Sunday, May 25, 2008

Turkey, Sunday to Sunday, May 25-June 1


We're off the net for a week. We'll be in Ankara for the next three days, visiting museums and seeing the city. We fly to Antalya to be shuttled to our gulet, on which we'll spend four days.

We'll have photos and stories to tell in a week.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Turkey Saturday May 24


Today was the final day on the Grand Turkey Tour. It was fitting to end it here in Istanbul, at the Topkapi Sarayi (Palace), the Blue Mosque, and the Grand Bazaar. After a successful wrestle with Pacha Tours to undo a plan of theirs to split off four of our core group into another day tour plan, we all headed with a new tour guide (Ciya) to the Topkapi Palace. Built between 1453 and 1820, it was the royal residence to 24 of the Ottoman's 36 Sultans. Consisting of four gated courtyards, and an increasingly complex set of buildings leading to the Sultan's personal home, it takes over the end of an entire peninsula.

Despite the fact that most of what belonged to the the empires which occupied Turkey for almost 4,000 years have been stolen from her, the remaining collection housed within these walls is breath-taking. Diamonds, rubies, jade, china, silk, thrones, robes, mosaics, swords, medallions, and rooms and rooms to display them in. Harems bedrooms, kitchens, pavillions, libraries, armories, mints, parliament meeting rooms, gardens, and fountains.

After lunch back at our hotel, we next went not far away to the Blue Mosque. Built in ten years by Ahmet I (who ascended to the throne at 14, and died at 28) to top the grandeur of the 500 year-old Hagia Sofia Church (see yesterday's review), its 260stain-glass windows, 30,000 blue tiles, and the biggest columns in the world certainly deliver the visual punch.

Outside the Mosque stand two large obelisks. Constructed to facilitate a hippodrome (oblong chariot race sort of like our present-day barrel racing), the most impressive of the two is the oldest monument in Istanbul. It was carved in Egypt in 1530BC and erected at Karnac. The Byzantine Emperor, Theodosius, had it brought from Egypt in AD390. It's one of the few war spoil treasures, and probably was too large for the crusaders to steal back.

Finally, we went to the Grand Bazaar. Neither Pat nor I were interested in buying anything, we just wanted to see this supersize ancient mall. It has over 4,000 shops lining kilometers of labyinthine alleyways. I planned on taking photos of faces and products, but soon realized that it was filled with rather normal looking people not looking very photogenic. The chaos wasn't very pretty, and the merchandise being purchased wasn't very local, authentic, or particularly interesting. Not grand or bazaar.

For a look at the day's photos, click on: Turkey Saturday May 24

Friday, May 23, 2008

Turkey Friday May 23


Istanbul is a larger and more populated city than I imagined. With 16 million residents spanning two continents, it takes a while to even get the lay of the place. Scoping it out last night before we took a walk through the neighborhoods around our hotel, I thought I understood the layout. What I didn’t grasp was the relative size of the pieces in the design. It took a bus and a boat to bring it home to me.

We were on the move all morning. We were driven to the Hagia Sophia, a 5th century church (360-1453), later a mosque (1453-1935), and now a museum. Considered the largest cathedral in the world for nearly 1,000 years, it was the religious focal point for the Eastern Orthodox Church. As we marveled at the size, detail of its architecture, and beauty of the mosaics, our guide informed us that it was because of this church that Russia became Christian. Travels to this church are cited as having significant impact on the designs and thinking in early Russian religious thinking.

I probably took too many photos of the huge circular disks carrying the names of the Ottoman holy men in calligraphy on the columns. Or too many photos of the light coming through the windows. Probably should have deleted more than I did. But it’s so awe-inspiring. This structure, complete with a scaffolding now holding up the dome, shows the ravages of time and conquests in Turkey. The crusades stole from it, other armies sacked it, earthquakes shook it, fires took their tolls twice. Pieces of it circle the globe. I just think it’s owed a few photos of what is left.

After a fish lunch again in a beautiful seaside restaurant, we drive over to a Westside neighborhood to a Greek Orhodox church (Kariye) which is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Inside the many arches,domes are covered with fine mosaics and painted walls. There are unique depictions of Mary's life, especially after Christ’s crucifixion. Turks believe that Mary lived out here remaining years near Ephesus, and feel slighted by stories that she stayed in Jerusalem. There is a great scene of Jesus taking Adam and Eve into heaven.

On the way back to the bus, we pass through a conservative section of town. We see an Ismaili sect couple. He is in a long coat, loose shirt, and pants - she a batwoman in black walking behind him. And they were clearly in their thirties.

Our driver then took us to the marina where we board an open air, double-level tour vessel which took us for a sailing adventure. From our southern peninsula, through the Golden Horn arm, we sailed east to the main part of the Bosphorous sea. We saw some of the oldest and most ornate palaces and other residences which lined the waterway, and which are still being used by the some of the richest families in the orient. Speaking of the orient, on the way to the boat, we saw the railway terminus of the Orient Express. We heard the story of a character featured in one of Agatha Christie novels (Sir Basil Zaharoff ), who later became an arms merchant and Monaco casino owner. He came from our tour guide’s home town, and his first job was as a tourist guide in the late 1860’s.

The afternoon was spent in the Spice Market in the city center. Everything product we have seen in Turkey can be found here. If Istanbul is anything, it is a marketplace. Nearby the Grand Bazaar, this series of covered stalls wets our appetite for a return visit to the Bazaar tomorrow. We’re also going to visit the Blue Mosque, the other well-know tourist attractions in town. It’s our last day on the tour, and I’m sure dinner tomorrow night will be rough for all of us to contemplate separation.

For a look at the day's photos, click on: Turkey Friday May 23