Wednesday, November 30, 2011


So I have been home for over a week now and I still have warm fuzzies thinking about my trip.  This was an amazing experience were I visited places where Ancient Civilizations lived, where the Apostles walked and where life has been lived to the fullest for centuries.

Just some few last thoughts, thanks and recommendations.

I have to say that I always enjoy travelling, but I loved this trip.  Turkey is amazing with so much history and culture.  There is also amazing food and people.  I can honestly say that I can not wait to return.  My hotels were great too and for that I have to thank Keri Stooksbury.  The Faros Hotel was great in a great location, close to everything that you want in Istanbul.  Then the CaravanseraiCave Hotel was fun as well with GREAT GREAT service.  While I was sad to say bye to Turkey, I was looking forward to Athens and meeting up with friends.

Once again, Athens was everything that I could have wanted and more, and the apartment that Julia found was AMAZING.  As there were six of us there to run the Athens Marathon and a seventh would show up later we decided that an apartment over hotel rooms were the way to go, and boy were we right.  The Acropolis View Alpha was stunning.  A very clean, modern and nice apartment with an amazing view.  The company just made the Apartment all the better.  What a great time that I had with Boun, Dora, Kevin, Benjamin, Marieke and Julia.  This was a great city that was so much better for being able to spend it with great people.

After Athens it was on to Santorini for some relaxation and peace.  It was interesting visiting the island in November as it was really empty, that was in ways nice and sad.  There was not the hustle and bustle of Athens, but it did make you wonder how the place would be in the spring/summer/early fall.  That said we had a great hotel room at the Aroma Suites.  The room was a little primitive, but everyone that worked there made you forget the small flaws.  What a great few days.

Finally it was on to Prague.  I wish that I had been able to stay for more then 36ish hours, but those hours were great.  Once again we had a great hotel and this time through sheer dumb luck.  I was cruising through TripAdvisor and thought that the Hotel Pod Vesi looked ok, and as it was in out price range I booked.  What a great little hotel.  It is right at the base of the Charles Bridge on the Castle side and the room was HUGE.  Perfect for the three of us.  In the short time that I was in Prague I saw the Castle, the old square, a Jazz performance, ate great food, drank good wine and cocktails and overall had a great time.  

I have been back in Doha for about a week and a half now and I wish that I was still out vacationing.  I am looking forward to the Holidays even though I will be here, and I must say that Thanksgiving was a ton of fun.  So it looks to be a good end of the year.  My intent is to write more frequently but we will have to see how that goes.  LOL.

Talk soon.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Athens, Santorini, Prague and heading home.

So as I am sitting in the lounge in Prague waiting for my flight to Istanbul, a super long layover, and then my flight to Doha I figured that I would catch up on my totally delinquent updates on my travels.

So the last update was the afternoon after the race, which I would like to reiterate was COLD AND WINDY!!!!!

After getting nice and squeaky clean, Benjamin and I went out to find some snacks for the hungry masses. One of the things that I loved about he stay in Athens was that we were in a real neighborhood as with 6+ people is was smarter to get an apartment. We came back with some souvlaki and baklava to share and mainly chilled. Marieke also joined us at that point as she was going to travel with Julia and I for the rest of the trip. She headed out to see some sights and then met us at the Royal Olympian Hotel for dinner.

The Royal Olympian has an AMAZING view of the Temple of Zeus and the Acropolis, and it is stunning at night. The view alone was worth the cost of dinner, it was a total bonus that the food was amazing. The only downside was the poor service, it was not horrible, just not great. From there the group walked back to the Apartment and stopped for some pictures in front of the Stadium where we finished the race and then home to chill.

As people that know me can attest to, I do not sleep in late, so I was up the next morning at about 8AM (really late for me) and figured that I might as well shower while everyone else was asleep and clean up some. As the rest of the group was still not stirring at ~9:45 I decided to go for a walk about the neighborhood to stretch the legs and shop a bit. I am glad that I did as I found a cute pair of black flats and a top that I had coveted when I had walked about on a previous day, but he store was shut. After about an hour I made it back to the apartment where Julia and Marieke were up and we got ready and head out for a quick lunch and then we split with Julia and I going shopping and Marieke off to see the Acropolis. Our plan had been to meet after at the Agora and tour that as well but it was shut when we arrived. Note to self, make sure to check more then guide books on opening times for museums and historical sites. With that closed we walked to the National Archeological Museum and looked around for a bit then back to the apartment to meet the others for dinner.

So dinner, well that was quite the event. Earlier in the week we had gone to O Kosta as recommended by Carole the owner of the apartment as the place to go and boy was she correct. The food was/is amazing. The owner comes out and verbally tells you what is on the menu for the night and prepares everything when ordered in his little kitchen (seriously small, this place is in an old house and it is a normal house kitchen). This is truly a one man show. He also makes his own Raki, which is a wine spirit and dangerous beverage. The great thing about this group is that everyone is willing to eat family style so we ordered starters, Raki and Red wine and just had a great start to the evening. Once again the food was superb and the mains were great as well. Everyone in the group is really smart and the discussions were lively. I think that things started to get interesting as we continued to drink even after the food was done. To say the least we shut the house down. Then we tried to find a night spot closer in town but with no luck. We headed Bach to the area we stayed and I finally got to the point that I was like I have to go as it was say 2:30AM and we (Julia, Marieke and I) had a 7AM flight (yes that is right, 7AM!!!!!!). To say that the least the 5AM alarm was PAINFUL!!!!

(Break in time and typing, I am now in the THY Lounge at the Istanbul Airport for ~6 hours waiting for the next flight)

Through some magic superpowers of which I was unaware that I possessed, I managed to get us up, out the door, into a cab and to the airport on time. The flight to Santorini is about 45 minutes which were a sleepy blur. We arrived at ~7:45AM and the hotel (Aroma Rooms and Suites) picked up up and gave us rooms where we could sleep until our room was ready. Basically from 8:39-10:45 I dozed and then got up to get something to drink and walk about. As I went out of the room Chris the gentleman from the hotel let me know the room was ready so we moved our stuff. Marieke still slept, but Julia and I went to grab lunch, then Julia took off to nap some more and I wandered a bit. It was during these wanderings that I found a GREAT jewelry shop called Athena (owned by Athena too!). While I should have bought stuff for others for Christmas I bought three necklaces all for me! :) I walk about a bit more then back to the room to sit and talk with the others.

We spent three days in Santorini, which is a beautiful island that is more of a summer place, but still beautiful and interesting in the cold and quite. The main island, Thira and the smaller islands have been formed through a series of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Even without the mass of tourists and the cold conditions, were still able to take a boat cruise and walk/hike on the volcanic island. By the way to get to the boat we had to desend 600 (yes 600) stairs and then climb them at the end to get to and from the port. On the cruise we also saw the natural warm springs on a smaller second island. We also rented a car one day to drive around the island and visit some vineyards, beaches (red, black and white) and finally finish the day in Oia (pronounced eeee-ah) for sunset viewing. That was a great day and we really drove the entire island it is tiny. The other fun thing is tat every time that we would go for meals people would provide dessert and different liquors at the end of the meal. I am not sure if this is standard or just because it was three American girls visiting in offseason. Either way that was fun.
Life on Santorini must be very interesting. For about seven months of the year the place is swimming with tourists that either stay on the island or visit via cruise ships, or it is really quite and more hen half the island closes. So basically the people of Santorini need to make probably 90% of their yearly income in a seven month time frame. That is not a life style that I would deal with very well, but to each his own.
On Friday it was off to Prague for about 36 hours (Julia and Marieke had one more day). We were on flights from or in a terminal from about noon to 8PM. Really it was a bit relaxing. We arrived at our hotel, Pod Vezi, and freshened up and changed clothes to head out, grab dinner and some beverages. (On an aside it was amazing to be in a hotel/country where you could flush toilette paper in the toilette and not have to toss it in the trash can). We eat at a yummy place recommended by the hotel and then at a cocktail bar that is similar to Anvil in Houston, but with a bit more of a 20's vibe. The next (and my last day) we did the touristy things, Prague Castle, the square, Astronomical Clock and shopping. I found some great pottery and just had a great day in general. Later that night we went to a jazz performance.
That ladies and gentlemen brings us to where we are now, sitting in the Istanbul Airport enjoying a player piano and wine as I wait for my 9PM flight to Doha. I plan to do a trip recap, probably this weekend as I have some great recommendations and I am sure other thoughts. But for now, I go with this comment:

In the last 16-17 days I have been in:

2 continents
5 countries
7 airports (of which only one did not get you to the plane on a bus)
5 hotels/accommodations

I had an amazing trip, but I am ready to be home. I just wish that home was Houston and not Doha. Oh well.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Athens - Days 1, 2 and 3

So I arrived in Athens on Thursday morning about 9:45 and got to the apartment that we are renting at about 11AM. First of all, Athens is an interesting city with the old and new in a crazy juxtaposition. The apartment that we are staying at is a lovely three bedroom, three bath, two story apartment with an AMAZING view of the Acropolis.

It is fun living life in a city more like a local. Once I got into town I decided to explore my new neighborhood and see what I could find. This little exploration had me stimulating the Greek economy. I found a great fruit stand, coffee shop, clothes store and pasty shop to spend euro. After my wanders I headed back to the apartment to eat lunch and wait for Tina to take me on an Architectural Tour of Athens. The tour aw great and I learned lots of interesting items about the city, its more modern and ancient sites. Then I met Julia and Kevin who arrived at 6:00PM and we picked up some wine, cheese and bread and had quite the meal on the terrace since the weather was still nice. Then the others finally arrived after a delayed flight and we had a drink and then, for me at least, to sleep.

On Friday we took a day tour to Corinth (IE Paul's letters to the Corinthians), Mycenea and Nafploi. It was very very cool to walk in some of the same places as the apostles and multitudes of people over time. That night we went to O Kostas for dinner as recommended by the owner of the apartment. Ok this place was INCREDIBLE. It is run by one guy, there is no written menu, he just tells you what is available that night. He also provided home made Raki and wine. It was an amazing dinner and we might just go back on Monday.

Saturday took us to the Marathon Expo, not the best one that I have been to, but ok in general. From there we went to the Acropolis Museum which was great. I had been to the British Museum about a year ago and it is interesting how each side has its views on Elgins Marbles. I really enjoyed the new Acropolis Museum. They have done a phenomenal job and the exhibits are great.

From there we went o the Acropolis its self. There are a few things in the world that really make you shut up and appreciate. Before yesterday that list was of two items, the realDavid in the Academy in Florence and the Taj Mahal. Well you can now add the Acropolis to the list. It was utterly awe inspiring and breath taking (and not just because the crazy wind, LOL).

After visiting the acropolis and lunch we came back to the apartment o rest or he marathon.

Sunday - ok, so it is never cold in Athens, WRONG!!! The low today was 48 with a high of 53 with 20-25mph wind gusts. It was crazy cold for this race. Not only that this course is hilly, and for a girl living inDoha and mainly running on a treadmill this was tough. I did finish in a respectable 4:23:36. Not my best, not my worst, but ok. We have basically chilled this afternoon and are heading out to dinner t the Royal Olympic hotel to celebrate.

One more day in Athens and then off to Santorini!!!!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Istanbul.....Hello again and Goodbye

So I figured I would write my experiences from my last two days in Istanbul as I sit on my flight to Athens. Some of this might be a repeat as I can not remember what I wrote when I was leaving Goreme. Warning, all my Istanbul info is packed in my luggage that was checked, so the spelling and names of areas and buildings are all a bit suspect. Please Forgive. ;)

First, I was supposed to be picked up at the hotel at 6:45 for my 9:15 flight back to Istanbul. For reasons that were never quite explained the shuttle was 45 minutes late. Granted that still got me to the airport a hour before the flight after the driver acted like a kamikaze pilot. LOL. I did have a wonderful talk on the shuttle with two gents from NZ that were traveling for about a month in Turkey. I have to admit that I was glad that i was not at the Kayseri Airport early as there is nothing there but the gates. As it was I got there in time to check in sit for ten minutes and then get on a smooth flight to Istanbul.

Once I arrived in Istanbul I met up with Mary, Eric and Nick Febbo for lunch and a quick stop at a archeological dig that was on Cities of the Underworld. We had lunch at Metropolis which is the #1 rated restaurant on TripAdvisor and it was lovely. A nice time to chat and talk about each others adventures. We then walked back to the hotels where they were soon to head to the airport back to Doha and I continued my walk.

I started toward the Grand Bazaar (which was shut due to national holidays) and walked by the University (I passed the Department of Pharmacy, picture for dad) and then continued my wanders to the Mosque of Sultanmete (sp?). After that I got a bit lost in a shady neighborhood, I did not feel threatened but did not linger. From there I hit the main street that paralleled the Roman Aqueducts. This street was bustling with locals that were shopping and walking about their neighborhood. I passed some interesting parks, the Istanbul Administrative Buildings and then stopped in at the Fatih Mosque. I realized that my original destination was farther then expected and would be closed once I walked there, so I decided to walk toward the water and back toward the Spice Market area.

There were some great sites as I walked back. I found a small market area that was totally local. I picked up some pumpkin seeds (local speciality), dates and Turkish Delight for 1/3 the price of the tourist area. I also saw two 10-12 year old boys walking down the street with freshly butchered goat/sheep (it was that size), I mean you could see the not so clean cut where the head was hacked (I will not say cut) off. I soon realized why they were walking down the street when I saw the butcher about two more stores down. The man was in the process of butchering something and, kid you not, there were live goats, lambs and poultry eating in the shop waiting for their turn under the knife. I am really sorry that I did not take a picture, but I was not sure how it would go over, but really an amazing thing to see.

As I continued my walk I finally made it to the waterside. There fisherman were cleaning and cooking their catch for the day right at the back of their boats. Families had gathered about eating the fish sandwiches and sitting on plastic lawn furniture. It smelled amazing, but I was not hungry so I passed. The was at the second bridge down the golden horn. I continued my walk along the water heading back to the hotel. Along the way I stopped in some galleries and bought some great silver earrings that I will convert to a couple necklaces as my ears are not pierced.

I returned to the hotel to drop off my goodies, check my email and figure out what to do for dinner. I decided to eat at a place right in the alley by my hotel (Faros BTW, great hotel). The place that I chose was ranked #3 in Istanbul by trip advisor. The food was enjoyable, but maybe not number three worthy. Still good though.


Ok, so I have been battling with stomach and intestinal issues for the past 3-4 months and the EMQI doctor wants me to see an internal specialist when I get back to Doha, which I will do! Well, my issues reared their ugly head about 2:45 in the morning. I took an extra Prilosec hoping that would help, and I think that it did, by about 7AM I was feeling a bit better (and had found the immodium) I then rested until about 8:15 to shower and see how I would do moving about. At 9 I went down to breakfast to have some bread, egg whites, and a banana. I knew that if I was going to head out I would need to eat something and I was not going to spend my last day in Istanbul in my room. As I felt quasi ok, I decided to head out the door to the "new" Asian side of town.


So my plan for my last day in Istanbul was to head over to the Asian side of the city and walk about. I prefer to see a city walking versus taking public transportation. Granted I might not squeeze as much into a day, but I also get to see fun and interesting side streets in my wandering. So first I went to the Galata Tower which is the tallest tower on the Asia side and provides an amazing view of the city.

From there I walked to Inkara Street which is shut to all traffic but a trolley. It is a great shopping area and filled with locals. There were major international chains, local merchants, book stores, art galleries and cafes. If I had been feeling better I could have spent hours (and I will on my next trip here!). At the end of this boulevard is Takim Square. I walked about went to the park and then headed toward the water (big theme in my journeys in Istanbul, but if you can find the water to can figure out where you are in the city). On the way I went by the German Embassy and walked through a cool residential area that reminded me of San Francisco. A staircase was the path between the front of the apartment buildings. There was no way to get a car in the front, I assume there is back vehicle access but ?????? I finally reached the water and walked to the D (not even going o try and spell) palace. This was the one that was built by the last sultan of Turkey trying to improve and replace the Topkapi Palace. I got there and the line was more then I and my iffy stomach could handle, so I grabbed the trolley (ok, I will use them sometimes) back to the hotel to sit for a minute and think about lunch.

I ended up grabbing a quick cheese pida (Turkish fayter) as it was bland and then walked to the Archeological Museum. This was a pretty good museum, not as good as the British Museum but it had some highlights including:


Sculpture of Sappho

And some interesting information an Ancient Troy. There was also a separate building for Tile/pottery and the Ancient Orient. I did a quick run through those two buildings and then headed out to go to a small street/bazaar area that I kept missing, as i kept arriving after closing. I am glad that I finally made it as I picked up some Turkish towels, one item that I had really wanted to find. After that I went back to Faros to organize for leaving the next day (5:15AM, I really need to rethink the times that I book flights) and take a nap. I got up to get Mom a magnet and grab a small bite at a local chain called Samit Sekrit (once again, spelling?!?) across from the hotel. I then pretty much did my final organization and read for a bit and then off to sleep for the 4:30AM wake up call.

So I am on my way to Athens as I type after enjoying the Turkish Airlines Lounge. I have about six hours between my flight from Prague and to Doha, if i do not make a quick run to town, i know that I will be plenty comfortable in the lounge as TA knows how to do a lounge.

On other issues, I am still feeling off, and I pray (please, oh please, oh please) that I feel better by the marathon. Otherwise that is going to be a very interesting race. I have three days for everything to settle down and if my past history over the last 3-4 months is anything to go by I should be good, but still, cross your fingers for me.

To wrap up my Turkish portion of the trip, I loved Turkey. I thought that Istanbul was super cool and Goreme was amazing. I want to go back and hit some other areas of the country as historical sites from the Hittite, Greek, Roman, Byzantium and Ottoman times are all over and super interesting. I would recommend a visit to anyone.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


So the early morning started with a trek to the main offices of the balloon company where we had a quick breakfast and gathered the groups to head to the launch point. I had a great conversation with two American ladies that were teaching in Istanbul. It is interesting how in demand American teachers are in other parts of the world.

The balloon ride itself was quite wonderful. First we were able to watch about 60-70 other balloons launch and also watch up close the launch of the four balloons from our company. I am not super good with heights, but this is such a gentle ascent and decline that it did not really bother me. Our pilot John was able to maneuver the ballon so that we could decent into some of the valleys and also drop by some of the rock formations. Other then that we were at the whim of the winds, and they were in a good mood. I will say that a balloon ride maybe a better Spring/Summer venture as it was COLD. Otherwise a great start to the morning.

Then it was time for a quick return to the hotel to grab some coffee and a snack/breakfast (as the one at the balloon office was not too great) and the I was picked up to go on the "Green" Tour. This was an all day tour that visited

Goreme panorama - this was a quick photo op. I had better pics from the balloon.

Selime Kathedral - this site was incredible. In the 9th century, monks carved a monetary into the hill side, obviously expanding existing caves. Even taking that into account, what they were able to do was amazing. The work that they had to do to carve these rooms and create a place to live is mind boggling. Over time this site was also a hotel of sorts and a palace.

Ihlara Valley Walk - The walk started with a Cathedral that was built into the cliffs. From there it was just a beautiful 4km walk in the valley.

Lunch in Belisirma - Decent lunch with some good hi point. Great fresh trout.

Derinkuyu Underground City - While the underground city was an architectural feat, parts were quite un-nerving. There was a section that I did not do because of the tight constraints. All I kept thinking is that there is no way that Jim or Dad would fit down there. LOL!

Pigeon Valley - Photo op and end of day.

Then back to the hotel. This was a great tour for someone that really did not know much about the Cappadocia region as it hit some major highlights. I enjoyed having a knowledgable guide to talk about the places the we visited.

Dinner was really fun as the restaurant sat me with a fun Canadian couple. It was nice to have someone to chat with over dinner.

I am currently on the plane back to Istanbul for two more days of wandering about before heading to Athens. I am thinking that I am going to have some majorly tired legs for the race, but totally worth it. :).

Monday, November 7, 2011


So yesterday was a quick morning in Istanbul as I had a flight at 1PM to Kayseri to head to Goreme. As I had not made it inside the Blue Mosque I looked up the hours when it was open to the public (non prayer times - 5/day) and I was good at 9AM. After breakfast I headed out the door to the Mosque and like normal when trying to time entrance into a mosque the info provided was not quite correct. I entered the queue and prayed that "in shalla" it would open in time as I needed to get on the tram about 10:30 to get to the airport. While standing in line I talked to a nice group that was from Houston. It is always fun to run into other Texans. :) I was lucky and the doors opened in time for me to have a look inside the mosque.

The Blue Mosque is very beautiful and solemn, well and as advertised, quite blue. Once again the sheer size of the building is impressive. The columns feel like they are as big as the redwoods in California. There is not a ton to actually see in the blue mosque room wise, but the space that I was allowed in was worth the wait.

After leaving the Mosque I walked a bit and then headed to grab my stuff and head to the airport. The hotel that I am staying at will pick you up and take you to the airport, so for my main arrival and departure from Istanbul I am having them take me but for my trip to Goreme I took the tram and boy is it nice and easy. It is about 45 minutes but it is really interesting to see other parts of the city. I will take a slightly different route back so I can experience a different route as the amount of time is the same.

The airport in Istanbul is split between international and domestic, but Turkish Air had a premium lounge at both (hooray for Star Alliance Gold, and I will miss you). After some confusion I found the lounge (which is in BFE). The very interesting thing about this lounge is that they bus you to the gate directly from the lounge. There is no walking through the rif raf to get on the plane. ;) It was an easy one hour flight to Kayseri followed by an ~1 hour drive to Goreme. I arrive at my hotel and discussed plans with Sedar at the front desk for today's adventures and the he drove me to the Goreme Open Air Museum.

The Open Air Museum is fascinating. It is where early Christians built churches and lived. In this one small space I believe that there were 30 churches and for all their crude simplicity they were beautiful and humbling. The work that was done to carve and decorate these spaces so that they could worship is a testimony to their faith and a wonderful showing of belief. I am glad that I went yesterday as it was something that (as cool as it was, could be fit in an hour).

That evening I walk around town and enjoyed, bought a ceramic piece and went to bed early as I had a 4:30 wake up call for a balloon ride. :)

I have to say that it is a good thing that the hotel is not sound proof as I heard some one going down the stairs over head and thought to myself "what time is it" looked at the clock and it was 4:45. AAARGH, my alarm did not go off even though it was set to do so. I will have o figure that out tonight. Thanks to my loud neighbors I was up I time to take a quick shower before heading out the door for my balloon ride.

I think that this is where I will pick up the blog tomorrow on the plane. Great day today, but tired. Early call tomorrow to get flight back to Istanbul.