Karen Johnson

Kuan Yin

Karen Johnson

I'm an independent single woman who loves to travel. Favorite place to visit in a new country? The grocery store.

Scroll down to read my previous posts, and check back often for more pictures and stories.

“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ was his response. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the cat, ‘it doesn't matter.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

"The gladdest moment in human life, methinks, is a departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands."
- Richard Burton (the explorer, not he actor)

"It is good to travel with hope and with courage, but it is better to travel with knowledge."
- Ragnar Lodbrok

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”
- Herman Melville, "Moby Dick"

"I am rarely lost. Sometimes I'm just taking the scenic route."
- Karen Johnson

"In the end it will be OK. If it's not OK, it's not the end."
- Anon.

Middle East » Turkey » Marmara » Istanbul » Sultanahmet August 27th 2015

Legend has it the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was in his garden one day. Unbeknownst to him, a deadly snake slithered into his presence. The serpent was poised to strike the prophet when it was pounced upon by a cat, thus saving the Prophet from a painful death. Muhammad stroked the cat’s head in gratitude, and it is said that the stripes that some cats have on their heads is the mark of the Prophet’s fingers. Now, I don’t know if this story is true, but I rather like it, even if I am more of a dog person. There are a number of hadith (collection of quotes purporting to be from Muhammad) that refer to cats, such as “A good deed done to an animal is as meritorious as a good ... read more
bookstore cats
car cat
eating cat

Middle East » Turkey » Marmara » Istanbul August 12th 2015

So, who, exactly, decided Suleiman was magnificent? Was it his mother? His wife? She had good reason to think well of him. Maybe one of his concubines? We know he had at least three. Who was this guy? I got interested in Suleiman because of the mosque named for him. Suleiman wanted to turn Constantinople into the jewel of the Ottoman Empire, and to that end he had Mimar Sinan, one of the greatest architects of all time, design a resplendent mosque on a hill overlooking the Golden Horn. You can see this mosque quite clearly from the Beyoğlu side of the Galata Bridge, and it looked pretty, well, magnificent. And big! I decided this was to be my destination for the morning, and while I had a general idea of how to get there, I ... read more
courtyard fountain

Middle East » Turkey » Marmara » Istanbul » Beyoglu August 5th 2015

The Orient Express – the name conjures up images of luxury and louche characters. What I hadn’t realized is that Sirkeci Station in Istanbul was the terminus for the Orient Express. While the Orient Express no longer runs from Paris to Istanbul, Sirkeci Station still sees passenger trains stop at its platform, and the station itself still retains its architectural beauty. The station was built in 1890, and in 1892 the Pera Palas Hotel was built on the other side of the Galata Bridge with the express purpose of housing passengers on the Orient Express. It quickly became the favorite place for European visitors to lay their heads. It was the first hotel in Istanbul to have electricity, to have an electric elevator, and to provide hot running water for its guests. I wanted to follow ... read more
travel poster
Chemin de Fer Ottoman
station exterior

Middle East » Turkey » Marmara » Istanbul » Sultanahmet July 28th 2015

I had visited the big three of Istanbul: the Blue Mosque, the Aya Sofia, and Topkapi Palace, experiences and pictures that I am still processing. But today was to be a day of smaller, quieter experiences. I walk past the Basilica Cistern everyday on my way to the tram. This morning there was hardly any line, so I decided to visit. The Basilica Cistern does not accept the Istanbul Museum Pass, nor does it take credit cards. The entrance fee is TYL 20, and if there are big cruise ships in town the lines can get very long. I was rather let down. I’m not sure what, exactly, I was expecting, but the Basilica Cistern is basically just an underground storage tank. Yes, to my eyes it is a marvel of engineering, and yes, the Medusa ... read more
Medusa head 2
vaulted ceiling
Percemli Sokuk

Middle East » Turkey » Marmara » Istanbul » Sultanahmet July 26th 2015

Before I came to Istanbul I practiced saying no. “No, thank you.” “No, I’m just looking.” “No, I’m not interested.”“No, it’s too expensive.” “No, stop it.” “NO!” I learned to say no in Turkish as well as English. So how come I ended up in a rug shop drinking tea? I’m an early riser, and I like to get out and about. My first full day in Istanbul I just wanted to walk around and get my bearings before it got too hot and there were too many people around. I was in Sultanahmet Square headed to the Information Center. The bad part of that is that as a single woman who was obviously a visitor, I was a target for every carpet salesman in town. And since there aren’t a lot of tourists around yet, ... read more
carpets in Grand Bazaar
more carpets in Grand Bazaar

Middle East » Turkey » Marmara » Istanbul » Beyoglu July 24th 2015

As someone who doesn’t like crowds, I clearly wasn’t thinking straight when I decided to visit Istanbul’s most popular shopping street on a holiday weekend in July when there were three cruise ships in port. It was crowded and crazy, but in a funny sort of way it served me well. The crowds forced me to look into the little alleys and passages, and there is some interesting stuff in the small byways. I only noticed the Aya Triada (Holy Trinity) church because of the cross I saw from the distance. I followed the sokak (alley) across from the French Consulate a short distance to the church. The outer door to the narthex was open, so I went in. There was a very pleasant caretaker who motioned that it was OK for me to go inside. ... read more
Aya Triada
Aya Triada
Aya Triada

Middle East » Turkey » Marmara » Istanbul » Sultanahmet July 21st 2015

Taksim Square doesn’t have quite the name recognition that the other T Squares – Tahrir and Tiananmen – have, but it still holds an important place in Istanbul’s history, and I wanted to see it. I start by walking across the Galata Bridge. This runs across the Golden Horn from the Eminonu neighborhood to Karakoy. You can walk along the top side, which gives you a nice view of the city, or you can walk through the lower level, past the people fishing from the bridge, and the restaurants that will (presumably) serve their catch. Once on the Karakoy side I switch to the funicular. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I think of a funicular, I think of railways like the one seen in the movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” and I have ... read more
Wall  art
Galata Bridge
Public Transport - Funicular style

Middle East » Turkey » Marmara » Istanbul July 19th 2015

It occurred to me as I was packing for this trip that I like everything about travelling – except the standing in lines part. I get pleasure from filling the little three ounce bottles with shampoo and mouthwash. Folding clothes and fitting them into packing bags brings me great calm. Please note: this enjoyment does not translate into folding laundry in real life; it only counts if the clothes are going into a suitcase. The flight from San Diego to Houston to Amsterdam to Istanbul was long, but fairly uneventful. Schiphol Airport is being renovated, so it wasn’t very comfortable, but there was a Starbucks, so life was good. And I got to see an Air Serbia Airbus, which is not an everyday occurrence. Landing at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, I was surprised that we did ... read more
passport stamp

North America » United States » California » Carlsbad March 11th 2015

When people ask me why I travel, I often say it’s because of my Viking blood. Turns out I may have been closer to the truth than I realized. A couple of months ago I’m on a first date with a perfectly nice man; let’s call him John Doe. We are in a coffee shop (OK, it’s Starbucks, but I like their espresso) in Carlsbad, California. He is nice looking, smart, financially secure, and age-appropriate for me. And single. We had taken a few classes together, but didn’t know each other well. Since he didn’t look like an axe murderer or a serial killer (and did I mention he was single?) I readily agreed when he asked me for coffee. This particular coffee shop is right under the flight path of the Palomar-McClellan Airport in Carlsbad. ... read more
Changi Airport, Singapore
Palomar-McClellan Airport, Carlsbad, CA

Asia » Singapore » Jurong West January 1st 2015

I’m really not much of a gambler, but I do enjoy horse racing. The first horse race I ever went to was at the St. Joseph County Fair more than thirty years ago. It was a cool, drizzly day, and the bleachers were old, splintery wooden benches with no shelter from the weather. I sat there absolutely transfixed, and watched a whole afternoon of racing, fortified only by the occasional cup of bad coffee. I’ve visited much nicer tracks since then. I’ve wanted to go to the Singapore Turf Club for quite some time, but never quite made it. Either there was no racing on the calendar, or my schedule didn’t fit with the racing program. But not this year! The stars aligned and I was able to finally get to see horse racing in Singapore. ... read more
good luck horse
covered paddock 2
huge toteboard

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