Hagia Sophia (circa 550), one of the world’s greatest buildings

September 20 2015  Istanbul

Hagia Sophia miniature (4" x 6") acrylics on postcard stock

Hagia Sophia miniature (4″ x 6″) acrylics on postcard stock

 

The Hagia (Holy) Sophia (Wisdom) is a stunning domed building built as a Greek Orthodox cathedral in 537 when Istanbul, then called Constantinople,  was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire(also known as the Byzantine Empire).  Between 1204 and 1261 it was a Roman Catholic cathedral.   Following the conquering of the Empire by the Ottomans in 1453, the Hagia Sofia became a mosque.  In 1931 it was closed and then converted into a museum, which it is still.  The minarets and round domes give it an Islamic setting, and some of the interior maintains that influence as well.  Nonetheless it is an impressive structure, notably the dome, and for 1000 years it was the largest cathedral in the world, replaced in 1520 by the Cathedral in Seville.

Here are some stock photos of the interior.  It is way too dark and large for me to get good photos.   These are mosaics!
Mosaic from Hagia Sophia

Mosaic from Hagia Sophia

 

220px-Empress_Zoe_mosaic_Hagia_Sophia

220px-Hagia_Sophia_Imperial_Gate_mosaic_2

hagia sophia interior 1

 

hagia sophia interior 2

 

Istanbul Modern is another pleasant surprise

The Istanbul Modern is another pleasant surprise in a city full of them.  The artists on exhibit when I visited yesterday were mostly Turkish, some trained here and others in the US and I think one or two in Germany.  Most of the work is representational but very creative in a modernist sort of way, as you can from the photos I’ve placed below.

The installations made sense-  how unusual- and were interesting as well- also unusual. One was a young man playing make-shift drums, another various people lip synching Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah.’   Behind thick sets of hanging strands of fabric hangs a geographical globe with stars and planets on the walls, while in another section is a political globe.    In a third room a face of a woman is projected onto a mannequin.  She is singing.
Not so pleasant is the getting there.  There are large signs and even an arrow pointing tot the enntrance.  The large signs do not point anywhere except for the one with the arrow, which points down a lonely, shabby alley.  I walked past it thinking this could not be.  But it was.
The location challenge came after I ran across an angry confrontation a few hundred meters from the entrance.  There was angry shouting and a man banging hard on the hood of a van.  There was pushing and shoving.  The police arrived.  I heard four bangs, someone with a notepad came running toward me.  I then turned around and scooted back a hundred meters, and crossed the street.  A security guard told me it was not gun shots, just more banging on the van I suppose, so I went on.  Traffic had piled up between me and the scene so I felt reasonably safe.
Here are some of the pieces I found interesting.  The first is fabric sewed onto canvas, probably my favorite, which given I am not a fabric art fan in general, is a strong endorsement:
Istanbul Modern fabric

Istanbul Modern fabric

Istanbul Modern

Istanbul Modern

IMG_9333IMG_9334

Istanbul Modern

Istanbul Modern

Istanbul Modern

Istanbul Modern

 

 

Ferry up the Bosphorous

September 18, 2015

We took the ferry north on the Bosphorous today.  The busy waterway connecting the Mediteranean with the Black Sea is lined with many palaces and houses.  The constant breeze you get on shore is amplified as we head into it, keeping the boat cool in the warm sun.
ferry u3 ferryup4 ferry up1 ferry up2

Women waiting for bus

Women waiting for bus

Woman near us at restaurant

Woman near us at restaurant

The Grand Bazaar, Istanbil

September 22, 2015

The Grand Bazaar,  also called  ‘Covered Bazaar’ in Turkish is one of the world’s largest and oldest covered markets in the world.  There are 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops.  About 90 million enter the halls every year, the world’s most visited place  (http://www.travelandleisure.com/slideshows/worlds-most-visited-tourist-attractions/2)

Peg and Susan at the Grand Baazar

Peg and Susan at the Grand Baazar

We came on a slow day, fortunately.  The place is overwhelming just in terms of the sheer number of shops.  Much of it you could buy anywhere, probably most of it.  I have no idea if the deals are good.  Just being there again was enough for me.

Grand Baazar

Grand Baazar

Grand Baazar

Grand Baazar

Galata Bridge, teeming with aromas, sounds and sights

September 24, 2015

At the Galata Bridge it’s always lively.  So many sights and aromas, thousands of people, ferries, trams, cars, scooters.  Western dress, some women wearing scarves with western dress, in tradition attire.  No hijabs today.  Small groups of teen boys, few of teen girls.

Below, a small boat serves as a kitchen.  They make fish sandwhiches and pass them to the land.  The bones go in the water (not a good idea, as the decomposition removed the oxygen from the water)

Galata Bridge in Istanbul

Galata Bridge in Istanbul

This is a great place to people watch.

Religion in Turkey

Walking around Istanbul I began to get the impressions that there was not a high degree of religiosity. There are some women in ha-jib, but a small percentage; otherwise it’s just head scarves if not just plain western dress.  Despite the dominance of the skyline in some areas by minarets and the very loud andcalls to prayer five times a day from more than one mosque at the same time, I did not observe an influx of people heading to the mosques.

I was surprised, given the success of the AKP, an Islamic party although officially secular as the law prohibits religious parties.  Even the AKP is pro-Western and pro-American.  However they support the Muslim Brotherhood and have been behind efforts to allow women to wear scarves in the public schools- prohibited since the time of Ataturk.

Gallup’s 2012 survey supports my impression: 23% of Turks are religious, 73% are irreligious and 2% are Atheists (not sure what happened to the other 2%).  By ‘irreligious’ I mean that religion is not important to these people but they are not (at least openly) convinced atheists.   I think Gallup and others mean by ‘atheist’ that you are certain there are no deities.   Atheists do not all assert this, but rather that say that the evidence for deities is absent and that condition is unlikely to ever change.

The 75%/23% is a far greater spread than one might expect given that some 95% of the population is officially Muslim.  I learned that they are registered as Muslim at birth, and must be so registered, unless their parents can show they have another religion.  This is an intrusion into one’s personal affairs we do not tolerate in the rest of the western world (although there are intrusions, they are of a different sort).

I do not have a sense of where Turkey is headed.  The continued success of the AKP is worrisome-  they have been in power since the early part of this century.

Istanbul’s Pleasant Surprises

 Istanbul’s Pleasant Surprises
Topkopi Palace, miniature (4" x 6") acrylics on postcard stock

Topkopi Palace, miniature (4″ x 6″) acrylics on postcard stock

October 1, 2015

Our two weeks in Turkey was filled with surprises. I wasn’t so surprised by the Hagia Sophia, built around 550 on same site as two previous churches- my rendition below (on postcard stock). But I was by how un-religious the people are. There are five calls to prayer per day- and they are loud and difficult to ignore. But there’s hardly a rush to the Mosque. I did a bit of research on the topic (blog entry ‘Religion in Turkey).

Another surprise was the cuisine. It is very complex, sophisticated and exquisite. The pastries! I was stunned. Now the coffee, you can have it. Stick to the tea.

The other pleasant surprise – Istanbul Modern. I’ve posted here some photos. Their modern art collection is excellent, not so far out it makes no sense, but experimental enough to hold your attention.

The other pleasant surprise – Istanbul Modern. I’ve posted some photos in another entry. Their modern art collection is excellent, not so far out it makes no sense, but experimental enough to hold your attention.

On the less surprising but very pleasant side of things, The Bosphorus, the strait that divides Turkey between the “European” side and the “Asian” side, is always busy with ferries and ships, making a lovely backdrop for countless numbers, for the city is built on hills.

The main sites  include the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia.  The former is not all that impressive, other than its size and airy feeling, unless you are a fan of their mosaics. They can be beautiful but they seemed overwhelmed by the size of the place. The Hagia is much more interesting not only for the structure but also the lovely (and sufficiently large) mosaics.  You’d be surprised by its age and beauty, but I’d been there before.  Here’s my rendition:

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

Being unrestricted by Islamic rules governing art, they can show the human figure. It’s well worn themes, but some are beautifully executed.  I was not so surprised as a bit more appreciative than the last time, not that I fell asleep in here then.

Mosaic from Hagia Sophia

Mosaic from Hagia Sophia

I visited the Archaeological Museum, near the Topkapi Palace (it too, but it was so crowded we left before seeing very much of it, although the view alone is almost worth it).  I had no idea that there would be some excellent Roman era sculptures, notably Alexander the Great and Sappho. I felt honored to be able to stand and sketch them in my little notebook.

There is an excellent overview of the history of the city, to the dawn of its history, its establishment as the capitol of the Eastern (Byzantine) Empire by Constantine, its sacking by the Crusaders (they thought it was a Muslim city, but it was Christian at that time), and its conquest by the Ottoman Turks. The explanations are in excellent English, here and in fact everywhere we went in Istanbul (a very pleasant surprise). This museum is worth another visit as I did not finish this section and there are two more buildings.

With more time I would try to visit more of the palaces and archaeological sites I learned about at the museum. The palaces you can see along the Bosphorus are both immense and stunningly beautiful (at least from outside).

The old wall is largely gone, but here’s a rendition of it.

Istanbul's old walls

Istanbul’s old walls

If you’ve never visited, I suggest you put this city, nay, country (i’ve been elsewhere and it’s fabulous in differing ways) on your list.

The Cuisine of Istanbul

September 2015

We ate out for every meal other than some breakfasts while in Istanbul.  We went to three high class restaurants, others that were very good even excellent but the cuisine was not so fancy and the surroundings often less so.   I also had kebabs from fast food places. I think I got a good sample of what Turkish cuisine or at least the Istanbul version has to offer.

The cuisine of Istanbul is largely influenced by that of the Ottoman Empire, generally subtly spiced,  with more rice than bulgar, although I experienced the opposite.  You can get lots of veggie stews (türlü).  There are many versions with eggplant.  Also there are various meat dishes featuring eggplant, which obviously the Turks really love so right there they had me.  I had an eggplant stuffed with meat and others with bits of meat in a stew.

Savoy is a fancy place up the hill from us  – very up the hill.  Like many places, it was as much outdoor seating as indoor, the walls removed to allow unfettered access to the cool night air.  They offered sea bass and a variety of other fish, all excellently prepared.  One of us had a sea bass. They had a special on blue fish, which I ordered.  It came as several smaller fishes, grilled, with a nice smoky flavor.

In a place owned by a Kurdish family and many of them work there, including the parents, most of the nine brothers, but not the two teen girls.  It is not far from Hagia Sophia on a restaurant row.  I ordered a meat stew.  It came out atop a charcoal burning container.  It was boiling when they sat it down.  They had to remove the charcoal under the dish so I could approach things without getting burned.  It was totally fabulous.  I can not begin to describe the subtle blend of flavors.    It might have been a Kurdish dish.  It looked something like this:

turkish meat dish

turkish meat dish

We had lunch with Debbie and Kelly, whom we met in Panama.  We were all in the Peace Corps.  I hope they will share their memories of this lunch.

 Appetizers, called mezes when accompanying an alcoholic beverage, are the best part of any meal.  On one of the three fance places we visited, up the hill towards  a nice selection ran as $40 including wine at $7 a glass, by far the most expensive spot we chose on this trip.  It is up the hill towards the Savoy and across the street from a small stand selling tacos.  Tacos?

Mezes include hummus, baba ganoush, yogurt sauces, dolams and a few other common things you can get in many places in the US and Europe.  Not so easy to find in the West:  a tomato/cilantro combo that’s a bit spicy, white goat cheeses, various other eggplant dishes with or without tomatoes. The possibilities are extensive.

Wine is generally expensive in Turkey.  The bottle at Savoy ran about $25.  Beer was generally inexpensive.

Olive oil is most commonly used in cooking.  There are a variety of olives available in the grocery stores.

Kepap /kepabs are everywhere.  You can get them in pita bread or a baguette of some sort.  They have chicken as well as ‘duram’ (wrap) kepaps. I did not have any that were worth writing home about.  Unlike what I have had elsewhere, these were plain, lacking sauce, lettuce, or tomato.   They were less than $2 (4 lire).  Kebaps as in shish kebaps are another matter.  Skewered meat, always succulent and super tender, they came with veggies and rice or bulgar.  I never went wrong with one of those.

Our favorite place was just up the street steeply from us.  It was run by a couple of guys and someone’s mom, who mostly just sat there sternly.  We sat outside on a level spot they’d hacked out, inside a small wall separating us from the sidewalk.   They have a wood burning oven.  After you order they put in some bread. It’s huge, impressive both in appearance and texture.

 

Turkish appetizers

Turkish appetizers

Turkish appetizers

Turkish appetizers

Turkish appetizers

Turkish appetizers

Wine is generally expensive in Turkey.  The bottle at Savoy ran about $25.  Beer was generally inexpensive.

Olive oil is most commonly used in cooking.  There are a variety of olives available in the grocery stores.

Kepap /kepabs are everywhere.  You can get them in pita bread or a baguette of some sort.  They have chicken as well as ‘duram’ (wrap) kepaps. I did not have any that were worth writing home about.  Unlike what I have had elsewhere, these were plain, lacking sauce, lettuce, or tomato.   They were less than $2 (4 lire).  Kebaps as in shish kebaps are another matter.  Skewered meat, always succulent and super tender, they came with veggies and rice or bulgar.  I never went wrong with one of those.

Our favorite place was just up the street steeply from us.  It was run by a couple of guys and someone’s mom, who mostly just sat there sternly.  We sat outside on a level spot they’d hacked out, inside a small wall separating us from the sidewalk.

They have a wood burning oven.  After you order they put in some bread.  It’s huge, impressive both in appearance and texture.

Turkish puffed up bread

Turkish puffed up bread

They serve up a pide that is out of this world!  Reminds me of a pizza, but never a tomato sauce on one of these.  They come with cheese or meat, usually with veggies on top too.

 

Pides

Pides

 

Turkish pizza is a rather limited affair but certainly you can’t go wrong.  It’s a light and inexpensive meal.

Turkish pizza (lamacun)

Turkish pizza (lamacun)

We went down the hill for breakfast several times.  There’s a small place that sits below ground level, as did the one up the street; I wonder how they keep the water out when it rains.   Three steps down and you’re in this modest restaurant run by two women.

 A  Turkish breakfast consists of white cheese (probably goat), olives, bread, hard boiled egg, tomato, cucumber, and bread.  Tea is typical and probably included in the modest price.   I always got the coffee, not being a tea fan.  It was the only thing I tried that I did not like very much.  I am not talking just about Turkish coffee (here’s a photo I took in the restaurant):

 

 

My emply cup of Turkish coffee

My emply cup of Turkish coffee

They certainly do not skimp on the coffee grounds- that’s a toothpick you see standing up!  As you see here they brew it in the cup.  The ground sink to the bottom so you never get any in your mouth as long as you are reasonably careful.   You can add sugar or mils and stir.  The grounds are gone in a few seconds.

Turkish breakfast

Turkish breakfast

You can order scrambled eggs and omelettes.  Breakfast here did not cost more than $3 or so, and always very good.  Here’s another item you can order for breakfast.  My pals really liked it at this place:

Menemen, an egg dish

Menemen, an egg dish

 

I’d go back to Istanbul just for the food.  And I’ve not gotten to the desserts!  That’s next.

 

 

Haggia Sophia, a World Heritage Site, noted for its architecture and mosaics

September 20 2015  Istanbul

The Hagia (Holy) Sophia (Wisdom) is a stunning domed building built as a Greek Orthodox cathedral in 537 when Istanbul, then called Constantinople,  was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire(also known as the Byzantine Empire).  Between 1204 and 1261 it was a Roman Catholic cathedral.   Following the conquering of the Empire by the Ottomans in 1453, the Hagia Sofia became a mosque.  In 1931 it was closed and then converted into a museum, which it is still.  The minarets and round domes give it an Islamic setting, and some of the interior maintains that influence as well.  Nonetheless it is an impressive structure, notably the dome, and for 1000 years it was the largest cathedral in the world, replaced in 1520 by the Cathedral in Seville.

hagia sophia 1

 

Here are some stock photos of the interior.  It is way too dark and large for me to get good photos.

hagia sophia interior 1

These are mosaics!

220px-Apse_mosaic_Hagia_Sophia_Virgin_and_Child

 

Aya_Sophia_Mosaic

 

 

220px-Hagia_Sophia_Southwestern_entrance_mosaics_2

220px-Hagia_Sophia_Imperial_Gate_mosaic_2

 

220px-Empress_Zoe_mosaic_Hagia_Sophia

 

Along the Bosphorous

September 15, 2015

Our place is just 100 meters from the Bosphorus, the straight that separates Europe and Asia in Istanbul. It’s a steep street, as so many are as the city is built on many hills. Near the top of the street it gets even steeper,  reminding of the streets of S.F.

There are cats everywhere; I gather they do not have a neutering program. One kitten came onto the ledge of the open widow at the restaurant where we had a Turkish breakfast – cheese, bread, olives, coffee brewed in the cup (about $8 for the two of us). This one helped me eat the pink baloney looking slice they’d put on my plate. The friendly restaurant owner and then the cook chased it away several times, to no avail, apologizing to us for its presence. They did not seem to know we liked having it there. On the last effort I am sure they saw the pink stuff I’d just given it.

This is a place of delights and annoyances.  From the restaurant we went to after breakfast – Peggy did not like the Turkish coffee-  you can see the dome of the Hagia Sofia, shining still after 1800 years or so of gracing the plant, and the spires of the Blue Mosque. Somewhere over there too is the museum that houses Mohammed’s beard.  Or so they say.  The bay bristtles with ferry traffic, making for lively viewing as you sip the cappuccino they serve from the pushbuttom machine, which apparently thinks too much milk is a good thing.

The Bosphorous, Istanbul

The Bosphorous, Istanbul

On the other hand prices are not always posted in the small shops.  For some reason they see ‘toruist who does not know what things cost’ branded on our foreheads.  Last night the shop keeper tried to charge us 6 TL ($2) for a small container of yogurt (we went elsewhere and got a bigger one for less than 1/2 that) and the taxi who took us the last 5 minutes of our near midnight journey charged us 20TL ($6.50).  He said it was a metered ride.  His meter was well hidden.  Our landlady told us 10TL was plenty and to argue prices.  I’ve not gotten to the argue stage yet.