Archive for May, 2011

The Road to Ankara

This is going to be a short one as I want to put the briefings for this day into different posts.

So as I said in my previous post, we were out til about 4am and we had to leave at 6. There was a banging on my door at 6.20 telling me we were late. Woops. Still not packed. Woops. There was a very hasty packing, which involved throwing anything where it would fit and forgetting my toothpaste and toothbrush. Annoying. So I got onto the bus, and passed out almost immediately. I was soooooo tired. Not to mention still intoxicated. Not pretty. I was forced to wake up eventually as we had a rest stop and they made me get off the bus. I wandered around this “truck stop”, which is much nicer than any truck stop you’ll ever find in the US. They had a large cafeteria style cafe and next to it the “convenience store” area was pretty awesome. They had the usual drinks and chips, but they also had barrels and barrels of nuts, olives and Turkish delights. I really wanted to buy the olives, but thought better of it. They also had a display of some of the largest lighters I have ever seen and pocket knives. In hindsight (especially considering my pocket knife would later be confiscated in Hong Kong) I should have bought one of the pocket knives as there were a few that looked exactly like mine only slightly larger for only 10 Lira. That’s about $7. Anyway, in true Aryn fashion, I bought a large bottle of water (for all of about $1) and a couple of red bulls. Badly needed red bulls. At this point I was still intoxicated but moving towards a hangover.

By the time we got back on the bus I spent the remainder of the ride to Ankara drifting in and out of sleep. When I was awake I noticed that the scenery very much reminded me of Montana. It was like driving between Billings and Bozeman without the mountain passes. I’m sure if I were in any other state I would have been much more appreciative of the scenery, but I’ll check it out next time I’m in Turkey.

We got to Ankara with about an hour to check in, change into our business clothes and go to the shopping centre next to the Crowne Plaza (where we were staying. swoon) and grab some lunch. I noticed they had an Arby’s and became extremely excited so immediately went there. I’ve never actually tried to order American food at a fast food restaurant before in a different language, but it was not easy. It was easy enough to ask for the roast beef sandwich, but the drink bit was a bit difficult as they apparently order that in Turkish and the guy didn’t speak English. While I was very excited about the curly fries, I was much more excited about the roast beef with au jus sauce. I was disappointed though because they didn’t serve roast beef sandwiches with au jus sauce. They put mayo on it. Wasn’t bad, but not what I wanted. That’s okay, it was still delicious.

From there we went to the Australian embassy to have a briefing with a top academic in the area of water and energy security and the Ambassador for Turkey. Those will be in other blog posts though. After this visit we were all super exhausted. We went back to the hotel and 2 of the girls and myself changed clothes and went to the shopping centre and grabbed a starbucks to kill the hour before dinner. Had I stayed in the hotel room I would have passed out and not woken up until the next morning. I found this extremely amusing because the further outside of Istanbul we got the more people that thought I was Turkish. I walked into Sephora and some guy came up to me speaking Turkish and I said “Pardon. English?” and he grabbed my wrist said “No English” and sprayed perfume on my wrist. It smelled like dust. It was terrible. We had a beautiful dinner at the Crowne Plaza before I went up and had a shower, repacked my stuff properly and went to bed that night. That was possibly the most beautiful sleep of the entire trip. Those beds were amazing.

Pictures of Ankara and the road to can be seen here.


Our last day of the trip in Istanbul was a rather interesting day, to say the least. We woke up and had our usual semi-Turkish breakfast where I had a small bowl of olives to myself. I couldn’t get enough of the olives. Olives in Australia aren’t very good, so I was getting as much in as I could. Anyway, today we had a briefing with Today’s Zaman, an English newspaper, visited the Spice Market, went to a cooking class and then spent our night out on the town.


Let’s start with “Propaganda”. Today’s Zaman, as I previously stated, is an English newspaper. They are a subsidiary of “Zaman”, which is a Turkish newspaper that is notorious for their very conservative, religious views. I was interested to see what the editor we were speaking to had to say on topics such as the government, freedom of speech and civil rights in Turkey. The presentation was very…illuminating. The editor we spoke to gave his spiel about how wonderful Zaman and Today’s Zaman is, giving us the number of people that take the papers, the rankings of the paper since inception (900,000 subscribers to Today’s Zaman, making them the top English paper in Turkey…out of 2). He gave us the spiel about how they have so many contacts in the world of journalism, being that they are affiliated with the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, etc. Woop de do. I wanted to get onto the good stuff. They claim to be so successful because they seperate opinions from the news. But somehow, they manage to do this while sticking with their very conservative, religious values. They CLAIM that they don’t sensationalise the news. So basically, they don’t print something if it’s pointless and is only used to sell papers to say…celeb addicted idiots or people who freak out when they hear a rapist is in court despite the fact that they are already in prison.

One of my big questions was “How does Turkish journalism  affect Europe’s perception and how does it affect entrance into the European Union?” OH THE DIPLOMACY! I heard so many answers to the question of how does ____ in Turkey affect entrace into the EU. It was always the conservative’s who are very much in line with government policy and give very diplomatic answers, and Today’s Zaman was no exception. They also like to put the blame on other countries that they don’t get along with. When I asked my question the response was that Greece is blocking Turkey’s negotiations because they are very close with parts of Europe with a significant weapons dealer presence. The EU, the editor claimed, is essentially a peace project  and major corporations don’t want peace, because it’s bad for business. They don’t want people from Turkey coming in either because they feel that there is an “Asian problem” in European countries. The issue of freedom of speech as a basic human right and the questionable actions of Turkey in regards to derogating from this human right did not seem to be an issue for Today’s Zaman. They claim that there are very few journalist communication issues with Europe and Greece is simply using the derogation of free speech as an excuse.

Well that was interesting. We then arrived at the topic of a government referendum on the constitution when elections are held in June. There is an interesting thing most people don’t know about Turkey. The Government and the State are 2 completely different things. At this point in time I’m not entirely sure how it works, but I fully intend on looking into it over the uni holiday when I have the chance and may or may not update this blog to explain it.

Supposedly the government is beginning to hold the state accountable on this issue. I’m not entirely sure this is the case. Today’s Zaman claimed that journalistic integrity in Turkey was previously an issue and journalists were products of the State, however there are now over 10 papers in Turkey that are “pro-democracy”. Interesting, considering Turkey is already democratic as per the principles of Ataturk, who essentially handed the Turkish people democracy. Our tour guide, Özçan, thinks that the reason “democracy” in Turkey is so all over the shop is because the people were literally just handed it and so don’t really know what to do with it or what it’s like to fight for it. Anyway, Today’s Zaman claimed that they were really big into investigative journalism because they believe in justice, despite the fact that journalists can be jailed for exposing state “circumstances (whatever those are) and secrets”. All this, but they don’t lend legal support to their journalists who face the courts. Hmmmm….

Here’s the one we were all dying to know about. Insulting Turkishness. It is actually illegal to insult “Turkishness” in Turkey. You can go to jail for 3 years for it. When we asked the editor about this he basically said that it was up to the journalist to “carefully word” what they are writing and to not criticise Ataturk. They said that things are much better than they used to be, so people should stop complaining, for the most part. I find this very interesting as there is a case at the moment where 3 journalists are facing trial and it’s being heavily debated whether they are facing trial for things they have written (which haven’t even been printed or published anywhere yet) or if it’s because of alleged links to a terrorist group. The indictment’s haven’t even been released yet while these journalists are in jail. I have also noticed after browsing through Today’s Zaman that they are a major fan of the current government. I don’t think I’ve seen a single positive article on any other political party regarding the coming election. The Editor himself stated that everyone who works at Today’s Zaman is very pious and favours a religious state. But they are pro-democracy. Bit of an oxymoron if you ask me. Needless to say, I was not impressed with Today’s Zaman.


Oh the Spice Market. It was awesome. I love the markets. In Turkey they are called bazaar’s. In the Arab countries they are called souks. Regardless, I love them. The markets the tourists all go to, mainly the Spice Market and the Grand Bazaar, contain much of the same thing. I didn’t buy anything except sunflower seeds to eat at the Spice Market, but it was a fun experience anyway. I happened to have my usual red bull in my hand due to the fact that there are no bins inside the Spice Market and I refuse to litter, even if it is common practice in Turkey.Waiting to toss my empty can aside seemed to be a mistake though. Every single shop I passed I heard “red bull girl! Hey, red bull girl!” followed by some reason to come look at what they were selling. So where does the pandering come in? The number of times I was told that I was “so beautiful” and “gorgeous” and “most lovely woman I have ever seen” was enough to make me skeptical whenever anyone says that to me in the future. The shopkeepers would say “hello” to me in whichever language they thought I spoke. I was spoken to in Italian, Spanish, German, English, French and Turkish. Turkish was a common one. Apparently I look Turkish. But these men would use any means of flattery they could think of to try and get me to make a purchase. I looked at a pashmina and one man said to me “Normally 35 Turkish Lira, but because you are so beautiful, for you I make it 25 Turkish Lira”. 25 Turkish Lira is INSANELY overpriced for a pashmina. That’s about $20 US and Australia. While it’s about a quarter of the cost of what they are in those countries (for the exact same thing), it’s still at least twice as much as you should be paying in Turkey.

There was so much to see in the market. There were stalls of tea and spices where you could buy not only ground spices and traditional Turkish Black çay (tea) or elma çay (apple tea), but you could buy whole spices to grind yourself and tea sets containing dried spices that you could grind for fresh tea. You could buy little ceramic bowls with beautiful (though mass produced) paintings of tulips and swirls and evil eyes and flowers to put the spices in. In Turkey, at every meal, rather than a salt and pepper shaker or grinder they have little bowls of spices, which often contain sea salt, paprika, oregano and chilli. There were Turkish tea sets with all sorts of designs and colours. When in Turkey, unless you go to a tourist area and are obviously a tourist, it is common courtesy to offer tea. Every time we entered a shop we were offered tea served in a beautiful little glass that is (in my opinion) shaped similar to an hourglass, is served on a matching glass plate with a tiny spoon and two sugar cubes. Even elma çay was served with 2 sugar cubes, though I don’t know why as it was certainly sweet enough. I saw so many tea sets that I would have loved to own. I wanted one that had little evil eyes on it, one with silver designs, one with tulip designs. Ah well, maybe one day.

Following on the mosaic tile motif that is EVERYWHERE in Turkey there are also stalls of candle holders that have beautiful patterns of coloured glass tiles covering them that reflect wonderfully. These were often sold alongside the most beautiful lantern/chandelier type hanging things. These hanging lanterns also had beautiful glass tile patterns in numerous colours and designs. You could buy them as a single hanging light cover or several smaller ones all attached to make a lovely stepping pattern. I REALLY REALLY REALLY wanted one of those, but unfortunately I rent and probably couldn’t have gotten back even if I did have a place to put it. Next time.

While I’m aware it is called the Spice Market it is becoming increasingly obvious that they sell more than spices. They also sell jewelry. Jewelry in Turkey, much like everything else, is much cheaper than it is in Australia and the US. Sterling silver necklance chain? $15 maximum. At one point I bought a sterling silver pendant and a pair of sterling silver earrings and I spent about $15. Love it. I wasn’t terribly interested in the jewelry other than the evil eyes though and was much more interested in the pashmina’s. I ADORE pashmina’s. They are the most comfortable scarves and have some of the most beautiful patterns. I love walking in to look at them and just running my hands along them while admiring the colours and patterns. If I could have afforded to I probably would have come home with an entire suitcase full of scarves. I think I only came back with 5 or 6 though.

Between all these stalls were stalls filled with random touristy knick knacks and items like snow globes and magnets and hanging ornaments and jewelry boxes and nargilahs (or hookahs). Outside the Spice Market there was a makeshift food market where you could buy all sorts of nuts, fish, fruit and veggies or olives. I really wanted to buy olives, but didn’t want to carry them with me from town to town so just bought sunflower seeds (1 pound of sunflower seeds for about $1!). The Australian’s thought it was funny that I ate them because they don’t eat them here, but for my American friends who know me well, you’ll understand how excited I was about this as we don’t have sunflower seeds (in the shell) here in Australia.


From the Spice Market we went back to Sultanahmet for a cooking class at Cooking A La Turka Cooking School and Restaurant. I wasn’t really looking forward to this much as I don’t like cooking and believe there are other things I could be doing with my time, but the one thing that really turned me off from this class is the fact that the woman who runs it isn’t Turkish. She’s actually Dutch and has been living in Turkey for 8 years. Her employees were Turkish, but she wasn’t. It started out nicely enough, with everyone having fun (and everyone had fun throughout the entire experience) and you will have to excuse my language here but the woman who owned and ran the place was a wretched bitch. She was a horrible, two faced woman who acted like a petulant, bitter old hag. She was nice to us as she sort of had to be, and everything she said in English was perfectly polite and friendly, but whenever she spoke to her chefs who pretty much only spoke Turkish she was yelling at them, cursing at them, calling the names, saying they were idiots and stupid. I didn’t even have to speak Turkish to understand this because you could tell just by the tone of her voice. I asked Sara, my roommate who is Australian-Turk and speaks Turkish, what the woman was saying and she confirmed what I had thought she’d been saying. Not only was she being horrible to her employees, she was also bad-mouthing us while we were there saying how we were loud and annoying and ruining the meals and what not. It was a bit of a nasty shock for her when she found out at the end of the night that Sara understood everything she had been saying.

Personally, I was not a fan and I would definitely recommend people NOT go to that particular cooking school. I would recommend finding a lovely Turkish woman who runs cooking schools locally and speaks some English and go there because from what I understand those make for a lovely experience.

This was our last night in Istanbul and as such, we went out to a little street off of Istiklal caddessi that is lined with bars. It’s a very narrow street that always seems to be busy, no matter what time of day or night it is. We ended up in a little bar called “Lala” to sit and watch one of the European league matches. I was planning on having a quiet one, but somehow one shot turned into another, which turned into a beer or two or three or four. We got back to the hotel around 4 am and I still wasn’t packed and passed out. It made for an exciting next morning.

Pictures of our last day in Istanbul can be found in this album here. It also contains photos from Ankara, but that will come in another blog.

Aya Sofya

So unfortunately I have been insanely busy and have not been able to update my blog due to group projects, tests, etc. However, now that the group project and test are done with I’m going to attempt to power through and finish blogging about my trip to Turkey.

This particular blog is about Aya Sofya, Haiga Sophia, Saint Sophia. However you say it, no one can deny that it is a MUST SEE on the list of places to see before you die. I must state up front that nothing I write about this museum and none of the pictures I post can ever do this place justice.

As museums are closed on Mondays in Istanbul (I don’t know why) we had to give this one a miss that day and see it Tuesday before our briefings with the Intercultural Dialogue Platform and the archaeologist from Bosphorus University.

The Aya Sofya is one of Istanbul’s iconic sites and like every other tourist site in Istanbul, requires you to go through two security points, watched closely by armed members of the military. Just satnding outside the building is inspiring. I’m pretty sure I took at least 50 photos before we even entered into the entrance hall.

The Aya Sofya was built by the Byzantian Emporer Justinian in 532. This enormous engineering marvel only took 5 years to bulid and it is still standing. It probably helps when you have thousands of slaves at your disposal, but I don’t think a building of that magnitude could be built in 5 years in this day and age. Originally the Aya Sofya was built as an Eastern Orthodox Church and was the largest cathedral in the world until the Seville Cathedral was built in 1520. It was converted into a Roman Catholic Cathedral from 1204-1261 until it was once again converted into an Eastern Orthodox Church. This only lasted until 1453 when the Ottomans took over and converted it into a mosque.

When visiting the Aya Sofya, one notices that despite being a mosque for hundreds of years, the wall are absolutely peppered with intricate mosaics of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, St Paul and numerous emperor’s and their wives. In Islam, there are no depictions of people in art. It’s a cultural/religious thing. When the Ottomans took over, rather than chipping the ornate mosaics from the walls (though they did do a little bit of that to sell to visitors), they simply covered them with some form of plaster. While I am sure they did not do this in anticipation of a future where millions of people would want to see these mosaics when it was no longer a mosque, this incidental preservation does make one appreciative of laziness for a change.

So from the outer courtyard we went through a set of oversized doors into the entrance hall. This hall in and of itself was insane. The hall was solid marble. Marble floors…Marble walls…probably a marble ceiling containing beautifully ornate mosaic designs. One of the many Christian depictions is still intact over the main entrance from the entrance hall to the main room.When our tour guide was telling us about the entrance hall and a bit more about this history of the structure I was awestruck by the size of the entrance hall. If just the entrance was this large, how vast could the main hall possibly be? I soon found out.

We walked through the second set of doors into the colossal main hall. I was dumbstruck. Completely speechless (not necessarily a bad thing). The floor was solid marble (still). There is so much marble in this country. Everything seemed to glitter due to the natural light streaming in and hitting the marble, the onyx and the shining gold paint of the mosaics. We looked up to see the domed ceiling (iconic Byzantian architecture) and had to bend over backwards while craning our necks upwards to check it out. The height of the room from the floor to the top of the dome is 56.6 metres. The most amazing thing about this is that the Aya Sofya doesn’t have the 4 supporting pillars that other domed buildings have. It is held up by the internal walls, the external walls and small supporting pillars on the second level. While this is a feat of engineering, it doesn’t seem very smart as when we went up to the second floor you can see the walls and pillars leaning from the weight of the dome. Apparently the dome actually collapsed just after they finished building it due to an earthquake. It was obviously immediately restored.

Anyway, the Aya Sofya, in my opinion, epitomises the “East meets West” reputation that Istanbul proudly claims. When you look up at the not insignificant height of the building the four corners of the internal supporting walls depict 4 cherubs, only one of which shows the face of the angel. I am unsure of the significance of this, but I think the other faces were covered by the Ottomans and only one has been uncovered. There was a bit of a debate between the tour guide and one of the girls in the group who’s dad is apparently very into theology about that.

The walls also had the green and gold discs that you find in every mosque containing the names of important people in Islam. It was impossible to get a photo of the scale of these discs because you can’t actually stand next to them, but I tried. These discs would have been about 4 or 5 times my height I’d say. They were the largest discs I’ve ever seen in my life. The area where the alter once stood now contains the mihrab which faces Mecca. Behind the mihrab you can see the stained glass windows that are very popular in Christian/Catholic churches and cathedrals. 

Anyway, we had a gander down on the main level and in 2 corners of the mosque were marble “vases” that a Sultan had brought from Pergamon. These vases, like everything else about this place, were larger than life. 3 people of my size could have squeezed into one of these vases (would have been a tight squeeze). They were huge and impressive. I find it especially impressive that these vases were made of one solid piece of marble. They aren’t exactly light and easy to maneuver.

Rather than hanging around downstairs we went up to the second level. Rather than stairs leading up to the balcony level there is a rather unimpressive stone ramp with very little light that just curls around until you get to the second level. When I say “unimpressive” this is relative to the granduer of the rest of the building. I thought it was actually really cool looking, even if it was a bit drafty and creepy.

The second level contained most of the mosaics that we have been hearing so much about. We started out in the loge, which had painted walls rather than mosaics, but the paintings were still well preserved, intricate and beautiful. I’m not entirely sure on this, but the painted parts may at one time have been mosaics that are now simply painted on as a representation to show what they once looked like.

Outside of the loge we came upon numerous mosaics (and a very random marble doorway to another hall). As previously stated, most of these mosaics are of an adult Jesus, emperors, saints and Mary. The largest of the tiles that we saw was probably about as big as my thumbnail, at the very largest and many of them had some sort of gold guilding. For all I know they may have been real gold (if Topkapi Palace is any indication), but they still glimmered magnificently.

The view from the balcony was just as amazing as the view from below, though a significantly different view. We were able to see the discs up close, and they look much smaller from below, if that is any indication of the size of this place. Eventually, we made our way around to the bottom of the horseshoe shaped balcony and came upon what I thought was the most amazing depiction of Jesus I have ever seen. It was a common theme that all baby Jesus’s had the body of a baby but the face of an adult Jesus. This particular baby Jesus looked like Chucky, the creepy possessed puppet doll thing. It was spectacular! It was at this point that I became extremely upset and disappointed because my camera died. It was very emotional and I don’t want to talk about it.

Anyway, as this balcony actually is similar to a horseshoe (there is about 6 feet that separate the 2 ends and they are blocked off by a giant wall) we had to double back through and go down the other side. The other side didn’t seem to contain very many mosaics for some reason. I’m not entirely sure of the reason why, but the museum had signs up telling about different aspects of the museum and restoration. We went down another stone ramp to get back to the main level and came out near the mihrab and minbar. Once again, East meets West with the minbar and mosaics of Jesus in the background on the upper level. We had another 15 minutes to wander around and check out the place and I decided to give the weeping wall a miss. The weeping wall is a portion of a wall that has a hole in it and it is said that if you stick your finger in it and it comes out wet your ailments will all be cured. I purposefully decided to give this a miss as I didn’t want to stick my finger in it and have it come out dry.

I’m completely aware that this blog just cannot do the Aya Sofya justice or even begin to touch on the size of this place. I do have some photos which can be seen on my facebook album here and here.