Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Thanksgiving Turkey

The Blue Mosque

This year we celebrated Thanksgiving with Turkey.  To be more precise, we celebrated in Turkey.  Since Grant is at an American School, he got the four day weekend so we off we went to Istanbul. 

Istanbul is a city with a very long history.  Most of the cities we visit have a 4-5 page history in the guidebook.  Istanbul's was 16 pages.  Most historians date the beginning of Istanbul to 700 BC when Byzantion was founded as an independent Greek state on the European side of the Bosphorous Straits.  In AD 324, Constantine the Great moved the capital from Rome to Byzantium and the town began to be called Constantinople. 

In 1453, Sultan Mehmet II conquered the city and the era of the Ottoman's and Sultans began.  During this switch to the Muslim religion many of the famous mosques in the city were built.  This was also the time when the town began to be called Istanbul, a rough Greek translation of "in the city".  The town seemed to go by two names for the next 500 years. 

Of interest to Dutch readers is the reign of Ahmet III in the early 1700's.  Tulips were his favorite flower -- formal gardens were filled with tulips and the flowers were scattered on the floor of festivals.  You'll recall that the Dutch traders first brought tulips from Turkey back to Holland in the 1500's.  The rest is history. 

The Ottoman Empire lost much of it's territory in the late 1800's and early 1900's in a series of wars.  The peace treaty of WWI stipulated the removal of the Sultan and the establishment of a Turkish nationalist government.  This is also when Istanbul became the city's official name.  So that's the super condensed history of the city -- 16 pages down to 3 paragraphs. 

The first thing you notice when you tour Istabul is that there are a lot of very nice people willing to help you find your way to the main attractions.  They show you how to get there, where to enter, what the hours are.   The second thing you notice when you tour Istanbul is that every one of these nice people is really trying to get you to go to their rug shop after you tour the historical sites.  They are not high pressure, but they are persistent. 

The Blue Mosque was built in the early 1600's and is one of the most famous religous buildings in the world.  It's name is a result of the blue Iznik tiles that decorate the interior.  The rug salesman who attached himself to us got us to the mosque prior to prayer time, when all non-muslims are kicked out.  When it's not prayer time, anyone can enter as long as they take off their shoes, wear long pants and women have their head and shoulders covered.  I've included some pictures, but they really don't capture the beauty of being there. 

Night view of the Blue Mosque

Properly attired tourists

Inside view of the Blue Mosque

Across the street is the Haghia Sophia, or Church of Holy Wisdom.  This huge structure is over 1400 years old.  It began life as a church but was converted to a mosque in the 15th century.  Now it is a museum.  In addition to a beautiful interior it houses many 1000 year old mosaics.  There are also two Nordic rune inscriptions that are believed to be from Viking travelers in the 9th and 10th century.  It's kind of amazing to think they traveled that far in that age. 

Haghia Sophia
Haghia Sophia.  Another view. 

Church meeting minutes from 1166. Must have been a long meeting.

Ceiling in the Haghia Sophia

There were yards and yards (or meters and meters) of ornate carving.

A 12th century mosaic

The Ablution (washing in preparation for prayer) Fountain outside the Haghia Sophia

Our hotel was a combination of three or four old homes joined together.  So there were lots of stairs and hard to find passages.  I only got lost in it once.  But it was two blocks from the center of the old city.  And more important, it came with three cats.  You could find them lounging around the breakfast area or office all day.  The whole town seemed to love cats.  The rug shop across the street had a litter of new kittens in the window -- what a way to attract shoppers. 

Two of the three hotel cats. The one on the right is 20 years old.

An interesting place to rest. How did it get there?

This cat in the Haghia Sophia seemed to be meditating into the light. It was totally motionless.

These kittens in the rug shop window were only days old.

The only downside to our hotel was that it seemd to have perfect accoustical placement for the mosque speakers.  We awoke every morning to a loud and clear version of the sunrise call to prayer. 

Two of Istanbul's other attractions are the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market.  The Grand Bazaar is described as " a labyrinth of streets covered by painted vaults....lined with thousands of booth-like-shops".   Labyrinth and thousands are very accurate words here.  You could buy jewelry, fabrics, leather goods, antiques, sourvenirs and of course, rugs.  You could get fitted for a custom leather coat and return the two days later to pick it up. The Spice Market is a similar concept except that it specializes in food items, especially spices.  Both have been in operation for hundreds of years. 

Only the brave shall pass....

Inside the Grand Bazaar
More happy shoppers

Spice Market Entrance

Dried fruits and nuts at the Spice Market

The Spice Market

We were going to walk the streets around the Spice Market until we saw the streets. Most of Istanbul's 14 million people must go to market on Saturday (at least those who aren't selling rugs).
Topkapi Palace was built by the Sultan Mehmet II in the 1400's.  This Palace included The Harem, the 400 or so rooms set aside for the hundreds of the Sultan's wives, concubines and children.   There was also a treasury displaying gifts to the Sultans from other countries, including the 86 carat Spoonmaker's diamond.  We toured this area with 500 elementary school children who were all very anxious to practice saying "hello" and "where are you from" in English.  I guess they were in training to become future rug salesmen. 

The entrance to Topkapi Palace. The day after we left town a Syrian gunman opened fire and hit two people in this area.

Food was placed on this table for the harem members to eat. Looks like it was a pretty big buffet.

A tiled ceiling in the Harem

An ablution fountain in the Harem

A room in the Harem

And of course no trip to Turkey would be complete without a visit to a Turkish Bath.  I visited the Cagaloglu Baths, a beautiful 250+ year old bath where you first steam for 30 minutes, then get pummeled by a local Turkish masseuse, followed by a vigorous scrubbing by said masseuse and finished with same masseusse pouring warm water over you. It wasn't the best massage I've ever had, but it was certainly the most beautiful setting.  On the way out I noticed that Kate Moss had done a photo shoot here in 2008.  Unfortunately, I didn't see anyone closely resembling her during my visit.  I looked up the photo's from the Kate Moss shoot. Since this is a family friendly blog, this (below) is the only one I could post. Let me also say that we didn't get to wear designer clothes in the Bath, just the old raggedy orange and white checked towels.

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This stand sold round bread outside the ferry station.  The owner stepped away for a few minutes so it became self service. 

Lots of street vendors were selling chestuts and roasted ears of corn.
The Galata Bridge.  The top part was used by fisherman.  The bottom half was restaurants. 
There were lots and lots of fishermen out that morning. We did not see any of them catch fish.
The Basilica Cistern, an ornate underground water storage facility was built in the 500's. There are over 330 columns each over 25 ft high.
These aren't ghosts...just an extended exposure in the low light of the cistern.

The Alexander Sarcophagus in the Archeological Museum. This carved marble tomb from the 4th century BC depicts Alexander the Great's victory over the Persians.

Any resemblance

The Treaty of Kadesh, the world's oldest surviving peace treaty. It was between the Egyptians and the Hittites in 1269 BC.

What is peace without love....the oldest love poem, 2000 BC.

The Bosphorous Straits

Grant put his new Kindle to good use while Mom and Dad shopped for, what else, rugs. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tulip Farm

I took this picture last spring near the Tulip Farm

Last week we toured a local tulip farm, Flower Farm Overdevest.  The farm was interesting, but the family history was even better. 

The owner's grandfather had started the farm in the 20's.  When tulip prices in Holland dropped, he packed up his bulbs, sailed across the Atlantic and sold them in America.  He would go around to nurseries selling his product, getting a larger business each year.  As a result, he made a good living and two of his sons settled in America.  

When the Nazi's invaded Holland in 1940, the owner's father thought it best to move his family from the farm into the town of Wassenaar.  When he returned to their home several days later, someone had thrown a grenade through the front window and there were three dead Nazi's in the home.  They still have the helmets.  And bullet holes are visible on the outside of the home.  I always thought having a hand-hewn log in our basement was cool, but this was way better.  Looks like his father's decision to move was a wise one. 

Different types of bulbs for sale. 

He told us that tulip bulbs have traditionally been raised in the sandy soils of western Holland (where we live) because of better water management and ease of harvesting the bulbs out of the ground.  Within the past 15 years farmers have learned how to grow bulbs in the peat soils of Northern Holland.  The bulbs do better and yields are higher.  Unfortunately, world tulip demand is decreasing about 2-3% per year.  It seems no one wants to work in the dirt on their knees for a flower that they won't see until next spring.  Prices right now are around 5 cents/bulb to the farmer. 

This farmer's specialty was forcing the bulbs.  He stores the bulbs in huge freezers at 2 degrees C to simulate the 14 weeks of cold weather necessary for the bulbs to grow.  Then he transfers them to a greenhouse to finish growing and flower.  This way he get tulips in February and March, when natural tulips don't arrive until mid to late April.   

You can see how tall the freezer is..about 20 feet. He had a wall of freezer that was about 50 feet long. That's a lot of tulips.

As part of the tour we got to make our own tulip basket. We'll see how mine looks next spring.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Happy Birthday Grant!

Grant turned 14 on Saturday.  He didn't want to have a party or go anyplace.  All he wanted was to have three friends come over to play Xbox until their eyes popped out.  Well maybe not that much Xbox, but they played a long time. 

The boys enjoying one of my gourmet meals.

He had Lori bake a Tuxedo Cake from Rebecca Rather's Pastry Queen cookbook.  This recipe is certainly dominating the birthday cake choice contest in our home.   Lori's probably made it for over half of the birthday's that we've celebrated over here.  She had bought an extra cake pan while she was in the US, so she was able to make it a three layer cake this time.  Unfortunately, she had to bake the third layer separately since all three pans won't fit into our Barbie oven at the same time.  Despite that challenge, it was delicious. 

Despite a diet that is clearly under-represented in fruits and vegetables, Grant's first year as a teenager has been one of growth.  He's gone through two or three sizes of jeans, two full shoe sizes and his hand can stretch for an octave plus three on the piano.  He is taller than his mother (a sore point with her) and his hands almost match mine (which means he's started wearing my winter gloves on his bike - a sore point with me).  One downside to this growth is his reluctance to give up his favorite t-shirts.  I hide them in his closet, but he manages to find them. 

Happy Birthday Grant!