Thursday, April 28, 2011

Call it it mystery...

Our last stop was a diversion around Egypt, which was our original destination purposely chosen to end this worldwide trek.  Unfortunately, though, we just were not comfortable going in naivete and worrying our families back home.  And seeing as how the world decided to start dropping bombs over neighboring Libya, we probably made the best decision.  After much discussion and debate over the best place to visit in lieu thereof, Srin was eventually convinced by my need to see Turkey.  It was not the beautiful weather Cairo boasted, but Turkiye did not disappoint in history, mythology, religious wonders, and aesthetically pleasing sights. 

We began our travels in Istanbul, and let's just say that we visited THREE continents in a time span of about 12 hours.  That's right.  THREE.  We flew from Africa to Europe and then ferried over to Asia.  Confused?  Well, Istanbul boasts being the only city that spans two continents as it is split between the two by the Bosphorous Sea.  In fact, most think Turkey is Eastern Europe, but in fact, it is mostly (97% or something) in Asia.  And by Asia, of course, we mean the Middle Eastern section of Asia.  Convoluted, I know. 

In Istanbul, we visited beautiful mosques, learned about Islamic customs, and even witnessed the small Christian population praying in a Greek Orthodox church.  And get this-the patriarch (the Greek Orthodox equivalent of the Pope in ways) actually is in TURKEY!  It goes back to the Ottoman days, and they don't want him to leave because he is one of the few lasting Ottoman legacies.  Gosh, we learned so much that I fear I will not be able to remember it all to share here.  For one, I could not believe I was in modern day Constantinople.  I mean-that's something I learned in history. It's like the Byzantine Empire.  I was surrounded by all of this history, and all I could think was that when my kids learn about this era in school, I must bring them to Turkey. 

For the rest of Turkey, I decided just to post a bunch of pictures and tell you the rest in captions.  Of course, the verbosity in me couldn't just leave it to captions...Now it is just a blog post separated by pictures!  Enjoy the end of our trip around the world!

Since we were planning this new leg of the trip whilst traveling the world, we had to rely on sporadic internet availability and some luck. I emailed ten travel agencies when we decided Egypt was a no-go and based on what little research we could muster, we chose a company. They picked us up from the airport and brought us to their offices in the Sultanahmet area.  We confirmed the itinerary and we were off on our Turkish adventure!  Here we are in front of the ever famous Sultanahmet Mosque, which is more popularly called the Blue Mosque for its adornment of blue Iznik Turkish tiles on the walls.

Here's Srin in front of a Turkish flag by the Topkapi Palace, which was commissioned after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to be the official residence of the sultans (Muslim rulers) until 1853.  For 400 years, it was the educational, administrative, and cultural center of the Ottoman empire.  Like many countries we traveled, I observed that Turkey took great pride in themselves.  Turkish people are proud to be...well Turkish.  The flag embraced homes, buildings, and stores alike.

Perhaps one of the most famous structures in the city is this thrice ruined-and-rebuilt church called Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia).  It was built as a church in the 500s, declared a mosque in the 1400s, and then named as a museum in the 1900s.  Through its tumultuous history, it remained a picturesque representation of the Byzantine empire with its massive dome and architectural beauty.

This was one of my favorite pictures-one of the few I am proud of because there was little light and no tripod.  It is of the Basilica Cistern, which is basically an underground water palace.  It was commissioned during the Byzantine period (6th century) to provide water to the palaces and other buildings of Constantinople. 

Recognize this face?  Don't stare too hard.  It's MEDUSA! According to mythical legends, Medusa was one of the terrifying female creatures of Greek Mythology called Gorgons. Medusa, with her hair of snakes, could turn anyone who looked at her into stone.  Therefore, she was used to protect great buildings. 

We also visited the Roman Hippodrome (which is no more, by the way.  It has been replaced by a sidewalk.  Surely there is some law that says you can no longer list things as a tourist site if your government decides it is only now worthy of being a sidwalk.  Right?), the St.Sophia Museum, the Million stone, the Tomb of Sultan Mahmud,  and an ancient Ottoman cemetery before concluding the day at the Grand Bazaar.  The Grand Bazaar is exactly as the name suggests:  a huge collection of stores-high end and local alike.  It's a bit overwhelming at first but after the travelling we did, nothing phased us!

The next day in Istanbul was spent seeing more Mosques (something like India almost-temple after temple after temple...but somehow you still want to see them all) and other city highlights like the City Walls (which were one of my favorite as this is how cities used to protect themselves before guns and such), the Chora Church, Pierre Loti Hill, the Eyup Mosque, and the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate.  We regrettably took a Bosphorus Cruise, which would have been beautiful on a non-cold and non-rainy day before ending our tour at the Spice Bazaar below.

 The colors were beautiful!

And I became obsessive about my baklava!  I had it every single day pretty much.

After Istanbul, we decided to tour the western border of Turkey, which it shares with Greece.  Here we are at ANZAC Cove (Australian and New Zeland Army Corps), which was one of the sites of an important battle during WWI known as the Gallipolli War.  For Australians, it is a rite of passage-something that everyone does before they die.  For me, it was amazing to see and learn about world history in person.  I am one of those nerdy ones... 
From Istanbul, we took a bus to Ecebat/Cannakale to begin our tour.

 Lone Pine Cemetary, which is an Australian memorial for those who lost their lives in Gallipolli.

 These are real and untouched trenches dug up during the war.  I could have survived...See.

 From there, we continued south to Troy, the ancient city of much debate.  It was made famous by Homer's Iliad and for years, archaelogists debated whether it was myth or not.  In the 1860s, German archaeologists excavated ruins, using the descriptions in Homer's tales to find the exact location of this city.  It was amazing to see!  The coolest thing about Troy is that it was rebuilt at least nine times-on top of each other!  So over the centuries, the city moved only a bit and thus the excavations found concentric circles of city walls. 

 We saw so many ruins of ancient cities.  It's tough to decipher between mythology and history in a world like this.  And, did you also think Troy was in Greece?  Admit it...

 Some of the best kept (and restored) ruins were the theaters.  Grand shows took place in amphitheaters such as this one and in fact, the ruins in Efes (see below) now even has modern day shows in it!  Elton John performed recently! 

 Another picture that I was a little bit proud of...Ruins through ruins...

We then headed to Pergamum, which was the center of learning and the arts in ancient times.  This is part of what remains of the library, which once contained 200,000 books!  Also, I think this is a snazzy pic...

 We then traveled to Efes (Ephesus) and Kusadasi for a couple of nights.  The first side trip was to Pammukale, which boasts these calcium-rich travertines and penned its name Cotton Castle.  To be honest, it was totally not worth doing.
 I loved Turkey for taking pictures.  These were ruins in the city of Efes, which is probably the most well preserved ancient city excavated in Turkey.  It was the religious center of the area at that time.  In fact, they claim that after Jesus was crucified, Mary went there to live out her life.  We visited the House of the Virgin Mary, where Srin tried to bargain for Holy Water and since the market owner was having nothing of it, a nice presumably Christian tourist decided if the man wanted holy water, 1 Turkish Lira shouldn't keep him from it.

The library in Efes, which was the third largest in the ancient world after Alexandria (Egypt) and Pergamum.

 Here is Srin using an ancient toilet in Efes...

I was so excited about going to Efes because although I didn't get to see the pyramids as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, I was going to replace it with the Temple of Artemis (Diana).  How cool.  One wonder for another.  It appeased my anger with Egypt.  Only come to find out, it was torn down and used for parts to build the Ayasofya and other Christian buildings.  Tell me.  How do you just break down something that is ...what I don't know...thousands of years old?

One of the most famous things in Turkey is their darn carpet trade. You see, Turkey, I am not interested in buying your carpets even if you must insist.  Though some of the shop owners were fine, most were pushy and it was just uncomfortable.  In fact, on our first day in Istanbul, we were approached by a local who asked if we needed help.  Against our better judgement (and because we are just too nice), we asked where to pick up the metro.  And thus began our warped carpet-jewelry-buying experience. He kept saying "Don't be afraid.  We are hospitable people. Us Turks. Hospitable." and before I knew it, we found ourselves in this man's store drinking apple tea.  We had warned him before going in that we did not want to buy anything and it was like a supernatural force made us enter his store.  Before I knew it, we had politely declined which stirred his hospitality into vehement anger.  And how dare we leave without finishing our tea.  It was fun.  Nonetheless, I later learned about the silk-making process which was super cool.  Above are the cocoons of raw silk from silkworms.

The raw silk. Notice it is coarser than what you associate with silk.

After much treatment, it becomes this wonderful thread we all love and pay uber amounts for.

 A sample of their carpets. I mean if I were an older Indian Ba or something, I may want one.  But really, I just don't.  Thanks though

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