Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Review of My Travel Moments in 2015

In January I had the opportunity to go to Vienna, which was a nice cold treat. The history of the city is incredible and chocolate cake and coffee are amazing.

I was able to upgrade to Austrian's business class on the way back from Vienna (VIE) to Chicago (ORD) on a 767-300ER.

At the end of March I had the opportunity to visit some schools in Shanghai. I was only there for a few days. Luckily I flew nonstop from LAX to Shanghai (PVG) on United's 787 both ways. It's a really long flight, but the 787 is quite comfortable.

Later in April, I had to go to San Francisco for the day to get visas from the Vietnamese consulate office. I had time to walk around Chinatown to get my favorite rice cakes.

Also in April, I attended a conference in Miami. My conference was at a school that had wild peacocks around the campus.

The first night there I stayed at the Conrad Miami, which is super nice and they upgraded me to one of the residences. It was a 2-bedroom apartment for just me for about 12 hours. It was ridiculous but a nice surprise.

In June I flew to Bhutan via one night in Bangkok at the Conrad. It was an amazing trip to the Himalayan country and flying into one of the most dangerous airports in the world, Paro.

The Tiger's Nest temple is about 2000ft up on a cliff. It requires quite a long trek up the mountain and it was so worth it.

After Bhutan, I had to layover in Kathmandu, Nepal. The flight from Paro (PBH) to Kathmandu (KTM) goes right past Mt. Everest, which was a real special treat.

Onward from Kathmandu, I flew business class on a Qatar Airways A330-300 to Doha for one night.

From Doha, it was on to Istanbul, which is one of my favorite cities ever. The coffee, food, scenery, and people are just wonderful.

On the way back from a trip to the east coast in August, I flew back to LAX and spotted the lovely Air New Zealand 777-300ER in the new black livery. 

In November, I attended a conference in Palm Springs and had the opportunity to stay at the Hard Rock Hotel. Each room has a record to label the room numbers and mine was INXS. So cool. 

In December I had to attend another conference in Tampa, Florida. I was able to fly on United's 787-900 this time. It was actually the same exact aircraft that I flew from LAX to Tokyo in June. 

On the way home from Tampa, this AN-124 was parked across from the terminal. It's not an aircraft you see very often since it is a Russian plane.

This was the view on my last flight of 2015. This was the exit row of a United 757-300. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Why I love Istanbul

Besides spending several days in Bhutan, my round the world trip included Istanbul. This was my second time in Istanbul. My first time, I spent only about 22 hours there and only saw two things, the Hagia Sofia and the Sultanahmet Mosque (the Blue Mosque). On this trip I would be in Istanbul about 5 days. 
Istanbul is a city of duality. It is literally where Asia and Europe meet and it is where (middle) eastern and western cultures intersect. I absolutely love the Islamic influence and seeing mosques and hearing the call to prayer, yet the city feels European. The food is incredible and most of the time quite inexpensive. 
Dinner at Loti Cafe at Pierre Loti Hotel right off of Divan Yolu Cd.
Another thing I love about Istanbul is how picturesque it is. Just about everywhere you look makes an excellent photo or postcard. The architecture is amazing and the scale of everything is huge yet appropriate.
The famous Galata Tower
The Grand Bazaar is apparently the most visited attraction in Europe with around 15 million visitors yearly. The first time I went to Istanbul I got lost in the Bazaar and got locked in and couldn't find my way out. This time was much less stressful, yet more exciting because I was able to shop.

Amazing Turkish coffee in the Grand Bazaar
Sausage sandwich, suçuk, for breakfast in the Grand Bazaar

Floor at the Sultanahmet Mosque
Sultanahmet Mosque
The Sultanahmet mosque is an amazing place. I am intrigued by the scale of the architecture and the mathematics visible everywhere you look. Geometric patterns are prevalent throughout Islamic art and the Blue Mosque was a highlight of both of my times to Istanbul.
Prayer on the wall of the Sultanahmet mosque
Ceiling of the Sultanahmet mosque
Sultanahmet mosque
The inside of the mosque is fairly overwhelming. Every inch of the interior is decorated with all kinds of ornate patterns. I will never forget the first time I entered the mosque because it literally took my breath away. I was not prepared for what I was seeing. The real shame, however, is all of the rigging hanging from the ceiling that holds the lights partially obscures your views when looking up.
Sultanahmet mosque
There is so much mathematics going on in these patterns. I never get tired of seeing these or trying to figure out the symmetry and other relationships.
Door in Sultanahmet mosque
Sultanahmet mosque
Sultanahmet mosque
Outside Hagia Sofia
Hagia Sofia
Hagia Sofia
Hallway of Hagia Sofia
The Hagia Sofia is one of my all time favorite places of anywhere I have been. It is a magnificent building with a history to match. It is probably the oldest building I have ever been in and I just love seeing Islamic and Christian designs in this former place of worship that is now a museum. I could spend hours there. The second floor is also very interesting and there is so much to explore.
entering Hagia Sofia
the main area of Hagia Sofia
Christian and Islamic imagery
the intersection of Christianity and Islam

the washing area outside of Hagia Sofia
this is the best fruit juice in the world
Just outside the area of the Blue mosque, there is a street bazaar with crafts and street food. They had everything from arts and crafts, to clothing, sweets, and all kids of things.
basilica cistern
The basilica cistern was a place I missed on my first visit to Istanbul. It is also a place not to be missed. It is quite famous and even appeared in the second James Bond movie "From Russia With Love."
basilica cistern
Medusa's head in basilica cistern

looking toward the Galata Tower from a ferry to the Asian side
Dolmabahçe Palace
Conrad Istanbul, my hotel
I was lucky enough to meet up with a high school friend who is from Turkey and was in Istanbul at the same time. I was treated like one of the family and was included in their iftar dinner on the first day of Ramadan. It was such a treat and was quite a special experience to be included in.
iftar dinner at Doğa Okulları Beykoz Kampüsü
bedroom at the Conrad Istanbul
Living room at Conrad Istanbul
huge bathroom at the Conrad

The Conrad Istanbul has incredible views of the Bosphorus. At one point I saw 4 cruise ships leave the port within a 30 minute period. The Conrad is located in Besiktas and is just up the hill from a ferry landing, but it's not near the tram.
view from Conrad Istanbul

outside Dolmabahçe palace
In order to catch the tram back to the Sultanahmet area or the Old Town from the Conrad, it is a good 20-25 minutes walk. Along the way is a soccer stadium and the famous Dolmabaçhe palace.

The Topkapi palace is another famous attraction. It is a museum that houses all kinds of historical artifacts including relics of the prophets Mohammed and Moses. There is geometry everywhere too.
typical window at Topkapi palace

apartments at Topkapi palace
from Hanedan restaurant in Besiktas