25-26 September, 2011

I am in Asia! After a 90 minute ferry ride and a 45 minute bus ride I arrived in downtown Bursa, 4th largest city in Turkey (about 2.6m population). Very different from Istanbul. Tourists are hardly to be seen. Feels more…Turkish. Bursa was the first Ottoman capital. The capital was subsequently shifted to Edirne on the European side, and only after Constantinople fell in 1453 did that become the capital. The capital city of Turkey is now Ankara of course. Bursa is sometimes nicnamed Yeşil Bursa (Green Bursa). While it is rather lush, it might also be because it is home to the Green Mosque (Yeşil Cami), so named for its turquoise tiles and the Green Tomb (Yeşil Turbesi) of Sultan Mehmet Çelebi (1421). Two other famous tombs contain the bodies of the first and second Ottoman rulers (Osman and his son Orhan). The Grand Mosque (Ulu Cami) is very impressive, with its 20 domes and loads of beautiful old calligraphy inside. It is unusual in having a washing pool inside as well.


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Istanbul 3

Saturday, 24 September 2011

On my last day in Istanbul I visited the Archaeological Museum and the Tiled Pavilion. I was especially interested in the Museum’s display of sarcophagi from the Necropolis of Sidon. I had never heard of it before, but the artefacts are extraordinary. They are part of a discovery in the 19th century of the burial place of a dynasty of Phoenician (an ancient sea-faring people) royals (6th c. – 4th c. B.C.). Sidon is in present day Lebanon. How about this for an Indiana Jones type story:

On March 2, 1887 on a land being used as a quarry northeast of Sidon, a workman accidentally uncovers a tomb shaft about twenty feet square sunk to a depth of some fifty feet in the sandstone. Overcome by fear, he flees to Sidon and returns with the Reverend William King Eddy, an American missionary born in Sidon. They make their way through Sidon’s dark streets and orange groves to the site. In the flickering candlelight Eddy realizes at once that this is not an ordinary burial but a discovery of great importance. At his feet lies Sidon’s royal necropolis.

Lowering themselves by ropes down the shaft they land in front of a burial chamber. As the opening into the chamber is narrow and the ventilation poor, their candies flicker and nearly go out. Both men become dizzy and faint. Thick mud on the floor impedes their progress. Water drips from the roof.

Eddy cannot believe his eyes. Before him in the musty gloom stands a most unusual sarcophagus, the cover of which is of one piece of marble in the form of a large arch. From the four ends project lion heads. On the front end of the lid stand two figures facing each other with uplifted wings, with the body of a beast and the head of an eagle. At the rear are two similar figures, with the body of a bird and a human head. Eddy is standing in front of what is later called the “Sarcophagus of the Lycian”.

The sarcophagus is made of marble from Paros. Traces of color of various shades of red, ochre, brown and blue persist. One long side depicts a hunting scene. Two chariots drawn by four horses each bear down on a lion. Two young hunters stand in each car. The horses prance and leap in the air, of the eight, only the last one to the left has a hoof on the ground.

Read more: Phoenician Treasures


The Tiled Pavilion hosted an exhibition by belgian ceramic sculpture artist Johan Tahon, as part of Istanbul’s 12th Biannale. It was interesting to see contemporary ceramic art displayed against a background of older traditional ceramic artwork.


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Istanbul 2

23-24 September, 2011

An amazing and heart-warming event took place in Istanbul last Tuesday night. A football match (between the Turkish clubs Fenerbahce and Manisaspor) took place in front of a capacity crowd of 41,000 – all women and children under 12, including babes in arms. The Turkish football governing body has changed its rules, so that when a club is punished for violent behaviour by its fans, it must play some future games not in an empty stadium (as is the case with many foreign leagues), but in a stadium in which male spectators are banned. Apparently there was a joyful atmosphere, with the women spectators dressed in the club colurs and singing all the songs and chants, and no violence or even bad language. There was a big crowd of anxious boyfriends, husbands and other male relatives waiting outside for the game to end.


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21-22 September, 2011

I caught a ferry from Istanbul to Büyükada, the largest of the nine Princes’ Islands in the Sea of Marmara. It took a bit over an hour after stopping at three of the other islands first. The fare was 4 Turkish Lira (about A$2). I will stay here 2 nights. Büyükada is about 5 km long and 2 km wide. There are no cars on the island. Transport is by horse and cart, bicycle and walking. It is very relaxing, like stepping back in time to a slower era. Today I went for a walk up to the highest point (200m above sea level) to where the Monastery of St George (Aya Yorgi) is situated and walked back around the coastal road to town. The monastery is one of the oldest anywhere (around 800AD). In Byzantine times, deposed rulers were exiled to these islands, and in Ottoman times they were mainly just fishing villages. In the mid-19th c. the non-Muslim Istanbul bourgeoisie were allowed to build summer houses and mansions here, many of which still exist, developing a distinctive architectural style.


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A Beer Story

A funny thing happened to me in a bar in Istanbul.

It was a cafe-bar under the Galata Bridge. I took a seat outside with a nice view of the Golden Horn and the setting sun, looked at the drinks menu which only listed lager and pilsner beers, such as the local Efes. I felt like a change, so I wandered inside where the bar was. I spied a couple of bottles of a Turkish brand I hadn’t seen before, Gusta (see last pic, previous post).

One was a dark ale and the other was a wheat beer. They said they didn’t have a chilled wheat beer on hand, only the dark, so I had that. It wasn’t bad and I appreciated the change. I asked them to put a wheat beer in the fridge for me for the next time.

The following evening I called in again, saw the same guy who served me the previous evening and asked for my (hopefully chilled) Gusta wheat beer. He went away and then another guy came and placed a glass of beer in front of me. I took one sip and realised it was a lager. Then the first guy came back with a bottle of Gusta, saw the glass of beer, apologised and took it away before I had a chance to ask for another glass. By then I also realised that the bottle of beer was unopened. It took quite a while before I could attract the first waiter’s attention and ask for 1. a glass and 2. a bottle-opener.

The guy looked at me like I was a wimp, tried to twist the cap off with his hands and winced in pain. It wasn’t that kind. A few minutes passed and he was back with a glass and a bottle-opener. My thirst was building. He successfully managed to open the bottle and pour me a glass just as the second guy came back with a second opened bottle of Gusta wheat beer. It was quite a comical performance.

Eventually they both disappeared shamefaced and left me to enjoy my beer and the view in peace. I reckon they must have lost money on me!

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16-20 September, 2011

Here I am in Istanbul (formerly Byzantium and Constantinople).

I took a plane from Odessa Airport (just a small single storey building) to Istanbul, not much more than one hour in flight. My idea of going by boat evaporated when I found the service was cancelled last year due to lack of demand caused by the recession. Never mind.

I am staying at a hostel in Sultanahmet, very close to the Hagia Sophia (Greek for Holy Wisdom), Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace. I have had a look from the outside but the queues to get in were very long, so I think I will try to get there at morning opening instead.

The plane landed at 3.00pm so I had plenty of time to tackle public transport which proved easy. I took the Metro train to an interchange station where I switched to a tram. A short walk through the park between Aya Sophia and the Blue Mosque and I was there (Agora Guesthouse). They have a great rooftop terrace view over the Sea of Marmara. That is the body of water that leads to the Black Sea to the north (through the Bosphorus Straits) and the Aegaean and Mediterranean to the south (through the Dardanelles), and is the border between Europe and Asia.

The European side of Istanbul is divided by the Golden Horn estuary which passes under the Galata Bridge and flows into the Marmara. There are lots of cafes and bars under the bridge.

After my walk around yesterday I think I am the closest I have been to culture shock. Istanbul is very beautiful, with stunning views, but very big with crazy traffic. And that’s just the pedestrians!


The Blue Mosque was built in 1616 (architect Sedefkar Mehmed Agha was a student and assistant of Sinan the brilliant Ottoman architect Sinan). The name Blue Mosque comes from the colour of the interior, with 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles in 50 different tulip designs. It is one of only 2 mosques in Turkey with 6 minarets. There was criticism at the time on the religious grounds that the Ka’aba in Mecca already had 6 minarets and should not be competed with. So the Ottoman ruler paid for a 7th to be added there (from Wikipedia). The Obelisk of Theodosius was brought to Constantinople from Egypt and is 3500 years old.


The Hagia Sophia with its massive dome was constructed by Justinian in 532AD on the site of an earlier church. It was converted to a mosque when the Ottomans captured Constantinople in 1453AD and became a museum in 1931.

Among other meanderings, I visited the Grand Bazaar, the Egyptian Bazaar (Spice Bazaar), the Sulimaniye Mosque (Sinan was the architect), the Basilica Cistern (a large underground cavern with 336 marble columns, including 2 with Medusa head bases, one upside down and the other on its side for some reason, water coming from the Belgrade Forest 19km away), walked across the Galata Bridge (spanning the Golden Horn) to the Galata Tower and took a 90 minute cruise as far as the Bosphorus Bridge (and the next one) and into the Black Sea and back for A$6.


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Odessa 2

15 September, 2011


Odessa Mama. They used to call it that because was a safe haven for misfits, dreamers, runaways (from serfdom and the military) and Jews.

The hostel I stayed at last year (Babushka Grand) was temporarily closed so I booked a dorm bed at “The Communist Party”.


The last 3 pics might require some explanation. The metal sculpture of an empty chair is in City Park. It commemorates a 1928 Russian novel, Twelve Chairs, by Ilf and Petrov. The next pic commemorates a narrow escape I had when walking along an Odessan street, minding my own business. This small but fearsome looking object descended from the sky and whistled past my right ear, landing with a loud thwack on the pavement. It is a chestnut (or rather the outer covering for one). Hard and spiky, I think it would have drawn blood had it landed on my head. The last pic is of a shot of Becherovka, a herbal liqueur produced in the Czech Republic since 1807. It was invented by the chemist Alfred Becher using a secret recipe of anise seed, cinnamon and approximately 32 other herbs.

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