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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Fala’s* Boss

At some point I hope to visit every presidential library/museum.  Each is unique to the individual.  Each reflects the attributes of that particular president—this especially true of Franklin Delano Roosevelt or FDR:



He was a man of firsts:  first president elected with a disability (paralyzed from the waist down due to polio);


he wore these heavy leg braces:


but spent most of his time in a makeshift wheelchair:


first president to be challenge the George Washington model of being elected to two terms (he won four times); and the first to design and build his library and museum while still president (typically done in retirement):


This building bursts at the seams with mementos, exhibits and artifacts covering over 12-years of his presidency.

He was elected to end the Great Depression—by creating the New Deal:


He set the performance standard for all future presidents:

The country was breaking apart—1 in 4 were unemployed.  He created agencies that hired people to build infrastructure and to provide art to the masses:


He started the “March of Dimes” to fight polio—eventually Jonas Salk created the vaccine that eliminated the disease:


Rural America had no access to electricity so dams like the Boulder (later Hoover) Dam and he created the Tennessee Valley Authority or TVA:


Mortgages were unpaid with land auctioned away.  FDR’s solution was make the federal government responsible:


When he ran for his second term these were his achievements:



Throughout FDR’s presidency used radio via his Fireside chats to keep Americans in the loop —some of these chats originated at his office here at Hyde Park:


After winning another term FDR focused on reducing the role of government in the daily lives of Americans only to see a recession and unemployment tick-up.

It was fortuitous that WWII was staring in Europe in the 1930’s.  He knew we’d eventually have to fight Hitler.  Be 1942 we were at war with Japan and Germany and he broke the mold by running for president again—and he won again;


The war years enabled FDR and Churchill (the English Prime Minister) to form an alliance (Stalin came later):

The museum contains a lot of exhibits about the war.  

* Stay tuned for the remainder of the story as shared by the FDR Museum and the answer to who is Fala.

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Racism or Error in Judgement 

In upstate New York is the home, library and museum associated with FDR and his family.  FDR was the 32nd and longest serving US president—elected to four terms.

One very interesting exhibit in the museum tackled the “evacuation” of Japanese-Americans from the west coast during WWII.  This was carried out under the belief that these Americans couldn’t be trusted:


FDR issued this Executive Order authorizing the “evacuation”:


These Americans were given very little time to liquidate their assets—they could take only items they could carry—kinda resembles how the Nazis handled Jews during the war:


Evacuation was the euphemism for moving 120,000 Americans into camps:


These camps were located hundreds if not thousands of miles from the west coast.  The residents were surrounded by barb wire fences, machine guns and soldiers armed with rifles with bayonets:

One resident commented that once he got to the camp he felt like a prisoner. Why?  Because the soldiers had bayonets on their rifles and the larger weapons were pointed into the camp.  The residents couldn’t understand why American citizens were being treated in that way.

Several photographers took ongoing photos of the residents—Dorothea Lange was part of this group.  Seeing these pictures underscores the folly of this government action:


In the photo above each person is wearing a tag. This tag was required and holds an ID number for each resident—not quite the tattoo seen on concentration camp residents—right?  

Somehow this person may not agree with that point of view:


Eventually, the government decided that these folks were not a “Fifth Column” and let them out just before the war ended.  Not surprising since these were simply hardworking ordinary folks who loved their country—no scent of deceit was ever discovered.  

During the Reagan Presidency (in 1988) the President apologized for the confinement.  Congress agreed to pay the surviving 60,000 Japanese-Americans $20,000 in restitution for their confinement and loss of assets.

No matter what some may say or believe these Americans still believed in the Constitution and the ideas we all hold so dear:


It’s easy to say this action was a terrible mistake—we benefit from hindsight.  However, at the time this may have seemed an honest way to handle this situation.  

Was this skillful propaganda based on real fear or racism that went too far.  Many who lived through this period would acknowledge the evidence supporting racism — against Japs.  

The good news is we did eventually apologize to our fellow Americans.  We recognized that we had erred in taking this action.

Today history is repeating itself — again a group of Americans is being ostracized for their religious beliefs.

Will our actions today be judged harshly by history and future generations?  Is atonement or exoneration in our country’s future?

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Magical History Tour Part I

Whenever one visits eastern US states it’s easy to step back in time.  Driving into the Philadelphia area signs feature familiar names like Brandywine, Valley Forge and the like.  In the city there is a virtual adoration of the American Revolution, Ben Franklin, the Liberty Bell, etc. The first two are self-explanatory; the last photo is courtyard surrounded by Ben Franklin’s


including a post office with remnants of colonial streets. Franklin was the first postmaster:



A few short blocks from the Delaware River stands a new museum called the “Museum of the American Revolution”.   Facing out from the building were guns taken from a colonial era man-of-war.

Filled with many interactive displays, artifacts and beautiful diaramas the museum makes the case for the war starting with a discussion of Britain as the preeminent world power:


Then showing how the Union Jack became the symbol of English dominance–by combining the flags of England and Scotland:


In fact the king’s coat of arms include visual references to Ireland–a harp, England–three Roses and lions, Scotland- the unicorn and the ancient right to govern France- with the Fleur-de-Lis:


From this point forward each exhibit tells the story of the how, what, which and why the colonies broke away.  The colonists sought equality–a relatively new concept:


power over the purse–their financial condition:


liberty and equality for women:


and African Americans:


and for Native Americans who feared any war would hurt their desire to be left alone:


Religious freedom was also important especially for Roman Catholic and Jews:


These are symbols of the religions practiced in the colonies at this time:


Of course, you’re thinking that this is so darn obvious; but 250-years ago it wasn’t.  And that’s the point of this museum — the fighting lasted eight years once the Declaration of Independence was signed and publicized.

For war and armament buffs the museum has lots of maps and weapons — one interesting fact is that this was the first “world war”:


For me the importance of the revolution was the spreading of the gospel of life, liberty and the pursuit of (individual and collective happiness) as stated in the Declaration of Independence:


As I pointed out earlier history is everywhere here–so after lunch at the “The Little Lion Tavern” this journey continued to Christ Church Cemetery–to view the grave of Ben Franklin:


and others of note:

I love the inscription on this particular stone:

and this gravestone surprised me:


From here it was off to see the Liberty Bell:


and then tour Independence Hall:


– where the Continental Congress met and settled on the course that eventually led to today’s US of A. The tour was led by Ted a loquacious Park Ranger:


The rooms in the hall are very small — perhaps claustrophobia had a role in the decision making process:

​​
Outside the hall stood George Washington as the protector of liberty–fitting don’t you think?


It was hardly a leap to then visit Valley Forge:


Noteworthy because the mettle of Washington and the continents army was severely tested by natural elements and man-made obstacles:


Valley Forge created the opportunity to instill discipline and military training in the army.  This would carry the war forward six more years and lead to alliances with France, the Netherlands and others.

Toward the end of the Valley Forge tour a definitive sign of victory can be seen:

The American Revolution isn’t an abstract series of ideas–it’s the embodiment of individuals who when pressed rose above the pettiness of life.  In so doing they wrested control until such time as the tyrants in charge were finally tossed to the wolves.

There is is lesson to be learned should we care to listen.

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Green is Beautiful

Longwood Gardens is located a couple of hours west of Philadelphia.  This botanical garden was a farm purchased by George Pierce from William Penn in 1700.  Long known for its collection of trees it was often the sight of community gatherings through the end of the 19th century.

As the 20th century began Pierce’s heirs lost interest in the property and soon lumber interests got involved.  The thought of cutting down the trees led Pierre du Pont to purchase the farm.  The sale was completed in 1906.  Although he hadn’t planned to create Longwood Gardens over time he recognized its value as a retreat for his family and friends.

It’s amazing what money can buy when a wealthy individual chooses to focus on a project–and focus he did.  When du Pont died in 1954 the legacy he left behind was well-funded and a leader in its field.

Today Longwood Gardens is known for several things including its conservatory:


The conservatory is mammoth–its greenhouses covers 4.5 acres that house over 4,600 different varieties of plants and trees:


Water features are another hallmark of Longwood Gardens.  de Pont personally designed all the fountains using Versailles in Paris, as well as, Italian fountains as models:

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Amazing Green Space

Longwood Gardens is located a couple of hours west of Philadelphia.  This botanical garden was a farm purchased by George Pierce from William Penn in 1700.  Long known for its collection of trees it was often the sight of community gatherings through the end of the 19th century.

As the 20th century began Pierce’s heirs lost interest in the property and soon lumber interests got involved.  The thought of cutting down the trees led Pierre du Pont to purchase the farm.  The sale was completed in 1906.

Although he hadn’t planned to create Longwood Gardens over time he recognized its value as a retreat for his family and friends.

It’s amazing what money can buy when a wealthy individual chooses to focus on a project–and focus he did.  When du Pont died in 1954 the legacy he left behind was well-funded and a leader in its field.

Today Longwood Gardens is known for several things including its conservatory:


The conservatory is mammoth–its greenhouses cover 4.5 acres that house over 4,600 different varieties of plants and trees–from bananas to colius; from peppers to Asian switch-grasses:


Water features are another hallmark of Longwood Gardens.  de Pont personally designed all the fountains using Versailles in Paris, as well as, Italian fountains as models:

Outside the conservatory are ponds that contain beautiful and in some cases gigantic water lilies:

There are also large meadows:

And much sculpture to be appreciated:

du Pont eventually grew the gardens to well beyond its original size–1,700+ acres. What I’ve shared are highlights–one will also find gardens filled with vegetables, roses, topiaries, spices, fruit trees, and so forth.

Longwood is a nestled into an area that is near Wilmington, DE and Philadelphia–go see if you can!

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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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