Sunday, August 19, 2018

Istanbul Kedisi - Cats of Istanbul



Istanbul is the city of cats - there are cats everywhere. Yes, they are stray cats, but everybody seem to love them. They are well fed, look good (most of them anyway) and as typical cats ignore all the people around them (except when they offer food to them). They're certainly not hop-on-your-lap-and-pet-me cats, but even though the city population loves them.


The Hagia Sophia is a popular hang-out spot; while I didn't see any cats in the Blue Mosque I have seen many photos of cats there and am convinced that they like to go there as well. Lots of shady spots during the hot sunny days.

We had so much fun watching this cat while we were sitting in our favorite street café, enjoying some ice coffee. This cat took interest in this moped, first hopped on it, inspected it until it jumped up onto the seat, trying its claws on it and finally settled down. It stayed there until the owner of the moped claimed it which the cat thought was rather impertinent. The moped driver was very gentle and kind with her.


A few days later when we were at the same café a cat (perhaps the same one?) was lying in the street, taking a nap. It wouldn't move and people would just drive around it - this is something we noticed all the time: drivers stop for cats and dogs or maneuver around them. I liked that.



Wherever we went we would find little piles of dried cat food, water bowls on a sidewalk. Some restaurants collect tips to pay for veterinary bills. It was heart warming to see how well these animals are looked after and how much they are loved.

There are also a lot of stray dogs that are just as well looked after and loved. And the really interesting thing was that we never saw any dog poop! (On a side note, we saw very little trash in the city anyway. Istanbul is a very clean city.)


The cats are simply everywhere - this one was taking a nap right in front of a shop window in the Arasta Bazaar.


They sit on the ticket counter in the train station...


... and hang out in the gardens of mosques.


While walking the streets we saw them everywhere, especially in the quieter neighborhoods.



 Of course they're in the parks as well.


Cats have been in Istanbul forever. There even is a movie about the cats of Istanbul called "Kedi" ("cat" in Turkish) that I have yet to watch. You can find Facebook groups about them and even yours truly has a Pinterest board about the Istanbul kedisi.

"While dogs think people are God, cats don't. They just know better." Quote from "Kedi".



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.