Our second Foreign Correspondent has returned from her travels! Stacy, her husband, and her two children traveled to Istanbul and Jerusalem this summer. We outfitted them with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is part 2 of their adventure.
We set an ambitious itinerary for the last full day in Istanbul before traveling to Jerusalem. It included the Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern, and the Grand Bazaar.
The Baghdad Pavillion inside Topkapi Palace
We started at the Topkapi Palace and, I’ll be honest, I could have stayed there all day long but the kids burned out after the third hour. Basically, the Ottomans ruled the entire Empire from here for hundreds and hundreds of years. It was their cultural and political center – there’s a library, the treasury, a concubines courtyard, a kitchen that fed thousands of janissaries and soldiers, mosques, reading rooms just to name a few of the highlights in the sprawling compound. All of this plus incredibly ornate and intricate architecture and sweeping views of the water that can be seen from throughout the walled compound.
Unfortunately for us, the lines to enter the Hagia Sophia were just too long. We kept moving a short distance to the Basilica Cistern. Other than knowing that it is the largest of several hundred underground water systems in Istanbul, we had little idea what to expect. As it turns out, the kids loved it. First off, it’s dark, lit by candles and about 20 degrees cooler than above ground. It was built in the 6th century during the Byzantine Empire to supply water to the palace complex nearby. In fact, the water level is not very deep these days, but it is deep enough to house many fish which swim around and add to the atmosphere and the kids’ happiness.
We continued on to the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) which is truly a magnificent sight to behold – up close and throughout the city. We sat inside the courtyard and took in the beautiful prayer tiles written in Arabic calligraphy, the stained glass, minarets. Another cool and really helpful thing we noticed were tons of high school aged kids in blue shirts with something like, “can I help you?”, written on them. We saw them all over the tourist spots and eventually, I asked them what’s up. As it turns out, they are volunteers for the Istanbul municipality, tasked with helping tourists maneuver the city’s intricacies while receiving school credit and practicing their English. Such a clever idea, and they really were very helpful.
Our second Foreign Correspondent is here! Stacy, her husband, and her two children traveled to Istanbul and Jerusalem this summer. We outfitted them with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is the first part of their adventure.
We were thrilled to be heading to Istanbul for a few days before our (nearly) annual voyage to see my husband’s family in Jerusalem.
Istanbul is an absolutely stunning city. Its history is rich – it’s been the capital of one empire after another for 1600 years – Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman. The first thing we noticed in Istanbul was that there is literally water everywhere you look. The original parts of the city are on a peninsula surrounded by the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus Sea and its arm called the Golden Horn. The Bosphorus splits Istanbul between two continents, Europe and Asia. We stayed on the more historic European side, but our views were mainly of the very lovely and green Asian side of the city.
We had a picture perfect day to take a cruise on the Bosphorus. The stand outs for me were the fortresses scattered on the European and Asian shorelines. It was interesting to think of the role the Bosphorus has played throughout history, including World Wars I and II, and then see the fortresses the different empires built at one point or another in a effort to protect their interests and sovereignty. One impressive structure, the Rumeli Hisari or European Fortress, was built in the mid-1400s in just 4 months and stands to this day as a museum.
The architecture along the Bosphorus stood out as well. The homes and palaces lining the waterway are a mixture of old seaside mansions and modern residences or second homes. Some are made of marble and some wood.
Our first Foreign Correspondent is here! Bijal Shah, her husband, and her two daughters spent ten days traveling around France this summer. We outfitted them with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is the final part 5 of their adventure.
Finally, our journey through France was enhanced by the memories of certain wonderful and not so wonderful scents. The only Paris scent that was a little too overwhelming for my daughters was the scent of the subway. I’m sure the heat was to blame for the overpowering scents of the underground.
Lavender field near Senanque Abbey
In Provence, the smells of the lavender fields were incredible. This was the perfect time of year to visit because the fields were in full bloom and when we were standing in the middle of the fields, it smelled like a bottle of lavender perfume. Outside of Avignon, we visited Châteauneuf-du-Pape, an area that produces wines developed by the popes of Avignon centuries ago.
One night after dinner in Aix, we strolled over to the Cours Mirabeau to sit and sip coffee and hot chocolate while we people watched. The smell of the drinks was enough to relax us and get us ready for bed.
Hot chocolate in Aix ex Provence
The one scent that my girls were not too fond of, myself included, was the overpowering scent of a delicious tasting Camembert cheese that their dad had picked up at the farmer’s market in Aix en Provence. We were having a wonderful rooftop dinner on our terrace with the fruits and veggies from the market as well as some fresh tapenade and a baguette from the boulangerie downstairs. Then my husband opened the cheese. It took a few moments for my 4 year old to realize that something was not so pleasant anymore. After convincing her that the smell is not actually from the cheese but a bird sitting around the corner, she agreed to taste it and actually liked it. My seven year old was not so easily duped and decided she would agree to taste it but wouldn’t like it. Overall, we had a FANTASTIC vacation filled with so many more wonderful moments all four of us are still laughing about. As much as they love being back home, they still wish they were back at the apartment in Provence or on top of the Eiffel Tower. They can’t wait until we go on another family vacation and get to have ice cream everyday.
Our Foreign Correspondent program is ongoing. If you’re interested in sharing your family’s international adventures with us you can find out more here.
Our first Foreign Correspondent is here! Bijal Shah, her husband, and her two daughters spent ten days traveling around France this summer. We outfitted them with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is Part 4 of their adventure. Stay tuned for the rest of their story this week.
Our sense of touch or feel had more to do with the hot weather than anything else. At one point as we were walking through the Greek sculpture room in the Lourve, the girls stopped walking. I realized that they had just walked on top of an air conditioning vent and were enjoying the feel of the cold air. Needless to say, we all stood on top of the vent for an extended amount of time.
Standing on the cold air vent at the Louvre
Outside of our apartment in Aix-en-Provence, there was a small waterspout type of fountain that my younger daughter made it a point to run her hands in the cool water every time we exited or entered the apartment building. As soon as she would get her hands wet she would chase after her dad to spray the water in his face. It became a daily game for her to see how quickly she could get us wet.
Sitting in the heat of the Provence sunshine
Hilltop town of Gordes, "the windy city".
Our first driving adventure in Provence was towards the hilltop town of Gordes. As soon as we got out of the car, we felt the “whoosh” of the strongest winds we had ever experienced outside of a tropical storm. I was afraid my girls, especially my four year old would be blown over the edge of the mountain…probably false paranoia on my part. We attempted to walk around town while we clung to each other and posed for pictures while hysterically laughing at how wild but kind of scary the wind was. Finally we gave up and decided to sit down at a restaurant and have dinner, but every few minutes the canopy would get pulled up by the wind and come crashing back in place making everyone except the waitresses jump.
The day that we went to Avignon, we also went to Pont du Gard to see the ancient roman aqueducts. Under the bridge is a very cool and refreshing river that people swim and kayak in. We didn’t get a chance to kayak like we wanted to but decided to get our feet wet since it was a warm sunny afternoon. The girls enjoyed splashing in the cool water and feeling the slippery rocks under their feet.
Splashing in the river under the Pont due Gard
Our first Foreign Correspondent is here! Bijal Shah, her husband, and her two daughters spent ten days traveling around France this summer. We outfitted them with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is Part 3 of their adventure. Stay tuned for the rest of their story this week!
The memories that come to mind about the interesting sounds of Paris and Provence are ones that my girls found the most unusual, exciting or soothing. In Paris, they loved hearing the sirens of the emergency vehicles by and the music of the merry go round. At the train station, they learned to anticipate the whistle blowing and would prepare by covering their ears.
Draing the scene outside the apartment window while listening to the street sounds.
But it was in Provence that sounds began to really become a part of the experience. My older daughter and I snuck up to the terrace and discovered a flock of “crazy birds,” screeching and flying by the dozens over the rooftops with no purpose or pattern. We sat there mesmerized by the sound of the chaotic birds.
View from the terrace, where the "crazy birds" were seen.
During the day, we heard the church bells chime on the hour and half hour. Hearing the bells was a new experience for the girls, and they enjoyed counting the rings to determine what time it was. As we left the city of Aix en Provence, we could hear the hum of the cicadas that populate Provence in the summertime.
Listening to cicadas outside the Chateau de Lourmarin
Towards the end of our trip to Provence we drove to Avignon, the site of the papal palace. We ate gelato, people watched, and listened to French folk music while my younger daughter danced. This was a moment that we will not soon forget; it touched all of our senses.
The square outside the Papal Palace
Our first Foreign Correspondent is here! Bijal Shah, her husband, and her two daughters spent ten days traveling around France this summer. We outfitted them with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is Part 2 of their adventure. Stay tuned for the rest of their story this week.
Our surroundings in France were incredible. The most amazing moment we had, the one that made both of my daughters’ jaws drop, was seeing the Eiffel Tower change from a lit up tower to a sparkling beauty. We knew that it would light up at night but all of a sudden, while we were on our night boat cruise it began to sparkle and continued to sparkle for five minutes. This was their single most memorable moment.
Right outside our hotel was the beautiful and peaceful Tuileries Garden. This garden was our direct path to the Louvre, which held the Mona Lisa, my older daughter’s favorite painting. At the Louvre, my daughters used their sense of sight to match the famous paintings they were seeing with the ones on their Louvre Bingo card that I had created at home, with the pictures of the most famous pieces of artwork at the museum. The bingo game was perfect for keeping their attention (at least an hour) at the museum. On our third day in Paris, we headed to Versailles to see the Sun King’s palace. Here we once again used our sense of sight to count the number of sun symbols we saw in each room that we visited…another tactic to keep the girls excited and looking around at the beautiful decor in the heat and crowd of people. The favorite room for both girls was the Queen’s bedroom with the pink and flowery motif and total number of symbols counted was over 100.
Playing Picture Bingo at the Louvre
After Paris we headed to Provence, where we had rented a car and were able to tour on our own. We drove to a 12th century working abbey called Senanque Abbey that was located in a valley outside of the hilltop village of Gordes. It is impossible to put in words how beautiful the ancient Abbey looked surrounded by the hills and purple lavender fields.
Senanque Abbey outside of Gordes
On a whim, we decided to drive to the town of Lourmarin where we happened to come across an old chateau that was open to tours. The Chateau de Lourmarin was a beautifully restored chateau from the 15th century with amazing views. The restored kitchen inside the chateau was the favorite all around.
Chateau du Lourmarin
The next day we drove to the French Riviera coast. As we approached the coast we caught glimpses of the sapphire blue waters peaking out in between the hills. We drove to a picturesque coastal town called Sanary-sur-Mer. It had a marina full of sailboats and a little boardwalk with cute shops and cafes. We were even able to take a dip in the ocean at a nearby beach. All of the natural beauty in Provence was a stark contrast to the metropolitan beauty of Paris, but both were a feast for the eyes.
Our first Foreign Correspondent is here! Bijal Shah, her husband, and her two daughters spent ten days traveling around France this summer. We outfitted them with a suitcase full of Tea before they left, asking them to share their adventures with us upon their return. Below is Part 1 of their adventure. Stay tuned for the rest of their story this week!
The Shah family outside the Palace of Versailles
Our family vacation to France was full of so many incredible experiences which left our daughters, ages 7 and 4 wanting to come back one day and experience it all again. This week I will re-live our journey our taste buds experienced.
On our first day in Paris we came across a gelato shop on our walk back from the Eiffel tower. After a long wait and using the minimal French my husband knew, we finally sat down with our refreshing gelato. The strawberry and cantaloupe sorbets tasted just like fresh ice-cold fruit that was picked at the peak of ripeness! The wonderfully cold gelato was a truly delicious and much needed reprieve in the hot Paris afternoon.
After a few days in Paris, we took the train to Aix-en-Provence, a small town in the south of France As a promise to the girls, we woke up early and headed to an outdoor farmer’s market with stalls of produce, meats, cheeses. The first things we bought were a bag of beautiful dark cherries and a basket of strawberries. The cherries were the sweetest we had ever tasted. We couldn’t help but exclaim “wow” after the first bite of a fresh cherry. While walking back to the apartment, we nearly devoured all the strawberries.
Each morning in the apartment we would have breakfast consisting of fresh fruit and warm croissants. Directly next door to the apartment building was a family owned Boulangerie (bakery). Every morning my husband would run downstairs and buy some hot croissants and deliver them for breakfast. We would sit on our rooftop terrace, eating our warm, melt-in-your-mouth croissants, juicy sweet fruits and enjoy the view of the orange tiled rooftops, church steeples and Mount St. Victoire in the background. The food in Paris was fun for the girls, as was the experience of sitting in the outdoor cafés, but the farm fresh foods in Provence are the ones that still get their taste buds tingling.