Anyway, so we made it to our gate, and then we made it to Istanbul Saturday afternoon, and checked into our rather nice hotel. The thing that's so amazing about visa runs is this: it's free. It's totally free! We get to leave the country, and go somewhere awesome, within reason, and UOP will pay for it! And for our hotel, and for our food! So it's pretty much a win-win. Actually, we had to pay for our hotel because UOP won't pay for two hotels at once, and we still had the room in Germany, so we just paid for the Istanbul hotel because it was cheaper. So then went down to the Grand Bazaar, which is this huge, well, bazaar, where they sell everything from knock-off t-shirts and shoes to really cool cultural stuff like lamps, rugs, jewelry and wall hangings. This place was huge! Naturally there were hundreds of people yelling at us... do you need new jeans? Do you need lamp? We didn't buy anything there because we were too intimidated and didn't know even a starter price for any of this stuff and we didn't want to get blind sighted... and for good reason. We are really bad bargainers and even worse at saying no... in China we paid $20 for paper hats at the Great Wall. Paper. We're awful. Sunday we got up early and went first and foremost to the Hagia Sophia, which was incredible. It is all self-guided, and a lot of the information is written in English, so you really don't need one of those guides who try to poach you on your way in. It really is just an amazing piece of architecture, not to mention all the history. It was the most important Christian church for like 900 years, from the 4th century, until in the 15th century someone took over and transformed it into a mosque, and covered up all the unbelievable tile mosaics on the walls and ceilings. They have been renovating it and uncovering the Christian elements since the 1930s, I think. I'll have to post some pictures, because there just really is no way to describe how beautiful the mosaics are. Across the street is the Islamic answer to the Sophia, the Blue Mosque. It is quite an impressive sight itself, and I think it was built maybe in the 1600s? We went into the courtyard there, but there were all these signs that said women needed to wear long skirts and head coverings, and naturally I wasn't, so we thought it was safer to stay out. Also, the line was huge, and that may have deterred us a little. From there we went to the Underground Cistern to the palace, which I guess is this old water holding tank from forever ago, and it has all of these stone columns running through it. There are two in the very back that sit on top of two Medusa heads, and no one has ever figured out why they are there. One is upside down, and one is sideways. Again, they don't know the reason for this, but they do think it was intentional. It's all very mysterious. After this, we went walking around trying to find this huge bridge, but got lost, and then went shopping... I knew it was a bad idea. We went into this shop to look at these little ceramic plates, and we got cornered and the salesman was just so amazing and friendly, and he said "There is a saying in Turkey that if you have a cup of tea together, you will be friends for 40 years." James had told me about this tea drinking, and what it can lead to, but I thought, no, I can enjoy my cup of tea and not be persuaded by this man's salesman charms. But I was. He showed us so many beautiful rugs, all hand woven antique rugs, of different sizes, shapes and textures. He finally zoned in on one we really liked, and we asked the price, and lo and behold, it was $800. On "sale". We were flabbergasted. This thing was smaller than a coffee table! It was gorgeous, but not $800 gorgeous. We told him we couldn't afford it, and he said, well, you tell me what you can afford, and we will see if we can meet in the middle. So, we said, we don't want to offend you, but we can't spend more than about $100. And we thought that was the end of it. But no, he simply smiled, put the rug away, and got out another rug, a "college student rug" he called it, and said he could give it to us for $350. Anyway, we struggled and kept trying to walk out, because, let's face it, we didn't even want a rug, we don't even have a house! In any case, we talked him down to $140, without really trying, and finally we gave in. See how bad we are? We should not be allowed to shop in these countries! Anyway, we're pretty happy about it, and it is beautiful, it's wool, and hand made, and I know we couldn't get it for that much in the U.S., and we didn't really have a choice, did we? I mean, the guy came over and took both of our hands and said "Listen to me, from the bottom of my heart, I can give this to you for $140, and I am making almost no profit off this, but I know you are nice people, and you have friends, and I will give you business cards and you will send me your friends so I will get business." From the bottom of his heart! So we did, and he made us feel really good about ourselves... which is their way, i guess. He should win a metal. I have never been so sold on something I didn't want before. It was surreal! So now we have a Turkish rug sitting on our hotel floor, and after we leave here it will sit on our boxes in our storage room. Good purchase.
So, that's about it. Oh, and the hotel in Istanbul had 8 English channels, and we watched every single one of them. For hours. And upon our return into Germany, we didn't have problems entering, but we did have to wait in line for an hour and a half to get through immigration. Not the best. But still, free trip.