Turkish Sunsets

Sunset in Istanbul

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Sunset in Çanakkale

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Sunset in Izmir

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Sunset in Antalya

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Something Beautiful Remains by Martha Vashti Pearson

The tide recedes, but leaves behind
Bright seashells on the sand.
The sun goes down but gentle warmth
Still lingers on the land.
The music stops and yet it lingers on
In sweet refrain.
For every joy that passes
Something beautiful remains

*** This post is dedicated to my grandmother, Carmela, for all of the joy and beauty she has brought into this world. Even though the sun has set, it is not gone. ***
10/16/1923 ~ 10/31/2013

The Medusa Mystery

Since today is Halloween I thought it would be appropriate to post about one of the spookier sites in Turkey. Okay, maybe “spooky” is a bit of an oversell, but it’s the best that I can do.

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The Basilica Cistern is the largest of hundreds of ancient cisterns in Istanbul, with the capacity to store 100,000 tons of water. This cathedral-size cistern was built in the 6th century and is over 100,000 square feet. Visitors can descend underground and explore this amazing ancient architectural achievement.

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The ceiling is supported by 336 marble columns, most of which are of the Corinthian style. Most of these columns appear to have been recycled from the ruins of older buildings.

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However, there are a couple columns that are quite unique. The column in the picture below is engraved with tear-like shapes. The tears are believed to represent the hundreds of slaves that died during the cistern’s construction. Records show there were about 7,000 slaves involved in the construction.

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In one corner of the cistern there are two columns with bases depicting the head of Medusa. One of the heads is upside-down and the other is oriented sideways. The origin of the two heads is unknown and it is a complete mystery why they are oriented in such a peculiar manner. Very Barely spooky.

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Happy Halloween!

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Bargaining at the Grand Bazaar

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The Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world! It is comprised of over 3,000 shops spanning 61 covered streets. The Grand Bazaar used to be where the locals did all of their shopping, but today it is basically a tourist trap attracting up to 400,000 visitors a day. But it is a fabulous tourist trap! As soon as you enter, you are overwhelmed with sights, sounds, smells and even tastes (as shop owners quickly offer you samples of their tasty Turkish Delight!). You can probably find better deals elsewhere, but it is an experience that you shouldn’t pass up. Even if you don’t plan to buy anything, it is fun just to walk around and take it all in. The place is huge and you could easily get lost inside. Rob and I barely scratched the surface, but I feel like we got a good taste of what the bazaar had to offer.

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One of my favorite parts was all of the lamp shops. I thought these mosaic lamps were absolutely beautiful! I didn’t end up buying one, but I definitely enjoyed looking at them (and apparently photographing them as Rob harassed me for taking yet another lamp photo over and over again!).

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It is quite easy to get sucked into the shops that sell Turkish Delight. This stuff is well deserving of its name (DELIGHTFUL!). Clearly, Rob is the proverbial “kid in a candy shop!” (The shop owner was smiling because Rob actually paid him full price without even an attempt to barter!) Rob’s shopping privileges were put on probation after that.

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The bazaar is filled with fabulous aromas from a wide variety of spices and teas. We didn’t buy either, but it made for some colorful photography.

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The bazaar has an abundance of textile shops as well. You can find clothes, scarves, and carpets…and everything in between. Rob and I were thinking about buying a few scarves as gifts, so I took the lead on bargaining. The shop owner refused to drop his price below a certain point which led to me leaving the store a total of 3 times. He chased after us a couple of times and managed to get us back in to the shop, but then held steady on his price. It was a time-consuming process, but eventually he agreed to my price. Needless to say, the shop owner was happy to have made a sale, but he did not have the same shit-eating grin as Mr. Turkish Delight! Rob decided that the good cop/bad cop scenario worked best for our bargaining purposes. I don’t think there is really any need to point out which one of us was the bad cop. : )

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I could have easily spent a lot more time at the bazaar, but my patrol partner has a much shorter attention span when it comes to shopping. All in all, he was a really good sport and we picked up a few nice things.

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Fashion Citation at The Blue Mosque

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No visit to Istanbul is complete without seeing the Blue Mosque. However, in order to enter the mosque, you must be appropriately dressed. Notice how Rob’s attire exactly matched the “do not wear this” column.

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Don’t worry, Rob was still able to enter the mosque. But not until he covered himself up appropriately! All visitors are screened by Mosque Fashion Police (clearly not their official title) before entering to ensure that they meet the etiquette requirements. Women are provided with head scarves and men are provided with sarongs. Fortunately, I was prepared and brought my own scarf.

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The mosque was built from 1609-1616 and it’s official name is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, as it was built under the rule of Sultan Ahmed. It became known (among tourists) as the Blue Mosque because of the thousands of blue tiles adorning the interior. There are more than 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles depicting more than 50 different tulip designs. The tulip is somewhat of an unofficial symbol throughout Turkey and can be found in many different forms pretty much everywhere you look. Watch out Amsterdam, Turkey wants your claim on tulips! I’m not sure if this is true or not, but our tour guide told us that Turkey actually gifted the Netherlands with tulips many years ago and essentially introduced them into the Netherlands (we both thought our tour guide made a lot of things up though, so we haven’t made a final decision on that claim as of yet).

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The Blue Mosque is actually a little less blue than it used to be. The picture below shows a small portion of this column with its original blue color.

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The floor of the mosque is covered by a beautiful carpet with a tulip design. The darker area of the rug is meant to be a place marker for where the men should line up for prayer. The dark portions are appropriately spaced to provide the men enough room to pray without bumping into one another.

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The decorations inside the mosque were absolutely stunning! This is definitely a must-see for anyone traveling to Turkey (but of course, I’m sure you already knew that).

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Preparing for Protests in Turkey

Our trip to Turkey is exactly one month away and I could not be more excited! However, due to the civil unrest that broke out in Turkey a couple of months ago, many people have asked me if I am worried about traveling there during a somewhat tumultuous time. The short answer: No, I am not worried.

Anti-government protests erupted in Turkey in May and resulted in thousands of injuries as well as at least five deaths. The protesting began in Istanbul and quickly spread throughout other cities in Turkey. While the situation has calmed down tremendously since June, there are still sporadic pockets of civil disobedience throughout the country. But I am not deterred! Someone find me a “Turkey or Bust” bumper sticker pronto! I am happy the situation appears to have quieted down considerably, but I think it is safe to say that I would still be packing my bags even if it hadn’t.

Sound crazy? You might think I’m off my rocker, but I’m chalking it up to the fact that my husband and I are pretty savvy travelers with a keen sense of situational awareness. There are very few places that I would be afraid to travel to, especially when there is a coveted new passport stamp on the line! With that being said, I do believe traveling “smarter” can go a really long way. So that is why I just enrolled in STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) through the State Department. STEP is a free service for travelers living in or visiting a foreign country that allows the State Department to better assist you in the event of an emergency. The program also provides travel alerts and warnings that pertain to any country you are visiting. In short, this program will help you stay informed, stay connected and stay safe! If you have an upcoming foreign trip planned, you can enroll in STEP here.

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Photo from theblaze.com

We are going to Turkey!

Rob and I will be traveling to Turkey at the end of August! I found an incredible deal on Travelzoo for a 13 Day Turkish Treasures vacation package by Gate 1 Travel. Our package includes 11 nights at 4 star hotels in Istanbul, Canakkale, Izmir, Antalya, Cappadocia, & Ankara, as well as a ton of included tours and meals. This package can be booked to include airfare, but we purchased the land only package and plan to use reward points to purchase our airfare, making this vacation incredibly affordable! (Less than $1000 per person!)

This vacation will complete # 5 for my goals for 2013. Turkey is also on my Top Ten Wish List, so I will get to scratch that off the list as well! If you have ever traveled to Turkey, please feel free to leave any tips and suggestions for us!

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Photo courtesy of Gate 1 Travel