Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sultan Ahmed Mosque - Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque is the third largest mosque in Turkey and is about 400 years old.  It is most known for the 20,000 hand painted tiles that decorate the interior - most of them in various shades of blue.  The interior is vast yet cozy; simple yet so complex.  It's truly difficult to put into words the beauty.

Courtyard arcade ceiling

Being inside this incredible space was awe inspiring and incredibly peaceful.  While there were a few people praying when we visited (the mosque is closed to visitors during the 5 prayer times each day), most of the people inside were visitors.

While this was my first visit to a Muslim country it was interesting to experience the call to prayer which happens 5 times a day and starts before the sun rises.  The call to prayer is announced by a man in the mosque over a loud speaker.  There are many mosques in the city and several near our hotel.  The calls to prayer all start around the same time, but not precisely, so you get an interesting mix of calls going on at the same time.  This video was taken by the fountain between Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque one evening as an example of the calls to prayer.

Call to Prayer Translation (from What is Islam? brochure given at Blue Mosque):
Allah is Most Great, Allah is Most Great:
Allah is Most Great, Allah is Most Great.

I testify that there is no god but Allah;
I testify that there is no god but Allah.

I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah;
I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.

Come to prayer!  Come to prayer!
Come to salvation!  Come to salvation!

Allah is Most Great!  Allah is Most Great!
There is no god but Allah.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Turkish Delight

Blue Mosque
I can hardly believe it's taken me over a week to write about Turkey!  It was such a wonderful holiday...that I almost don't know where to begin.  Turkey is an absolutely special place.  The people are incredibly kind and generous, the sights are incredible, the history is rich, and the food is out of this world.  While we only saw a very small part of Turkey, I feel we got a great introduction to the Turkish life and culture.  I traveled with my friend Katrina (another English teacher and good friend) and we spent 5 days in Istanbul and also did a 2-day tour to the Gallipoli Peninsula and Troy (more on that in another post).  While there is so much to say, I will post now just on the general thoughts/experiences of Istanbul.  In the upcoming days, I'll post on our tour and all the sights of Istanbul separately.

Our preferred mode of travel is to "wander" which probably isn't surprising given my blog title.  We found so many unique shops, restaurants, and sights this way.  One of the first things we came upon was this lovely park cafe where we had our first Turkish tea.  The tea is steeped in the small top pot and there is hot water in the bottom.  You pour about 1/3 cup of strong tea in the cup then add hot water.  It is incredibly strong but absolutely wonderful!

With all our wandering, we met many wonderful people.  Most were store owners with often very creative tactics to get us to come in and buy things.  While we often just kept going, it was nice to be greeted with smiles and happy faces everywhere we went!  In some shops, we would even get invited to stay for tea.  Turkish people are very generous and often called us their guests.  They said if we drank tea together, we would become friends.  So, several times we had tea with the shop owners and learned about their lives and families.  It was a treat for me, as often when traveling it is hard to get meet (let alone get to know) residents of a city, so I feel like I got a true feel of Turkish culture through these many conversations.

We also loved tasting the different foods (more on that from the Spice Market).  In between wandering, stopping for tea or coffee, we'd often taste new and interesting treats such as Turkish Delight (chewy candy) or Baklava.  Both became favourites for me!

A week in Turkey was hardly enough to see everything, but I feel I got a good sense of the culture and the sights of the country in just my brief stay.  I must return, as there is so much more to see and do!
View from our rooftop terrace at the hotel

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Astronomical Clock Laser Show

Astronomical Clock Tower with the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn during the laser show.  

So, the astronomical clock tower in Old Town was built in 1410.  To celebrate this, in October the city created a laser show which was shown on the tower to commemorate the history of Prague and the Czech Republic.  Somehow, no one I knew had heard this was happened, so when they decided to re-show it yesterday, we all jumped on the chance to see it!

600th anniversary of the Prague Astronomical Clock (Special Emoteen Limit...

Prague through new eyes

Last weekend, my aunt and uncle from Germany came to visit with a tour group.  I met up with them and over 100 of their German tour group mates on Friday night for dinner.  I was instantly overwhelmed by the niceness of these German people.  In general, Czech people are not friendly to those they do not know.  So, getting onto a bus with 40 Germans was total culture shock!  Everyone was smiling and chatting.  It was great!

We ended up having a great Bohemian meal with pork, dumplings, cabbage, soup, and apple strudel and of course beer!  It was a very fun night!

On Saturday, I met up with them after a tour of the Prague Castle.  We walked through all my favorite parts of the city and it was truly a joy to see the city through new eyes.  While I'm still in absolute awe of the beauty of this city, its different when you're showing people around who haven't been here before.  It made me fall in love with the city all over again.  We ended our multiple hour walking tour of the city with coffee and cake at the famous Cafe Louvre (where Einstein and Kafka used to hang out).  It was a perfect Prague day!