Last week I traveled to Belgrade, Serbia to visit my dear friend, Kathy from New York. I stayed with her when I got off the Appalachian Trail, so I owe her in ways I can never repay. I really needed to see a friendly face and she made my month! Here are some photos from the first day. Kathy had been on a group tour and Belgrade was her final city, so I was lucky that my school schedule allowed me to join her there.
I so enjoyed my stay. So much history. This is a city I will serious consider living in. I enjoyed trying to figure out the Cyrillic Letters.
I’m developing a new way to choose which countries to live in. It’s the language. Not “can I figure it out” or “will this language be helpful for me in the future.” No, it’s the sound of things. When you live in a country where your home language isn’t spoken, you must listen to countless hours of the native language without knowing what is being said. You’ll be in line at the grocery, post office, airport and overhear conversations. You will be following some chatty old women in the market square or bragging young men on the metro. You will not know for a very long time what is being said. If you are lucky, you can catch a few words, newly acquired. Even when you are studying as hard as your mind will let you, it takes a while to tune your ear to the music of the language. And here’s the catch: It needs to sound like music to you. If it just sounds like clashing, guttural emissions, you are in for a horrible stay. The sound of people talking should not grate on your nerves. Life is difficult enough in a foreign country. You will be lost most of the time. When you think you understand you will often find later that you were totally clueless. You learn the true mending of “ignorance is bliss.” To live in another culture is to live in the dark. I can only liken it to losing one of your senses, but by choice. And if only twice a week you question your sanity, I’d say you’re doing well. Just don’t make it worse by choosing a language you hate the sound of.
Oh, and bacon. I’m not living in another country that doesn’t serve pork. While in Belgrade (honest, I’ll post pictures very soon) last week, I ate pork every meal and my dear friend Kathy brought me three boxes of shelf stable bacon. I’m having a couple pieces every day. Heaven!
Seriously, I’m looking at what to do with my time once my teaching contract is up in February. I don’t want to take another job right away because I plan to hike The Camino in April. Basically, I need a place to stay and I’m willing to work for it. If food is also provided, that’d be a bonus. I’m more likely to go to a country I can’t teach in, such as an EU country and I don’t want to get too far from the start of the Camino in Spain, just because of costs. Possibilities I’m investigating include: house/animal sitting (I’ve signed up with Trusted House Sitters and checking out availability); WWOOFing—world wide opportunities on organic farms (I’d really love to learn to make cheese or work with fruit trees) and Volunteer positions (there’s a potential farm in Bulgaria I’ve contacted). And while I expect I’ll take another teaching job when I get off the Camino, I have applied for a cruise ship job as staff. You never know what I’ll do!
This is the second part of my tour of Turkey in 2008 See Part 1
Feb 29, 2008
Last night I walked to the grocery store for bottled water. A 1.5 liter bottle is one or two lira, about 80 cents, at a grocery, but 10 times as much at the hotel. I was walking up the hill to the hotel at dusk and turned back to hear the echo of the call to prayer wafting over the Aegean Sea. I hear it at daybreak too. I am told they say “wake up! Prayer is better than sleep!”
We left the hotel (otel) this morning and in 20 minutes stopped at a leather outlet. We were given a fashion show and of course the very strong, sweet tea (cay). Then the buying! I am amazed at how much money people spend. They clearly are not state employees!
Today we drive through fig fields which are still bare trees at this time. Also pine nut trees, which are a lovely evergreen and smell heavenly. The fruit trees are just beginning to bloom, peach, apple, and apricot, cherry. The oranges and lemons are ripe. There are fields of cotton which are under water now. The soil has a high salt content and they flood them in the off season to dissolve the mineral salts.
Some random tips in case you visit Turkey. The bathrooms are mostly marked “WC” (water closet, a British term). Or ask for a toilet, which works in all of Europe as well. Man is bay and woman is bayan (bay YAN). As in Europe, you may have to pay a few cents to use, so keep small coins available in your pocket. Never miss a free pee! They rarely have toilet paper or towels, but will always have soap and water. Bring pocket tissues-I cannot stress this enough.
More language: Hello is merhaba (MER ha ba). No thank you, which you must say constantly as you walk the Grand Bazaar, is phonetically: higher, sowl. Please is lutfen (LOOT fen). The country is spelled Turkiye (tur KEY yah), literally, the land of Turks. People are very affectionate and kiss (particularly if you buy expensive items from then!). Two men will walk the streets arm in arm.
Next stop was the ruins of Miletus. Although the harbor once held 200 Geek warships, the water is now 5 miles away since the bay has silted in. We have gotten good at spotting alluvial plains, where rivers have filled in the shoreline to make flat plains. The theater here seats 15000. We saw a Shepard guiding his sheep through the ruins and it reminds me of the Lord’s Prayer.
Next a lunch stop at Didyma (did ee YA ma), a word that means twin. Apollo, who has a temple here, is the twin of Artemes. This temple dates from 800BCE and was used for 1400 years. The shrine was one of the leading oracles of the Geek world by 500BC. It has both a spring and a fissure that released a gas. The gas was inhaled by young girls who would then fall into a deep sleep and tell the future from their dreams. Alexander came here and he promised enough money to rebuild a temple, but it was never finished. When Christianity came into vogue, it was converted into a church, but toppled in an earthquake in 1493.
The weather is hot. Have not used a coat for 2 days and wish I had shorts. I packed for winter but there was no way to predict this.The week before I arrived there was snow, almost to the Mediterranean.
Tonight we stay in Pamukkle (Pam MOO ka lay). Tomorrow we visit a hot mineral spring that’s been popular since Roman times.
Mar 1, 2008
This is a short post because it is already late as I have been soaking in the thermal mineral waters of the pool at the hotel. Traveling out of season has advantages. We have not fought crowds anywhere we have gone. But today we are in Pamukkale and the hotel is full. Always full. We are the only English speaking group. Everyone else is German.
This morning drove to the Aphrodite temple at Aphrodisias. Let me just say I probably got my best photos here. Lovely temples and snowcapped mountains in the background.
Then to a Roman bath that used pools of natural calcium carbonate rich water. The pools are coated in the white rock and look like hills of snow. Then dinner and a dip in the hot mineral springs! This is the life. No wonder this is a popular tourist spot.
Mon, 3 Mar 2008
Today we leave Pamukkle and drive in the rain along the same roads that Alexander, St Paul and the Crusades took. We will stay in Antalya tonight. Antalya is along the Silk Road, that Marco Polo traveled. So much history and I am getting quite tired walking through several centuries and once. But would not miss this for the world.
Our drive is through the mountains and we see a few nomadic homes, marble quarries and spectacular views. A few of us on this trip are interested in future trips with the tour company. (Go Ahead Tours. This is my second trip with them) We may have enough to get a group rate. This is the best group of travelers I’ve found. Everyone is on time. No one complains about food. This is the point in the tour when people are tired and nerves are on edge. So far, so good.
Our guide, Mehmet, gives is little talks along the drive about Turkish life. He introduced is to his favorite snack, spiced chickpeas. He also spent some time on the geography of the area, politics and mandatory military service. To be a registered tour guide, you must have a degree, extra language and history training and pass examinations before licensing. It is a high prestige job.
For lunch, we went to a mall. Honest. It was just as large and tacky as all American malls and I even recognized half the brand names. I was able to get more computer memory cards for my camera and really cheap water. But I refused to eat at the McDonalds.
Then on to the Antalya museum (muse) where we saw some of the most amazing Greek statues, sarcophagi, coins and rugs. Even the bones of Santa Claus (Saint Nicholas)! Then a walking tour of the old city where our hotel is. I am tempted to drop out tomorrow and just wander around the city.
Mar 3, 2008
There is a mosque beside our hotel and this morning it sounded like the call to prayer was coming from my balcony! While it was a loud (and a tad jarring) for the first thing in the morning, it is actually pleasant. I could get used to it.
We skipped a 4th century church of Saint Nicholas. That’s right, we missed Santa Claus, but we had seen his bones in a museum yesterday. This morning we saw the ruins of Phaselis, which are located right on the water and it is breathtakingly beautiful. While not large, it is an ancient Lycian city with lovely bays, backed by snowcapped mountains and ringed in pine trees. The Roman aqueduct is prominent. We have seen several, but usually from quite a distance.
Then after a wonderful lunch of mezes, sort of the Turkish version of tapas, we went to a 2nd century Roman theater in Aspendos (ah SPEN dos) that is still used today. Then to the ruins of Perge (PEAR gay), which had an impressive entrance and agora, marketplace. The baths were reconstructed, but showed how the steam heating went through the floor, transferring heat to each bath. I also got some photos of nomads that are striking. I am taking something like 150 photos a day and I’ve no idea how I will handle them at home!
Tomorrow will be mostly driving, but we do have a stop in Koyna at the monastery of Rumi, the Sufi mystic. This 13th century poet has been the bestselling poet in the US for the last 10 years and I very much enjoy his work. The Sufis are better known as Whirling Dervish.
We cross the Taurus Mountains tomorrow and reach Cappadocia late tomorrow night.
Mar 4, 2008
We left Antalya at 7:30a this morning for a full day of driving. We turn away from the sea after an hour and began to climb into the mountains and the interior of the country. The mountains have snow and you can see the effects of the two tectonic plates that meet here. Sometimes the layers of earth are vertical rather than horizontal. Such a rough landscape. The trees are mostly Lebanese Cedar, which were prized by the Romans. They are now gone from Italy and Greece. We keep asking the tour guide, Mehmet, about the trees and he is bored with saying he does not know. Now he just says they are Roadarium Orientalis.
There is a chance that we will be able to take a hot air balloon ride tomorrow morning over the fairy castle landscape of Cappadocia. Our only stop today is in Koyna, to the Mevlana Museum, the monastery of the 13 century poet and Sufi monk, Rumi. This is a pilgrimage site, not only because of Rumi and the Whirling Dervishes, but because there is a single hair from the beard of Mohamed. There is a lovely fluted turret for the mosque, blue green in color. This color, turquoise, is named for the Turks. If you have not read Rumi’s poetry, get a translation! Beautiful.
In an email to my mother:
Yesterday I bought a necklace from a nomadic woman, maybe a gypsy. I took her picture, so did not haggle with the price. And she was not asking much money anyway. She was young, but clearly has a hard life. Such a picture. These people were lined up on an ancient Roman city street, each between the old columns. It is illegal, but I paid quickly.”
Mar 5, 2008
This has been an amazing day in Cappadocia. We were up early for a hot air balloon ride, were I managed to take 150 photos in about an hour. The landscape here is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Cappadocia is the central plains of the country, an area rather than a city. Once it was shaped like a bowl, bounded by three volcanoes. The earth here is made up of layers of basalt and tufa, originally lava and ash. The tufa is soft and wears away easily compared to the basalt. You end up with a cap of basalt perched precariously on a column of tufa. They called them fairy chimneys and they look like enormous mushrooms.
Then we toured the Goreme Open Air Museum, once an early Christian community of about 2000 people. Little is known, but they appeared to have moved here in the 8th century and a few of the homes were inhabited in the 1920s. They carved rooms into the soft rock, including a monastery, nunnery and several small churches.
Some of the poor of the city still live in houses carved out of the rock. Plumbing is an issue in these homes, but I noticed that one or two had satellite dishes!
After lunch we went to an Iznik tile factory, but I was so tired I simply slept on the bus. This was a demonstration and sales stop, so I didn’t feel bad about missing it. I had intended to go, but when it came time to rise from my seat on the bus I found I was exhausted and simply could not. The nap did me good.
Tonight will be an early night here in Urgup, Turkey.
Mar 6, 2008 Another Christian Rock community and playing hooky for an afternoon
This morning we drove to an unusual, early Christian church and community. This was another collective style community, although most of the homes and the church were connected from the inside with little exterior access. Very little is known about the history, but the architecture was superior to anything we have seen before with carved, vaulted ceilings, columns, domes and beautiful hand painting. We could take no photos inside, even without flash, so I was disappointed in this. The paintings date from the 12th century, but the community must have begun quite some time before. Locals say that the area was still inhabited in the 1920s.
I came to Turkey originally to see Greek and Roman ruins. I simply could not afford to go to Greece and just a little study showed that there are more ruins in Turkey (formerly Asia Minor) than Greece. But honestly, I’m over it. I can’t see another fallen column! This afternoon three of us blew off the afternoon tour and walked into town for lunch. It is about a mile and we were late for lunch, but the first place we passed was open. We stopped and had to yell to get the attention of the staff. The restaurant was not to open until the next day, but they gave us an amazing meal with beer three kinds of kebobs, salad and rice plus a huge pile of dolmas for $12 each. Then they gave us each a small wall hanging we had admired when we first came in as a gift. These are lovely people. The town seems very safe to me. We walked around the community and were greeted warmly. One lovely older woman stopped us and talked to us, but we didn’t understand her Turkish and she didn’t understand our English. Still, it was very sweet. The town is built along a mountain cliff, and the houses along the back are dug into the rock.
While at the restaurant, the three owners were very excited to find that I was interested in teaching English. They were trying to get an English teacher for the community. Though they had no money, they would give room and board to a teach in exchange for 2 hours of teaching a day!
Then after supper we went to a rebuilt caravanserais, a “hotel” for traveling caravans along the Silk Road. These were built to protect merchants traveling the routes through Anatolia (Turkey) and other countries from the 13th century. Here we saw a Whirling Dervish demonstration. I will have to read up on this whirling ceremony, but found the music and movement soothing. It was the first evening that was cold so I wore a woolen poncho I bought as a gift.
Mar 7, 2008
*sigh* I can’t imagine that I have to leave. We will be flying from a small airport in Cappadocia to Istanbul. If I have it figured right, we will get to the hotel at about midnight and then I leave for the airport to fly out at about 3am. Hardly worth the trouble.
A few of us are considering staying up all night so that we will be dead tired for the flight home. But of course it isn’t as simple as that. It never is. We are flying through Frankfurt to change planes and there is a transportation strike in Germany. The strikers may or may not include the folks who handle our luggage. We could get stranded in Istanbul, or Frankfort or we could be diverted to another airport in another country. And there is always the risk that other unions may strike in solidarity, as the weather forecasters already have. If the airline workers or pilots union ………but it does no good to speculate. Who can tell? Travel is not for the faint of heart. If you have to know exactly where you are going and when you will get there and what you will see and what you will eat…… just stay home. Personally, as long as I don’t get stranded at the airport-if you’ve seen one airport, you’ve seen them all-I will be fine. I even have Euros left over from my last trip. And I always pack clean socks and undies in a carry on bag because you just never know.
We stopped on the way to another underground city. There are maybe 25 of them in Cappadocia and some may have been dug by the Hittites as early as 2000BCE. The first written evidence is not until the 11th century AD, but they were clearly ancient then. This one would hold 5000 people, but it does not appear that people lived there full time. These seem to be a place for emergency use. Who were they so afraid of that they would carve tunnels and rooms to hold so many? Several passages can be closed from the inside with rolling stones. It is a mystery who built them, who used them and why. What seems clear is that they were used for centuries.
We fly out of Kaysari, a city with Roman walls that currently house the Bazaar. We must have been the only Americans they had seen in a while because everyone treated is to tastes of food and greeted us warmly. I love eating my way across a country!
Sun, 9 Mar 2008 All Good Things must come to an end.
Just a quick note to say that I am home, safe in my own bed tonight. The last 24 hours have been spent on three planes and in three airports. I would not wish this on anyone. And you know how I always tell you to pack light and carry on your own luggage? Well on the last day of the trip I made a purchase, a small rug, that simply would not fit in my suitcase and I had to check one bag. And…..you guessed it…..they lost it. I just got a call from the airline saying they found the bag and it will be delivered tomorrow (it wasn’t). But in the last year I’ve traveled in 8 countries and this is the only bag I’ve checked. Of course the things that really mattered I did carry, so if the bag had been permanently lost I only would have lost a few small gifts and a bunch of dirty clothes. Still, the man who took my lost luggage claim, told me he NEVER checks his luggage. Nuff said!
Oh yeah, one more thing: You must visit Turkey! Part 1 Part 2
Feb 24, 2008 Flight from Atlanta to Frankfurt to Istanbul
The flight here was awful: delays, crying babies and a mad rush to change planes or have to wait 24 hours. I barely made it as they closed the doors behind me when I boarded. If I had not carried all my luggage (I cannot recommend this enough!) who knows when I would have gotten clean underwear.
But I made it to Istanbul, a city of 14 million people. This is very near the cradle of civilization and was occupied about 3,000 years ago. Maybe more. It has gone by many names: Byzantium, Augusta Antonina, Nova Roma, Constantinople, and now Istanbul. The current name is a corruption of a Greek phrase meaning The City. The city has also been nicknamed The City on Seven Hills because the oldest part of the city was built on seven hills (just like Rome), each of which now bears an historic mosque. Constantinople became the new capital of The Roman Empire (the New Rome) in 330AD.
Today Istanbul is a bustling metropolis. The Bosporus Straight (leading from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and beyond to the Mediterranean) slices the city in two. It is also the dividing line of two continents. The western side of Istanbul is considered Europe, but the eastern side is Asia. It is crossed by the Galata Bridge.
Here are stats:
Founded 667BCE as Byzantium
Roman rule began AD330 as Constantinople
Ottoman rule 1453 as Istanbul
Area - Total 1,538.77km² (594.1 sq mi)
Elevation 100m (328 ft)
Population, 2007) - Total 11,174,257 (4th)
Density 7,262/km² (18,808.5/sq mi)
Last night we had a welcome reception with lovely kabobs of grilled lamb, a fresh salad of cucumber and tomatoes and super sweet deserts-like baklava dripping in honey. Our Tour Guide, Mehmet, also treated us to Turkish delight to start off our tour “sweetly”. This concoction is made from sugar, starch and flavoring and often sprinkled with pistachios or walnuts. Our chins were covered in the powdered sugar that coats the pieces to keep them from sticking.
First Day touring Istanbul
This morning we toured all day. I saw the Haghia Sophia (Aya Sophia), originally a 6th century Christian church, turned mosque by the Turks in the 15th, and now a museum.
Famous in particular for its massive dome, it is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture. It was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years. This is actually the third church on this site. The first building went up in 360AD, but was destroyed by fire and rebuild in 415AD. The second building was destroyed in the Nika Revolt (where the emperor Justinian killed 30,000 people and destroyed the church and much of the city in just three weeks!). Remnants of the previous building were found during a recent renovation and we saw these before entering the church.
The current building was constructed between 532 and 537AD on the orders of Emperor Justinian and designed by two architects, Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles. Rome fell in 470, so Constantinople continued as the Roman empire of the east, more Greek than Roman, really. Although the church is sometimes referred to as Saint Sophia (Greek for wisdom) it was dedicated to the Holy Wisdom of God rather than a specific saint named Sophia. At the time it was considered one of the Wonders of the World. It was plundered during the 4th Crusades in the 1200s, so many of its original treasures were lost then.
When the Ottoman’s took over control of the city in the mid-1500’s, this church and many other sites were protected by Mehmet II, The Conquer. The Haghia Sophia was then turned into a mosque. The original Christian iconography was plastered over, protecting the paintings and mosaics. The Islamic features – such as the mihrab (a niche in the wall indicating the direction of Mecca), the minbar (the pulpit from which an Imam (holy man) addresses the congregation on Fridays), and the four minarets outside – were added over the course of its history under the Ottomans. It remained as a mosque until 1935, when it was converted into a museum by the secular Republic of Turkey.
Inside, our guide, Mehmet, pointed out the “Porta Regia”, the royal door that the Emperor entered through. Two priests would stand on either side of the doorway, and you could see where their feet had worn a dent in the marble floor! He also pointed out the upper gallery, which is where the women would have worshiped.
The dome of the church is very slightly elliptical. The original dome was circular, but collapsed a few years after it was built, probably during an earthquake. This replacement allows the columns to the sides to carry most of the weight. Some of the marble columns are rumored to be from the temple of Artemes in Ephesus. The Central Dome was supposed to have an icon of Jesus, but when the plaster was removed, it was not there. The higher the interior of the church, the less likely you will find mosaics, probably also due to earthquakes. The plaster took years to remove. The scaffolding in the center has been up for 17 years and although they have been done with it for two years, it still stands presumably because they have nowhere to put it!
Inside are two large marble urns, probably 7 feet tall. These were originally from Pergamon (where me visited later) and held water and wine for the Zeus temple and probably carved in about 200BC.
Topkapi Palace (Topkapı Sarayı) is located on the European side of the Bosphorus and has four courtyards. The palace complex is located on the Seraglio Point (Sarayburnu), a promontory overlooking the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara. During Greek and Byzantine times, the acropolis of the ancient Greek city of Byzantium stood here. Later it was the site of the Great Palace of Constantinople. Much of the palace was demolished in the general rebuilding of Constantinople in the early years of the Ottoman era, but probably the buildings were in ruins by then anyway. The site is one of the highest points close to the sea. It is physically located between the hippodrome and the Haghia Sophia.
The Topkapi palace was the official and primary residence in the city of the Ottoman Sultans, from 1465 to 1853. Construction began immediately after the city was conquered by Mehmet II. Although the palace gradually lost important in the 17th century, it was used until the 1920s where the monarch was exiled and the secular government took over the buildings, including the treasury. The royal family was allowed to take with them all their personal possessions acquired within their lifetime. All other treasures became the property of the state and the palace soon became a museum.
Just inside the entrance of the first courtyard is a 5th century church, the Haghia Eirene (church of the Divine Peace). This church was incorporated into the palace, but never converted to a mosque. I was used as a warehouse. It is now used as a concert hall, but was not open the day we visited.
The palace is full of Ottoman architecture and contains large collections of Chinese Ming and Qing dynasty porcelain, robes, weapons, silver, as well as a display of Ottoman treasures and jewelry. We spent a considerable time in the kitchen complex where porcelain and huge cooking pots were displayed. The kitchen would have had a staff of about 100 and two meals a day were prepared. All classes ate different meals and there were perhaps 30-40 serves. The most important dinner was for the sultan. His personal menu included 10 soups, 10 beverages, 40 appetizers, 40 main courses and 10 desserts, each meal! The sultan also had professional food tasters as food poisoning was common. Many Sultans died from poison or strangling as it was not considered proper to spill the blood of a sultan.
The large Gate of Salutation (Arabic: Bâb-üs Selâm), also known as the Middle Gate (Orta Kapı), leads into the palace and the Second Courtyard. This crenellated gate has two large octagonal pointed towers and was guarded by uniformed officers. Another highlight was the Gate of Felicity. On Fridays the sultan sat outside this gate and ate with the solders (Janissaries) and ministers. While the sultan was the only one allowed to sit during this meal, he did at least share the soup from the same wooden bowls as his subjects. This was one of the few times that the sultan was exposed to the people. Lifting the caldron that held the soup was a form of civil disobedience and was used to get the sultan’s attention. The phrase has come down into the Turkish vernacular “turning the soup bowl”.
In the Imperial Reception Room, All foreign dignitaries were given explicit instructions of what to do when in the presence of the sultan: Don’t look him in the eye, don’t talk unless spoken to, keep your hands on your belly, take short steps and—most importantly—don’t come empty handed! If you are not given a gift in return, you are in trouble with the sultan! Common gifts given to the sultan: slave girls, gold, emeralds and diamonds. Common gifts given to dignitaries: carpets, caftans, isnik tile and porcelain.
Part of the reason for the collapse of the Ottoman Empire was that eventually the government was no longer run by the sultans. It was run by non-Muslims, especially Christian youths and prisoners of war who were highly trained. These young Christian men were stolen from their families and converted to Islam, but they remained slaves. They worked in the arts, and business, but also ran the military, known as janissaries.
The Basilica Cistern: This was not part of the original tour, but Mehmet, our excellent guide, indulged a group of us who were interested in it. It was a real surprise as it is not a church, but a large pit that held water for the community and was dug around the same time as the Haghia Sophia was built. The water was brought to the cistern from the mountains by aqueduct. It is called the cistern of 1000 columns. Actually there are only 336 columns, and they do not match. The columns were all originally part of buildings ruined during the Nika Revolt. The water is currently only a few feet deep, but originally was filled to the top of the capitals of these 14 foot columns. This was used actively until the 1800s, and was then partially filled in by refuse and forgotten. In the 1950’s, people were lowering buckets and coming up with water and fish! This structure was used in the film From Russia with Love.
Hippodrome: All these structures are built around the old Roman hippodrome. This massive outdoor racetrack was built in 190AD and used for horse and chariot races. It seated between 40 and 60 thousand spectators and was in use until the AD400’s when some of the seating was lost in earthquakes. Today the area is officially called Sultan Ahmet Square, and is carefully maintained by the Turkish authorities. The course of the old racetrack has been indicated with paving, although the actual track is some two meters below the present surface.
The surviving monuments of the Spina (the middle barrier of the racecourse), the two obelisks and the Serpentine Column, have been dug away. They now sit in holes in a landscaped garden. Among these is an obelisk from Egypt. This was originally constructed around 1500BC, but transported here in 390AD. It took a year to ship it and somehow it was reduced to about a third of the original height, presumably the remainder lies on the bottom of the ocean. The obelisk sits atop a marble base with a carved relief of Justinian and his family watching a chariot race. My favorite was the remains of a metal Serpentine Column stolen from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, about 600 miles away. Originally know as the Tripod of Plataea, it was cast in about 500BC from bronze weapons from the Greek war with Persia. It was topped by three serpent heads supporting a golden caldron. The caldron is long gone, probably melted down during the 4th Crusade, but two of the heads are still around. Legend has it a drunken Polish nobleman hit them off. One is in a museum in Istanbul and the other the British Museum. There is a rather plain Roman obelisk that was originally covered in brass at the end of the Spina. This was constructed in the 10th century by the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus and once again the bronze was destroyed during the 4th Crusade. Only the stone core remains and it also called the Walled Obelisk.
Blue Mosque: Then to the Blue Mosque, named after the more than 20,000 handmade, blue Isnik tiles inside. The actual name is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, and only a tourist would call it The Blue Mosque. But then we are tourists! It was built between 1609 and 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I. This was the first mosque where we had to remove our shoes, as it is an active church. The balconies were for women originally. Now they are only allowed behind a screen on the ground floor. The calligraphy is abundant, including the 99 names of God plus popular quotes from the Koran as well as the names of Mohammed and the Caliphs. Mosques never have depictions of people.
It was here that I heard my first call to prayer. Mehmet told us that the call is in Arabic: “God is Great. Mohommed is his prophet. Come to God’s House.” At a service they sing the Korean, working through the entire book in a calendar year.The Blue Mosque is one of only two in Turkey that with six minarets. It is an unwritten rule that only a sultan can build a mosque with more than two. When the number of minarets was revealed, the Sultan was criticized for presumption, since this was, at the time, the same number as at the mosque at Mecca. So the sultan paid to have a seventh built in Mecca!
Until recently the muezzin or prayer-caller had to climb a narrow spiral staircase five times a day to announce the call to prayer. Today loud speakers are used and the call can be heard across the old part of the city, echoed by other mosques in the vicinity.
This mosque was once the center of a pious complex and the core of social life and social welfare. As with other large mosques, this one contained a kitchen with free food for the poor, an orphanage and a school. There was a Turkish bath and one or two days a week this bath was free. There was a library, and a hospital. The mosque also owned the spice market and rents were paid to the church. Taxes were paid directly to the area through the church. During the 1920s, under Ataturk, these assets were “nationalized” to cut the power of religion. Unfortunately, the welfare services were not entirely replaced by the state and the social welfare system is not as strong as it once was.
Tonight is the “Istanbul at Night” optional dinner. We heard traditional music and dance in addition to belly dancing and traditional foods. There was much audience participation and jokes, so I’m not sure it was exactly what I had envisioned. It was nice, but clearly a commercial venture designed for tourists.
Feb 25, 2008 the Grand Bazaar and a cruise on the Bosphorus.
Weather is amazing. It is supposed to be winter, but we store our coats in the rack overhead on the bus. I will not need the sweaters and silk long underwear I brought. Temps in upper 60’s, sunny.
Today went to the Grand Bazaar. Bought a scarf and handbag, but the man really wanted to sell me a rug, a kilm. Price went from 500 New Turkish Lira (YNL) to 100. The later price is about 89 US dollars. (I later found that I should have bought the rug from him as this was a very fair deal) Got the whole deal with tea. The owner of the shop, Mustafa, is 73 and very fit and happy. He kissed me many times and proposed marriage constantly. “No money, no wife, no life.” he would say, “I got money! I got 6 shops. You marry me; I be happy!!” Quite a sales routine. He forced his card on me and begged me to call if I changed my mind. He was charming and I think if I had been interested in marriage, I could have done much worse. Mehmet, back on the bus mistaken my delight for desire and offered to broker the deal. According to him, my family should be given money.
Then on to a cruise that started in the Golden Horn and down the Bosphorus to the opening of the Black Sea. Our guide estimated that the single family homes along the way might sell for $15 million. A shack would go for $7 million, and I took a photo of one. But mostly we saw grand palaces that are now grand hotels. Also a huge fortress built in only 4 months to stage the over throw of Constantinople by the Mehmet II, known as The Conqueror. It is about as large as the fortress in San Juan, PR which was built over 250 years. Across the strait is a smaller fortress that his (father? grandfather?) Mehmet I, The Wise, had built. Between the two fortresses, they controlled the straight and took the city.
Then to a small early Christian church with the most spectacular mosaics I’ve seen ever. The Church of St Savior of Chora is small. As the name implies it was once outside the city, as chora means “fields” (much as St Martin in the Fields is now in the middle of London). The current church was built in early 11th century. It has what we would now call flying buttresses to support its walls, although they are not more than two stories high. The mosaics and frescos were added in the early 14th. While some of my photos are good, they don’t do justice to the gold and subtle shading of the faces. This church, as well as the Haghia Sophia, were turned into mosques when the Ottomans took over. The walls were plastered over and hence these mosaics and painting were preserved as they might not have been if the buildings had remained as Christian churches and in daily use. What impressed me most was the focus on Mary and Joseph, rather than Jesus. The mosaics told the story of Mary’s life and death. The annunciation was given to her parents. They also tell the story of how Joseph came to be chosen as her husband, quite against his desires. All the depictions of Joseph are of a dejected old man, with his head in his hands. If it were a cartoon, the text bubble would read, “Lord, what have you gotten me into!” My favorite is the mosaic showing Mary, as one of the young girls of the church, bringing the wool she has spun for the church before the elders. Joseph’s staff begins to sprout, making him the chosen husband for the pregnant girl. After Jesus’ birth, Mary is depicted as a sad woman, a mother aware and dreading her son’s fate.
The mosque of Sulleyman was next on the hidden treasures of Istanbul, but one that will remain hidden, at least to us. It has just been closed for 2 years for repairs. There has been nothing advertised about this and Mehmet was incredulous. The caretaker even allowed us to peek into the church to see it filled with scaffolding as proof. Our guide is never daunted, however! We saw Sulleyman’s tomb instead, although he is not buried there. In tradition, the room is only an empty draped box, topped by his turban. He is buried about 10 feet down, lying on his right side as befits a good Muslim.
(If I keep up with travel like this I will finally score well on history and geography during trivia games. Now that is a reason to travel!)
Wed, 27 Feb 2008 Leaving Istanbul
This morning we boarded the bus at 730a. I actually saw a sign saying “Welcome to Asia”! We took a ferry across the Sea of Marmara. Encountered our first “squatty potty”. Glad my knees are good, but would hate to face this hole in the ground first thing in morning before coffee. In the middle of the night I think I would just wet the bed! What surprised me about the toilet was that it was porcelain and had a motion sensor flush! A very nice hole in the ground.
Mostly we have been driving today. More really good food. Have had kabobs, which are ground lamb and/or beef roasted on skewers. Chunks of meat done this way are sis (shish). Yesterday had fish, sea bass, oysters, anchovies. The appetizers are very interesting and varied. Eggplant roasted or stewed, fish eggs in mayonnaise, zucchini chopped with red pepper, coated in flour and deep fried, eggplant whipped like potatoes, potato salad with olive oil, thinly flattened pastry dough that is rolled and fried. Every meal seems to be served with shredded carrot, red cabbage and lettuce coated in olive oil and lemon juice. For breakfast we have American staples, but also Turkish items: olives, white cheese, various breads and strong tea. They drink much more tea than coffee and it is served in small tulip shaped glasses that get way too hot to touch. If you order Turkish coffee, you have to tell them how sweet you want and expect to gets lots of grounds in the bottom of the tiny cup. On the street we see roasted chestnuts and simit, a type of bread, much like a bagel, which is huge and costs about 55 cents.
The New Turkish Lira, YTL, is the currency and is easy. It looks like Euros, but every piece has the denomination on one side and a picture of Ataturk on the other. It is about 1.20 TYL to 1 US dollar.
On the way we passed through Isnik, known for the blue tiles of the Blue Mosque and other fine porcelain work. It was once called Nicaea, this is the place where Constantine called for a council to discuss tenets of the church and construct the Nicene Creed that Christians say.
We stopped in Bursa for lunch and to see the Green Mosque, built by Mehmet I, known as The Wise, in 1412. Bursa is a lovely little town and was the Ottoman capital in 1326, before the fall of Constantinople. This is a center of silk and wool weaving and the shops were filled with well-priced goods.
Today we had a lunch of a Turkish style of gyros meat, mixed lamb and beef over pita bread, called iskender. It is topped with browned butter and ground sumac (Note to Mom: this is the red flowering tops to the bush that grows wild in your area by the same name). Sumac adds a tart, lemony taste. I also had the local drink, diluted yoghurt called ayran.
Tonight we stay a single night in Canakkale, which is on the Dardanelles, site of a famous WWI battle.
Tomorrow we will see Troy (although Helen is long gone). Am told that there is a large wooden horse at the gate. I REALLY hope this is not true. How do you say “tacky” in Turkish?
Feb 27, 2008
We stayed in Canakkale (ca NACK uh lay) right on the water. Air pollution here is so bad I cut my evening walk short because of shortness of breath. This morning my sinuses are full and throat burning (it was 2 full days before I was over it). There was a Trojan horse on the water front that was used in the movie Troy. Ugly. This area was once called Hellespont. In fact most of what is now Turkey was once the Roman area known as Asia Minor, the name you typically see in the New Testament Bible., where Paul spent most of his time.
We stopped at the site of Troy. Saw examples of the various levels, nine in all, of the city. After each destruction from war or earthquake, a new city was built on the ruins of the old. This from about 3000BC to 500AD when the port silted in and the city was abandoned. The Trojan War, if it occurred, was at about 1200BC.
What I found most interesting is that there have been tourists here for 2500 years. One of the most famous is Alexander the Great in about 320BCE. He felt the need to run about the city naked and sacrifice animals. Then went on to conquer the known world. What a guy!
Oh and there WAS a large, wooden horse that you could climb into, even.
From here we drive along the coast of the Aegean Sea. On one side of the bus, the water and on the other a sea of olive trees, which grow in dry rocky limestone slope. Turkey is the largest producer of edible olives and third in world olive oil exports. Trees live 200 to 300 years or more.
After some engine trouble, we were late for our visit to Pergamum, a true acropolis-a city on a hill, 1000 feet above the valley. The library was removed and rebuilt in Germany, but what remains at the site is still lovely. You can see the amphitheater and a temple to Trajan has been reconstructed from the fallen pieces of white marble. While we were atop the hill, we could hear the Muslim call to prayer at the mosque in Bergana below. Most of Turkey’s population of 71 million are members of the Sunni branch of Islam. Every community has a mosque, usually several.
From here a long drive to where we stay the night, near Ephesus, which we see tomorrow.
This has been a wonderful birthday!
From my friend David Hartgrove:
“OK, tomorrow is Ephesus, so don’t forget to see the famous statue of Artemis at Ephesus, she of the many boobs. She has so many boobs that counting them correctly entitles tourists to a prize, and that where we get the phrase, “booby prize”. Not really, but it sounded silly enough to be plausible.”
Feb 28, 2008
We stayed last night in Kusadasi, (KUSH ah da say). This morning off to Ephesus, one of the greatest ruined cities in the world. A Greek city was first built in 1000BCE, but what is on display is the city of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE. The city later was Roman, then after the harbor silted in, abandoned. The ruins are amazing, and you have to keep reminding yourself that you are not in Greece. The theater will seat 25,000. The library was once the third largest in the world, till Marc Antony and Cleopatra took half of the books to Alexandria. The toilet alone is a wonder. The entire city is built of marble with wide, columned streets. I took over 100 photos, so it will be just like you were there if you are interested in seeing photos.
The famous statue of Artemis (mentioned by David above) was found here, but it is not at the site of the ruins anymore. It is now in a museum in the town of Selcuk , located at the base of a Byzantine Christian fortress. No time to see the fortress, but four of us convinced the tour bus driver to drop us off in town at the end of the day and we ran to the museum and had 30 minutes to see the statue. Artemis was the goddess of abundance and is indeed covered in breasts! We took a taxi (taki) back to the hotel.
We also got to see the famous Turkish carpets. We were given a demonstration of how they are made and what to look for in a good carpet. Then you are served tea while they start rolling them out in front of you. It’s a real production number and a Broadway agent would be proud of the performance. About 12 of our group of 37 bought carpets, some that cost the price of the entire tour. Someone is making a nice commission. Not me, although they are lovely.
After the carpets we went to a reconstructed stone house that is said to be where Mary, mother of Jesus, lived and died after his death. There is not proof, but the foundations do appear to be of the correct era and other details, like the nearby spring, fit with written evidence.
Our guide’s name is Mehmet, a popular Turkish name, and he is the best I’ve met. He speaks about 10 languages and is currently studying Greek. His knowledge of history is amazing and he has personally given the tour at every mosque/museum/ruin we have been to.
This is all wonderful, but I am getting overwhelmed. I can’t even remember what we are going to do tomorrow! On to Part 2