Isn’t it strange how everything changes at night? Sometimes you get lost even in places you’ve been before because it becomes so unfamiliar after the sun sets. Some places get scarier in the dark, others more exciting, though whatever the transformation brings it’s always tantalizing and electric. We loved Seattle in the day, but we actually fell in love with it at night. It was pleasantly chilly and we warmed our hands on cups of hot coffee as we admired the lights glistening on the wet pavement. We didn’t have any destination in mind, we just walked amongst the evening drizzle and absorbed everything. It was beautiful.
Without doubt, the Hagia Sophia has a place at the top of Istanbul’s “must see” list. Almost 1500 years old and having served three different religions under two different empires, it is brimming with history and a magnificent legacy. Construction began on the Orthodox cathedral in 532 at the order of Byzantine emperor Justinian I, and it is regarded as the epitome of Byzantine architecture. It stood as a centerpiece for the Eastern Orthodox Church for almost a thousand years, excepting when it was a Catholic cathedral from 1204 – 1261, until being converted to a mosque in 1453 when the Ottomans conquered Constantinople (modern day Istanbul).
It’s the kind of place that leaves you speechless, hypnotized by the grandeur, the colors, and all of those years reverberating between the walls. I felt tiny under the massive, soaring domes, and my neck got tired quickly because I couldn’t stop staring at what was above me. The peeling, thousand-year-old paint and mosaics depicting Christian figures in that distinctive, slightly imperfect Medieval style, intermixed with the intricate writings in Arabic, beautiful Ottoman tile work. It was the perfect representation of Istanbul, the city where East and West meet.
It is truly unique seeing a mosaic of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus overlooking a mihrab indicating which wall faces Mecca. Especially given the level of conflict these two faiths have seen over the centuries, seeing the two intertwined in the Hagia Sophia was breathtaking; each of the two religions had its symbols represented throughout the structure, coexisting in harmony. The history of the two live together, complimenting one another’s beauty and coming together to tell a fascinating story.
So yesterday was my 26th birthday, guys. I’m trying really hard to not be freaked out by this lol, but I think rounding my age up mentally for the past few months really helped me prepare. It’s just so strange being at the end of my mid-twenties, you know? Although I really feel like my mid-twenties have been so so so much better than my early-twenties in many ways, so I’m looking forward to this 26th year.
Last year I wrote a 20 Before 26 post, which I focused on self-improvement vs bucket list style things. Going over it, I actually completed most of what I wrote down! I think writing about it really brought everything to the forefront of my consciousness and helped me my 25th year be personally productive. I find myself being so much more self-assured than I was at this time last year, much more mindful and present, and that makes me so very happy.
So on that note, here are 7 things I want to tackle before I turn 27!
1. Focus on my career. This is a big one. I want to get the ball really, really rolling on my career path and work hard on it. Since I graduated college, I haven’t really stuck to one industry but I think I’m finally settling in to what I want to do. I have some things currently in the works, and it’s time that I really push and accomplish. 2. Live a healthy, fit life. I have spent so many years worrying about eating and working out for the sake of what my body looks like. While that changed a lot in the past year, I want to keep going with it. I love the way eating healthy and being fit feels, and I want to keep encouraging myself to be my strongest self. 3. Be assertive and unafraid. Again, this is something that improved a lot over the past year and I want to keep going with it. In my teenage and early twenties years, I was overly conscious of what others thought of me and consequently allowed myself to be walked all over way too often. I have gotten a lot better, but there is so much room for improvement when it comes to speaking my mind and going after what I want vs focusing solely on what others want. 4. Recognize when things need to be let go. So many things that seem disastrous are actually completely inconsequential. I want to stop devoting energy to little things that really don’t matter and focus on the big picture. Those little things distract from what’s important, and I want to stop letting myself get sidetracked. 5. Learn a new language. Ilhan has been urging me to learn Turkish for quite some time, and this is the year to do it. I’ve already been memorizing some words with DuoLingo, but I need to hone in and practice daily. Fluency here I come! ;] 6. Journal. SUCH a big one that I dropped the ball on last year. I love reading my teenage journals because they include so many stories I would have otherwise forgotten. I already deeply regret not keeping journal in college. I want to take time out of every day, even just to write down what happened. I don’t want to forget my emotions and experiences. 7. Volunteer. I haven’t volunteered in forever, sad as that is. I have been REALLY wanting to try and volunteer at a local animal shelter and this is the year to just DO IT.
The Space Needle is a truly magnificent structure and one that we just ~had~ to climb while we were in Seattle. After brunch at nearby Tilikum Place Cafe, we walked over to the park where the Space Needle stands, snapping pictures at pretty much every corner as we approached (it just got more and more amazing as we got closer!). We should have looked up information about getting to the top beforehand, but we didn’t…so it wasn’t until we got there that we learned you had to buy tickets for a specific time. We got ours and killed time in the park before heading up (of course, it started raining, so luckily we only had to wait about 30 minutes).
I absolutely love good views, so I was pretty disappointed that it so freezing cold at the top we couldn’t stay outside for long :[ My fingers were seriously going numb trying to take photos, what with the low temperature, the wind chill, and the fact that my camera itself was getting cold. And does anyone else get overly paranoid of dropping things when you’re super up high? Even though I KNOW the chances of me dropping my camera are just as likely with my feet rooted on the ground as they are at the top of the Space Needle…I just freak out!
Anyway, despite being super cold, it was a gorgeous view and I just wish it had been a clearer day so we could see more. I would say if you’re headed to Seattle, visiting the Space Needle should be on your “must do” list because what fun is being a tourist if you don’t do at least one super touristy thing ;]
Topkapi Palace was one of the top historical sites on my list for our Istanbul stay. Construction began in 1460 and was completed in 1478, and thereafter the palace served as the center of the empire for 400 years. As I’ve mentioned before, I love old places; it was exhilarating walking through a luxurious building that the most important people in the empire called home for centuries on end. Though I would recommend checking it out in the off-season as it was quite crowded when we were there in August, it was a stunning structure with incredible tile work, beautiful views of the Bosphorus, and an amazing history (I suggest paying for the audio tour! You learns so much about each room you go into).
The Francophile in me still prefers Versailles as the best palace I’ve ever entered, but Topkapi is certainly a worthy rival. The style was so very different from the grand European structures I’m used to, but equally gorgeous. Just look at the architecture, those signature tiles, the gold accents everywhere. It was jaw-dropping. This was easily one of the highlights of our two days in the city and would urge anyone visiting Istanbul to save a 3-5 hours for Topkapi Palace.
01. Drive around on the PCH and pull over at the prettiest spots.
The Pacific Coast Highway is one of California’s most iconic highways, traveling up and down the coast as the name suggests. While there are faster routes you could take, this is by far the most scenic with several stunning view points. This is what Ilhan and I did last Valentine’s Day, driving around on it in Orange County before stopping near Huntington Beach.
02. Go wine tasting.
Southern California has plenty of options for wine tasting, whether you’re in Los Angeles, Orange County, or San Diego. My personal favorite place for wine tasting in SoCal is Temecula. There are TONS of beautiful wineries right next to each others, so once you’ve had enough samples at one it’s easy getting to the next.
03. See a movie at a luxury theater.
Have you heard of luxury movie theaters? They’re definitely splurges, but for Valentine’s day I think it’s worth it! There’s iPic in Pasadena or Cinepolis, where you can order restaurant-quality food and drinks served directly to your seat. And by the way, your seat is big squishy recliner! And anyway, I think going to the movies is really underrated nowadays, which is sad because it’s such a classic date.
04. Visit some of Southern California’s amazing museums.
I think this is a serious contender for me and Ilhan this year. San Diego’s Balboa Park has a variety of museums, including Art, Man, Natural History, Aerospace, and others. Los Angeles boasts some of the best art museums in the country, like the Getty and LACMA, and countless other varieties of museums (like the Museum of Death!). I’ve been dying to go to the Getty, but Balboa Park has hosted some truly amazing exhibits too like the Titanic and King Tut.
05. Get Mexican food and margaritas.
Nothing is more Southern California than Mexican food and margaritas! You could either do takeout burritos and do homemade margaritas, or go to one of countless Mexican restaurants where there’s often live music, free chips and salsa, and great happy hour deals on those margaritas.
Legend has it that long ago, a fortune teller prophesied to the king that his daughter would be killed by a snake on her 18th birthday. To shield her from this fate, he built the Maiden’s Tower in the middle of the Bosphorus, an isolated little island where she could live her life in safety. But alas, on the morning of her 18th birthday, a snake was hiding in her daily basket of food…and she died. But the Maiden Tower survives after all these years, and the restaurant there serves as one of the most romantic date spots I’ve been to in my whole life.
It was a warm summer evening, perfect for a patio dinner. The dinner at the Maiden’s Tower was by reservation only, and we had to arrive at the pier at a set time because all of the night’s guests had to cross the Bosphorus together in one trip. We boarded the little ferry with the others, took our seats, and the journey began. It only took ten minutes to get to the island, and we had time to walk around and take some pictures before taking our seats for dinner.
After taking all of two minutes to walk the entire circumference of the island, got settled on the patio. The sun was setting, the water was sparkling and soothingly crashing against the rocks, and there was a small band playing Turkish music. The setting was beyond romantic, and it was very intimate despite the fact that the patio was full to capacity. We ordered a bottle of red wine and chose our courses off the “Optional” menu (ps, you had to specific which menu you’d be ordering from when you made the reservation. Each had a different fixed price.)
The food was plated beautifully, tasted delicious, and made us feel fancy. Especially when we’re traveling, we don’t usually go out of our way to have a nice dinner; we typically opt for quick, local meals, so sitting for four courses of gorgeous, yummy plates definitely felt really special. It was seriously a perfect evening that I would recommend to any couple headed to Istanbul. Yes, it was on the pricey side, but it was definitely worth the experience. FOUR couples got engaged that night, that’s how romantic of a dinner location it is!
After dinner, guests could explore the tower and read about the princess’s story. We had to rush through because we took our time finishing our dinner (just like the arrival, the ferry came at a specific time and everyone had to leave together). But still, the view on the balcony at the top of the tower was beautiful and definitely worth the climb up.
If you’re looking for a dream date in Istanbul, I would absolutely recommend the Maiden’s Tower. Again, it was one of the most romantic dinners of my life…and really, what can beat dining in a restaurant right in the middle of the Bosphorus, smack dab between Europe and Asia?
What’s the most romantic dinner spot you’ve discovered?
We woke up on Sunday morning in Seattle, exhausted and slightly hungover from dancing Saturday night away at an Odesza show. After pulling ourselves together, we headed into the city to find some brunch. Enter Tilikum Place Cafe. With a 4.5 star average out of over 800 reviews on Yelp, it seemed like a more-than-promising option for filling our rumbling tummies. And trust me, we were not disappointed!
Tilikum Place Cafe is a modern European/American restaurant nestled in Seattle’s Belltown, walking distance from the Space Needle. The neighborhood is super cute (we spent a lot of time walking around after the meal!) which definitely adds to the ambiance of a restaurant, you know? The interior is no different. We loved the huge windows, the exposed brick and pipes, the pretty decorations, and just look at that beautiful wine area! It was one of those places that makes you feel good via osmosis; its cuteness just permeates. Also the European vibes were too real…I felt really nostalgic for France when we were there.
Before getting into the food, I want to quickly acknowledge the incredible service we received here. Parking in the area was atrocious so Ilhan dropped me off while he drove around to search, so I was left to be that awkward person sitting alone just waiting for the rest of their party. The servers did an amazing, amazing job not making me feel weird even though it took Ilhan a good 20 minutes to join me.
They brought me water and coffee and menus so I could look it over while I waited but didn’t pester me about taking a long time. And after Ilhan arrived, they were attentive and so so kind, which makes a big difference. Even if the food is great, terrible service will ensure that I’ll never return; the Tilikum Cafe service was the kind that would get you to come back even if the food was just so-so (and it was way better than so-so!).
So onto the good stuff! We ordered:
Warm breadwith nutella, butter and home made jam Baked Eggsbutternut squash, roasted poblanos, sage, goat cheese cream, caramelized onions, bread crumbs TPC Breakfast Plate1 Egg, bacon, sausage, roasted potato, roasted tomato, toast French press coffee Bloody Mary Fresh orange juice
The warm bread came first and served as the world’s most amazing breakfast appetizer. The presentation was lovely; we were expecting a bread basket or something, but it came out on a cute platter with the little bowls for the spreads. As for the taste…let’s just say we inhaled that mini baguette. It was served very warm so the butter got all melty after spreading it. I’m not a big Nutella person (I know, I know…I’m weird), but the jam was sweet and perfect so I happily stuck with that.
Of the two dishes, we both preferred my baked eggs. I’m actually salivating looking at these pictures. It was served STRAIGHT from the oven, as it it was too hot to start eating right away. But when it was cool enough to try, it was to die for. It was heavier on the butternut squash than I expected…since it was titled “Baked Eggs” I expected the eggs to be more prominent, but they seemed to be more blended into the other ingredients. But the goat cheese + eggs made it so creamy, the bread crumbs on top were super crispy, it was a perfect sweet/salty combo…YOU GUYS. I ate the entire thing even though I was stuffed about halfway through. It was that good.
I honestly don’t have as much to say about Ilhan’s dish because it wasn’t as unique of a dish as the baked eggs; there isn’t much to describe about bacon, eggs, and toast if you know what I mean. But I will say this: the egg was beautifully over-easy, the bacon was perfect, the sausage was excellently seasoned, the baked potatoes were hangover heaven, and the inclusion of the delicious roasted tomato was a nice touch to what is a fairly typical brunch dish. So despite being a standard plate…they executed it wonderfully. For drinks, Ilhan was in love with his fresh orange juice, but while I loved my Bloody Mary, it wasn’t as spicy as I usually like them. I’d order it again though!
A beautiful restaurant in a beautiful neighborhood, extraordinary service, and beyond delicious food. Tilikum Place Cafe is undoubtedly going to be at the top of our list of places to revisit next time we’re in Seattle, and I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a cute brunch spot in close proximity to the Space Needle. I wish they had a location a little closer to home for us!
I know I can’t be alone when I say I feel like there’s a certain electricity that you can only find in historic places. It’s like you transcend time; you touch all of the centuries at once, you are one with the hundreds, thousands, millions of other people who have stood at that same spot and looked at the same view. Maybe I’m just a history nerd…but I truly, deeply believe there is something in the air in old places. You just have to be open to feeling it and you’ll find it’s all around you, absorbing you.
Imagine the vibes I got stepping foot in Ephesus, one of the best preserved ancient cities in the whole world. Built in the 10th century BC (seriously think about that for a second…the 10th century BC), it was a Greek city until 129 BC when the Romans took over and it’s estimated that 34,000-56,000 people resided there during it’s most prosperous period! Given the fact that it is so well preserved, complete with a huge amphitheater, multiple temples, residential areas, and a two-story library facade, it really is like entering another world. You don’t need to stretch your imagination too much to picture what this city was like in its prime.
I’m going to let the pictures do the talking for me. Simply put, it was a breathtaking experience that I could not recommend more for anyone visiting Turkey. Even if you don’t plan on spending a lot of time in Izmir…Ephesus is too magnificent to miss. I was walking around like a freak touching all of the walls picturing the literal MILLENNIA that those stones have seen, wondering who else had placed their hands on those exact spots…it’s an emotional and humbling experience that I don’t think anyone should miss. Nothing is more humanizing than finding a connection with people who lived thousands of years ago.
One word of advice: If you visit during summer as we did, BE PREPARED. We didn’t bring water with us which was so extraordinarily stupid. It was very hot, very crowded, and there is minimal shade, plus to see the whole city you have to walk up a fairly long hillside. We were so hot and dehydrated we actually spent a good five minutes debating drinking water from a bottle we found on the ground whose seal had been broken…not ok.
The amazing, massive amphitheater. We entered it through tunnels the performers used to use.First look at the iconic Ephesus library facade. Think of how many minds passed through those doors, ready to learn.And here’s the inside of the library.
This one below is where their market was held daily. We learned thousands would gather here to buy and sell goods.
These are interiors of the wealthiest people’s homes. Can I reiterate that being here felt like transcending time?
Have you been to Ephesus or any other ancient city? What was your experience like?
We need to talk about Cesme, Turkey. Before our trip, Ilhan had told me about the beautiful beaches in Turkey…but I was so excited for Istanbul, the culture, the food, the ancient sites, that I forgot that we’d be beaching it up while in Izmir. Maybe it was also due to the fact that I live in Southern California so going to the beach isn’t that special of an activity. But I was very wrong to not be pumped up, because it was the most magical beach experience of my life.
Cesme is about a one hour bus ride outside of Izmir, and to access the beach you have to pay entry to a beach club. Here in California, you just go to the sand and lay out a towel, so it was a bit unusual for me to have to pay to go to the beach. It wasn’t expensive with the exchange rate (less than $10), and the fee got you a bed to lay out on all day. There wasn’t a sandy beach…rather the beds were set up on top of a deck built over the water, so you could literally get out of your bed and dive straight into the sea. Did I mention this was paradise?
The water was so so so so clear and warm and stunning…it felt like swimming in a salt water pool. You could easily float on your back and swim around lazily and even bring a drink into the water if you wanted to. Compare that to the water here in SoCal…literally freezing cold year round with waves so huge you have to constantly be on your toes so you don’t get pulled underwater. I was in heaven. I love swimming and I love the beach, so having the chance to actually swim around in the ocean water was a dream. We stayed in the water for the majority of the day every single time we were there, only taking a break when we got really tired or hungry. Speaking of which, you got served food and drinks right to your bed! It felt like staying at a resort and again…it cost less than $10.
The only negative experience there: I got stung by a f-ing jellyfish :[ It was the strangest thing…I was swimming above a patch of seaweed with my head above water when I heard something like electricity and my forearm starting burning. Swimming back to the deck, it felt like my skin was peeling off and I was gushing blood, so imagine my surprise when I got out of the water and there wasn’t even a visible mark! After a few minutes the burns started to show up red my forearm and they made a really awesome scar that lasted most of the summer. I was kinda sad to see my battle wounds go haha.
Seriously…if I have the opportunity to visit Turkey again, Cesme would ABSOLUTELY be on my “visit again” list. It was beyond beautiful and relaxing, and it felt luxurious without breaking the bank. Someone take me back right now!
Hi, I'm Marla! Welcome to A Weekend Crossing, a blog about exploring beautiful Southern California and beyond. It's nice to meet you :] You can learn more about me and this blog here. ♥