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31 July 2013

June 9: Lunch and ferry ride

We had lunch at a cafe in Maydos, on the Dardanelles side of the Gallipoli peninsula. Someone offered to take a photo of us, so here is one of those rare items:

John and Patty

Our places were set and salads ready when we arrived. The meal was a good example of fare in Turkey. Beer and wine were available, but they cost extra. First course, fresh greens with some vegetables. We dressed the salads with some of the wonderful olive oil and lemon juice from the containers you see on the table.

Maydos lunch

Next was a squash soup, gently spiced.

Maydos lunch

A pastry stuffed with vegetables:

Maydos lunch

Next, a stew with different vegetables, and I think a little lamb. Common vegetables were eggplant, different sorts of beans, and carrots in a tomato-based broth.

Maydos lunch

Dessert was small bites of different types of baklava and a small honey-soaked sponge cake.

Maydos lunch

Afterwards, John walked out on the pier over the Dardanelles.

Maydos lunch

The ferry across the Dardanelles leaves on the hour, and Ali wants to catch the 2 pm ferry. It was only a short distance from the cafe. There was a memorial park along the way:

way to ferry

Here is our ferry. It’s big enough for our large bus and a lot of autos too.

ferry

The crossing takes about 45 minutes. We walk around the ferry boat. There is a snack bar, but no drinks are available. Here are some photos of the boat and the views.

on the ferry

on the ferry

on the ferry

Now we are on the continent of Asia. This whole Europe-Asia continent thing is hard to understand, because it is actually one land mass. The Ural mountains in Russia designate the continental boundary. Some geographers call it one continent, “Urasia”. Turkey is generally considered part of the “Middle East”.

Just off the ferry, there is a “Trojan Horse” in a park:

Trojan horse

That’s our next destination: Legendary Troy!

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28 July 2013

June 9: Travel to Gallipoli

Today is a bus-travel day, with stops at two historical sites. We are on the bus at 7 am, first rest stop at 9 am, next rest stop at 11 am, at Gallipoli by noon, at lunch at 1 pm, and on the ferry over the Dardanelles to Troy at 2 pm. This scheduling is masterminded by Ali. Our connections are perfect: lunch is on the table when we get to the cafe, no long wait for the ferry.

The bus is comfortable. Ali sometimes talks to all of us about Turkey, past and present, and is always willing to answer questions. We can get up and walk around, it’s roomy, we have water and can pick up snacks at rest stops. Interesting views out the big windows. But still, we find bus travel wearying. The air-conditioning dries out our throats.

We first travel west out of Istanbul, above the Sea of Marmara. Reminder: the European piece of Turkey is separated from the much larger Asian portion by a strait and a sea and another strait: Bosphorus, Sea of Marmara, then the Dardanelles. We first skirt the top of the Sea of Marmara then drive down the Gallipoli peninsula, which borders the Dardanelles. We will cross the Dardanelles on a ferry to the Asian side of Turkey, where we will spend the rest of our tour.

I used my camera to stave off boredom and to document the travel with photos and also times and locations by geotags.

Half an hour of highway time and we are still in the outskirts of Istanbul. The geotag has us about a third of the way across the top of the Sea of Marmara when these photos were taken. This density of housing structures has been going on for miles. Note a few high rises infiltrating the skyline.

Istanbul outskirts

Most of the buildings are blocky. Most face the same way.

Istanbul outskirts

Turkey gets earthquakes. Some houses are built floor by floor as people move from the countryside to the city and slowly get jobs and make money. Many of these houses are not up to code.

Fifty minutes of highway time and we are finally in the countryside.

above the Sea of Marmara

At 9 am we stop for “facilities” about two-thirds of the way along the top of the Sea of Marmara. This is a full service rest stop with a gas station, water closets, restaurant, and store.

rest stop

At 10:30 am, on the very start of the Gallipoli peninsula. The water in the distance is the Aegean Sea.

Gallipoli peninsula

At 11 am, we have another facilities stop. This time, it’s “another roadside attraction”. We are about a third of the way down the Gallipoli peninsula, just above the town of Gallipoli.

rest stop

another roadside attraction

another roadside attraction

11:30 am, looking out of the bus. We are now past the town of Gallipoli, looking out west to the Dardanelles. The Dardanelles is 38 miles long and narrow, three-quarters of a mile at its narrowest, and 3.7 miles at its widest.

Dardanelles

Near noon, we reach our first historical site: Gallipoli.

Turkey was on the side of Germany in WWI. In 1915, Winston Churchill promoted the capture of the Gallipoli peninsula to force open the Dardanelle strait, thus opening the seaway to Russia. He spearheaded the Gallipoli Campaign, including troops from Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, and India. The Allies fought the Ottoman forces for 10 months throughout the Gallipoli peninsula and along the Dardanelles. Both sides suffered heavy casualties.

In 1916, the Allied forces retreated. Anaturk, who became the leader of the new democratic nation of Turkey in 1923, was a commander of the successful Ottoman forces. Churchill, on the other hand, suffered damage to his career because of his unsuccessful campaign.

About 250,000 Allied forces and 250,000 Ottomans died in the 10 month battle. That many. We visited one of the many graveyard memorials on the western Gallipoli coast. The Aegean Sea laps gently on the sands, up on a grass-covered hill white headstones mark the graves of men who died there. We quietly pay our respects.

Gallipoli

“Those heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives . . .
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours . . .
You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears;
your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”
-Anaturk 1934

Gallipoli

Gallipoli

Gallipoli

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24 July 2013

June 8: Istanbul, Grand Bazaar and Topkapi Palace

This Saturday is our last full day in Istanbul. The Grand Bazaar and Topkapi Palace are on our agenda, then we have the afternoon and evening to ourselves.

The Grand Bazaar is a maze of thousands of small shops in a huge building. It’s about the easiest place to get lost in in Istanbul. We are not big shoppers, so we dipped into the Bazaar gingerly, trying to remember our way back out. We were distracted a few times: there is so much for sale here! We thought to at least get a T-shirt, or a purse-type bag for me. We wandered, and ran into some of our tour members and chatted. Eventually, we were lost and had to ask directions to get out. Ali had told us to remember our entrance gate and that helped. Finally we see daylight! Happily, we emerged from the Grand Bazaar and found some of our group sitting at some tables at a restaurant. A nice cool drink, that sounds good.

I took just one photo: the gate we took into the darkness of the Bazaar.

Grand Bazaar

I did get a Turkish bag, but at a shop just outside the Bazaar.

Turkish Bag

I should at least give a little history of the Grand Bazaar. It is centuries old. Construction began in 1455, after the Ottomans conquered Constantinople. At first, it was devoted to textile trade. Over the years, the structure was enlarged, and many different types of goods were exchanged. Fires and earthquakes hit the bazaar at different times, demanding reconstruction. Today it is one of the largest and oldest covered marketplaces in the world.

About noon, we got in the bus and went a short distance to Topkapi Palace. Actually, we are back where we were yesterday, near Sultan Ahmed Square.

The Topkapi Palace dates back to the 1470s, and remained the most important palace for the sultans until the 1850s. It consists of four tree-shaded courtyards separated by huge gates. Buildings of different functions surround the courtyards. The Palace was not only the residence of the Sultan, it also housed administrative facilities, the treasury, a mint, libraries, a university, a medical facility, and the harem. One large building housed the kitchens. At one time, about 4000 people lived in the Palace. (More information on the Istanbul tourism site and Wikipedia.)

We wandered around the Topkapi Palace, mostly on our own. There was a long line into the treasury, and inside it was crowded and dark and items were not well labeled. Mainly, we enjoyed the beautiful tiles and gold work on many of the buildings, the shady areas of the courtyards, the lovely fountains. We lunched in the cafeteria, then met up again with Ali who took us through some of the buildings that we missed before.

Museum ticket.

Topkapi ticket

An example of the detail on the buildings.

Topkapi

One of the buildings.

Topkapi

Courtyard.

Topkapi

Line for the treasury.

Topkapi

Building that holds Islamic artifacts.

Topkapi

Another building.

Topkapi

This is pretty:

Topkapi

The kitchens:

Topkapi

This woman is working to restore some of the tiles:

Topkapi

Close-up of tile work:

Topkapi

The palace living quarters:

Topkapi

Textiles:

Topkapi

Some of our group at a palace building:

Topkapi

John likes this column:

Topkapi

Palace living quarters:

Topkapi

Back at the hotel by 4 pm, we enjoy a swim and a rest. We decide to take Ali’s suggestion and walk away from the protest area to the Hunkar Restaurant for dinner. Four other couples from our tour group all arrived at separate times - we all took Ali’s advice, this was not preplanned. The waiters didn’t speak English well, so we just let them serve us whatever they wanted. It was crazy. Mostly, we got meze - small dishes - and it was all good.

Tonight the crowd of Saturday night protesters backs up all the way past the Divan. In the lobby, the hotel personnel are taking all the big vases of plants back behind the counter for safekeeping. We ride up the elevator with a couple nervous hotel workers. They are going up to the tenth floor for safety.

We do not venture out into the crowds tonight. We hunker down and hope no tear gas is released, no water cannons fired, no fires started. We note the best exit routes from the hotel. Although it’s been interesting, it’s time to get out of Taksim Square. We are not unhappy that we will be leaving the unrest and the crowds of Istanbul by 7 am tomorrow morning.

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22 July 2013

June 7: Istanbul, Taksim Square Protesters

John and I leave the Divan Hotel about 6 pm. Our thought is to stroll the long way around Taksim Square, just outside the bulk of the protesters, and then go to the Intercontinental Hotel to enjoy the view from the bar at the top.

We saw no sign of any police in Taksim Square last night, and tonight looks the same. However, our tour guide told us not to walk into the crowds of demonstrators. In fact, he told us not to walk in the direction of the protests at all. Well, we have a little rebel in us, but our plan as we set out this evening is to play it safe and to skirt the crowds and get back by dark.

Just outside our hotel and heading in a counterclockwise direction around the protests, this is the view. Sorry, I accidentally set my camera to an exposure compensation mode for a few shots, so the first photos are overexposed, but this at least shows the general lay of the square and a sign that begins “You gassed us . . . Look, here we are! . . . civil, kindly . . . chasing our freedom”.

Taksim Square sign

Taksim Square sign

Here is the street food. Would you see street food this healthy in the US?

Taksim Square food

Street scene:

Taksim Square

A building plastered with signs:

Taksim Square

A short ways in front of us is a burned-out bus. The protesters turned over and burned several public buses during the first three days of the riots. At the time, the police were hitting the crowds with tear gas and water cannons. Here are four period news articles:

May 29 National Turk

June 2 The Telegraph (UK)

June 5 Fox News

The Guardian June 3


Taksim Square

We get close to this bus and I snap a picture. Note the guy in the Guy Fawkes mask.

Taksim Square bus

I like this photo of a guy taking a photo of another guy in the bus who is giving the peace sign. Note a guy in a suit walking past. And “Diktator” on the bus

Taksim Square bus

There are more buses ahead of us. You can also just make out our destination, the very tall Intercontinental Hotel just above the bus in the center of the photo.

Taksim Square bus

We pass the last bus.

Taksim Square bus

Barricade at the other side of Taksim Square. You can see the Intercontinental Hotel.

Taksim Square

We are now on the other side of the park. These are the camp tents of the protesters.

Taksim Square campers

I think this is a van used for relaying phone service, but I’m not sure.

Taksim Square van

A make-shift volleyball game.

Taksim Square volleyball game

The campers-occupiers did not neglect the free-roaming cats!

Taksim Square cat food

Graffiti and motorcycles and people.

Taksim Square

Street food - looks like lettuce to me! Where are the hot dogs, the french fries?

Taksim Square food

We are just about out of the protest area. It took us only 15 minutes to walk around Taksim Square. We are almost to the Intercontinental, and then about a block from our own hotel. This is looking back at several buses in the protest area.

Taksim Square buses

We arrive at the Intercontinental Hotel. Immediately we are back in ritzy tourist world. What a contrast. We take the elevator to the rooftop bar, “City Lights”. I think the hotel has 20 stories. We find a table and order a couple expensive drinks. They bring an assortment of nuts to go with the drinks, nice! This is so posh. A few other members of our tour group come in during the hour or so that we spend in City Lights.

The view looks out over the Bosphorus, where we were on a cruise yesterday. This view is looking southeast across the Bosphorus to the Asian side of Istanbul.

from City Lights

from City Lights

The following photo shows the tents of the campers (on the left) and the people gathering in the square (on the right).

protesters from City Lights

From the top of the Intercontinental, I shot this photo of people way, way down at one of the buses. This little camera does have a great zoom, if you can manage to hold it very still.

Taksim Square

A couple glasses of wine later, we leave the bar. Fortified, and walking with a tour member we met on our Safari last year, we head back towards the crowds, the “occupy” area of Gezi Park. We are at the volleyball game when we decide to turn and walk right into the camping area. The camp has vendors, restrooms, places to sleep, yoga classes, medical tents - it’s a mini city. We noticed a GLBT sign (but I didn’t get a photo).

Gezi Park

Gezi Park

Gezi Park

More street food:

Taksim Square food

Here’s a short movie of the camping area:



I felt something that I called a “crowd feel”. The crowd was sparkling with energy, friendly, connecting, excited, political, speaking out. Trying to correct what they believe is wrong with their country.

We leave the “occupy” area and are in Taksim Square itself. Earlier, it was quiet, but now it is full of people. I kind of expected people to be making speeches, but no. Perhaps no one wanted to be arrested?

Paper lanterns are floating upwards. Music is playing.

Taksim Square

Taksim Square

Taksim Square

A group of people starts dancing right next to us.



It’s getting too dark for photos, and for crazy tourists to be out. We do have some sense. The police could come back with tear gas.

Taksim Square

When we get to our Divan Hotel, there is a long line of people in the lobby. They are waiting to use the restrooms. This surprises us, that this classy hotel is helping the protesters. We also note that the Divan has no graffiti on it - most of the buildings in Taksim Square are heavily covered.

It was hard to come down from such a high, but we finally turned in around 10 pm. We have tourist stuff to do tomorrow!

Great reference on Wikipedia for the 2013 Turkish protests.

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20 July 2013

June 7: Istanbul, Mannequin Row

The bus ride back to the Divan takes almost an hour. It's 3-4 pm on a Friday and there is a ton of traffic near Taksim Square. As we drive, we look out at the buildings and shops. I take out my camera, since I recall from yesterday the mannequins in the shops somewhere along our route. They had me in a giggling fit.

Oh, here we come . . . I see one! The bus is moving but you get the picture.

male mannequin

A couple street scenes. Did we miss the rest of mannequin row?

street scene

street scene

Ah! Here we are. Luckily the bus stops.

mannequins

Close-ups:

mannequins

Pretty risque images for a Muslim country!

mannequins

I can see why one might want a mannequin of a pregnant lady, but why a collie?

Here’s another one.

mannequins

Not a great photo, because the bus is moving, but here is the "big guy" mannequin that we laughed at yesterday:

mannequins

My final great photo:

mannequins

(You can visit the above shop's website for their selection of mannequins.)

What a day. Sultan Ahmet Square, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and now naked mannequins. Finally we are back at our hotel. We go for a swim. Dinner is on our own and we are not very hungry, but probably will go out later to look around and get a drink and a snack.

The day, or shall I say the evening, is not over yet.

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18 July 2013

June 7: Istanbul, the Blue Mosque

Near our lunch spot was this marker:

marker

In case you can’t read the photo, it says: "This stone pillar is all that remains of a Byzantine triumphal arch from which road distances to all corners of the empire were onve measured. Date: fourth century A.D."

After lunch, we went to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, which we called by its popular name "Blue Mosque". I'm going to repeat a photo that shows the outside of this mosque from a distance:

Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque was built from 1609 to 1616, during the rule of the Ottoman Ahmed I. This domed structure incorporates some Byzantine elements of the Hagia Sophia. The interior is lined with ceramic tiles made at Iznik in different tulip styles. (Tulips are native to Turkey. Commercial cultivation of tulips began in the Ottoman Empire; only later were they cultivated in the Netherlands.) More information on wikipedia and the Blue Mosque site.

This is a very popular tourist stop. We had to wait in line for about 20 minutes to get in, and we were only inside for about 10 minutes. We took off our shoes and carried them with us, and the women had to cover their heads with provided scarves.

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

John and I didn’t enjoy the Blue Mosque as much as we probably should have. We liked the Rustem Pasha Mosque better because it was cute and cozy. The Blue Mosque is impressive and huge and the tilework is amazing, but it was also very crowded and we were hot. I think we were getting tired.

This is where we put our shoes back on.

Blue Mosque

Our air-conditioned bus awaits!

our bus

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16 July 2013

June 7: Istanbul, the Basilica Cistern

The area we stand in today in Istanbul was fought over, defended, lost and conquered many times over the centuries. It is an ancient land. The walled city of Constantinople needed a safe water supply, not only for ordinary living, but for times of siege. Many cisterns were built under the city for water storage.

We were fortunate to visit the Basilia Cistern. We walked down dark, wet, and crumbly steps to the depths of the cistern. The domed ceiling is high above us. Low lights help us navigate the platforms above the water.

cistern

This cistern can hold up to 100,000 tons of water. The water came via aqueduct from the Belgrade Forest, 12 miles away. The weight of the round arches and vaults of the cistern is held by 336 marble columns, each 30 feet tall.

This is what it was like walking around inside:

cistern

At the base of two of the columns are Medusa heads. The origin of these heads are unknown, but they were probably re-purposed from a late Roman period building. (In fact, most of the columns themselves were probably used in other structures previously.)

It is thought that the Medusa head is upside down to negate the power of the Gorgon's gaze.

cistern

This Medusa head is on its side:

cistern

One last look at the cool, damp, dark cistern.

cistern

Lunch today is on Odysseys. Ali took us to the Golden Cup, within walking distance of the Basilica Cistern. We had a vegetable pastry, eggplant stuffed with rice, a few fried potatoes, and a dessert made with honey and semolina.

We are beginning to realize that the food in Turkey is really healthy. Lots and lots of fresh vegetables, both raw and cooked. Some meat - lamb, beef, or chicken - but not a lot. Olive oil always on the table instead of butter. Small portions. Light desserts. A common street food was corn on the cob, served without butter. Displays of fresh vegetables at stands everywhere. These guys eat healthy! Most of the locals were not overweight. The population would be totally healthy if they did not smoke a lot of cigarettes and other tobaccos.

We enjoyed our rest and the food in the cool restaurant. Then, it's off to the Blue Mosque.

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15 July 2013

June 7: Istanbul, Hippodrome and the Hagia Sophia

"Gunaydin."

It's 8:30 am and Ali welcomes us on the bus with the Turkish for "Good morning!" He then asks how we are doing, and we learn the responses:

Iyi (pronounced eeya) for "doing good" or şöyle böyle (pronounced shirley birlya) for "so-so". With şöyle böyle you rotate your wrist in a so-so manner. It was more fun to say shirley birlya so I'd say it even if things were fine. That's about all the Turkish I learned! Luckily many people speak English in Turkey and if not, we had Ali to translate.

Our destination today is Sultan Ahmet Square. The Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern, and Blue Mosque are all within walking distance of the square.

Sultan Ahmet Square:

Sultan Ahmet Square

Ever-present tourist shops:

Sultan Ahmet Square

The Sultan Ahmet Square is on the site of the ancient Hippodrome. It was built by Constantine the Great in the third century. The Hippodrome was the sporting and social center of Constantinople, and quite famous for the chariot races that took place there. By the time the Ottomans took over Constantinople in 1453 (changing the city's name to Istanbul), the Hippodrome had fallen to ruin, though some fragments still remain or were re-built in Sultan Ahmet Square.

One of the artifacts in the Sultan Ahmet Square is the Obelisk of Theodosius. This obelisk was first set up by Pharaoh Tutmoses III (1479-1425 BC) in Egypt. The Roman Emperor Theodosius brought it to the city of Constantinople from Alexandria in the late 4th century and erected it in its present site. The faces of the obelisk celebrate Tutmoses III's victories.

obelisk

The marble pedestal beneath the obelisk has bas-reliefs dating to the time of the obelisk's re-erection in Constantinople in the 4th century. Below are three photos of the north face of the pedestal, this bas-relief shows the emperor and his court. I took three photos to show how the obelisk sits atop the pedestal, and then the middle and lower views.

obelisk

obelisk

obelisk

The west face of the pedestal shows the submission of the barbarians.

obelisk

Another artifact in the square is the Serpent Column. Made of bronze, it is formed by three intertwined serpents. It was dedicated to Apollo by the Greeks who fought and defeated the Persian Empire at the Battle of Plataea in 479 BC. Constantine the Great brought the Serpent Column to Constantinople in 324. The column was once 8 meters tall; it remained intact until the end of the 17th century.

Serpent Column

Not sure the history of this column:



We'd planned to visit the Blue Mosque first, but it is closed because of the call to prayer.

Blue Mosque

So we walk towards the Hagia Sophia.

Hagia Sophia

A stop at the water closet.

water closet stop

Looking the other direction, here is John with the Blue Mosque in the background.

Blue Mosque

Walking towards the Hagia Sophia.

Hagia Sophia

Waiting to get in, our group:

waiting at the Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophi, the epitome of Byzantine architecture, was built in 537 as a church, or more correctly, an Orthodox basilica. It was dedicated to the "Logos", the second person in the holy trinity - the dedication feast takes place on December 25. It is sometimes referred to as Sancta Sophia. (This all reminds me of Santa Claus.)

The Hagia Sophia has vaults and semi-domes and culminates in a massive central dome with a height of about 160 feet. It was the largest cathedral on earth for almost a thousand years, and is said to have changed the history of architecture.

When the Ottomans conquered in 1453, it was converted to a mosque, and mosaics representing Jesus, Mother Mary, saints and angels were removed or plastered over, and Islamic features were added. In 1935 it was converted to a museum. Today, both Christian and Islamic artwork adorns the church.

It was amazing to see. How did they build this church almost 1500 years ago? In many places, we could see the partially restored original mosaics, high up on the walls or on the domed ceilings. We walked around looking up, mostly. But the floor was interesting too, because human footsteps have worn paths through the marble floor. My photos capture some of our experience.

The Virgin and Child (in the apse):

Hagia Sophia

Walking to the main room:

Hagia Sophia

Islamic symbol - note the Christian mosaic in the background on the right:

Hagia Sophia

Imperial gate mosaics:

Hagia Sophia

This somewhat cockeyed photo gives you an idea of what it was like in the main chamber. It's crowded, and it's very tall.

Hagia Sophia

Looking up at the chandeliers:

Hagia Sophia

Apse mosaic of the Virgin Mother and Child:

Hagia Sophia

Stained glass window:

Hagia Sophia

Looking up:

Hagia Sophia

This "X" marked on the floor was used to help construct the dome:

Hagia Sophia

I liked these angels:

angels

angels

Zoomed in:

Hagia Sophia

Details of top of column:

Hagia Sophia

This is from the upper floor, looking down:

Hagia Sophia

Below is the "Deesus mosaic" - Judgement Day - Jesus Christ enthroned between the Virgin Mary and St John the Baptist, 12th century.

Hagia Sophia

A little closer:

Hagia Sophia

And zoomed in:

Hagia Sophia

Here is some graffiti, left by the Vikings, according to the signs next to it:

Hagia Sophia

That's my last photo in the Hagia Sophia. We were there from 10-11:30 am.

I need to mention something so that you can have a better feeling for what it's like walking around Istanbul. Turkey is hot. Hot and dry. Just walking around anywhere in Istanbul kind of wears you down. Istanbul and the historical sites are crowded. Ali is constantly telling us about what we are seeing, using the whisperers. Add in the jet lag we still feel. It's hard to take everything in and I (at least) get a little droned-out. I'm glad I have these photos and the time now to look up more information about what we were seeing.

And we were all glad that our next site to visit is the Basilica Cistern: underground and cool. That'll be the next blog post.

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10 July 2013

Turkey: June 6, Istanbul, back to the Divan Hotel

On the slow bus drive back to our hotel, I gaze out the window as we drive through a business district. Wow, a whole ton of bridal shops, one after another! And then tons of mannequin shops. (Yes, mannequins.) It seems that each type of merchandise - kitchen appliances, paint, mannequins, food, bathroom fixtures, etc. - is sold in a separate shop. No Walmarts or Home Depots here.

Crumbling wood or concrete buildings are tucked between newer structures. Jumbling of the old and the new.

We near Taksim Square and the protester's barricade where the bus needs to make a U-turn to drop us off. But, a car is blocking the way. A Japanese couple can't seem to figure out how to back up their rental car. So Ali gets out of our bus and into their car and moves it! Yay Ali!

We swam in the hotel's gorgeous rimless, half-Olympic sized swimming pool. Overhead are curved mirrors and as you swim on your back, you see yourself reflected and it looks like stars are in the background. Mesmerizing. And John and I were the only ones in the pool. It was simply gorgeous. (I wish I had taken a photo - can't find one on the Divan website.)

Why did we have the pool to ourselves? Most tourists must be avoiding Taksim Square because of the protests. Many cruise ships cancelled the Istanbul stop. We are just about the only tourist group at the hotel.

Dinner tonight is a special Odyssey welcome dinner. Ali takes us to a local, traditional kebab restaurant. Meze (small dishes like tapas) and big sesame-covered flat breads were set out first, then came the kebabs. The meze were yogurt with a parsley-like herb, green beans, big flat breads with sesame seeds, a tomato mixture, mashed fava beans, and roasted onions. The lemon-garlic-pistachio beef kebabs were melt-in-your-mouth great. Dessert: fruit.

Later, on our own, we walk along the fringes of the protests near our hotel. It's Thursday night, and the crowds seem larger than last night. I snap some photos (see below). Then we sit outside at the bar and watch the protesters and learn more about what is going on. The Taksim Square protests started when the government wanted to remove trees from a public park in order to build yet another building. But it goes beyond that. They want a say in their government, and they do not want to be forced into Islamic ways. During our visit, we could definitely feel the Muslim influence on alcohol: it was expensive and sometimes hard to acquire. They want the freedom to continue to show affection in public. Most women do not cover their heads, and seem to enjoy that freedom. I sure would hate to have to wear a head covering, and even worse, a Berka. The constitution of Turkey guarantees a secular, democratic government. The protesters want to keep it that way.

This photo was taken from the front doors of our hotel, looking towards Taksim Square and beyond that, the Bosphorus. The protesters are camped out under the trees that you see.

Taksim Square

Here are a couple photos of tents and people hanging out:

Taksim Square

Taksim Square

Looking towards the square:

Taksim Square

Looking back towards our hotel. It's the first, big hotel that you see, with gold and brown horizontal stripes.

Taksim Square

A great view of our hotel, the Divan. Our favorite bar/restaurant is a couple building beyond it on this same street.

Taksim Square

This is one of many tables set up to sell goggles, Guy Fawkes masks, whistles, paper gas masks. I wondered about the Guy Fawkes masks. According to Wikipedia, these masks have become a symbol of a "hactivist" group called "Anonymous". Hactivists use computer technology and networks to promote political ends, especially free speech, human rights, and information ethics.

Guy Fawkes masks

Here is a short movie I took as we sat at the bar:



It's getting too dark to film. But in this photo you can see the sign for Taksim Square, with the people under it, gathering for the night.

Taksim Square

Finally, to bed, listening once again to the sounds of the protests and fireworks.

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09 July 2013

Turkey: June 6, Istanbul, Bosphorus Cruise

Our cruise will take us northeast up the European side of the Bosphorus, then come back down the Asian side. The Bosphorus is a narrow channel of water that splits Istanbul in two and separates Europe from Asia. (See my second Turkey blog post for maps of the strategic waterways.)

The cruise starts at 2 pm and lasts about an hour and a half. I shot about 100 photos. I won't show you that many, don't worry! I find the GPS tags on the photos fun - I can pull up our exact location for each shot, thus mapping our journey.

We start right between the Galata and Ataturk bridges, on the Old Istanbul side of the Golden Horn. This photo is of part of the Ahi Ahmet Celebi Cami. I like the crumbling structure you see in front.

old building

We follow Ali, wondering which boat is ours. This one looks about the right size for 22 people:

is this our boat?

But no! We get onto this huge boat, that could probably seat over 100 people:

our boat

The boat has two levels for passengers. We huddle together in a corner of the lower level. Our whisperers are on so we can hear Ali if we wander around the boat.

I like this zoom-on on the Galata Tower. Look at the people!

Galata Tower

This photo is looking back on the Galata Bridge, which we have just gone under. We are still on the Golden Horn, heading towards the Bosphorus.

Galata Bridge

The New Mosque, Yeni Cami:

New Mosque

Peninsula at the end of Golden Horn (Old Istanbul side):

peninsula

Now our boat has turned up the Bosphorus. We are actually just opposite Taksim Square, where we are staying. This is what it looks like from the boat:

near Taksim Square

To me, it's such a jumble of buildings. Just a little further along, still on the shore along Taksim Square, is the Dolmabahce Mosque.

Dolmabahce Mosque

The Dolmabahce Palace:

Dolmabahce Mosque

Zoomed out to show the vista:

view

view

Looking back from the boat, to the Bosphorus/Golden Horn/Sea of Marmara.

view

The Ciragan Palace, a former Ottoman palace, is now a five-star hotel of the Kempinski Hotels chain.

Ciragan Palace

Ciragan Palace

We have now passed under the first suspension bridge that takes Istanbul Cevre Yolu street over the Bosphorus.

suspension bridge

The Bosphorus is an active trade route. Big ships such as this one must be piloted through the sometimes tricky channel by a certified local boat captain. Ali tells us that at one time in the ancient past, barricades were placed across the Bosphorus to control trade routes.

ship

These homes along the shore cost 60-80 million USD.

expensive homes

Look at this fortress. Imagine sailing in an old wooden sailboat and seeing this amazing sight. It's the Rumelian Castle.

Rumelian Castle

We go under the second suspension bridge over the Bosphorus, and turn around. This point is about a third of the way up the Bosphorus to the Black Sea before we turned around. The next photos are all of the Asian side of the Bosphorus.

back up the Bosphorus

This shows the mix of old and new along the Asian-Istanbul side.

old and new

The Kucuksu Pavilion, once a summer palace.

Kucuksu Pavilion

The Beylerbeyi Palace, built as a summer residence in the 1800s by an Ottoman sultan.

Beylerbeyi Palace

The long view:

Beylerbeyi Palace

We are now heading back to where we started, where the Golden Horn, Bosphorus, and Sea of Marmara converge.

view

My impressions of Istanbul as seen from the boat.

Most of the modern buildings in Istanbul are concrete and blocky. They all look the same and most are not aesthetically pleasing. There are so many, many of them. The interesting buildings are the old palaces, mosques, and fortresses, whether in partial ruin or restored. Here and there amidst the old and new buildings appear modern highrises. Eventually more highrises will be built and the skyline of Istanbul will change, for better or worse.

We haven't been in Istanbul for 24 hours yet, that's hard to believe! We have done and seen so much. Our next destination, luckily, is our hotel.

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03 July 2013

Turkey: June 6, Istanbul, Rustem Pasha Mosque and the Spice Bazaar

This morning we visited an old church, and just before noon we have an old mosque to tour. But first, a visit to the "WC".

water closet

WC, you ask? That's for water closet. For us Americans, that's the bathroom. Ali (our tour guide) says "you need a lira, if you don't have one, here's one". About half the time we needed to pay to use the toilets. (And Ali always knew when a lira was required!) All of us gals appreciated the toilets that were toilets - not the trough ones. Eeeyew. Anyway, I got in the habit of always having a lira or two in my pocket. (The exchange rate was 1 USD for 1.85 lira.)

liras

The Rustem Pasha Mosque was built in the 1500s. This is my first time ever in a mosque. Ali timed our visit to avoid any "call to prayer" times. In a mosque, all women must cover their heads - I donned a headscarf! Everyone has to take off their shoes. You can see where we left our shoes and put on proffered scarves in the left of the photo below:

mosque

And here are my toes on the prayer rug:

toes on prayer rug

The interior of this mosque is absolutely gorgeous. Sparkling, blue and white, full of air, almost whimsical.

mosque

mosque

mosque

mosque

Before this trip to Turkey, I didn't realize that the Islam religion prohibits art work representing humans or animals. So instead, all their great artists put their talents into creating intricate patterns, as in the tiles below:

tiles in mosque

The Rustem Pasha is just a little way from the Spice Bazaar. Here we are walking towards the bazaar:

towards the Spice Bazaar

This photo was taken at the same spot, but looking in the other direction, towards the Golden Horn and the Galata Bridge. Note tallest tower that you see in the photo. That's the Galata Tower, built by the Genoese in the 1300s. They called it the "Tower of Christ". I mention this because in a later photo taken off the boat, I zoomed in to get a great close-up.

from Spice Bazaar

The next two photos were taken as we closed in on the Spice Bazaar. The colorful awnings are just the brink of the bazaar: the outside shops. Most of the shops are off to the right, in a covered area.

Spice Bazaar

Spice Bazaar

We pass the shops with awnings that you see in the above photos and enter the heart of the bazaar. Suddenly we are immersed in a wonderment of aromas, a profusion of colors. People of all sorts crowd the aisles, venders tempt us in with samples.

Spice Bazaar

Ali guides our group to a specific shop to get us started. There, the purveyors feed us samples of Turkish Delight and serve us tea. I buy some saffron from a huge container. It cost $25 USD for 2 grams, and there must have been several kilos in that jar. Saffron is about the most expensive spice in the world. Each little red piece of saffron is one stigma from a flower; there are three stigmas per flower and only up to four flowers per plant. I checked when we got home, and found that it costs just about the same to buy saffron from my local Savory Seasonings, but, this Spice Bazaar saffron is Persian, from Iran. "The best stuff" I am guaranteed by the purveyor of the shop.

saffron jar

saffron

John and I then wander off on our own. Piles of spices, plates, mortars, teas, dried fruits, nuts, honeys, pastries, jewelry, caviar, olive oil, chiles, breads, backgammon sets.

Spice Bazaar

Spice Bazaar

Spice Bazaar

Spice Bazaar

Note the "Laguna" on the man's T-shirt in the photo below. Laguna Beach, California, near where we grew up. And this guy in Istanbul has a Laguna T-shirt.

Spice Bazaar

Spice Bazaar

The outside shops offer fresh fish and really good cheese. We bought a baggie of briny, thin, wound and stringy, mozzarella-type cheese, all kind of piled up and wonderful. The only other item we bought was some Turkish Delight. This is a fruit-nut-honey mixture formed into a roll, cut into chunks, and rolled in powdered sugar. Fresh, it was really good. (Sorry, no photos, we ate it all!)

We tired of the crowds rather early, and found a restaurant. It was good to sit down and watch the people pass by as we shared a small Turkish pizza (cheese and beef sausage, crisp and good) and drank Efes beer.

Early afternoon was time to go to our designated meeting spot by some benches. We called them "bird poop benches" because of all the birds overhead.

Spice Bazaar

One by one or two by two the other tour members join us and we share foods and stories. We head to our bus, which will take us to our boat tour of the Bosphorus. The day is still young!

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