Sunday, October 19, 2014

Let's Talk Turkey - Number Three

Our last tour in Turkey was of the Sultanahmet Camii Mosque or better known as the Blue Mosque.  It is called the Blue Mosque because of the blue tiles that cover the upper floors. Unfortunately these floors are not open to the public and we could only glimpse them from the main floor.

The Blue Mosque was amazing.  The detail in the domes and the ornate doors were impressive.

We were fortunate to secure a private guide to take us around the long lines into the mosque. This mosque is a functioning house of worship so it was closed for prayers several times a day.  I researched prayer times in advance so that we would know the times it would be closed.

There were many mosque in Istanbul. Five times a day you can hear the trilling call to prayer, also known as ezan. During this time the voice of the bellowing muezzin, the man who calls the Muslims to prayer from a minaret, can be heard over the loudspeakers at different mosques in the city.

Though this symphony of sorts was impressive from anywhere in town, the most extraordinary one was the battle of the call to prayer we heard between Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii Mosque) while walking down the street back to our hotel. If you are reading this in an email you will need to visit my blog to view the video.

We experienced many wonderful foods during our stay in Istanbul. Our dining experiences were indeed a significant part of the holiday fun. Just picking out a restaurant was an adventure.  Every corner held another long street filled with visually exciting opportunities for a flavourful experience.
Another great street filled with restaurants.
Our favorite fish dish during a great lunch.
Great presentation of a vodka tonic.
Delicious appetizers.
For our last dinner in Turkey we chose a restaurant located in the historical area of Sirkeci on a long street lined with restaurants and coffee houses.  We ate in the top floor dining room that looked out over the Aya Sofya Museum  Hippodrome and Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii Mosque).  The moon was full giving us a great photo opportunity.    

For our meal we enjoyed the drama of a popular dish (although not originating from Istanbul) called Tesi Kehap.  Ours was lamb, which had been roasted in a clay pot. The clay pot is brought from the oven to the table in a flaming dish, and with a flourish, the waiter breaks open the clay pot for all the dinners to enjoy.  Inside is a wonderful combination of: lamb, carrots, celery root, onions, garlic, and potatoes. If you want to enjoy the excitement, watch this video of the presentation of our dinner. If you are reading this in an email you will need to visit my blog to view the video.

I guess this is Istanbul's version of Steak Diane.
The restaurant was filled with lanterns. I loved the visual explosion of color and shape.
This reflection of the lanterns in the window was even more beautiful and interesting.

My favorite photo of the trip is not going to be one that you would expect.  It is a photo of Baghdad.  Yes, Baghdad, Iraq. It is my favorite photo from the trip because of how unique it is.

Our flight home took 4 and half hours. We were about half way home when SW suggested we look out the window of the plane.  The pilot had just announced we were flying over Mosul, Iraq.  I turned on the map of the flight path to see where we were flying and sure enough, we were flying through Syria and Iraq.

Here is Baghdad as seen from the window of our plane. The photo is not as good as the view really appeared.  There were many more lights in Baghdad than I would have thought.
I had no idea we would fly through these areas!  I guess I just never thought about how we would travel to and from Turkey. I assumed we would not fly over areas of the world that were at war.  

Realizing where we were located at that moment made me a bit nervous.

We snapped shots of Mosul and Baghdad out the plane windows.  I don’t think that will be something I will ever do again in my lifetime.

Turkey was wonderful and truly a once in a lifetime experience. The food was great, the people friendly (even though they definitely did not speak English) and the history amazing. It was another successful adventure.


P.S. After my last blog I received a request for all my videos to be posted on YouTube so they could be viewed.  I hope all my family and friends can enjoy my videos so I have uploaded all the video I shot in Turkey.  You can easily access them on my YouTube channel.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Talk Turkey TWO

As I spend time living in the ME, I learn more and more about the history of this region and how the it became what it is today. It is a millennia-old civilization that has thrived in some of the world’s harshest conditions.

Istanbul was an amazing area with strong ties to the people and cultures of Saudia Arabia and Bahrain.  There are 14 million people living in Istanbul. I find that alone amazing.  However the rich history of Istanbul makes the city even more amazing.
Looking out over the European side of the city. Istanbul is inside both Europe and Asia.

Turkey was once known as the Ottoman EmpireHittites, Phrygians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Seljuks, Mongols, Ottomans and others have all left their works of art, architecture and culture in what is now the Turkish homeland.

READER ALERT - This is a long blog, but there is a surprise photo at the end. DON"T CHEAT and go there now. Read the whole blog.  :-)

Before we left Bahrain for Turkey, DW and I visited the Turkish consulate in Manama, Bahrain to pick up travel books about the area.  Going to the embassy was DW’s idea and I was resistive because I was afraid we would get lost in the back roads of Manama.  She insisted and I was very happy I went with her.  Actually, we did get lost, but we found our way out thanks to two very nice Arab men that directed us the right road.

When we arrived, on a whim I asked if the Ambassador was in and available.  We had met Ambassador Hatun Demirer, at an American Woman’s Association luncheon only a couple of weeks previously.
DW (middle) with American Ambassador Thomas C. Krajeski and Turkish Ambassador Hatun Demirer, at the AWA meeting.
We were extremely lucky, she was in.  She came rushing out to meet us and gave us the 3 kiss “Turkish” greeting. She explained every area has it’s own greeting with kisses on the cheek. In Turkey you have 3 kisses on alternating cheeks.

D and I are taking Arabic lessons and our teacher told us that the custom in Saudi Arabia is one kiss on each cheek. I am still trying to find out if the Bahrainian "kiss greeting" is different.

It was very lovely to see Ambassador Demirer, again and we felt especially excited to be going to visit her country. She is a great ambassador for Turkey.

There are several places in Istanbul that everyone recommended we visit.  Even Ambassador Demirer insisted we must see these and we did see them all.

Aya Sofya Museum
This museum was consecrated as a church in 537 and covered to a mosque in 1453.

The view inside the dome of the Aya Sofya Museum.
Windows inside the Aya Sofya Museum.
This was our view of the Aya Sofya as we ate lunch.
Doug and a sleeping friend just outside the museum.
Topika Palace.
This is a group of buildings and structures.
Many of the mosques and buildings built in Istanbul used recycled colums and stone from other sites. This seemed to be a theme in many of the historical sites.  No one is sure where all of them came from. It was very interesting to see these different kinds of stone and wonder how they were able to move them from Italy and other sites to come to Istanbul. Along the path leading up to the Topaki Palace there were "extra" pieces from other historical sites that were open to the public. We wandered through them, sat on them and touched many of the old carvings.

Doors to the Topaki Palace.
Gold door inside the Topaki Palace.
Mosque of Sultan Ahmet I.
Called the Blue Mosque by foreign visitors because of its interior tiles, it disappoints if you're looking for lots of blue because the blue tiles are mostly on the inaccessible upper floors. Otherwise, the mosque is among the finest examples of Istanbul's wonderful imperial Ottoman mosques.

Ceiling view in the Blue Mosque.
Multiple arches and domes that were amazing.
Basilica Cistern.
The Basilica Cistern is a subterranean structure commissioned by Emperor Justinian and built in 532. The largest surviving Byzantine cistern in İstanbul, it was constructed using 336 columns, many of which were salvaged from ruined temples and feature fine carved capitals. Its symmetry and sheer grandeur of conception are quite breathtaking.

There is a great description of the Basilica Cistern on this web site:

Coastlineof the Bosporus Straight. 
According to the Encyclopedia of Earth, the Bosporus or Bosphorus (also known as the Istanbul Strait) is a strait connecting the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara (and beyond it, through the Dardenelles to the Aegean Sea/Mediterranean Sea). Together with the Dardanelles, the Bophosrus forms the Turkish Straits which separates the European part of Turkey from its Asian part.
View from the boat.
We had a wonderful cruise on the Bosporus and it was quite beautiful. One stop was at a hunting lodge used by the sultans.  This house had no bedrooms. It was only used as a stopping over place to rest and regroup.
Stairs to the "huntng lodge."
Every place we visited, D and SW would spend a significant amount of time discussing the structure and how the building might have been built.  I found it very enjoyable to listen to their conversations and see the historic building from an engineer and architect’s point of view.  Really, how did they build those arches in the year 537?  AMAZING.
SW and D discussing the Aya Sofya Museum.
Discussing the Cisterns. Did it get LEEDS certified?
Studying the Topaki Palace.
Inspecting the ceiling in the Blue Mosque.
After our Bosporus cruise, we decided to walk from the boat back to our hotel. It was not a long distance and it would give us a different view of the area. Previously we only took a taxi when we wanted to go to the port area.

Leaving the docks, we walked through an area that was both a bus terminal and subway station. When we first walked up to the area I was overwhelmed with the number of people. 

One of our many selfies at the port.
To reach the other side of the busy street, we would need to go under the street through a tunnel.  I really was not prepared for the crush of humanity in this small space.  At first I thought I might panic as I was shoved along in the wave of people going to the other side, but finally I just gave in and “went with the flow.”  Now I have a much deeper understanding of that saying.
This video is over 3 minutes long.  It is as long as it took us to move through the tunnel. It is a very interesting experience. I don’t think the video gives you a complete feeling of the movement of the crowd, but you can sense the closeness of the others and how little control I had over my movements. I was very happy to reach the other side of the tunnel.

One night we had a wonderful dinner in the trendy Restaurant 360 overlooking the entire region and the Bosporus Straight that runs between the old city and the new city. SW took this picture of the people crowding the street using his cell as we walked home. I am not sure what enhancement he used, but you can feel the people "dancing in the streets."

Street scenes along the way to our hotel gave us some very good pictures of life in Istanbul.

Our last night was a wonderful time and I will share that with you along with my favorite photo of the trip in MY NEXT BLOG. 


In the Cistern there was a "Disney" opportunity.  Here is the Sultan D and his harem.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Let’s Talk Turkey

My friend DW gave me idea for the title to this blog.  It seemed to be the most logical way to start talking about our second holiday since arriving in the Middle East (ME). Thanks, DW!

I survived my first Ramadan and the heat of August.  Now at the beginning of October, we have the second Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.
Again, hubbie D’s office is closed.  To fill the holiday, we planned to visit Istanbul, Turkey with our friends DW and SW from Texas.

DW and SW have also come to Bahrain to help build a buildings business in the ME.

Eid al-Adha is an Islamic festival to commemorate the willingness of Ibrahim (also known as Abraham) to follow Allah's (God's) command to sacrifice his son Ishmael. Muslims around the world observe this event with pilgrimages to Mecca and by making animal sacrifices.

Here is a link to pictures of this significant Muslim holiday.

I loved Istanbul.  You could walk down the street and see layer upon layer of history unfold in front of you. There were voices in so many different languages that I could not ask people fast enough to find out where they came from.  In one day we heard Spanish, English, French, Dutch, German, Arabic, Turkish, Russian and Urdu.

I loved listening to the sound of the muezzins dueling from their minarets as the “faithful” scurried off for prayers at the many mosques. 

If you are reading this blog in an email, you can click on this link and see the video in the live blog.

Even in the middle of the Grand Bazaar, the Muslims stopped in the hallways to kneel in prayer.

Istanbul lies at the crossroads of Europe and Asia.  In fact, half of the city is in Europe and half in Asia. Istanbul’s strategic location is significant.  The city has been ruled by Greeks, Persians, Romans, Venetians and Ottomans. You can find bits of history for all of these covering the city.

The old part of the city is the Sultanahmet District that has a concentration of historic sights, shopping areas, hotels and restaurants.  It is filled with mosques, palaces, and churches dating as far back as the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods.

On our first day we rushed off the Spice Bazaar and Grand Bazaar.  Because this was the week of the Eids holiday, these bazaars would only be open on the first and last days of our visit.
Standing in the shopping district after our first purchase of some Turkish Delight.
Wedding and beaded dress fabric shops lined the streets between the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar.

Sultan clothing to be purchased or custom made.

The street leading up to the gates of the Grand Bazaar.
Gates of the Grand Bazaar.
D and DW inside the Grand Bazaar.  This was a very quiet area.  Mostly it was very crowded and extremely noisy.

We stopped for a break at an outside cafe at the edge of the Grand Bazaar where we could watch the people.  A juice vendor was very close by so we purchased some fresh pomegranate juice. It was great!
Tea and fresh pomegranate juice.
After our bazaar experience, we returned to our hotel for drinks on the patio overlooking the city and then strolled down the street for dinner.

As we walked along the sidewalk, in front of us a shoeshine vendor dropped his brush as he was walking and SW politely picked it up and returned it to him.  The man immediately offered to give SW and D a free shoeshine.  Out of no where, two other shoe shiners showed up and offered free shines. Unfortunately, the shines ended in the request for money – significant money. 
No such thing as a FREE shoe shine.
Later during our trip, D was reading a local guidebook and apparently this is one of the oldest scams in the city.  We were sucked right in….once! We only paid a small amount for the FREE shoe shines but several minutes of emotional demands from the shoe shiners for large amounts of money certainly made me nervous.
Our hotel was wonderful, our room was very large and the bathroom was great. It was located in a newer area and we planned on staying there for 3 nights.  The second half of the trip we would be moving to the Sultanahmet area of the city.

Our visit to Turkey started with great food, interesting history and beautiful sites.  I don’t want to overwhelm you so I will divide this adventure into a couple of blogs.  More to come!

Adventure was one of our goals in coming the ME and we are definitely achieving that goal.