Sunday, May 31, 2009

1C show

So on Tuesday my 1C class gave their end-of-year English show. It was, in a word, cuki (precious, adorable, cute...). Here is a video of the kids singing "Little Bunny Foo Foo," which I taught them for Easter. Balint was so impressed with it that he decided to include it in the show (technically it's their music show, so it doesn't really have anything to do with me). The show included several songs in English, a short dramatic story involving a giant turnip, and ended with Hungarian dancing (with a broom... I wasn't entirely sure what was going on), strange relay races where adults stuck match boxes on their noses, and blindfolded children. Just a normal day in Budapest! Anyway, enjoy the adorable.

Rounding up the kiddies before the performance.

The girls, acting as "8 orange mice, standing on their tails."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Happy 50th Anniversary!

Happy 50th Wedding Anniversary to my Grandma and Grandpa.

I love you guys and I wish I could be there to help you celebrate!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The ridiculousness

So yesterday I was riding my new bike home, pondering the things that have been troubling me. I'm tooling along, having gone eight of the nine kilometers necessary to take me from its birthplace to my home, without incident. I even rode along the side of the road and wasn't killed.

And suddenly, my left pedal falls off, and I crash into the wall of a police station, swiping a dude in the process.

I wasn't hurt, besides a scraped face, and neither was the man. I picked up the pedal and walked the bike the last of the way home, and laughed the whole way.

Because really, when the pedal falls off your bike as you're riding? There is obviously no way that you can possibly control what is happening to you. I remembered all of a sudden that life is a farce, a comedy, a misadventure. So I should probably stop taking it all so seriously, and just laugh at all the things. Better than crying, anyway.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Etyek Wine Fest, take 2

So, guys, remember this?

Because this was one equally awesome and lovely, even if it included a slightly more eventful ride home. The Csibi family once again warmly welcomed us into their cellar for obscene amounts of tasty wine and interesting things spread on bread. We wandered the town a little more, and ate giant potato pancakes covered in sour cream, and knew enough about Torley champagne to impress the seller with our choices, if not with our Hungarian. I also tried one wine that included herbs: there was definitely pepper and probably cardamom. Unfortunately the maker of that one didn't speak any English so I couldn't really ask him. My Hungarian doesn't really extend to discussing the bouquet of wine, sadly, though Jenny did get a huge kick out of my declaration that a certain pinot noir was "a very young red." We wound up falling to sleep very early indeed, pretty much as soon as we arrived home at around nine.

It also seems to be our weekend for horrible movies. Because Xmen: Wolverine was just laughably awful. I've never seen characters walk away dramatically from quite that many explosions. The effects could have been done by a fly walking on a blackberry. Then Lyla and I decided to download Twilight to see what all the fuss was about, and Briggi and we got a huge kick out of mocking the sparkly vampires therein. Both were ridiculous. Do not watch them. They are foul.

In other very exciting news that I know you are all dying to read, we have given Bencelita a hair cut to help her cope with the hot weather. Basically, I took nail scissors to her belly to somewhat remove it of its hair so she can breathe a little better. It looks like it was done via weed whacker, and feels like the softest crushed velvet.

And thanks, Mom, for the maple syrup. Lyla, Briggi and I spent a good hour in the kitchen this morning, making and eating pancakes one at a time. They were delicious and we were happy for them. Then we baked really banging scones. Mmm.

Tomorrow I have a long day at work, then Lyla and I are going with Mate to Kerepesi. It should be fun. After that I'm heading out to pick up my bike and ride it home from Buda. Wish me luck.

Friday, May 22, 2009

And the less serious post.

It is really really hot. So hot that I was actually hard pressed to force myself off the airconditioned 4 tram today. So hot that Bencelita refuses to be held unless you have recently held a glass of cold water. So hot that I've taught all of my classes in semi-darkness, the curtains pulled against the open windows. Luckily everyone else is equally hot and sweaty, so I don't feel like I'm much more sweaty and disgusting than the average.

Tomorrow I'm returning to Etyek for a very large wine festival. I'm very excited. The Csibis were so friendly and welcoming way back in September (which, really, simultaneously feels like both 10 days and 10 years ago). This wine festival is also supposed to be great. As Agi was describing it, "It is very big, and very popular, and people talk about it. You could say it is..."

"Epic?" I volunteered.

So that should be, well, epic. Tonight we are going to go and see Xmen: Origins, even though we know it will suck, because it's playing in English and we want to see pretty boys bash each other.

Oh, and watch out world. Clear the streets. I bought a bike to ride to work.

Oh my goodness!

People who aren't my family or other CETPers read my blog. Wow!

In response to the first long response on the last post, this is something we (being my other American friends) have discussed at length. And that is the difference between the head and the heart. So yes, my head understands. My head studied modern western history, with a focus on politics and government. My head has soaked in lots and lots of museums. My head is, frankly, fascinated by all the funny little differences and the many serious large ones between here and there. But sometimes my heart just wants a hug and someone to offer to listen to me talk. It's a natural disconnect between the two, I think.

To the second, you are right: my one Hungarian friend, and some I've briefly been friends with, have asked me how I am. I think I just want my colleagues, or the lady I buy my breakfast from every single day, or the lady I sit next to on the tram three or four mornings a week to throw something my way beyond the requisite "jo reggelt." In America, you would make small talk with these people. You would be friendly with them. Unless you dislike them. And I think that's the biggest part of it for me, and for the others I've discussed this with. Even though our brains go "no, it's not true!" we can't help but feel that the reason people act like this to us is because they actively dislike us, not because we simply aren't close friends. And you feel this in your belly and in your heart, and your brain goes, "shut up silly girl," but the feeling is there anyway.

And normally my brain wins and I smile anyway and go about my day and am so genuinely happy in this place and life. But just, this week, I have so much personal stuff going on, and my head hasn't been able to win. Hungary is a great place for a happy American. We bounce around, laugh, horrify the nenis, bask in the history and architecture. But I think it's not the best place for a sad American. But my issues will sort themselves out and I'll be a happy American again and in love with this country once more, don't you worry yourselves about that.

And I don't feel badly about Hungarians. I've mentioned before how much I admire how loyal you are to your families and close friends, how hard you work to make a life out of often less-than-ideal circumstances. I haven't mentioned that the dark humor an unfair amount of you are blessed with rocks my world. I love that I am actually offered slippers in situations where I am expected to take my shoes off. The respect and care shown to children, the elderly, and the disabled is amazing. Your school system is SO MUCH more sane than ours. My little rant was directed solely at the lack of "how are you?"s. And, of course, the scary nenis!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Expat love

Standing and waiting for the bus to come this morning, Scott popped up next to me. I don't think I've mentioned him before, but he is a lovely British fellow who works at my school. We got to chatting about Hungarian, and then he mentioned that I've seemed a little off this week. Was I ok? I explained that I was just stressed, I have a lot of personal things going on right now.

And then because I was in an honest mood, I confessed that the Hungarians were making it worse for me. They never ask, "How are you?" Ever. For me this is bizarre. And while I understand that they just don't do this, culturally, I don't understand it. Don't they feel unloved? Uncared for? Bereft in this world, totally alone and without anyone worrying about them?

Because sometimes I do. Sometimes I would give anything in the world for someone to just say, "Hey, Lauren, how are you doing?" Or even, "Hey, do you need help with anything right now?"

I've explained to a few Hungarians that in America, probably because we all move out when we're still children, we take care of each other. If a foreigner (who is trying to speak English) moved to America, their colleagues and neighbors would fall over themselves offering them help, checking that they're ok, bringing them food, whatever. But isn't that insincere? they ask. I always shake my head. I mean, acting friendly and concerned about someone doesn't actually mean we're friends. We do this because it is the right thing to do, the nice and good thing. They don't understand it. "You are friendly with your friends. You are polite with everyone else," they say.

I can appreciate their sincerity. But at the same time I don't understand how they don't all die of pure unfettered loneliness.

Anyway, I bitched for a minute to Scott. And then I realized that as irritating as it might be that I don't have this with any of the Hungarians, I have it with the other expats. There's Scott and his vaguely off-color jokes. Andrew who picks on me mercilessly for being overly serious. Dear sweet Bill. Julia, who compliments me in a comforting and motherly way. Artoor, who is sincerely kind and earnest. Irena, the Serbian who commisserates with my angry faces. Let alone the other CETPers: Lyla, Ash, Jenny, Briggi, everyone else whom I see less often but care for no less. And all the CSers.

Thanks guys. I love you and APPRECIATE you. I don't know what I would do without your smiley faces.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Osztaly buli

So about three weeks ago Balint was handed a letter addressed to him and me. Oddly enough, it is not super unusual that we get mail together addressed to him, which he then has to translate for me, so I didn't really think much of it. A few days passed, and I remembered the letter, so I hunted him down and asked what it said. Of course he had forgotten its existence, so he dug it out of his backpack and proceeded to do a live-action translation, always a fun experience. The jist was that there would be a class party for 2C, a picnic on the 16th, and we were invited. He whined about losing a Saturday's worth of work, and I panicked at the concept of spending a full day surrounded by people who only mostly spoke Hungarian.

"Well, if you go, I'll go too," Balint offered. At my questioning look, he started stammering, "Well, I mean, maybe I'll go if you don't, I'm just saying, um..."
"Aww, you're offering to protect me!"
"No, um, I mean, uristen (God)..." flustered march off to hide in the fortress of solitude.

Then it turned out that this party turned into a "thing" after the 2C class teacher took offense at what she felt was undue pressure to surrender one of her Saturdays and, essentially, scolded the parents. So there was drama, of course, and during the parent teacher conferences two weeks ago Balint asked me why I was afraid to go. And then I realized exactly that, that I was actually afraid to go and deal with this, because I figured it would wind up being super-awkward for me. So I decided to stop being a wimp and suck it up and go. And spent two weeks of Hungarian lessons preparing for the thing.

So yesterday was the class party. And it was actually really lovely. I mean, were there moments where I wound up by myself, sitting awkwardly? Yes, of course. But the thing did last for like 9 hours so that's only to be expected. Mostly I actually had fun. I played with the children, spoke horrible Hungarian with some parents and really lovely English with others, was force-fed no less than 20 pogacsa (little salty cheese rolls), participated in relay-races, and was thanked profusely for actually coming. And Balint did a lovely job about, well, protecting me in his own awkward little way. So yes, I was sort of treated like an exotic species, stared at curiously and given something of a wide berth. But everyone was really nice, and just so, well, shy around me.

And it got me thinking that while there are certainly rude Hungarians, maybe their rudeness is simply how they deal with awkwardness. I deal with it by hiding, speaking overly quietly, and laughing nervously. Maybe they deal with it by scowling. And maybe all these Hungarians are just as scared of me as I am of them. Except, of course, for the nenis, who are actually just terrifying meanies.

Cultural differences are so funny. Not funny haha, but funny strange. They are difficult to predict or notice and even more difficult to understand. But the more I experience this crazy place, which is really just so much more different from America than it seems at first glance, the more I realize that we are all so different and we are all so much the same. We're just the same in different ways. And I know that makes no sense. But it's true, at least for me, at least right now.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Krudy's 20th Birthday Party

Yesterday my school celebrated its 20th anniversary. This translated into a hot air balloon showing up first thing in the morning, fun activities in the school yard, a picnic lunch, the female teachers dominating the female 8th graders in volleyball and the 8th grader boys thoroughly smacking up the male teachers in football, and a show featuring our lovely and talented students. It ended with a teacher barbeque in the school yard, with a surprise visit by naked football players who forgot to close the door while they were changing. And a teacher barbeque, of course, meant drunk colleagues playing the guitar and singing. It was a lovely day, mainly because I, as usual due to my lack of Hungarian skills, got to spend it not actually doing anything besides hanging out with my kiddies, whom I love.

Liza (a funny and crazy girl who likes to make crazy faces and leap on me from high places without warning) and Lilu (one of the sassiest little girls I've ever met, who regurlarly flounces around the classroom in giant pink sunglasses and ridiculous clip-on earrings) from 1C.

Lili (at top, who will someday be an evilly awesome fashion mogul) and sweet, quiet Betti and Jucus from 1B.

Me with Kriszti, Orsi, and Bori (whom I call pony), from 2B.

Cheering on the poor male teachers (especially super-competitive Balint!) with some of 1C, from left: Niki, Livia, Vanda, Reka, and Anna.

Anna, Dorka, a 1A student, and Sara get some stretching in. Dorka has this face on at pretty much all times, and often thinks that she is a tiger.

And this, folks, is why I am so happy in my job. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mothers' Day!

Happy Mothers' Day to you, Mom. Who birthed me, raised me, puts up with my insisting on living halfway around the world. Who decorates the house for every little insignificant holiday with as much joy as she does for Christmas. Who still sends her grown daughter care packages. Whom my students know as "the present lady." Who takes care of everyone around her, sometimes whether they want it or not!
You're a great woman, Mom. I miss you and I love you. I can't wait to see you very soon!
Happy Mothers' Day also to my grandmothers, and to every single other amazing, life-giving, life-affirming woman out there. You are all amazing!

An ode to Budafok

Budafok is the southernmost district of Buda, the western side of Budapest. It is very far out of the way and quite difficult to get to, and thus, until a few weeks ago, we had never visited it. Three weekends ago, though, we set out to start the district challenge. What is that, you ask? Well, Budapest is made up of 23 districts. So the district challenge gives you two weekends... that's four days, plus two evenings, to hit every district. And it is not enough to just pop up from the metro. It is not even enough to grab a coffee. You must do something unique in each district. We decided to start out in Budafok because it is the most far away. Apparently there is a statue of a man chugging wine. Sweet. So Lyla, Briggi, and I set off to take a picture with this statue and then continue on for a very full day.

We hopped off the bus and heard brass music. Mi van? What was, in fact, was a wine festival. Oh no/Awesome! So we drank some wine. We literally watched the news of the arrival of Three American Girls pass through the crowd at this out-of-the-way suburb. Wandering down the road, we discovered... wait for it.

Lyla, Briggi, and the brass band.

Keep waiting.

Look, a pretty church!

Seriously, it'll be worth it.

A wine high school. That's right, a high school devoted to teaching high schoolers how to make wine. So how could we pass that up?

Wine, made by highschoolers.

After this much wine without breakfast, some food was necessary, so our next stop was a bakery for some cheesy pogacsak. Walking back to the bus, determined to continue on our challenge, we discovered that we were right by the Torley champagne factory. Which was offering free tours. Today only. So we went on that, and stared at the beautiful beautiful boy conducting the tour (you know, in Hungarian), and were then offered some free champagne in honor of our Americanness.

There are no words for the amazingness of this picture.

So, yes, the district challenge was left for another day.

Istanbul, day 3

Don't worry, this one will not prove as long as day 2!

Sunday we woke up and found a lovely day. Heading out to the spice bazaar, we became mildly lost and very confused. Following the theory of "walk behind the people with the obnoxious backpacks," however, worked out for us. Soon we were in the bazaar, and it was amazing. It smelled of sweet, spicy flavors, and was full of beautiful colors. We bought far too many spices, dried cranberries, turkish delight, cheese, and pastrami sandwiches, and wandered around the whole thing more than twice.

Oh, the pretty!

Then we caught a ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul. This is not nearly as touristy an area, and we wandered into a few mosques and to a cemetery. My foot, though, was in an insane amount of pain here, and as Lyla said I was actually turning grey, we decided to just head back to the coast, where we sat on cushions, drank tea, and stared at Europe across the water.

This picture was not in any way staged. Definitely not.

my shoes waiting for me outside a mosque.

inside one of the Asian mosques

Just me, relaxing on some cushions... this is how life should be.

Our feet, the sea, and a man teaching his very cute young daughter to play backgammon.

What's that behind me? Oh, you know... Europe!

Heading back to Europe, we bought fish sandwiches from some fishermen. So simple, just fish and lettuce and onions on a crusty baguette with lemon juice... but so delicious!

After a brief stop at the hostel to drop off our things, it was off to the Turkish bath we had booked the night before. We arrived and were shown into a small changing room, where we wrapped ourselves in thin red towels. Then a woman silently lead us into the women's bath area. A small step circled the room, illuminated by small skylights. We squeezed onto the little step and used small bowls to pour hot (or cool, depending on your preference) water onto ourselves. After a half hour or so, and large Russian woman wearing a tiny bikini came in, asking "Soap massage?" I put up my hand and followered her into a small room containing two marble slabs. She took my towel off me, put it on the slab, and motioned for me to lay down.

I pointed at my heel and said "ouch, ouch!" She shook her head, "Will no hurt," and pushed me onto my stomach. Eeep. A bucket full of warm water slapped my back, and then I was being violently massaged with a loofah mitt. Another bucket of water followed. By this point I was shaking uncontrollably with silent laughter. Then the woman got a towel, and somehow used it to produce mountains of soap foam. The scalding hot soap foam pouring over me was a lovely, but very strange sensation, and the laughter became somewhat less silent. The woman then used her hands to basically remove my muscles from my body, rub them, and shove them back inside. When she first rubbed down my spine, I actually heard every vertebrae crack. It was fantastic. Then I turned onto my back and she repeated the process, playing the xylophone on my rib cage. When I was done, she dumped several more buckets of water over me, then washed my hair, finishing by dumping several more buckets of water over my head, wrapping me in my towel again, and swatting me out of the room.

After about an hour more of steaming, Lyla and I headed out to the lobby, pilferring extra towels to wrap ourselves in on the way. I felt, and looked, rather like Ariel when she dresses herself in a sail. We sat in the lobby, steam rising off our skin, and drank sweet apple tea.

Work it, sister.

We then returned to the tea garden from the day before for some more relaxation, finishing the day with hot meatball sandwiches from a street vendor. And finally it was back to the hostel for... well, a nap. At 2:50 AM my alarm went off, and I stumbled around getting dressed and then down to wait for the airport van, which took us to the airport, where we caught a plane that took us back to Budapest, where I caught a taxi that took me to work.

The tea gardens are very pretty and romantic.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Istanbul, day 2

Saturday morning, we awoke to find pouring rain. Boo. Undeterred, we headed upstairs to eat our breakfast of omelet, and then dutifully trouped out to start our day of insane sight-seeing.

The first stop was Tokapi Castle. The former residence of the Sultan, it is a lush garden of gnarled trees and beautiful flower beds, dotted with buildings of various ages and architectural styles. The most impressive, of course, was the Harem, which also naturally cost an extra ticket to enter. We gladly darted into its maze of rooms, happy to escape the pouring rain. Each room was astoundingly ornate and beautiful, with tiled walls, gold leaf, stained-glass windows, brocaded sofas, and hanging lanterns. The hallways, by contrast, were stark, whitewashed, and bare of decoration. There were also a series of courtyards, with decorative rock pathways twining through them and painted roofs, which I managed to duck under to take pictures undisturbed by the rain.

tile work

a stone path in one of the courtyards

stained glass windows

the view from under a courtyard roof

A room that seemed to have been designed for lounging in, full of low sofas and shelves.

The castle also contained a small museum of royal caftans, some almost 500 years old, and all in beautiful condition. They have very long sleeves. We wandered into another building and discovered it was full of religious relics, such as old drain pipes from Mecca, hairs from Muhammad's beard, and, purportedly, the staff Moses used to split the Red Sea. In this room, a man chanted from the Koran over the loudspeaker, lending a special air to the whole museum full of impossible relics.

beautiful flowers, especially the strange almost-black tulips

From there we headed to the Hagia Sofia, only to be deterred by the ridiculous line for tickets. So we headed to the Blue Mosque to discover that it was, at that time, closed for prayer. So... lunch? On our way we found an Egyptian obelisk in the old Roman forum, which was amazingly intact. Amazingly. Like, I actually could not believe that it was the original. But it is. See for yourself:

How insane is this?

This square also included a column that soldiers apparently used to climb to prove their strength, and the "serpentine" column, now no longer so serpentine since, according to the guidebook, a drunken Polish nobleman knocked off the heads a few decades ago.

In the square we found a man selling home-made candy from a tray containing the most beautifully colored sweets. I had to buy one just to see it done. The visual was amazing, as the man struggled with the sticky candy to wrap it around a wooden stick. The taste was sweet and simple, with a very chewy and sticky texture.

Sitting in this park eating the candy and some roasted corn, we heard the call to prayer again. This time I got a video. Being right across the street from such a huge mosque, it was ridiculously loud, and it was echoed by another mosque a short distance away. Nothing stopped, people continued walking around and the vendors continued selling their food, and the loudspeakers blared above our collective heads.

We wandered up the street and got doner kebaps and fresh carrot juice and baklavas for lunch. Then we headed back to the Blue mosque, where we could go inside. Taking off our wet shoes and putting them into little bags, we carried them in with us. Inside it was beautiful, full of tiles and low-hanging chandeliers just above head level. The most impressive was the sense of space: it's a huge, light, airy room with no benches or chairs, or even an altar, just a plush carpet and the lights. It was so foreign to me, and I found it remarkably still.

the cascading domes of the roof and some minarets

in the mosque courtyard

lanterns and the blue tiles for which the mosque is named

We headed across the park to the Hagia Sofia. This church is so old, built in 537 AD. For over a thousand years it was the biggest cathedral in the world. It was also, naturally, undergoing reconstructive work, with massive scaffolding in the middle. Again, there was so much space in this church. The dome is 182 feet tall, and the light pours in from windows. There are mosaics everywhere, many of them in fragments. It now contains also 8 giant plaques bearing names of famous Muslim caliphs. It's just impossibly interesting, and full of history, and huge!

astoundingly beautiful and so very old

the mihrab

This is my favorite mosaic, especially because I photographed it reflected in glass. In the center is Mary, and two emperors offer her the Hagia Sofia and the city itself as gifts.

Walking and looking for a snack, we wandered into the Grand Bazaar. And grand is a good word for it, because it is huge, and full. Tiny shops have their wares spill out into the walkways, and all the vendors harrass you gently. Well, most of them gently at least! I wound up making a few purchases: a small lantern and a scarf, some earrings, a tile... I couldn't help myself, everything was so beautiful and the haggling process itself was so much fun! Then we sat in a little vine-covered garden and sipped at the omnipresent Turkish tea, which is certainly very intense! It was beautiful and peaceful, and I was happy.

a view of the sunset up the street onto which we exited the Grand Bazaar

in front of a fountain, with the six minarets of the blue mosque in the background

Lyla and I shared a fish sandwich and wandered back to the hostel for an early-evening nap before dinner. Dinner was in a sort of Turkish buffet, and was tasty and over-priced. We also tried raki there, the typical Turkish beverage, like somewhat harsher ouzo. Wandering the neighborhood after dinner, we came across the sweetest little street kitten, whom I named Puha, which means soft in Hungarian. She was indeed soft and fluffy, and we had to make a great effort not to smuggle her back with us. Saying goodnight to little Puha, my eyes were shut almost before my head hit the pillow. The next day, I was going to go to Asia for the first time in my life!

Puha climbed up on our shoulders and purred away.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Istanbul, day 1 (ish)

Humans are very adaptable creatures, and too often we allow our lives to become, or at least to feel, mundane. I live in Budapest, and it is my "home," at least for awhile, and sometimes I forget the marvelousness of my life in my daily hustle and bustle. Thursday, though, I did not. My school day was lovely and as I walked to the bus afterwards, smiling from the high of a good conversation, feeling the sun caressing my cheeks and the cool breeze tossing my hair, I was completely and wonderfully happy. My Ipod sang sweet tunes to me and I laughed at the sheer amazingness of my life, because on Friday, I was going to Istanbul for the weekend.

Friday morning Lyla and I set out to the airport on the metro and then the bus, arrived without incident, and caught our flight just as planned. Flying over the sea to Turkey, we marvelled at the fact of our existence. Coming in over Istanbul was, in itself, amazing. Minaret after minaret peeked out from the crowded skyline, towering over homes and hiding between skyscrapers.

We arrived and proceeded through security, going through passport control and purchasing our entry visas. I giggled at the ease of obtaining this visa as opposed to the insane hassle involved in getting my previous two (for Spain and Hungary). Commenting to Lyla, I mentioned that my name could have been that of a notorious Greek Turkey-hater and I would have gotten no more hassle than I did. Lyla replied, "What, like Lauren Cyprusisoursoupolous?"

We caught the shiny metro, operated with actual tiny tokens, and managed to transfer to our tram. On the way in I stared out the window at the outskirts of the town, which looked at one time not much different than those of Budapest and at the same time from another world. After what seemed like forever we were at our tram stop downtown. We stumbled off the train, unsure exactly where to head from there, and into a park across the street to get our bearings. Freed by my blonde hair and our backpacks, we pulled out our guidebook to look at the map and figured out where to go. Then we looked up for the first time, and saw this to our right:

The blue mosque

and this to our left:

The Hagia Sofia

Wow. I cannot impress upon you enough how amazing and just... beautifully imposing these two buildings are. It's like they have their own life, and it is without a doubt much more important and amazing than your own.

We found our hostel, rested, had a beer. Then it was out to dinner, where our immensely friendly waiter took great care of us. And the food was amazing. I had squid stuffed with tuna, shrimp, and cheese. It was so delicious, topped off with intense, mouthy Turkish red wine. Halfway through dinner, we heard a strange sound take over the city, a haunting cry on loudspeakers. It was the call to prayer, something I had totally forgotten about. It seemed strange in this modern corner of the city, the restaurant's radio playing latin hits.

wine and a daisy

so delicious and beautiful

We then went for a walk and bought small cups of salehm, a hot spiced drink made from tapioca root, from a street vendor.

"What is it?" we asked, intrigued by the giant pot sitting on an open flame in a wooden cart, spouting steam into the chill night air from a spout in the side.
"Salehm," he replied.
"But... what is it?" I laughed, and he simply poured us cups in answer.

the park, the German fountain, and the Hagia Sofia

Lyla and I walked around the square, sipping carefully at our molten cinammon flavored deliciousness, smiling at an apparent Turkish police convention that kept smiling and waving at us, and listening to the seagulls crying while they circled the minarets of the blue mosque. Having had too much for our brains and hearts (and stomachs!) to handle, we headed back to the hostel for a relatively early night, a huge day waiting for us on Saturday.

The mosque, with little squiggly-line seagulls flying around the minarets.