Sunday, November 25, 2012

one mosque, two mosque, red mosque, blue mosque

Atop the Galata Tower during an afternoon call to prayer, the voice of the muezzins singing from each mosques across the vast city of Istanbul filled my ears. I scanned one minaret after another other for miles around, enraptured by the sound vibrating in the air. I wanted to capture the moment forever.

Reaching each individual mosque is just as enticing to the senses. Light breezes carry the smell of roasted chestnuts. Crimson red pomegranates, piled high, wait to be cracked open and juiced.  Offers of apple tea are sung out by every carpet vendor in the city.  But only the mosques garner the most attention.

Sultanahmet or the Blue Mosque, as it is most widely known, was built in the early 1600's. It is still a place of worship today and closes to tourists during each call to prayer. Boasting six minarets, Saltanhamet caused quite a stir until another minaret was added to the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

Directly across from the Blue Mosque is the Hagia Sofia. Built in 360 AD, the Hagia Sofia was an Orthodox cathedral. It remained such (except for a 60 year period when used as a Roman Catholic cathedral) until 1453 when it was converted into a mosque. Now a museum, since 1935, remnants of both Christian and Islamic design are seen in one spot by tourists of every cultural background.

The New (but very old) Mosque was completed in the mid 1600's, after over 60 years of construction due to death of a sultan, political discord, financial downfall, decay and a fire to the structure. But its location, just in front of the ferry port and Galata bridge make it another one of the most widely viewed mosques in all Istanbul.

Upon a large hill, apart from all the others, stands the Fatih Mosque, or Sultan Mehemed. Built in the latter part of the 1400's, the mosque suffered extensive damage from four separate earthquakes throughout the following three centuries. After each earthquake, the building was repaired until the last earthquake left it in disrepair and was reconstructed with an entirely different architectural plan.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Blue-eyed girl

Solo traveling in Istanbul brought a wave of uninvited men in my direction, which also brought on a large number of compliments. If not for anything else, I do have to hand it to the Turks for laying on the flattery so thick that my ego grew substantially in the 3 days I stayed in the city.

One uninvited male companion lead me to a part of Istanbul I never would have seen otherwise. As we were crossing the middle of an extremely busy road, I half-jokingly said, "don't kill me."  A look of shock crossed his face. "What? No," he said, "I would never want that to happen to you. No. Not a nice girl like you. Please be careful. I don't know how I could live with myself." 

That was slightly comforting to hear.

Later we were at lunch. I took off my sunglasses for a brief moment to clean them. Another wave of shock crossed over his face. "Wow! Your eyes," he exclaimed. Being slightly self-conscious, I quickly put the sunglasses back on.  Before we parted ways an hour or so later he asked "can I see your eyes again?" Never had I heard such a request. I was slightly taken aback and uncomfortable. I quickly lifted up my sunglasses so he could see my eyes, but covered them before feeling completely awkward and embarrassed.

But he wasn't the only one. It seemed as though not a single Turk had seen blue eyes before. One waiter's eyes widened once he saw mine while taking my order. He came back multiple times to ask if I need anything else, bending over slightly to be in my eye line. As I left the restaurant he walked past me and whispered, "lady, lady, so beautiful your eyes... I love you."

Another ego boost came from the last shop owner I visited. I had purchased some items but left it at the store to pick up just before my flight home. When I returned he sang out, "it's so nice to see your beautiful blue eyes again." Used to it by this point, I just smiled. "Now I am jealous of Dutch men," he added. When I mentioned that my eye color is quite common in the Netherlands making it nothing special to Dutch men, he responded, "now I know Dutch men are stupid. Beautiful eyes, beautiful face, beautiful body. They only look, don't do anything about it."

Then there was the tour guide I had in central Turkey who only called me beautiful, as though he was unaware of my given name.

Guess where I'm going when self-deprecation gets the best of me?!

Friday, November 16, 2012

How ice cream is served in Istanbul (not Constantinople)

Because the craving got so bad I flew all the way to Turkey just for a few scoops... and a show.

(Turkish ice cream is different from any other. Along with milk and sugar, it has two other natural ingredients to provide a chewy and thick consistency. It is, in two words, incredibly delicious. And absolutely worth the flight to get it.)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Platform 8

The true account of a recent visit from an "adopted little sister".
Her train to Copenhagen was at 19:01. A German train. Extremely punctual.

I had mentioned we should leave thirty minutes prior, but by the time we were on the street, her eyes widened as she told me we had twelve minutes to reach Central Station.

"I don't think we're going to make it," I whispered.

In any normal situation, reaching Amsterdam Central Station from my house by public transport takes at least 15 minutes. Calculating in rush hour and road construction, I couldn't foresee how we would reach the train on time. Not even with a taxi.

"Do you think we should run?" Nicky asked. I glanced at her. Her suitcase nearly as tall as her 5'3" frame.

I was about to object with the absurdity of it all, but the look of pleading desperation on her face caused me to grab her laptop and water bottle and run.

We ran for two minutes towards the Marnixstraat intersection. Only twice did Nicky scream in frustration as the suitcase overturned in her haste. Fifty feet before we reached the crosswalk, tram 13 came into view.

"That's our tram!" I shouted. "Run!"

The tram slowed to a halt as I was half way across the crosswalk. I ignored the 'do not walk' signal since cars and bikes stood still, impatiently waiting for their light to turn green.

"No, no, no!" Nicky panicked.

I looked back and saw her train ticket flying out of her unclasped vintage purse.  She bent down to pick it up off the ground.

"I'll hold the tram!" I tried assuring her.

I raced ahead, one arm pressing the laptop against my chest. I jumped through the open doors and hung halfway out, blocking them from shutting and the tram from continuing forward.  Thankfully the lady in the ticketing booth only looked at me and smiled. A rare gesture from public transit workers in this city.

Seconds later Nicky came into view. The large suitcase distorted her running to appear more like a gallop, with one arm propelling her forward while the other lagged behind, holding tight to a plastic handle. As she reached me, I grabbed hold of the suitcase and helped pull it on.

The doors closed and the tram began moving.

Nicky parked the suitcase in the designated stroller space, just to the side of the entrance doors. Glancing at the electronic display above our heads we checked the time. 18:53.

"At least we only have two more stops, right?" Nicky asked.

"No. Four."

A look of fear crossed her eyes. I glanced over at the blond ticketing agent. She was still smiling.  When I turned back, Nicky's head was bowed.

"Yeah, pray hard." I teased. She nodded, slightly.

By the time she looked back up we reached the road construction at Dam Square. 18:56. Three more stops.

"Well, at least this will make for a funny story... if I make my train."

Suddenly I thought to call a friend who took the same train to Copenhagen two weeks prior.  I rummaged in my purse for my phone while Nicky spoke words I failed to register.

"Hey Claire," Anouschka answered.

"Hey! Which platform was your train to Copenhagen on?"

"Uh... um. Eight! Platform 8. I'll never forget that one."  She had a near miss experience herself.

"Great, thanks. Nicky is taking the same train," I explained.


"I know."

"You two have 4 minutes. You better run."

"We're still on the tram!" I exclaimed.

We gave quick goodbyes and hung up.

"Let's move to the back of the tram. That way we can jump out quick," I told Nicky.

She began walking, the kindly ticketing agent taking notice.

"You don't have to go to the back, you can leave out these doors," she mentioned in Dutch.

"Oh, no. That's okay. We have to hurry," I responded in English.

"Ah," she nodded.

A middle aged woman stood in front of the door. Nicky fidgeted. The woman looked back at her.

"Sorry," Nicky nervously stammered. "We have to run. We're, we're gonna run."

The tram made its final curve in front of Central Station. Just before the doors opened I took one final look at the time. 19:00 hours. On the dot.

"Go, go, go!" I commanded.

Nicky ran faster than I've seen anyone go. She maneuvered the suitcase like it was a natural extension of herself.  Darting through gaps of people, she made it into the station before I did and headed towards platform 8.

I slowed down just enough to catch a glimpse of the departure schedule to verify our destination. Anouschka was correct.

Through the corner of my eye I saw a clock. 19:01. I reached Nicky just as she made it to the bottom of the platform.

"Oh no," she sighed, looking up the two flights of stairs to reach the train.

Without stopping to think, I grabbed hold of a suitcase handle and together we ran up the concrete steps.

The doors were closed but the train was still there.

Exhaling, we walked over to the nearest train car. It was numbered 175. Nicky's car was 204.

"Your couchette is located that way," I stated, looking away from her to the right, in the direction of her temporary bed.

"Noooooooooooooooooo!" she screamed.

The train started moving. I turned back around just in time to see her miraculously open the car door in front of her and jump on.

"Oh... OH!" I realized what was happening and helped push her suitcase in.

The train picked up speed. I slowly ran alongside, handing her the laptop and water bottle one at a time.
"I love you!" she yelled over the noise of wheels on the tracks.

"Love you too," I returned.

"This is just like a romantic movie," she sang out while frantically waving.

I ran alongside waving back and passed an older man watching the entire spectacle. The look on his face had me wondering if he thought we were gay.

I laughed all the more.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Chocolate, Frits, Waffels and... Pis.

Five minutes after walking in the door from a long haul flight from Los Angeles to Amsterdam, I received a phone call from my mother. (She returned home a day before I did).

"Hey Claire! I just realized I have three days off this weekend. Do you want to join me in Brussels?" she asked.

"What? Mom, seriously. I just set my suitcase down."

"So?" comes the response.

So... four days later I was on a train headed south. South to a land flowing with milk and honey.  Or, actually, chocolate and pee.

Aside from eating yourself sick, if anyone asks what Brussels has to offer, the answer is now easy.

Manneken Pis:

Jeanneke Pis:

and Zinneke Pis:
Oh, the market square is nice too.

Friday, November 2, 2012

model family

We're very photogenic.