!) or smaller local fares in places like the Boulder dinner theater.  Brunch downtown.  Skiing and snowboarding.  Little mountain towns like Breckenridge only a few hours away.  The universal love of dogs.  Open space you want to be in.  The zoo.  I’m crazy about the zoo.  Sports!  Nevada has no big sports teams.  The stadiums are beyond cool.

Things I miss about Vegas: 24 hour food service, free parking everywhere, top-notch air conditioning, pools galore, and In-N-Out.

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Final thoughts on our trip

The last night in Istanbul we relaxed at the hotel.  We swam in the freshwater pool and ate at their restaurant and packed.  The whole trip was a crazy wonderful experience.  We woke at 3:15am to get to the airport on time.  Note on international flights back to US from Europe, they are grueling.  I made a mental note to always, ALWAYS bring food on the plane.  There were times when we hadn’t eaten for hours and hours and were so hungry.  The meals on the planes don’t have a lot of food.  Bring a snack!  The trip home, with stopover in Paris and NYC took over 24 hours.  We slept a little on the plane, but can you really call that sleep?  So, just a warning for anyone taking those flights, plan on crashing when you get home!

We traveled from Rome to Athens to Istanbul.  Every city had its own unique flavor.  Rome was a dizzying, expensive, crowded place brimming with ancient wonders.  Athens was calm and friendly just as full of incredible ancient sites, but somehow less chaotic and more restful.  Istanbul was the crown of our trip, the one we savored the longest and saved for the end to keep the feel of the city with us as we came home.  It is so full of people, but, unlike Rome, it felt like a real city.  The people were mostly friendly and the Bosphorus breathes a special kind of life into the unique location.  Everywhere you go, if you are high enough, you can see the water.  What a wonderful thing.  Istanbul isn’t perfect, far from it, but I enjoyed getting to know her.  I think I will enjoy weaving her into my story even more.  What a perfect setting for my book.  I fervently hope their current troubles carry them through to better times.

Day 12: Chora Church, Galata tower, and Taksim Square

We woke early on our last day with lots to do.  We began by taking a taxi up to see the Chora Church, a must-see museum covered in incredible mosaics situated up the golden horn which we hadn’t really explored yet.  It is small and built in the 16th century.  The mosaics were built throughout the interior as scenes depicting the entire life of Jesus Christ.  From what we saw of the incredible pieces that have survived the centuries, this must have been one amazing church.  We got an audio tour, which was extremely well done and easy to follow.  I’ll just let these pictures we took speak for themselves.

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The wall around the church overlooks this pretty garden.

The wall around the church overlooks this pretty garden.

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From the museum, we took a cab back down to the historic district to buy more Turkish delight from our favorite store, Haci Bekir, the one our tour guide took us to on our first day in the city.  I took lots of pictures because I would like to use this location in my book.

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We left the store and sort of wandered down the street trying to decide how we wanted to get to Galata tower.  We stopped at this nice Legacy Ottoman hotel which had this lovely little blue café where we drank some more Turkish coffee.  Oh man, I miss Turkish coffee!  Side note, when we got home, we finally watched Taken 2, and man I’m almost certain that the interior shots for the hotel lobby scenes were filmed in this hotel.  It looked exactly the same.

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coffee 3a coffee a coffee 2a

From there we had some gyros from a street vendor which were also damn good.  We asked for cab rates across the bridge to Galata tower and they wanted to charge us 20 lira!  That is insane.  Chris looked up directions on his phone and we walked.  This was actually smart of us.  I enjoyed walking across the bridge and taking lots of pictures, but we were tired by the time we got to the tower.

Chestnut sellers come out when the weather gets cool

Chestnut sellers come out when the weather gets cool

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We were told this was the stop for the Orient Express, but it is on the other side of the water from the Pera hotel, so that is confusing....

We were told this was the stop for the Orient Express, but it is on the other side of the water from the Pera hotel, so that is confusing….

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Up and up through the streets...

Up and up through the streets…

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The tower was really cool.  It is located in this neighborhood of twisty, steep streets and stairs.  You pay in the lobby and wait your turn for an elevator ride up to the top to take pictures.  This was somewhat similar to St. Petersburg cathedral in that there is just this short ledge that everyone has to pile onto and make their way around without accidentally elbowing a stranger in the face.  We got some of the greatest pictures on the trip here and it was also the last we took with my nice camera as the battery was done just as we left the tower.  In the evenings, the tower is actually a restaurant with dancing entertainment.  It would have been great to fit that in, but gosh was there so much more I would have liked to do!  I wish I could have stayed a month and done everything twice!

The lobby of Galata tower

The lobby of Galata tower

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From the tower, we walked up İstiklal Avenue or Istiklal Street which leads to Taksim square.  I was so tired by this point that I have to say we rushed this, which I really wish we hadn’t.  Especially in light of everything going on over there right now.  I didn’t even get any really good pictures of Taksim square which we ended our walk on.  This is mostly because we were fighting like crazy at this point.  I wanted to catch a cab back to the Hilton and Chris refused, taking us off the major Avenue saying it wasn’t major (it is) and we’d find a cab easier since all the ones right there in front of us were going the wrong direction.  I can’t begin to explain what he was talking about because it was jibberish nonsense because Chris was sick of getting ripped off by cabs.  I hurt my ankle as we walking around side streets to the Istiklal Street which are the steepest incline I’ve ever seen in a neighborhood, including San Francisco, screaming at each other the whole way.  A few locals witnessed this and I’m sure had a good laugh.  I was not laughing and it took over an hour to get back to the hotel.  By the time we got to Taksim square, Chris admitted to being wrong and apologized profusely, but we were pretty done for the day, unfortunately.

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Church of St. Anthony of Padua, Istanbul just off Istiklal Street

Church of St. Anthony of Padua, Istanbul just off Istiklal Street

Day 11: Dolmabahçe Palace, Ortaköy, and Yıldız Park

We woke late again, trying to take it easy for at least some of the time on our trip.  Today we decided to hit the Dolmabahçe Palace which is just north of the Istanbul Hilton.  This is the palace where the father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk died on November 10, 1938.  It was built in 1856 as a more modern, European palace than the Topkapi Palace for the royal family to live.  Ownership was transferred to the Republic of Turkey in 1924, and Ataturk, the country’s first president, used it as his summer residence until his death.

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We paid to do the walking tour through the upper apartments of the palace, including Ataturk’s bedroom.  We weren’t allowed to take pictures, but we did wander the grounds and took pictures in the beautiful gardens surrounding the palace.  There are two separate tours you have to pay for to see the whole place.  You also have to wait in line for the next time the tour opens up.  We only did the upper tour as a result, since we didn’t feel like waiting around for the second tour.

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Before our tour, we found this aviary tucked into a back corner of the grounds.  As Chris and I were exploring, we went into the building and a sweet, older Turkish man took us around the place.  We couldn’t understand anything he was saying, but he was clearly thrilled to be able to show off his birds and very proud of the place.  It was really cool; no one else even came close to the area, so it was just the three of us wandering around taking pictures of these pretty birds and their cool, intricate cages.

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We met a nice Australia couple in the tour and we walked with them north from the palace to Ortakoy, which took about 30 min.  There we shopped a little and rested at a Starbucks.  Say what you will about Starbucks, no matter where I’ve been in the world, there has always been a Starbucks with a clean bathroom to depend on.  We found these fantastic pictures of Istanbul taken in the 1920s and 1930s at one of the street shops.

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From there, we walked back towards our hotel and stopped in Yıldız Park.  It was hilly and green, but not much else.  We took some pretty pictures and then cabbed it back to our hotel.

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After a quick snack in the lounge, we had Nakkas, the high end rug and textile shop recommended to us by our guide the first day, pick us up for some shopping at their store.  I like to buy one crazy nice souvenir for myself when I go on a big trip and we hadn’t had any luck finding anything we liked the day before, so we went back to Nakkas.  It is a very lovely store, but they did make me angry toward the end of the evening.  Our sales guy obviously assumed we were crazy wealthy, despite how seriously we were taking the purchase.  We bought two beautiful tiles, which they framed for us, a small vase, and a silver replica of the Blue Mosque for my mother.  Our salesman tried to get us to buy a thousand dollar bowl (which was more than we’d spent on everything else together) at the last minute which was highly irritating.  The tiles are lovely, though.

Frame boat Floral framed vase

We relaxed and ate at this fantastic Lebanese restaurant at the hotel that night.  Another fun-filled day done.  Only one to go!

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More pictures from the lounge overlooking the water, can’t get enough!

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Some of the best food on the trip, soooooo good!

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Day 10: Exploring Istanbul on our own

On a personal note:  Before I go into our final days in Istanbul, I want to comment on the current happenings in the city.  It has taken me a long time to get all of our trip summarized on my blog.  I know I’ve had some down time in between posts making my experiences there irrelevant during recent weeks, but hopefully not for forever.  We were there in October and Istanbul is a beautiful, vibrant city saturated with history everywhere you look.  While some parts have been modernized and some may be in need of it, there is a true feeling of past times there that I was incredibly blessed to get to experience.  Not only does this mean a lot to me for the writing of my book but for the connection I feel to the city itself and the people there.  From what I understand, they are currently protesting a severely conservative prime minister who has plans to destroy Taksim square as it has stood for many many years and to rebuild it as some kind of ribald theme park.  This would a tragedy and my heart goes out to those brave people camping out in Taksim square, where we stayed not a year ago, to save it and, on a grander scale, save what their country stands for.

 

After our two days of tours, we were very exhausted and woke late.  We still managed to get breakfast in the business lounge and then we headed back across the Galata bridge and into the historic district.  Our mission was to discover where the small mosque serving as an entrance to the school in my book would be.  We took a cab to the Blue Mosque area, ended up getting dropped off near the Suleymaniye Mosque.  Quickly dodging through crazy large crowds of people in tight, winding streets, we headed for the Grand Bazaar.  We would have preferred avoiding it altogether as it is clearly a giant mall/tourist trap, but we had to say we’d at least been there.  We took a picture of the sign and ran through to the other side.

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We found ourselves closer to the Blue Mosque after a big of a walk and a bathroom break at a McDonald’s.  Near the back of the Mosque we found the Arasta Baazar, which was recommended to us over the Grand Baazar.  It is a quiet little street lined with nice shops and we liked this much better.  We checked out the bath products, tiles, pottery, rugs, etc. for sale and I got some souvenirs to take home to friends and family.  We kept walking and ended up near the Little Hagia Sophia.  It was a lovely little mosque tucked away in the quiet of a neighborhood and worked very well as inspiration for the location I needed for my book.  It was open and we took off our shoes and went in to have a look around.  I took lots of pictures.  During our investigation, there was a call to prayer and we weren’t bothered at all as people came and did their thing.  I kept expecting someone to stop us and ask what we were doing there, but everything was very chill.

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As we began heading back, we stopped at a café that overlooked the water on the southern side of the peninsula.

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We walked around till it got dark and took night pictures in the hippodrome area.  We ate at a lovely rooftop restaurant overlooking the Blue Mosque, which is gorgeous at night.  They have it all lit up and the view was breathtaking.

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Everything was nice about the day except the cab drivers.  Even though you know you are getting ripped off and call them on it, shouldn’t take 30 lira to get back when it took 12 to get there in the first place, you still end up having to pay them.  The whole time we were there, I couldn’t figure out how not to get ripped off.  What do you do, just try to pay them less after the ride?  No clue.  We were always careful to know exactly the bills we were handing over.  On this evening, after ripping us off on the rate, the driver tried to say we’d given him a 5 instead of the 50 as Chris paid him.  But Chris called him on it and everything was fine.

Otherwise, great day!

Day 9: The Other Tour – Dinner with live traditional Turkish band

We finished our long, involved day at a Turkish restaurant.  We had been on our feet for over 11 hours and were completely exhausted.  I nearly fell asleep at the table!  It was a lovely place, though.  Exposed brick, soft lighting, and lively music created a warm, friendly atmosphere.  They had a traditional Turkish live band playing for us and the food was traditional too.  It was very good, of course.   We tried raki for the first time that night.  It tastes similar to ouzo, like black licorice.  Chris hardly ever drinks, but he took to ouzo and raki.

Other Tour Dinner1 Other Tour Dinner2 Other Tour Dinner3.2 Other Tour Dinner4.2 Other Tour Dinner5

Good food, good people, good conversation all added up to a fantastic night to top off an already amazing day.  Our third night in Istanbul was complete!

Day 9: The Other Tour — Okey in a café and Turkish bath

Sorry this has taken so long to update.  I have been working on some personal changes recently, and I will absolutely be updating on a more regular schedule more often.  Thanks so much for reading!

From the Rum neighborhood we walked over to a great little café to have drinks and play okey – a tile game a lot like rummikub.  I have played rummikub with my family, so I picked up okey very quickly.  We were so tied, though.  I remember sitting and trying to talk to everyone but desperately wanting to fall asleep in my chair.  Luckily there was a little puppy running around the café that Chris and I got to snuggle and it helped me to wake up.

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The puppy and I playing okey

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We also had this fantastic drink, salep, which was a warm, sweet, thick drink that tasted like cinnamon.  Mmmm!

Salep, common drink in cold weather.

Salep, a common drink in cold weather.

From there, we headed to an authentic Turkish bath.  This is one of the highlights of the whole day.  I highly recommend the experience for anyone visiting the area.

We began by stepping into a mixed gender entrance with a fountain and lovely domed ceiling.  From there we split off into the women’s section where a woman directed us to numbered changing rooms.  I brought along a bathing suit to wear into the baths, but, to tell you the truth, there was no need for modesty.  Everything is sopping wet in there and when they massage you, suits get in the way, so it was much easier to leave modesty at the door.

From the changing rooms we were led into an area of mostly white marble and the air gets very warm and steamy.  There are toilets you can use on the way in and then it opened up into a large sectioned room of blue and white and gray marbles.  You are only given this thin sarong to wear inside and within moments it is sopping wet.  The sound of running water is everywhere.

There is a wooden steam room at the back which we were told to go into first.  Basically, this is hot and dry, the air superheated, and you stay in for as long as you can stand, which most likely isn’t very long.  From there you step back out into the open area and wait your turn for the massages.

We were not sure what to expect.  No real instructions were given and the girls did not speak much English.  So, the other ladies from my tour and I mostly sat on the warm marble benches and waited our turns, chatting amicably.  The benches are in square sections to the side of the middle of the room.  The center of the bath has large, low heated daises where the women do the massages.  The side area where we sat, I’ll call it the waiting area, had raised marble lining the square’s edge where we sat, and it was punctuated by sinks of constantly running water with little plastic bowls floating in them.  These are used to throw water over yourself to rinse off after the first and second parts of the massage.  The floors are all slick with water everywhere as are the benches, so you are waterlogged immediately, but so is everyone else, so, even those of us on the shy side didn’t mind after a while.  The girls doing the massages work in bathing suits.

The first part of the massage is an exfoliation.  The girl calls you over and rubs you down with a rough sponge.  This is not unpleasant; I found it to be quite nice.  Then you go over to one of the sinks and throw water over your body with the plastic bowls to rinse off.  You may wait a while before the second part.  They will call you over for the second part of the massage which is the best part.  You lay down your sarong, which is soaked through and not much more than a wash rag at this point and lay face down on top of it.  They have these really neat net-like bags that have soap in them.  They blow in one end, close it up, and then, similar to milking a cow, run their hands down the bag and tons of soap bubbles come out through the netting on the other side.  It was really neat.  They rub you down with the soap bubbles and give you a great, but quick, massage, front and back.  I had a large lady who got into my back muscles really good, which, by this time in our trip, I needed it!  Later, Chris told me his massage was also very rough, in a good way.  He was very pleased.

From there, we rinsed off with the bowls again, and then there is this fantastic freshwater pool to finish off the experience.  It is raised up high toward the ceiling and you climb a little ladder to get in.  At the top is a simple, square pool of warm freshwater which I thoroughly enjoyed swimming in.

All in all, it was a wonderfully relaxing and unique experience and we were disappointed we couldn’t fit one more bathhouse visit in before we left Istanbul.  Chris and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

When we were finished, we went back to our changing rooms and got dressed for the last part of our adventure with The Other Tour.

View of bathhouse front from the street.

View of bathhouse front from the street.

Turning back this is the view of the street as you enter/exit.  That is The Other Tour van that dropped us off :)

Turning back this is the view of the street as you enter/exit. That is The Other Tour van that dropped us off 🙂

Ducking in from the street, there is a sign letting you know women and men can enter the bathhouse here...

Ducking in from the street, there is a sign letting you know women and men can enter the bathhouse here…

Heading down the steps into the entrance hall.

Heading down the steps into the entrance hall.

Warm, clean welcome area

Warm, clean welcome area

Upper and lower floors of changing rooms with a pretty, plaster, domed ceiling overarching the area.

Upper and lower floors of changing rooms with a pretty, plaster, domed ceiling overarching the area.

One last picture of the sign as we leave...

One last picture of the sign as we leave…since 1475!?  I hope that is true, this is going in the book!