Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Continuing on, though not exactly the next day.

 And so the last of Izmir and continuing on to Istanbul...

[Sorry.  I've stupidly done something to my arm/shoulder, and so typing has not been a priority the past few days.  (Muscle spasm leading to pinched nerve... yes, ouch!) I think that the traveling has finally caught up with me, in a unique and sadly boomerang sort of way.]

So, after our big  day visiting Priene, Miletus and Didyma, we decided that instead of going to Sardis on Monday (which was also C's birthday) We'd spend the day in town, Izmir, and do a little shopping, have a bit of a wander (visit the central bank to change some old and now uncirculating Turkish money that the bank in the US had given to C&S!) and have a döner kebap in the market or Kemeraltı in town.  We also decided to "do" some little laundries in the room and then pack for our Tuesday departure.

we took advantage of the beautiful day and sat at Konak Pier
watching the ships and ferry boats and enjoying the sun

Iconic Izmir clock tower

choosing the best kebaps...

and something to drink (fresh squeezed pomegranate, orange or carrot juice).

too many things to choose
too many things to see
always something new, something more.

not far from the edge of the current bazaar- the agora of ancient Smyrna!
the birthday guy our last night at the hotel.
The next day was our anniversary, but it was also the best day to travel so we checked out and managed to find our way back to the airport.  We were returning the car a bit early, but a kind young man outside the airport entrance offered to call the rental car people and within five minutes, they'd come to pick up the car.

We were early, but we checked in with no problems and had a coffee and flew back to Istanbul (the flight is about the same time and distance as Corfu to Athens, 50 minutes.)

We were met on time, at the Sabiha Gökçen Airport by the nice people from Backpacker's Shuttle and whisked away in a comfortable Mercedes van.  The driver provided us with juice, water and little cakes (something our "no-frills" Pegasus flight didn't offer) so we had a nice ride back into town from the other direction, this time Asia to Europe.

We'd arrived in Istanbul at about 1 in the afternoon so we assumed we'd get to the hotel by around 2.  We arrived just slightly before 2, and the check in took no time at all.  We had lovely rooms, very different from our previous hotel rooms as the Hotel Ayasofya is an old historic house that has been converted into a charming boutique hotel.
lovely lovely hotel Ayasofya
 Our room was small but perfect for our needs (the bathroom was tiny, but the shower had plenty of hot water) and we had a small desk a cupboard to hang our clothes and three windows with a little nook.

It's located in a *real* neighborhood that was not too noisy (it was March) and seemed filled with mostly locals (ie: not much tourist traffic).  The staff and owner were apparently well respected in the neighborhood, so I didn't feel vulnerable walking around at night.  Once we became oriented to the Blue Mosque and the ancient Hippodrome, it became fairly easy to find our way back and around. 
Gaye and a couple of her great employees.

Gaye Reeves and her team are very hands on in their management style.  Any questions you ask are answered - and if they don't know, they find the answer for you!

Our first question after we settled in, was where was the best place to go for our anniversary/birthday celebration dinner and without hesitation, she suggested Hamdi Restaurant which turned out to be perfect! Really wonderful food - Meze, raki and then kebabs.  The restaurant was almost all filled with Turkish customers when we went. Gaye had made the reservations and we had a corner window table with a beautiful view of the twinkling lights of the city  and beyond, over Golden Horn and Bosphorus.

The restaurant is located across from the Galata Bridge, next to the Spice Bazaar.


walking up to Hagia Sofia
But I suppose I should go back a bit.  After we arrived, checked in and made our dinner reservations, we still had plenty of time to do some sightseeing.  The first, of all the first sights to see, if for me anyway, is Agia Sofia or the church of the Holy Wisdom. 

It always takes my breath away

each time I return the restorations have progressed

so many of the amazing mosaics uncovered

the beautiful details of its amazing history cleaned

the stunning mosaic frescos uncovered everywhere

even above doorways
millions of people have prayed in this place and you can feel the great reverence.  
The first and probably humbler Hagia Sofia was built (probably) by Constantine before his death in 337.  Fires and earthquakes contributed to it being rebuilt several times.  The last and most familiar of these designs were  by Isidore of Miletus under the direction of the Emperor Justinian.

The emperor had material brought from all over the empire - such as Hellenistic columns from the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, large stones from quarries in porphyry from Egypt, green marble from Thessaly, black stone from the Bosporus region, and yellow stone from Syria. More than ten thousand people were employed. 

From there we went a short walk across the tram tracks to the Yerebatan Sarnıcı (in Turkish that means "sunken palace") or the Basilica Cisterns.  This was build during the reign of Constantine,
such a wonderfully eerie place
the first time I was ever in this place there was haunting classical music playing.

The name of this subterranean structure derives from a large public square on the First Hill of Constantinople, the Stoa Basilica, beneath which it was originally constructed. Before being converted to a cistern, a great Basilica stood in its place, built between the 3rd and 4th centuries during the Early Roman Age as a commercial, legal and artistic center.  The basilica was reconstructed by Ilius after a fire in 476.

Ancient texts indicated that the basilica contained gardens, surrounded by a colonnade and facing Hagia Sophia According to ancient historians, Emperor Constantine constructed a structure which was later rebuilt and enlarged by Emperor Justinian after the Nika riots of 532, which devastated the city.
 Historical texts claim that 7,000 slaves were involved in the construction of the cistern.
The enlarged cistern provided a water filtration system for the Great Palace of Constantinople and other buildings on the First Hill, and continued to provide water to the Topkapi Palace after the Ottoman conquest in 1453 and into modern times.
one of the two great medusa heads that used to lie under the water

they've protected them by taking them out of the water, but now they look a bit dorky.
after our sightseeing we stopped at a little place next to Hagia Sofia and had some tea and a bit of hubbly bubbly!
from there we had time to visit the Blue Mosque
The soaring interior was created by the architect Sinan.
looking back through the archway to see Hagia Sofia
 Finally we walked back to our hotel to get ready for dinner.  We passed the ancient Hippodrome along the side of the Blue Mosque.

Obelisk of Thutmose III

The Serpentine Column (with new paving stones!)
finally made our way back to the hotel.
We rested for about an hour and then took a taxi to the restaurant.  A really amazing day.  And as we left the warmth of the restaurant - waiting for our cab, we looked back and noticed someone else having a pleasant end to the day:

Next post will be Topkapi and the archaeological museum (another BIG day!)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Nothing like us ever was...

Traveling through time and climbing over ancient ruins always brings me back to a poem I learned years ago (no, really!! 48 years ago!)  I don't remember it all anymore but certain poetic phrases still stick.  It was called Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind and the point it made to me anyway was that whatever we build and however amazing we think we are, doesn't last as long as time.

Still I have to say that the three ancient cities we visited, Priene, Miletus and Didyma are really spectacular ruins!

We left Izmir, with good driving advice from our friends from dinner the evening before, and we up and out early Sunday morning with hopes of seeing all the sights and getting back in good time to put our feet up a bit before dinner.

classic columns

Our first stop was Priene (and the new highway really did make a difference in the time it took to get there!).

We were actually very surprised that there were as many people at the site.  I had been there many times in all the different seasons and I had never seen it as busy!  There were about three tour buses worth of people, German, French and Turkish.

once the view was water
I'm guessing that it was a pleasant Sunday excursion trip by bus (since it was a very nice excursion for just the four of us.  The weather was finally co-operating and it warmed up pleasantly.

It is such a peaceful spot, and the city is what I always think of as human scale, which just means that I don't find it to overwhelming, but can actually visualize people going about their day to day business there.  Well, once they climb up to it. (It seems to have been very well defended and tho it had three ports at one time, it doesn't seem to have been a frequent target in wars or takeovers AND it's sort of vertical).


One of my favorite spots in Priene, is this nice little 'city council' building or Bouleuterion. it's dated to the 2nd century B.C.

"... one of the best preserved examples of an ancient bouleuterion. ... it was surrounded by tiers of seats accommodating 640 citizens. In the centre stood an altar with a decoration of bulls´ heads and laurel leaves... The speakers addressed the meeting from a podium carved in the south wall between the two entrances."   

Unless of course someone unforseen shows up and needs to say something "from the heart"... (or perhaps something he memorized for a forensic competition a gazillion years ago...)

Deciding to leave (unfortunately about the same time as several buses) We drove back to the main road down from Priene, and followed the signs to Miletus.

The ground is cultivated for farming (predominantly cotton, I think) but in the winter is very much wetlands.  It's very rich land as it's all based on the silt of the Meander/Menderes River We saw a lot of birds.  I remember once, years ago, seeing three or four varieties of herons and egrets.

theater in the afternoon winter sunlight
Miletus was a sprawling huge city. It was one of the 12 Ionian cities of Asia Minor in it's heyday.  But its origins go back to Neolithic times.  One of its claims to fame, it rebelled against the Hittite Empire in the late 13 century BC!  By 1000 BC it's was comfortably being settled by Greeks during the Greek Archaic Period.

Being a city on the mouth of a river had advantages and disadvantages.  Eventually by the 14 century AD, the silting of its ports became what really ended it's great history.

Still the thing to see here is the great roman theater...

Except because of all the tour buses disgorging at about the same time, and entering the theater, just as those ancient crowds, I decided we'd go up the right side next to the theater and visit the Baths of Faustina first.
a few people but not crowds

one of the pools with a copy of the statue of Dionysus (the original is in the Izmir archaeological museum)

Baths were quite extensive and included a gymnasium

one of the many tour groups catch up with us in the baths

moving out towards the theater passing a lot more excavation of the baths

and it continues! (of course this is the high ground... everything else is underwater!)

one of the MANY entrances and exits to the theater

ah, where to sit...

well organized to get people in and out- the tiers are very well defined.

obviously this was the good seat area.  the seats are wider!

We crawled all over the theater and marveled at how similar the construction is to modern day amphitheaters. Then it was time for the last leg of our journey, Didyma.  It's not really too far from Miletus and at one time the two places were connected by the Sacred Way, which of course is underwater in Miletus, so I don't have a picture of it.

Temple of the Oracles at Didyma

an enormous building.
inside the temple (sacred spring in center of temple)
what the temple probably looked like

the oracle brothers?

passages on either side to enter the central temple

massive pillars
so many pieces left to put back together

classical medusa head (probably from the architrave inside the temples)

Which of course is a perfect spot to finish for now, as we ended our tour in a little tea house across the road from the temple and sat for a few minutes and  had something to drink while contemplating the building across the way, before we loaded ourselves back into the car for a comfortable ride back to the hotel in Balçova.

We got back in good time to have a little rest, dinner and a splash in the wonderful pool and jacuzzi.  All in all, a wonderful day.

Tomorrow I'll wrap up Izmir and send us back to Istanbul for the final week of giddy excitement (and photographs).


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