So now that I'm firmly ensconced in our hostel in Saint Petersburg where we'll be hanging out until late Monday night, surrounded by a handful of Brits and a Dane who are slamming cheap apple vodka shots while conversing loudly about how terrible the vodka is, I think I'll take a few minutes to talk about Istanbul. Bloody hell, I'm a bit behind with the blogging, eh?

So a couple weeks ago we went to Istanbul, and we did this for best possible reason: because we could. Turkey is an interesting place. Russia is interesting in that everyone in America has tons of thoughts and imagined stereotypes about what it must be like in Russia which usually turn out to be inaccurate at best and incredibly wrong at worst. Turkey, however, is just a country with a funny name that no one really thinks about, so Paige and I didn't really know what to expect. Paige did read the US State Department's page about Turkey to be sure she wouldn't have to wear a burka while we were there, but past that, we could've walked out of the airport in Istanbul to find rolling hills of desert sand dotted with tents and camels and we would've just started taking pictures until our cameras ceased to function.

What we did find, though, was a largish, fairly clean, very colorful city loaded with people who were decent and normal, but coming from Moscow where everyone hates anyone or anything that walks, they were absolutely amazing. People stand about on the streets hassling you to come into their restaurants and stores, but they say "please" and "thank you" and try out their English jokes on you and stuff. Paige and I were walking back to our hostel eating a piece of watermelon one evening which takes us past 7 or 8 restaurants when one of these guys saw us and in a heavy accent said, "Hello, please, we have FREE WATERMELON." He was really pleased with himself, I think.

The hostel was amazing. A nice, young guy owns and runs the place, which is called "Southern Cross Hostel". He spoke good English (as most people in the tourist area did) and loved to joke. Free breakfasts in the morning consisted of bread, butter, honey, eggs, ham slices, tomatoes, goat cheese, and real olives. The roof was a Turkish pillow-lounge bar, and the bottom floor was a general store. It was walking distance to Hagia Sofia and everything else we wanted to see, and that which wasn't, was a short, air-conditioned tram ride away. Food was great and cheap. We got doner kebab sandwiches for a couple lira which is less than a dollar.

On the subject of Hagia Sofia, Paige and I both were fascinated with the building in classes that we've taken, but we never thought we'd see it because, who goes to Turkey? Walking into the main hall of Hagia Sofia is something that literally amazes you. It isn't like a lot of sights that people pull out a lot of weird hyperbole to explain as if they're trying to justify the money they spent to see it. You expect to be amazed, but then you see it and it blows you away and then you remember that it was built thousands of years ago and it blows you away again. It is absolutely, without exaggeration, one of the top 3 most amazing things I've seen. According to my research, you would fit the entire Statue of Liberty, without pedestal, but with torch, inside Hagia Sofia.

Istanbul was loads of fun, I swam in the Sea of Marmara, I've been to Hagia Sofia, and I saw the lighter side of Islam. We hung out in ancient sultans' palaces, grand bazaars, and active mosques. I even bought middle-eastern-style shirts.

Anyway, the Brits are distracting me because they have funny accents, so I'm gonna cut out. I'll catch up while I'm here, and fill everything in, including what we're doing in Saint Petersburg again. In other news, we fly home on the 31st of July, so we'll be home about the first. We'll see ya'll then.