My thoughts on Istanbul:
I really like the city, at least the part we stayed in. We were probably a two minute walk away from the Blue Mosque and Hagai Sophia. We'd wake up in the morning and have breakfast on the enclosed rooftop of our hostel and watch ships sailing by. Pretty fantastic. The city is huge though, beautiful, but sprawling. I don't think I would like it as much if we weren't staying in such a central location. We took an hour and a half boat ride up the Bosphorous Strait and really never left the city. Highlights of that trip inlcude I have now been to ASIA! Nick, from My first year of JVC, met up with us which was awesome. On one day, the three of us just did a food tour of all the street food before heading over to the BLue Mosque to check out the inside and hear the evening call to prayer from the square out front. I would definitely go back to istanbul, but not at the "high" season, it was crowded enough in the winter.
Next up we caught a bus to Sofia, Bulgaria. It was surprisingly easy. So far the hardest part of the trip has been locating the front door of our hostels. In Istanbul we stayed at the generically named "Istanbul Hostel" which was located in the middle of the tourist district filled with hostels, it made asking for directions very challenging.
Sofia was nice, but cold. Tim and I had to spray all our clothes and bags with raid and then wash them from Istanbul and so for the two days we were in Sofia we were walking around in, sleeping in, and filing our beds with wet clothes hoping to dry them with our body heat. We were not successful and it was just cold. The first day in Sofia we tried to go to the mountain in the city, we were marginally successful except that it took us nearly all morning to find the right tram. The second day we wandered around, watched a changing of the guards, checked out some fancy churches and in the evening we went to the ballet "Sleeping Beauty" at the National Opera House. It was legit. He ballet was really good. The best thing about Sofia was how affordable it was. Food was super cheap. We went to the archeology museum for $2 and second row at the ballet cost a little under $20.
From Sofia, this morning we caught another bus to Belgrade. Aside from pushy older Serbian ladies who sat in our seats and wouldn't move the bus went smoothly. Tonight we are headed to dinner at a resteraunt that apparently has opera singers serenading you while you eat. A day in Belgrade tomorrow and then if we can, the overnight train to Budapest tomorrow morning where, to continue our pretentious culture trend, we have tickets to a concert of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra.