Friday, April 30, 2010

A Big Sweeping Day in Istanbul

Where to begin? Today has been overwhelming by anybody's standards. We began with another of those giant buffet breakfasts on the roof terrace, and then at 8:30 we headed off up the hill to look at the Hippodrome (ancient chariot-racing site from the time of Roman Emperor Constantine) which now is a big city plaza with some Egyptian obelisks and the beautiful Sultan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque off to one side.We spent a lot of time in both places, and heard the history of that part of the city, and were appropriately awed by how much beauty we were seeing, and the sense of history beneath our feet for so many thousands of years. It is humbling to know that the US is only about 200 years old as a nation, and we are standing in the middle of ancient civilizations that date back millennia, places the US sees fit to boss around, plunder, and patronize in recent years. Here in Istanbul,the Muslim population is 98% and yet we have beet treated with unfailing courtesy and kindness.

Upon leaving the Blue Mosque, we went to the neighborhood of the spice market which also is where all the "hardware" and cooking utensils and so much more is concentrated for sale. We wandered up and down narrow streets and in and out of bazaars, tasting, smelling, and sampling great things to eat (many of them have already played a starring role in our breakfasts here). In fact, as I write this, we are snacking on corn nuts, pistachios, Turkish delight, etc.!Next we walked across the Galata bridge, crossing the Bosporus to the Asian side. The bridge was crowded with fishermen catching small silver fish like sardines, and selling them to passers-by. We took a short, uphill subway ride into the Taksim neighborhood, where we walked down a long, no-cars avenue, Istiklal Cad, that could have been Rome or Paris or many European cities. Very cosmopolitan, filled with young and lively people, plenty of Starbucks...

We had lunch in a little side street, wandered around a little, then got onto the van to go back across the Golden Horn for a long drive around a variety of neighborhoods. We got out and walked in an area where the old city wall is still quite intact. Went to a Muslim shrine with a men's cemetery, many were worshiping there. Through a portal in the wall, we were suddenly in a gypsy area, very ramshackle buildings, slapped up against the city walls, beautiful children, women knitting or working on sheep wool outdoors, many stares at our small band of foreigners invading their territory.We continued on and visited the Sokullu Mehmet Pasha Mosque, which had more beautiful blue tiles than the blue mosque even dreamed of, a much more intimate and stunning little mosque. Notice the prayer rug covering the floor, with a separate space for each worshiper patterned into the rug design.Also went to the patriarchal Greek Orthodox church, full of glowing ancient icons, and even the relics of St. George, slayer of dragons! Last, but not least, we took a long, leisurely walk through Balat, a working class neighborhood full of ordinary Turks going about the business of living. Out guide is phenomenal, brave, and unflagging in energy and enthusiasm. Tomorrow we fly East to Uchisar, Cappadocia, where we will be for several days. Wish I could record for you the sounds here, particularly when the whole city seems to begin chanting at the time of the call to prayer. And the smells, of spices, fresh cheeses, lamb grilling on charcoal, and so much more. This is a feast for all at the senses.

-- Posted from my iPad

Location:Ahırkapı Sk,Istanbul Province,Turkey

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Oops, continued from last post...

Somehow working from an iPad occasionally makes posting these days a bit tricky. I meant to continue to describe how we visited the grand old Hagia Sophia this afternoon, every bit as awesome as I've always imagined it to be, the fascinating Christian and Moslem layers overlaid and now being sorted out by restorers who are removing layers of plaster and paint added by one side or the other of this age-old controversy. The mosaics, marble walls, and stupendous architecture are utterly gorgeous.Finally in late afternoon, we went down to the waterfront and had a boat ride up the full length of the Golden Horn, riding close to the European side on the way up, and the Asian side on the way back, since the city's split down the middle by this body of water. Clearly Istanbul is a wealthy and cosmopolitan city. The water front areas resemble the Riviera with lavish villas, gardens, yachts, and of course a huge collection of palaces and mosques. Wow!We've been getting acquainted with our fellow travelers today, an interesting bunch so far. And of course we are tickled pink to be traveling with Wendy and Judy again.

-- Posted from my iPad

Location:Ahırkapı Sk,Istanbul Province,Turkey

OMG! Breakfast! And then the rest of the day!

OMG, our first breakfast here nearly did us in. First, consider the 360 degree views out to the sea, and back to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, and the open air terrace where one can be at leisure. Then the food, holy Constantinople! the breakfast buffet from heaven, like a biblical feast with honey on a honey comb, dried fruits ( white mulberries, figs, apricots, cherries, nuts), yogurt, cereals, egg dishes, pastries, cheeses like the best you have ever tasted, olives, sun dried tomatoes, breads, cucumbers, fresh fruits, juices, breads, teas, coffees, halvah, Turkish sweets, and so much more. We could have stayed there all day and been perfectly contenteBut that was not to be. We walked up the hill to spend several hours at the magnificent Topkapi Palace, home of a continuous string of 36 sultans stretching over hundreds of years. Here we saw jewels, relics, paintings, exquisite tile work, and views out over the city that were nothing short of breathtaking. Our guide regaled us with wonderful history and stories so that the whole day had a depth and richness we would never have imagined.After a light lunch, we wandered uphill to the Grand Bazaar, an overwhelming shopping area with hundreds of shops/booths crowded into a tight area selling rugs, jewelry, clothing, ceramics, and so much more.

-- Post From My iPad

Location:Ahırkapı Sk,Istanbul Province,Turkey

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Where West Meets East

Nothing seems more emblematic of where we are than waking up hearing the "Call to Prayer" chanted on loudspeakers outside our hotel. That was a few minutes ago, outside the lovely room where we are in Istanbul. still pinching myself to believe we are really here!

We met our travel mates at the Frankfurt airport, after saying a sad goodbye to Connie & Franz, the best of hosts! The flight here was fast, only about 3 hours, and pretty uneventful. One scene will live in my memory bank of "worst-ever" flight stories. A young French couple, perhaps honeymooners, were stuck in a row across from the bathroom with a young man who was obviously studying plastic surgery on his huge laptop. Sprawled across the screen while I waited in line was a bigger than life color video of a nose surgery, with scalpel pulling apart the nostrils, peeling back the flesh to expose the bone, blood oozing out, eeewww! The screen was turned towards the aisle to avoid glare from the window, and the poor young couple obviously had been subjected to this view for hours, since the wanna-be plastic surgeon had the window seat. Grizzly.
Our wonderful guide, Erol, gathered us up at the airport, loaded us into a comfortable van, and brought us to our hotel just inside the walls of the old city of Istanbul, riding along the seacoast of the Sea of Marmara - stunning. He will be an excellent guide. He is smart, knowledgeable, fun, helpful, and has a terrific gift of gab. Last night he took us for a stroll up the hill to the beautiful central plaza, just outside the Hagia Sofia, and the Blue Mosque. The evening light showed off these buildings in exquisite color. The streets were quiet and friendly. We went for "a bite" to eat (translation: a feast) at a place called The Pudding Restaurant, or something similar. Food was good, laughter too. Daniella got talked into ordering a dessert called "chicken pudding". It was white, gummy, and made of chicken, mashed potatoes, sugar, mint, and ??? We all tasted it, and it was the subject of much hilarity.Stay tuned. Today should be a dazzler!

-- Post From My iPad

Location:Ahırkapı Sk,Istanbul Province,Turkey

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Moving On - Turkey Day!

Lucky girls, us! Sweet Connie came to the train station and picked us up, and has been the most amazing hostess for our time in Frankfurt! We've had two nights and a day here, with our friends Connie and Franz, and their two high-school-age daughters, enjoying their great hospitality and lots of laughter. They live northeast near Bad Kreuznach, drive the kids daily to an international school in Oberursel (about 1 1/2 hours drive each way!). Yesterday we were in the city of Frankfurt all day, strolling along the river, walking in the old downtown streets, and visiting a striking art retrospective of the expressionist painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. One of the many joys of this exhibit was seeing paintings of Berlin street scenes that were now very familiar to us.

In a few hours we fly on to Istanbul!!! All is well.

-- Post From My iPad

Location:Keltenstraße,Rüdesheim an der Nahe,Germany

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Things I Love About Berlin

Now that we are leaving this city, I'm treasuring some favorite things. Here, in random order, are some things I love in Berlin.

1. Our little nest here has been super comfortable and home-like. It will be hard to leave it.2. Bread. It is the best I've ever had anywhere. Brown, crunchy, textured, tasty, freshly baked, available in so many variations. If I go into a bakery, I freeze with indecision - so many perfect choices!3. German beer. As I mentioned earlier, love it. It tastes fresh and flavorful every time, a gustatory treat.
4. Public transportation. Gotta love it! This city must be easily 30 miles across, kind of like LA. But the subway, bus, and tram system covers everything, and you can buy a pass that lets you walk on and off any of them, all day and night. They are precisely on time, clean, safe, and easy to navigate. They constantly tell you where you are, what the next stop is, and where you are headed.5. Dogs everywhere, in subways, on buses, in stores, parks. there seems to be infinite tolerance for dogs, even off-leash. One little dog here was resting at the flea market!6. Graffiti. It is everywhere, and it colors the urban landscape in a unique expression of freedom and commentary. It is kind of like being in a continuous open air gallery without walls or curators, just art popping up everywhere. Some of it is quite beautiful.7. Change. Berlin is a place to feel hopeful. You can't go anywhere here without being reminded of the painful past: the divided city, two recent grueling wars, the Holocaust, broken buildings, broken lives, memorials, the knowledge that this was Hitler's seat of power. It even speaks in most of the art work we see, the torment of a people who have lived with a legacy of pain. You cannot ignore it.

And yet this city is vibrant, growing, healing, thriving. It feels good to be here. It is one city now, democratic, free, full of opportunities, full of life. Sometimes these days it feels to me as if the US is going off the rails (not that we have many rails to go off of)! I said to Daniella yesterday, we will be eating the dust of these Europeans soon. They seem so smart and focused on making life better for the people who live here. They are working on energy conservation in a big way. Their public transportation is excellent. They don't have a big military outlay. Everyone has health care. Their food and water is excellent. We don't see homeless people here or bread lines, something we take for granted in our home town. It's a good place, and it has done a lot of mending in the last decades. That gives me hope.

So off to Frankfurt this morning, and then we fly to Turkey on Wednesday. Auf Wiedersehn for now.

-- Post From My iPad

Doing The Reich Thing

Sadly, today is our last full day in Berlin. It was this kind of a day here, sunny and caressing air, and the park outside our apartment (and indeed every park we saw today) were full of people enjoying the spring.

We set out once again to see the Reichstag building, having given up on it earlier in the week. This time the lines were much shorter and we got in - wow, it was sensational! You walk up a ramp inside a dome, with views out over all of the city, and views down into the Bundestag room where the German Parliament meets under the dome. It was spectacular to be up there at the end of our time here, and be able to recognize so many of the places we have visited in all directions in the city. The architecture was phenomenal!!!
After a quick lunch, we wandered over to the Hamburger Bahnhof, a former railroad station now converted into a museum of contemporary art.Their big show was called Bestiarium by Walton Ford, an American born artist who is causing a sensation over here with his huge and cruel and symbolic paintings of animals and birds, all references to the modern culture we share. They had rooms full of his huge paintings, as well as work by Andy Warhohl, Anselm Kiefer (below), Cy Twombly, and so many other familiar modern artists. That was our day! We're pretty worn out, and need to pack up for our journey tomorrow. We are a little triste to be leaving Berlin having barely scratched the surface, but at the same time excited about the destinations ahead of us.