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Lovely Selcuk

sunny 37 °C
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Sunday September 5?

A quick entry here. Someone will elaborate later. Saw castle/museum today. Stinkin hot. Castle is good, but we are all worn out from our busy boat trip yesterday and the heat today. When we catch our (mercifully) air conditioned bus at three thirty the outside temp reads 37.

Three hours later we are in Selcuk. That c is actually a ch. We are staying in the Australia New Zealand guest house. It is lovely. I tapping this out on my iPod on the rooftop terrace. Look it up on TripAdvisor. We had a delightful meal at "Mehmet and Alibaba's Kebab House" (seriously, folks, look it up on TripAdvisor". ***We had godwits and mezes.*** A slight error, courtesy of the ipod touch AUTO CORRECT. Actually, we ate gözleme (cheese and spinach filled quesadilla type thing), NOT godwits, which are totally different, although also quite delish I'm sure.

Update: Monday

We ate at the Kebab House again today.

Kas.

Posted by teamkarim 13:30 Archived in Turkey Comments (2)

A more complete view of Selcuk

sunny 34 °C
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Sunday September 4th to Tuesday September 6th

We have found Selçuk to be a splendid place to relax and enjoy, without necessarily having to accomplish much of anything. Part of this feeling is no doubt largely due to our accommodation, the Australia New Zealand Guest House, and our favourite restaurant (ok, only restaurant), Mehmet and Alibaba’s Kebab House. The ANZ Guest House is one of a number of popular pensions just to the northwest of the otogar (bus station). We arrived in the late evening, in the dark, but made it there in less than ten minutes with no trouble. Selçuk has a good reputation for pensions, according to the Lonely Planet, and the ANZ Guest House lived up to the reputation. Our quad (34Euros) was tastefully decorated, clean, and mercifully clear of unnecessary flora or fauna. The bathroom was relatively spacious and also clean. Probably the best feature of the guest house was the rooftop terrace, a sprawling affair of tables, benches and chairs with comfy cushions, backgammon and chess, cloth tarpaulins to protect against the sun, and, often, a slightly cooling breeze. There is a spectacular view of the surrounding valley and mountainsides. And, as an added bonus, you can see the remains of one of the Ancient Seven Wonders of the World, the Temple of Artemis. We visited the site, which is unspectacular. The “remaining” pillar is clearly just a collection of the bits that make up a column, but almost certainly from different columns, piled one on top of the other. Bodrum was the site of another Ancient Wonder, by the way, the Tomb of Masolus at Halicarnasus. Apparently, pretty much nothing remains of it however, and we deemed it not worthy of the 5 Turkish Lira entrance fee.

The first day in Selçuk , more or less worn out after our boat trip in Bodrum, followed by our exhausting reconnoitre of Bodrum Castle at 37 Celcius, we decided to have a relax and take it easy day. This was easy to do in Selçuk, as it is fairly small, the guest house was close to the “action”, and the touristy vibe generally seems to have a more relaxed atmosphere compared to Bodrum. Now, deciding to take it easy in Selçuk is not necessarily an easy thing to do, intellectually, given that Selçuk is popular with tourists mostly because it is right next to (3km) the ancient city of Ephesus, the best preserved Roman city in the Eastern Mediterranean. But, since we waited to experience Ephesus, so will you.

On the recommendation of the ANZ proprietor, Harry, we went to Mehmet and Alibaba’s Kebab House for dinner. As you already know, their establishment is the number one Trip Advisor rated restaurant in Selçuk. Mehmet and Alibaba are brothers. Mehmet is the young and funny one. Alibaba is the older, more sombre brother. Mehmet wears capris, a t-shirt, and ball cap. Alibaba wears slacks, a short sleeve dress shirt, and no ball cap. Turks do not wear baseball caps. Most of the dining takes place on the other side of the small street from the fairly small restaurant on a collection of six or so small tables and benches. And, it really is on the other side of an actual street. When Mehmet or Alibaba cross the road to bring your food, they are often dodging cars, trucks, motos, pedestrians, feral cats, dogs, and young boys on bikes with no brakes. Trucks passing by may go within a foot of the table. The atmosphere, the personalities of the proprietors, and the food (good, nicely priced) were enough to bring us back three nights in a row. “Under your table ... a small dog.” Ask one of the girls.

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Breakfast at the ANZ Guest House is an excellent affair. Don’t be shy about asking Harry if breakfast is included. Generally, I think, it isn’t, but Harry has a congenial way of assuming you want what’s available. And, for 7.50TL, it’s well worth getting: bread, with an assortment of jams, the ability to toast said bread, cheese slices, tomato and cucumber slices, black olives, perfectly hardboiled eggs, and a small assortment of cereals with milk, including Alison’s favourite (at least two bowls a day), cocoa puffs, or the Turkish equivalent, anyways. Excellent.

We did eventually make it to Ephesus, on our last day, shortly before eating our last meal at the Kebab House and departing on the long, tiring, night bus to Istanbul. That’s another story. After paying our entrance fee (20 Turkish Lira each, one free child) we made our way from one end of the city to the other. I’ll include some pictures, hopefully, so that I don’t have to attempt to try and describe everything. It was quite awesome, in the true sense of the word, knowing that we were walking in streets and buildings made two thousand years ago. The site is absolutely immense, and still not fully uncovered, I would suppose. Any one of several buildings or monuments would have been impressive on its own. However, taken in totality, the entire site really gave me a good impression of what it might have been like when the city was still in use. Perhaps the most impressive building was the library, carefully reconstructed with the assistance of a German archaeological society that seems to have been involved with Ephesus for a good part of the 20th century. To give you a sense of the age of the ruins, it became an important Roman city in the early part of the 1st century AD. It remained a Roman city for a few hundred years more. The library I mentioned was destroyed by an earthquake about 250AD and never rebuilt.

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Kas.

Posted by teamkarim 05:20 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Istanbul, and Hagia Sofia

sunny 32 °C
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Wednesday September 7th

Today we arrived in the city of inspiration, Istanbul. The city where East meets West. The city where the servis bus driver does not drop you off in Sultanamet where he was contractually obligated to, but over on the other side of the Golden Horn, and points down the road in the direction you should go by tram. Well, we made it without too much difficulty to the Cordial Hotel. Our front desk clerk was anything but ... however, it’s difficult to complain when your hotel lets you check in (exhausted from your night bus trip) at 8AM. Our room is, well ... spartan (auto correct tried to capitalize that, but inappropriately, given that we’re in Turkey). It does indeed have four beds. Our fan is broken, but still works. Our picture is gone. However, it’s difficult to complain when your hotel costs 40Euros and is 60m from çembirlataş tram station and ten minutes walk from Hagia Sophia (Ayasofia, in Turkish) and the Sultanahmet Mosque, more commonly known as the Blue Mosque.

We had a brief nap, and then ventured out for a walk around. We saw the outside of the Blue Mosque and Haiga Sophia, both of which are big and impressive. The Blue Mosque is quite large, but has a delicate array of domes surrounding the central, main dome. It is also nicely appointed with a significant number of minarets. Apparently, it is nicely lit at night, so we will be coming back for that. We went into the courtyard of the Blue Mosque but did not go inside, as the ladies were not appropriately dressed. So, we went to Hagia Sophia. From the outside, it doesn’t seem as big as I had imagined. It’s big, but it doesn’t seem huge, if that makes any sense. It does look “massive”, however, in the sense that its elements appear large and bulky. It was originally a church, built by the order of Emperor Justinian in about 500AD. In about 1400, after the Ottomans took over, it was converted into a mosque. The building had been damaged by various earthquakes over the years, and the Ottomans strengthened it with various supporting systems. Turkey’s supreme architect, Sinan, apparently added some minarets. After the Turkish republic was established, courtesy of Ataturk, it was refurbished and turned into a museum.

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Inside (20TL each, free child), it is truly immense. It is a huge, gigantic, awe inspiring open space, with a massive dome descending to the earth, transitioning through half domes, pillars, and columns. The sheer size of the space is amazing, and yet it is also beautifully rendered. As a feat of engineering, however, considering when it was built, it is simply amazing that anyone had the audacity to conceive of such a building, let alone actually construct it. It seems likely that the size of the dome might not have been exceeded until perhaps a thousand years later, with the construction of St. Peter’s. Like with Ephesus, it’s hard to accurately describe such an experience, so I’ll leave it there. Tomorrow, the Blue Mosque, and other amazing stuff. Oh, hey, Wednesday. First real day of school.

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Kas.

Posted by teamkarim 05:22 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Istanbul, the Blue Mosque, and fish sandwiches

sunny 33 °C
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Thursday September 8th

Today, the Sultanahmet Mosque. Built by the order of, unsurprisingly, Sultan Ahmet I, about 1600. I’ve already touched on the outside of the mosque, so let’s move inside. But wait, first you have to get in line! The line doesn’t take more than fifteen minutes. When we reach the entrance, we take our shoes off (“not on the blue, shoes not on the blue”) and put them into the small plastic bags provided. The ladies have their hair covered with scarves. Women who have forgotten their scarves are provided unattractive blue shawls (less likely to take them away?), which they seem to just drape over their shoulders. At least ten percent of men ignore the admonition to not wear shorts. Ok, people, this is not that hard. Put on some pants, or go somewhere else. Now inside the mosque, we are mostly looking upwards. It is beautiful. Sultanahmet Mosque is apparently known as the Blue Mosque since the semi-domes and the large dome are decorated with blue calligraphy. Also, the interior of the mosque is covered with more than 20,000 pieces of blue, green, and white Iznik china, which lends the interior a cool aspect, quite different from the warmer yellow and orange of Hagia Sophia. Again, words are largely inadequate. At least, my words are.

I probably shouldn’t leave the Blue Mosque without mentioning the basic argument between it and Hagia Sofia. They are right next door, and it is clearly natural to compare them. Keep in mind that I know absolutely nothing about architecture and even less about mosque architecture. My goal is to try and give you a bit of colour commentary, so you understand what we’re up against. First, one crucial element to consider is that the Blue Mosque was built more than a thousand years later. That’s 1000 years! Obviously, one would expect that some significant architectural and engineering improvements would have taken place during that time span. And this is the central point that the Hagia Sofiaists seem to want to make, that the Blue Mosque doesn’t seem to exhibit this required improvement, and therefore Hagia Sofia is clearly superior. You see, although the Blue Mosque is beautiful and elegant from the outside, when you go inside you are immediately faced with its inadequacy: it has a huge dome, and the four gigantic pillars that are required to support this dome are right there, in front of you, as if the architects must have imagined that you might be half blind and wouldn’t even see them. Because the architects of Hagia Sofia cleverly hid their gigantic pillars, making them appear as if they were just part of the wall surrounding the interior space beneath the dome. Now, I’m pretty sure those four pillars are there, because I walked around where they should have been, and, sure enough, that area was pretty solid. I’m sure there are lots of other hidden supports, but those four pillars are certainly pretty central. Back to the Blue Mosque. Is it clunky and unsophisticated to just put the gigantic pillars on display, without making any effort to hide them? Or is it actually more sophisticated to say, hey, it’s a dome, it’s supported by pillars, what, you have a better idea, perhaps? I suspect it comes down to sensibility and subjectivity. Which do you prefer? Rome or Paris? Ferrari or Maserati? Red or white? Lager or IPA? Canucks or Leafs? Cats or dogs? Blue Mosque or Hagia Sofia?

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After the Blue Mosque we visit Topkapi Palace. 20TL each. Free child. Susan skips it, because she has seen it before (ed note: and, more importantly, wants to save money. SK). The palace occupies a gigantic area a short distance from Hagia Sophia. The brochure claims that it is the oldest and largest palace in the world. But wait. Construction was completed in 1478. The Reconquista in Spain took place in the same year Columbus travelled to America (1492, ocean blue), if memory serves. And, I’m pretty certain the Moors had been using the Alhambra in Granada as a palace for more than 20 years. So, off the top of my head, I’m not certain I’m happy with the suggestion that Topkapi is the oldest palace in the world. But, my goodness, it takes the cake for immensosity. It’s not as detail oriented as the Alhambra, I should point out. Pretty much any surface in the Alhambra is covered with calligraphy or that unusual “honeycomb” detail. Topkapi is impressive, but it turns out that I am an unabashed Alhambra snob. At least, for now. I would be remiss not to mention that we actually skipped what is reputed to be the best part of the palace, the Harem. People under the age of, let's say, 15, often don't have quite as much interest as those over the age of, say, 40, in seeing too much at once. Having spent the better part of 2.5 hours looking around the part of the palace that we had already paid for, we opted not to pay more in order to see the Harem. So, perhaps next time I'm in Istanbul I'll have an opportunity to make a more informed opinion.

In the evening, we go to the Grand Bazaar. Susan bargains an “Abercrombie & Fitch” sweatshirt for Sunny down from 100TL to 30. He almost stops at 45 (“It costs me 35, so I cannot go lower than 40.”) but comes down a bit more as Susan walks away. The sad truth is that we cannot afford it. Oh, it’s an excellent price, in Turkish Lira, but Sunny has absolutely no room in her pack. She is already carrying the shoes she bought in York on the outside of her pack, and she bought a colourful bag in Selçuk, which she is carrying in her day bag. What a teenager. Is this the shopping tour of Europe? I almost bought a nice Turkiye t-shirt for 10TL, but the man offended my bargaining sensibilities, and I, his, so we parted without any business having been completed.

We made it to the waterfront and the New Mosque by an unusual route of small, unmarked streets, full of Istanbulis shopping in small shops. We weren’t really lost, because Susan surmised that down would inevitably lead us to sea level. Sunny and I went inside the New Mosque, which, to be honest, was just as nice as the Blue Mosque to my untrained eye, and had only about ten tourists total.

We finished the day with an Istanbul tradition. Fish sandwiches under the Galata bridge. Apparently, these were previously served from special boats, moored in the same location, but these were shut down several years ago due to health concerns. We didn’t make it past the first restaurant when the promise from the nice man of free çay lured us in. Who could possibly argue with a 5TL sandwich of fried mackerel and greens?

Kas.

Posted by teamkarim 05:25 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

Istanbul, the Suleymaniye Mosque, and a special lunch

sunny 32 °C
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Friday, September 9th

Today we met Mehmet for lunch. We were very happy to find that he is indeed in Istanbul. Susan met him the last time she was in Istanbul (ok, the only other time she’s been here), but the rest of the family have heard much about him. We met in front of the Blue Mosque, and he took us to a restaurant he knows run by people from the same village that he is from in eastern Turkey. We were led up to a small rooftop terrace, occupied by ... only us! It was an absolutely stunning view, with all the trees in front of the Firuz Aga Mosque and the Blue Mosque, and then the domes of the Blue Mosque looming large and elegant in the background. We enjoyed talking to Mehmet and hearing about what he is doing and how he is feeling. He is clearly a very kind and loving person, and we wish him and his beautiful family happiness, love, and prosperity.

In the afternoon we went to visit the architectural masterpiece of the incomparable Mimar Sinan. Süleymaniye Mosque was built upon the order of Sultan Süleyman the Lawmaker in 1550. We wander around the grounds and wait for a bit, because it is prayer time. Since it’s Friday, prayer time seems to be lasting a little longer than usual. Once prayers are over, we go inside. It is, again, astonishingly beautiful, and it is nice to just sit down and admire it. Which we do for some time, before returning home.

Interior of Süleymaniye Mosque

Interior of Süleymaniye Mosque

With Mehmet on rooftop restaurant with spectacular view of Blue Mosque

With Mehmet on rooftop restaurant with spectacular view of Blue Mosque

Kas.

Posted by teamkarim 05:31 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

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