Dear Friends and Family,

Istanbul:

We arrived in Istanbul and were greeted with a bounty of snow. Our hopes and plans of escaping winter were quickly thwarted by this Eurasian land. Which leads me to a quick trivia point. Half of Istanbul is in Europe, while the other half sits in Asia. So technically we visited 3 continents in one day (we left from Cairo), which is definitely going into the scrap book. Aside from being quite cold, Istanbul is an absolutely beautiful city. It’s an interesting mix of Islam, ancient Christianity, Europe, and backgammon. Most of our first few days here were spent exploring the city. Some highlights included going to the Grand Bazar, Spice Bazar, Hagia Sophia, and the Blue Mosque. We’ve also eaten a lot of kebabs, sampled a turkish delight (which is a delicious candy treat and also nicknamed “Turkish Viagra”) and turkish coffee (not so delicious!), and ate at an all you can eat Pizza Hut buffet to boot.

We also had the opportunity to experience a turkish bath house. The guys and girls areas are separate, so I had the privilege of hanging out with a lot of sweaty, hairy Turkish men all morning. There are basins with little dog-like bowls to splash yourself. In the center of the room is a hot stone, where you can lay down and look up at a huge dome, planetarium like ceiling. Michelle and I decided to do the works, which included my first ever professional massage and an exfoliating scrubbing glove. Afterwards, I stepped into the lobby and was immediately engulfed by towels. One man wrapped a towel around my back while another tied together a nice little towel turban. I could hardly move and wanted to laugh as I can only imagine how ridiculous I looked, but I could only waddle away. Sadly, cameras were not allowed inside so no photos are available.

Island Town:
The next day, Michelle and I took a ferry out to a nearby island where we rented bikes and cruised around. It was our first sunny day here, and the weather was absolutely perfect. Aside from the center of town, we hardly saw any people, and would only need to stop for an occasional stray horse that would plant itself in the middle of the path. It was quite a surreal place, and an incredibly peaceful and enjoyable day. Here’s a little highlight video that includes a little ditty by Michelle at the end. It’s really cute.

Thermal:
After our bike day, we set forth to a small town about an hour from Istanbul. The town is centered around thermal, hot springs and has a camp-like feel to it. If you stay at a hotel for one night, you get access to all of the facilities which includes a thermal pool, giant hot tub, cold pool, sauna, steam room, etc. The coolest part (pun) was that our entire first day, it snowed like crazy, so we went swimming in the outdoor thermal pool in the middle of a snowstorm. We even had a snowball fight in the pool. It was a perfect way to experience winter. Below are some photogs of the thermal pool, as well as a sign with a picture that I thought looked like Conan O’Brien.

Tomorrow we head off to Cappadocia for a few days and then we’ll be making our way to Ephesus before crossing into Greece next week sometime. We’ve been staying with some friends of friends here in Istanbul… they’ve been incredibly gracious and have helped show us around this great land. They’re working for an artisan group that you can check out here: http://www.artisanslane.com/

We love hearing from you back home and greatly appreciate all of your thoughts, prayers, emails, and e-cards.

Love you all and to all a good night.

Written by Michelle and Jonathan Hoffner. Visit their websites Jonathan Hoffner Photography and She Dances