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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Culture is Alive and Well

The Skirball Cultural Center is a museum located in LA near the Getty Museum. The center was free the day I went. The architecture was akin to a gigantic Torah:

The driveway.
The main building.
The entrance.
The grounds.

We went through the museum that was comprised of two sections: part was dedicated to Jewish history and part is a random exhibits: one exhibit was about Noah’s Ark which has animals created using household items:

My favorite was the giraffe.

The other was about Stanley Kubrick and his teenage job as a photographer for Look magazine:

This is a very young Kubrick photographing a showgirl for a pictorial.

Kubrick photographed hundreds of folks;

The Jewish permanent exhibit focused on Jewish culture:

Included are both historical exhibits and diverse subjects like the Holocaust.

The Skirball was a unique place to visit — who knew Kubrick was a photographer! His films are always visually appealing and a part of his stories.

This was the end of day one in LA!

Interesting — yes?

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City of Lights

Los Angeles can be overwhelming especially if one dislikes traffic. Still, it has much to offer if you decide to go.

We took a number of excursions during this particular visit. The first was linked to Oscar weekend. LA being a company town takes this event seriously. We went to Hollywood to see ground zero:

It takes your breath away—right?

I confess seeing the stars planted along Hollywood are a treat to see even if they’re a bit dirty:

This was the day after he died. Flowers were everywhere.

But I digress — we were here to see the Dolby Theater — Oscars home:

The theater is actually in a mall, of sorts, with all types of touristy shops:

Jimmy Kummer’s does hid nightly program from the “El Capitan” theater.

One shop in the mall was fun to tour:

Called appropriately “Sweet”.

It was a tourist trap and candy shop rolled into one:

A crazy looking auto!
Candy as it should be!
Elvis gold records for sale.

Still, seeing the red carpet and all the other accoutrements for the big show is definitely a highlight:

Closed for the show!
Past best picture winners.
The red carpet!

Sure, Hollywood is past it’s prime and even a bit seedy. But it is still Hollywood; home of the stars!

Unabashedly nostalgic!
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Grand Canyon Redux

Couldn’t wait to visit the canyon again — cold be damned! There is something mystical about this place that compels me to visit. Someone recently said, “it’s just a big ditch”. Not to me!!

Few folks were there and animals were not to be seen. There was little snow — ice crawled out of shady spaces.

Pictures tell the best story — see below:

Before leaving the park I stopped for a photo with a close personal friend:

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Snowbirding in Tucson

I’ve never been to Tucson, AZ. until now!

Officially, I’m here to attend myriad of Gem Shows that occur every year in Arizona. But the show(s) don’t really be begin until later this week. So some tourism is in order!

Today we went to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum:

This is a beautiful area that is combination of topography and fauna:

and flora and fish:

Hiking around the grounds made us very hungry.

Thanks to a friend we chose to eat at the Octollio Cafe and was it incredibly good! See what we ate:

A spinach-mushroom burrito;

Chicken-avacodo dish;

and flank steak with sweet potato fries and plantains;

and finally the best BLT I’ve ever eaten! So good I didn’t eat dinner tonight.

On to the GEM shows!!

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Happy as a Pig in Mud

Right here, in little old Fulton, MO, the two leaders of the free world (in 1946) visited for a day.

That’s right, President Truman and Prime Minister Winston Churchill came here by train:

Why here; you’re thinking? The college invited Churchill to present him with an honorary degree. Truman was made aware and he endorsed the offer with a brief note. Who knows why Churchill said yes? Perhaps he saw it as an opportunity to speak to middle America. Or perhaps he wanted to show some appreciation for American sacrifices in WWII.

Whatever the reason, this museum exists to forever recall that day. Even more interesting is that the museum is housed in a church moved from London after the war. Damaged by the blitz this small Christopher Wren designed building was moved to this campus (Westminster College) at the end of the war.

This was the church post WWII:

Today it looks like this:

The museum is on the lower level. It briefly presents Churchill’s entire life:

Born into a family of means (his father was a duke) he unfortunately was second born thus getting no title nor riches. Raised by nanny he had little interaction with his parents as a child. One interesting fact is that his mum was American.

Not much of student, Churchill did excel at military matters–he attended the Sandhurst military school in his teens:

He longed to be in a military campaign eventually fighting in the Sudan and later the Boer War in South Africa:

He became a war correspondent and a soldier. Paid for reporting not serving. Inside of a year he was worth 10,000 pounds–a small fortune 100 years ago.

Prior to WWI he entered his true calling — politics and he married Clementine the love of his life:

Entering parliament, he was first a conservative; later switching to the liberal party.

During this period he referred to himself as a glow-worm:

During WWI he held low level cabinet roles until he endorsed a debacle in the Dardanelles (Turkey today). This episode was the focus of the film “Gallipoli “. (See it if you can–it starred a much younger Mel Gibson)

This affair forced him out of the cabinet in disgrace. He then enlisted in the army and fought with honor in France until the end of the war:

He saw the future of air planes in war and did begin flying lessons. Clementine stopped this effort because it was not a safe endeavor. Interestingly, it would be Churchill who helps the RAF get funding which in turn led to the eventual defeat of Germany’s Luftwaffe during the battle for Britain.

Churchill is most famous as a wartime Prime Minister. This pre-American period is noted as the:

Try as he might it was not until Pearl Harbor occurred that he could get America in the war:

Hitler was to his greatest nemesis:

He forged alliances with Russia and America to defeat the Axis powers: Germany, Italy and Japan.

Churchill however, loses the prime minister seat once the war ends. People loved him, but loved socialism more. The war had shown them that government could be trusted to run health, finances, etc.

Though elected one more time in the 1950’s he spent most his postwar years writing and painting:

It was the “Cold War” that made Churchill come to Fulton.

He saw a limited future if an alliance was not fashioned out the postwar era:

This and many other photos show his resolve.

His speech in Fulton became most famous for coining the term “iron curtain” which referred to the Soviets control over Eastern Europe.

He called the relationship between Great Britain and America special. And he was forever in debt to President Roosevelt for our helping with the defeat of Adolf Hitler:

He died in 1965–it was announced rather simply:

One final exhibit worth noting is a section of the Berlin Wall which everyone should see:

This museum is a gem. Get to Fulton so you too can see some history.

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On the Road Again

Once again I’m leaving in the winter. Heading to Tucson and LA. But first, stopped in Kansas City–actually Harry Truman’s old stomping grounds:

Spent the day at the Truman home:

Photos of young Harry and Bess — they went together for nine years:

They first met when he returned a cake plate across the street for his mom:

Harry was never pretentious. Until Kennedy was shot he didn’t have secret service protection. He had many visitors at his home: Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson, Eleanor Roosevelt among others. His home was very modest save for some photos:

We also visited the Pioneer Museum a close cousin to a museum on the Oregon Trail.

It had several buildings on the grounds:

This map showed the many trails folks followed westward:

The Conestoga wagon was essential as were the items in the second photo.

It was interesting to see the costs associated with a trip:

Bison were quite plentiful prior to the introduction of railroads. The pioneers learned from Native Americans about making use of the entire bison:

Before the Mexican-American War settlers acquired a taste for some finer items like chocolate:

This was a fun fact – see this photo:

Hard to believe San Francisco was ever this size!

At the end of the museum it was clear that the pioneers were quickly becoming “settlers”. Upon reaching Oregon someone arrived at this conclusion:

This period of expansion was the beginning of the end for Native Americans. It was the realization of Manifest Destiny–aka the creation of the American Empire we know today.

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Sadness comes with the Territory

Prague was more than I recall–the city has really changed in the past 10-years. Taking a free tour of the city was certainly the right way to start.

Kenny is an American ex-patriot who is from Denver. He’s lived in Europe for seven years. He gives tours by day and teaches English at night. Boy, was he a ball of fire — his energy was palpable:

Seeing Prague again was eye-opening. More people than ever — many were on holiday:

First, we elected to go to the Jewish Quarter. Visits to four synagogues provides the more or less complete story of the Jewish community since the 10th century. The experience included the story of death and how the Jewish faith handles it. Also the story of the 16th century wealth created in large part by Mordecai Maisel.

Interestingly, another synagogue is the entry to a very old Jewish cemetery — this dates from 15th through the 18th century. There are over 17,000 graves in this small cemetery that are buried in 12 layers of dirt brought in over time:

This is the Maisel Synagogue built in the 16th century:

The most heart wrenching synagogue to visit had three separate “shrines”. The first shrine listed the death camps created by the Nazis from Dachau to Auschwitz:

Then there were rooms with thousands of names listed on walls that state every person killed in the camps — each name is verbally declared each day as one views the wall:

All Prague Jews were initially sent to the Terezin Concentration Camp. This was called a ” model” camp because the Germans would regularly show it the Red Cross which meant inmates received better food, limited schooling for children and it had an orchestra. Eventually, the occupants were sent to Auschwitz and Treblinka.

Children of the camp did have a teacher and class. Over several years the children were told by their teacher to draw pictures of “normal” activities — the sadness is overwhelming– see below:

The students completed over 5,000 drawings while in captivity. Their teacher hid them in a horse barn. Neither the teacher or the children survived the death camps. Their drawing are all that remain. Eventually, over 15,000 children were sent to death camps–150 survived the war.

On a cheerier note the ghetto had two clocks that could be seen near the synagogues: one clock is in Hebrew (toward the bottom), but both clocks are located on the ghetto municipal building. The Hebrew clock is unusual in that it runs backwards and uses numbers shown in Hebrew:

It’s strange that with great sadness can also come beauty.

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Passau, I Hardly Knew Ye

Passau is in Germany on the edge of Bavaria only a few miles fro Austria. The Danube is joined here by two other rivers–the Inn and the Ilz:

Our first morning was foggy and mysterious–this is on the Inn River:

Passau’s population is 50,000. It principally survives on tourism. Its claim to fame is St Stephen’s Cathedral — in and out of fog:

The bishop of this town used to run the entire region through his army. Yes, I said army. There was a period of time when the pope and his bishops were leaders of armies. This bishop ruled with an iron fist. This is a painting of the bishop and some of his cohorts:

He had a castle across the Danube which he periodically had to retreat to when the townspeople rebelled against his rule. He’d order his troops to shoot boulders and flaming arrows in the midst of the crowds until they disbanded.

But, back to St Stephens. This large baroque edifice is, of course, beautiful (ugh) inside:

But it’s most spectacular offering and true claim to fame is its massive organ built in 1733. It has 17,774 pipes making it the largest in Europe — second largest in the world — there is one bigger located in Los Angeles:

Some of its pipes measure several meters — one pipe that is less than five inches in size. The larger the pipe the louder and deeper the sound. The smallest pipe plays so high it can be difficult to discern.

Later in day I was able to attend a concert in the cathedral. The organist played five pieces including Bach’s Toccata in Fugue in D minor — a musical piece well known to many from the Disney film “Fantasia”. It was, dare I say, heavenly.

The town truly survives on tourism–this means lots food to munch on:

lots of quaint museums like the Dachshund or Dackel Museum.

Don’t you love the proprietor’s love green pants:

These were in the museum shop:

What good would a tourist stop be without a character to view:

This is a photo from the 1930’s:

What tourist haven!

On to Prague!!

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Do you know the way to Cesky Krumlov?

I know it doesn’t rhythm–sometimes things just work that way.

We stopped in Linz, Austria and then went to Cesky Krumlov–located in the Czech Republic:

potty break along the way:

For me it ”twas a return engagement. It was the summer home for the Empress Theresa of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. The castle was built in the 13th century (everything is so damn old!).

It’s a UNESCO site with one of only two Baroque Theaters left in Europe. (Built in the 17th century.)

It also has a bear pit–a Middle Ages anachronism. The bear is the symbol of the Czech Republic:

This is a river town — sliced in two by the Vtlala River:

We window shopped and ate lunch at Papa’s — sat outside by the river:

— recommended by a tour guide — good food — had Italian:

Then walked to the castle garden–more in the throes of fall than summer:

The castle had this sun dial mounted to a building. The time would have been correct, but for daylight savings time:

The castle had a number of frescoes:

A fresco is painting on wet plaster; the drying of the plaster results in almost a lifetime piece of art. This process was originated in Italy and brought to Krumlov in 1588.

I was here 10-years ago and it’s definitely different now.

Still, I loved the visit. What a wonderful day — good weather, good food and good friends.


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Going Up the “Brown Danube”

Today there was only one stop. This was to the Benedictine Abbey of Göttweig. The day was quite beautiful, however, until we reached the abbey which was located on a hilltop overlooking the Danube River it was hard to see or appreciate the density of the thick fog that covered the river valley:

Located near Krems, Austria the abbey was founded nearly a thousand years ago. Currently, 45 priests and brothers reside here. Ranging from the ages of 21 to 94 they provide clergy to local parishes, as well as, agriculturalists, artists, teachers and many other professionals.

Like all Roman Catholic enclaves the buildings shared great beauty:

The abbey was originally built of timber. It burned down several hundred years ago (the flames easily jumped from building to building no water was on the hill making it very difficult to save the site save the Church) and so it was rebuilt to mirror its former design. A general dearth of funds resulted in painting certain exterior improvements onto the new abbey buildings and even its Church — the clock on the right is painted on unlike the the clock to the left. It also includes windows in different parts of the abbey:

Not unlike other churches of that era the inside had the typical gold leaf, statuary and frescos:

Frankly, I’m beginning to feel rather “over churched” — after all if you’ve seen one church you’ve seen them all!

Once we got on our way again the scenery looked great–leaves changing, swans all over the place even moon sightings occurred:

What a pleasant way to live. On to Linz.

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