Olde City Tour – Istanbul

I’m convinced that that best way to see Istanbul is with a guide — unless one speaks Turkish. We hired a government approved tourist guide who gave us a seven hour tour around and through the old city section of Istanbul. His name was Cengiz (pronounced Ghengis — really). Cengiz was terrific. He spoke terrific English — he’d lived in the USA for several years prior to losing a business. Well-educated and secular in perspective his opinion was informative.

Our tour began with a visit to the Sultan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque built between 1609-1617. Only we Westerners call it Blue because of the blue tiles located throughout the structure. The prayer area is immense — the the main domed ceiling is 141 feet high with a circumference of 75 feet. Entirely carpeted it can hold 10,000 worshipers at a time. Its a beautiful building with 30 separate domes that flow from the top like a tumbling stream of water thus distributing the weight without a lot of columns — 26 is all that hold it up.

One Islamic ritual is washing one’s feet and hands before praying everyday outside the mosque:

Cengiz provided a religious history lesson while we gazed at the strucure. Briefly, Islam, Judaism and Christianity are all cut from the same cloth: all use the Old Testament, Torah and Koran as the source material for their beliefs. Abraham, Jesus and Mohammed are all important figures. Muslims are of two main sects — Shite and Sunni. In many ways their split mirrors that of Catholicism and Lutheranism. Historically, religion has been a major driver for war and destruction, for conquest,”redemption”,  for  obtaining wealth and power. And so it goes..

This board  shows the connection between the three major world religions:  starting with Adam and Eve the muslim story mirrors Judaism and Christian beliefs:  Upon leaving the Blue Mosque we entered the site of the hippodrome — if you’ve seen Ben Hur the movie you’ll recall the chariot race (think  Charlton Heston in 1959). Its been said that over 25,000 spectators could enjoy the races at any given time —  the oringinal site rivaled the Coliseum in Rome.  The  “citizens”of Rome  were able to attend horse and chariot races .This edifice built in 200 A.D. by the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus . Of course, sometimes more important uses came into play like the execution of 20,000+ individuals who supported the wrong regime nearly 1,600 years ago.

Yesterday’s  Hippodrome–see the oblesk in the drawing:

This is the Hippodrome today:

This obelisk still stands today– was referenced above:


From the Hippodrome Cengiz to the Hagia Sofia (translation — holy wisdom) Mosque — constructed  between 532 and 537. This structure was originally a church built by the Emperor Constantine. However, depending on “who was in charge” its been either a Church or a Mosque since then — now its a museum. Besides being beloved for its architecture in the past 100-years mosaics  have drawen interest.  These have been found during the many ongoing periods of restoration.  These 13th century examples are of Christ flanked Mary his mother and John the Baptist and Christ flanked by Mary and the Emperor Constantinople the first Roman emperor to support Christianity:

 Scaffolding was everywhere as the entire building is being restored. One standout feature is the worship box for the Ottoman Sultan. He used this to pray away from the masses — he was fearful of an assassination attempt  — typically a knife in the back.  This is filigreed marble: Mosiacs discovered in the Haiga Sofia  from its Christian orgins:
The Arabic that was written when the church became a mosque.

Picture of Mohamed the Prophet — founder of Islam—notice its words since all photos would be considered  idolatrous:

All women must be covered while in a mosque–scarves (robin’s egg blue) are provided–see ladies below:

Later we lunched at the Pudding Cafe for an authentic meal–lamb donar kabobs that were delicious: 

The final historic site we visited was a cistern. There are 500 cisterns scattered beneath Istanbul. Originally built to store the city’s water eventually it evolved into a tourist trap of sorts. Enterprising folks drained most of the water, re-built or replaced the columns that hold up the ceilings and “invited” tourists to visit. It looks spooky with the mood lighting bouncing off the remaining water (2 ft. deep) and the columns. Interestingly, carp can be seen swimming in the water — even a hand-full of goldfish.
See these “spooky” photos — the fish:       and especially the floating head:

and the ever spooky floating head (me):

One thing I really like about Turkey is its respect for its past–antiquities  are not bulldozed out of existence –rather  ruins are salvaged and re-used or left as is:

The day ended with a visit to a rug shop owned by a friend of the guide. At first the visit seemed innocous  until the hard sell started — then we ran for our lives– the salesman followed me out of the sop and onto the street.  Wow, just got out with my scalp intact –almost purchased a genuine handmade Turkish rug. Still the rug shop was educational I was introduced to the ancient art of rugmaking. Its the cost of the labor that drives the price.  The second major factor is the material used to construct the rug  — silk, wool or cotton.  It can take up to three years to make one rug.   The weaver typically works  3-4 hours a day. This is the process–see how a true craftwoman makes a  rug one inch at a time:

  The hard sell and the willingness to barter nearly ensnared me — common sense prevailed. See the flying carpet below–he should be selling pizza:

 The tour ended in the Instanbul grand Bazaar. This gigantic market is one of he largest in the world.  One can purchase a variety of household goods, tools, touristy stuff, clothing, food — spices, teas, etc.   The hard sell immediately begins when one approaches any type  of shop.  Turkish culure requires one to barter which for some can be half the fun:


Finally the sun began to set and this eye opening day was drawing to close. We  were all exhausted and ready to head to our next destination. We said our goodbyes and wished Cengis well — he was returning to America in January — he and his wife had recently obtained  US Green Cards . This time he would have a green card and a job in a rug store in Sherman Oaks, CA. He was looking forward to leaving Turkey–and sanguine at the same time.

Soon we hailed a cab and headed to our next destination.

Whew, I’m tired!

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Baseball been berry berry good to Me!*

Seeing a baseball game (the great American pastime) in every Major League Baseball park is a lifetime goal of mine. While in Detroit my team–the Twins played the Tigers. The season is winding down (9-games are left to play) so it was luck that a game was at:

The park is a combination of glitz, glam and sport. It offers everyone a little something.

Hall of Famers players being honored:

Amusements that caught the eye of young and old are within the confines of the park:

Celebrities could be seen in various poses during the game:

For those interested in motor sports there was a race:

Tigers being the mascot of the local team could be seen peering from every nook and cranny:

On top of all this a baseball game was played:

The Twins won 12-1. Solidifying a wild card spot–I hope.

I wore Twins clothing to the park–never got booed or hissed at!

Heck, a friendly Tiger fan (who it turns out was originally from my hometown) took this photo of my travel pal and I:

We agreed Coamerica Park is a great place to see a game. Especially when our team wins the game.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Detroit has a lot to offer any sport or entertainment enthusiast. All the major sports venues are available within walking distance of Coamerica Park: the hockey arena (the Redwings), the football stadium (the Lions) and the basketball arena (the Pistons).

Across the street are was the Fox Theater a long-time entertainment venue:

Tonight Detroit surpassed my expectations.

* This is one of my favorite quotations from a Saturday Night Live skit that occurred on 11/11/1978. It was spoken by Garrett Morris who played Chico Escuela a former all-star Chicago Cub ball player. This can be viewed on YouTube.

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Sand in My Shoes

Visiting national parks is an American pastime — one I love. Going to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was a pleasant surprise. It’s within 50-miles of Chicago; looking through binoculars a vague outline of the Chicago can be seen over water. And Gary, IN is a stones throw away:

The park is located at the southeast corner of Lake Michigan. It’s 15,000 acres of low and high sand dunes; grasses and trees; trails, a heron rookery;

Within the park was a interesting complex of homes listed as the “1933 Century of Progress Homes–created for the Chicago World’s Fair. The homes are comprised of prefabricated and natural materials from glass, rostone to wood:

Each home is unique in style and construction material:

Each house was moved in pieces and rebuilt. Now each is being restored to its former elegance. All are on Lake Michigan.

Leaving the park the car hummed over some cattle grids. I gazed to the right and saw this sign warning cyclists that may venture onto this roadway:

Nicely done–clever and stylish!

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Honeymoon with My Soul*

I’ve completed “The Way” and had a few days to reflect on the journey.   This final blog is more photo essay than words.

Each represents a piece of the pilgrim experience along the journey some are personal while others not so much:

“Stranger in a Strange Land” at times it felt like that.  

Thanks to the scores of wonderful people from places like Ireland, England, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Canada, the USA, Korea, Russia, France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Poland, Spain, Brazil, Columbia, Mexico and those are the countries I can recall — who gave texture to my journey.

Buen Camino 

* Special Thanks to Nena from Denmark from whom I “borrowed” this quotation.

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I Fibbed — So Shoot Me

I’m lying on my bed celebrating the end of my Camino by eating a chocolate bar — love a first bite for me:

As I finished it–yup ate the whole thing:

I knew I had to tell you about attending the Catedral of Santiago today.

Of course, this breaks an implied promise that I’d made awhile ago, not to show anymore religious art or churches.  Well, guess what — I fibbed.  

One day after entering Santiago I attended a daily Santiago ritual — the pilgrim mass.  The Catedral is undergoing restoration work at present–still it’s a handsome sight:

Not as “glamourous as the Catedrals of Burgos and León it was airier than that of darker Pamplona Catedral:

Inside are some interesting sights:

The porcelain-like statues of angels and saints–this photo shows angels attached to the pipes of the organ:

The altar enjoys the same treatment:

I felt compelled to join all of my fellow peregrinos and a multitude of tourists for this daily event.  It was quite the spectacle for Catholics, non-catholics and unbelievers.

The rituals have existed for a long time.  Nuns singing, a multitude of priests speaking a variety of languages.  The building can hold a thousand or so–most stand for the service.  I must say the pageantry did not disappoint:

The march of clergy entering the sacristy:

Then mass:

Then the piece de resistance:

The swinging giant incense burner–around since the Middle Ages — at one time the incense likely dispelled the smell of pilgrims and perhaps was a means to control disease too.  Today it’s a ritual that generates a throng of cameras–it took 6 men to swing the burner:

The burner is on a think rope that was pulled into a very high arc causing it to sail well above the attendees — a most impressive sight:

The incense burner is stationary by the of the service.  

As a “fallen or wayward” catholic I felt a certain impulse to join in with the rituals.  This feeling was short-lived–but damn those folks sure know how to put on a good show!

The Catedral does contain some interesting works:

For example–a twin bust of Popes John and Benedict:

The confessionals are rather unique as well — nice side view with the lamb –this was closed for business:

You can tell by the unlit red light:

This one was open and busy–see the light is on;

I found this sealed door interesting.  It is opened only during Holy Years as announced by the pope.  Tour guides were heard to say people line up for hours to walk through–2021 is your next opportunity:

Once mass ended a long line developed rapidly to “hug” a statue of St James (Santiago). This stands behind the altar.  Again, pilgrims are typically expected to complete this act and then pay respects to the crypt holding St James remains in a silver coffin:

No photos are allowed of the statue or the act of touching it–suffice it to say I did hug him.  Again, getting caught up in ritual.

I did take a photo of the entrance to the crypt:

Shortly thereafter I headed to the official “pilgrim office” to obtain a certificado of my journey.  To obtain this one must have a pilgrim passport stamped along the way–twice a day for the final 100km walked:

This is my stamped passport:

This is my certificado is in Latin — even my name–to get one free one must have done “The Way” for religious or spiritual reasons:

Surprisingly, the journey did become spiritual.  

Go figure!

Buen Camino

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Camino Bits & Pieces (Final)

Late today I arrived in Santiago thus ending my journey.  Even so, I have a few more photos to share.

This is a foggy morning — fairly typical in the mountains:

I knew it possible, but finally witnessed some folks riding horses on the Camino — the guides have “Camino de Santiago” printed on their coats:

The nightlife can get unique here:

Fairly common path in the past week or so often a stream or creek runs alongside:

This pond was in a backyard–quite lovely:

The entire journey often ventured near gardens and/or swathes of wild flower:

The marker that designates official Santiago:

More flowers–this beautiful garden lit up the Camino:

This sculpture was different–and stark all at once:”

Buen Camino 

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More Camino Bits & Pieces

There is too much to see at times on the journey. Still, I love sharing photos especially random examples of what it’s like to travel in Spain.  

Please indulge me in this “study” of life:
Love the horns–dissimilar to the Texas Longhorn, yet there is an eerie similarity:

Livestock in town–common sight be they cows, chickens, horses or in this case sheep:

Cheaper and easier than cutting the grass:

Children’s clothing store–first communion or junior royalty:

On a pilgrimage in a catholic nation religious art depicting saints, Christ and pilgrims is ever present — of Celtic origin located on a wall below the town church:

Conversely, more mainstream art can also be seen in public spaces:

Vineyards grow with cherry trees in many locales:

Storks are ever present.  Large birds who build large nests on church steeples, towers or any high spots:

Often houses are built over water–if you can’t beat ’em join them, I guess:

By the way, this has nothing to do with harnessing water for electric power.

Towns here also have suburbs:

Futbal (soccer to Americans)  is popular throughout Spain:

Weather can impact travelers anytime:

The beautiful St. Marta is the Catedral of Astorga:

Surrounding the front entrance:

This building stands next door to the Catedral is more famous.  It’s the Palacio Episcopal or Bishop’s House designed by the famous Spanish architect Gaudi. Not as “interesting” as some of Gaudi’s other designs, it still stands out with its unusually high turrets–perhaps he influenced Walt Disney’s castles:

Public plazas are the norm throughout the country and people  stoll there, kick soccer balls, eat at adjacent cafes and generally enjoy them:

When one travels to Europe there is always an expectation of romance. After all, this country and for that matter Europe was borne of knights, chivalry, “The Song Of Roland” (look it up on line if you care), etc.  This photo is of a bridge that one knight had to battle 300 other knights from throughout Europe over the period of a month– jousting with each and defeating them in order to win the hand of his lord’s daughter — now isn’t that romantic:

Oh, so thought I was kidding.  Well, for your information its commemorated each year in that same town–participate if you dare:

Until we meet again!

Buen Camino

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Chasing the Clouds

The past few days have involved climbing, rain and lots of mud. But today was different–got up quite early and made good use of a flashlight.  Occasionally some other light also came into play:

From a motorway tunnel:

the moon too:

Nearly an hour into the day a chef from Britain fell in with me — as it turned out Ray and I walked and talked for almost 7 hours.

Fortunately, for us the weather cooperated and the views were outstanding as we eventually climbed over 4,300 feet;

The landscape has the look of Italy or the California wine country –Mediterranean:

The path was more crowded the closer we got — at the top were bus loads of tourists getting an all together different look at “our” newly conquered mountain.  

All the structures in the mountain village of O’Cebreiro were made of stone:

After hours of climbing I felt energized and compelled to continue.  Shortly thereafter I passed a large statue of a pilgrim heading west into a strong wind:

Soon down the mountain I continued coming across a number of critters — it sure seemed like the dogs outnumbers these cows:

and some of my favorites–roosters who crowed as I walked by:

loved this pony–mud and all:

Crossing the mountain meant the move from the province of León to Galacia:

The final stretch leading to Santiago was within my grasp.

I soon landed on a spot for the night.  As I entered two Russians were quibbling with the proprietor over shampoo. They needed some and the price was too steep.  Since I had several small containers in-hand I gave them one.  In return they asked me to join them for dinner.  

On the Camino one meets the world so I agreed to sit with Olga and Eleni.  Well, their mastery of English was vastly superior to my ability to speak Russian — that is to say we spoke rubbish.  So there was embarrassed laughter, several quiet pauses and lots of “charades” in play.  After some time passed I excused myself, wished them well and went back to my bed.

As I lay in bed I was beginning to fully realize that the journey would soon end.  There was 100 miles left to go to Santiago.

So it goes on the Camino!

Buen Camino

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