Saturday, October 15, 2005

Log 41 - October 4 - 9, 2005 - An Inland Trip to Istanbul, Turkey

"May your adventures bring you closer together, even as they take you far away from home." - Trenton Lee Stewart

Tuesday, October 4th - Welcome to Istanbul!

Map of Istanbul

On the road again!  With TIOGA safely on the hard for a bottom paint job near Bodrum, Turkey, we catch last night's overnight bus to Istanbul.   Though the trip is long, it goes well and we are standing in Istanbul's old Sultanahmet district by 11am today.   An agent from a nearby hotel snags us and we agree to come see his hotel.  It is lovely and conveniently located, so we settle in for the week. 

The Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque
After a short rest, we head off  to The Blue Mosque, one of the most prominent landmarks of Istanbul. It is very impressive with its beautiful domes and semidomes, nice courtyards and six slender spires or minarets. It was built between 1609 and 1616 by Mehmet Aga, the imperial architect, for Sultan Ahmet I. There is an interesting story of the mosque; according to it, Sultan Ahmet I wanted to have a minaret made of gold, which is "altin" in Turkish. The architect misunderstood him as "alti" which means "six" in Turkish. The architect supposedly shivered in fear and thought, "am  I going to be beheaded?",  but the Sultan Ahmed I  apparently liked the minarets very much as prior to that time, no sultan had a mosque with 6 minarets

Interior of Blue Mosque
There is a side entrance into the Blue Mosque for visitors where prior to entering, we must take off our shoes and carry them in a plastic bag.   We pass through a gate and meet the breathtaking interior of the mosque with its chandeliers and intricate tile work.  It is totally surrounded by beautiful 17 century Iznik tiles which give it the name the Blue Mosque, though they are mostly on the upper level and difficult to see.  The entire floor is  carpeted with side-by-side prayer rugs for people to kneel and put their foreheads on during prayer. 

Over 99 per cent of the population of Istanbul is Muslim and follow the teachings of the Koran, the sacred book of Islam and the Prophet Mohammed (622 AD).  Muslims believe in God (Allah), and the Koran shares many prophets and stories with the Bible.  However, whereas for Christians, Jesus is the son of God, Muslims hold that he was just one in a line of prophets, the last being Mohammed, whom Muslims believe that Allah communicated the sacred texts of the Koran to through the archangel Gabriel.

Ablution fountains

Five times a day throughout Istanbul a chant is broadcast over loudspeakers set high in the city's minarets to call the faithful to prayer.  The Blue Mosque is a working mosque and we are actually inside when the four o'clock call to prayer occurs.  We are asked to leave as the faithful begin filing inside. 

Outside we see these ablution fountains where people are getting prepared to pray in the mosque.  Worshippers must wash their head, hands and feet before entering the mosque.  

Turban Boys!

Turban boys!

After the Blue Mosque, we head out for supper and later enjoy the colorful streets lined with carpet dealers and shops with every imaginable souvenir possible.  Joel and Gerrit practice the much used skill of bargaining and end up with these turbans at a special price...just for the young Canadian boys....2 for the price of 1!

Wednesday, October 5th - The Grand Bazaar 

The Grand Bazaar

After a great sleep in a real bed and a delicious Turkish breakfast, we decide to tackle the Grand Bazaar.  First constructed in 1464 by the order of Mehmet II 'the conqueror', it is a labyrinth of streets covered by beautifully painted vaults.   The Grand Bazaar (Kapalicarsi in Turkish) is one of the the largest covered markets in the world with its 4400 shops, 3000 firms, some 17 hans (separate inns for specific type of products), 64 streets, 25,000 workers, 4 fountains, 2 mosques and 22 gates.   It's a real heaven for shoppers offering excellent shopping: beautiful Turkish carpets, glazed tiles and pottery, copper and brassware, apparel made of leather, cotton and wool, meerschaum pipes, alabaster bookends and ashtrays, and all sorts of other things. 

Wrapping our new backgammon board!

We are hoping to find an authentic, well made Turkish backgammon board, and the boys are looking for daggers!  We find it quite stressful at times as there are no prices on anything and everything is a negotiation.  The shopkeepers are relentless in their quest for a sale and you must be prepared to be hassled at every moment.   After much searching and haggling, Chris is very happy to finally purchase a beautiful solid rosewood backgammon board from this very friendly, hospitable salesperson who is only too happy to wrap up our new board.  Oh, yes the boys manage a great deal on daggers too!

7:00 PM The Fast of Ramadan (Ramazan) 

The Blue Mosque by night

We unknowingly arrive in Istanbul for the beginning of a very important religious event, Ramadan.  As an introduction to Islam, there are five basic duties for a Muslim.  The first of these is the profession of faith: 'There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his Prophet".  They are also enjoined to pray five times a day, give alms to the poor, make a pilgrimage to Mecca (the birth place of their prophet Mohammed) once in their lives, and finally to fast during the month of Ramadan. 

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, which is a lunar calendar based on the sighting of the new moon.  Because the lunar calendar is about 11 days shorter than the solar calendar used elsewhere, Islamic holidays 'move' each year.  With 2005 Ramadan beginning on October 5th, we could not have timed a visit any better to be right in the midst of it all. 

Fast of Ramadan food stands

It is during this month that Muslims fast. It is called the Fast of Ramadan and lasts the entire month.  During the Fast of Ramadan, strict restraints are placed on the daily lives of Muslims. They are not allowed to eat or drink during the daylight hours.  At the end of the day the fast is broken with prayer and a meal called the iftar.  With the daylight hours for the first day of 2005 Ramadan now gone, The Blue Mosque illuminates and the streets are filled with people enjoying every sort of food imaginable for sale at stands like the one in the photos.  The next day, fasting during the day starts all over again and continues for one month. 

Ataturk - Father of the Turkish Republic


This government building beautifully displays the Turkish flag on the left and a portrait of Mustafa Kemel, A.K.A. Ataturk on the right.  After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey became a Republic in 1923 and Ataturk's election as leader of the new state was historic.   He admired European lifestyles and envisioned a modern, westernized Turkish state.   He adopted legal codes from Germany, Italy and Switzerland and abolished Islamic courts and religious schools.  Some say his most profound step was replacing Arabic and Persian alphabets for a  Latin-based alphabet to coincide with a progressing world.   His statue and/or photo is everywhere throughout Turkey, truly a significant man in the countries evolution.  Oh, the crescent and star on the flag symbolizes Islam.   

Thursday, October 6th -  National Geographic Art Display

National Geographic art display

On our way to Topkapi Palace, we spy a sign to this art display.  It catches our interest because Sheila recalls reading the National Geographic article pertaining to the mesmerizing eyes above the arched door in our photo.  Something to do with a photographer taking a photo of this young girl, and then 25 years later finding her in the mountains of Afghanistan and again photographing her beautiful face and eyes, along with the events of her perilous life. 

Mesmerizing eyes

Perhaps some of you faithful National Geographic readers recognize the eyes.  Anyway, it turned out to be an amazing display of photos taken around the world, each with its own story. 

12:30 PM Topkapi Palace Museum

Topkapi Palace Museum

After the art display, we head off to Topkapi Palace located at Seraglio Point, where the Bosphorus and Sea of Marmara meet.    Built by Sultan Mehmet II, "the Conqueror," after his army stormed and sacked Constantinople (then renamed Istanbul ) in 1453, Topkapi is a collection of pavilions and gardens built around 4 courtyards, said to be somewhat similar in concept to the tented cities from which the nomadic Ottomans emerged.    Initially, the palace served as the seat of government and contained a school in which civil servants and soldiers (Janissaries ) were trained.   During their 470-year reign, the Ottoman sultans amassed a glittering collection of treasures including diplomatic gifts, as well as booty from successful military campaigns.  Many date from the massive expansion of the Ottoman Empire during the reign of Selim the Grim (1512-20), when Syria, Arabia and Egypt were conquered.  The palace served as the home of the sultans and their court until the mid-19th century, when for various reasons it was abandoned. 

Topkapi Dagger

After Topkapi was abandoned in the mid-19th century, it fell into disrepair until after the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923.  It was then rebuilt and opened to the public as Topkapi Palace Museum in 1924, which now houses the bulk of the amassed treasures of the Ottoman sultans.

One of the museums greatest pieces is the infamous Topkapi Dagger (1741).   It is an emerald-studded dagger, commissioned by the sultan from his own jewelers.  It was intended as a present for the Shah of Persia, but he was assassinated before it reached him. 

The Pavilion of the Holy Mantle displays some of the holiest relics of Islam.  The most sacred treasure is the mantle (cloak) once worn by the Prophet Mohammed along with two of his swords, a letter written by him and an impression of his footsteps. 

Holy Man chanting the Koran

Inside the pavilion, facing the room housing the Prophet Mohammed's mantle, sits a holy man chanting passages from the Koran.  We take the time to listen to his mesmerizing voice and are amazed to read in our guide book that the chant continues day and night, 24/7!

We have a grand day mulling about the grounds, various rooms and treasure displays.   What makes it all so real for us is that we recently read a book called 'Ironfire, the Last Crusades of the Knights of St. John'  by David Ball, which is partially set right here in Topkapi during the days of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent (1520-66).  He was considered to be the last great Sultan, and the decline of the Ottoman Empire is said to have started after his reign. 

Late in the day, we are slightly disappointed to find the final showing of the Harem for the day is full.  We are all beginning to tire anyway so we'll have to settle for pictures on the internet!

The Spice Bazaar

After some down time at the hotel, we head out for supper and find ourselves in the Spice Bazaar district.  From medieval times, spices were a vital and expensive part of cooking and they became the market's main produce.  The bazaar came to specialize in spices from the Orient, taking advantage of Istanbul's site on the trade route between the East (where most spices were grown) and Europe.   The streets are narrow, colorful and filled with an amazing mix of aromas. 

On thing we find slightly amusing is the amount of traffic in these narrow streets and everyone honking their horns.  We ponder why anyone would even consider bringing a vehicle into this narrow maze of streets and alleyways.  

End of Ramadan day 2

As we are walking about the streets we notice most shops have tables, like the one in our photo, filled with food set up either in or outside the shop.  People are literally waiting, spoon in hand, for sunset and to hear the call of the crier thus ending the second day of Ramadan.  As the cry is sounded at sunset, the day's fast is ended with a mouthful.   One guy literally gives Chris a 'high-five' for a successful completion of day two as he runs for waiting food.  Some locals tell us the fasting gets easier with every day as your body adjusts to the new routine.  They felt the first few days were the toughest.   

Friday, October 7th - The Bosphorus Trip

Eminonu port

Early this morning we are off to Eminonu, a bustling port from which ferries depart to many destinations and also for the boat trip along the Bosphorus.  Being a cooler, windy day we experience the boiling, churning waters of the Bosphorus combined with shipping traffic of all sizes and we are once again reminded as to why we chose to not sail TIOGA into this mayhem! 

The boat chugs up the strait offering an excellent vantage point from which to view many of the city's famous landmarks, including the Suleyman Mosque shown in behind our port of departure.  The trip takes about two hours, stopping briefly at six piers along the way before our final destination of Anadolu Kavagi, a small village located on the shore of the Bosphorus, just before entering the Black Sea!  Everyone disembarks and we have about 4 hours to explore before our boat returns to Eminonu. 

Shores of the Bosphorus

We are hoping to catch a taxi cab to the shores of the Black Sea for a quick dip in of our toes, but no luck.  The best we can determine with our poor Turkish combined with his minimal English is that the road is blocked off and it is a no-go military zone.  We settle for the climb to the top of the hill to Genoese Castle, a ruined 14th century Byzantine fortress and enjoy the views off across the Black Sea.  It is amazing to think of countries like Russia (off to the right in behind us) and the Ukraine (off to the left behind us) being only a stone throw away from us! 

Saturday, October 8th - Galata Bridge to Beyoglu

Galata bridge

Galata Bridge spans NE-SW across the infamous Golden Horn, which is a flooded river valley that flows into the Bosphorus and is considered to be the greatest natural harbour in the world.  The bridge is considered the heart of Istanbul because it joins Old Istanbul (or the Sultanahmet where we are staying) on the south, to the Beyoglu district, a thriving commercial quarter, on the north.  Crossing the bridge we take the time to look west toward Europe, and then east across the Bosphorus to Asia.   Yes, Istanbul lies on two separate continents, separated by the Bosphorus Strait.   It is an easy day for us as we shop and taste our way through the streets of the pedestrianized Istiklal Caddesi, the main street of Beyoglu. 

10:00 am  Sunday, October 9th - Hagia Sofia

Hagia Sofia

This beautiful church is located just opposite the Blue Mosque, but until today we have admired it only from the outside.   It is of special interest to us because it is the reverse of the magnificent church/mosque conversions we have seen to date.  In places like Cordoba and Granada, Spain, the mosques were converted to churches when the Christians regained control, whereas the Hagia Sofia was a church converted into a mosque when the Christian city of Constantinople fell to the Ottomans on May 29th, 1453. 

Interior of the Hagia Sofia

Originally designed as an earthly mirror of the heavens, the Hagia Sofia truly is among the world's greatest architectural achievements with its huge dome reaching to a height of 56 meters (184 feet).  Now more than 1400 years old, the vast edifice has undergone drastic changes.   Inaugurated by the Christians in 537 AD with its monumental figurative mosaics, to its conversion into a mosque in 1453.  The addition of minarets, a mihrab (the niche indicating the direction of Mecca) and calligraphic roundels (huge medallions inscribed with the names of Allah and Mohammed) were built, at the same time Christian marble crosses were being chiseled off. 

View out a window as we explore

Cross bleeding back through Islamic art.

Hagia Sofia is no longer a place of worship and is now a museum where Christian images survive side by side with those of Islam.  It is quite shocking though to see original Christian crosses actually bleeding back through the Islamic art that was once painted over top of them. 

2:00 PM - Military Museum - Hands down #1 with Joel and Gerrit!

Joel loves helicopters.

This most impressive museum traces the history of the country's conflicts from the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 through to modern warfare.  

Mehter Band 

The museum is also the main location for performances by the Mehter Band formed in the 14th century.  Until the 19th century the musicians were Janissaries who accompanied the sultan and his troops into battle, while playing loud, upbeat music said to fire their troops into a fighting frenzy.   Our photo shows the band marching their way towards the massive doors of the auditorium we are seated in.   The performance was very good and very loud! 

6:30 PM - Good-bye to another great city!

Sultanahmet District

A last view of the Sultanahmet district...and what a view!  We love combining our sailing life with ancient cities and all they have to offer.  Though this has been a particularly tough log to write with the people, religion and history so incredibly different, we tried to give you a small bit of history and information, while not over doing it in such a condensed version.  We learned so much in this short week!   After yet another full day, we catch the overnight bus back to Tioga.     Hosca kalim!  (Good-bye in Turkish)

Log 42 we launch TIOGA and get moving again on the water.  Join us for more of Turkey and Greece along with some wonderful family visitors. 

Monday, October 10, 2005

Log 40 - September 2005 - Greece: Dodecanese Island Group and Ephesus, Turkey

Map of our September route
When we were first contemplating our eastern Mediterranean cruise, we had thought we would want to sail to Istanbul and then work our way down the east side of the Aegean Sea visiting Greek Islands and the Turkish mainland.  The reality is that Istanbul is a long way up against the strong and prevailing northerly winds of summer.   We had also heard from other cruisers that the areas they enjoyed the most where in the southern Greek islands (Dodecanese) and Turkish mainland south of Izmir where the scenery was more mountainous and lush.  Good enough for us!

Thursday, September 8th - Pythagoreio, Island of Samos

Pythagoras, the ancient mathematician and philosopher

With the strong northerly winds finally easing enough, we manage our escape from the island of Tinos and do an overnight sail to the island of Samos, very near the Turkish coast.  Samos is an island of great beauty and was a major maritime power in the 7th century BC. 

Pythagoreio's harbour, you can see Tioga anchored in behind, is protected by a mole (breakwater wall) with certain sections more than 2500 years old.   This is also the place where, in 585 BC, Pythagoras, the ancient mathematician and philosopher, was born.   Remember Pythagora's theorem: the square of the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the squares of the other two sides.

Friday, September 9th - Eupalinos's Tunnel - A premier engineering feat of the ancient world

Tunnel was hewn in 529-524 BC to carry water

A truly amazing engineering feat to contemplate, this 1 km tunnel was hewn in 529-524 BC(!) through a mountain to bring water to the city of Samos.  The surveying was so good that when the work-crews met mid-mountain, coming from opposite directions, the vertical error of the tunnel was essentially nil.  The water supply and the access tunnel helped Samos prosper, especially in times of siege.

Saturday, September 10th - The Monastery of Megalis Panagias, Samos

Monastry of Megalis Panagias

Today, we rent another car and go for a tour around the island.  Our guide book says to check out this monastery, so we do.  Founded in 1586, it is the second oldest on Samos and contains the island's best surviving frescoes from that period. 

400+ year old fresco above the entrance way.


3:00 PM - After-lunch break at Potami waterfalls

A swim at Potami waterfalls

We have a great lunch followed by some time spent splashing around at the Potami waterfalls, which some locals told us about.   The kids would rather see something like this than more ruins!  You can't get to the falls without getting wet.

What's on TV this afternoon.  Super Goofs!

...Natural television set at Potami falls

We continue our drive into the countryside and come upon quintessential Greek villages with beautiful tavernas. 

Beautiful vistas in Samos's countryside

6:48 PM - Gorgeous country side, Samos

Deep gullies score the mountainsides and peaks and bluffs assume fantastic shapes.  Thick pine forest covers most of the lower slopes and villages perch precariously on small plateaus.  The grandeur and grace of Samos, is the best we have seen so far...

8:46 PM - Just finished a major grocery provision

End of day grocery run.  

One thing land folk take for granted is the easy access to well-stocked grocery stores with decent enough prices.  For sea folk without a car, most grocery stores within easy reach of the water typically have higher prices and basic selection.  Since we still have our rental car today, we make a major stop at our favorite European discount grocery store, Lidl.   The car is so full when we are done that Gerrit and Joel have to squeeze into the very back so that we can get everything back to the boat.  And by then, it has been a long day...

Wednesday,  September 14th - Ancient City of Ephesus, Turkey

Main street in Ephesus leading to the Library in the distance.

The island of Samos is very close to Turkey so we decide to sail over and to make a day trip to see the ancient city of Ephesus, apparently one of the greatest ruined cities in the western world, and to also visit the nearby House of the Virgin Mary.

Library, once housing 12,000 scrolls

What you can see in this photo set gives us a view into life in Ephesus during Roman times, when it was the capital of proconsular Asia, which covered the western part of Asia Minor. The city bore the title of "the first and greatest metropolis of Asia." It was distinguished for the Temple of Artemis (Diana), who had her chief shrine there, for its library, and for its theatre, which would have been capable of holding 25,000 spectators. It was, like all ancient theatres, open to the sky; it was used initially for drama, but during later Roman times gladiatorial combats were also held on its stage. The population of Ephesus has been estimated to be in the range of 400,000 to 500,000 inhabitants in the year 100 AD, making it one of the largest cities of the day.   Ephesus also had several major bath complexes, built at various points while the city was under Roman rule. 

25,000 seat theatre

Ephesus was also an important center for early Christianity. St. Paul used it as a base. He became embroiled in a dispute with artisans, whose livelihood depended on the Temple of Artemis there (Acts 19:23–41), and wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus. Later Paul wrote his Epistle to the Ephesians to the Christian community here at Ephesus.

In the 6th century AD, some 1700 years after its original founding by the Ionian Greeks, the city of Ephesus was finally abandoned when the harbor completely filled in with river silt (despite repeated dredges during the city's history), removing its access to the Aegean Sea.

House of the Virgin Mary, near Ephesus

House of the Virgin Mary near Ephesus, Turkey

Eight kilometers from Ephesus, the Virgin Mary is said to have spent her last years in the care of St. John the Evangelist, who brought her here probably in 37 AD.  Jesus had asked John to take care of His mother from the cross.  This modest stone house is now a shrine to Mary, rebuilt on the original foundations of her home.

Explanation of Mary's Shrine

...Have a closer read of the enlargement of the sign (double-click the pic). The shrine here is revered by both Christians and Muslims, and pilgrims of both faiths visit this location regularly and especially August 15th.   Pope Paul IV and Pope John Paul II have both visited this site (though on separate occasions!).

Prayer requests by the faithful

...Finally, the wall you see covered in white is the wall leading away from the shrine and it is covered with prayers, requests, and intercessions of all kinds.

Want to point out the Tilley hat Sheila is wearing.  These made in Canada hats offer fantastic protection from the elements.  We wore ours an absolute ton.  

Sunday, September 18th -  Patmos: Courtyard in the Monastery of St. John

Courtyard at the Monastery of St. John, Patmos

Back into Greece, we sail over to the island of Patmos, where St. John is said to have come after Ephesus in 95 AD.   In a cave where he lived, John saw the vision of fire and brimstone and dictated the book of Revelation. In the 11th century, this Monastery was built in his honour.  The wall paintings (frescoes) you can see are almost a 1000 years old! 

Thursday, September 22nd  - Sheila's Birthday, this time on the Island of Leros

Scooters for Sheila's birthday on Leros

We always seem to do something involving motor sports for Sheila's birthday, and this time it's scooters on the island of Leros.  Leros is a pretty, green island with an indented coastline and 4 great gulfs or bays and is no more than 10 km from end to end, making it easy to explore.

Octopus dry in the sun before being grilled for supper

...Check out the octopus hanging in the screened cage.  Before being grilled on charcoal for tonight's restaurant customers, these octopuses dry out for the day in the sun.   Presumably, the cage is supposed to keep pesky cats away.

Chapel on an islet 

...We've written about all the chapels and shrines in Greece - they are everywhere and sometimes that is what there is to see.  This one, at Agios Isidoros, is on a small islet reached by a long and narrow causeway, awash.  Why do these things get built in such a place?

Gerrit makes a run for it - perhaps he's had enough of this terrible lifestyle

...On a long stretch of dirt beach road, we teach  Joel and Gerrit how to drive scooters.  No, Gerrit is not zooming through the advanced class in this picture.  Scooters are on their kick stands and we're having a beer and a bite to eat.  But he can't wait to get going again!

September 22nd - Collecting birthday wishes by e-mail

Sheila dials in the HAM radio to collect e-mail

Sheila, at our nav centre, dials in a frequency on our HAM radio to connect to LZIPKS in Bulgaria, the  nearest Winlink PMBO (mail-box operator) station for our onboard e-mail system.   On a recent position report, I had posted that her birthday was upcoming, so she has a good number of birthday wishes waiting for her, in addition to our regular emails and weather reports. 

Tuesday, September 27th - The Island of Kos - International Day of Tourism

Traditional festival on Island of Kos

Kos, the second largest island in the Greek Dodecanese island group, has a pleasant climate and fertile land, famous for producing the kos lettuce.  However, on Kos and in most of this area we have been cruising in, tourism is the major industry.  Tonight, we catch a festival of traditional music and dance honouring the tourist and the workers in the industry.  And there is even free food and drink!   Good timing!

Friday, September 30th - Hauling out near Bodrum, Turkey

TIOGA is lifted out in Icmeler, near Bodrum, Turkey

Well, we are back in Turkey hauling TIOGA out for new bottom (anti-fouling) paint and for other under-the-waterline maintenance.  

TIOGA on-the-hard

We are given a spot on-the-hard that gets some nice shade so the boys enjoy the deck this afternoon.  They can also play with their Lego without it being tossed overboard :)

While TIOGA remains on the hard drying out for the next two weeks, we'll also make a bus/coach trip to visit Istanbul.  Check that out in our next log 41.