“I think we will just relax today”…..NOT!!

We were both tired after our people-intensive time in Kars and had decided that, since we had four extra days in Istanbul, we would just spend the first day relaxing around the hotel.  However, by 9:00am we both felt that we couldn’t waste a single day in Istanbul so we headed out to the Blue Mosque.

We knew that it was close but weren’t sure if it was a straight walk or whether we had to navigate several small streets.  So, to be sure, we asked the man at the reception desk.  He looked at us and dryly said (put on your best Basil Fawlty impression when you read this) … “Turn right out of the hotel and keep walking”!”  ALL of the other hotel employees have been extremely fun and very helpful!!!

We followed his instructions to the letter and quickly arrived at the outer wall of the magnificent Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii).….._6106618

Unfortunately, every tour group and cruise ship group had the same idea!!  We stood in line to get a bag to hold our shoes, waited for the attendant to fix my scarf so that it covered my shoulders too and then entered this beautiful Mosque…._6106630_6106631

It was hard to take many photos so we didn’t stay long but we are planning to return early one morning before anyone else is up and about.  That is one of the perks of having a hotel so close!!!

Instead we headed down a “side street”, not really caring where we ended up.  We stopped to take a photo of this interesting house and it has now become our benchmark for where we are!!!


We next entered the Underground Cistern (Yerebatan Sarayi).  Rick Steves describes it as “an underground rainforest of pillars” and that is a very good description….. _6106659

It was built in the 6th century and held 27 million gallons of water.  There are two stone Medusa heads that were recycled from earlier Roman structures.  One was on it’s side and the other was upside down….not sure why….._6106676We loved this sign….._6106688

and decided that they should give tickets for some of the outfits that the tourists wear!!!!!

However, you could never fault this guy’s sense of style……



Not a bad shot considering that I was holding the camera at my waist and clicking away!!


I loved the interior of this restaurant……_6106694

We ended up in a fairly deserted area but quickly realized that this was actually the Grand Bazaar which was closed on Sundays.   A “Shoe-shine” person walked passed and dropped his brush.  Michael kindly told him that it had fallen out of his box.  He then thanked Michael and “offered” to brush his shoes for free.  Now, we knew that this was probably a ploy, but as he wanted them done anyway, we let ourselves be suckered!!!!  And, as he related the story of his children’s upcoming eye surgery, Michael made the appropriate commiserating noises.


At one point he turned and spoke to me in Turkish.  When I didn’t answer he looked back at Michael  and said “not Turkish???”   That is the second time that I have been mistaken for being Turkish!!!!

There are tons of cats in Istanbul, most slinking around the table legs of outdoor diners, but there are also a lot of cute kittens.  This one obviously wanted his paws shined……


We looked up and realized that we were standing in the shadow of yet another Mosque.  As we walked up to it we found that we were at the entrance to the Grand Bazaar as well.   We heard one tour guide talking to his group and he said “Oh no, I just remembered that it is Sunday and the Bazaar is closed”.  I don’t know about you, but I would be a little frustrated if my guide “forgot” such an important detail.   We have now heard that he probably did this so that he could guide them to “his brother’s  place” who has good prices!!

The Nuruosmaniye Mosque sits at the gate to the Bazaar and is a hidden prize…..

_6106696We were greeted at the front door and invited inside.  At each of the Mosque’s you are given wraps if you are not dressed appropriately….ie head, shoulders and knees covered!!!

The greeter also told another family about the proper etiquette for taking off your shoes.   You slip out of your shoes before you step onto the carpet, but then you do not let your feet touch the ground after they are out of the shoes.  This can be a bit difficult if you are trying to step UP with the unclad foot while trying to get the shoe off of the other foot!!!!

The thing that was wonderful about this Mosque is that it was mostly empty so that we could enjoy it’s beauty and serenity!!_6106718

I love these large chandeliers.  Apparently they originally used candles in these and they were lowered to the ground for the candles to be lit.DSC03529Michael took a photo for one family and they kindly reciprocated….

I had read stories about the “pulpits” that were used by the Imam’s to preach their sermons.  They first were used when Muhammed  the prophet would preach to the masses of people and he needed to be up higher so that he could be heard.  Today, in deference to Muhammed, the Imam preaches from a position on the stairs rather than at the top.  Notice where the microphone is placed….DSC03536

I very much liked this embroidered tapestry piece….._6106729

and thought that this scene was very serene……DSC03538

As we were leaving the compound, we saw this washing area where the men will sit and wash their feet and hands before the go in to pray…..


We were feeling a bit “peckish” as we were walking back toward the hotel so decided to stop in at a small Doner Kebab joint and see what we could find to eat.  Fortunately, the menu had photos and English subtitles……DSC03545

….however we are a bit concerned about what “Return Chicken Portions” really are!!!!

The small shop had four tables and was just the right size for us.   We each ordered something different.   I had the Doner in half bread……..DSC03546

…which was spicy beef served with lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, pickle slice and, of course, cold French Fries.   Michael had the Chicken Wrap which was basically the same thing, but with chicken and a different type of bread.DSC03547

Doner Kebabs are a specialty in Turkey.  They are cooked on a spit over a vertical grill and the cooked meat is cut off so that the next layer can cook.  These are different from the ones in the US because the meat is not processed into a paste before it is skewered.  Instead, fresh slices of meat and peppers are layered together and then spitted.  The proprietor allowed me a wonderful photo op…..DSC03549

In the afternoon, we did some heavy duty Terrace Time, enjoying the sights of a Catamaran regatta off of the coast….._6106751

…..and, of course, the Blue Mosque in the near distance……_6106753

Even though we were not particularly hungry, we decided that it was time to eat.  This time we visited a restaurant that was suggested by the hotel.  It obviously catered to tourists so was not a true Turkish meal, however, the event was enjoyable.   We sat next to a young Australian couple and spent much of the evening talking with them.

One of the things that we had wanted to try was a Turkish whiskey called Raki.  It is served with a glass of ice water and when you pour the water into the Raki it becomes cloudy.  It was OK, but had a strong licorice flavor.  I am glad to say that I tried it…..

DSC03557As we were walking back to the hotel, we decided to drop in on the Blue Mosque again.  This time it was not nearly as crowded, but they were getting ready for the sunset prayer so we were not allowed inside.  Instead we sat on one of the side steps and just watched….


The Mosque is beautiful in the twilight……_6106777_6106781

And so ended the day of “let’s jus sit around the hotel and relax!!!!”

The day of a thousand good-byes!!!

Before I tell about this last day in Kars, I have to tell about our room last night.  The door had an alarm on it that would sound whenever the door wasn’t closed properly.    We kept hearing this alarm and thought that it was coming from another room but then realized that it was coming from OUR door!!!   It would go off and on at random times and we felt much like Phoebe on “Friends” when her smoke alarm kept going off!!! 

This morning was our last in Kars and we started it out with a wonderful breakfast with many of our new friends……


The conversation was wonderful and the food was amazing….

This is Bokek on the left and Pisi on the right.  They were both  types of fried dough and were delicious with cheese and honey.


These were the “condiments for the meal….honey, apricot preserves, butter, olives, cucumbers and tomatoes…..DSC03461

The all important cheeses…..Beyaz Peynir (the top white cheese and our favorite), Kasar  (yellow cheese) and Cecil (cheese like a rope)……DSC03462

But my absolute favorite for the morning was Kaymak which was basically clotted  cream (on the left).   Also nice was the whipped yoghurt with strawberry sauce…..DSC03463

I  greatly appreciated Duygu  who spent most of the morning writing down the names of all of these dishes so that I could get them right here……


After we had all eaten and drunk our fill we laughed about our body-mass-index and also our “balconies”…..that roll of fat that hangs over your stomach!!!  One person called it “Turkish muscles”!!

We exchanged many facebook names, shook many hands, kissed many cheeks and said many good-byes as we parted.  Earlier in the morning, I had complimented the ring that  Eiken’s was wearing.  As we were walking away, she came running over and offered it to me as a gift so that I would always remember her…..dont worry Eiken, I will never forget!!!!

We returned to Buyuk Kale Hotel and checked out.  The hotel had played the same 5 or 6 songs the entire time that we were there and we were glad to say good-bye to “Volare”, “Fly Me to the Moon” and much of  “Lord of the Rings” soundtrack!!!

We had been told that we had to be at the airport several hours early because we still had to pay for change in the ticket.  However when we got there, we were told that there wasn’t an agent at the small airport.   SO, the ever resourceful Muhammet got on his cell phone and was able to take care of the transaction for us.  We were so thankful to have people to help us.

Since there were now several hours before our flight left, they carried us back into Kars and we spent an enjoyable 2 hours at a local Tea Garden.   This was a magical place with tables spread throughout a park area.  DSC03475 Our tea was served in this two tier pot…….DSC03472

It was so relaxing to sit and watch families gather for picnics or to let their children play on the playground.   A perfect way to end our stay in Kars.

At the airport, we discovered the they board the plane in the same manner as the Chinese do…..the rush the gate when it is opened!!!   We met a very nice man who was in Kars for a business trip and he told us when they announced that the flight was going to be delayed.    He laughingly told us that we were in the “Right Country, but wrong City”!!  After we arrived in Istanbul, he offered to help us find a taxi but we told him that we had a driver organized.  We have continually found people to be very helpful and kind throughout this trip!!!!

As Michael was climbing the steps onto the plane there was a old woman who had a large bag and a large purse and she was obviously struggling to walk up the steps.  Michael reached down and took the bags from her.  She let him carry them all the way to her seat and was very appreciative.

The flight to Istanbul was comfortable and good food was served.  We were met at the exit by a driver who took us to the hotel.  He drove much of the time with his hands pointing at various attractions while he used his knee to steer.  Now, Jenny and I do this all of the time so that didn’t bother me so much.  However, when he kept turning around to talk to us while driving 60 mph, that was another story!!!

As we drove past one of the harbors, we could see hundreds of people having picnics in the park.  The cars were double parked all along the road and families looked like they were having a wonderful time.  There were many small hibachi grills being used and the smoke was everywhere.

We arrived at the Ibriham Pasa Hotel in the Sultanamet area of Istanbul and checked into our room.  

_6106765 We were given a cinnamon spiced drink that was very refreshing……DSC03493


The room is beautiful….DSC03495DSC03494

but what we really wanted was this magnificent view from the rooftop terrace…..


Sooooo many things to look forward to in the next TEN days!!!

Friday morning at the Mosque

This morning was my last in Kars so, as Michael left to teach again, I began my usual trek thru the city streets.  I was once again taken with the different clothing styles….everything from modern dress to women will Hijab’s around their head to women in full Burka’s.

I stopped at a couple of clothing stores and realized that they were “outlet” stores.  In most cases there was only one of each item and there were no sizes on any of them.  I looked but didn’t buy!!  As you can see, there is a HUGE range of styles……DSC03395

I was interested in the number of young people who were on the street this morning.  Most of them were carrying two papers with them.  The first was a certificate of some sort and the second looked like a report card to me.  I was never able to find out what this was all about.  You can see two of the boys holding them here….. DSC03401 Many students were getting ice cream from  street vendors.  I loved the long paddles that they used to dip the ice cream onto the cone……

DSC03407 At one point a long convoy of cars passed me, honking and holding colored scarves out of their windows.  One car (the one pictured here) had a man playing a drum and another playing a typical Turkish pipe.  I asked someone about what was going on, but no one knew…..

DSC03409 I enjoyed looking in the various shops that I passed.   I am not sure what these red “baskets” are but they were certainly interesting…..


I was also pleased to find the place that all of the men buy their “pork-pie” hats…DSC03417

As I passed one open door, I recognized that clatter of sewing machines in use and found these embroidery machines going full bore…..


As usual, I was highly attracted to color and loved these women’s scarves….DSC03425

I came across these goats outside of one shop….I dont think that it bodes well for them…..DSC03427

It was now about 11:30 and there was a short Call to Prayer.  I was surprised  by this since it was normally at 12:15.  However, I knew that all Muslim’s are required to pray at the Mosque at some point on Fridays, and I knew that the Noon service was the major one so I decided that the additional “call” was just an early reminder. 

So, being a good sticky-beak (the Australian term for a nosy person), I started making my way to the Mosque…..DSC03429 I took my usual perch on the stairs and just watched….

The first thing that I noticed is that there were many rugs on the concrete outside of the Mosque.  I remembered that  Muhammet had told me that people would pray outside once the Mosque was full.

I had some sweet interactions with some of the older men while I was sitting there.  One walked up to me and asked “English?”  I answered “Yes”.  Then he asked “Christian”?” and again I affirmed.  He then pointed to the Mosque and said “Muslim”.    Another gentleman motioned that I was welcome to join the service at the Mosque and another one insisted that his grandson greet me.  Another 20-something came by and offered to go and get water for me to drink.  They were all so kind!!

At one point an older man dressed in a long coat and different sort of hat walked up and into the Mosque.  There was much bowing and hand shaking as he entered.

Today I noticed that the women were not entering thru the usual entrance to the side of the Mosque but were apparently going in thru another entrance on the back side of the Mosque.

As I watched, there was a steady stream of men flowing out of the “cleansing”   area where they washed their hands and feet and into the Mosque courtyard.    There were a number of them who had obviously used their handkerchiefs to dry their hands and they carried them in front of their bodies as they walked. …I assume to dry them before putting them back in their pockets.  It was interesting to watch the solemn manner  in which they walked with them held in front.


I saw one ritual that I have not been able to find out about.  As the men would enter, there was a person who had a stick of something (looked like chap-stick) and he would place an “X” on the back of the entrant’s hand and then they would rub the back of their hand’s on their faces. DSC03438

As more and more men gathered, they started sitting outside as well.  I heard the microphone click on and the Imam began teaching, but the men just kept on talking with their friends.    As more and more men arrived, I moved further up the stairs to a more discrete distance.  

I would estimate that 1500 to 2000 men entered the Mosque while I sat there.  Since each one took off their shoes and put them on the shelf, I cant imagine the chaos when they all stream out of the Mosque at the end of the service!!!  One man brought his own bag to put his shoes in so I guess that might make it easier!!!

Once again, Michael called me to say that I needed to head to the hotel so I reluctantly left this peaceful courtyard…..


One funny thing that happened…….as I mentioned earlier, when I am walking around the city, I always carry my small point-and-shoot camera and normally leave it on.  I found several photos where I had accidentally taken pictures of my foot or hand….nice life line……DSC03439

I was met at the hotel by Dogan and Eiken and treated to yet another fabulous lunch.  It started with the usual salads and bread…..


….and went on to a wonderful meat dish served over cubed bread and with a side of yoghurt, called Iskender Kebap.DSC03448 It was magnificent and we truly enjoyed our conversation with this wonderful couple…..

DSC03450 As you can see from this photo, the interior of the restaurant was decorated to look like a cave and had recessed, lighted areas in the floor that held wonderful antiquities.

Michael returned to Kafkas University to give his last seminar of the course. 

IMG_1188 The students and faculty presented him with this beautiful Ibrik….now I just have to get it into a suitcase!!!!



When dinner time rolled around, we really were not that hungry so we decided to return to Semazen for another Pide.  It was just as good as the first time.

DSC03452 Before this arrived, the waiter came over and brought a napkin holder and set it on the table.  My thought was that we already had one!!  Then I realized that both would be needed to balance the Pide tray!!

Two young waiters came over and started talking to us in English and we had a wonderful time conversing with them.

When we were ready to leave we asked to take a photo of the Ayran “fountain” which keeps the yoghurt mixture frothy and aerated.  This young man offered to pose for us…..


Walking in the paths of ancient Armenians

On Wednesday afternoon we were kindly driven about 40 kilometers out of Kars to visit the ancient city of Ani.   It was an important city along the Silk Road during the Middle Age with the first human marks going back to the Neolithic Period.  It was once the capital of a medieval Armenian kingdom that covered much of present day Armenia and eastern Turkey.  The city is located on a triangular site, protected on it’s eastern side by the ravine of the Akhurian River, on it’s western side by the Bostanlar valley and on it’s Northern side by the Arakas River which also forms the border between Turkey and Armenia.

It was interesting, and a bit disconcerting, that we were looking directly into Armenia, including the observation towers where watchers were keeping tabs on the border!!

_6076419 If you notice the tall, snow covered mountain in the background….as we were driving I asked if anyone knew the name of the mountain.  There was a 5 minute conversation that started in English and then morphed into Turkish.  After a lull, Dogan said “We dont know!!”

We first walked thru the thick stone walls of the fort that protected the city……


We followed along the wall for a while……_6076417

….and then turned to look back to the rest of the city ruins (click on the photo to enlarge……


I was attracted by this arch…..

_6076434 ….but even more enamored after I saw what was on the other side….

_6076437 The ravine and caves were amazing….but little did we know that there were even more amazing ones to  be seen!!!

This was the first out-lying structure that we approached…..DSC03237

This is the Church of Redeemer and was built in 1034, but according to the sign, was “struck by thunder” (we think they mean lightning) in 1957 and was split in half.

…and then a little further down the hill…..

_6076459  This church was built in 1215 and dedicated to St. Gregory



There were wonderful  patterns carved in the stone on the outside…..DSC03264

….and beautiful paintings on the interior walls.  Although they were not in great shape, it was still amazing that they had survived in the open air of the crumbled church….DSC03269 I particularly liked the “dome” at the top of the church…..

DSC03257 We now had a choice of going down and back up or staying on the same level as our next sight.  Michael chose the path of MORE resistance, while I stayed on the upper level…..

DSC03281 It was at this point that we really started looking at how rugged the country was…..


The next building that we visited started out as a Cathedral but was later turned into a Mosque…..


The interior had huge columns made of two-toned marble….DSC03305

These were our gracious hosts…..Dogan, Ilhame and Muhammet…._6076515

They graciously waited for us as we took copious photos…..

_6076499 One of the last  structures that we visited was the Mosque of Ebel Menucehr, the first mosque built in Anatolia in 1072, and the only structure that had a Minaret….

DSC03311 It was perched on the edge of a gorge which meant that the views from the arched windows were beautiful……


Michael took this beautiful photo of a plant surviving in a very arid land….._6076560

There were lots of photo ops during the afternoon…..DSC03342 DSC03340 We were greatly interested in the caves along the cliffs.  Since they are so carefully shaped, we are sure that they  were man-made but who knows how long ago….


As we were walking along, I spied a small piece of pottery laying on the ground…..

DSC03354 The question is how long it has been there….maybe just dropped last week, but I would love to think that it was extremely old!!!

The final structure was Monument built to St. Gregory.…..


We loved our time in Ani….._6076567

Although it was very much in ruins, it still alluded to the grandeur that had once been the city of Ani…..


As we were walking back to the car, two little girls came up holding postcards and a couple of crocheted pieces for sale.  Michael bought one of the pieces for me and then asked if he could take their photo…..

_6076615 Those two could have probably sold him a bottle of water straight from the dirty river!!!!

We had an easy trip back to Kars but had one contra tempt when an old gentleman was hitchhiking along the road and walked all the way out in front of us to try to make us stop.  With that type of behavior, we were all surprised that he had reached such a ripe old age.

We also passed large herds of cattle, horses and sheep on the hills beside the road.  Each had one or more “shepherds” who were looking after the stock.  There are few fences so it was important for the stock-keeper to stay vigilant to keep them off of the road.

Our hosts tried desperately to feed us another meal, but we cradled our swollen stomachs and asked for a reprieve for the evening.

All in all, it was a good, good day!!!

Parallel & Perpendicular

When I walked out of the hotel this morning (as Michael left to go the University to teach) I was determined not to get lost!!!  Since the streets are in a grid format, I decided to not worry about which street I was on, but instead to remember if I was walking parallel or perpendicular with the street that housed the hotel and also to remember if I was on the front side of the hotel or the back side.  This was a much easier approach as I always knew at least the general direction of the hotel!!!!

I knew that I wanted to head back toward the market area of town and enjoyed walking along and looking in the various stores.  There were several people sprinkling or throwing water on the sidewalks.  I thought that they were just getting rid of their cleaning water, but I also saw one man sprinkling water from a bottle.  My only thought is that they were trying to control some of the dust from the sidewalks…..we will never know!!!

I stopped in one shop that carried all sorts of glass goods and cooking items….bowls, pans, etc.  The thing that caught my eye was a salt and pepper shaker that was an interesting design.   There were no prices, so I asked at the counter how much it was.  The two young men hesitated so I pulled out my small calculator and he punched in 15 but said 25.  I tried to ask which amount he meant but finally just gave him 15 Lira and he was happy with the transaction.

I found myself constantly looking down so that I wouldn’t stumble on broken bricks but stopped at one corner and saw this beautiful building.  I love the colors and they really stand out in this city…..

DSC03184 I passed the military post but didn’t linger (for obvious reasons)…..


I passed this large pile of firewood…..DSC03190 I looked around the corner and saw them chopping all of this by hand….what a job….


Here are a few street scenes from the market area of town where the shops spill out onto the sidewalk..….DSC03207DSC03201 I assume that they bring all of this in every night although that would be quite a big job!!!

I have passed many small vegetable markets but this was the first “dried fruit and nut” market that I had seen.  I love that the proprietor is sitting on a bag of something….


As you can imagine, this display caught my eye!!!!DSC03212 The fabrics were  beautiful colors and were a heavier fabric.  I didn’t buy any here because we have a guide to take us thru the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul and she is a textile importer.  I figure that she can help me with fabrics there!!!

I ended up at the tourist bureau…..

DSC03405 Interestingly, there is no tourist information there but there was a lot of fun children’s art….


I especially liked these weavings…..DSC03216

Some of the art was more sophisticated…sorry for the angle on this photo!!DSC03220

And obviously, they had done a class in paper marbling.  There were some wonderful examples of this technique……DSC03223 

Once again Michael called to say that he was on his way to pick me up and this time, thankfully, I knew where I was and how to get back home again!!!!