South Africa

South Africa
Thursday October 26th we left Istanbul and began our long journey to Cape Town, South Africa. We had to start taking malaria medication and the pills were making me sick. About ten minutes before we left for an hour long bus ride to the airport, I was vomiting in the dirty hostel bathroom. Oh the glamorous side of traveling! We had three flights ahead of us. Our first layover would be in Abu Dhabi and our second would be in Johannesburg.

It was a full day later when we finally arrived in Cape Town on Friday the 28th. We stayed at a backpacker's lodge called "The Backpack" which was thankfully so much nicer than the horrible dirty smelly hostel we stayed at in Turkey. South Africa has become extremely backpacker friendly over the last ten years and the lodges we stayed at were all fantastic. Most of the places we stayed in had pools, a bar, a cafe, and a travel desk to help coordinate and book tours, rental cars and accommodations.

I wrote in my last post about Turkey that we met a woman from Cape Town who gave us lots of helpful information about the city. She sent me an extremely descriptive email with suggestions of places to see and things to do. We found it really helpful to have a real Capetonian's perspective on things rather than reading a guide book. It was so useful to us that I've asked her to allow me to post what she wrote to us. The following text in blue was written by Alex Swanepoel:
Alex's Cape town post

[ LONG STREET is the main street in the Cape Town CBD (Which all refer to as "Town") and is great for shopping, african souvenirs and partying. It has the biggest variety of clubs, shops and what-not. BUT, there is plenty of theft!!! You will find anything here.
Good places to go for drinks etc. THE DUBLINER, ZULU BAR (for live music), STONES (if you like to play pool), NEIGHBOURHOOD (for food and a more alternative upper class vibe) DO NOT walk down a dark alley alone, or alone at anytime. DO NOT wear lots of expensive looking jewellery. DO NOT flash your money, try using smaller notes when you pay. AND DO NOT trust helpless looking street kids or car-gaurds! Just carry on walking if they approach you, the street kids distract you, etc and that is when your phone or money goes missing. Be nice to car-guards as they can cause trouble... so be friendly, say thank you, make a joke and give them a tip of about R5 depending on how you feel about them. NEVER TIP THEM BEFORE, always when you return to your car. otherwise they leave and they don't do their job. But generally the normal rules apply for theft in any country, just watch your bags and don't ever leave them unattended. Don't put your phone/wallet in your pocket. Just ignore beggars... bla bla same in New York I am sure.
Just be aware, be clever, be humble and smile! South Africans are very helpful and friendly and respond well to kindness.


- CAMPS BAY is home to the up market lounges/clubs/restaurants, and some of our best/cleanest beaches. Great to go to after a day at CLIFTON (The main beach close by) or Camps bay beach. You can go all sandy from the beach, for some sundowner cocktails at CAPRICE, BLUES, THE BAY HOTEL, SAND BAR, BARAZZA, but keep in mind that you spend more in Camps Bay... cocktails are expensive but as a sun downers place. Always busy and vibey, food is good. Bring a bottle of your own champagne or wine to take down to the beach.

- CLAREMONT is where our rugby stadium is. Its the rugby and beer central! Go to the brewery for a tour if you can. and to a rugby game if one is on! they are about R50 for a ticket. And right next to each other. Cavendish Square, is the shopping centre in Claremont if you need some clothes etc. Best places for everyday clothing is Woolworths for quality at a decent price and Mr Price for cheap cheap cheap clothes, they won't last long from here but they do the job for a couple months. Both of these shops you find pretty much anywhere you go.


-KALK BAY is a whole day trip along with CHAPMANS PEAK DRIVE, HOUT BAY, CAPE POINT, and SIMONS TOWN. Let's plan it.


On a hot, sunny SUNDAY day you go to HOUT BAY for the market (go early) its better as a whole day thing but if you can't then try quickly do this whole trip in once. Get breakfast at the market. GET A DOGHNUT!!! This doghnut stall has been here for over 20 years and still going strong. its amazing. HOUT BAY also has the 'world of birds' if you spend the day there its pretty cool to support. For dinner or lunch in Hout Bay go to the harbour for fish and chips. BEST FISH AND CHIPS EVER!!!


!! CHAPMANS PEAK DRIVE (CHAPPIES) !! cannot be missed. its incredible to see and you have to do it no matter what! You can only go on a good weather day as its closed on bad days. You pay about R28 in a car to cross.
CHAPPIES takes you from hout bay to NOORDEHOEK. Noordehoek is cool and lots to see but you can see better.
Drive through from Chappies over to Kommetjie, where you can ride camels if you like? through to Misty Cliffs, Scarborough, on to the CAPE OF GOOD HOPE (CAPE POINT) another MUST!!! What ever you do, you must do cape point! Drive through, see baboons, springbok, dassies (little rock rabbits, FACT: their closest relative is the elephant), and walk to the point of Africa :) STUNNING. There are great hikes in the Cape Point Reserve, down to beautiful caves and beaches, unreachable by car. Try do it if you can. Food is expensive and not so great inside the reserve though, so rather eat in Simons town or at the ostrich farm to try some weird foods ie. ostrich. Just across the road is an ostrich farm. If you have never seen or ridden one, then go have a quick look.

Drive from there through Simons town, an old navy village, where you can go to boulders beach to see the penguins! on to KALK BAY. Go to the BRASS BELL for some drinks and sundowners. On the weekends it is full of surfers and plenty of drinking. Nice pizza. After then, if you stay late, go to Polana (either after Brass bell or for dinner). CAPE TO CUBE is a great restaurant for Cuban food. OLYMPIA CAFE is a good breakfast spot... be aware they are dirty in their kitchen, but they make the most amazing croissants!

FOR SURFING (learning) go to MUIZENBERG.
Long Beach for bigger surf, this is where all the locals go.
Otherwise Llundudno is good (but freezing cold) or to
Kalk Bay, but Kalk Bay is a bit rough if your not experienced enough and locals tend to get pissed of with people mucking around at this spot.
Wit Sands on good days is amazing, plenty of kite- surfing out here.

!! TABLE MOUNTAIN, you have to do. Hike up if you can and take the cable car down. !!
Very expensive to eat and drink at the top, so bring your own picnic and food etc. It gets cold and windy on top so bring a wind-breaker. You can go KLOOFING, or Paragliding from the top.

http://www.adventurehub.co.za/abseil-africa-table-mountain-kloofing-hiking-cape-town

Kloofing at Crystal Pools, would be an incredible experience. I think that -especially for the two of you- it would be an incredible adventure in the mountains and natural springs.

http://www.cape-xtreme.com/water/kloofing/

SHOPPING. go to CANAL WALK for a million million shops, its our biggest centre. and the
V&A WATERFRONT is great too, more up market but its great for lunch, movies, to see the boats, people, the mountain, its a great tourist thing to go to and I highly recommend it. Also at the V&A Waterfront:
!! The TWO OCEANS AQUARIUM is incredible. I have never been to an aquarium like this in my life. You will love it !!
Robben Island, where Mandela was in Jail. You take a day trip out on a ferry.
Little indoor Market on your way to the Aquarium with lots of hand-made African Crafts. Across the road is Put-Put and the Scratch Patch.

Or LONGSTREET, which depending on where you go can be expensive or cheap. GREENMARKET SQUARE (in Town) for african souvenirs,.

GRAND WEST CASINO is brilliant. a huge casino, with ice-rink, games area, food and restaurants and generally have theatre and shows. Its a bit far out but the casino is well work the visit!

!! KIRSTENBOSCH GARDENS is a must and I mean A MUST!!! You cannot go to cape town without going to kirstenbosch. Best on a hot day. If you are able and if the live act is any good, then on a sunday, they have an open air theatre in the gardens. You go around 3pm (always go early as possible as parking is hell) with a big picnic blanket and basket. take wine, cheese, more wine, and grapes, snacks to keep you going for a good couple of hours. its crazy busy but the best thing. A picnic in the gardens with live music, good happy people, children and nice food. Its a truely cape town experience .

http://www.uncoverthecape.co.za/event-calendar/kirstenbosch-concerts.htm

This is a pretty good site.

There are some great Hikes over into Kirstenbosch Gardens from Constantia Nek, that go through Cecilia Forest, where there are many natural water springs from the mountain :) Should only take Two hours or so depending on the trail you walk and how fast you go. But try do this. The forest is a working one, They might have recently cut down some trees but not too sure???

http://www.uncoverthecape.co.za/hiking-guide.htm

For wine tasting go to Steenberg in Tokai, Constantiaberg uitsig in Constantia... these are great and close. but if you have a chance to get out of cape town, take a day drive out to
Franschhoek! Just wine wine wine farms one after another. But its so beautiful! Take a sober driver, stay the night in a B&B or hire a bus haha as you will be waaaay to drunk to get home.

Or to Stellenbosch which is a student town, very old, plenty wine farms and great local shops etc. Just outside of Stellies is a Cheetah sanctuary at "Spier". You can take a train out to this area which is quite nice to do. The restaurant here MOYO is amazing, they paint your faces, wine tasting and you can dine in a tree house, really great!

http://www.spier.co.za/what_to_do_at_spier/cheetah_outreach/

For Kruger I think you might need the Wild Card? https://www.wildcard.co.za/

I know this is a lot of info all at once but maybe one or two of these things will spark a memory and you'll have a good experience.]

We were only in Cape Town from Friday to Monday and there were no rental cars available until Monday but we still got to take advantage of a lot of the things Alex mentioned in her list. We climbed up Table Mountain which was amazing but it took an hour just to walk up to the base of the mountain and an other three to do the serious vertical climb to the top. This was a very difficult hike but worth it. If you take the cable car up you will miss all of the beauty along the way. Most people choose to take the cable car up and then hike down. Now we know why we only passed a few other people hiking up. It's a tough climb to the top.

One thing we really wanted to do that was on Alex's list was to take a tour of Robben Island. Like the rental car, this needed to be booked in advance and tours we booked up through Wednesday, two days after our departure from Cape Town. So if you're planning a visit, know that tours are very limited and plan ahead.

You can buy a ticket for one of the backpacker buses and hop on and off at backpacker lodges all along the Garden Route. It's a really safe and easy way to travel around South Africa. But we found that for the two of us traveling together it was actually cheaper to rent a car. It wasn't available until Monday though (another thing I recommend booking ahead of time) so on Sunday we took the bus to Kirstenbosch Gardens, home to the worlds oldest plant species which predates the dinosaurs and survived the Ice Age.
We also saw the V&A Waterfront, Camps Bay, and Mariner's wharf in Hout Bay where we did eat the fish & chips and also saw seals! They came right up to the pier to get fed.

We also decided to take a Township tour. It was an extremely awkward and uncomfortable yet humbling experience to take a tour of someone else's impoverished living conditions but this is something I think is important and also necessary for anyone visiting South Africa to do. I found the disparity of wealth in this country to be disturbing. People are living in shacks made of salvaged scrap metal and just up the street others are living in mansions. We were invited into people's homes even though the six of us on the tour could barely all fit inside. At one point (and this is the part where it got awkward and uncomfortable) we were invited into a church while a wedding was in process. We were brought right up to the altar where the bride and groom were standing. All over Cape Town and the rest of South Africa homes are surrounded by fences or walls with spikes and barbed wire.You have to pay car guards to watch your car and you can't leave any items inside the car when your driving or when it's parked. It's extremely unsettling, unwelcoming and gives the impression that nowhere is safe. Yet, in the township where they had nothing to offer us but their smiles, we were welcomed in. A little boy ran up to Darren and gave him a hug (this was the humbling part) This township was small in comparison to most. 30,000 people lived there (most of them children) and there was one bathroom for every 500 people. The name of this township was Imizamo Yethu which means "Our Struggle"

We spent the next week driving across the country along the Garden Route to get to our final destination of Kruger National Park. Along the way we stopped in Simonstown and saw hundreds of African penguins at Boulders Beach. Then we drove for six hours to Knysna and saw no houses or people for almost the entire drive. What we did see a lot of was mountains and wide open land with ostriches,donkeys, cows, sheep, goats, and baboons!
We spent one night in Knysna, a gorgeous little town on the coast. We explored the Knysna waterfront, Thesen Harbour Town and these amazing cliffs called The Heads.

We spent the next night in Port Elizabeth and stopped in Jeffreys Bay to check out the world famous surfing beach. The waves and surfing did not disappoint us! What an amazing beach and phenomenal surfing!!
The next day we headed to a remote little town call Chintsa. A Canadian couple we had met at The Backpack back in Cape Town mentioned that it was their favorite place they visited in S.A. So we decided to check it out. On our way we saw giraffes, monkeys, wart hogs, goats, cows, sheep, ostrich, impala, pigs and horses. It was way out of the way and really hard to find. We drove down an unmarked dirt road and what we discovered was an amazing little gem in the middle of nowhere hidden away in the wilderness and overlooking a lake and the ocean. For approximately 50 US dollars we had our own private house with a terrace and an ocean view. So of course we decided to stay an extra night.
We went canoeing the next morning and that afternoon we went surfing for the first time in the Indian Ocean. There were millions of giant colorful seashells all along the shore. The hermit crabs loved them too and we discovered a lot of the shells could walk!

We wished we could have stayed in Chintsa but had to get back on the road if we were going to make it to Kruger Park. Everywhere we drove in South Africa we'd see people hitch hiking or walking along the road or selling fruit, crafts, live chickens. Women with babies on their backs and groceries on their heads. Vans drive around picking people up and cramming in as many as possible. There were children walking barefoot along the highway by themselves and up to ten kids would pile in the back of pick up trucks to take them back to their villages after school.
We spent just one night in Durban and originally we weren't really thrilled about stopping in a big city after our relaxing time in Chintsa but we wound up happy that we did. We found the diversity refreshing and promising. Durban has a large Indian population as well as some other Asian in addition to the black and white South Africans we'd seen everywhere else. It was nice to finally see some diversity and on top of that blacks and whites were interacting as friends and colleagues, which we unfortunately saw very little of elsewhere.
From Durban we drove to Swaziland. (read my separate post on Swaziland)
We drove through Zululand and started seeing round huts with thatched roofs. One woman working in the toll booth tried to teach Darren some Zulu but Zulu is such a complex language and with an Irish accent is a total disaster. She couldn't understand his English either so they just laughed at each other.
We finally reached Kruger National Park on Sunday. Kruger National Park is a protected area for Africa's amazing wild animals, many of which are critical (ie. Wild Dogs) or endangered (ie.rhinoceros) Poachers kill one rhino every day in Kruger Park just for their horn. It's estimated that a rhino horn is now worth about $250,000. We were told it is very difficult to spot a rhino-probably because they're hiding from poachers- but we were lucky and spotted nearly ten of them. It's sad to think that by the time I post this many of them will have been killed by greedy poachers.

There are so many magnificent animals in Kruger. Even though I worked in zoos it still amazed me and I saw animals I had never seen in person or in pictures. I never thought I'd hear myself say, "Watch out for the elephant in the road!" Everywhere we went we saw elephants, giraffe, nyala, kudu, wildebeest, buffalo, wart hogs, zebra, rhino, and cheetah. What an amazing experience. All of South Africa was truly an amazing and eye-opening experience. It is not a vacation but it definitely leaves a lasting impression. It is a land of extremes. It's rich in so many things- culture, landscape, animals, and minerals but people are living beside diamond mines and starving. One in four people are HIV positive and 25% are unemployed. There is no welfare and no unemployment assistance.

It's one thing to read about it but it to experience it first-hand has truly affected us. It is such an amazing and terrible place all at the same time. One woman we met from Johannesburg summed it up perfectly when she said, "I love South Africa and I hate South Africa."

Swaziland

Swaziland

Even though crossing from South Africa to Swaziland involved driving through a gate, it was very apparent we had just entered another country. We drove through and there was a dirt road with a plywood sign with hand-painted letters reading, "Welcome to Swaziland". Then we drove through dirt roads and fields until we finally found a main road which was (thankfully) paved. We found Swaziland to be even more rural than South Africa. We never came across any big cities or even a big town. The land was really lush with these magnificent trees covered purple flowers.

We drove around trying to find some place to stay before dark. We found a lodge that had a room. It was an unusual place with an unusual caretaker who chose to sleep in a tent in the yard even though there was a whole house filled with empty beds. It wasn't the most comfortable or cleanest place to stay but we were happy to have a place to sleep for the night. When we went out for dinner we realized we didn't have any Swazi money. The waitress said it was no problem because they took south African rands and they were worth the same amount anyway.

The next morning, Sunday November 6th, we went to the Swazi Cultural Village. We got a guided tour of the village and our guide let us go inside the huts. The doorways are very small and you have to crawl to get inside. The straw used to make them keeps them cool and dry inside. Once children are six years old they sleep in separate huts from their parents. Girls and boys also sleep in separate huts.
Girls will marry around the age of 18 whereas the men would not get married until the age of about 30. The reason for this is because they have to pay the girl's father a dowry of between 10-20 cows. The price varies depending on whether she is a virgin or not and several other factors which will be negotiated between the groom and father. If the men can afford it they are allowed as many as two wives. A typical family would have 7-10 children. This would ensure that the parents would have someone to take care of them in their old age-Swazi Social Security.
The men would be responsible for hunting for food and the women would cook, clean, and take care of the children. The wife must always be subservient to the husband and when feeding him his meal she must bow, leave the food and back away. When eating meat, she is not allowed to eat the brain for fear she will become smarter than the man. She may not eat the tongue for fear she will talk too much. And she may not eat the feet for fear she will walk away and leave him.

After the tour we were treated to a performance of traditional Swazi singing and dancing. This was so much fun and somehow the tribesmen kept dragging me into the act!

Afterwards we walked up the trail to see Mantenga falls and then we got back on the road and headed back to South Africa. We had no cash left so we stopped at an ATM and took out 1200 Swazi Lilangeni. We crossed over three border checkpoints to get into S.A. and then drove another hour to our lodge. When we got there we found out that they don't accept credit cards and no one in S.A. Accepts Swazi currency even though Swaziland will accept south African Rands. So the next morning we tried the bank and they wouldn't exchange it for us. They told us to try the exchange bureau at the Mozambique border. So we drove to the border of Mozambique but they didn't want it either. Even the ladies who sit on the side of the road at the border crossing and try to get you to change your money with them before you go into the exchange office didn't want our money.

The only thing we could do was drive back to Swaziland. So we drove an hour back to the border, got our passports stamped leaving S.A., drove into Swaziland, got our passports stamped entering Swaziland, and changed the money at customs. Then we got back in the car but the south African official wouldn't let us in until we went back and got a stamp to enter S.A. again. So we parked the car again, went back into the S.A. immigration office and got our stamps, all while providing entertainment and outbursts of laughter amongst the border patrol guards. We got in the car again and drove to the S.A. gate but this time the guard had to check our immunization cards just in case we might have come in contact with any diseases during our ten minute visit to Swaziland that we hadn't been vaccinated for.

We thoroughly enjoyed both of our visits to Swaziland and found each of them to be a unique cultural experience in their own way!

Turkey

We left New York on Friday October 21st. We had a layover in Kiev, Ukraine and our connecting flight to Turkey was delayed for over an hour. After spending four hours in Kiev airport with only one bathroom for hundreds of angry people we have no desire to ever visit Ukraine again.

Our second flight landed in Turkey around 5pm Saturday the 22nd. A little over an hour late. We got our visas on arrival and then went through customs. The first challenge was to find the bus we needed to take to Taksim Square with the added obstacles of having very little sleep, not knowing a word of Turkish, and while carrying 20 pound bags on our backs. We found an information kiosk and Darren asked (in his politest Irish accent), "Where do we get the bus to Taksim Square?" The girl replied back in English, "I can't understand what you're saying." So I repeated the same question to her again (in "American English") and she understood! She directed us to the bus stop and we were on our way. It was an hour ride but the bus was a very comfortable coach bus and we got to see a lot on the way. We were dropped off with our giant backpacks in the middle of Taksim Square on a Saturday night and it was like Times Square on New Year's Eve. We found our hostel pretty easily especially considering the directions told us to go right when we were supposed to turn left. After we dropped our bags we went out for our first Turkish meal and then we bought roasted chestnuts from a street vendor. There are chestnut carts everywhere and also corn on the cob and carts selling Turkish bagels.

Sunday October 23rd, we woke up so late we didn't get out for breakfast until 11:30. We had our first Turkish coffees. They're dark and rich and served in tiny little cups so you have to sip it really slow and savor it. I really like the little cups and think it makes it like a special ritual. Darren didn't like it at first but it's grown on him. We didn't do so well with finding breakfast on our first day in Istanbul. I wound up with chicken and Darren had Turkish ravioli!

In Taksim Square there were protests going on. People were marching with Turkish flags and the military were out with machine guns and riot gear. We chose to steer clear of the riots and found the train to the Spice Bazaar.

The Spice Bazaar was amazing and everything you would expect a real Turkish bazaar to be. It went on and on and up and down all the streets.We wandered around for hours. You can buy everything from spices to fruit to cell phone batteries and even Viagra! The vendors like to ask where you are from and their prices change according to the country you're from. Americans get the most expensive prices so Darren says he's Irish and then I just stay quiet and they think I'm Irish too. They are much nicer to us when we are Irish rather than American. Although I've been asked five times if I come from Spain???

After the bazaar we walked around the Suleymaniye and Fatih Mosques. If you're a female traveler visiting Turkey I'd recommend bringing your own head scarf. You need to wear one to enter the mosques. You can buy one at any of the markets for 5 Turkish Lira (5 TL). They will also let you borrow one at the entrance to the mosques but it has also been worn by a thousand other heads.



Next, we took a boat ride on the Golden Horn River. It was really fun and gave us a different perspective of Istanbul. The sun was setting and the city was bathed in all different colors.

Darren learned his first lesson about Turkish culture when a man on the boat handed him a sandwich. If someone in Turkey gives you something, they want something from you. So if a man puts a sandwich in your hand then you just bought yourself a sandwich. Somehow we wound up with three sandwiches and two cups of fresh squeezed orange juice that we didn't even ask for but I have to admit the juice was really good.

After the boat ride we got some coffee and then took the metro back to Fundikli. You have to pay 2 TL for each transfer so we realized we could save 8 TL a day by getting off at Fundikli and walking one stop to Taksim Square. The only problem is that on the way home you have to walk up a really really steep hill but we figured it's preparing us for our trek in Nepal in a few weeks.

We wandered around Taksim Square for a while and tried some Turkish Delight which was fantastic. Turkey has some of the best desserts in the world. Later at the hostel we found our Lebanese and French roommates had moved on and we now had new French, German and South African roommates. Alex is from Cape Town and was really excited to hear that Cape Town is our next stop after Istanbul. She was so thrilled that she planned our whole itinerary for us (See next blog on South Africa). She showed us where to go and where we should definitely NOT go. Complete with what we should eat and where the best surfing beaches are. We were happy she wound up being our roommate because we hadn't planned out what we were going to do in South Africa yet so now that's taken care of.

Once we finally checked our email for the first time, we found out there had been an earthquake in Turkey. We weren't anywhere near the quake but some friends and family were worried until they had heard back from us. There was an earthquake when I was in New Zealand. Then when I was home in New York over the summer and now on my first day in Turkey. I have now been named "Earthquake Kim" (Thanks Alison!) but I swear I had nothing to do with it and am grateful to be unharmed.

Monday October 24th, we took the metro to Sultanahmet to see the Hagia Sophia (the museum was closed so we had to go back the next day) the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace. Inside the Blue Mosque it is very ornate and impressive. You don't have to pay to go inside (they do ask for a donation) but you must take off your shoes. Don't worry, the carpet is amazingly soft!


A young Turkish man approached us on the street. He was very friendly and said he was not a tour guide but that he wanted to practice his English. He told us some interesting facts about Turkey, ie. it has over 2,000 mosques. He also told us that if a Turkish man offers you tea and you accept, you will be friends for 40 years. So he asked us to have tea with him and we (reluctantly) agreed. Then he led us to his "Uncles" carpet store, gave us tea, and left us with his "Uncle" who chatted with us about Turkey for a little while and then tried to sell us a $600 carpet. Even after we told him that we don't have a home to put a carpet in, he still persisted. We did, however, enjoy our Turkish tea which is served in these special little glass cups. We had just said that morning that we wanted to try some Turkish tea but need to be more careful what we wish for!

After being lured into the carpet store we finally went to the The Blue Mosque and then Topkapi Palace. We paid 20 TL each to enter the palace. It is now a museum but was originally the primary residence of Ottoman Sultans and is the oldest surviving palace in the world. It was constructed between 1460 and 1478 and built on the site of the acropolis of the ancient city of Byzantion located on the Seraglio Point, at the end of the historic peninsula of Istanbul between the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn. The museum has a collection of 80,000 articles including thrones, swords, jewelery, and sacred relics of the Apostles. The exhibits dated back to biblical times. One display even had the staff of Moses. The rooms of the palace were artwork in themselves. The most interesting of them all was the Circumcision Room. This room was solely dedicated to circumcising princes.

Tuesday we took the train back to Sultanahmet to see the Basilica Cistern and the Hagia Sophia Museum. The Basilica Cistern is one of several underground cisterns commissioned by Byzantine emperors to meet the population's water requirements in case of a siege. It was constructed in the 6th century AD and still holds water to this day.

The Hagia Sophia is stunningly beautiful and architecturally impressive. There's so many little details like the mosaics that were restored after they had been plastered over from when it was turned into a mosque. It was originally a church built by Emperor Constantius in 360. The current Hagia Sohpia is the third construction that was built between 532 and 537. After the conquest of Istanbul in 1453 by Fatih Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror, Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque.

Our last stop was the Grand Bazaar where there were rows upon rows of hookahs, spices, lamps, rugs and everything else you could possibly want or need for sale. The bazaar seemed like an endless maze where everyone is trying to haggle with you and make you a deal. It was so confusing that we got lost and couldn't find our way out. I'm convinced it is purposely designed this way.
I hope you enjoyed our trip to Turkey. Our next stop is South Africa!