Saturday, May 18, 2013

Philadelphia Mini Trip, May 2013 - Day Two

City Hall Philadelphia

Started out day two with the threat of rain all day and breakfast at Reading Terminal Market. I meant to go back there for lunch, to have a real Philly hoagie, but I didn't make it. So breakfast will have to do. Even at 9:00 am the market is a bustling place. The true market vendors are all well stocked and the places that are more food-service oriented are getting ready for the lunch rush.  After breakfast I ducked out to Race Street to get a photo of the Ben Franklin Bridge from a distance - I had seen this view when driving in the day before.

Ben Franklin Bridge from 12th and Race

Next touristy thing of the day was to take the tour of the Masonic Temple across the street from Philadelphia's City Hall. The Temple consists of several grand meeting rooms for various Masonic lodges of Pennsylvania and each one is more ornate than the last. The one hour guided tour takes you into six or seven of the meeting halls.

Egyptian Hall at the Masonic Temple

After that I crossed the street to City Hall and rode the elevator up to the observation platform under the William Penn statue. I hadn't realized you could do this; I figured it would have been a casualty of security. Certainly if New York City's City Hall had an observation deck it would have been closed by now. The elevator is small and only takes 4-5 people up at a time so you may have to prebook a time to go up; fortunately I was able to just go up when I arrived and there was only one other person there. You have 15 minutes to look around before having to go back down. The clock/statue tower of City Hall is all unused space up there- it would make great condos! The view is great from up there even on a cloudy day. Also, I read later, that it is the only observation deck in the city -- all those new, taller buildings that top out above William Penn's hat do not have public observation spaces. A building that did have one, near Independence Hall, is no longer open. I remember going up into that one as a kid, but it didn't stay open very long, closing in the early 80s for lack of interest or whatever.

Ben Franklin Bridge from City Hall tower

Also about City Hall: there's all kind of statuary and decoration around the building. To access the center courtyard you walk through these underpasses through the building which have massive columns and stairways and decoration. A lot of the doorways and access into the building has been closed off, of course, new security era. So the massive public spaces and its unusual decor just seems weird. For instance, why is there an elephant's head over that doorway? Makes for good HDR though.

Two views of the passageways underneath City Hall
 that lead to the center courtyard
After City Hall, I jumped on the subway down a couple of stops and walked over to the Italian Market area (9th-Passyunk area). Yes, I stopped at Pat's for a steak. And I took some pictures of Geno's Steaks, which is a more photogenic building than Pat's, but the "Speak English When Ordering" signs annoy me. Foreign tourists: skip Geno's. Give anyone else your money.  If I had to speak Turkish when ordering lunch in Turkey, I'd never go. May as well call it Xeno's Steaks (as in xenophobe, ha ha, get it?).  The rest of the Italian Market neighborhood is mostly Latino and Asian these days but there are still some colorful and tasty looking produce, meat, and fish stores. Live poultry if you want that, too.

Italian Market stalls

I wandered my way back up to Independence Hall. To visit, you need a (free) timed ticket which you pick up at the visitor's center (which is two blocks further north of Independence Hall). So you walk all the way up there and they say, all the tickets for today are distributed, sorry!  Can I get one for tomorrow? Well, you can do that online. Pfft. Then a ranger told me the secret, if you don't have a ticket, just go through the Independence Hall security (you don't need a ticket to do that) and then wait for a tour group - the ranger will usually let ticketless folks join up if there is still some room. So that's what I did. Even though I had been there before, as a kid, it was still interesting. My tour group was mostly school kids (from Queens, NY actually) - fourth graders. They were pretty well up on their history, the ranger would ask questions and the kids knew the answers.  I think I remember seeing the Liberty Bell in the center hallway of Independence Hall but I read that it was relocated in 1976, when I would have been five. Having grown up around Philly I'm sure I saw Independence Hall in 1976, Bicentennial year, but maybe it's one of those false memories. Today, the Liberty Bell is across the street in a glass pavilion with lots of crowds. You can see it through the window. The lines are long. It's just a bell :-)

The Signing Room at Independence Hall

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Philadelphia Mini Trip, May 2013 - Day 1

Eastern State Penitentiary, Guard Tower

Last week I took a trip to my original home city of Philadelphia. While I never actually lived within the city limits, I grew up (for the first 14 years of my life) just a couple miles from the city line of Northwest Philly. My dad's family lived in Germantown and my aunt still lives in Mt. Airy. So as a kid we went into the city a lot from the 'burbs. But since moving away in 1985, I'd only been back into Center City a couple of times, and not really for sightseeing purposes. I took my British friend Simon to Philly a couple of times to ride the streetcars in the early part of the 2000s and since then, a couple of Phillies games, and a concert at the Tin Angel in Old City were the only recent reasons I visited. So I went back for a few days last week to catch up on the sights.

The first thing I wanted to see was the "urban ruin" of Eastern State Penitentiary. Located pretty close to the heart of the city just north of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Eastern State has been closed since the late 1960s and is now in kind of a ruinous state. But that's what makes it cool. Al Capone stayed at Eastern State and he had a bit of special treatment, as you can see from the "reconstruction" of his cell.

Cell corridor at Eastern State

Al Capone's cell at Eastern State

After visiting Eastern State, I had a timed ticket for the Barnes Foundation art collection. The story of the Barnes is pretty well known so I won't spend too much time on it (no photos anyway). The collection moved from a mansion in Merion to a new building on the Parkway after a court battle to challenge provisions in Barnes' will. The new building has more amenities and allows more people to view the collection, but the galleries themselves are the same size as the old building and the paintings hung in the same haphazard manner. Even with the timed tickets it is crowded. Maybe they should have tried, in their court battle, to be allowed to rehang the collection in a more spacious setting. They do have a lot of beautiful and famous artworks, mostly from the French impressionist and post-impressionists, Cezanne, Renoir, Matisse, Monet, Seurat.  Here's Seurat's "The Models" (Les Poseuses).

Seurat "Les Poseuses" at the Barnes - public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

After the Barnes, I poked my head into the Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, which is the largest Catholic church in Pennsylvania. It was built in 1864.

Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul

The last thing for the day was to revisit the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which I'd been to a few times as a kid. Not much has changed there!  The museum is open late on Wednesdays and has a lot of family oriented things to do. It's also free on Wednesdays after 5:00. Philadelphia is famous, of course, for its favorite art son, Thomas Eakins. Here's his a detail of his "Agnew Clinic" (1889) at the Museum of Art. His more famous "Gross Clinic" is at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, where Eakins was an instructor.

Behind the Art Museum you can get a good view of the Schuykill River and the famous boathouses. The view looking back toward the museum is not bad either!

Fairmount Waterworks and Philadelphia Museum of Art

Finally, it was getting late and it was off to the hotel and dinner. I walked through Elfreth's Alley right at sunset. Elfreth's Alley is supposed to be the oldest continually inhabited residential street in America (and there's a house for sale on the left hand side...)

Elfreth's Alley
More Philadelphia to come. Don't worry, there will be cheesesteaks!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Turkey 2013 - Istanbul Day 6 - Last Day & Odds and Ends

When in Istanbul, it's Kebab Time!
The only real thing I did on my last day in Istanbul was to go to the Rahmi M. Koç Museum of Industry and Transportation. Rahmi Koç is Turkey's richest industrialist and assembled or endowed a huge collection of cars, trains, ships, and other things like steam engines and even a submarine. A really huge and beautiful collection of industrial and transportation artifacts.

Steam engine at the Rahmi Koç Museum.

The rest of this post will consist of photo odds and ends that didn't really fit into my other Istanbul posts.

Valens Aqueduct

Fishermen on the Galata Bridge at sunset; Süleymaniye Mosque in background

Local market at night, Kumkapi district of Istanbul

Monday, May 6, 2013

Sunny spring day in New York City

Walked around New York City a bit today. Here's a few pictures.

3rd Avenue looking north from 50th Street - Citicorp Center
Flowers planted along 51st Street between 2nd & 3rd Aves.

Decoration on St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 53rd St
at 5th Avenue
Warhol soup cans, Museum of Modern Art

"Oof", Edward Ruscha, Museum of Modern Art

"Sleeping Gypsy", Henri Rousseau, Museum of Modern Art

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Turkey 2013 - Istanbul Day 4 - Chora Church, Galata Tower, and Various Sights

Jesus mosaic, Chora Church

Today I did a lot of walking, starting by taking the tram to the Chora Church and walking back to Sirkeci via the Grand Bazaar. The end to end distance not counting the walking around inside the churches, mosques, and Bazaar was 5.7 km.

Chora Church. I thought I would have this place to myself early on a Thursday morning as it is definitely off the beaten tourist track. It is not easy to get to for the average tourist staying in Sultanahmet (two trams and some walking-searching), and there weren't that many daytour itineraries featuring it. But I was wrong and the church was mobbed. That being said, the artwork preserved here is amazing.  Just look at the photos and don't take my word for it.

Mary and baby Jesus on the inside of the Chora Church dome.

Fethiye Cami. Or otherwise known as the Church of Theotokos Pammakaristos, another early Christian church eventually converted to a mosque and now into a museum (like the Hagia Sophia and Chora Church), although this site is not nearly as old as either of those. It's also much smaller than Chora Church, and I had the place to myself. Literally. I was the only one there. The guard had to turn the lights on for me. Interesting mosaics preserved/restored/survived the Ottoman period.

Jesus mosaic, Fethiye Cami

Sultan Selim Mosque. Interesting but not much to write about.

Fatih Mosque. Interesting but not much to write about. Beautiful on the inside, though.

Star of David light fixture inside the Fatih Mosque

Laleli Mosque. Saw a nice HDR photo of the exterior of this mosque online and thought I needed to stop by to get my own photos. Like the Rustem Pasha mosque (see below) it was up a flight of steps from the street. Underneath is a small bazaar which I read was interesting but I skipped it. The mosque itself is different than most of the others. The small courtyard has a garden and the building itself has a kind of ramped side to it. See the pictures to see what I mean. This would be a good place to sneak off with your lunch during midday to get away from the busy-ness of the main street.

Laleli Mosque
Laleli Mosque

Grand Bazaar. I couldn't not walk through it once, but by now I had had my fill of the rug touts. I was hoping to get some good photos especially of the colored glass lamps but if you hesitate even a second outside a shop where the lamps are on display you have to deal with the shopkeeper. I walked through it and out the other side, without even trying to find some of the areas suggested on the walking tours (Rick Steves etc) like the various hans and courtyards. I did most of my souvenir shopping in the end within three or four storefronts of my hotel. Figured throw them the business. Also, once I shopped in their stores (the ones near my hotel, I mean) I felt better about taking pictures of their lamps!

Lamps at the Grand Bazaar

Zeynep Sultan Mosque

Zeynep Sultan Mosque. Right up the street from my hotel was this little mosque I could see from the street surrounded by a small cemetery. Didn't go inside but I walked around the grounds. Another place I had all to myself among the tourist crowds.

Taksim Sq. - Istiklal Caddesi.  Later that night I took the tram up to the end of the line, and the new funicular up to Taksim Square. There's a heritage tram line that runs from here south toward the Galata Tower.  The whole place was mobbed with people, and this was a Thursday night. Seems like all of modern Istanbul comes here in the evening to drink and eat and people watch. The tram line operation is somewhat sketchy. The whole time it took me to walk the 2km give-or-take from end to end the tram only passed me twice. I think there was only one car in operation. I was headed for the Galata Tower to be up top near sunset. Along the way there I ran into some folks I had met the day before on the "Other" Tour. So even though the city has millions of people it's still possible to run into people you know at random on the street!

Locals bumming rides on the Istiklal Cadd. heritage tramway.

Galata Tower. The view from the top of the Galata Tower is not to be missed and is especially nice at sunset. The tower's observation platform needs some crowd management, though. There is a tiny sign indicating people should walk around the tower to the right - but half the people don't bother to notice it and then there's a shoving match as the two circling groups of people constantly collide. There's really only room for a single file line to go around the top of the tower. Anyway, the view is great. Don't miss it.

Galata Bridge sunset. Finally, walked back to the hotel by way of the Galata Bridge just at sunset. Some nice views from there...

View of Sultanahmet from Galata Tower

Friday, May 3, 2013

Turkey 2013 - Istanbul Day 5 - Various Sights

Sarcophagus detail at the Istanbul Archeological Museum

I'm going to go slightly out of order describing my days in Istanbul just because I had pre-written more about Day 5 and less about Day 4.  Day 5 was kind of a clean up day getting to a few sights I had missed around Sultanahmet and Eminonu.  Remember, all photos were taken by me and are clickable for larger versions. More can be found on my Flickr page:

Archaeological Museum.  I wasn't quite as impressed with this museum as I expected but the collection of sarcophagi found along the Aegean coast is stunning. The collections of artifacts from the rest of Turkey is not as extensive or interesting. (Much of the cool stuff from Turkey is in Berlin, after all.)  On the way here I walked through Gulhane Park from the entrance behind the Sirkeci station railroad tracks.  The flowers were blooming and the park smelled really nice!  Not exactly like Istanbul's Central Park but popular with the locals and tourists alike.

New Mosque. I got to the New Mosque by the Galata Bridge right at 2:00 on Friday afternoon as the midday prayer service was concluding. There must have been 1,000 people in there, it took a while to empty out. Definitely worth the visit. The tilework here rivals the Blue Mosque and is less crowded.

New Mosque

Spice Bazaar. A little less aggressive than the Grand Bazaar with many of the stalls selling spices (or Turkish Delight). The standard tourist fare can be found here as well, ceramics, lamps, even rugs. The spice kiosks are an assault on the senses, with all the spices chiming in at once in your nose. Very colorful too!  Outside the bazaar proper are several streets where locals shop for housewares, clothing, etc.  I picked up a small brass coffee grinder (more decorative than practical since the amount you can grind in one load is fairly small) and also the Mehmet Efendi coffee roastery where I picked up a kilo of freshly roasted and ground Turkish coffee.,_Istanbul
Mehmet Efendi Coffee:

Spice Bazaar

Rustem Pasha Mosque. Listed as a highlight on most of the travel sites. A little hard to find among the commercial hustle and bustle of the Spice Bazaar and surrounding streets. But once you spot the entryway -- up a low-ceilinged flight of stairs from the side street, it's like a refuge from the noise of the streets. I mostly had the place to myself with just a couple of other visitors. I'd even say the interior is bluer than the Blue Mosque.  Like the Laleli Mosque, this would be a good place to bring a book or your lunch and sit outside in the forecourt enjoying the day.

Rustem Pasha Mosque

Süleymaniye Mosque. Up the hill from Rustem Pasha through a busy commercial district. A large complex with the tomb of Suleiyman the Magnificent (couldn't go in, not sure if you usually can or cannot). Given the size and importance of this mosque, there aren't many visitors here. Gives you the chance to walk around and enjoy it (compared to the crowds at the Blue Mosque).üleymaniye_Mosque

Süleymaniye Mosque

Borrowed this pic from their
official website.
Dervish Show. The guidebook I had from a few years back listed only one location that had Dervish ceremonies only twice a week. Now there are shows every night in six or seven sites around Istanbul. I think this means that the ceremony is getting more theatrical and less spiritual although obviously I couldn't ask the Dervishes what they thought about the subject. No photos permitted and no applause either. Stole some photos from the Hodjapasha Cultural Center website. I went to the show (I'll call it a show) with two folks from the "Other Tour" that were also staying in my hotel. We had dinner afterwards but somehow didn't really get to discuss what we thought of the show. I can't comment on the spirituality of the ceremony except to say that it must take years of practice to whirl for an hour nonstop! Maybe part of the spiritual connection the Dervishes feel is from blood loss from the head! Just kidding.

This section from the Wikipedia entry for the Mevlevi order kind of backs up what I said above about theatrical vs. spiritual: The Mevlevi Order was outlawed in Turkey in September 1925 by Atatürk's new Turkish Republic. ... In 1954 the Mevlevi were given partial rights to perform semâ in public but primarily because it was important as a tourist attraction for Turkey, but as a Sufi order they are still banned.
Mevlevi Order:
Sema ceremony:
Hodjapasha Cultural Center:

Interior of the ablution fountain at the Süleymaniye Mosque

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Turkey 2013 - Istanbul Day 3 - The "Other" Tour

A statue in Arnavutkoy. The main part of the statue commemorated Ataturk but the other figures were interesting.

On Wednesday, I went on this thing called the "Other Tour" of Istanbul. Our guides: twentysomethings Fethi, a native Istanbulli, and Trevor, American ex-pat. Fethi's brother Bulent tagged along and handled logistics behind the scenes. The idea is that they take you behind the scenes in Istanbul to see how people live and work in the city; there's no visits to anything that might be considered a tourist must-see.  They say on their web site etc. not to take the tour just because it is highly regarded on Trip Advisor. Do it because you want to do these things and be challenged doing it. Well, I think we were all challenged, possibly differently for each of us, as you'll see some thoughts on that below.  One of the reasons I wanted to take it is that I knew it would be a good way to meet fellow travelers (not tourists; we were anointed "travelers" by our otherguides at the end of the day).  Besides myself there were travelers from Washington D.C., Chicago, Minnesota, Australia, and some other places.

Fishing boats on the Bosphorus.

They like to pretend that the itinerary is a big secret but the information they sent out and the reviews on Trip Advisor all basically agreed on what was going to be done today. (Which is fine. I am sure the first days of the Other Tour were less organized :-) We were on othertour #201.  After meeting our guides and the rest of the group we headed up the Bosphorus to Bebek and Arnavutkoy, both pretty well-off neighborhoods right on the waterfront.  Water sells real estate everywhere, apparently. We had coffee at a little neighborhood joint, and then walked through a waterfront Starbucks to admire the view from their third floor balcony (and to use their restrooms- the doors have punch code locks but the otherguides knew the codes... I wonder despite their disparagement of Starbucks do they kick back a little to the management to let us traipse through there without buying anything three mornings a week!)

Tulips in the square at the Kanlica ferry dock.

Next up was a private Bosphorous Cruise on a yacht type boat, complete with Turkish wines served. (Not my first experience with Turkish wines on this trip, all of which that I tried were actually pretty good.) This was a nice perk; the cruise was not extensive but saved me from having to do it separately another day.  We took the boat across to Kanlica on the Asian side where we stopped for a traditional honey yoghurt at a waterfront cafe.

Market in Esenler.
Street scene in Fener, Istanbul. 

Went to a couple of neighborhoods that were decidedly underprivileged, with government policy to keep it that way. Felt a little disrespectful to take photographs no matter how "artistic" they may be. Asked Fethi about that. He said that the presence of the Other Tour and its participants in these neighborhoods have actually raised awareness of the situation of the people and the government's policies, so it wasn't so disrespectful that we were there. I am still not convinced on that.

We walked through a local market in the Esenler neighborhood where our guides picked out some fruits and vegetables that would be used for lunch at Fethi's house. His mom and other family members cooked for us. Really yummy especially the zucchini fritters with yoghurt. Actually, I can't believe I am saying that zucchini fritters were the highlight of a meal for me :-)

Students at an elementary school in Esenler, Istanbul.

After lunch we went down the street to Fethi's childhood elementary school. At the school, it was hard to decide whether it was the kids on display or us on display. A little of both. Hard to say if our visits aren't disruptive to their day although we were only in the classroom about 15-20 minutes. Apparently 50 EUR of everyone's tour "ticket" is donated directly to the school, so for our tour of 15 that's 750 EUR. The classrooms are still decidedly undersupplied with things you might expect in American classrooms, like world maps, more computers, etc. Someone in our group asked if the kids had access to computers, and a show of hands showed that all but one or two of the 40-50 kids had a computer and the internet at home. Just not in the school. Which, in retrospect, may not be so bad. I didn't have computers in the classroom in 3rd Grade.

We stopped at a private high school in Fener/Balat that had 57 students - compared to the ~2000 at the other school. Fethi gave us a lecture about Turkey, and how it came to be. My takeaway is that the people of Turkey have a hard time identifying as Turks.  There's a disconnect between identifying as Turk (ethnic) and Turk (citizen of Turkey).  Unlike in America. Here, people have their ethnic background and can still identify as Americans... 

After the lecture we stopped at a cafe/bar sort of place that had gaming tables set up in the back where over a few beers we learned a game called Okey that was a cross between dominos and poker. I wanted to buy an Okey set to bring home-- and found them for sale at a stall in the Spice Bazaar, but went online first and found that in the United States the game is sold as "Rummikub" and was $14.99 for a plastic set. Could have gotten a nice wooden one in Istanbul but the thing would have weighed a ton.  After the gaming it was time for bathing.

This is not our group, I doubt anyone considered bringing a camera into the bathhouse, but I borrowed this picture from the Gedik Pasa Hamam web site, so you can get an idea of the inside of a Turkisk bathhouse. There's also a steam room and a cool down pool which you don't see here.
The Turkish Bath was interesting in the sense that here you have a group of 15 people, somewhat randomly selected but of like mind in many ways (or they would not be there), but essentially strangers even if we've been on the tour together for 10 hours so far. So I think there was a little bit of apprehension for the Turkish bathhouse. You don't need to be seen naked (by the bathers or the workers) but I think it was one of the more challenging things for the tour members. The women are separated from the men at the bathhouse but from what I heard, equally challenging for them! One woman on the group didn't want to do it but the otherdeal was you're here to be challenged, now get in there and get bathed!  In the end she did it and seemed ok with it.

Gedik Pasa Hamam:

As a side note, I saw on TripAdvisor a post from a guy asking for a "gay hamam". Not sure what he was looking for. In the baths, male attendants serve the male customers, and women attendants serve the women, separately... You don't get totally nude. Maybe he meant "gay friendly" in that it accepts gay couples? Well that doesn't matter either since you go in there and each person gets an attendant, again, separately. There's nothing you do with your partner or spouse, really. I guess the guy who asked really didn't know what Turkish bathhouses were all about. Neither did I, I guess.

Dinner was at a traditional "meyhane" restaurant in Beyoglu near Istiklal Caddesi. Live music and tapas-style serving of Turkish meze plates (cold and warm), desserts, and wine.  The musicians were playing Turkish songs and stuff like "If I Was A Rich Man". Weird. A good time was had by all although my only complaint is that our three otherguides sequestered themselves together at one end of the long table rather than inserting themselves in between the various tour participants. So although the conversation among us travelers was lively and interesting we didn't have the chance to talk to our guides during dinner.

I didn't get any good pictures at dinner so I will close with this one of the group learning to play Okey