Monday, February 27, 2012

Istiklal Street - Beyoglu, Istanbul

Jim picked up a brochure for me for the company Istanbul Walks. They offer a whole menu of different walking tours. One was listed as starting every Tuesday from Taksim square near our hotel.  It seemed like an easy way to check out the company, so I went to the starting point on Tuesday, but had not called them to register.  It was a cold rainy day and the guide didn't show up. I assume they didn't have anyone signed up for that tour. 
As long as I was there, I decided to walk down that street on my own. A tram ran down the middle of the street, but I think otherwise it was supposed to be a pedestrian street.
There were several Christian churches here and many buildings from the 19th century and possibly earlier.01_9114
This church was just off Istiklal street on a side street.
It wasn't open, but this foyer was quite pretty.
Here's another shot of the ceiling.
Here are a couple music shops on Istiklal street.
There were lights hanging above the street that looked to me like Christmas lights.  I don't know if they are here year-round or not.
Here you see one of the trams coming down the street.
A quieter side-street.  You can see the tram in Istiklal Street in the background.
Another Christian Church.
Looking back towards the main street, the arcade forms a courtyard in front of this church.

I was surprised to see a manger scene still here on Feb 14, along with a Christmas tree and white poinsettias.
Another church, which was accessed by these steps leading down to it.
This wall and gate separated this church and the steps from the street.

And there was a multi-storey mall here as well.  The hearts are perfectly in season for Feb. 14.
When I got back to the hotel, I did call the tour company and made a reservation to do a full-day tour with them the next day.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Istanbul - streets and Blue Mosque

Our next stop was Istanbul.  We were back in Europe and winter. The last time we had been in Istanbul was 1995. The city has changed a lot in 17 years. We were staying in the same area we stayed in last time and actually our hotel turned out to be just a block from the one we stayed in before.  We wouldn't have recognized the hotel or location, but we remembered the name and the fact that it was on a corner. 


We arrived about 4:00 pm and went out for a walk after getting settled in the hotel. This scene is not far from Taksim square, which was walking distance from our hotel. We were happy to be in a city where the streets were walkable.


The next morning I bought a transit card and rode to the old part of Istanbul--the former Constantinople, where the most famous mosques and landmarks of the city are. To get there I rode a funicular down to the bottom of the hill. Then I took a tram across the bridge to the other part of town. This was not across the Bosphorus; both the section where we stayed and the old town are in the European part of town.

The tram stopped near a park, which lead to the former hippodrome, which is another park-like area. This was my first view of the Blue Mosque or the Sultanahmet Mosque. It has 6 minarets.


Here's another shot of the park.


As you can see it was a sunny day.  The temperature was in the 40's, but it was very pleasant sitting in the sun. Here's a shot of the roof of a pavilion in this park.


From the park looking towards Hagia Sophia or Ayasophia. More in the next post about that building. I saw very few burkas in the newer part of Istanbul, but there were a few in this part.


I thought this coffee shop was cute. IMG_9025

I took advantage of the nice weather to walk around some of the streets on the hill below these two mosques. There were a lot of new hotels in this area.


These buildings almost look Scandinavian.


And here's a cute little corner.


Detail of the door above.  You know why I snapped this photo.


I wandered back up towards the mosques and the hippodrome. The hippodrome goes back to Roman times. Horse and chariot races took place here and apparently these obelisks were in the center of the race track.  The ground level is much higher now. Inside the fence they have excavated down to the original ground level.  Is this still happening today or was it just that they didn't have trash collection back then?  How does the ground level rise like that?


Here's another pretty shot of this area, looking towards Ayasophia.


Next I visited the Blue Mosque.


Most mosques have a courtyard with a fountain in it. The fountain is used in the ritual washing that Muslims do before praying. This courtyard is surrounded by an arcade on all four sides.


Here's a shot I took inside. I didn't have a tripod, so used the flat top of a barrier to set my camera on to get this shot indoors without using the flash. This is the back part of the mosque.  The ladies area is behind the screen at left. The entrance to the courtyard is in the center left, below the columns and smaller arcade.


Then I tilted it up to get this one.


This mosque gets its nickname from the blue tiles inside. The ceilings and upper parts are painted, but the walls on the second level are tiled.

And here is a shot of the ceiling near the central dome.  The trouble with relying on using an available flat surface for this kind of photo is you can't really frame the picture. You sort of get what you get.


One more shot of the outside, as I walked away.


I had lunch in this restaurant. this is actually the second floor which wasn't open at this time.


One more shot of the street outside the restaurant.


I spent 3 more days walking around, but we had rainy, cold weather, so these were my last sunny pictures. Ok, I just realized the only word you can read on these shops is 'silver.'  I suppose the shops sold silver. I don't really remember.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Agra --The Red Fort

Besides the Taj Mahal, we also visited the Red Fort in Agra. We had previously visited the Red Fort in Delhi, which was built by the same Mughal Emperor, so we weren’t sure this one was going to be worth the visit, but we were glad we went here.  It was quite a bit nicer than the one in Delhi


There is a permanent bridge now replacing the old wooden one which was used to cross the moats to the main gate of the old fort.There was a fort in this location as early as 1080, but much of the earlier structure was razed and replaced with the structure that exists today, by the same Mughal emperor who built the Taj Mahal. The fort, which is really a palace within a fortified walled city, was built for him, his wives, concubines and court to live in.


This is the main gate, where we entered.


Detail of the colored parts in the towers seen above. I think this is inlay work, but am not sure.


This gate was called the Elephant gate, because elephants used to enter through it. We walked up the ramp with a ridged pavement supposed to be easier for the animals to climb.  The man in the tan vest was our guide. The ladies in saris just happened to enter ahead of us.


Another photo our guide took of us in front of the Jahangiri Mahal, one of the palaces inside the Red Fort.


Closer shot of the gate seen in the photo above. The emperor had 3 wives and over 200 concubines. His wives were one Hindu, one Christian and one Muslim. The palace has symbols of all three religions.  The 6-pointed star with the lotus flower in the center is a Hindu symbol. The arches are Muslim. You also will notice no anthropomorphic designs out of respect for Islamic rules. And the crosses are a Christian symbol.


A detail of the carved stone panel next to the doorway.


A carved niche inside an arcaded passage.


A white marble court built for the wives.


The fountain room. There was a large water tank on the roof of an adjoining building. The water flowed down through an open channel and across to feed this fountain.


One of the walls in the marble palace.


Inlay detail. This is very similar to the work on the Taj Mahal.


This garden is called in Hindi, the grape garden. Here again you see symbols of Islam (the half moon), Christianity (the cross) and Hinduism (the swastika).


The hall of public audience housed a throne from which the Emperor would address his subjects.


A detail of the ceiling in the building above.


The hall of public audience again.  I didn’t have a picture of it without us in it.

Much of the original red fort is currently used by the Indian Army and off-limits to visitors.

This information is what I remember from what our guide told us plus some more from Wikipedia, so don’t quote me.  I’ve tried to keep it accurate, but it’s not a historical account.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Taj Mahal lives up to hype

When I was about 10, my parents enrolled me in the Weekly Reader Children’s book club.  I was an avid reader then, but was content to work my way through the Bobbsey Twins series.  My library had lots of those.  So, I think my parents were trying to expand my reading horizons.  I don’t remember many of those books, but one I do remember was entitled “The Road to Agra.”  It was about an Indian boy and girl walking to Agra.  The subject and cover didn’t appeal to me. It was all so far out of my realm of experience, that it took me quite a while to read it, but when I did I enjoyed it. The description in that book of the Taj Mahal made me want to see it in person some day. At that time I thought that was impossible, but some times things just take time.


When Jim told me we might be going to India, I told him I had wanted for years to see the Taj Mahal, so he put that on our agenda.  He’s like that. Before we went, I read some more about the Taj and it all sounded fantastic, till I read some reviews on Tripadvisor.  Some people had been disappointed with the experience, citing crowds, police whistles, aggressive photographers, guides and vendors.  I was prepared to be disappointed. I thought perhaps it wouldn’t live up to expectations.


I needn't have worried. The Taj Mahal is a magnificent monument.  It was made of a very hard marble that has endured for years. It was built between 1632 and 1648, as a tomb by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his favorite wife. We were told that it was looted by various later rulers. Our guide said they removed many of the precious stones and gold and silver that decorated it originally and all that is left is the semi-precious stones.  I need to try to find out if this is true. To the eyes of an amateur and a tourist, the semi-precious ones are still pretty spectacular. 


So here are my pictures.  The ones with Jim and me in them were taken by our guide.  He took lots of pictures of us. The only reason we permitted this is that we are not very photogenic, so thought if he tried many times he might get one or two good ones.


This is the great gate, which is on the South side.  It is built of red sandstone and decorated with marble and semi-precious stones. Most Indians use the West gate, which is closer to public transportation, but we were taken to the East gate.  We didn’t have to wait in line at all, so this worked out well for us.


Jim and me in front of the great gate.


Another shot taken across the lawn.


Some Indian women in beautiful saris.


We were told the finials were originally gold. We both thought the monument was larger than we were expecting

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A close-up of some of the inlay work. Some of the stones used for the inlay are malachite, lapis lazuli, carnelian, onyx, sapphire and turquoise


A detail of some of the carving. This marble is very hard and resists wear.

IMG_8885     IMG_8886

Two of the 4 minarets


The Taj is 8-sided, but not a regular octagon. Here you see one of the 4 shorter sides. The main entrance facing South is on the left. Around every one of the large arches is more inlay work. The close-up photo above is from one of the rectangular borders around the lower part in this photo.


Looking back towards the great gate.


A red sandstone mosque, on the east side of the Taj Mahal.  An almost identical building on the other side was a guest house.


From here we went to a restaurant for lunch, the marble factory and then the Agra fort.  Those things deserve another post, so hopefully I’ll get a chance to do that soon.