Thursday, June 19, 2008

Topkapi Palace and the Spice Bazaar

On our third and last day in Istanbul, we visited Topkapi Palace and the Spice Bazaar. We went to Spice Bazaar first.

The Spice Bazaar was much smaller than I expected, but it was still one of my favorite things that we saw there. There were lots of different kinds of spices being sold, as you'd expect, and there was also a lot of Turkish Delight, which, I must say, is delightful.
Here are some pictures from the bazaar:

After the Spice Bazaar, we went to Topkapi Palace which was very impressive, but also very crowded with tourists. After about 30 minutes there, being pushed and elbowed by other tourists, I had a severe case of 'museum fatigue' so R. and I went and sat down for awhile and partook of some of the Turkish Delight we had bought earlier in the day. I didn't really take any pictures while there, which I blame on the amount of people. Still, I'm glad I saw it and it's definitely worth going to.

In the afternoon, R. and I went to the airport and caught our plane back to Skopje. All in all, it was a great trip, and I'm looking forward to moving to Turkey next year.

Prinkipo Island

On our second day in Istanbul, we met up with S. and headed to Prinkipo Island. Prinkipo island is a small island near Istanbul which has some hills and a Greek orthodox monastery at the top. It took us only about an hour and a half to get there by boat, but it feels like it's about a million miles from Istanbul. First of all, cars are not allowed on the island, so to get around, you need to either walk, bicycle, or take one of the horse-drawn carts. We used the first and third methods of transportation during our day on the island. The carts are operated by a single Kurdish tribe and they have a monopoly over that form of transportation on the island.

When we got off the boat, we got into the horse-drawn carts and went to S.'s house which is further up the island.

At her house, we met the resident cat, as well as a seagull who had built its nest in the garden.

It had found a safe place to incubate its egg.

From there we walked up to the monastery, which was a fairly long walk and mainly uphill.

Here are some donkeys we saw on the way up:

There's a restaurant near the monastery which apparently has the best shish kebab in Turkey (or maybe it was just in Istanbul). We had the shish kebab, along with fried eggplant and "cigarette burek". When I heard we were having burek, I was a little worried. When you order burek here in Macedonia, you basically get a plate full of cheesy, oil-soaked, fried pastry. The burek we had was delicious, though. It was small, fried, cigarette shaped dough with cheese in the center.

Here are some pictures of the view from the restaurant and monastery.

After lunch we walked part of the way back down and then took a horse and cart to the bottom of the island, near the port. We walked around the town for awhile and then we ate some ice cream. I had fig-flavored ice cream. Then it was time to go, so we got on the boat and went back to Istanbul.

The city formerly known as Constantinople

So it looks like there's a 2 month lag time between when I go somewhere and when I actually get around to post about it. But I am trying to catch up, really I am!!

This is the post where I talk about my trip to Istanbul, which happened in late April when I had some very welcome visitors (who know who they are!)

We arrived in Istanbul on a Monday night and checked into our hotel, Hotel Sultan Hill, which was great and everyone should stay there when they go to Istanbul. The staff is really friendly and it has a great location (in the middle of the old part of Istanbul). It's basically located right under the Blue Mosque ( a fact that will become significant later in this post).

We settled in and decided to take a little walk. We walked by the Blue Mosque. Here is the first of about 57 pictures that I took of the Blue Mosque:

Then we went in search of a restaurant. Searching for a restaurant in Istanbul is an exercise in avoiding eye contact because any time you even glance in the direction of someone's restaurant, they are immediately all over you trying to get you to come and eat there. I didn't find it threatening, but it did get mildly annoying after awhile.
The next morning we discovered the one downside to the hotel's location. Being so close to the Blue Mosque means hearing the call to prayer at full volume. It's like having someone shouting into a microphone as loud as possible right outside your bedroom. The first call to prayer happens at around 5 in the morning. We weren't really expecting it, so it was quite a wake-up call. It went on for what seemed like hours, but was probably only about 10 minutes. Luckily, we were able to go back to sleep after that. It happened the next two mornings we were there as well, but by the third morning I had gotten used to it and was able to sleep through it.
After sleeping a few more hours, we got up and decided to walk around the old part of Istanbul. We went again to the Blue Mosque, going inside this time. This is a more close-up version of the mosque.

There are faucets outside where people can wash their feet and hands before entering inside. When you go in, you have to take your shoes off and women have to cover their heads with something. Inside the mosque, there is an open area in the center for men to pray. When women come in to pray they have to stand in areas around the sides of the mosque, separated from the men by a screen.
After the Blue Mosque, we went to Hagia Sofia, which used to be an Orthodox Church and then later was converted into a mosque. Here is a picture:
The inside was very impressive, and quite interesting because there was a lot of the old Orthodox art, but there were also pieces of art with Arabic writing hanging around the ceiling area. Unfortunately, I didn't get any pictures of the Muslim art, but here is an example of the Orthodox art in the church.
We also went to the Mosque of Suleymane, which was impressive as well, although we couldn't see all of it because part of it is being refurbished at the moment. We had lunch at a place across from the mosque where everyone seemed to be eating beans. We ordered beans too, and they were delicious!
After lunch, we went to the Grand Bazaar to have a look around. I bought some perfume there (which may or may not be counterfeit designer) and also a few presents. The experience of shopping there is much like looking for a restaurant. You are constantly being entreated to enter the different stalls and if you so much as glance in the direction of something being sold, the salesmen will immediately give you the "hard sell". Still, it's all in good fun. I didn't take any pictures inside the bazaar because I was a little concerned about taking out my camera in such a busy place. So you'll have to imagine what it was like!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Catania and Taormina

After my day in Belgrade, I went on to Italy. I was visiting A. in Catania. I was there for 2 days, and we spent the morining of the first day in Taormina, which is a beautiful little town not far from Catania. It's probably the most touristy place in that part of Sicily, and as such, everything is about twice as expensive as it would be anywhere else on the island. Here is a picture of an old church in Taormina.

After walking around the town for a little while, we returned to Catania for lunch at the Trattoria dei Fiori, which is a little restaurant where we always go when I'm there. They make their own pasta and it's so delicious. Here's a picture of my lunch:

I was eating pasta all Norma, which is one of my favorite things to eat. It's fried eggplant served over pasta with tomato sauce, covered in ricotta salata cheese. Yum!

The next day, I spent some time walking around Catania, revisiting my old haunts. Here's a picture of the Duomo in Catania, which is built in the Baroque style.

And finally, a picture of the pescheria (fish market) which is held every morning near Piazza Duomo. I bought a block of Ricotta Salata cheese while I was there.

New Post--Belgrade

I've been getting behind again with updating this blog, but I guess it's better late than never! I have a whole bunch of photos to post, and I'll try to do that in the next few days.

I'll start by posting some pictures of Belgrade. I was there for the day about a month ago, on my way to Italy. I had a 9 hour layover, so I took the opportunity to go around the city and do some sightseeing.

This first photo is a bombed-out building. I think it was bombed by the US back in the 90's. i know they repaired most of the damage to the city, but left some of the buildings damaged purposely as a reminder.

Most of the city is very nice. I spent a lot of the time while I was there in Kalemegdan citadel, which is really like a big park. There are lots of ruins and old buildings from when it was used as a citadel, mixed in with green areas and trees and some great views of the Danube river.

Having woken up at 3:45 that morning, it was great to just sit and look at the pretty river.

There are also a lot of churches in Belgrade (surprise, surprise). I was there the day before Palm Sunday and something interesting that I noticed was that a lot of people were buying bells from vendors on the street. I don't know why or if it had anything to do with the religious holiday the next day.

Here are some pictures of churches:

The first one is a small Russian Orthodox church. I think it was built by exiled Russians in the early 20th century. The second one is a small church on the grounds of the citadel. It was beautiful inside, but unfortunately, photos of the interior are not allowed.
Belgrade was great and I wish I'd had more time there than just one day. I've heard it has a great nightlife!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Independent Kosovo

A little over a month ago, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia. Obviously, the Serbs are not happy about the situation; however, among the ethnic Albanians living here in Macedonia, there's been an almost universally positive response. On the night that independence was declared, there was a large celebration in the old part of Skopje and J., R, and I all went to see the festivities.

It was somewhat chaotic, with lots of people dancing around and singing. There was a giant stage set up with a big Albanian flag hanging as a backdrop. It was night, so you can't see the flag too well in this picture, but it should give an idea of what it was like.

One thing I noticed during the celebration was the number of American flags being waved around. There were quite a few people carrying both Albanian flags and American flags. There was even an American flag mounted on the statue of Skanderbeg, who is the national hero of Albania.

That red blur you see on the horse is an American flag.

I think the celebration went on all night, but we only stayed for about half an hour. This was because at a certain point someone started to fire his or her machine gun in the air in celebration. That was my cue to leave. I generally try to avoid being in places where bullets might rain down on my head.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Sveti (Saint) Pantelejmon is another monastery. Apparently, Sveti Pantelejmon is the saint of health. The monastery is located near Skopje, on Vodno, which is the mountain where the giant cross is located. I went there when my mom was visiting and also when A. came to visit. I took this picture when my mom was here in December.
Inside the monastery, the walls are covered in old Byzantine frescoes, but I don't have any pictures of them because you're not allowed to take pictures inside the church.

It was pretty cold and had been snowing, so the whole area up on Vodno was covered in snow and frost, which was a bit surreal-looking.

When the weather is clear, I think you can see all of Skopje from Vodno, but the two times I've been up there it's been cloudy, so all I could see when I looked down were the clouds and the tops of the other mountains.