A trip to “Princess Island.”

Princes’ Island is situated in the south-east of the Istanbul city, in the Sea of Marmara. The Princes’ Islands consist of a group of nine islands. We were told that during the 7thCentury of Byzantine period and later during the Ottoman Empire, the members of the royal family were exiled to these islands. We decided to take a day trip to its fourth and largest island, named Büyükada. We went there by ferry. We bordered a ferry at Kabatas ferry docks situated on the European side of the Bosphorus, near the famous Dolmabahce Palace. Our ferry boat stopped at one or two islands, (I forgot to write the names) to drop off a few passengers before we reached Büyükada. The trip to Büyükada turned out to be an excellent experience. When we reached the island, we realised that it prohibits motor vehicles, so there were no cars, buses and motorbikes, etc. The only way to go about is on a horse carriage, bicycles or on foot. I thought hmmm this is my kind of island and wished if back home in the Maldives, the government would ever introduce such a policy in our tiny little islands. I know it’s some wishful thinking! 😦 Anyway back to Büyükada experience. We rode on a horse carriage and first visited a red pine forest. It was my first time to see a pine forest. After that we walked all day, some parts of the island were quite hilly, and it was beneficial if you think about missing workouts while on holiday.  I have a thing for beautiful architecture and gardens, and at the time of our visit the gardens had so many colourful varieties of blooms, the sight itself was pleasing and satisfying experience for me. One part of the island had so many restaurants, it gave me the impression that the area is exclusively allocated for catering businesses. All along the seaside, there were numerous restaurants, coffee shops, ice cream places with outdoor seating so that people can enjoy the sea view and the fresh breeze or air and just relax. Coming from an island nation that has bad land use plans (labour quarters and warehouses built at the seaside blocking the view and very few places that people can sit and enjoy the sea view), I could not help but wished if we could take places like Büyükada as an example in planning our islands.

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Day Trip to Bursa.

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During our stay in Istanbul, we went to Bursa for a day trip. To go to Bursa, first, we took a bus to the harbour, where the ferry boat leaves to Yalova. The bus boarded the ferry boat with its passengers, and we disembarked afterwards. Once the bus is parked in the boat, we were asked to proceed to the upper deck of the vessel. There were other buses parked on the lower deck, and many other passengers were already on the first deck when we went up.  Time passed quickly as we chatted with some fellow travellers, gazed at the greyish blue sky while enjoying the light breeze of air.When the ferry docked at Yalova harbour, vehicles were unloaded first, then the passengers and we boarded the bus we came in. Our first stop was at a hot spring. It was the first time I ever saw one, so I was super excited. I washed my face and hands from the water in hot spring before goint to explore the area. As we walked we found a mansion with a beautifully landscaped garden. It was said to be the retreat home of  Mustafa Kemal, the secular leader and the father of modern Turkey. After his death, the mansion was converted into a museum.

Our next leg of the journey was an uncomfortable bumpy ride with sudden sharp turns, as we climbed higher up the hill. But the scenery was breathtakingly beautiful as we passed some agricultural estates on the way up. By the time the bus stopped, what seems like to be the middle of nowhere on the road side of a narrow two-lane road, I was about to throw up from car sickness. The bus driver signalled us to follow him, so everyone followed him into a trail into the jungle and then we saw Sudüşen Waterfall. The water was cold, like chilled water. Few people with their children were camping or picnicking in the area. Some of them were soaked. An old lady was sitting in the vicinity of the waterfall with a strange kind of stove. She was making flatbreads. Her helper was another woman, who filled hot flatbreads with cheese, potato or a combination of both. It was sold for a Euro and was surprisingly delicious and filling. After that, once again we boarded the bus and rode up to Bursa without another stop. By the time we reached Bursa, it was around 2 pm, the heat was unbearable. We had a late lunch at a restaurant with a traditional Turkish setting.  The food and ambience were praiseworthy. After we had finished sightseeing in Bursa, our bus boarded the ferry back to Istanbul. As we cruised on the Marmara Sea towards Istanbul, it was close to sunset. The horizon was beautiful with shades of red, orange and yellow.  By the time we reached Istanbul harbour and started ourjourney back to the hotel, it was still rush hour. Our driver, Ismail Bey,  who didn’t speak a word of English babbled in Turkish and made us laugh with his gestures. We forgot how tired we were and didn’t mind stuck being in the traffic for another two hours or so.

 (I understood that it is common to use Bey, while addressing men in Turkey. Similarly, ‘Gul’ is added after women’s name.)

Hagia Sophia or AyaSofya.

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Hagia Sophia or as Turkish people call it, AyaSofya, is a historical landmark in Istanbul with a religious background. AyaSofya’s history dates back to 360 AD. Initially, the building was a church, later used as a mosque. It was destroyed twice, first, during the riots in 404 and later, it was burned down during the Nika revolution in 532. Hagia Sophia or AyaSofya was completed between 532 and 537. This architectural wonder from the Byzantine period remained as a church for over nine hundred years. According to the narration, Sultan Mehmet changed it to a mosque in the year 1453, by adding an extension to the existing church building, while keeping everything intact in the church building. The new addition to the church had a minaret, a prayer niche (mihrab) and a pulpit. Muslim prayers were held inside the church even though; the walls had mosaic art displaying Jesus, Mary and the Virgin child. Some Islamic scholars believe their religion prohibits images in places of worship. Therefore,  Sultan Mehmet or his predecessors covered the mosaic pictures with whitewash or plaster. AyaSofya remained as a mosque, until the fall of Ottoman Empire. The secular leader of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal, Ataturk restored the original mosaics in 1934 and converted it into a museum. The doors of AyaSofya is incredibly massive. The materials used for making doors vary from metal to timber with large bolts and wooden carvings. I was attracted to the doors and the painted windows. The display of different skills on metals, rocks, wood and marble made me wonder about the kind of tools the builders must have used back in the old age.

Istanbul, July 2011.

497.jpgI was looking at my little travel notebook and old photos and realised that I’ve a few posts to publish, so here I go again. We visited Istanbul in the summer of 2011. It was incredibly a warm year, we felt the temperature was about forty degrees or more during the day. As predicted, it was a popular city with tourists, so we had to stay in long queues to enter museums, palaces and mosques. I felt Istanbul was crowded, traffic was chaotic, and the drivers were reckless. Child labour and poverty was quite visible, and it was a disturbing, sad sight. Children as young as nine or ten-year-olds on the streets of Istanbul were actively involved in hard labour, begging and selling items like water bottles, flowers, etc. On a positive note, we found that Turkish people are quite friendly, helpful. Almost everyone we interacted, regardless of their gender or age talked about their favourite football team in the national league. About Turkish food, my personal favourite was Turkish bread and kebab served with a grilled green chilli (capsicum.) Cheese, olives and the sweet delicacies (Turkish delights) and flavoured teas are worth mentioning. Back then I wasn’t very fond of flavoured teas, but after having tried different flavoured teas during the trip, I ended up buying some flavoured tea to bring back home. One of the best memories of that trip was the boat rides on Bosphorus and Marmara Sea, the seagulls that flew overhead, the warm breeze and the lovely people who assisted and helped us.

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Sultan Ahmet Mosque or the “Blue Mosque.”

Sultan Ahmet Mosque or famously know as the Blue Mosque, named after the Turkish Sultan, Ahmet I, who ruled the country from 1603 to 1617. It is said, Sultan Ahmet I, wanted to build a mosque, greater than the Hagia Sophia. Turkish architect, Mehmet Aga designed the building upon request from the Sultan. It took seven years to complete the construction work of the mosque. Apparently the mosque got its nickname, the Blue Mosque because its domes and walls decorated with tiles, some of the tiles in different shades of blue. The Blue Mosque has six minarets, and it is the only mosque originally built with six minarets. During the time of our visit, it was a functioning mosque. Entry was allowed up to a particular area of the mosque and during prayer times, no visitors are allowed. When we visited the mosque in 2011, we were not given an opportunity to stay long and explore more. It’s a very popular landmark in Istanbul and crowds were thick at the time of our visit.

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A quick stop @ Hippodrome.

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On the day we visited Blue Mosque in summer 2011, we passed through Sultan Ahmet Square to go to Hagia Sophia. According to the flash cards from our hotel reception, Sultan Ahmet Square is the ancient Hippodrome. It was  “built by Roman Emperor Septimus Severus in 203 AD. The Hippodrome served as a meeting place for politicians, for chariot races, wrestling, boxing and other athletic activities that took place. Constantine greatly enlarged the city and one of his major undertakings was the renovation of the Hippodrome. It is estimated that the Hippodrome of Constantine was about 450 metres long and 130 metres wide. Its stands were capable of holding 1000, 000 spectators.”  Information taken from the mini flash cards. Photos from our camera.

Kaymakli Underground city

Cappadocia’s history dated back to  5th century and documented onwards from that period.  The region has dozens of underground cities; some complexes have as many as eight layers of interior levels. Kaymakli underground city is one amongst many underground dwellings in the area called Goreme, in Cappadocia. It was a unique underground structure built thousands of years ago with a depth of  85 metres. This underground city was huge with its long narrow tunnels, churches and winery. There were rooms for people to live in, storage space for their food and mortar. During the construction of the underground city, importance was given to proper ventilation and safeguarding its residents and their belongings from enemies and harsh weather.