A Travellerspoint blog

Meteora Rocks...

and that can be taken several different ways

This past weekend I did something I usually do not do. I made a spur of the moment decision to take a trip to Kalabaka to visit the monasteries of Meteora. Now don't get me wrong, I can be totally spontaneous at times. A last minute decision to take this road instead of the planned route is something I often do. But going somewhere on a train, with no accommodations made just takes me a bit out of my comfort zone! Thankfully several of my classmates urged me to just go, so I did. I have to say it was probably one of the best decisions I made while being in Greece (outside of deciding to go to Turkiye that is). So Thursday afternoon I call Bri and tell her to buy me a ticket. There, I was committed or else I was out 16 euro. So I packed my bags and got ready to jump on a train last Friday morning to head north into wild Greek territory. What fun!!

Kalabaka (Καλαμπακα in Greek) is about a 4 hour train ride from Athens. We were fortunate enough to have reserved seats in first class, because that was all that was left when the tickets were purchased. I like train travel. It's comfortable, quick and cheap in Greece, even if figuring out which car to get on is confusing! The scenery was quite beautiful on the way up. Leaving the city behind was refreshing. At one point the train hugged a mountainside with spectacular views down into the valley. It almost felt as if we were flying instead of on a train, it was that precarious!

After 4+ hours we arrived in Kalabaka and headed into town to find a hotel. After what seemed like a long walk lugging my heave backpack (yes, I tend to overpack these days) we arrived at the Alsos House and had a bit of a disagreement over whether we should stay there or Koka Roka. I preferred Alsos House myself because Koka Roka, well....at any rate, we decided on Alsos House and for 20 euro a night (per person) we had a bed, shower and simple breakfast. Besides, we were there to see Meteora!! What a sight this place is. It is beyond words.

The name Meteora means "suspended in air" and one look at the area convinces you why it's called that. Massive rock columns with sheer cliffs jut out of the earth and ascend into the sky as if they were put their by massive giants. What makes it even more impressive is the number of monasteries that have been built on top of these rock columns. I've always known monks were dedicated, but this proves it. To live in a monastery perched up in the sky takes dedication but the closeness to heaven is apparent and you realize why this place was chosen. I could easily seek solitude here. The climb up the footpath, getting soaked in the rain, freezing, walking kilometer after kilometer, it was all worth it. I'll let the pictures tell the rest of the story.

The view from our hotel....

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Town of Kalabaka from above...

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No pantaloons please....

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The fog eventually started to close in....

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One of the monastery cats...

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We eventually walked through some Tolkienesque woods....

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The road goes ever on and on....

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More monastery kitties...

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Are we almost there? We were making our way to Kastraki. Cold. Wet. Hungry.

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We finally made it into Kastraki. Pastitsio and local red wine has never been so welcome!!

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Posted by oceanchild 11:42 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

İstanbul, one final day....

The greatness of the Hagia Sophia and other sights

My last day in İstanbul. It's sad that I have to leave this wonderful city again, only after three days. But thankfully I had the whole day ahead of me since I booked my return flight to Athens at 9 PM. I wouldn't have to leave the hotel until 6:30 and the desk had already told me they would call a cab at 6:30. Thankfully the hotel had luggage storage so I was free to leave my luggage there until I had to leave. I was worry free!! Except I had to go find another suitcase, because my backpack wasn't working for me with the extra stuff I had bought. So my first quest was finding an inexpensive piece of luggage with wheels. The gentleman at the hotel sent met down one street where he said I would find the cheapest. Not so, unless 180 YTL was the cheapest. I was sure I could find something cheaper in the bazaar. I found disappointment as I went to the bazaar though. I had actually planned to do some more shopping before I left, but alas, it was closed for Republic Day! Thankfully some of the street vendors were open and I was able to bargain for a suitcase for 25 euro. Suitcase in tow I headed back to the hotel to pack up and store my luggage. First stop after that, the Hagia Sophia.

I think the Hagia Sophia, or Church of Holy Wisdom, is one thing most people think of when they think of Istanbul. It is a wonder, that is for sure. The site itself is replete with history. It is believed that a pagan temple once stood on the site. The first church built there was done so by the emperor Constantius, son of Constantine (and we all know Constantinople was named for Constantine, don't we?) in 360 CE. It was burned, apparently by a mob, and was rebuilt by Theodosius II in 415 CE. Once again the church was destroyed during the Nika Revolt and rebuit by the Emperor Justinian who wanted to built the largest grandest basilica in all the Christian world. His work started in 532 and the church was finished in 537. It was designed by the architects Isidoros from Miletos and Anthemios of Tralles and marble and stone was imported from all various places in Anatolia to build the grand basilica. When the Ottomans took over the Empire in 1453 the Hagia Sophia was converted to the Ayasofya Camii (mosque) and the minarets were added to the outside architecture, while the inside received a niche facing the direction of Mecca and the rounded plaques with Arabic calligraphy. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the founding of the Turkish Republic under Ataturk, the mosque was converted to a museum in 1935.

No doubt the Hagia Sophia is grand. Just looking at it from afar is awe inspiring.

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I probably didn't pick the best day to visit. Being Republic Day every place was crowded. I'm sure it's not nearly as bad as during the high tourist season though. The building was also decked out in huge Turkish flags.

The entrance to the Hagia Sofia...

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I love to take photos without people in them, but at least with people you get an idea of the scale of the building. These are taken on the lower gallery. The lighting falling from the windows way above lends a mystical and heavenly feel to the place. This was the intent, to bring one a bit closer to heaven. I think it worked...

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The niche, or mihrab, that was added when it was converted to a mosque

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Windows facing east...

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Large marble jar...

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The domes. The scaffolding reaching up to the central dome is immense. The height of this dome is 54 meters and the diameter is 33 meters. It is supported by four massive columns.

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Marble facing on the walls...

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and some beautiful tile work with Arabic calligraphy in the background...

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Moving to the upper gallery gives you some great views of below and an idea of the vastness. I can only imaging how wonderful it is without the scaffolding!

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You also get some wonderful lighting. It took patience to get these without people in them!

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The ceiling of the upper gallery and the detail on the columns...

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Some graffiti....

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and finally the famous Deësis mosaic. Fascinating, beautiful, and eerie at the same time. His eyes follow you no matter where you go....

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I was pretty satisfied. Two trips to the Hagia Sophia in one year, hundreds of photos, a life time of memories.

My next stop was the Basilica Cistern. It is another site that I had already been to, but I was so fascinated with I had to go again. It was also built during the reign of Justinian in the 6th century and was used to store water brought into the city via the aqueducts.There are 336 columns for support. The bases of some of the columns were recycled Medusa heads. The rest are mostly Corinthian and Ionic. The cistern could hold 80,000 cubic meters of water.

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Medusa!

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The rest of the day I just spent walking around Sultanahmet, the Arasta Bazaar, up toward the Grand Bazaar. As I sat in Sultan Ahmet square I was engaged in conversation by a gentleman named Domus, who owned....you guessed it...a carpet shop. We chatted for a while and then I decided to walk on but that wasn't the last of Domus. I ran into him two more times that day. Yes, three. At one point I was sure he was following me around! The second time I ran into him he was with a friend, who's nameI cannot remember, but I do recall he was a tour guide. Knowing what I know about tour guides I asked him to show me his badge, and he did. They were going to lunch and invited me, so I accepted. We had döner, I talked a lot, the tour guide talked almost as much, and Domus said little. The lunch was delicious and when we left I took out my money to pay but they had already paid for me! Domus then insisted on showing me his shop, the Arasta bazaar, bought me tea, directed me to the mosaics museum and was very polite.

Domus' carpet shop is on the corner here...

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Cafe were I had tea...

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Arasta Bazaar....

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That wasn't the last though. I ran into him one more time and he seemed just a little over zealous about spending time with me, so I told him I really had to get back to my hotel and pack for my flight home. He acquiesced, told me he was pleased to meet me and went on his way.

I didn't really have to go back to my hotel. I just preferred to spend the rest of my time wandering and taking my last few hours in solitude. I really did not want to leave this city. It does and will always have a special place in my heart as will the entire country of Turkiye. People have asked me to explain why I love it so much and I cannot put my finger on it. It is my spiritual place in a way that no other place has ever been.

I took one last walk up toward the bazaar quarter, taking in the sights and sounds, and smells...roasting kestane, nargile, sweets baking, coal burning. One thing I love seeing is all the beautiful headscarves the women wear. It's a touchy issue, teh headscarf. Some think these young women are forced to wear these, but I don't see that. I saw many of them, mostly being worn by young girls. They all look like they are enjoying life to the fullest, whether sitting with a lover in Gulhane Park (which seems to be a haven for young couples) or walking arm in arm down the street. They don't look oppressed to me. I say if they choose to wear this what difference is it from a young American girl choosing to wear the latest "in" fashions? This is not about fanaticism, it is a choice.

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I'll leave you with just a few evening street scenes.....evening is the best time in Istanbul, especially when the weather is cool....it's an easy time to take it all in....it brings a sense of nostalgia to me. I will be back, my Istanbul!

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Posted by oceanchild 08:39 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

İstanbul, my İstanbul - Day 2, part 2

So much to do in this wonderful city!

Where did I leave off? I think I was down near the Golden Horn, on a beautiful, crisp, clear, sunny day. One of the things that I love so much about being in Turkiye is hearing the call to prayer. Whether it is across the hilly countryside or amongst the hustle and bustle of İstanbul, it moves me when I hear it. As I walked down toward the water I was blessed to be right next to a mosque when call to prayer started. It is quite loud when you are that close, but I still find it beautiful to my ears even if it does leave them ringing for a while afterward. I have heard others refer to the call to prayer as an assault on the ears. I am not sure what they are hearing, because to me it is anything but. That said, I would love just once to hear and actual live muzzein do the call to prayer rather than hearing it broadcast over a loudspeaker.

I simply stood there, probably looking like an idiot to all the locals, enjoying the moment....

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After enjoying that I walked on down to the Golden Horn. It was quite crowded that day. The balik ekmek boats seemed to be doing a brisk business. I would have to come back and check them out when I was hungry.

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In the mean time I decided to walk across the Galata Bridge, after a got a few shots in of the view from the Eminonu side. You can see the Galata tower that sits above everything.

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The number of fishers on the bridge is quite a site. Fishing poles dangle one beside another all the way across on both sides. Not sure if people fish for food or fun, but there sure are a lot of them!

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I got across the bridge and wasn't quite sure where to go or what to do, so I found a little square with benches and rested for a while. I thought about walking to the Galata tower, but decided my feet weren't up to it at the moment. One of these days I will get to the Galata tower. I did get some amazing views of it from the middle of the Galata bridge.

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Besides, I was getting hungry and wanted to head back across for some of that balik ekmek! So I walked back across on the other side of the bridge, the side facing toward Asia. Yep, that's a whole 'nother continent over there! One of these days I will explore the Asian side of Istanbul maybe.

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Back to that balik ekmek. What fun it is to watch the men cook the fish, yell their line "balik ekmek! Buyrun!" People seem to flock to the boats to get such a simple meal. A piece of fried fish carelessly slapped into about half a loaf of bread with lettuce, tomato, and onion. The tiny tables you sit at provide the condiments - lemon juice and salt. Not a bad meal for 5 YTL and it's something you just have to do when in Istanbul. Various vendors are set up around the boats selling the traditional salgam, otherwise known as pickle juice. It is the juice from a turnip and has an interesting taste to say the least. I tried in on my last trip in Southern Turkiye. I have to say I haven't drank it since. I'll stick to seftali (peach juice) or visne su (cherry juice). I stat there right by the water and enjoyed my balik ekmek. This is the life!

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Yum....

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Tummy full I passed up all the other wonderful treats being sold down by the water. You surely won't go hungry in Istanbul if you have a couple of lira in your pocket!

Roasted corn....

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Kestane...or chestnuts as we call them....

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Simit, round bread covered with sesame seeds. Very similar to the Greek koulouri...

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and of course, pickle juice...

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It was time to head off in a direction I had never walked. I stayed along the water thinking it would probably take me somewhere near Topkapi palace. I had planned on going to the Archaeological museum, so that was an ideal direction to head. I got a different angle of the Yeni Camii, or New Mosque. I can't believe I didn't even think to go inside this one! Twice I've passed that opportunity! The second photo is taken from the other side of the street.

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Further on up the road as it rose above the water I crossed over to Gulhane Park. I bit further up I could see the Bosphorus Bridge that connects Asia to Europe. Oh how well I remember crossing that bridge with Yucel at the helm back in January. Mehmet playing Billy Jean by Michael Jackson. Strange, I know, but he didn't have Istanbul on his iPod.

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Gulhane Park is a very pleasant spot in the midst of a busy city. It's quiet and green and seemed to be full of young couples in love the day I walked through there. It sits right next to Topkapi Palace and is quite a large space. I sat for a while visiting with a cat before I decided to find the entrance to the Archaeological Museum.

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The Archaeological Museum is quite extensive and one could spend hours in there if they wanted. I think I must have spent at least 2, if not more. I won't bore you with the myriad of photos I took while in there, but one of the more famous pieces is the Alexander Sarcophogus. It is quite a work of art! It features a relief sculpture of the Battle of Issos which was won by Alexander the Great. The sarcophogus dates to the 4th century BCE.

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When I emerged from amongst the wonderful sculptures, sarcophagi and other artifacts I noticed a plethora of cats gathered in the courtyard. One young kitten took quite a liking to me and I was sure he was going to ride my shoulders home! He was quite the cute!

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Of course he changed his mind as soon as one of the workers showed up and started talking to the cats. I'm guessing they must care for them. That's good, at least someone does. I'm sure the cats keep vermin down at the museum as well.

Going to feed the cats....

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I left the museum and walked up the street toward Hagia Sophia because I had seen some shops there earlier and what happens? I get sidetracked by a curious carpet salesman, who of course wants to sell me a carpet! He was very nice though, invited me into his shop even after I told him I couldn't buy a carpet, and gave me tea. We chatted for quite a while as he tried to convince me to buy a carpet. The shopkeepers seem a bit more desperate this time than they did earlier in the year. Several had told me that the economic crisis had hurt their business over the summer. It's a shame. I can't remember his name, I have it written somewhere because of course he gave me his card so I could buy a carpet next time I come back!

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I did walk up to the Sultan Ahmet square so I could get a photo of the Hagia Sophia in the sunset. Notice it is adorned with huge Turkish flags. This is in preparation for Republic Day, which would be celebrated the next day.

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With my walking done for the day I headed back to my hotel because I had plans for the evening. I was going to go treat myself to the full blown service of one of the Turkish baths! Last time I went to the Cağaloğlu Hamami, which is on the list of 1000 places you must see before you die. This time I decided to give Çemberlitaş Hamami a try. It's best to do a Turkish bath at the end of the day, because afterward you are worthless. Just what is a Turkish bath? Heaven! Ok, it's not for the shy, or those who are bothered by seeing strangers in all their naked glory. Once you have chosen the service, you can choose from self service (just the use of the facility), one massage (they basically exfoliate you) or the full treatment. I chose the full treatment. This involved getting undressed, wrapping yourself in a linen towel and heading to a large room that has a round heated marble slab in the middle surrounded by many fountains with running hot and cold water. This is called the warm room. You lie on the slab, relaxing until your attendant is ready to scrub you down. The first scrub is exfoliating. The attendant uses a mitt to scrub your body, getting rid of all that dead skin. Gross isn't it? She then rinses you with warm water. During all this time you are on the heated marble slab. Once she has rinsed you she takes this pillowcase (that's what it looks like anyway) and dips it in soapy water, then fills it with air and squeezes it so that a wondrous amount of soapy suds envelops you! She then massages you from head to toe, redoing the suds ritual as needed. When I say head to toe, I mean head to toe. Almost. It isn't until she is finished with this that she leads you to one of the basins where you are instructed to sit and she washes your hair and does your shoulders. Once you are done here she leads you out for the oil massage. When I went to Cağaloğlu they did this right there in the bath, but at Çemberlitaş they have a separate room for the oil massage. And was it wonderful!! Once you are done with the oil massage you can go back into the warm room to lie on the slab or bath if you choose. You are free to stay as long as you like. Once I was done, I was totally worthless. But I must have looked relaxed because on my way back to the hotel a shopkeeper stopped me and said "you've been to the hamam!"

Yes I had..and it was every bit as wonderful as I remember. I think I slept better than night than I had in a long time! One more day left in Istanbul.

Posted by oceanchild 09:33 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

İstanbul, my İstanbul! Day 2

Just wandering the city

If you want to know what I liked best about my hotel in İstanbul I would have to say it was the fluffy down comforters. Ahhhh….it makes a 3 star hotel seem like a 5 star joint! What luxury to cuddle under fluffy comforters after a cool raining evening walk in the city. Sweet dreams indeed!

My second day dawned bright and promising. There is so much to do and see here. Of course I had seen much of it the last time so I wanted to choose wisely and venture out a bit more this time. I made the choice to just see where my feet would take me and save the sights around Sultanahmet for Wednesday. It wouldn’t matter how far I ventured or what time I got back like it would on Wednesday.

My first stop was the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, often called the Blue Mosque because of the beautiful blue Iznik tiles that make up a large part of its decor. This is probably one of the most well known mosques in the world. I think the Hagia Sophia often overshadows it in visitor’s eyes - it never seems to be quite so busy - but the Blue Mosque certainly is no less of an architectural wonder. Sitting across Sultanahmet square from Hagia Sophia the two seem to rival each other. There is nothing like standing there between the two, gazing back toward each other as symbols of the history of İstanbul, the glory of the Byzantine Empire and the rise of the Ottoman Empire.
The Blue Mosque was built between 1609-1616, commissioned by Sultan Ahmet I. It was a controversial project because of its six minarets, which rivaled the architecture of Mecca. No doubt it is a sight to behold both inside and out.

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Viewing the domes from the courtyard below (taken later that evening)….

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In the evening sun…..

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The entrance from the Hippodrome side...

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Covered walkway around the courtyard…

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When entering mosques it is a must to remove your shoes. Here they give you a plastic bag in which you can place your shoes and carry them with you since the entrance and exit are on opposite sides of the prayer room. It is requested that women cover their head, although many visitors apparently do not care about this request. The day I visited I was the only woman with her head covered out of about 100 tourists – at least half of those women. I’m also surprised the people talk as loudly as they do in these glorious places of worship. People were praying, yet the tourists act as if this is an attraction at Disney World or something. I always feel it appropriate to respect the customs of a culture myself. I suppose much of the world does not agree with me. Needless to say, it is still a magical place on the inside. The beauty does astound you.

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Look at the size of the columns. These are required to hold up the massive domes.

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The blue Iznik tiles that give the mosque its popular name…

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I will always be astounded by these architectural wonders! I left Sultanahmet and headed up toward the Bazaar quarter. I am not sure I had a destination in mind, but I did want to seek out Constantine’s Column. So I headed up Divan Yolu Cadessi (street) toward the bazaar quarter. I'd say this was one of the main "tourist" streets in the area. It is filled with shops and cafes that seem to cater to tourists, including the famous Pudding Shop Lale Restaurant. Opened in 1957, it was the one place in the area that tourists could congregate to find information on traveling within Turkiye and to Asia. The Pudding Shop had its heyday in the 60's and 70's I believe and was a must visit for the hippie crowd. I had planned to eat there but was never hungry when I passed it. Never fear, we dined at the Pudding Shop in January, so I haven't missed out.

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A short walk up and you find a few American names in eateries. None other than McDonalds and Starbucks. For some reason now I desire to call soft serve ice cream from McDonalds "McDondurma", such a catchy name. No, I didn't stop and have McDondurma or Starbucks coffee (sorry Linda, I should have had one in your honor).

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I finally made it to where the map said Constantine's Column was located. But where was it? I know I had been by here a dozen times it seems and I never saw it? How could I miss it? Easy, it is completely obliterated from sight by massive amounts of scaffolding. The column was erected in 330 by Constantine the Great, you know, the guy Constantinople was named after, so it has been around for a while. It was the centerpiece of the Forum of Constantine's and a large statue of Constantine stood atop the column. The statue was toppled during a hurricane in 1106 and subsequently replaced by a large cross. The cross was removed during Ottoman reign. A fire in 1776 scorched the column and earned it it's current name "Çemberlitas", meaning burnt stone. Wow, a lot of information for something I can't even show you!

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Çemberlitas Hamami is located right next to the column. A hamam is a Turkish bath and there are several in the city. It is one thing that I say you cannot miss when visiting. More on that later though. I passed on by the column and continued up the street toward the university. One thing I like about Istanbul is you meet people. People talk to you, mostly because they hope you are going to buy something from them, but I also think they are curious. My experience in Istanbul brought many conversations with shop owners, always men, who were intrigued by a woman in her 40's going back to school and traveling alone. But some of them just seem to want their photo taken. I walked by an indoor mall of sorts and decided to check it out. I had been looking for a pair of boots and thought maybe I would find some. As usual one of the shop keepers said hello and when he saw my camera asked me if I would take his picture. Of course I asked him if he would mind if I put it on the internet. He laughed and said sure, maybe he would become famous! So, I took his photo and another shop keeper that he kept joking about being too fat. He said "put his fat belly on the internet!" What characters!

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It wasn't long after I left the "mall" that I had an old gentleman stop me and say hello. He then asked me if I would come back with him to his sons shop for tea. You know, a lot goes through your mind at this point. Like "is he trying to possibly find a wife for his son?" and "why me? Why does he want me to go back to his son's shop?" "Do I look like I can buy lots of things?" Maybe it's my camera. I surely an afford lots of carpets if I can afford my Nikon. I'm sure his son sold carpets. I'd bet 100YTL on it! I told him I was sorry, I had too many places to go and couldn't have tea at the moment. He was kind enough to let me snap a photo however.

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I was getting a bit tired so I stopped and sat down on a curb near the university. There was a really precious cat there that soaked up every bit of attention I could give it. Cat you say? You saw cats in Istanbul? Where are their photos? Yes, I saw cats in Istanbul, lots of cats. There photos are plentiful enough to fill a blog entry devoted just to cats. So fear not, I have plenty of cats! As I sat there and played with this cat a young man came and sat next to me. I am not sure but I think his English was limited to "thank you" because he kept repeating the phrase over and over as he smiled at me. At one point he even pinched my cheek, a bit too hard at that! He played with the cat and said thank you many times over. I finally had to capture the moment and he was gracious enough to oblige. He did know goodbye, because he said it when I left, along with thank you.

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I stopped and looked at the map and noticed that it really was not that far to walk to the Süleymaniye Camii, or Suleyman Mosque. In January it was undergoing renovations and I was curious what headway had been made. Maybe I could see the inside this time! So I headed in that general direction. Couldn't help but think of Joanna along the way when I saw a Papadapoulos in Turkiye!!

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I made my way through back streets and alley ways, around the university, across torn up sidewalks being repaired, to dead ends and back tracks! Going off the beaten path always yields something of a treasure though. I just happened upon the Kalenderhane Camii. Once an Eastern Orthodox church, Kalenderhane was converted to a mosque under Ottoman rule. It was so named because it was used by the Kalenderi Dervish sect.

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Leaving Kalenderhane mosque you can walk through the eastern most section of the Valens Aqueduct. This section of the aqueduct, however, does not do the structure justice. Much of the original structure still stands after 15 centuries! The best section is viewed via Atatürk Bulvarı, a highway that passes through the arches. I thought I had a photo from my last trip, but alas I don't seem to have it. Google Valens Aqueduct and choose images. You won't be disappointed. Unfortunately getting to it on foot was not feasible for me, so I can't share it personally. Except for the small bit that sits near Kalenderhane.

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A bit of a walk up this street and you see Suleyman Mosque looming over the landscape!

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As I get closer I can clearly see that it is still under renovation. I understand the project is extensive. Unfortunately it is still not completely open as the inside renovations are still underway. I did explore around it and into the tomb of Suleyman the Magnificent. The mosque was designed by an architect named Minar Sinan and is considered Istanbul's greatest Mosque, although the Blue Mosque seems to overshadow it simply because of it's proximity to the Hagia Sophia. Suleyman Mosque was built in 1557. Next to the mosque you will find the tombs of Suleyman and his sultana Roxelana. The courtyard is a very relaxing and peaceful place when construction is not going on.

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Covered walkway around Suleyman's tomb...

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The tombs...

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The buildings that surround the mosque were once various medreses (theological schools), soup kitchens, caravansarai, and hamams. One soup kitchen is not a restaurant that serves Ottoman cuisine and of course Turkish tea! I sat and had a couple myself as it was a cool day with a slight breeze. Tea is the answer to most anything, especially Turkish tea. Two lumps of sugar please!

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Filled with my tea I walked around the other side of the mosque to discover some more of the architecture.

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The streets around Suleyman become narrow and hilly since it is located on one of the seven hills of Istanbul. I knew walking downward to the north would bring me to the Eminönü district of the city and the Golden Horn. You can always count on Eminönü to be bustling. It is full of life no matter what the weather. Breaking out from small winding streets onto the main street that runs through the Eminönü district.

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There is a lot to see and do down here. It is a major center for transportation with ferry docks, trains, trams and plenty of cars. The Spice Bazaar is situated here as well as the Yeni Camii, Rüstem Pasha Camii. By now you probably realize that camii means mosque. It has been a center for shopping since Byzantine times and not much has changed. Again it was apparent that celebration was eminent with all the flags flapping in the wind. I had spotted many larger than life flags hanging all over the city, some with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's imposing image looking down upon what he created. Mustafa Kemel Ataturk is the father of the modern Turkish Republic. From the BBC History website:

He launched a programme of revolutionary social and political reform to modernise Turkey. These reforms included the emancipation of women, the abolition of all Islamic institutions and the introduction of Western legal codes, dress, calendar and alphabet, replacing the Arabic script with a Latin one. Abroad he pursued a policy of neutrality, establishing friendly relations with Turkey's neighbours.

In 1935, when surnames were introduced in Turkey, he was given the name Atatürk, meaning 'Father of the Turks'. He died on 10 November 1938.

The subject of Ataturk is an interesting one to say the least. He is revered throughout all the country. You see images of him everywhere, from statues to money. It is apparently illegal to insult Ataturk and as an interesting aside YouTube is now banned in Turkiye as a result of some insulting videos that were allegedly put on the site by Greeks. I can attest to the fact that YouTube is banned because I tried to look at a video someone posted and got a message in Turkish that says "Access to this site has been denied by court order" Sometimes I wish we could all just get along, and I think if it were up to the majority we would. It is a minority few who ruin it for everyone. I have seen the bickering and squabbling on YouTube between Greeks and Turks and it is ridiculous and childish. As a whole though, I think the two countries have made progress in their relations with one another.

Just a couple of the Ataturk flags I spotted...

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Now I realize this blog entry has went on for a quite lengthy bit. My passion and obsession for Turkiye knows no bounds. I could go on and on and on. There is much more to post, so many more photos and experiences and I'm still not even halfway through one day! Let me break this one up into two separate entries. I promise there is more to come. Stay tuned for ekmek balik, the Galata Bridge, Gulhane Park, another Turkish carpet salesman, the archaeological museum, and finally the hamam!!

Posted by oceanchild 03:03 Archived in Turkey Comments (1)

İstanbul, my İstanbul!

How I love this city even more!

Mehmet tells me that İstanbul is not Türkiye. Judging Türkiye on İstanbul alone is like judging the US on New York alone. There are so many more facets to this wonderful nation than İstanbul, I agree. Yet İstanbul has a place in my heart that will always be there I believe. It is a wondrous city fully of sights, sounds, smells, and experiences that overwhelm and excite the visitor. It is old and new, dirty and clean, bright and dull, colorful and gray, serene and hectic. It is full of contradictions!

In a word, it is magical.

I love İstanbul and to be back again I have to say was the climax of my entire semester abroad. I know many might find it strange that I chose to study in Greece, when Türkiye was where I really wanted to be. The logistics behind doing a semester in Türkiye were more than I wanted to deal with, however, so I chose the next best thing (and the next closest place).

Monday morning I woke up early to shower and catch my minibus to the airport in Izmir. I was so lucky that Fisun handled my reservation for the bus. I had nothing to do but walk to the stop, which happened to be right next to my hotel, tell the drive my name, board and we were on our way. The early morning light crept over horizon as I headed out of Kuşadasi toward Izmir. I love this quiet part of the morning. The Turkish landscape bathed in the soft morning light. Sage green of olives with gray rocks being illuminated by the soft morning sun. Minarets jutting above the small towns, sun glinting off their spires. Beautiful.

We arrived at the airport in ample time. Check in with Turkish Airlines seemed to go much smoother than with Olympic. Faster too. The flight even left on time! We were even served food, imagine that! Landing in İstanbul I saw that rain was falling outside. It reminded me of my last day here in January. I have to say I love the city even under gray skies! I had thought I would try to use the metro to get to Sirkeci, where my hotel was located, but in the end decided a taxi was easier and less stressful, although more expensive. I have to tell you that during this ride I felt like I needed to pinch myself. I couldn't believe I was actually back in İstanbul! There were the city walls, the giant Turkish flag, everything I remember. I was too stupefied with glee to even bother taking photos! I was pleased with my hotel location and the taxi ride only cost me about 35 YTL. Much cheaper than an Athens taxi ride.

This is familiar territory. I remember the pub on the corner. The small convenient store across the street. The cafe where we bought gelato. All familiar. Admittedly this photo of my hotel was taken the last day I was there...almost an after thought!

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When I got checked in, unpacked, settled in I had a hard time deciding just what I wanted to do first. I had seen much of it before, so not a lot was "new" to me. I thought that I just wanted to walk around that first day and explore. Something I didn't get to do a lot of the last time I was here. After I called a sleepy husband back home (it was early) to let him know I made it, I headed out to see where my feet would take me. Of course I wanted to start somewhere familiar and work my way out, so I went toward Sultanahmet square. This square is located right in between the Sultan Ahmet Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. Right next to the Hippodrome. There is not much left of the ancient Hippodrome these days. The Hippodrome dates from the glory of the Byzantine Empire. It was the heart of political and sporting life at one time. It is now a park referred to as At Meydani. The use now is in great contrast to the days of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires! Most visitors come to the Hippodrome to see the Obelisk of Theodosius, a 3500 year old Egyptian obelisk brought to Constantinople and erected by the emperor Theodosius of course. Imagine bringing this all the way from Egypt!

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The base of the obelisk...

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You will also find this beautiful fountain (and pigeons) in the park. The fountain was given as a gift to the city by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany in 1901. It is very elaborate!

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I made my way through the park and decided to head down a side street on the other side of Sultan Ahmet Mosque (commonly called the Blue Mosque by visitors). I wasn't disappointed. The cobbled streets let me to some shops and an interesting UPS man on the UPS building.

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But that isn't the best part! The shop owner of the above shop came out and started to talk with me. He asked if I had seen the little Hagia Sophia mosque. If I hadn't been familiar with this mosque I might have been suspicious, but in fact, it was on my "must see" list. He offered to walk me to it and I took him up on the offer. His name was Philip and I am so disappointed I did not get a photograph of him. He was very nice and although I admit I was a bit hesitant to follow a strange Turkish man to an unknown location, my heart said I could trust him. Reminded me of the night in Kusadasi when a shop owner named Mehmet walked us to the fisherman's wharf and drank tea with us while playing backgammon. This is the true hospitality of the Turkish people. I think it is part of the reason I love the country so much. So Philip walked me to the Küçük Ayasofia Camii ( Küçük means little in Turkish and Camii means mosque) other wise known as the "Little" Hagia Sophia mosque. This was built by the emperor Justinian around 530 CE and was called Church of St. Sergius and Bacchus at the time. Because it resembled the Hagia Sophia, also built under Justinian, it was renamed this when converted to a mosque in the 1500's.

Not as grand as some mosques, it has it's charm. I understand it underwent some restoration last year, so it looks rather fresh and new both inside and out. Philip showed me all around inside the mosque and his wonder at the piece of architecture was evident. He finally told me he would leave me so I could take some photographs, but not before he asked me to stop back by his shop. Of course he hoped I would purchase something, but it didn't not diminish his hospitality in the least!

Just a few of the many photographs I took of this little treasure....

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There were a lot of graves surrounding the mosque. A walkway took me around it so I could explore the graveyard. I love the headstones with Arabic script on them.

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Yes, I did stop back by Philip's shop on my way back from the mosque. No, I didn't purchase anything. Much of what he sold was breakable and the truth is it was very similar to things I bought on my last visit. Pottery, tiles, lamps. I was trying to keep my purchase to a minimum. Not an easy quest when in İstanbul and you have the Grand Bazaar!

The overcast sky was darkening and rain seemed imminent. Best game plan in this case was to head indoors. But where do you go in İstanbul when the weather won't cooperate? Why the Bazaar of course! There is something about the hustle and bustle of the Bazaar that is both crazy and fun at the same time. Imagine thousands of shops under one roof. It is an overwhelming experience. There are so many avenues, so many shops, so many crazy shop owners trying to sell you their wares. A definite must when in İstanbul. The Bazaar was establish under Mehmet II in 1453. Quite an old mall by any standard I would say. It cannot be described. Nothing prepares you. You just have to see it to understand it. A madhouse would be putting it mildly. Those who know me know I don't like crowds. But I love this. It's so much better than the mall crowd at Christmas in the US. People aren't stressed or crazy. Everyone is having a good time. It's not unusual for a shop owner to offer you tea, or Turkish delight. Bargaining is essential. You never pay what an item is marked. Bargaining is half the fun!

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I probably spent at least an hour just wandering through the bazaar and did not see even half of it. It is quite easy to get lost, but you can always find your way to one of the gates and out. If you keep going down you will usually end up on one of the streets that leads down toward the spice bazaar. One street is filled with shops selling various cheeses, meats, nuts, fish, and produce.

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The spice bazaar fills your nose with the wonderful sent of spices. I was not fortunate enough to get into the actual spice bazaar this visit. It started to rain while I sat out in the square next to it and when I passed by it was quite crowded. My senses had been overwhelmed already so I decided to make my way back to the hotel to see if the rain would pass. Not before I noticed all the flags and celebratory decor in the square. It seems İstanbul was preparing for some sort of celebration and I was curious as to what it was. Using my minimal Turkish, my phrase book, and the trusty internet back at the hotel, I came to the conclusion that the coming Wednesday was Republic Day. This is the day Türkiye celebrates the anniversary of the founding of the Republic. October 29, 2008 would be its 85th birthday. How exciting to know I would be there for the celebration, although it wasn't clear just what the celebration would be.

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The rain finally eased up, so I headed back toward the Bazaar quarter to see what I could find and hopefully get some dinner. I can't tell you how happy I was to find a place that sold lamacun! Finally, some authentic lamacun once again.

Don't say it Laura!! Mmmmmm....lamacun!

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As I sat there and enjoyed my lamacun and şeftalı (peach juice) I noticed the waiter speaking Greek to another table. I couldn't help it, when I wanted my check I just had to ask how much in Greek. The waiter seemed to get a kick out of my Greek skills. In fact, I spoke more Greek there than I seem to do in Greece. A shop keeper in the Bazaar was going to give some other shoppers a good deal on Pashmina's because they were Greek, and good neighbors to Türkiye, so I told him I was living in Athens and wanted a good deal as well. It took some convincing, but he finally sold me a beautiful orange pashmina for 10 euro. I just wish I had bought more!

One day had come to an end in İstanbul. I think I was the happiest woman in the world for a few moments that day. Lamacun. Call to prayer. Bazaar time. Turkish hospitality. What more could you want?

Posted by oceanchild 01:49 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

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