Wednesday, February 27, 2013

turkey: istanbul, part one


I am extremely excited to kick off my Istanbul series with this first post on three of my favorite sites: Chora church, Hagia Sofia, and the Blue Mosque. Just as a quick background for most of you that probably don't know, my husband and I spent the first two months of our marriage living in Istanbul, while he worked on a project there in the city.

It was a fantastic couple of months. I was blessed with the once in a lifetime opportunity to explore an extremely foreign land, full of culture, color, and extraordinary history.

This first picture (above) is of the Chora Church. I've put this first, because it is was one of my favorites. I remember talking to our cab driver that day, who told us that Chora was by far his favorite church/museum (and he was a native of the city). He said that it doesn't get enough recognition, and it is truly one of the most beautiful pieces of history in Istanbul.


It truly was one of the more beautiful things I've ever seen. This 11th century church is known for its incredible mosaics of Christ, His life, and of the Virgin Mary.


Most of the time we just stood in silence, observing the mosaics and feeling memorized by the piece of history that we were standing in (and you really do have to look straight up at times to catch a glimpse at everything)


I'd recommend to others interested in visiting Chora Church, to make sure and bring a book explaining the mosaics. We had an in-depth Turkey/Istanbul travel book that day and were so glad that we did. I'm not sure if  they have any voice or guided tours at this church, but you can hire your own (most the time there are locals standing out in the parking lots that will offer to act as guides for a small hourly rate) We didn't use a tour guide, but it would have been very interesting to have someone there who knew more.

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The Virgin Mary

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11th-Century mosaic of Christ Pantocrator


As you can see, the marble in here was pretty unreal.

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He's a little bit of a nerd, and I love it more than I love most things in this world. Smart and attractive. Best combination.

For a more detailed look at the Chora Church & Museum, take a look at their website here. I believe it is 15TL (Turkish Lira) to get in (which is somewhere around $8)

Up next: Hagia Sophia


The history behind this remarkable building is actually quite sad. Some refer to this mosque as "the raped cathedral". Let me explain why.


It was originally built by Justinian I between 532 and 537 as a church--it suffered some minor damage from some earthquakes and natural disasters, but was then almost destroyed during the Latin invasion following the Forth Crusade in 1204. At that point, the church was restored under Andronicos II during the Palaeologan rule. The Hagia Sophia stood proud as the center of Eastern Christianity from 360 until the Ottoman's came in and conquered the area. The Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453 put an end to the Byzantine Empire, and therefore began the era of Islamic worship in the Hagia Sophia. It was then converted by Mehmed II into a mosque immediately after his conquest. It was during this time that they rid the structure of all Christian detail and covered over the mosaics (many of which have now been uncovered for cleaning, preservation, and recording)

That is why its history is so unique, and why it is sometimes referred to as the raped cathedral.


You can see that it was obviously made into a mosque--the Islamic detail--but you can also see the mosaics up on the ceiling to the left...and I have no idea who the dude at the bottom of the picture is :)


So, one thing about travelling as a couple--if you ever want pictures "as a couple" you have to find someone to take it, and you never quite know what you're going to get. I apologize for the poor quality of picture, but we're just happy to have them!


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One of the uncovered mosaics that has been partially preserved.



Husband and I were amazed by this pillar, I swear it could have been kicked over.


I was fascinated by the Ottoman attempt at ridding the space of all details showing Christianity. This is a picture of me trying to capture the scraped out crosses (not that guys bum)


Amazing, right? I mean, it's not hard to tell what it was, but I feel like it was more of a statement being made than something of actual accuracy. Perhaps they really thought they had people fooled, but I can't imagine that was the case.


You can see that these doors were once crosses, but were torn apart and reconstructed into arrows. Nothing quite as degrading as having someone come into your world, take pieces of you apart, refashion them, and then tell you that for the rest of your life you have to pretend to be something that you're not.

The Hagia Sophia is one of the most interesting places I have ever been. It has a very solemn, almost sad feeling to it.IMG_2837

It's an experience I will remember forever.

Last but not least: The Blue Mosque IMG_2859

Pretty unreal, right?

I recommend looking at this attraction in further detail. Take a look at TripAdvisor's reviews on the Blue Mosque here. It's the 11th top attraction in all of Istanbul! I definite must.


This website has all the detail and history of this mosque.


Again, this whole experience was life-changing for me. I've never experienced such a submersion of culture, religion, and intense history. Istanbul served as a capital of four empires: the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, Latin Empire, and the Ottoman empire. It was once instrumental in the grown and advancement of Christianity, and then turned into an Islamic fortress and center point. I mean, how much more culture can you find in one location?! It's incredible.

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Husband outside of the Blue Mosque.

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This was a picture taken in between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque out on the street. Handsome man. I'm such a fan of this guy, and I thank him for the amazing opportunity and experience our time in Istanbul was. Hopefully we can return one day and reminisce on the first few months of our marriage.

I sincerely love this place so much, and I have a lot more to come from Istanbul & our other adventures in Turkey. As always, please let me know if you have any experiences to share or specific questions about Istanbul :)

Stay tuned, because next week I'm going to post pictures from our weekend trip to Cappadocia, Turkey--one of the most surreal places I've ever been! (Check out a glimpse of what it looks like here)

Friday, February 22, 2013

france: paris & the gypsy thieves

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we didn't spend long in paris. in fact, it was just a day stop on our way to the greek isles. but while we were there, we managed to hit some of the basics of visiting paris--like exploring the eiffel tower, walking down river seine, scarfing down some life-changing crepes & taking the time to have your iphone stolen by gypsy children.

seriously, i never had any ill feelings towards the gypsies, but paris changed that.the picture above is in the train station. we were trying to figure out exactly where we were.
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husband loves to take his classic "feet shots", and i had to include this one. it's just too good.
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such a lovely afternoon. also, you can see i still have my phone in hand (this was taken just moments before it was stolen by the children) bye bye little pretty iphone.
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love this guy. the police behind him--not so much. they're worthless (and i feel validated in saying this, because we tried to work with them after the phone had been stolen and they didn't even pretend to care. i mean, come on. sure your horses are pretty, but at least act like you are going to take down my information and contact me if my phone is found. we are a modern-technological civilization are we not?)
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this may be my favorite picture from the trip. robert is also known for his extreme flexibility--which really is quite amazing. this one will be framed in our house forever.
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bridge over the seine river.
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paris, the city of love.
just don't count on the gypsy children showing you any love (close your purses and keep them tight at hand)
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in case you're wondering the full story about the iphone--here it is.
we were sitting on the lawn in front of the eiffel tower. i stood up to have husband take a picture of me in front of the tower, leaving my cell phone sitting next to him on top of my sweater. by the time i had reached a position for husband to take my picture, there were three gypsy children hovering over him--holding a paper in his face acting like they wanted him to sign it (some fake petition or something). robert knew that something sketchy was going on, so immediately told the kids to leave. they wouldn't, so he pushed one to his left off of  our stuff, and then harshly told the girl on his right to get away.

the kids went running (and though we didn't realize it at the time--running away with my iphone)

after spending much too long trying to talk to the police officers in their 'security booth' that consisted of nothing but some chairs and a paper notebook (not even a computer--no joke) we left very frustrated and discouraged, finding out that this was a very common occurance and three other iphone's had been stolen by the same children in that same half hour block of time that ours had.
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but hey, we were still in paris and i was with this guy :)
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after having my phone stolen, husband went and bought us some nutella crepes and coca-lights. best. thing. ever.
their gypsy children make suck, but their crepes sure don't!
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...just deciding my true feelings on paris.
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walk down the river seine. it was so lovely.
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overall, our short time in paris did not leave us incredibly eager to return, but i think we're both intrigued to experience it with more time and in futher detail.

so, i'm sure we'll return again someday. and this time i'll be prepped to kick some gypsy butt if they so much as step near me, my husband, my iphone or my nutella crepes.

also, if you have any tips or suggestions for our next time--or any stories about theft or gypsies--please i would love to hear them!