October 29 2010, Turkish Republic Day

Yesterday, October 29, Turkey celebrated 87 years of the Republic of Turkey. It was a public holiday, and everyone was in a festive mood. Bunting flapped from every lamp post, and Turkish flags flew everywhere. In the evening, thousands of people took to the streets in a celebratory mood.

The Carnaval Turco percussion group had the crowd dancing 
and waving their flags

In Bağdat Caddesi, they gathered in large groups, singing patriotic songs, dancing, or listening to old recorded speeches by Atatürk. Fortunately, the police had cordoned off the traffic, as a tidal wave of marchers flowed down our street, waving flags and carrying banners showing images of Kemal Atatürk. They all seemed deliriously happy, and full of pride for their country.

Thousands of people marched down the streets, 
waving flags and carrying banners

Bağdat Caddesi was full to overflowing of happy people celebrating, and the amazing thing was, we only saw one obviously drunk man, and absolutely no loutish behaviour at all, during the whole evening! ...and, when we woke this morning, the streets were pristine clean again, thanks to the local municipality workers. Is this where "lessons could be learned", especially in the UK?


Küçük Aya Sofya, Istanbul, Turkey

I have joined a photography club in Istanbul, as I am keen to become a more efficient photographer. On Tuesday, I went on my first club trek. We met by the obelisk on the Hippodrome in Sultanahmet, opposite the Blue Mosque, with the intention of taking photos there. Unfortunately, some rather large cruise ships had docked in Istanbul, and when we saw the enormous crowd of people headed for our destination, we changed tack and went to the Little Aya Sofya instead.

The view of the Blue Mosque from our meeting place.

Originally built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (527-565), the church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus became a mosque in 1503. The locals named it Küçük Ayasofya Camii (Little Aya Sofya Mosque) because of its resemblance to that great basilica. There is an interesting story behind the original name of the church. The saints Sergius and Bacchus were Roman soldiers who died as Christian martyrs after being persecuted for their faith, and were chosen by Emperor Constantine as patron saints of his army.

Küçük Aya Sofya, originally the Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus

Fortunately for Justinian, this continued into the reign of Anastasius when Justinian was under sentence of death, after being accused of plotting against the emperor. Anastasius dreamed that the two saints came to him and pleaded with him to spare Justinian's life, which he did. Justinian commissioned the church in 527, and gratefully named it after the two saints.

The roof is reminiscent of the Aya sofya

 We can only imagine the original glory of the golden mosaics and marble decorations that adorned the walls. Justinian's Secretary, Procopius described it as "...more resplendent than the sun and everywhere it was filled with gold...". Unfortunately this is now all lost to us, although the present mosque is beautifully decorated, having been recently restored.

 The decoration on the dome of the Küçük Aya Sofya Camii

The two hours of our trek flew by, and we ended by walking through the bazaar at the back of the Blue Mosque. I learned so much about photography on that trek, and even managed to experiment with different settings on my camera. I can't wait for the next photo club meeting!

Baby shoes for sale in the bazaar


Çiya Restaurant, Kadiköy, Istanbul

Last night, David and I went to Kadiköy with our friends Tayfun and Yasemin. There they introduced us to Çiya (pronounced Chiya), an amazing restaurant they had found. Çiya specialises in Turkish regional cuisine and, because their repertoire of dishes is so vast (more than 1,000), they have a different menu every day. Even then the choice is overwhelming, there are 50 different types of meat kebab alone!

Tayfun, Yasemin, Me and David, outside the restaurant.

Çiya's owner/chef, Musa Dağdeviren, travelled all over Turkey collecting his recipes, even going into people's homes to cook with them. The result is an extraordinary culinary experience. When we looked at the menu, we hardly knew where to start, as the food was unfamiliar to us. We finally decided to order a variety of dishes to share.

We began with stuffed, dried aubergine, vine leaves stuffed with cheese, lamb stew, spinach in yoghurt, and some small balls of mashed vegetables. This was eaten with puffed up pita bread and washed down with freshly squeezed mulberry juice, and was absolutely delicious. This was followed by a kebab dish, and then a wonderful selection of desserts, made from different candied fruits and vegetables. We will definitely include this restaurant as a special Turkish experience for future visitors.

Recently we were bothered by a very irritating noise. For ages we couldn't locate it. It turned out to be the extractor fan on the roof of the next-door building. No one else seemed bothered by the noise, but it was driving us crazy. I managed to get a message to the restaurant to which the extractor belonged, with the help of two friends, Gür and Onür. They responded quickly, as by then the whole structure was visibly shaking, and workmen soon arrived.

I never fail to be amazed at how nonchalant the Turkish workmen are (no sign of 'elf and safety here). I missed the best shot of them hauling up the new motor, freely dangling on a rope, as they leaned over the edge, but here they are happily walking about, with one of them perilously balanced, trying to free the housing on the old motor - not a safety harness in sight. I'm pleased to say that the mission was safely completed, albeit in the dark, and no one came to any harm.

The grinning workman on the right, posing for his photo, is leaning
on the new motor which they manhandled up into the casing,
after removing the old one.


William Comes to Istanbul

 Will, on one of our many ferry crossings.

Will came to Istanbul for such a short time, but we managed to cram in a lot of sight-seeing while he was here. On the first day, we took the ferry across to Eminönü, then the tramway to Sultanahmet and the Aya Sofia. There, Will hired audio guides for us, which was a first for me, despite having visited the place several times. I really recommend this, if you have plenty of time, as the commentary is fascinating and very informative. Thanks to the audio guide, I saw the mosaics that are located high up on the north wall of the basilica. They depict the patriarchs, John Chrysostom and Ignatius the Younger.

John Chrysostom, and Ignatius the Younger

After a well-deserved lunch, we descended into the depths of the Basilica Cistern to marvel at its beauty, and the feat of engineering that created it, followed by a brief look at the Topkapi Palace. This is so vast that we decided that Will really needs to return, so that we can spend a whole day exploring this magnificent Sultan's Palace.

Colourful lights on sale in the Grand Bazaar

Everything imaginable is on sale in the Grand Bazaar.

Our next stop was the Grand Bazaar, where we wandered up and down the bewildering maze of stalls. We managed to resist the entreaties of the salesmen, and left the bazaar to wander down the back streets to the Spice Bazaar, where we couldn't resist buying some. By now, people were swarming everywhere, and we were reduced to a slow shuffle as we descended into the tunnel under the roadway to get to the Galata Bridge. We had intended to have a fish sandwich there, but the people were already queueing, so we gave up on that and crossed the bridge.

Good son that he is, Will bought some saffron for his mother.

Once across, we took the Tünel up to Istiklal and staggered across to one of the little restaurants opposite the station, grateful for a chance to rest. Once restored to health, we continued our journey up Istiklal to Taksim Square, on the little vintage tram that dates from the nineteenth century. From Taksim we travelled back to the Asian side across the Bosphorus Bridge, on a little yellow Dolmuş. The end of an exhausting, but fun day.

On the second day we took things rather slower. David, Will and I opted for a gentle cruise up the Bosphorus from  Eminönü to Anodolu Kavaği, near the entrance to the Black Sea. There, we had a leisurely lunch and sailed back down the Bosphorus again. Magical.

 Büyükada's Ferry Station

On Will's last day, his friend Luke joined us and we caught the ferry to Büyükada, the biggest of the Princes Islands. At least, that's where we thought we were going. It turned out we were on the wrong ferry! Fortunately, after visiting Burgazada and landing on Kanılıada, we managed to link up with the ferry to Büyükada. Once there we had a well-deserved lunch, before taking a phaeton to the beginning of the long climb up to the Aya Yorgi, the Greek Orthodox Church of Saint George. We were glad we made the effort to complete the climb as the little church is a gem, and the view from the top is amazing.

We rode in a phaeton through the streets of Büyükada.

 Will sits in the driving seat.

Will and Luke outside the Aya Yorgi

 We saw this shoe seller, pushing his barrow on Büyükada

That was all we had time for, as Will was flying out to South Africa the following day. Never mind, Will, it's all waiting here for your return. You'll just have to come back one day.

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