The road trip was finished back on Tuesday the 16th, but I’m a little behind. I figured I’ll show you a bunch of pictures and comment on them.
Gallipoli is a peninsula on the European side of the Dardanelles, which is the strait that leads from the Sea of Marmara to the Aegean. The Gallipoli Campaign was a British attempt to capture and control the straits, but also to open up yet another front for the Germans to defend. The British didn’t think highly of the Turkish army, a big mistake.
The British landed on the peninsula in several places, the most famous being ANZAC Cove, named for the Australian and New Zealand forces that fought there. The problem for the ANZACs was that the cove was surrounded by high cliffs that they would have to scale to get off the beach. Many casualties resulted.
The campaign lasted about 8 months. The troops were evacuated in late December 1915 and early January 1916. Total Allied casualties were around 200,000 killed or wounded; many died from the heat and from dysentery. The Turks estimate over 200,000 dead.
The Gallipoli Campaign is considered the birthplace of Australian and New Zealand national identity. It is also the birthplace of modern Turkey, as one of the leaders was a then unknown colonel by the name of Mustafa Kemal – who became the leader of Turkey and given the name Ataturk.
Edirne was the 2nd capital of the Ottoman Empire and is close to the borders of Bulgaria and Greece.
They relocated a 2nd capital from Bursa because of their territorial gains in the Balkan Peninsula. There are a couple of mosques we visited, each with their own beauty.
First is the Old Mosque (Eski Camii), built in 1414.
The most striking feature of this mosque is the large calligraphy painted on the walls. I would imagine when you are praying that you are in constant reminder of your connection to God. Some of the inscriptions have outlined words behind solid words. These would show a connection, and in one case a hierarchy of importance. One example below depicts one of the 99 names for God. the word Allah, or God is in the background, with the descriptor in front.
The other example has Muhammad in the background and Allah in front, showing the ranking in importance. The picture following is of the mihrab and minbar that also shows the scale of the calligraphy.
The next mosque is known as the Mosque of the Three Balconies (Uchsherefeli Camii), and was built from 1438-1447. It has different designs for each minaret and has a rather clean, simple interior space with very little decoration beside the domes and the area around the mihrab, and even that begins above the level of the doors.
The third mosque we visited was the Selimiye Mosque (1569-1575), designed by the famous Ottoman architect, Mimar Sinan. Sinan considered this mosque to be his greatest work.
It is a stunning space, I can see why he felt that it was his masterpiece.
For a few last images, while we were walking around we encountered some lovely examples of Ottoman style houses. We also discovered a pomegranate tree.
Varied musing about hotels, shopping, dining, and other experiences…
The hotel we stayed at in Safranbolu was very nice. Old school style, looked like a German inn. The inside had an atrium where you could sit, the upper floors looked down from the interior hallways. There was a lot of carved wood detail, especially on the ceilings of the public areas. They had an outdoor porch area where we hung out. I thought of it as the internet café, as we were all doing things on our iPads, laptops, and smartphones while chatting, and drinking the beer that we had to buy at the little grocery store across the street. Because it is Ramadan, you have to be a little more discreet and respectful in regards to eating and drinking during the day, and in drinking alcohol at night. The grocery store was okay with selling us beer, but the windows of the refrigerated cases were covered with plastic so you couldn’t see the product when you walked in the store.
Did a little shopping in both towns, I bought a table covering that was printed with the name of the village, Yörük Köyü, and a nice pattern that reflected Hittite (~1800-700 BC) design elements. In Safranbolu, I bought a woven, collarless shirt, some Turkish delight, some hazelnuts (very tasty), and, of course, some saffron. It was 20 Lira ($10) for a few grams, a beautiful deep red color. I also bought a few crocus bulbs so I can plant them and harvest my own saffron. The people are very nice. They want you to come into their shops, but they aren’t pushy like the merchants in Istanbul. The prices are sort of fixed, but you could negotiate if you wanted. I didn’t feel the need to since the offering prices were extremely reasonable, if not dirt-cheap. The table covering was only 7 lira ($3.50). Bottled water is almost free: ½ liter for half a lira, I got a 1.5 liter bottle for .89 in a market in Canakkale – that’s about 45 cents! That was the exception, but it is usually between 1 and 2 lira.
I didn’t buy anything in Iznik, but in Bursa, I did some shopping for silk. I also bought a couple of toy tops from an old lady who was selling them by the Green Mosque. She demonstrated how to work them, which of course makes you want to buy them. They were 2 lira each. I bought two and told her to keep the change from the 5 lira note I gave her. Later, after we toured the tomb of Mehmet I, I asked if I could take her picture. She agreed, and even adjusted her scarf to make sure she looked good.
Dining has been good. I have attached a couple of photos. One is of the traditional appetizer or meze plate that they serve at the beginning of dinner. It has some vegetables, cheeses, and a couple of yogurt based sauces. The red sauce is a tomato-based sauce they put on lahmajun (a type of pizza).
Lunch is usually 3 courses – soup or salad, entrée, and desert, with bread and possibly some shared little meze on the table. For dinner, you have soup, salad, meze plate, entrée, and desert. And of course bread. The bread is very good, usually warm, always fresh. No bland white-bread disguised as a dinner roll here. *Note: Today at lunch and dinner, we finally were served the bland dinner roll, individually wrapped no less; I took a picture of it but refused to dignify it with consumption.
The best lunch we had so far was in Bursa. It is called Iskender Kebap, or Alexander Kabob. It is rumored to be named for Alexander the Great, who really has no direct connection to the Ottomans, but since they conquered much of the land he conquered, they’ve added him to their pantheon of greats. It is actually named for Iskender Effendi, the man who invented it in the late 19th century. It is slices of meat (tastes very much like a good Philly cheesesteak) sitting on top of chunks of toasted bread, with tomato sauce, sliced tomatoes, and a dollop of yogurt. A server comes along to ladle melted butter onto your plate. So you start off with a good steak sandwich and finish with a taste similar to tomato pie or Sicilian pizza without cheese. Delicious!
One night in Bursa we had dinner on our own. Brian and I had dinner with Susan, one of our group leaders. I wanted a couple of boreks, which are a filled pastry – sort of a Turkish hot pocket. They weren’t serving them. I’m not sure if it was a Ramadan thing and they had a limited menu or because they considered it a breakfast item. So I had a spicy kebap.
The second dinner in Bursa was at an open-air restaurant with a great view of the city. We dined before sunset, but as we were eating, we were watching the rest of the diners assemble around us in anticipation of the iftar, or fast breaking. It takes a lot of willpower to sit there patiently, as they have water, salad, and bread sitting at the table, waiting for the cannon to go off that signifies the breaking of the fast.
I have developed a liking for one item that I never ate before – lentil soup. They seem to have 2 varieties. One is a spicy version, that is reddish orange and has a nice bit of heat. The other is milder, yellow in color, and tastes like a not-quite-chicken soup. I think I’ll be making some lentil soup this fall. Another soup we’ve had is a lemon-yogurt with rice. It reminds me of the sauce you get when you make Yiouvarlakia, or meatballs in lemon and egg sauce.
On the way back from Edirne to Istanbul, we were supposed to stop for a picnic in the Belgrade Forest. Before we went there, we shopped in a Turkish supermarket to buy food for our trip. Michelle, Clara, and I bought bread, simits (a ring shaped bread with sesame seeds, tastes like a over baked bagel), cheese, olive oil, some of the tomato paste/sauce, hummus, fruit, and beer. Was kind of tired of eating meat. The traffic as we hit Istanbul was awful, and it would have been another hour to get to the forest and 1 or 2 hours to get from there back to the hotel. We had a bus picnic, with all kinds of food being shared, and spilled, trying to keep everything contained on a bus that was stopping and starting.
Since it is Ramadan, and a Muslim, though secular, country, you have to keep the drinking to a respectful level. Depending on the town you go to, drinking may be more or less tolerated than in others. The first night in Istanbul, I had some Rakı with my dinner. Rakı is the Turkish national drink, an anise (licorice) flavored liquor that is similar to ouzo or sambuca. You get it by itself in a small glass and it is clear. You then add water and it turns cloudy. I find it very refreshing to drink in the summer.
Another drink, this time non-alcoholic, is a yogurt beverage called yayik ayran, or just ayran. I had some in Iznik and don’t ever need to drink it again. It is thicker than milk but has a sour, yogurt taste. Not my favorite.
Completely random, but I must stop here to post the obligatory photo of the Asian style toilet. Discuss amongst yourselves the mental shift you need to make to use it. I’ll wait.
Alright, moving on…
In Safranbolu, most of us went to the hamam, or Turkish bath in the old part of town. It was smaller than the Çemberlitas bath in Istanbul, but still pleasant. I wasn’t really planning on going, but most everyone was going and I wanted to catch some of the reactions by the guys to the experience. Plus, I wanted to compare the “tourist area” bath to a more local bath. And it was only 35 lira for the traditional scrub and a brief massage. With generous tip, I paid 50 lira ($25). One of our leaders, Barb, was warning everyone that you were going to be completely naked, so if you were uncomfortable with that you should bring a swimsuit. Some of the guys were discussing wearing underwear, but I think everyone just wore the pestemal. It appears the ladies’ experience was a bit more “liberating,” because I was thinking everything I ever read about Turkish baths said that you almost never remove your pestemal. The attendants go out of their way to avoid having you “exposed.” As I expected, nobody on the guys’ side had to show the full Monty, at least nobody said they did. That evening, when we had a group check-in on how the institute was going, one of the ladies commented on the fact that they had to, or felt the need to remove their pestemals, which sort of makes sense as it has to cover more surface area for women than men to maintain modesty. This leaves less area to clean. She also commented that it was somewhat of a bonding experience. I countered a bit later that the gentlemen did not have that experience, and for that I was eternally grateful.
The hotel in Bursa had a spa facility as well. Bursa has hot mineral springs so there are many spa hotels. They had a large pool that was fed by the hot mineral water. After our busy day, I decided to have a spa treatment. I went for the coffee scrub with facial and massage. It is pretty much similar to the Turkish bath, but I was covered a paste of coffee grounds. A bit messy to look at, but it was quite relaxing and invigorating at the same time. I think it kept me up later than I wanted, as I probably absorbed the caffeine right into my bloodstream – like an allover transdermal patch. And I smelled good.
“Hello, my name is Ron, and I’m addicted to the Turkish bath.”
Three days – three different cities that had importance to the Ottomans
Safranbolu, which means “city of saffron,” is an old Ottoman town that had some trade significance but also some religious significance. In addition to Safranbolu, we also visited a small village nearby. Yörük Köyü means “nomad’s village” as the people who settled here were former nomads in Anatolia. The significance of Yörük Köyü to our trip is that it is a Bektashi village. The Bektashi were a Sufi order that had achieved some support or standing in the Ottoman court in the 1500’s. The Ottomans were concerned about the Safavids in Iran, who were Shi’a, so they took on the role of the Sunni empire, but they also adopted some of the mystical orders of the Sufis. The Bektashi ideas were adapted by Balim Sultan to use with the janissaries (soldiers). The headdress of the janissary looks like a white sleeve, which signifies the sleeve of Haci Bektash, the founder of the Bektashi order. When the janissaries were disbanded in 1826, the Bektashi order was also disbanded. But can you really tell people, “you can’t believe that anymore.” No. So the order went underground. The village of Yörük Köyü was one of the places that maintained those Sufi practices, even if hidden. Many of the last names of the people in the area reflect the janissary ties. Much of the design and decoration in the houses reflect the Bektashi Sufi order. Certain numbers are considered mystical and significant, especially 3, 4, and 12, so you will find images and design elements that will be in 3’s or 4’s or 12’s. Stripes, urns, flowers, wall niches. It is very subtle, and if you weren’t told that it had significance you would think, “oh, that’s nice.”
The village itself is very old and has a simple, low-tech, feel to it. The oldest standing building is about 400 years old. The house we were able to tour, Sipahioglu Konagi, was built around 250 years ago, and the decorations in the main room were done about 125 years ago. These houses stay in families for generations. When walking around, I was reminded of Taos Pueblo or Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico; an old village with very traditional ways, but not a complete rejection of technology. This village did have electricity and telephones, and the houses now have plumbing added, but it does have a rustic charm.
Safranbolu has significance as a stop on the old caravan routes. We had lunch at Cinci Han, a former caravanserai, which was converted into an inn and restaurant. Well, you can’t really say converted, because a caravanserai is a rest stop while moving your caravan. The animals would be kept on the ground floor, and the travelers would stay in the upper levels. So it has the same role, just remodeled to fit the modern traveler’s needs. The room that we had lunch in, was quite beautiful, with vaulted ceilings and a clean, tranquil décor.
Next up was Iznik. Iznik is famous for its ceramics. The pottery medium they use has an extremely high (about 85%) quartz content, so it is a beautiful white, that the artists can then apply different colored glazes to the bowl, plate, or tile and the colors are quite sharp. Besides the type of clay used, they are also famous for the colored glazes they developed. They were the first to successfully produce a red that did not bleed when applied and fired. The original colors were shades of blue and green, along with black, but the addition of red added some variety to the designs. We went to a tile workshop that is part of a foundation that is working to preserve the art of making Iznik tile (http://www.iznik.com/english/). They were creating individual pieces, using traditional patterns, but they also make custom tile murals that are installed in office buildings, subway stations, hotels, and the like. We were watching people work on a large modern geometric design while we were there.
After the tile workshop, we visited two mosques. One was an old Byzantine church converted into a mosque. It later fell into disrepair and was abandoned as a ruin. Only recently, it was restored to use as a mosque.
The other mosque was the Yesil Camii, or Green Mosque, which was built between 1378 and 1391. It is the oldest Ottoman mosque and has greenish marble columns inside, but an otherwise modest interior. I thought it was a beautiful space – rather serene.
We also walked over to the old city walls. Iznik was once known as Nicaea. The walls showed the layers of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman improvements.
Our last major city, and the largest of the three, is Bursa. The first major distinction of Bursa is that was the first capital of the Ottoman Empire. The first two sultans of the empire, Osman- it’s namesake, and Orhan are buried here. Their tombs are part of former Byzantine buildings, the Saint Elia monastery.
The tombs are beautiful, and the sarcophagi are unique – very simple shapes – sort of like a pentagon shaped tube that tapers from the head to the foot. In addition to the sultan, some of his wives and children are also buried there – in smaller, similarly shaped sarcophagi.
There is also a Green Mosque (built from 1412-1419) and Green Tomb, named for the green and turquoise blue Iznik tiles that decorate them. The tomb is the final resting place of Mehmet I (d.1421).
The second claim to fame of Bursa is silk. Bursa was a city at the end of the Silk Road, the trade route from China. At some point, Christian missionaries smuggled silkworms out of China (or India, depends on the account) and started production in Anatolia. There was also production in northern Persia (Iran). You need to have the right climate to grow mulberry trees, the leaves of which the silkworms eat. Bursa has that climate as it is on the edge of a mountain range (there is a ski resort nearby).
There is no large scale silk production in Bursa today, but there are still some smaller factories. Most silk comes from China or India, where it is cheaper to produce due to lower labor costs. The silk market complex, the Koza Han, used to have people buying and selling raw silk, but now it is filled with shops selling silk scarves, neckties, and meters of silk fabric to shoppers. They sell cheap imported scarves for 5 or 10 lira ($2.50 to 5), or you can venture into the store to find the locally made goods, the good stuff. Yes, there are very expensive scarves, with fine detail or woven with gold thread. But you can also find nice, Bursa scarves for under 60 lira ($30).
The third claim to fame of Bursa is the art of shadow puppetry. We toured a puppet museum, which had marionettes as well as the shadow puppets. We then watched a performance by a gentleman who has been performing for close to 30 years. One puppeteer does all of the puppets as well as the voices and sound effects.
The two main characters are Karagöz and Hacivat – sort of a Punch & Judy combination. Watching the show, they started to remind me of Ralph Kramden and Norton from The Honeymooners. The play has a basic plot of little stories, but the performer adapts some of the lines to suit the audience. He threw in some English words since he knew that there were Americans in the audience. It was charming.
My next post (coming soon) will deal with the more touristy aspects of these towns.
To borrow from SI’s Peter King, here are 10 things I think I think:
1) Bathrooms are always an interesting “challenge” when you go to different countries. While I’m not a facecloth person, the absence of one is sort of irritating. Why should you deny me the facecloth? Why can’t I make the decision to use it or not? I feel the need to buy myself a facecloth, especially if there are none in the 3rd hotel I will encounter tonight in Safranbolu (there wasn’t. Sigh.). The toilets have a different type of flush mechanism. Instead of a handle on the tank, there is a push button on the wall. It also has a built in bidet, which is convenient if you’re into that sort of thing. If you don’t know what a bidet is, look it up – I can’t explain everything for you, you need to do some work on your own.
2) The hotel in Istanbul that we are staying in is very modern, newly renovated, and a bit too hip for it’s own good, or for guest comfort. Very IKEA. Our room has a sitting area by the windows, but it is up on a platform that is about 18 inches above the floor; high step, almost should have had a second step to get up to it. The bathroom is the most impractical. No shelves or bars for towels, only the hooks on the door. It has a shower only, but about the size of a bathtub, flat pan, and no curtain or door, just a glass panel about 2/3’s of the length of the space. As soon as you turn on the water, the drain is too slow to catch the water and it immediately starts to spill into the main bathroom. I had to adjust the pressure to a gentle sprinkling to keep the inflow and outflow at an even keel, and still had to use a hand towel to dry up the flood. If I find the comment card, I’m going off.
3) Meals have been good, if a bit similar. If I have to eat 3 weeks of strictly Turkish cuisine, I may lose it. It would be like being in America and eating fried chicken or cheesesteaks for every meal for 3 weeks. The dessert is always good, if also a bit the same. Small sweet pastries, usually baklava in some form or another. You don’t need a large portion; a couple small pieces are more than enough – unless diabetic shock is part of your game plan. But eating small portions is a good idea. It allows you to indulge in something rich, but not so much that you get sick. Luxury in moderation.
4) Educational mumbo jumbo alert – Skip to number 5 if you wish: On Monday, we had our first meeting as a group. We introduced ourselves and then we spent about an hour talking about general goals and themes. On Tuesday, we spent the morning looking at a basic timeline of Ottoman history – their impressive rise, peak and “golden age” under Suleyman, and their sudden, dramatic, insanely rapid, 300 year long decline. (Yes, that was supposed to be sarcastic.) We then talked a bit about available website resources (and, by extent, the lack thereof), setting up annotated photostreams and interactive timelines, and then a discussion of the stereotypes about the Turks and Ottoman Empire, and those that have been discarded and/or adopted by various modern Turks and governments to suit their political needs. Barb, our one presenter, showed us a picture of a Turkish “Disneyland” which has a land that celebrates Ottoman history. It has a “castle” which is sort of mosque-like, but in a Disney sort of way – a little soft, fluffy, and cartoonish. In all, good information that gets you thinking about how we should approach Ottoman history. You wonder what is important to the Turks, the heirs to the Ottomans, and question if that should be a template for how we should look at it – or a warning about how not to look at it.
5) Tuesday afternoon was a trip to the Sadberk Hanim Museum. It is a private museum, created by a prominent (wealthy) family. They also founded Koç University. The one side was an archaeological museum – all of the ancient Greek and Roman artifacts – not as interesting to me; saw it all and more in Greece and Italy. The other side was filled with beautiful examples of 15th, 16th, 17th century tiles, embroidery, handcrafts, and everyday objects of (mainly) upper class life in the Ottoman Empire. Beautiful things. I was amazed by the stitch work and detail on items that are rather basic. A turban cover, a shaving apron, a wrapping cloth: all beautifully embroidered and decorated. I was also looking at the items with Arabic inscriptions, trying to make out the words with my limited Arabic. I can sound out some words based on the letters, but don’t really know what they mean. But it is fun practice. I’m much better when it is linear and basic, but struggle when it is highly stylized, because they stack letters on top of each other and it is hard for me to distinguish some of them.
6) After the museum, we took a cruise down the Bosporus. The museum was close to the Black Sea, well past the second (Sultan Mehmet) bridge. The cruise back was about 1½ to 2 hours, nice breeze, beautiful scenery, and a good time to talk with some of the other participants. We passed under the Galata Bridge and then dropped off on the old city side of the Golden Horn to head for dinner at a restaurant near the Spice Market. Tuesday was the first fasting day of Ramadan (Ramazan in Turkish), with Ramadan having begun on Monday night. It is OK for non-Muslims to eat during the day, just as long as you do it inside a restaurant and not out in the open, out of respect.
7) After we got back to the hotel, Brian and I walked back down to the square and worked our way to a nice little café that we went to on Sunday. They don’t serve alcohol, as they are too close to the Blue Mosque, but they do serve tea, coffee, food, and even prepare a water pipe for you. We went to play backgammon both evenings. The first night, I asked for a board and promptly forgot how to set it up. I knew there were two sets of 5, a set of 3 and a set of 2 pieces, but forgot where they went. So our host had some people at the next table set it up for us. The next time, I looked it up on my iPhone and copied a picture so I had a template. I forgot how much I liked backgammon. It is a good strategy game, but one that requires a bit of luck to go with it. You rise or fall based on the roll of the dice. It’s how you react to the roll that shows your strategic skills. We were pretty even in games won. After 4 games and 2 cups of tea each, our bill was 10 Turkish lira – a little over 5 dollars. I gave our host another 5 and we had a nice couple of hours for $7.66.
8) Bus Trip Bingo – Spot the Atatürk. Can’t really say much more than that. Sort of like “spot the Annunciation” when you are in Italian art museums, or maybe punch buggy.
9) Wednesday morning we went to Koç University to listen to a presentation about Ottoman literature, poetry and travel writing. It is a private university that teaches almost exclusively in English. Public universities in Turkey are free, but you have to take entrance exams in high school to determine where you may be able to go. The students with the highest scores get first choice of university. If you don’t do well, it’s pretty much try again next year.
10) Hit the road to Safranbolu. For some reason unbeknownst to me, we drove in the bus from a location far to the east of the 2nd bridge onto a highway which took us to the airport, which is about 10-15 miles west of the city, to take a local road along the Sea of Marmara, still to the west of either bridge. At the first rest stop, we found out that there was a major accident that closed highways, but I can’t imagine why we needed to detour around and thru downtown Istanbul to get back to the bridge. We spent about 2 hours circling before we crossed the bridge into Asia. I was apoplectic, but anyway, we’re here so…
So, after finishing the previous post, I got my act together and hit the streets. Took the tram over to Tophane in the New District and walked up a bit of an incline to find The Museum of Innocence. As I mentioned a couple posts back, it is a museum about a fictional story about a man who created a museum to document his love for a woman.
It’s brilliant. I know Orhan Pamuk had the idea as he was writing the book to build an actual museum, but was he collecting the items as he was writing, or did he write based on items he already had, or did he make some of these things up? In the book, Kemal talks about a gossip column that makes aspersions about the woman he loves. In the museum, there is that column. Did Pamuk write based on that column, or was the newspaper clipping created for the museum. What is real? Now that there is a real museum based on a fictional museum, based on a work of fiction – isn’t it all real now? The museum is designed with shadowboxes and dioramas, one for each chapter of the book. I took my book with (and got it stamped) and read a few of the chapters while looking at its display. Everything mentioned was there. He talks about her wristwatch, or her hairpin, or a doorknob from her family’s first apartment in the story. And you’re looking at it, and you’re going, “it’s real, it’s right there.” So brilliant!
My two favorite boxes were Chapter 58, Tombala, and Chapter 65, The Dogs. Tombala was filled with all of these trinkets and tombala boards (sort of like bingo or keno). I was struck by it because it had one of those plastic toys where you slide around the 15 numbers within the 16 spaces to make it align in numerical order. It was black with red and white squares with gold numbers. I had one as a child – looked exactly the same. The Dogs was filled with china (and some metal) dogs, mostly sitting, that people would put on top of the radio, and later, television. It made me think of someone I know who has a dog on top of their TV. It appears to be a common practice, or used to be. Do you know anyone with a dog on top of their TV?
Dining is a fun experience. Luckily, some of the institute participants have begun to arrive and I can dine with them. It was good timing. I don’t mind wandering around places alone, but eating alone can really make you feel lonely. You don’t have anyone to chat with, even about the food, the people nearby, or just catch up on life. I would find cafés with Wi-Fi, so I could look at Facebook, check email, or play Candy Crush (I’m starting to hate level 147, by the way), anything to pass the time after people watching got boring. At most of the outdoor cafés, there is at least one stray cat wandering around. Looking thin, but proper. Hoping you’ll feed them. Not getting too pushy, but after a while they may put their front paws on your thigh. Then you shoo them off. Not many stray dogs, lots of stray cats.
After the museum, and lunch near the Galata Tower, I continued walking (walked all the way back) down the hill and across the bridge that spans the Golden Horn and connects the Old City and the New District. Cool breezes, ferries and other boats, people fishing off the upper level, a row of restaurants on both sides of the lower level. A place to come back to for dinner one night.
Today I wandered around with my roommate for the next 3 weeks, Brian, who’s from Topeka, Kansas. He arrived around 11 or so and is staying at the same hotel as me for this one last night before the institute starts. We sat out on the rooftop terrace for a bit, then headed off. Noon prayers were going on at the Blue Mosque, so we walked to the Spice Market. Bit of a walk, but passed the time. Shopped a little, had lunch in a café, and then headed back, this time stopping inside the Blue Mosque. Still impressive.
Dropped Brian off and took a quick shower to ditch the sweat. Then I decided that I had enough time to go over to one of the Turkish baths and get back before dinner. Went to the Çemberlitas Hamam, which was designed by the famous Ottoman architect, Sinan, in 1584. http://www.cemberlitashamami.com/history
Now, many people think that a Turkish bath is some kind of depraved sexual freak show, but it’s too painful at times to be at all sexual. Sensual yes, as it definitely heightens some of your senses. The smells of the soaps, the tactile aspect of the rough silk kese that is used to scrub all of the dead skin off your body, the shock of having hot or cold water dumped on you at different times. The cold water was worse as it caused me to try to breathe in and then another bucket of cold water was dumped on me and I couldn’t take a breath. I think they do it to see the reactions. So, unless S&M is your thing, this is probably not that kind of a thrill for most people. Anyway, I had the traditional bath, followed by an Indian head massage. This is a massage of your head, shoulders, neck, back, chest, and face. Man it hurt, but a good hurt. This guy could give pointers to my chiropractor. He did something to my shoulder – I was lying on my back, he took my arm, bent it at the elbow, stuck my hand under my shoulder blade (as if you are reaching back to scratch yourself) and then started pushing my elbow down toward the table. I started grimacing, then uttering sounds of distress.
To my right is the Sea of Marmara. Marmara means marble – the islands of this sea connecting the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles, and ultimately the Black Sea to the Mediterranean, contain much of the marble used in building many of the impressive Byzantine and Ottoman structures.
To my left is the Sultanahmet, or Blue, Mosque. The ornamentation inside is predominantly blue Iznik tile – beautiful geometric and floral designs. I’m watching the line of tourists lined up to see the interior. You enter a side door, after you remove your shoes and cover any exposed shoulders, knees, and, for the women, hair. When in Rome… Anyway, in some of the churches in Italy, women are asked to cover shoulders and even their heads.
In front of me is the beginning of the Bosphorus, the reason for this city’s existence. Byzantium, Constantinople, Kostantiniyye, Istanbul. This strategic point controls trade from the Black Sea ports to the rest of the world. Much like Gibraltar to the west, control of this place is power. The Byzantine Empire controlled this city for over a millennium. At the end, Constantinople was the only thing left of that empire. And then it was gone. 1453. Mehmet the Conqueror: Sultan, Shahanshah, now, Caesar.
On the other side of the Bosphorus is Asian Istanbul. Large enough to be an impressive city on its own. I’ll get to explore some of that part during the institute, so I’ll add more about that later.
Behind me is the city. Movement, sounds, smells, energy. Awoken this morning (though I went back to sleep) by the sunrise azan, or call to prayer. Since my hotel is next to the Blue Mosque, you can’t help hearing it. Each of the 6 minarets of the mosque have at least 8 speakers. I’m sure I’ll get used to it.
Energy. Last night I went out to have some dinner. Walked down the small alley my hotel is on, turned left and walked through the nearly closed for the day bazaar behind the mosque, passed a courtyard with a cafe featuring live music and a Sufi dervish performance (mystical for the tourists, I guess), and then climbed some steps and walked over to the plaza that spreads between the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofya. 10:30 – 11:00 at night and the plaza is bubbling over with activity. People strolling. Families enjoying the cool evening breezes. Sidewalk vendors selling all sorts of items – scarves, postcards, light-up toys, battery operated dolls that look like dervishes and whirl around when you turn them on, hot flatbread, roasted corn, cool watermelon slices, sweet dough, assorted nuts, ice cream.
After I ate, I walk back through the plaza and the place is still alive, if not more so. You can’t help but get caught up in the mood, the energy, the sheer joy of living that is evident. I was exhausted from a long day of travel, but that stroll gave me the boost I needed. When I got back to my room, I quickly fell asleep as the energy wasn’t there to keep me going.
I’m looking forward to next week when Ramadan starts. Since Muslims can’t eat and drink during the day, they celebrate the breaking of the fast, iftar, after sunset. It should be even more energetic at night. I can’t wait…
The institute starts on July 8th. I knew I wanted to be there at least a day early. After looking over the schedule, I saw that there were a few places that I didn’t see in 2010 and that weren’t on the itinerary this time either. I arranged my flight to arrive on the 5th, then I would have a couple days to recover from the jet lag and go see the Rumeli Fortress.
The first hotel for the institute was to be the Gemir Palas, overlooking Taksim Square. I decided to find a hotel near there, but a little cheaper, and found a great place. I was excited because it was in a part of town, the New District, that we didn’t really visit in 2010 and close to the main shopping and entertainment street, Istiklal Caddesi. I could also get to the Museum of Innocence rather easily – more about that in a minute.
and then the protests began…
I’m a little alarmed, but knowing a little about Turkey’s history and government, I think it is closer to the Tea Party or Occupy protests than the Arab Spring.
and then the government got a little too aggressive…
The institute decided to relocate our first hotel to the hotel we will spend the bulk of our time, after we returned from our excursions to the other towns, the Hotel Arcadia in the Sultanahmet district. So I then had to fight a little with my hotel to cancel my reservation. They tried to assure me that everything was alright, even telling me that after the first couple of days of protests that everything was “like a carnivale.” My first thought when reading these emails was that of Bill Murray’s character in Caddyshack, Carl, saying to the bishop, “I’d keep playing. I don’t think the heavy stuff’s gonna come down for quite awhile.” And we know how that turned out.
Anyway, I cancelled that hotel and found a beautiful place with a view of the Blue Mosque from the rooftop terrace. I will still go to the places I am planning on, I’ll just have to make a couple more transfers and trips on their mass transit.
Back to the Museum of Innocence. One of my favorite authors in the past couple of years is Orhan Pamuk. He’s a Turkish novelist, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, and writes these great stories of obsession set in Istanbul and other parts of Turkey. One of his books is The Museum of Innocence, which is the story of a man’s obsession with a woman and how he ultimately creates a museum filled with objects that he has collected during his time with her. Everyday objects that show life in Istanbul, souvenirs of places they went together, her cigarette butts. Love meets obsession. As Pamuk was writing the book, he also planned a real museum, which he opened over a year ago in the neighborhood the book was set. http://www.masumiyetmuzesi.org
If you bring your book with you, there is a ticket printed in the text that gives you free admission. So, yes, I’m bringing my copy to Istanbul.
On the Museum’s Facebook page, they shared a picture someone took during the recent protests.