Monday, July 5, 2010


We're home. If I don't sound too excited, it's because, well, I'm not. I would much rather be 6,800 miles away from work and problems and housecleaning and responsibilities and in a place where someone else does all the cooking and cleans my room for me and drives me around to exotic locales.

Unfortunately, we have to go back to work to pay the bills. Sigh.

I already posted some pictures from Istanbul here, but I have a few more I want to share. We went to four different cities in Turkey: Istanbul, Sinop, Trabzon, and Kusadasi (gateway to Ephesus). We didn't visit them all at once. In fact, our cruise did this: Turkey--Bulgaria--Romania--Ukraine--Ukraine--Turkey--Turkey--Russia--Ukraine--Turkey--Greece.

I'll group some places together in one post, but Istanbul deserves a post by itself. What a fascinating city! We loved everything about it. Did you know Turkey is the only Islamic country (95% or more Muslim) that has a secular government? That is due to their famous leader Ataturk, who led the country during the 1920s and 1930s. He abolished Islamic religious laws and established an elected Parliament. He instituted modern dress, made education mandatory, championed the rights of women, outlawed polygamy, abolished Arabic script and began the use of the Latin alphabet, championed peace, etc. etc. etc. No wonder his statue is EVERYWHERE. Thanks to him, we felt comfortable and safe in this beautiful country.

Our first exposure to the city was through the markets. We never saw a regular grocery store, although we did see a billboard for Carrefour (Europe's mega-grocery store chain). These produce markets were on every block:



Olives. We had never seen so many varieties before.

Iranian saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world. In the spice market, it was about a tenth the price it would be in the U.S. and came in three grades. (Yes, Rachael, I bought an ounce for you.)

Many varieties of Turkish Delight. (Our favorites were pistachio and pomegranate)

And for pure decadence, is it hard to beat pistachio baklava soaked in honey.

There were many shops that would squeeze some oranges into juice for paying customers. His manual machine was fast and efficient--much better than my electric one:
A view of the shop from the front. Note the cases of oranges and lemons on the left, as well as the clean cobblestone street.

Outdoor kebab (called "kebaps" in Turkey) stands were everywhere.

Bob is never hesitant to try the street vendors.

Fisherman on the bridge that spanned the Golden Horn.

Mackerel, the chief catch of the day.

Of course, there are always McDonald's, but we only saw two in Istanbul. We did check out the menu, and we were disappointed that there was nothing original or particular to Turkey on it. (Kebap burgers? Turkish Delight sundaes?)
Okay, okay! Enough about the food! Make sure you check Bob's blog for an in-depth discussion of what we ate.

The Turks are very proud of their country and fly their flag as much as anywhere I've ever been.
Why sell the little hand-held flags when you can sell full-sized ones? (Yes, that is Ataturk on the flag in front.)

I was particularly fascinated by the women's dress. There were many women wearing western-style clothes, but also a lot of these outfits: long khaki , gray, or black coats (and it was at least 90 degrees outside) and colorful scarves:Even the billboards show the black coat and head scarf.

We saw a few traditionally dressed men, but I suspect they were religious figures rather than your average-Joe:

We made a stop at the Archaeology Museum with its beautiful tile work. The sarcophagus of Alexander the Great is in this museum.

We went next to the Chora Church. Remember that Istanbul, once known as Constantinople, was the eastern capital of the Roman Empire for centuries. This Christian church, built in the 8th century, was later converted to a mosque. Rather than destroy all the Christian frescoes and mosaics, however, the conquering Muslims just plastered over them and they are now being uncovered in the restoration process.
The beautiful central dome of Chora Church

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, much more commonly known as the Blue Mosque (the one we could see from our hotel window), was built in the 1600s. It has six minarets, the same number as the mosque at Mecca, which therefore had to have a seventh built so that it could remain the queen of all mosques.
We loved all the mosques; they are full of color and light, and the floors are always covered with plush carpets marked with individual prayer spaces. There are no images or human forms in mosques, and so no mournful scenes or depictions of pain and suffering. We found them to be very inviting.
Stained glass windows in the Blue Mosque

Purification stations outside

A very practical use for benches on a very hot day.

Wild (but never menacing) dogs were everywhere in Turkey, including at the front entrance of the Mosque.
Not far from the Blue Mosque was this beautiful fountain of Kaiser Wilhelm II:

One of the places Bob had most anticipated visiting was the Hagia Sophia Basilica. Built by Justinian in the 6th century, it took 10,000 slaves five years to finish it. For 900 years it was the seat of the Eastern Orthodox church, the "eastern Vatican." Legend is that when Justinian walked into the finished Basilica, he said, "Solomon, I have surpassed you." It had the largest dome in the world until Brunelleschi built the Duomo in Florence 1,000 years later. The Basilica holds 32,000, twice as many as the enormous Blue Mosque. In fact, it is the 4th largest Basilica in the world. (#1 is a new one in the Ivory Coast, #2 is St. Peters in Rome, #3 is St. Paul's in London). It was really awesome to see the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia one after the other. The Hagia Sophia, which like all Christian churches had been converted into a mosque for many centuries, is undergoing extensive renovation. Right now, there is very little evidence this was once a Christian church. Here is the central dome:
However, as part of the restoration, they are finding frescoes under the geometric designs. See a close up of the image in the bottom left corner above with the face uncovered:

For most of these sites, we were with a small tour group led by an excellent guide. However, I must note that when we were by ourselves, Bob had a fondness for walking down somewhat scary alleys. I was dubious about this one:

But it led to an amazing mosque that you could not see from the street, the Rustem Pasa Mosque, a hidden gem not often seen by tourists that had at least FIFTEEN different tile designs that covered virtually every interior wall and ceiling:
A few samples:Trying to be respectful. I need lessons on head wrapping.

One of our favorite things in Turkey was the call to prayer, broadcast five times a day from the loudspeakers on the minarets of each and every mosque.

Depending on where you are in the city, you might hear three or four different calls at once. (You can hear at least two in the clip above.) They are sung by a live person (recordings are never used) called an muezzin. To be honest, most Muslims ignore the call, except on Fridays, which for some reason are extra special days. On those days, devote Muslims hustle to the nearest mosque and find a space marked off on the beautiful carpet:
They kneel down and press their forehead to the floor with hands outstretched. Sometimes the worshipers don't all fit inside, and so there are extra prayer rugs outside on the sidewalk. Of course, tourists aren't allowed inside the mosque during prayer time, but we did see some of the outside worshipers. Those who are not near a mosque kneel wherever they are (homes, offices, etc.), always pointed towards Mecca, and join in the prayer.

Well, that's it for Istanbul. Between us, Bob and I took about 500 pictures of just this city. We would love to one day return to the sights, sounds, and tastes of this exotic locale.


Set in Istanbul in 1999 around the time of the devastating 7.4 Izmit earthquake, this debut novel by American author Alan Drew describes a society where clashing cultures collide in a way similar to the crashing tectonic plates, and with comparable disastrous results as traditional Muslim values are entangled with modern American behavior, and the restlessness of youth pushes against the immovability of age.

I enjoyed both the insights the novel gives into the issues traditional Muslims face in a secular world and the very real information about the impact and aftermath of one of the biggest earthquakes to hit Turkey.

Inferno by Dan Brown hadn't been published when we visited Turkey, so I'm adding it now, in 2017, four years after it was published.  Key parts of this book are set in Istanbul, and the movie version has lots of shots of the city, particularly of the Hagia Sophia, making it fun for travelers who have been there and who will recognize many of the city's famous landmarks. 
In addition to the setting, it's just plain exciting to read, a classic Dan Brown novel with it's intelligent, complex plot and great characters.


  1. Nice post. You are cute in a head-wrap.

  2. Thank you for sharing the pictures. Uncle Bob must of had fun with all that new food. I have had Turkish Delight before, but I can't say it has been a favorite for me, but then again I have never seen it freshly made before. Nor did I know it came in so many flavors.

  3. Very interesting post! Don't worry about the length, in fact, feel free to make the next one longer! I enjoyed the recording of the call to prayer. It's very different from what we heard in Israel.

  4. I love the long posts--keep it up! What a riot of pattern and color inside those mosques. I'm so glad you're posting these so I can travel there vicariously.

  5. Oh, I hope you keep your posts this length.
    They are so great!

  6. awesome! I especially liked the tile pictures. :-)