Friday, November 26, 2010

Getting Ready for Thanksgiving 2

So last week I was in Turkey and now it's time to cook a turkey. I ordered a turkey from the same company as last year. They have moved their location to outside of Brno so that's where the adventure begins. The new location is in Židlochovice, about 10-15 minutes south of the city. Check out these directions... totally insane. Claudia and I had fun trying to get there before they closed at 3 PM.

Take the D2 highway, past Modřice and exit at Bratčice. Drive through the village and head towards Žabčice. Before reaching the end of Židlochovice, turn left. Go down the road that has a traffic sign that forbids entry. Look for the only building on the right. This is a new location so there is no house number nor street name. We made it with just 10 minutes to spare. Whew! But the important thing is that I got a 12,6 kg (27.7 lbs) bird for the second annual Brno Thanksgiving.

This is going to be another international Thanksgiving with 20 people from the U.S., Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, New Zealand, Japan, England, Romania and France. The housekeeper came yesterday so today I'm going to the market and will begin baking for tomorrow. We're getting a bit of snow so this will be my first ever White Thanksgiving.

BIG PROPS to Mom & Dad and Steven & Michael for the care packages from home. They've both gotten very good at packing as much as possible into these boxes.

In order to maximize space they remove the excess packaging, sometimes putting things in plastic freezer bags. For the dressing, they took the bags out of the boxes, wrote "stuffing" on the white bags and folded up a single box so that I would have the cooking instructions.

Now it's time for the market and then to start cooking. Wish me luck!!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Grand Bazaar, Turkey

Kapalıçarşı, Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, is one of the world’s oldest and largest covered markets.

It is huge!!
There are over 58 covered streets and 1,200 shops in an area around 31,000 square meters (+333,000 square feet). You can get anything here. There are sections for jewelry, pottery, leather, spices, carpets, clothes…whatever you’re looking for.

You have to be able to haggle, and prepared to walk away from a deal, in order to get the best price. You will get better prices by buying multiple items or if you pay with Euros or American dollars. Shopping is also social so you are offered apple tea and coffee while you are making your selections.

For some reason, clothes in the ČR are very expensive and not necessarily of the highest quality. I find that clothes in Germany are higher quality but still a lot more expensive than clothes in the USA. I need to go back to Istanbul with an empty suitcase just for the clothes. I found three pairs of designer jeans for only $100. The same jeans in the ČR would have cost me at least $600.

The Grand Bazaar opened in 1461 and attracts between 250,000 – 400,000 visitors per day, Monday through Saturday. Except during holidays.

I only got to visit the bazaar on my last day in Istanbul because it was closed the rest of the week for Kurban Bayrami, the “Feast of Sacrifice”. This is a major holiday in Turkey. Every Muslim home is obliged to sacrifice a cow, goat or sheep and the generous portion is shared with the poor.

Turkish Bath, Turkey

The Romans passed down the tradition of public baths to the Byzantines and then on to the Turks. Over the years, the importance has declined as more homes now have running water. Many of the hamams in Istanbul are geared towards tourists but it is possible to find local baths that aren't ridiculously overpriced. So I decided to treat myself to a visit at a historical bath.

The Şifa Turkish bath was built in 1777. The water comes from a spring that is 160 meters (~525 feet) underground. When I entered I was given a cotton wrap, a pair of slippers and a key to a private changing room. After stripping down, and the wrap around me like a skirt, I was taken to a humid room and made to lie down on a big, heated marble pedestal. After about 20 minutes of sweating it out I was taken to another room for my bath.

My attendant only spoke Turkish so everything was done through sign language. I had to sit down on the marble floor and had bowls of water poured over my head. Then an abrasive mitt was used on me to remove the outer layer of dead skin. Fun. After that my hair was washed and I had more water poured over me.

Then I was made to lie down on another marble slap. Marble was everywhere. The attendant blew into a lacy cloth that created olive oil soap bubbles. After being soaped up there was a brief massage followed by another thorough dousing of water. Then I was wrapped up in a couple of dry towels and taken to a cool down room and served hot apple tea.

The whole experience took about 45 minutes. I would have preferred a Spa Sydell session in Atlanta but the whole experience was interesting. And now I can cross "Turkish bath" off of my bucket list. However, the olive oil soap was awesome and I slept really well that night.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dolmabahçe Palace, Turkey

Istanbul's Dolmabahçe Palace is the largest palace in Turkey. It is on the European side of the Bosporus and was built from 1843 to 1856.
It was the Ottoman Empire’s main administrative center. It was home to six sultans from 1856 until the end of the Caliphate in 1924.
This place is huge! 45,000 m² (11.2 acres). There are 1,427 windows, 285 rooms, 46 halls, 6 Turkish baths and 68 toilets.
The inside is awesome but there is a strictly enforced no photography rule. Dang it!

The palace is home to the largest collection of Bohemian and Baccarat crystal chandeliers in the world, including the world’s single largest chandelier. The great staircase even has Baccarat crystal banisters. Very fancy.

Turkey’s first President, and founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk used the palace as a residence until he passed away on November 10, 1938 at 9:05 AM. All of the clocks in the palace were stopped at 9:05.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Blue Mosque, Turkey

Sultanahmet Camii, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, is known as the Blue Mosque. The exterior isn't blue but its name comes from the 20,000 blue tiles that line the ceiling inside. It sits across from the Hagia Sophia and is considered to be the last great mosque of the classical period.

Sultan Ahmet I commissioned the mosque when he was 19 years old. He wanted it to be better than the Ayasofya and it was named for him. Construction lasted seven years from 1609 to 1616.

Most mosques have one, two or four minarets. However, the Blue Mosque is easy to spot because it has six minarets. One story goes that the sultan told his architect that he wanted "gold" (altin) minarets which was misunderstood to be "six" (alti) minarets.

This was a scandal because, at the time, the only other mosque to have six minarets was the Ka'aba Mosque in Mecca - the holiest mosque in the world. The sultan solved the problem by sending his architect to build a 7th minaret in Ka'aba.

This is a working mosque, with capacity for 10,000 people. There are rules to follow...

It is closed to non-Muslims for about a half hour, at a time, during each of the five daily prayers. All non-Muslims have to use the side entrance. Everyone must remove their shoes before stepping on the carpets. People need to be appropriately dressed so men must wear long pants (no shorts). Women must cover their head with a scarf and should wear a long skirt. You can't take pictures inside during prayers and everyone, male and female, must remain in the visitor's area.
The mosque has a separate area where women go to pray. Visitors are not allowed here.
The mosque is absolutely beautiful!!
In November 2006, Pope Benedict XVI visited the mosque. It was only the second papal visit in history to a Muslim place of worship.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hagia Sophia, Turkey

Ayasofya or Hagia Sophia (Greek for "Holy Wisdom") is in İstanbul's Sultanahmet district near the Hippodrome and the Blue Mosque. It has been a church, a mosque and is now a museum.

It was dedicated in 360 and was the world's largest cathedral for a thousand years.

In 1204, Constantinople was sacked by the Latin Crusaders and the golden mosaics in Hagia Sophia were shipped off to Venice.

Then in 1453, the Ottoman Turks conquered the city and the building was converted to an imperial mosque.

The church bells, alter and other Christian paraphernalia were removed and replaced with a mihrab, minbar and four minarets.

Since Islam bans representational imagery, many of the church's mosaics were simply plastered over.

It remained a mosque until 1935 when it was converted in to a museum.

Turkish law now prohibits it from being used as a place of worship, either as a church or as a mosque.

Hagia Sophia is considered the greatest surviving example of Byzantine architecture, especially the dome.

Update 2020:  Turkey's president Erdogan converted Hagia Sophia back into a mosque. 

©NBC News

Update 2023:  Here's a short TED-Ed video I found on YouTube about Hagia Sophia.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

İstanbul, Turkey

I found a great deal on a charter package through Student Agency for a 5-day trip to Turkey. It included a round-trip ČSA flight from Prague to Istanbul and a 3 star hotel with breakfast. The only catch was that this was a Czech tour so I had to arrange the trip in Czech. And all of the transportation between the airport and hotel was coordinated with the travel agent in Czech. Since I went alone I was at least forced to keep practicing my Czech even while on vacation. The other tour members knew I wasn't Czech but they kept thinking I was either Russian or Polish. I had the option of going on day tours with others but there was no way I could spend €35-50 on a tour that was entirely in Czech. So I made my own tour arrangements and had a great time exploring the city because there is so much to see. Every time you turn your head you see the difference between old and modern.

İstanbul, formerly known as Constantinople, was the capital of both the Byzantine Empire (Eastern Roman Empire) and the Ottoman Empire. Today it’s Turkey’s largest city but not the capital. With 12.8 million people it is the 5th largest city in the world and the only one in the world built on two continents. The Bosphorus Strait divides the city into European and Asian sides. The Golden Horn harbor further divides the city on the European side.

Hagia Sophia was a basilica, then a mosque and today is a museum. For almost 1,000 years it was the largest cathedral in the world.

The Blue Mosque is absolutely incredible inside. It is the largest in the city and the only one with six minarets which helps in navigating the city because you can’t turn your head without coming across another mosque.

The Hippodrome is adjacent to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The obelisks there mark the center of Roman and Byzantine Constantinople and was the site of chariot racing.

Little Hagia Sophia, formerly the Church of the Saints Sergius and Bacchus, was converted into a mosque during the Ottoman Empire. It was built during the 6th century and was a model for the Hagia Sophia. It’s one of the most important early Byzantine buildings in the city.

The Galata Tower is nine stories tall and was the city’s tallest structure when it was built.

Taksim Square is a major shopping and tourist district. It is home to Cumhuriyet Anıtı (Monument of the Republic) built in 1928 to commemorate the founding of the Republic of Turkey.

The Dolmabahçe Palace is located on the Bosporus and was home to six sultans from 1856 until the end of the Caliphate in 1924. The palace contains 285 rooms, 46 halls, 6 Turkish baths and 68 toilets. It is home to the world’s largest Bohemian crystal chandelier.

Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is one of the world’s largest and oldest covered markets. There are thousands of shops on over 58 streets. Lots of great shopping for sure!

The Süleymaniye Mosque is the 2nd largest mosque in the city. The Muslim call to prayer rings out six times per day, all across the city.

This was a great trip and I saw a lot. Several spots are UNESCO World Heritage sites but there are still things that I didn’t get a chance to see so I’ll just have to go again. Next time I'll be sure to include the day trips to Troy and Gallipoli. It was also a nice break from the upcoming Czech winter. I left Istanbul at 11:30 PM and it was 16°C (~61°F) When I arrived in Prague at 2:30 AM it was 0°C (32°F). I'm already missing that warm Turkish weather.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Frida Kahlo Retrospective

The Bank Austria Kunstforum is currently presenting a Frida Kahlo retrospective in Vienna. Never before has so much of the Mexican artist's work been on display in Austria. So yesterday, I went with Claudia, Norbert and Pavel to go check it out.

Her art is sometimes described as Mexican kitsch but she is considered the most famous female artist of the first half of the 20th century. Although, she was often overshadowed by her husband, muralist Diego Rivera. Her work consists of 143 images and 55 of those are self-portraits.

She only gained limited acclaim during her life. She held exhibitions in New York and Paris. The only solo show of her work in Mexico was in 1953, the year before she died.

Claudia had already seen the exhibit in Berlin earlier this year. Since I wasn't able to go then I was glad it moved to Vienna. I enjoyed the art but I wasn't thrilled with the layout. I think they needed to hold it in a larger venue. It was a bit crowded and it could have flowed better. But good nonetheless.

Saturday was the first day of the Vienna Christmas Market so we hung out there for an hour before the 1.5 hour drive back to Brno. Famous art and a Christmas doesn't get much better than this.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Republic of Turkey

The Republic of Turkey is a Eurasian country about the size of Texas. After WWI, the Ottoman Empire collapsed and parts of it were occupied by the Allies. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk led a successful resistance and established the modern country in 1923. Today, Turkey is a democratic, secular country.

Only 3% of Turkey is in Europe. The rest is in Asia, really the Middle East.  However Turkey participates in all European sporting events and contests. In 2005 the country began full membership negotiations to join the EU but the earliest it would be allowed to join is in 2013. There are pros and cons for Europe if Turkey joins the EU but it looks like it will take a while.

Cyprus is a major obstacle to Turkey joining the EU. Turkey is the only country in the world to recognize the de facto "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" - basically ethnic Turks in Cyprus. Since Cyprus joined the EU in 2004 (along with the Czech Republic and Slovakia) it has a say in whether Turkey joins or not. This also means that Turkey would have to open its ports and airports to Cyprus.

Turkey has to bring all of its laws in line with European standards and the country does not exactly have the most liberal freedom of speech. Human rights is another issue. From 1998 to 2008 the European Court of Human Rights made +1,600 judgments against Turkey for human rights violations. In order to move closer to the EU, the country has abolished capital punishment, reformed its police force and given rights to the minority Kurdish population.

I've heard lots of arguments from Czechs, Germans, Brits and French that, culturally, Turkey is not European. I think this is code for Muslim. Another fear is that there will be a wave of Turkish immigration. With its 70 million people, if Turkey joined the EU today, only Germany would be bigger. This would make Turkey a power player in the EU. Another concern I've heard is that the country is too poor and that the rest of the EU will end up having to pay.

I'm not an EU citizen so it doesn't really phase me if Turkey joins or not. However, considering that 99% of the country is Muslim, I think that this would help relations between the West and the Muslim world. It could also fuel economic growth by bringing a young workforce to the EU. Geographically, it would be easier for Russian energy to directly enter the EU instead of having to travel via Ukraine.

Turkey has other things to worry about besides trying to join the EU. There is still no diplomatic relations with neighboring Armenia. This all has to do with the Armenian Genocide that took place during the Ottoman Empire and just after WWI when 1.5 million Armenians were killed. This is acknowledged as one of the first modern genocides. Turkey was created after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and does not feel that what happened was genocide and won't say that it was. So that stalemate continues.

Turkey only just lifted its ban on YouTube. I don't know how I could survive without YouTube.

And just over a week ago a Kurdish suicide bomber killed several people in Istanbul at Taxsim Square. Mom is worried about my upcoming vacation in Istanbul so I hope that she missed this one on CNN. The thing to remember is that things can happen anywhere so all one can do is try to be careful. But I am getting really excited about my upcoming trip to Istanbul.

In the 80's there was a song by They Might Be Giants called Istanbul (Not Constantinople). Unfortunately, the dang song is stuck in my head. I found it out on enjoy this blast from the past.

Update: In 2022, the country's short name changed to Türkiye.