Showing posts with label Turkey. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Turkey. Show all posts

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ankara, Turkey


My third stop in Turkey was Ankara, the capital of Turkey. A lot of tourists stop by here in transit, for a day or two, but there's not a whole lot to see here on the tourist trek, so most folks don't stay too long. I was here, basically, for 3 days. It was enough to see all the important landmarks of the city.

Here, I couch surfed with three roommates. Two Turkish girls and their German roommate. It was fun to stay with another foreigner because she was really interested in doing some sightseeing while I was in town. The first thing we did after I arrived was get on a bus and head up to the citadel, which is an old fortress on the top of a mountain in the city. It looked far away on the map, but after just a 10 or 15 minute  bus ride, we found ourselves right at the bottom.

I'm not sure what I expected to find inside, maybe a museum or a park, but instead I realized that the fortress was still inhabited by local residents. The houses up there were amazing, avid readers of my blog will know I'm obsessed with old things, and these houses sure fit the bill as to what I was looking for.

We wondered around inside the citadel for a while, then made our way out. There are some souvenir shops here, probably more than in any other place in Ankara, but it's nothing like it was in Istanbul. Which, is generally good, but I hadn't done all my Christmas shopping in Istanbul, not wanting to lug it across the country, but now in Ankara, I was it was a little more difficult to find good gifts. Note to those going to Turkey... do all your shopping in Istanbul (unless you're buying baklava!) because there's so much more selection!

We made our way down from the citadel and passed through a market. It was interesting to see an average market here, it actually felt a lot like Namdaemun Market here in Seoul in some ways... they just sold more hijabs and traditional Turkish wedding garments and fewer hanboks.

After our adventure around town, we headed back to the house to prepare a big meal with the other couchsurfers. I helped them make all sorts of traditional Turkish food... if only it were something I could make here! We had so much fun cooking this meal! Cooking was half the fun!

This is peynirli börek. It's got layers of flaky pastry bread, and in between the layers, there is yogurt, oil, eggs, baking soda and cheese. And sprinkled on top are sesame seeds. We baked this in the oven for a while until it was golden brown. Quite tasty!

Here is more Cig Kofte, like what I had in Eskisehir. Vegetarian, since they didn't eat meat. We got this at the store and we brought home to make our own wraps with vegetables and these added. So delicious!

After dinner, my hosts serenaded us with some traditional Turkish music played on their Baglama which is a three stringed traditional instrument from the region.

The next morning, I went over to the Anıtkabir, or Ataturk's Mausoleum. The mausoleum is immense and can be seen from any hill around the city. Turkey, and Ankara in particular, has a serious obsession with Ataturk. Throughout Ankara, you can see his effigy hanging from buildings (see first photo of this post) and see his name written here there and everywhere. The obsession is so intense that it is in fact illegal to insult his legacy. The mausoleum, and the adjoining museum are free admission, and probably worth checking out while in Ankara. The museum gives you a good history of modern Turkey plus you can see Ataturk's pajamas, too.

We also made a stop at Haci Bayram Mosque, a mosque dating back to the 15th century. This mosque was built in honor of Hacı Bayram-ı Veli, The founder of the Bayrami sect of Islam and a sufi poet. The style of this mosque was quite different from the grand Blue Mosque in Istanbul or the Kocatepe Mosque in Ankara. It doesn't have the grand domes and high ceilings. In fact, once we found it, we weren't even sure we were at the right place because it was a rather modest looking brick building, or at least modest in comparison to every other mosque I had visited thus far in my trip.

Here is Kocatepe, the biggest mosque in Ankara, and one of the biggest in the world. It can hold up to 100,000 worshipers. Though the style looks old, similar to the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, this is actually a very new mosque, construction was completed in just 1987. The architecture style is called Neo-Ottoman for obvious reasons, but reading the history, it seems that this mosque could have been quite different. There were several different plans for this mosque, dating back to the 1940's. Previous designs were considered too modern and therefore never made it through. Finally, this design was accepted in 1967 and today tourists can enter and see this massive mosque during non-worshiping hours.

The thing I really liked about this mosque was that you could go up stairs to get a better view. This photo was clearly taken from the ground level, but it was also possible to walk up to those balcony levels you can see in the background. These areas are also worship areas as well, and you can easily imagine that 100,000 people could fit into this massive space. 

The last image I'll leave you with from Ankara is the famous İskender kebab. The idea of this kebab is that you take pieces of lamb marinated in tomato sauce, pour it over chunks of hot pita bread, then cover with butter and yogurt. It could be one of the world's most amazing food inventions, and a must try while in Turkey. While this dish is originates from the city of Bursa, I was not able to go to Bursa to try the original, so a reasonable approximation in Ankara had to do. I was quite satisfied with this meal!!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Eating in Eskisehir

Eskisehir, Turkey is not a tourist destination and it was a bit random how I ended up there. Of course, as usual, I was couchsurfing while in Turkey. For most of the places that I went I didn't have too much trouble finding a place to stay, but I had originally intended to go to Bursa, the 4th largest city in Turkey after Istanbul. I tried for two weeks to find a couch to sleep on, but everyone seemed to be too busy to host me. So, I looked at a map and decided to just pick a city in between Istanbul and Ankara, which was my third stop. The city that popped up was Eskisehir and I just sent out some couchsurfing requests without doing much research besides a quick wikitravel check. I immediately got back about four replies, all yes, and then I had the awkward job I am not used to having, which was to actually turn down some people. I just chose the first person that said yes, which was a cute university age girl and her boyfriend who lived right in the center of the city. And since I came on a weekend, they were totally free to show me around and hang out with me and become my travel buddies.

The great thing about these couchsurfers was that they were just as obsessed with eating as I am. And not just obsessed with eating, but finding all the local specialties in little neighborhood restaurants that a tourist like me would never have thought to enter. Our first night, they gave me the grand tour of the little college city.

This is boza. It's a drink (drink-ish... I ate it with a spoon...) made from chickpeas and I don't know what else. Apparently, most foreigners hate the stuff, but they have to bring everyone by to try it since this little shop is famous in town. I actually found the drink to be quite nice if you add cinnamon, which most people were doing. And quite a bit of cinnamon. Without the cinnamon, well, it was like drinking plain chickpeas, which isn't quite so appealing... but the thing with chickpeas is that they taste so nice with other spices. Why else would hummus taste so good?

This is a wrap made with cig kofte. As I now look on the internet it seems cig means raw and kofte is a kind of meatball, and cig kofte is kind of a spicy raw meatball but the spices "cook" the meat and keep it from spoiling...but the particular variety that we ate was actually vegetarian.

For breakfast the next morning, they took me out for another local treat: gözleme. This is a flat pastry filled with a layer of fillings. There were lots of options for the filling like meat, veggies or cheese, but they convinced me to get the supreme, a little bit of everything. While there is many ways to enjoy this thing, I did the easiest thing was to just roll up the big flat pastry and eat it like a burrito. It was absolutly lovely and a perfect amount of food. Oh, and all those vegetables on the table were "service" as they say in Korea. Aka, free. 

After our brunch we headed out for another tour of the town. They took me up to the highest point in town to get a nice view of the mountains and the city below. And they took me through the old town, Odunpazarı, full of old 19th century Ottoman style homes. Fans of my blog will know I have a weakness for old places... 

 My last morning, before hopping on the train to Ankara, we stopped in another local joint for some çiğ börek for breakfast. This fried pastry along with some ayran, the Turkish yogurt drink, was the perfect last memory of Eskisehir.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

More Amazing Sights in Istanbul

I have to say, I've been to a lot of cities in the world, but I don't know if I ever had such love at first sight as I did in Istanbul. Even on the days where I didn't have much to do because of bad weather, I was just content to be in the city. There was just something magical about it. Delicious food, ancient history, fun night life, cheap prices, kind, friendly people... I couldn't find anything wrong with the place actually, except for the fact that it rained 3 out of the 4 days I was there. Here are just a few of the amazing sights of the city besides the most famous Aya Sofia and Blue Mosque.

 Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern. This was where water was stored during Roman times. Now when you enter, they just keep a little water in the bottom so you get the idea, but originally, this would have been filled with water. It's beautiful down there, though, and there are two Medusa heads which draw the most attention from the crowds besides the cheesy tourist stuff that has been put in to bring in a few more bucks.

One of two Medusa heads in the Basilica Cistern

The Bosphorus Ferry. Istanbul is divided into two sides, the Asian/Anatolian side and the European side. The two sides are split by the Bosphorus Strait which is considered the boundary between Europe and Asia. There are several bridges that cross, but to get to most places, it's generally easier to take a ferry. It's cheap and ferries run often and take between 10-20 minutes to cross. It's fun to take the ferry because you can see Istanbul from a different view, plus enjoy a hot cay (pronounced chai, it's tea) while you enjoy the scenery.

Turkish flag off the side of the boat with a view of the European side in the background

Sunset over the European side of the Bosphorus from the ferry

Ferry at night with bridge in background

 Hand weaving a carpet in a shop window

Carpet Shops. Though I didn't dare enter any carpet shops because I knew they were way out of my price range, there are carpet vendors aplenty in Istanbul. I'm no expert, but if you know your stuff, this would probably be the place to buy carpets. Unfortunately, I personally would never be able to tell the difference between the handwoven carpets or the factory made carpets so I didn't really bother. 

The Spice Bazaar. This market, turned tourist destination is quite famous, but I personally couldn't stay in here for more than a few minutes. Every stall has hawkers outside trying to talk to you and bring you into their shop. But, if you want to buy some spices or Turkish delight, this isn't a bad place to check out.

Taksim. Not so far from all the ancient wonders like the Grand Bazaar and the Aya Sofia lies Taksim, Istanbul's hip shopping, restaurant and nightlife district. From tourist shops to name brands and everything in between, you can find it here in Taksim. Lots of upscale restaurants and local cheap spots can be found if you take some side turns off into the allyways off the main street. There are several streets just lined with clubs and bars, both places I went to had live music which was really cool.

Traditional Sweets. I didn't really know what Turkish delight was before I got here but the best way to find out for me was to go in to some of the shops in Taksim and try some free samples. I personally decided that it wasn't really my favorite and the high prices in the shops in Taksim made me choke a little. If you are a fan of the stuff, I recommend buying it outside of the touristic areas, the prices get a little more reasonable there. Oh, and be sure to buy it fresh, not pre-packaged! What I did fall in love with was baklava. Again, I couldn't afford it in the tourist areas, but as I got out of Istanbul the prices got lower and lower until I reached Trabzon where I found a little bakery that sold it for 6 Lira/ Kilo (Less than 4.00 USD) which was ridiculously cheap especially compared to the 25 Lira/ Kilo they were charging in Istanbul in the tourist areas. 

Gelata Tower. This tower, built in 1348 was once the tallest structure in the city. Though it of course can no longer claim that title it is still a beautiful landmark not far from Taksim. Apparently if you go up there is a restaurant and cafe that holds performances, though I didn't check it out.

Istanbul was one of my all time favorite travel destinations of all time and I could easily see myself living there. There are English jobs a plenty there, though they don't pay nearly as well as Korea, Japan or Taiwan. Living expenses, though, seem quite reasonable and it seems like a pretty nice place to live. Guess I have to add another thing to my bucket list.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Aya Sofia and The Blue Mosque, Istanbul

Before going to Istanbul I really didn't know much about the city, but I knew I had to see the Aya Sofia (Hagia Sofia). I think I remember it from my history class from high school as being known as the most beautiful building in the world or something like that. After visiting, I would say that it probably isn't the most beatuiful building in the world, but it is certainly worth checking out.

For those who don't know much about the Aya Sofia, it was the largest Cathedral in the world for about 1,000 years. The current structure was completed in 537 and served as the Greek Patriarchal Cathedral of Constantinople until the Ottomans took over the city in 1453 and converted it to a mosque. It is considered to be the epitome of Byzantine architecture and  served as a model for many later churches and mosques.

The main dome is massive and stands at an impressive 55.6 meters (182 ft). It's interesting to read the history of the church, various parts have been destroyed over the years, but they just kept rebuilding and improving the structure every time to make the building stronger and stronger.

Today the Aya Sofia is now a museum so that Muslims and Christians alike can appreciate the history and beauty of the building. They have tried to keep a healthy balance of uncovering the Christian mosaics and frescos while preserving the Islamic art which covered much of the Christian images.

If you look out the front door of the Aya Sofia, you can't miss the Blue Mosque which was built directly in front of the Aya Sofia. The Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet) was built in 1609 by the Sultan Ahmet I. You can see that the architecture style was, in part, modeled after the Aya Sofia.

Unlike the Aya Sofia which has been convereted into a museum, the Blue Mosque is still a functioning mosque and therefore visitors must show a little respect when entering. Women should wear a head scarf, cover their legs and arms. Everyone must take of their shoes before entering.

As I first learned while in Spain this summer, Islamic art is just stunning. While you will never see icons as you would in Catholic or Orthodox churches, the repeated patterns and the Arabic writing used to make designs is quite stunning.

Many people argue that the Blue Mosque is even more beautiful than the Aya Sofia. For me, you can't compare them, they are like apples and oranges. But, they are both worth seeing while in Istanbul.

Admission into the Aya Sofia is 20 Lira, which was about $12.00 USD when I was there. Audio guides are available and there are many licensed guides milling about the entrance who also offer tours in many languages. It would have been nice to have a guide, but I just did it on my own and was happy enough. As the Blue Mosque is a functioning mosque, you should be wary not to enter during prayer times. Those times change every day, but are around sun rise, mid morning, noon, mid afternoon and evening. There is no charge to enter, but you must stay within one area for viewing if you are entering as a tourist, not a worshiper.