Thursday, November 29, 2012

Rediscovering Istanbul continued: November 29, 2012

The Petty Hagia Sophia 

We hired a company called Istanbul Walks which provided us with a guide named Selma Şen for a walking tour through the Blue Mosque area.  We strolled through the old neighborhoods, toured little visited sights, and thoroughly enjoyed her information about historic Constantinople and Istanbul.  One of the sights we saw was the Petty Hagia Sophia.  The structure and its history is very similar to the Hagia Sophia.  It was built by Justinian I as a church and later minarets were added and it was turned into a mosque.  While the large Hagia Sophia is now a museum, the petty Hagia Sophia is still a functioning mosque.

Interior of the Petty Hagia Sofia

We covered a lot of ground during the five hours on this tour.  She took us into historic hotels and along narrow streets to discuss Ottoman architecture and those who lived around the Topkapi Palace in the service of the Sultans.  We visited the new Four Seasons Hotel that until the 1970s was Sultanahmet Prison.  We descended below a restaurant to see the remains of Emperor Justinian's Palace.  

Our last night, a full-moon evening, we walked across the Galata Bridge, up the hill to the Galata Tower, the length of Istiklal (Independence) Street, to Taksim Square.  The street even in late November was packed with people strolling, window shopping, stopping at cafes, or listening to street musicians.  Overhead, Istiklal Street was decorated with blue and white holiday lights.  If we didn't already love Istanbul, then this night would have convinced us that we should.

The Galata Bridge and Tower

The Yeni Mosque and its well-fed pigeons

Corn on Cob (Misir) and Chestnut Vendor 

Street food in Istanbul is plentiful and everywhere people are in a hurry: roasted corn, roasted chestnuts, hot salep.  On either side of the Galata Bridge barbecue carts grill freshly caught fish and slip the fish into a french roll for a delicious fast sandwich.  Along the waterfront, mussel vendors do a brisk drop-in business.  Stop by, snack on a few mussels, then move on.

We couldn't leave Istanbul without a Bosphorus boat trip so on our last afternoon, we took a two-hour ferry trip from the Galata Bridge up the Bosphorus past the second bridge.  

And, then it was time to return to Macedonia.  While in Istanbul, we received an email from the US Embassy stating that the Macedonian government had printed our ID cards.  Even though I knew that now I was technically no longer an illegal alien, I still cringed when the non-Macedonian woman in the line next to me was asked how long she had been in Macedonia.  At that point the man she was traveling with stepped up and the conversation continued in Macedonian while she looked on.  In my line, the immigration officer stamped my passport and I quickly left.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Rediscovering Istanbul: November 27, 2012

Timeless Istanbul

We didn't need to tunnel out of Macedonia after all.  We breezed through Macedonian Immigration and exited Macedonia without a hitch.  I admit I was anxious until our Turkish Air flight left the ground, but we had no problems at all--even the Turkish Air flight was on time.

We visited Istanbul and much of Turkey almost 15 years ago; it will forever be a place we fell in love with.  Fifteen years ago we stayed in a friend's parents' home near the Ortakoy Mosque under the first bridge on the Bosphorus.  The early morning call to prayer woke us each day, but the muezzin had a beautiful voice.  This time, we stayed in the mostly renovated Sultanahmet neighborhood in the welcoming Neorion Hotel very near the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.

 Blue Mosque by Night

 Interior of the Blue Mosque

 Hagia Sophia Museum

 Interior of the Hagia Sophia

 Hagia Sophia on a Full-Moon Night

During our four days in Istanbul, we reacquainted ourselves with landmarks we had visited before.  We went to the Grand Bazaar and found a couple of the merchants from whom we purchased carpets (Adnan and Hassan) or brass items (Murat Bilir) from 15 years ago.  Murat Bilir has now worked in the bazaar for over 50 years--he was just a young boy when he began.

His shop is packed with metal items from Persia, Armenia, and the former Ottoman Empire.  Murat took us to a fish restaurant, Balikçi Aşçinin Konaği, just outside of the Grand Bazaar. I don't know if many tourists eat in this small, immaculate restaurant, but the fish soup, the grilled blue fish, the baked halvah dessert were great.  Then, we returned to Murat's shop and bought the antique Persian tray he is polishing in the above photo.

Inside the Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar, while still a maze-like, over-whelming collection of shops, seems more organized now with signs indicating the names of the covered avenues within the bazaar.  It has become less intimidating and more tourist friendly--like a shopping mall with a long, exotic history.  There is even a newly renovated, clean, well stocked public toilet that costs 1TL (about .56 US cents) to use.  

The bustling Egyptian Spice Bazaar (Misir Çarşisi) established in 1664 is another fun place to shop for spices like Iranian saffron threads (I hope they are real), salep, dried fruits, and every other spice you can think of.  The fruits, nuts, and spices are beautifully presented like colorful fine jewels.  The Egyptian Spice Bazaar is much more than just spices.  A new shop with beautiful textiles and jewelry from Syria has recently opened in the Spice Bazaar.

The spice bazaar is much smaller than the Grand Bazaar making it feel more manageable despite the crowds of shoppers.  Free samples were being distributed the day we went so people were packed like a jar of pickles around the free stuff.

One of the many spice shops outside of the Spice Market building

A Macedonian friend introduced me to an Oriental drink called Salep; it is a Turkish drink that not only tastes good but is said to be good to drink when you have a cold.  After unsuccessfully trying to have a cup of salep in Istanbul at our hotel and at a restaurant, I bought a cup from a Salep seller near the Hagia Sophia one cool evening.  He had a sign on his cart that listed the ingredients: salep (powdered orchid root), milk, honey, cinnamon.  It was delicious.  When I went to the Egyptian Spice Bazaar, I bought some "first-quality, authentic" salep.  The salesman said to use 1 teaspoon per liter of milk.  I found this recipe online:

Salep for six people:
Combine 2 teaspoons of salep flour with 2-1/2 teaspoons of sugar
Slowly add 3-1/2 glasses of cold milk and stir to mix
Over low heat, bring the mixture to a boil while stirring (10 to 15 minutes)
Serve hot in a cup dusted with ground cinnamon, nutmeg, or ginger

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Gray Areas: November 25, 2012

Gray is what November has become as winter rushes toward us.  Fog, fog, and more fog.  It's gray when it rains and it's gray when it doesn't.

Night temperatures now hover around freezing so the fountain under Alexander the Great and his horse  is silent and gray.  There will be no more colored lights, choreographed water, or music from it until spring.

All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray..... California dreaming on such a winter's day (California Dreaming by The Mamas and The Papas).

Our pursuit to stay in Macedonia legally is now in a gray, limbo status.  In early November the US Embassy sent a letter to Macedonia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) to announce our arrival and state that we were under the Rule of Law agreement cloak.  About a week later we heard in an email from the US Embassy that MFA did not currently have the ability to make the ID cards.  Due to their recent change of office buildings, the machine wasn't operating.  We were informed that MFA will not furnish us with a temporary "Get-Out-of-Macedonia-Free" note while we wait for the production of our ID cards.

This illegal status is uncomfortable for me.  Recently, I was taking a photograph for an online class where the assignment was "Justice" and the color red.  The word "justice" is hard to come by here.  In Macedonian, justice is (правда) pravda.  But, I found a line of graffiti that included "Justice" written in Latin letters.  While I was taking the photograph, which took some time to work out as it included me as a self portrait, the woman who lives in the apartment came out and began asking me questions that I couldn't understand.  Eventually, she said, "politcia," a word I could understand.  While I wasn't doing anything illegal, it seemed like with my precarious status, it would be a good time to leave.  

 Too Many Cops Too Little Justice

While confined to Macedonia, we continue to explore.  One Saturday, which was not gray, our plan was to visit the archaeological site of Skupi.  Skupi is located near the village of Bardovci which has become more like a suburb of Skopje.  Once there, we found the archaeological site closed on weekends.  But, perhaps more interesting, was the very busy cabbage market next door.  These cabbages are from Bardovci village.  Full wagons of cabbages are pulled in by tractor and empty wagons pulled out to be returned full.  One of the merchants told us that Bardovci cabbages are the best for eating and especially for pickling to store for the winter.  The season is October and November, and these cabbages are huge and heavy.  One of the sellers gave us a cabbage which we carried all the way back to the city center; it was very heavy.  There were also sturdy, waist-high leeks which stand in picket-fence-like rows.  These are also purchased in bulk and replanted by the buyer to preserve them through the winter.

 Bardovci cabbages in red Yugo

November has also been a month of social activities: Marine Ball, Macedonia Philharmonic concerts, Cinedays European Film Festival, art openings, IWA, a Roma Festival.  I'm not sure what that says about us that we can be so busy but still chafe under this "house arrest" of being unable to leave Macedonia without fear of expulsion.  

Friday night I had a dream that two men grabbed me and shoved me into a car.  I hope that's not a sign of what's to come.  

Despite that bad omen, we've made a decision to travel and take our chances.  Tonight after Dan's class finishes, we are flying to Istanbul for 4 nights.  We will take a copy of our one-sided letter from the US Embassy to MFA in hopes that if we are questioned, the letter will be accepted as our "Get-Out-of-Macedonia-Free" note. 

We've laid in extra cat food provisions--just in case.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving in Macedonia: November 22, 2012

Our Thanksgiving Day Hike

We started the day with a 3-hour hike on Mt. Vodno.  The fog was thick and constant even on the mountain.  After the hike, we visited a friend, Angel, because it was his birthday.  He gave us tickets to a festival of new Macedonian singers so we ended our Macedonian Thanksgiving Day with music from Macedonia.

In between we had dinner.  On Monday, I found a small frozen turkey that was raised in Sarajevo, Bosnia.   It was truly small weighing in at 7.2 lbs (3.3 kg), and it didn't take long to thaw.  Our ex-pat Thanksgiving dinner included the turkey, gravy, sweet potatoes,  mashed potatoes, and California wine.  I even managed to create a cranberry sauce using dried cranberries and jarred sour cherries.  

It was a very good day--a good Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Zrze and Tetovo: November 4, 2012

We finally made it to Zrze Monastery located northwest of Prilep.  From a distance, the monastery seems to hang from a mid-mountain cliff.  Caves formerly used as monk cells are located in the cliff face below the monastery. The last few meters of road are quite rutted and rough so we walked the last few hundred meters.

Zrze monastery houses the icon called Virgin of Pelagonia.  The original icon is now in the Icon Museum in Skopje, but there is a reproduction of this famous icon in Zrze's Church of Peter and Paul.  The icon was painted in 1422.  In Macedonian Orthodox tradition, the icon of Jesus is placed on the viewer's right and the Virgin is on the viewer's left.  In this church, the placement is reversed. The story goes that the monks placed Mary on the left side of Jesus but each morning, the icons were reversed.  Mary spoke to the monks and said that she must be on Jesus' right side because she would never turn her back to her son.

The composition is almost abstract in the body position of Baby Jesus; and the image has so much life in it. The virgin's eyes show such sorrow while the eyes of baby Jesus contain all the wisdom of the world.

The building below is the monastery which contains both the Church of Peter and Paul and the Shepherd's Church (closed for renovations).  No photographs are allowed, but the English-speaking monk is quite friendly and knowledgeable about the 14th-century frescos.  Even the walls of the porch area are covered with frescos.

A view of the Pelagonia Plain from Zrze Monastery

Horses grazing on the Pelagonia Plain below Zrze Monastery

The next day, with the rental car still in our possession, we drove west to Tetovo to do some sightseeing.  Tetovo is a town occupied mostly by persons of Albanian descent, and it has several interesting Ottoman-era structures.

Our first stop was the Painted Mosque.  Parts of the exterior of the Painted Mosque (Šarena Džamija) are under renovation, but the inside is finished.  We found the mosque locked, but we were handed the key to unlock the door and told to lock up when our visit was finished.

A mosque was first built on this site in 1459.  In the 19th-century (1833), the mosque was reconstructed and expanded by Abdurahman Pasha.  Abdurahman Pasha's creation, both inside and outside, is in Ottoman-Turkish baroque style.  Over 30,000 eggs were used to make the paint used out/inside this unusual mosque.

With all the decorative designs and colors, this mosque looks like a jewel box inside and outside.  To the right of the minbar, is a rare (for Macedonia) painting of Mecca.

The next photo is of the Turkish Amam (Ottoman-era bath house) that is located just across the small Pena river from the Painted Mosque.  It was also built in the 15th century.  Presently, it is an art gallery, but on the day we visited, it was closed.  A teenager saw us taking photos and wanted to know why--why we found these buildings interesting?

We also visited the small village of Lešok (northeast of Tetovo) to see the 14th-century church called Sveti Bogorodica.  The church was locked, but at the new church we were given a very large key to open the 14th-century church. Once again, we were allowed to visit without a chaperone.  When we were finished, we locked the door and returned the huge key.

14th- century Church of Sveti Bogorodica (Holy Mother of God)

The interior is completely covered, walls and ceilings, with frescos from the time of construction as well as from both the 17th and 19th centuries.  The 19th-century renovations were sponsored by Abdurahman Pasha--the same Pasha that renovated the mosque and many other structures in Tetovo.  Why? Because he was hoping the Orthodox Christians would support him in a revolt against the Ottomans.  This didn't work out quite the way he planned.  The Ottoman Sultan "volunteered"  Abdurahman Pasha to fight the in war in the Crimea from where he did not return.