Wednesday, August 8, 2018

From Basilica to Mosque to Museum

Without doubt the Hagia Sophia - Ayasofya in Turkish - is the most famous building in Istanbul. "Hagia Sophia" comes from the Greek and means "Holy Wisdom". Built in 537 AD during the Byzantine Empire it is also one of the oldest buildings in the city. It started out as a Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal basilica, was later converted into an Ottoman mosque and has served as a museum since 1935 when it was secularized. (Warning: this is a very photo-heavy post)

We visited the Hagia Sophia on our second day in Istanbul, after we had seen the Blue Mosque - just across from the Ayasofya - the day before. I'm glad that we did it in this sequence, because this basilica converted mosque converted museum pretty much blew me away.

The interior with its famous dome and huge nave holds a serenity that couldn't even be disturbed by the many people who came here. I felt very small when I entered and was immediately fascinated by the many chandeliers that cast a warm light into the interior.

But before we ventured further we walked up the switchback ramp to the upstairs galleries. I loved the worn stone slabs shining with age.

Both the downstairs narthex and the galleries have beautiful ceilings, and everywhere you can notice the age of the building. Restoration work is continuously going on here. And look at those gorgeous columns!


But the crème de la crème are the mosaics.

They simply took my breath away. I will spare you my raving over them and just post pictures of them, leaving them to your own judgment. And if you're not into mosaics, just scroll down.

Let's look up one more time and then go down again at the end of the gallery.

While I loved the mosaics and spent a very long time on the galleries, my favorite feature of the Ayasofya was downstairs - the chandeliers. They were added during the Ottoman Empire. Pure eye candy and I was drooling over (well, under) them.

Eventually - reluctantly - we left; but there are so many beautiful things to discover outside as well.

Of course we can't forget the Ayasofya cats... this is just one of them.

It is beautiful at night as well, especially with the blue fountain in the foreground.

We just had to climb up to the roof terrace of our hotel to see the beauty of it.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

An Image and Its Story - July 2018

Even though I had taken so many pictures in July it was really easy to pick that one photo for this post. It reflects the friendliness and generosity we encountered with the Turkish people.

We had just spent the afternoon in Kaymakli Underground City in the Cappadocia area in central Anatolia. It was hot and we felt a light snack and some freshly pressed juice would be just the ticket. Then we saw this woman making gorgeous potato chip sticks. She cut an entire potato in a long spiral, then broiled it to turn it into a "potato spiral chip" on a stick. It was super delicious and just the right thing. She didn't speak much English, but was delighted that we had made the effort to learn a few words in Turkish.

I had forgotten to take a picture and came back when I saw her making one for another customer. I only wanted to photograph the display spiral chips, but she called at me and hold the stick up so that I could take a clear picture of it and her. It was such a lovely gesture - and so typical for the friendliness and generosity of this country's people. It has made this photo my very favorite one of our trip to Turkey.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Respecting a Different Religion

Where to start telling you about Istanbul? This city is so rich in history, so old and so full of ancient buildings and sites. That alone is almost overwhelming.

So let me begin with the building next to our hotel - about two minutes away. The Blue Mosque is one of the most popular touristic sites in Istanbul. Its correct name is Sultan Ahmed Mosque (in Turkish Sultan Ahmet Cami) after Sultan Ahmed I. during whose rule the mosque was constructed between 1609 and 1616. It still functions as a mosque where the muezzin calls for prayer five times during the day.

We got our first real glimpse of it on our first night in the city from one of the many roof top restaurants.

Most of the mosque was under construction when we were there, but we were still able to get into it and see the few parts that were open to the public at that time. We first entered the big courtyard or forecourt from where we could admire the beautiful architecture of the mosque.

I especially loved the ceiling in the arcades around the courtyard.

In order to be allowed inside the mosque you have to follow the dress code - women have to cover their heads and shoulders and clothes should fall beneath the knee; men had to wear long pants. Kaefer and I both had our scarves with us, but for those who hadn't there were free and freshly laundered coverings to borrow for both women and men. You also have to remove your shoes.

Then we stepped inside.

It was simply amazing. The mosque's walls are lined with handmade, hand painted ceramic tiles - just imagine all the work! The dominant color is blue, but there are so many more shades to discover.

Most designs are some sort of flowers with the tulip being the most popular one. Wherever we looked there were these tiles - on the walls, along the arches and in the ceiling of the domes. The hundreds of lamps bathed them in a beautiful warm light and gave the entire mosque an almost magical and very peaceful atmosphere.

The "non-tile" parts of the interior are just as beautiful even if not quite as amazing. I love the simple elegance of the arches.

Unfortunately the main dome and some of the "side" domes were under construction, so we were only able to just see a very small part of the interior of the mosque. I can only imagine how amazingly beautiful the entire mosque must be.

The prayer area, however, was open to men who wanted to worship. There were signs to please respect this area and don't take any photos. And what did some of the men do? They stepped into the prayer area, walked around the entire place as if they owned it, with their cell phones on a selfie stick, taking photos. I got so mad when I saw it. But what really ticked me off completely was a young guy who entered the women's prayer area - a much smaller area closed off with a barrier! - with his selfie stick phone. I was fuming.

What is so freakin' difficult about respecting the rules of a different religion in its place of worship? Why does someone has to be so rude? If someone is not able to respect the rules and customs in a different country then please stay home. Or at least don't visit their place of worship. I simple can't understand this total disregard and I certainly can't stomach it.

Those inconsiderate tourists overshadowed the visit to the mosque, but what I remember of it is mainly its beauty and its peacefulness.

When we left the mosque through the gate we saw the Hagia Sophia right opposite the Blue Mosque. Another stunning building that I will tell you about later.

And in the evening, from the roof top terrace of our hotel, we enjoyed the view of this stunning place with its six minarets.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

A Different World

Some of you may have noticed that I haven't visited you in some time. I didn't post much either - in fact, the last post was a scheduled post that I wrote some time back in June.

The Geek, Kaefer and I spent three wonderful weeks in Europe and Asia. At the beginning of the year we received the invitation to the wedding of the Geek's cousin - I wrote about him and his then-girlfriend in this post. The two had decided to tie the knot and since his bride is Turkish and they both live in Istanbul the wedding took place in Istanbul. A wonderful reason for us to spend a week in this fascinating city and another week further East in Turkey on the Asian continent.

Even though I grew up with Turkish friends - Germany has a large population of Turks - I had never been to Turkey before and I was excited to finally go to this country. Weeks before our flight I learned some basic words in Turkish. I wanted to be able to say "thank you" (teşekkürler) and "good morning" (günaydin) because I know how many doors are opened when you make the effort to just speak a few words in a country's language. My favorite word is "görüşürüz" (see you). While in Istanbul many people speak German or English, further inland a knowledge of either these languages becomes rather rare.

After one week in Istanbul we rented a car to drive across the Bosporus and into Asia where most of the country is located. I was a bit nervous about this trip, but there was absolutely no need. Turkey is a country with an extremely friendly and also generous population. On top of that we felt very safe wherever we went.

We traveled a country that calls itself the "largest museum of the world" - everything here has a very long history and everywhere there are ancient sites and buildings. There is a lot of tradition, at the same time this is a modern country. The muezzin calls to prayer several times a day and covered women talk on their cell phones. Over and over again it was the people who really amazed me, their friendliness, their humor, their openness about Erdoğan (we arrived two days after the election) and their wish just to communicate with us.

I didn't really want to leave after two weeks, but there was another country we had planned to visit.

In that country this language is spoken:

The only word I know in this language is "sláinte" - a very useful word, though.

You need it when you drink this:

Thankfully they also speak (sort of) English in Ireland even though Irish is the national and first official language. All the signs are both in Irish and English and sometimes with no English translation at all... 

Other than their British neighbor Ireland is a proud member of the EU, their currency is the Euro and they are very pro-European. They are also very proud of their own country and their traditions, and the battle for their independence from Britain is still very present in the people's mind. Oh the people - they, too, are so friendly. Everybody is ready to help you and they are great story tellers. They are immensely proud of their long history, and at the same time this is a very modern country.

Plus, they have Turkish barbers...

We spent a week in Ireland touring the country - everything is so close by - and we loved it. But the highlight of our trip definitely was the time spent in Turkey.

It was a different world. When it was time to leave I said goodbye with a very heavy heart. Arriving back in the US felt like landing on a foreign planet. I've always known that I'm a European at heart and always will be - you really can't just shed 40 years of living there - but now I also painfully miss my old continent.