Category Archives: Europe

Paris 2012: Eiffel Tower

For a while, it was the tallest manmade structure in the world.  Built in the 1880s by Gustav Eiffel (the bridge-building engineer who had recently built the framework for the Statue of Liberty), the Eiffel Tower was intended as a temporary entryway for the 1889 World’s Fair.  (Apparently World’s Fairs were a big deal back in those days).   The plan was to take it down 20 years later, but by then the radio had been invented, and having a very tall tower for radio antennas came in pretty handy, so it stayed up.  The rest is history — literally.  The French at least cut the elevator cables on the tower before the Germans took over Paris in 1940, so Hitler never got to the top when he visited Paris.

Since it went up in the late 19th Century, the Tower has been visited by about 250 million people — now including my sister Jana Parker, and my niece Caitlin.  I was lucky enough last week to get to take Jana and Caitlin to Paris for a few days of post-Christmas sightseeing.  Here’s the first batch of pictures — all of these are shots of, including, and/or from the Eiffel Tower.  Thanks to Caitlin for some nice, impromptu work as a Parisian model.  More pictures from Paris still to come when I get organized.

 

 

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Roman Holiday

 

I was at a one-week photography workshop in Rome last week.  Somehow, strangely, this caused me to spend less time taking pictures than I normally would.  And certainly I had less time to write goofy stories, so with Thanksgiving approaching fast, I’ll keep this short.  I’ve just got two quick observations about Rome (and a couple of dozen pictures):

First:  If you’ve never quite figured out the distinctions, relations or overlaps between ancient Roman popes versus ancient Roman emperors or kings, a visit to Rome will do absolutely nothing to clear that up.  In fact, it’s probably even weirder than you thought.  (Google “Quirinal Palace,” for example).

Second:  The number of incredibly ornate churches, palaces and statues in Rome is amazing.  There are hundreds of churches, palaces, museums, arches, ruins, fountains or government buildings, any one of  which – if transported to most any American city – would be the most impressive structure in town.

The guy (above) in the helmet is one of the special guards whose sole function is to protect the Italian president.  The walking priests and the parading bishops are at the Vatican.  The beret-wearing guard in glasses is a “royalist,” standing ceremonial guard over the tomb of the last Italian King – inside the Pantheon.

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“Roman Holiday” is an early 1950s Audrey Hepburn movie that made her a superstar and introduced lots of Americans to the now-familiar iconic sites in Rome.   

Continental Drifters (Istanbul Part 3)

 

If you’re like me, you’ve always been a little hazy about where Europe ends and Asia begins.  In Southern Europe, at least, there’s a very definitive answer:  downtown Istanbul.  The Bosphorus Strait — a waterway that bisects Istanbul and connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara – divides Istanbul’s 9 million European residents from its 4 million Asian residents.  Apparently at least a million Istanbulites (Istanbullies?) have a transcontinental commute each weekday morning.  My first-ever trip to Asia was via a 10-minute ferry ride across the Bosphorus.

 

 

Another river-looking body of water subdivides the “new” and old parts of the European side.  The double-decker Galata Bridge joins the two.  Cars and fishermen are on the top level; restaurants on the bottom.  So as you sit and eat, you watch bait and lures drop down from above, then wriggling fish being hoisted back up to the top layer.

 

 

The picture way below of the tiny island  is Maiden’s Tower – taken from the Asian side, looking back toward the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque in the European Old Town.   The fancy blue rooms are the prince’s apartments at Topkapi Palace.  The police in riot gear were in Taksim Square.  Apparently a Kurdish protest had been averted just as I arrived – and unlike a similar protest two days prior, the cops didn’t even use the tear gas.

 

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One of my most memorable sights in Istanbul is one for which – alas – I have no picture.  But a camera would have been very much out of place in a 300-year-old Turkish bath.  This was the scene:

I’m flat on my back on a gray-marble floor, looking straight up.  I’m completely wet and covered with sudsy soap, wearing nothing but a sopping wet, plaid hand-towel-of-a-thing.  It’s plopped across body parts that one would ordinary call “private,” but that term doesn’t really seem accurate under the circumstances.

I’m looking up at a 300-year-old dome, which rests atop eight marble pillars and dominates an octagonal room roughly the size of half a tennis court.   Every surface is grey marble, and the room is currently heated to a stifling, steamy 140 degrees.  Within the dome ceiling are several softball-sized pieces of glass, allowing dots of dim light inside.  The walls are lined with what look like fancy marble mop sinks.  The room’s steamy heat is causing a steady drip of water from the chandelier that hangs from the center of the dome.

In the edge of my vision to the left, I see the curly decorative edging of the bottom-side of one of those Greek-urn-looking marble mopsinks.  Leaning over me from my right side is Saleh, a 50-ish Turkish man.

Saleh was my tellak – the term for an attendant in a Turkish bath.  Saleh seems to be the most outgoing tellak in the historic Cagaloglu Hamami.  “Hamami” means bathhouse in Turkish.  Saleh’s son also works there as a tellak.  Saleh is neither tall nor short, neither thin nor heavy.  Like all the other tellaks in the room, he’s shirtless, wearing a blue plaid towel-thing to distinguish himself from the customers in orangish plaid.  He has black hair and a big moustache, and about as much chest hair as you might expect for a middle-aged Turkish man.

Saleh’s job was to bathe me.  And bathe me he did – using primarily a weird witches-broom-looking brush thing, a scratchy mitt, lots of sudsy soap, and dozens of panfuls of hot water dipped out of those marble mopsinks.  He’d occasionally cool himself off pouring a pan of water over himself from one of the cold-water mopsinks.    The room contains 12 or so other men – half of them tellaks and half of them mostly-naked customers enduring the same fate I am.

It was my first and only Turkish bath.  When in Rome, you do as the Romans do; when in Istanbul, you go to a Turkish bath.

 

Sleepless in (Islamic) Istanbul

This is #2 of 3 posts about a November trip to Istanbul.  Click here to see the first one.

In Istanbul, Turkey, it’s pretty much impossible to get a decent night’s sleep.  An hour or two before dawn – and again at dawn — the shrill, crackling loudspeakers in the towers (“minarets”) of the city’s 5,000 or so mosques boom out the Muslim call to prayer.  Wherever you are, there are probably at least two or three mosques within the loudspeaker-enhanced earshot.  Bring earplugs.

Though the individual muezzin seem to have very different singing styles (some quite lyrical and some quite terrible), apparently the words are always the same.  The translation:

God is greatest.  I bear witness that there is no deity except God.  I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.  Come to prayer; come to success.  God is greatest; there is no deity except God.

Most of the pictures here are of the big Blue Mosque, which sits in the old Sultanamet seciton of Istanbul – overlooking the Sea of Marmara and just across the plaza from the Hagia Sophia.  It’s “only” a little over 500 years old – built shortly after the Ottomans converted the city to Islam.  Today 99 percent of Istanbul residents are muslim.

The picture (at the top) with the colorful rugs being spread out in the mosque courtyard is at the amusingly-named “New Mosque” – built in the 1600s (everything is relative).  The prayer service at noon on Friday draws an overflow crowd, thus the carpets as preparation for outdoor kneeling.  About two minutes after the picture was taken, I (along with a dozen or so other visitors) was politely (and appropriately) ushered out as their prayer service was about to begin.

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Istanbul (Not Constantinople)*

Here’s the first of a handful of posts from a recent visit to Istanbul, Turkey. 

Napoleon once said that if the world had just one capital, it would be Constantinople – the city now known as Istanbul, Turkey.  Apparently lots of Emperors and Sultans felt the same way.  For over 1000 years, Istanbul was Constantinople – capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and named for the 4th Century Roman Emperor Constantine.  In 1453, the Ottoman armies of Sultan Mehmet II successfully laid siege to Constantinople and established Istanbul as the new capital of the Ottoman Empire.

The Sultan and the Ottomans were Islamic, so most of what is now Istanbul has been mostly Islamic ever since.  Grand Christian churches were converted to mosques.  The grandest of all was Hagia Sophia — originally dedicated in the year 361 and serving as a Christian church for nearly 1100 years.  When the Ottomans took over in 1453, the crosses and other Christian symbols that covered Hagia Sophia’s walls and ceiling were replaced with symbols of Muhammed and Allah.  A mihrab and minbar replaced altar and pulpit, and minarets (towers used for the daily call to prayer) were built on all four corners.  Fortunately, the enlightened Sultan only covered up – and did not destroy – many of the Christian religious icons.  Today the Hagia Sophia is a museum, showing off its immense and beautiful architechture and its odd current mix of Christian icons and Islamic symbols, and thus telling the story of Istanbul’s last 1700 years.

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The tiny Church at the Chora monastery a few miles to the west saw a similar fate.  Today it’s a museum, and most of the amazing and elaborate murals have been restored.

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*”Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” is a goofy song about the re-naming of Constantinople.  It was a gold-record hit in the 1950s by the Four Lads, and was recorded again by the They Might Be Giants in the 1990s.  If you don’t remember it, watch the recent version on YouTube.  It’ll make you smile.  “All the girls from Constantinople are in Istanbul (not Constantinople); so if you’ve a date in Constantinople, she’ll be waiting in Istanbul.”