Ephesus 2 – Silk Carpets, Turkey 11 – 5/2014

July 12, 2016

Persian carpets have been treasured for centuries. Once when I was visiting a small village in a remote area of Iran I remember watching a young girl, maybe she was 12 or 13, sitting on a dirt floor in a small room, nearly in the dark because there was no electricity. She was painstakingly weaving on a loom, one thread at a time, carefully tying a knot and then trimming it to the correct length. I could already see the beautiful pattern she was creating but I guessed at the time it would take her a couple more years to finish the relatively small carpet.

Monika is trying her hand on the art of unraveling silk cocoons. The water is very hot.

Monika is trying her hand on the art of unraveling silk cocoons. The water is very hot.

Carpets are traditionally made in villages by family groups of women who work in their homes with primitive looms that lie on the floor and just three tools: scissors, a comb and a knife with a hooked blade. Most of the designs are created from memory and have been passed down to each generation from mother to daughter.

While many beautiful carpets have been produced throughout Central Asia including Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmeni-stan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, etc. the tribes in the area we now call Turkey also must have been among the weaving masters, creating beautiful works of art from wool long before the magic material called silk came across the mountains on the Silk Road from China.

The long silk threads are wound up into skeins.

The long silk threads are reeled onto a spinning wheel.

When silk was discovered in China, it was used primarily for cloth. Silk carpet making was not a Chinese tradition. It was born of wool weaving done by Central Asian nomadic tribes. Separated by huge land barriers; deserts and mountains; different techniques evolved.

During our recent stop in Selçuk near the ruins of Ephesus, we were fortunate to be invited to visit the wonderful Carpetium Manufacturing showroom and weaving school. It was a fascinating experience to see the process of weaving silk, starting with the unraveling of the cocoon and going all the way to the finished product. While one can argue that silk carpets are better than wool, both greatly depend on the quality of material and skill of the weaver. Silk carpets are often lighter and more detailed because of the nature of the delicate strands of silk thread they are made with.

The lady is cutting the newest knotted strings to an exact length.

The lady is cutting the newest row of knotted strings to an exact length.

Part of the function of Carpetium Carpet Manufacturing is not only to produce beautiful carpets but also to teach artists the special techniques that result in masterpieces. A few students were working at their looms. Many of the carpets on display were worth thousands of dollars. Some were priceless. Among other things, quality is in part judged by the number of threads per square inch. Assuming that an experienced weaver can do 360 knots per hour, it takes 2 years to complete a 1,000-knot per square inch 3′ x 5′ size silk rug.

The Carpetium Carpet Manufacturing store had hundreds of carpets of all sizes and price ranges to choose from.

The Carpetium Carpet Manufacturing store had hundreds of carpets of all sizes and price ranges to choose from.

The difference between a machine-made rug and a hand woven rug is that its fringe is attached after the rug is manufactured rather than being an integral part of the rug. You also can pull individual threads from the pile because a machine-made rug doesn’t have knots.

The following photos may give you an idea of the difference between a $35 “Persian” throw rug at Kmart and a $3,000 carpet from Turkey or any of the Asian nations.

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Ephesus, Turkey 10 – 5/2014

July 2, 2016

Ephesus, the Ancient City in Anatolia.

Sorry, more ruins, but really, this one is amazing. Aside from its physical presence, its history is fascinating.

In the Neolithic age the area surrounding Ephesus was already inhabited about 6000 BC. Must have been a nice place even back then. As time marched on, Ephesus was built on the site of the former Arzawan capital by Greek colonists. During the Classical Greek era it was one of the twelve cities of the Ionian League. Greek historians reassigned the city’s mythological foundation to Ephos, queen of the Amazons, a race of women warriors. Amazons, according to legend, also invented the Cavalry who fought mounted on horseback.

The famous Library of Celsus in Ephesus held 12,000 scrolls.

The famous Library of Celcus in Ephesus held 12,000 scrolls.

Then came the Romans, back to the Greeks, back to the Romans, the Cimmerians, the Goths, the Lydians, to the Persians, a series of tyrants, to the Arabs, the Ionians back to the Greeks, and finally to the Ottomans. All this following a number of wars and battles and sacks under the commands of a dozen or more generals, kings, queens, warlords, revolting mobs and emperors, including Alexander the Great. Even Genghis Khan may have stopped by for a piece of the action. Throw in a couple of major earthquakes and the list of conquests and disasters is longer than your arm.

Ephesus is one of the most important attractions in Turkey.

Ephesus is one of the most important attractions in Turkey.

Ephesus was one of the seven cities of Asia that are cited in the Book of Revelation. The Gospel of John may have been written here. The city was the site of several 5th century Christian Councils. The House of Virgin Mary has been considered to be the last home of Mary, mother of Jesus. It is a popular place of Catholic pilgrimage that has been visited by three recent Popes.

The city’s importance as a commercial center declined as the harbor was slowly silted up by the Kücükmenderes River. The resulting marshes caused malaria and many deaths among the inhabitants. The Turkey coastline is now 3-4 km (2 mi) away from the ancient Greek site with sediments filling the plain and the Mediterranean Sea.

The famous Temple of Artemis, completed around 550 BC, was said to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Goths destroyed the temple in 268 AD, but Emperor Constantine the Great rebuilt some of it only to have it destroyed by a mob in 401 AD led by St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople (now Istanbul).

The Fountain of Trajan built around 104 AD is one of the finest monuments in Ephesus.

The Fountain of Trajan built around 104 AD is one of the finest monuments in Ephesus.

During one of its many periods, Ephesians were surprisingly modern in their social relations. They allowed strangers to integrate, education was valued, and the city became a bastion of women’s rights. Ephesus even had female artists.

The city had one of the most advanced waters systems in the ancient world, with multiple aqueducts of various sizes to supply different areas of the city. They fed a number of water mills, one of which has been identified as a sawmill for marble. Ephesus also constructed an effective sewer system and municipal latrines. A series of 36 holes designed to handle your business stretched across three long benches, and a trough where relatively clean water flowed near your feet.

The Grand Theater is the largest in Anatolia and has 25,000 seats. It was not only used for concerts and plays, but also for religious, political and philosophical discussions and for gladiator and animal fights.

The Grand Theater is the largest in Anatolia with a capacity of 25,000 spectators. It was not only used for concerts and plays, but also for religious, political and philosophical discussions and for gladiator and animal fights.

Today Ephesus contains the largest collection of Roman ruins in the Eastern Mediterranean. Only an estimated 15% has been excavated. As we wandered through the ruins that are visible, we could imagine some idea of the city’s original splendor. The names associated with some of the statues and monuments are evocative of its former life.

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Aezani, Turkey 9 – 5/2014

June 7, 2016

It was already early afternoon by the time we left Eskişehir. Our next destination was the famous Greek ruins of Ephesos south of Izmir on the coast but then we spotted a “ruin” symbol on our Michelin map. What a great discovery! It turned out that Aezani was an ancient city in western Anatolia on the Penkalas River.

Turkey Blog 8 53Just at the edge of town we found the ruins of the Temple of Zeus and the combined theatre-stadium complex built to honor him by Hadrian in 125 AD. Though we would be soon heading east into mostly Muslim countries, it never hurts to have the mighty Zeus on your side. As I previously mentioned, for thousands of years in what we now call “Western Civilization”, Zeus was the head “God”. There were other Gods and Goddesses beneath him, (He loved to delegate.), but he had the final word and he was worshiped by learned philosophers like Aristotle and Socrates and a major part of the world before they discovered it was not flat.

The city of Aezani (now called Çavdarhisar) really seemed more like a small poor village than the important political and economic centre it had been in Roman times.

Arriving at the deserted parking area at the edge of town we were first greeted by the local tourist dog. We bargained for permission to park for the night with a bowl of bread and milk and he immediately claimed us as his territory, sleeping outside The Turtle V the whole night and barking when any other dog approached.

The ruins of the Zeus Temple, amphitheater and Roman baths were literally in people’s backyards. There were no guards or ticket booths, so we enjoyed the freedom of wandering through the huge blocks of stone, tossed about like so many pieces of an impossible jigsaw puzzle. Some of the architecture had had withstood the test of time. We sat on the steps of the amphitheater and tried to imagine a performance.

Turkey Blog 8 51Beyond the amphitheater were the lavishly equipped Roman baths with exercise and relaxing areas. We could still see the remains of the rich marble fittings of the bath hall and the water and heating channels. At one end of the hall there was a marble statue of the goddess Hygieia. Interesting, even if you were fortunate enough not have taken Latin in high school, Hygieia was the goddess of good health. (Sounds like “hygiene”, New Latin hygieina, from Greek, neuter plural of hygieinos healthful,) She was a daughter and attendant of the medicine-god Asklepios, and a companion of the goddess Aphrodite. Her sisters included Panakeia (All-Cure) and Iaso (Remedy). Nice ladies to have hanging around the bathhouse.

Many of the beautiful rock carvings that were too heavy for looters to steal lay scattered on the ground, made more impressive when you realize that each piece had been hand-chiseled.

Turkey Blog 8 54Beyond the baths and the amphitheater, the impressive pillars of the Zeus Temple rose proudly on a grassy hill. Despite earthquakes, vandalism and a few thousand years of weather many of the pillars were still intact.

Beneath the temple we were surprised to find a huge crypt, believed to have been the seat of the cult of Cybele, the mother goddess of Anatolia. Anatolia is often considered to be synonymous with Asian Turkey, which comprises almost the entire country. Its eastern and southeastern borders are widely taken to be the Turkish borders with neighboring Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, in clockwise direction. An arched ceiling towered over the room giving it a feeling like it had been built yesterday. Birds floated in and out through openings in the walls. A pigeon sat on her nest keeping a baby chick warm.

With a salute to Zeus and final pat on the head of our private guard dog, we headed southeast toward the famous Greek ruins of Ephesos.

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Covercraft Custom Vehicle Protection – 5/31/2016

May 31, 2016

During the next few of months as we continue our blogs all the way to China and onto Mongolia, Russia and South Korea, I thought it would be interesting to our readers to throw in an occasional little tech tip. These will cover products or techniques that we have found over the years to be valuable during our 40 years of exploring the world.

Not really a mechanical thing or a driving thing, but certainly when our truck is on display at big events like the SEMA Show in Las Vegas and the Overland Expo in Arizona, a question often asked is, “Oh my God! How do you keep these trucks so clean after all the places you’ve driven? Well, the truth is 90% of the roads we drive don’t have a lot of overhanging brush; the exceptions have been few, like the Camino del Diablo, (The Devil’s Highway). Then there was that little road in Turkey that Mr. Garmin and Monika insisted we follow on a two-track through a grove of overgrown olive trees, and I do recall our discovery of Bahia de Los Animas in Baja, at the end of an arroyo guarded by hungry mesquite trees. Scratches mostly polish out.

After the 2015 Overland Expo in Arizona we camped with friends at Valley of the Gods when a sudden rain squall/storm swooped over us and then surprised us with a double rainbow. To keep the heat (and sometimes eyes) out of the cab, we always cover the windows on the inside.

At the Valley of the Gods, a sudden squall swooped across the desert and then surprised us with a double rainbow. To keep the heat (and sometimes eyes) out of the cab, we always cover the windows on the inside.

In reality, the dust and mud and grit of overland adventure all pretty much wash off. The real damage done to our vehicles has always been from the ultra violet rays of the sun, the heat, bird droppings, love bugs, pitch and just plain old weather.

Certainly one of our secrets over the years has been that during the months that we are off the road and The Turtle trucks are parked outside, they are always protected by Custom Covercraft Covers. As much as we love our vehicles and as much as they cost nowadays, and considering how much of them are made of plastic and rubber, it just makes sense to protect them. Covercraft Custom covers come in a variety of styles and materials. Our favorite has been Evolution, designed to stop just about anything that might fall from the sky.

Sometimes people laugh when we cover our car even for a couple of hours while we are at a restaurant or a movie. I smile. It takes about 30 seconds to put a Covercraft Custom car cover over the entire vehicle or a custom Covercraft Cab Cover over our truck, and another 30 seconds to take it off. It takes me an hour to do a half decent wash job. Do the math.

Even when we are on the road, as soon as we stop, our custom-made side window and windshield covers go up on the inside. Monika sews them from lightweight Space Blanket material, available at backpacking stores like REI. The covers attach in seconds with small Velcro tabs. They block the sun’s heat and damaging rays and as a bonus, any kind of cover keeps curious eyes out. What you can’t see you don’t think of stealing. The Space Blanket covers fold up and store behind the seat or above the sun visors.

There has been discussions among overland travelers as where to place the windshield covers. Putting them on the outside will reduce the heat build-up in the cab a little better but we feel, that in an emergency, where we’d suddenly have to drive away (it never happened), having the covers on the inside would allow us to remove a corner of the windshield cover to peek out and leave safely. (Yes, when parked, we always unlatch the back cab window so Monika could crawl through from the camper and start the engine.) If the covers are attached to the outside they could also be easily stolen or with any kind of a severe wind they would blow away.

As long as we’re thinking of covers, have you priced your tires lately? Our Michelin XZLs run about $535.00 each if you can find them. Even a BFGoodrich Mud Terrain KM will set you back over $235.00. Protecting them from the sun is a no-brainer and Covercraft offers several sizes of “Tire Savers”. They also manufacture seat covers, doggy beds, dash covers and cab covers. If you drive it or sit on it, they make a custom cover for it. Do I need to point out; clean trucks, cars and SUVs are happier and run better.

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Eskişehir, Turkey 8 – the people – 5/2014

May 18, 2016

While Gary was fascinated with Meerschaum pipes and Zeus, I want to share some more photos of the Eskişehir area, its people, street scenes and the botanical garden. Eskişehir is a modern, clean town with pedestrian streets, funny sculptures, elaborate monuments in round-abouts and interesting parks. I just loved the houses of the beautifully restored Old Town where we strolled around, visited the Meerschaum museum and absorbed the atmosphere. People were busy with life or just sitting on park benches watching the world go by. It was a very welcoming and friendly scene.

The smell of fresh bread beckoned us to a bakery, and following our nose we discovered how the popular sesame bread rings called Simit were made. They are sold throughout Turkey . The busy bakers invited us in and happily posed for photos. In the end, we were presented with a tasty Simit, just pulled out of the oven.

Eskişehir People 32The master meerschaum pipe carver, Mr. Besim Aktaş, patiently answered all our many questions and was very helpful in our quest to learn more about meerschaum mining. His store sold all kinds of Meerschaum products including pipes, letter openers, hairpins, jewelry (necklaces, ear rings, finger rings, brooches and beads) etc. I was surprised that the intricately carved brooches, like the pipes, were as light as a feather. He called a cousin in his home village and told him he was sending us his way to see the mining process. (see Turkey Blog 7 and  www.aktasmeerschaumpipes.com)

Arriving in the village, we found a parking lot adjacent to a community center with a large covered balcony were old men were gathered for their morning “tea” klatsch. Not a woman in sight. None spoke English but as it turned out, several had worked in Germany for a few years so thanks to their rudimentary German, we were able to communicate. They had many questions for us. As tradition has it, we were immediately served with a glass of tea before Mr. Aktaş’ cousin brought us to the area where villagers were working in the shafts and tunnels. The miners were pleased to demonstrate their simple but functional extraction methods and showed us around. I took their invitation to climb down into one of the pits, first using a rope to hang on for a few feet and then climbing a chicken ladder. Just like the gold miners, they used picks and shovels to loosen the dirt in search of nodules of meerschaum. It was backbreaking work in sometimes very cramped tunnels. One miner even demonstrated how he lights and uses his oil lamp. Yup, I made it up the rope again.

Eskişehir People 37Back in the village, we stopped at a house with a porch to drink a soda and learned a bit about the villagers’ lives. Nearby were some old men shooting the breeze and across the street was a lonesome fragil man enjoying the Spring sun. We were told he was over 100 years old and that his wife had recently passed away. There was no family left in the village to care for him. How does he survive, I asked. Some of the kind women in the village bring him food and help when needed. I guess, that’s Turkish Social Security at its best. I walked over to say hello and asked if I could take his picture. He smiled, extending his hand in greeting and seemed pleased for the moment’s attention he received. Too bad we did not speak Turkish. Imagine, born just before World War I during the Ottoman Empire, he could have told us many stories about his long and probably hard life.

After having returned to Eskişehir where Gary bought his treasured meerschaum pipe from Mr. Aktaş, we were looking for a quiet place to spend the night on the outskirts of town and spotted a botanical garden on the GPS. It was a weekday so there were only a handful of visitors. Some mountain bikers peddled by, a group of guys barbecued shish kebabs over a small grill, and a few families were out for an evening stroll. A river had created a large island where a well designed garden with interesting features included trees, shrubs and flowers, water fountains and ponds, art work, educational information, exercise equipment, playgrounds and pick-nick areas. Visitors who passed by greeted. The ones who spoke English stopped to chat. By sunset we were alone and it felt perfectly safe to stay for the night.

 

 

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Eskişehir, Turkey 7 – In search of Meerschaum pipes – 5/2014

May 11, 2016

Escaping the magical city of Istanbul where one could spend years exploring side streets, markets and mosques, we had to move on. While we have always followed the words of John Steinbeck in his book, Travels With Charlie. “Don’t take the trip. Let the trip take you.”, unfortunately we now found ourselves on somewhat of a march-route. Spring was on the way, and while we wanted to spend as much time as possible in each country that lay in our route along the Silk Road, we now had affixed the date of when we had to enter China and meet our guide. In addition, each of the several countries we would now travel through had their own visa requirements and often entry and exit dates that we had to observe or lose time in that country or the next one. Our early-morning escape through the maddening traffic of Istanbul took us across the Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridge (also called the second Bosporus bridge) and onto the continent of Asia. Wow!! Major crossing!

Turkey Blog 7 38So little time and so many places to visit in Turkey, we had to make some choices. Back in my college days I had become an avid pipe smoker. Pipes have been fashioned from an assortment of materials including briar, clay, ceramic, corncob, glass, meerschaum, metal gourd, stone, wood and various combinations thereof, most notably, the classic English calabash pipe. While I could never afford one back then, the famous Turkish meerschaum pipes were always touted as the smoothness smoke. One of the things on our Turkish wish list was to find out a little more about meerschaum.

Meerschaum, (German for foam of the sea), is a soft white clay mineral also known as sepiolite. While meerschaum is found in other countries around the world, the pure white Turkish meerschaum has been prized for centuries. The first recorded use of meerschaum for making pipes was around 1723 and quickly became known as the perfect material for providing a cool, dry, flavorful smoke. The porous nature of meerschaum draws moisture and heat into the stone.

Turkey Blog 7 35Chiefly obtained from the plain of Eskişehir, it occurs there in irregular nodular masses in alluvial deposits that are extensively worked for its extraction. It is said that in this district there are 4,000 shafts leading to horizontal galleries where the search for lumps of meerschaum is ongoing. When first extracted, meerschaum is soft. However, it hardens on exposure to solar heat or if dried in a warm room. Prepared for carving, the natural nodules are first scraped to remove the red earthy matrix, then dried, again scraped and polished with wax. The crudely shaped masses thus prepared are turned and carved, smoothed with glass-paper, treated with wax or stearine, and finally polished with bone ash. When smoked, meerschaum pipes gradually change color. An old meerschaum will turn incremental shades of yellow, orange, red, and amber from the base on up.

Turkey Blog 7 37

This miner introduced Monika to the art of extracting meerschaum.

Turkey Blog 7 36Our trail led us to the town of Eskişehir and then to the village of Gundüzler and the nearby hamlet of Beyazaltin where our search for meerschaum ended at a hole in the ground about 20 feet deep. Monika, fearless woman that she is, promptly lowered herself down a rope and descended a rickety chicken ladder into the darkness with two Turkish guys leading the way. Would I ever see her again? After considerable laughter and a couple of buckets of dirt hauled up with a hand-crank windless, she reemerged from the depths with a chunk of meerschaum in her hand.

Turkey Blog 7 33With a better understanding of the mysterious foam of the sea, we headed back to Eskişehir where we visited the local museum. There were some amazing beautiful examples of what artists had done, but I was not looking for a piece of art to display in a glass cabinet. I wanted a “smoking pipe”, and that led us to one of the several shops in town.

It was there we met Mr Besim Aktaş again, a master carver himself and an avid pipe smoker, he knew what I was looking for. (www.aktasmeerschaumpipes.com) I chose a small intricately carved pipe that had an outer layer of tiny holes, kind of a shell around the inner core, that would take all the advantages of the meerschaum’s attributes for a cool, dry smoke.

Tobacco was introduced to Europe from the Americas in the 16th century. American Indians ratified important agreements with a Peace Pipe, and we supposed the Incas and the Mayans might have had occasions for a smoke.

Turkey Blog 7 34While pipes can be used to smoke stuff other than tobacco, unlike cigarettes or cigars, one does not normally inhale the smoke, so there is no real addiction. The aromas of pipe tobaccos, there are literally hundreds of blends, are mostly not as offensive as cigarettes or cigars. You don’t just mindlessly grab a pipe and light it up. It’s a process that you do on purpose, like opening a bottle of good wine and sipping it consciously. It’s a hobby more than a habit.

Our curiosity satisfied, we headed southwest on backroads toward the coast of the Aegean Sea, but first a quick stop in the town of Aezani, an ancient city in western Anatolia where we would find the Temple of Zeus and the combined theater-stadium complex built by Hadrian in 125 AD. You may recall that for thousands of years in what we now call “Western Civilization”, Zeus was the head “God”. There were other Gods and Goddesses beneath him, (He loved to delegate.), but he had the final word and he was worshiped by learned philosophers like Aristotle and Socrates and a major part of the world before they discovered it was not flat. It never hurts to pay respects to Zeus, though we had no bulls to sacrifice.

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Istanbul 6, Turkey – 4/2014

March 30, 2016

We are market junkies, and we’ve wandered through some of the best, but there is only one Grand Bazaar. Call it a “shopping mall” if you want to homogenize it, but Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is much more. It started as a small market in 1455, and grew into an important trading center on the Silk Road, expanding into what must be considered a city within a city. Today it’s a labyrinthine of some 3,000 covered shops selling virtually everything you can imagine. It incorporates 16 caravanserais, (stopping places where traveling caravans of camels, horses and men could safely rest and trade their goods), connected by 64 lanes, (actually marked lanes if you can find the sign), mosques, banks, a police station, restaurants, cafes, and work shops, all under one roof, surrounded by walls and locked gates at night. Outside those gates are hundreds of other shops and two of the most impressive mosques in the city, the Süleymaniye and the Beyazit.

Istanbul #6 54I recall my first experience in the Grand Bazaar. Every shop keeper invited me for a cup of tea and by the time I had worked my way past the gold section, the meerschaum pipes, the leather and clothing lanes, the rows of hand-painted pottery, the amazing selection of teas and spices—–I was thoroughly lost. Finally, by chance, I emerged from a gate several blocks from where I had entered.

With a proper map, you can weave yourself to specific sections if you’re looking for a new suitcase, a teapot, a belly dancing dress, carpets, gold, silver or pearls, or just a place to have lunch. Along the way you’ll pass little boutiques offering an amazing selection of teas for that beautiful copper teapot you should have bought. If you see something you like, bargain hard and the price may come down 50%, but you may never find it again and a GPS is useless inside the covered domes. After several forays into the Grand Bazaar, Monika, professional navigator that she is, could actually find the same pottery shop three times in a row.

Istanbul #6 30A few blocks away near the Galata Bridge is the separate Spice Bazaar where, along side stalls selling dried meat, fish, cheese, olives and Turkish Delight sweets, you can find piles of every spice known to man; Cumin, Ginger, Turkish and Indian Saffron, sweet and hot Paprika, Garam Masala, and various mixes for meat, fish, chicken and your imagination, all sold by the gram and you can taste before you buy. Little hand grinders are a specialty.

We quickly became aware that being a tourist put a mark on our forehead for pickpockets and the elbow-to-elbow crowds required caution. These bazaars are where locals do their shopping and there was not a Wal-Mart in sight.

Aside from being overwhelmed by the selections, getting lost and the relief of actually finding the same shop twice, (not to be confused by not still being lost), you soon realize that you will never see it all, a good enough reason to come back the next day and start over——lost.

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Istanbul 5, Turkey – 4/2014

March 23, 2016

After a quick Shish Kebab on the street and a glass of fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice, we headed over to the astounding and fascinating Topkapı Palace and museum, home of the Ottoman Sultans for nearly 400 years.

The Palace is an extensive complex rather than a single monolithic structure, with an assortment of low buildings constructed around courtyards, interconnected with galleries, passages and pavilions that stretch down the promontory towards the shores of the Bosporus. The total size of the complex varies from around 592,600 square meters (1,944,225 square feet) to 700,000 square meters (7,534,983 square feet), depending on which parts are counted. Don’t ask how many bathrooms. Many of the walls of the palace are ten feet thick, so it mostly escaped structural damage during the 1999 Izmit earthquake.

This is of the many exquisite sitting rooms we walked through.

One of many exquisite sitting rooms we wandered through.

Checking the map in our Lonely Planet guide, we saw that there were four main courtyards, essentially beautiful parks with lush gardens and fountains. Clearly, we would need two days to see it all.

The palace kitchens alone consisted of 10 domed buildings. They were the largest kitchens in the Ottoman Empire with a staff of 800 to 1,000 people and the capacity to prepare up to 6,000 meals a day. We’re not talking about paper plates either. Chinese and Far Eastern porcelain was highly valued and was transported by camel caravans over the Silk Road or by sea. The 10,700 pieces of Chinese porcelain displayed are thought to rival that found in China as one of the finest collections in the world.

Istanbul #5 22We didn’t want to miss the Harem. What’s a Harem? Among several definitions, it is a separate part of a Muslim household reserved for wives, concubines, and female servants. One might have a romantic image of beautiful girls, (concubines), skimpily dressed, parading around with their only job to please the master, like “Peel me a grape, honey.” In this case, being the home of the Sultan, Topkapı’s Harem had more than 400 rooms with hundreds of concubines, children, and servants. There were special rooms for the Queen Mother, the sultan’s consorts and “favorites”, the princes and the concubines as well as the eunuchs, both black and white, who had been castrated in order to make them reliable to serve the royal court. The “favorites” of the Sultan were conceived as the instruments of the perpetuation of the dynasty in the harem organization. When the “favorites” became pregnant they assumed the title and powers of the Official Consort of the Sultan. As it turns out, many of the women in the Sultan’s Harem had considerable political power.

The Sultans from centuries passed would no doubt be astounded by this modern view of Istanbul.

The Sultans from centuries passed would no doubt be astounded by this modern view of Istanbul.

Recalling my first visit years ago as a neophyte traveler, I remember being astounded by the unimaginable wealth found in the Treasury. The Imperial Treasury is a vast collection of works of art, jewelry, heirlooms of sentimental value and money belonging to the Ottoman dynasty. Many are of solid gold and other precious materials and covered with diamonds, emeralds and rubies. I recall two enormous solid gold candleholders, each weighing 48 kg, (105 lbs), and mounted with 6,666 cut diamonds. The Imperial Treasury is without doubt one of the world’s greatest treasure chambers.

Every room we entered had amazing detailed paintings, rare woods inlayed with mother of pearl, beautiful tiles, intricate mosaics. The whole Topkapı Palace and museum is just something you have to see to comprehend. The obvious wealth of the Sultans puts Donald Trump to shame.

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Istanbul 4, Turkey – 4/2014

March 14, 2016

Some of the most amazing examples of engineering and architecture in the world are places of worship. We had seen a few of the most impressive; St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England, the National Palace in Mafra, Portugal, the Basilica La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain, the Cathedrál de Cordoba in Cordoba, Spain, the Vatican in Vatican City, Italy, just to name a few, but standing in a class by themselves are the imposing mosques of Istanbul, and we just happened to be camped beneath the most famous one, The Blue Mosque, (called Sultanahmet Camii in Turkish). Known as the Blue Mosque because of blue tiles surrounding the walls of interior design, it was built between 1609 and 1616 during the rule of Ahmed I. Since it is an active mosque, it’s closed to non-worshippers for a half hour or so during the five daily prayers, so timing was important for a visit.

From our camping spot on the Bosporus we had a great view of the Blue Mosque.

From our camping spot on the Bosporus we had a great view of the Blue Mosque.

The equally beautiful Hagia Sophia (from the Greek: Ἁγία Σοφία, “Holy Wisdom”; Latin: Sancta Sophia or Sancta Sapientia; Turkish: Ayasofya), has an interesting history. From the date of its construction in 537 until 1453, it served as an Orthodox cathedral and seat of the Patriarch of Constantinople, except between 1204 and 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire.

In 1453, Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mehmed II who ordered this main church of Orthodox Istanbul 4 42Christianity converted into a mosque. The bells, altar, iconostasis, and sacrificial vessels and other relics were removed and the mosaics depicting Jesus, his Mother Mary, Christian saints and angels were also removed or plastered over. Fortunately many have been restored. In 1931 it was secularized and was opened as a museum in 1935. Today Hagia Sophia is the second-most visited museum in Turkey.

Famous in particular for its massive dome, it is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and is said to have “changed the history of architecture”. It remained the world’s largest cathedral for nearly a thousand years, until the Seville Cathedral in Spain was completed in 1520.

The colors and patterns of the various domes in the Blue Mosque were exquisite.

The colors and patterns of the various domes in the Blue Mosque were exquisite.

Back when the Hagia Sophia was first transformed into a mosque, Fatih Sultan Mehmet The Conqueror, (Seventh Sultan Of The Ottoman Empire), and his followers prostrated themselves for the first Friday prayer, however, there was a slight problem, since the direction of the building was not facing toward Kaaba, the center of Islam’s most sacred mosque in Mecca.

There is an interesting column at the northwest of the building with a hole in the middle covered by bronze plates. It’s called the “perspiring column” or the “wishing column”. According to one legend, the dampness in the small hole is believed to be a tear of Virgin Mary. Rumors appeared during the East-Roman period that it had a healing effect on humans. People believed that they would get better if they put their fingers into that hole on the column and then rub them to the place where disease was felt. You can also just make a wish. We did.

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Istanbul 3, Turkey – 4/2014

February 25, 2016

Problems!! Perhaps not critical or life threatening, but the convenience of having hot water without having to start the engine was addictive. When our 14-year-old Espar D5 Hydronic fluid heater, which could also preheat the engine on cold mornings and serve as a backup heater for the camper, started to have trouble firing up back in Greece, we were concerned. Being the international company that Espar is, they had a fully staffed service center in Istanbul and the manager even spoke English. His email that read: “No Problem. We have all service parts for your D5 Hydronic.” was a relief, knowing there were passes over 14,000 feet in route across Tajikistan followed by a 4,000 mile drive across Siberia in the winter.

Only in Istanbul would a 400-year old mosque be called "New".

During our evening cruise both the Galata Bridge and the New Mosque were basking in the afternoon light. Only in Istanbul would a 400-year old mosque be called “New”.

Their complete service center opened the doors to us, told us we could safely park in the guarded compound in front of the shop while repairs were made, and even insisted on inviting us for lunch. Given the age of our Espar, the easy fix was to replace the unit with the latest model and add the new altitude compensation kit in the process. We took a hot shower to celebrate.

Returning to our campsite just around the corner from the entrance to the Golden Horn, we couldn’t help but notice the parade of cargo and oil tanker ships coming and going from the Black Sea. Looking at the map, the Bosporus is a natural strait and an internationally significant waterway that forms part of the continental boundary between Europe and Asia and separates Asian Turkey from European Turkey. Like many cities on major rivers, lakes or oceans, it’s always interesting to see them from the water, so a sunset cruise was in order.

Pulling out from the docks just a couple blocks from our home base, the captain turned left up the Golden Horn, also known by its modern Turkish name as Haliç, a major urban waterway and the primary inlet of the Bosporus. This gave us the wonderful opportunity to see the famous Galata Bridge that I recalled walking over back in 1969 when it still floated on pontoons. The crowds of fishermen were still dangling their lines over the edge to catch the ebbing tide while others just below them sipped a cold beer and munched fresh-baked simits (sesame-encrusted bread rings) or smoked their apple-scented argils, (Turkish water pipes), in the restaurants and cafés. What an amazing backdrop with the Galata Tower on one side and the 400-year old New Mosque on the other basking in the afternoon light.

What a crazy artsy photo of the Bosporus Bridge!

Couldn’t resist to share this crazy photo of the Bosporus Bridge!

As the sun crept lower we motored back up into the Bosporus, passing by the Rumelian Castle that is situated at the narrowest point of the busy strait. With the help of thousands of masons and workers, the fortress was completed in a record time of 4 months and 16 days in 1452. On our return home, the spectacular Bosporus Bridge connecting Europe and Asia gave us an amazing light show!! What a magical city!

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