Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Aya Sofia, blue skies, Justus = perfect day

More time out and about exploring Sultanahmet, the part of the city where the Ottoman's rules from and where most of the main sites in the city are found.  It's nice to have the free time to just wander around the city, soak in the flavors in the air and see daily life.  Things are a bit more touristic here, with higher prices than over in Kadikoy (in the Asian side) where I live.  Just means more English and foreign languages spoken as well as numerous things to take pictures of. 

Below are pictures from the famous Suleymaniye Mosque, the largest mosque in the city and also one of the most impressive.  The late afternoon clouds made for a good background.


Minarets and the main entrance

Cemetery where you can find the mausoleum of Suleiman the First 

Side of the mosque

Turkish wedding photos!


Sunset working next to the mosque

View across the Golden Horn from the mosque with the sun at my back                                      

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Notes on the life of late

I've been living in Turkey for over two months now, and here are a few things I've observed about the culture:

They drink Çay (tea; pronounced chai) any time, any where, any place.  You can be in the midst of serious bargaining with a vendor at a market and he's drinking his Çay.  A store selling electronics will have some seats out front for you to order Çay (practically any place will sell you Çay).  On board the ferries, men go around selling Çay to the passengers no matter what weather.

People who want to sell something, sell it, plain and simple.  No real apparent law regulating where they can sell, so you see people walking the streets selling things, people setting up shop on blankets on the ground, little flea markets popping up everywhere, new (often fake) and used products for sale all over.  And often the same products are sold in certain areas, so if you want electronics, go here, for wedding dresses go here.  

There is a level of trust and respect out there, as seen with vendors covering up their wears with blankets when they go on a break.  So all their product is still out there, just under wraps and no one messes with them.

Street signs are difficult to find in Istanbul, and with such a large, sprawling city, people are lost all the time, not knowing where to go.  This includes taxi drivers.  I've been asked by several how to get to a location.  One friend had us call her several times along the way for further directions as she thought in terms of how you walk, not what street you take.  And then she didn't know her exact apartment number (true story) and was sitting out the window on the 4th floor waiting for us to show up.

Random carnival games on the streets:  the line of balloons strung up on a string for you to shoot down right along the waterfront (apparently you pay 1 lira ($.50) and if you hit 5 balloons, you get a cigarette (not a good deal for 1 lira).  Or the fortune game involving a live rabbit: give the man 1 lira, and the rabbit chooses a fortune to nibble on and that's the one you get.  So don't be surprised to be walking down a street and see a rabbit on a small table amidst hundreds of people.  Just normal day life.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

500+ year old fortress

Rumeli Fortress, with the proud flag flying high amidst the autumn foliage
What to do on a perfect autumn day in Istanbul?  Get out and explore more of the city, with Tuesday's mission to check out the Rumeli Fortress on the narrowest place on the Bosphorus.  Each week, I've been exploring new parts of Istanbul, from the city itself with the small alleyways to villages along the Bosphorus.  This city never stops.  You can travel 1-2 hours by bus/ferry and still be in the city.

Anyway, with a ferry across to Europe and then a bus ride that took me further up the Bosphorus, I arrived at the fortress on the wrong side and walked 345 degrees around it before finding the entrance.  But that allowed me to explore a cemetery, see saw amazing, colourful houses and soak up more sunshine.  Plus the views of the Bosphorus were always good.

The Rumeli fortress is over 500 years old and is still in pretty good shape.  When built in the 1400s, the pamphlet bragged that they built it in just 4 months.  Judging from my grasp of history and visiting places around the world, that seems mighty fast for a stone fortress to be built.  But if correct, I applaud the fast working Turks.  They were doing this while Columbus was asking for money to go on a sail.

Maybe the best part of the fortress is its originality, in that they haven't changed much.  No guard rails, safety measures in effect.  Age old stone stairs going straight up 25 meters with a sheer drop?  50 meter drops straight down inside towers?  Yup, this fortress has it all.  Best watch your step! 

I spent a couple hours walking around, getting in a good stair workout with some quite large stairs all over.  And often going back down the same stairs to get to the next section of the tower, as well, that's how it was built.  Not always practical, but that was the style.  Good views all around, of the fortress, the Bosphorus, the mighty Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, passing freighters and more.  Plus the typical flock of seagulls everywhere, the true sign of the city ( might be because they get bread from people on every ferry).

Here are some pictures to relive the glory days of stone fortresses:

Panorama from the upper corner


Now that is a serious entranceway
Freighters cruising by
Stairs everywhere
Looks cool from the bottom looking up.  From up top, looking down, back away!  Or try to jump across like James Bond

Stairs going right up, no railing in sight

Monday, November 18, 2013

Black Sea hiking!

On Sunday this little boy went on a trip to the Black Sea, leaving the expansive city of Istanbul behind for a day.  Felt good to get out into the country a bit more, seeing new parts of Turkey and again setting my eyes on a large body of water.  Beach time!

Luckily after a week of fairly grey weather, we had mostly blue skies and great weather for exploring the area around the village of Sile on the Black Sea.  I went with a couch surfing group, of around 25 people in two vans, many of whom had already gone through their mid-life crisis.  Yes, I was in a mix of people who were on average over the age of 40.  Solid hikers and explorers with a good sense of humor, lots of jokes and some impromptu singing.  Good times throughout the whole day, in which I learned some more Turkish, feasted like a king on Turkish BBQ and ate lots of random fruit deemed safe to eat.

The Black Sea isn't all that salty, at least the bit I tasted, and was still a decent temperature.  Sadly on the beaches we went to, there was loads of trash that has washed up.  In some countries when you hike into a beach, it is pristine and wonderful.  Here, it looked that way, until you got down and saw that with not many visitors, there was little trash everywhere.  Just how it goes sometimes out there in the world.

We hiked into a huge cave, saw a bat and learned about old religion taking place in their.  My limited Turkish kept me in the dark regarding which religion, other than there were carved steps and places for candles in the wall.  After the BBQ of marinated chicken, and Turkish meatballs (Kofte), a few of the group members commenced to jam out traditional Turkish songs on classical Turkish instruments and a drum.  Pretty good stuff, with lots of dance moves in full effect, all Turkish style and traditional.  Good vibes!

Here are a few pictures from the day:

Like a reflection of the world in the water

Aysun and I on the beach

Lulu from Columbia, I and Aysun  Like the Olympics, America reached the highest level.  Ba-boom!

Careful of low clearance in the cave
Half the group posing while the other half was lost/talking/meandering/eating wild fruit

Black Sea!

Sun coming through the forest.  Look for ET in the front left

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Song to keep you bouncing around all happy

Give this a play and try not to move around.  Cumbia!

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Mosque

It is definitely autumn in Istanbul and we've had some brilliant days with cracking good blue skies to bounce around with the leaves changing colours.  Here are a few pictures from a trip to explore the Blue Mosque, formally known as Sultan Ahmet Mosque.  Known for its 20,000+ handmade tiles inside, this mosque rivals any in the world in size and stature.  Living over on the Asian side of the city, I am able to watch the sun set behind the Blue Mosque and other mosques in the area.  It makes for an impressive view any time of the day, reminding you that the city is well known for history, culture, religion and the peninsula named Sultanahmet where the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia and Topkapi Palace are located.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Back in a city / post paradise

Who would've thought that down in the middle of nowhere, living in a nature paradise, that I would have better Internet connections than in one of the largest cities, Istanbul. Life was good down there!  And i apologize for the lack of posts. I've made it back to the big city and have adjusted to the lights, noise, people, pollution and always something to do. I miss paradise, but this city is something. Good to be back!

I've been teaching some private English lessons (the main reason i left paradise in the south to come back), exploring the nearby islands, seeing friends again, eating loads of food (as there is variety again!  Not just one kitchen down south). And of course walking all over the city having fun and soaking it in. Feels good to be on the ferries again, drinking fresh pomegranate juice on the streets and eating amazing tahini rolls from the local bakery. 

I'll get pictures up soon, once Internet is restored at my apartment. Been some nice views of the mosques and palaces here since I've been back. The Sun is shining and the birds are flying!  Hope you are too. 

I'll be in istanbul for another month or so before traveling to meet my family in Portugal for Christmas. Taking the fun and adventurous way, aka by land. Aiming to snowboard and meet friends along the way from Bulgaria to Sarajevo, Bosnia and beyond. Got to keep on enjoying the world after taking it easy in just a couple of places in Turkey.