Days 8-10 — Istanbul, Turkey

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The Basilica Cistern used to hold water for the city. A long time ago Istanbul experienced a drought and only the rich still had running water. They discovered the cistern when they traced the source of the water.

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Süleymaniye Mosque sits at the top of the hill in the tourist district. It’s a hike, but worth it for the beautiful mosaics inside and out.

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Outside Süleymaniye Mosque

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The Spice Bazaar was built in the 1660s and houses shops that sell spices, Turkish delight (lokum), dried fruit, and nuts.

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The famous stairs leading to Galata Tower.

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Galata Tower was built initially in 1348 with 2 meter (that’s 6 feet!) thick walls at the base. It was been rebuilt several times due to fire damage and attacks.

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The view from Galata Tower.

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Chora Church, similarly to Hagia Sophia, was first a church, then a mosque, and now a museum. The interior mosaics date from 1312 and most tiles are less than 1/8 inch.

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The genealogy of Mary.

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The genealogy of Jesus.

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Asian side of Istanbul with Anna and Chelsea

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Riding the ferry to Asia on our last day in Istanbul.

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We rode the ferry to Anadolu Kavağı and hiked to Yoros Castle. It was a steep, hot hike, but the breeze and view were totally worth it.

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After returning from Asian Istanbul, we rode the minibus (dolmuş) up to Koç University where I studied abroad during our sophomore year. Selen got us through the gate (full security) and we got a tour of her lab and the campus. It was sooooo nice to see her again!!!

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Days 6 and 7 — Istanbul, Turkey

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Audrey’s friend Selen met us in Taksim to help us get to our hostel and go out for dinner. Selen just graduated from Koç University with a degree in Chemical Engineering too!

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Taksim is the new district in Istanbul and includes Istiklal street which is pedestrian only and houses many of the major shops that are available in Istanbul. This is also where the nightclubs and bars are. We were out until 3am getting Audrey’s friend Aida to her hotel and the street was still packed.

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The serpentine column at the Hippodrome. The Hippodrome is the Roman chariot racetrack. The column dates to 300 AD.

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This is Hagia Sophia which was originally a church, then a mosque, and now a museum.

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Audrey, Anna and me in front of the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet.

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Aida, Anna, me, and Audrey in front of the Blue Mosque.

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Inside Hagia Sofia.

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The pulpit is where the imam (Muslim Priest) calls the prayers from inside Hagia Sophia.

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Christian mosaics in Hagia Sophia.

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The view from Topkapı palace. This is the Bosphorus and the bridge connects Europe (left) and Asia (right).

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The center of the world according to the Byzantine empire!

Review: Forgiven by Rebecca Brooke

Source: Amazon.com
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Introductory synopsis via Amazon.com:
What happens when one moment changes the course of your entire life? Do you sit back and accept it, or fight to live the life you choose? Caleb Jacobs has a past that has haunted him for two years. Knowing he can never forgive himself for the events that led to his departure, Caleb chooses to live a quiet life—concentrating on school, sports, and shots. But when he is paired with Angie for a history project he realizes that no matter how much you try to hide from your past, one way or another it will find you.
Angelina Powers knows what she wants from life. Growing up with only an alcoholic father for company, Angie learned early on in life that you can only count on yourself. But that doesn’t stop her wishing for her white knight. She’s confident, happy and focused…until she meets Caleb. So how will she feel when her potential white knight turns out to be more of a black shadow?

Me: I randomly picked this book up while I was browsing for something to read over the long holiday weekend and can’t say enough about it. This is a very sweet, new adult romance, with a lot more depth than I started out looking for in a lazy read. Honestly though, I couldn’t seem put it down after getting a glimpse into the these two characters. Angelina and Caleb both have dark pasts that they are reluctant to reveal to each other. Taking place in a college setting, this romance weaves around the reluctance that these two people have to enter a relationship with their baggage, despite their obvious attraction. I liked how both characters were well developed without ruining any of the mystery to the story. I also loved their strong  and stubborn personalities. It was a nice change of pace from the timid and shy heroes and heroines I’ve seen lately.

The pace never slowed in this book and I ended up finishing it in one sitting while I was curled up on the couch. In addition to Angelina and Caleb, the supporting characters in this novel we’re excellent and added a lot to the plot. I especially loved Angelina’s friend Emily’s “spitfire” personality as it contrasted well with the two main characters personas, who were much more reserved with their thoughts at times. I also noted that this is the first book of the Rebecca Brooke’s Forgiven Series and I’m really excited for the next installment. I’m hoping the next novel focuses on Caleb’s fried Josh who appeared to be running from a troubled past that was hinted at, but not revealed in this novel.

This book stayed true to its title as the characters learn to forgive themselves and those in their past.  Overall I thought Forgiven was an fantastic novel and dealt with some very tough issues very elegantly. I would definitely get your hands on this one if your looking for a great romance!

Review: Ruin by Rachel Van Dyken

Source: Amazon
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Introductory synopsis via Amazon:
I’m not your typical girl. I’ve been running away from the memories that haunt me for so long that depression has become my only comfort. I was content in the darkness…until Wes Michels offered to be my light.

I didn’t know that time wasn’t my ally — that every second that ticked past was one step closer to the end of something that was beginning to mean the end of myself. He tried to warn me. He promised me all he was able to offer–each moment as it came–but it would never be enough.

Sometimes when you think it’s the end, it’s only the beginning. Wes thought he could save me, but in giving me everything, he ruined me. Because after one kiss, one touch, I couldn’t–I wouldn’t ever be the same.

And from that moment on, his heartbeat became my own.

Me: So I gave Ruin 5 out of 5 stars, not to say it’s perfect, but it’s close enough that I couldn’t just give it 4.5 stars. it really was that good and I’m looking forward to reading more of Rachel Van Dyken’s novels in the future. I would classify this book in the New Adult (NA) genre and I felt it was a great romance novel through and through. Initially I was worried going into this novel when it began with our college freshman heroine, Kiersten, meeting the very attractive yet closed off hero, Wes. I was getting prepared to be bored by a storyline I had already seen before in which our heroine breaks through the walls of the reserved and unwilling hero. Contrary to my skepticisms, I was hooked on the this book in the first twenty minutes!

This novel had great character development right off the bat that drew me in without revealing to much to early. Both characters had difficult issues to deal with that they were reluctant to take into a relationship which made for a great romance novel. About a third of the way into the novel everything is revealed to the reader, but not necessarily to the all of characters. I’ve read NA romance before and usually I’m biting my lip waiting for the author to reveal the character’s secret to me, the reader, instead of the other way around. On the contrary this time, I really liked that this novel was character driven, and kept me on the edge wondering how everything would play out. I personally classify books into “event” and “character” driven novels depending on whether events that are out of the characters control drive the plot line or whether the personality of the characters themselves propels the novel forward. I’m a fan of the later type of novel and this book definitely falls into that category with well fleshed out and crafted characters.

This review may be a little vague, but I couldn’t give anything away on this one. This is defiantly one of the best books I’ve read in the NA genre in a long time and would whole heartedly recommend it to anyone who loves romance. I would say Ruin is right up there with John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars concerning it’s excellent character development and plot. I will forewarn you that I did shed a few tears during this novel and its not a lazy day on beach type of read, but the ending is excellent and you won’t be disappointed. This book on my top ten books for 2013 and a definite must read!

I also just found out that this book was featured in the Indie Author News’ top 50 Indie Books and made it in the top 10! Check out all of the great books here!

Final note: This novel takes places at the University of Washington, who happen to be  rivals of the University of Oregon Ducks concerning Football. Audrey and I both attend Oregon State University and root for the Beavers; not the Ducks. This quote made me smile just a little bit: “We were playing Oregon. Again. Of all the luck in the world. The Ducks were good, but we were better.”

Review: Smash into You by Shelly Crane

Source: Amazon
My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Introductory synopsis via Amazon:
Jude has spent the whole twenty one years of his life running. From what, he wasn’t quite sure. His mother tried to keep him safe; a low profile, a constant move on the horizon, a week’s pay always stashed away. She tried to instill in him that he was special somehow. He never felt different. He was so completely normal and vanilla that he wondered if it had all been in her head. But then she was murdered and all he saw was a running silhouette of a man as his mother said three final words to him. Three words that changed his whole being.

Never stop running…

Now he’s semi-settled into a big town. The college is huge and easy to blend into. It’s been three months since he had to move because ‘Biloxi’, as he calls the man who killed his mother, found him once more. Then Marley, an eighteen year old girl who is as infuriating as she is blissfully ignorant of her gorgeousness, smashes into his car with hers. Then smashes into his life as he realizes that whatever it is he has that Biloxi wants, she has it, too. And now, they’re after them both.

Me: After getting hooked on Shelly Crane’s writing after reading the Significance series I was really excited when Smash into You came out. I’ve always been into conspiracy theory books and movies and this book sounded right up my alley with a little bit of mystery and good romance. Overall I really enjoyed this book and the storyline. I liked how the reason Jude and Marley are being chased is revealed slowly in bits and pieces throughout the story until the ending climax. Each event kept me hooked in the mystery and guessing. When everything was finally laid out on the table I was surprised, yet everything made sense and was believable. Though I like conspiracy theory/mystery plots lines, sometimes I‘m disappointed in the final reveal when a plot element is ridiculous or scientifically impossible. As a scientist myself one of my pet peeves is when the author or producer violates the basic laws of physics or includes some sort of technology that’s  ridiculously beyond the current century. This plot line stayed true with the setting with plenty of suspense to keep the reader interested.

As usual Shelly Crane wrote an excellent romance while successfully integrating the action and mystery elements of this novel. My only critique is that I would have liked to have seen more dialogue between Jude and Marley. Specifically, elements in Marley’s past I felt we’re not as fleshed out as I would have liked. I really like a lot of dialogue when I’m reading a romance because I feel it gives the reader a better insight in the the relationship between the two people that is developing. Since Jude and Marley are being constantly chased from the beginning, it appears that some of the action scenes take the place of the additional dialogue I was looking for. Overall both the romance and mystery worked well together and it was great to read something different and unique.

I’m a sucker for happy endings and this book didn’t disappoint with a fabulous ending and conclusion to all the questions the reader is presented with throughout the novel. As a whole I think this book was excellent and not one you want to miss!