Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul,Turkey...

July 10, 2012
Greece/Turkey Trip

Julide gave us our instructions for the day and got us headed in the right direction-- we walked toward the Dolmabahce Palace; she then proceeded on her way to give a tour for the cruise ship tourists.

We had an early start for our morning… up at 6:00 a.m. dressed, ferry ride, and now here at the Palace by 8:00 a.m.  Julide told us to be in line by 8:30, because the line gets long fast and can be a 2-hour wait in the sun.  We found ourselves second in line behind a mature couple from California, (I'm thinking we must be considered a mature couple now as well--haa) we had a nice visit until the Palace opened at 9:00 a.m. 
After purchasing our ticket, we made our way through the ornate gate
and onto the palace grounds.  This was our first view of the
Dolmabahce Palace... and it was grand!
The palace was built between 1843-1856.  The construction cost five million Ottoman mecidiye gold coins, which is the equivalent of 35 tons of gold!  It was built on the Bosphorus Strait and contains a lot of gold and many crystals.  It is the largest palace in Turkey.  The palace sits on 11.2 acres and contains 285 rooms, 46 halls, 6 baths and 68 toilets; having three main areas (1) Selamlik-  the quarters reserved for the men; (2) Harem- the residential apartments for the family of the Sultan; and (3) the Ceremonial Hall.
I found this picture on the web that was taken from the air
and it gives you a better perspective of it's massive size.
And even here, you can not see everything!
The gate to the Treasury was just to the left as we entered the palace grounds.
The couple in the photo is the one we visited with from California,
I had not paid any attention or noticed them when taking this picture.
Detail at the top of the Treasury Gate
This was to our right -- another gate for entry to/from the water.
I cannot describe in words how beautiful the palace was.  All of the surrounding grounds were well-tended and so picturesque.  It was truly beautiful!  First thing, we took a full-guided tour of the Palace.  Photos inside were not allowed; so I will take the liberty to share a couple photos from the web with you in a bit, of a few things inside the Palace.
But first, before entering the Palace we had the
opportunity to wear these lovely footies over our shoes
to protect their woven mats, rugs, and wood flooring
throughout the Palace... I don't blame them.
After the tour, I took a quick picture with the guard... and of course, Dennis
had to discuss what kind of gun.  While the guard spoke very little English,
they did communicate so that DT learned it was MP-5 sub machine gun.
And imagine, this guy did not ask "why" three times; in-fact, not even once!
Clock Tower in front of the Palace
was constructed between 1890-1895
As we Left the Dolmabahce Palace, we noted the time on this beautiful Clock Tower that stands in front of the palace.   We stayed almost four hours touring the palace and grounds. The landscaping was beautiful and I was amazed at how many of the same flowers they have growing in Turkey as I do at home.  Not that my gardens look anything like the palace grounds, but the variety of plants-- many were the same.

Here is a picture of the world's largest Bohemian crystal chandelier that hangs in the Ceremonial Hall.
This shows some of the Ceremonial Hall and it's grandeur.
The chandelier was a gift from Queen Victoria; it has 750 lambs and weighs 4.5 tons (9,000 lbs)!  There are several other Bohemian crystal chandeliers throughout the palace and the collection is the largest in the world.  The palace also exhibits one of the greatest staircases of Baccarat crystal.
This is the best photo I have come across of the crystal banisters!
The chandelier was not lit up while we were there, but we can all have a
glimpse of the magnificent elegance it held.
While the chandelier and staircase were not the only thing to see in the palace, this gives you an idea of why we might have spent almost four hours touring.  We viewed the Harem apartments as well; and of course, they did not have the same elegance, but the facility and grounds as a whole was massive and most interesting to think that people really lived like this.

Our day will continue with a ferry ride to one of the Princes' Islands where we will meet up with  Julide's boyfriend, Tolga.

To be continued...

Monday, July 23, 2012

Arriving Istanbul, Turkey

July 9, 2012
Greece/Turkey Trip

Woo hoo, our flight went without any problems from Crete/Athens/Istanbul… and, we had luggage!!  We arrived in Istanbul late evening.  Our friend, Julide, was going to pick us up, but she was uncertain which airline to pick us up.  We had written so many emails back and forth prior to the trip-- I was nuts trying to plan for such a long trip and Julide had been touring in the U.S. while we were in Greece, so we were both busy and distracted.  Also, I did not always have wi-fi, so quick communication was more difficult once we were in route; and looking back through the numerous emails was difficult when you are looking for a specific piece of info.  We did find a pay phone and called her cell, she was already at the airport and made it to our terminal within minutes.

You have to realize the purpose of our trip to Greece and Turkey was to see our friends whom we had met through Rotary International.  They came to Oklahoma in 1997 and toured our state for four or maybe six weeks.  They stayed three nights in Cushing and became our friends for life!  Julide has traveled back to the U.S. several times leading groups of Turkish tourists; and she has also done an exchange teaching program in the U.S.  She is a tour guide (and an English teacher); which works out very nice for us… but the best part is our friendship!  We did meet up with her on one of her later trips to Oklahoma and got to spend some time with her.  Julide lives in Istanbul, which is located in the Northwestern part of Turkey.

Filiz, was also a Rotary GSE (Group Study Exchange) member who actually stayed in our home during their tour of Cushing.  We love Filiz as well and we have communicated via email for 15 years.  Filiz is a Petroleum Engineer and works for the Turkish Government.  She also made a trip to Houston for business one time, and was able to visit in Cushing for a couple days.  We cherish her friendship, she is so sweet!  She lives in Ankara, which is the capital City, and I will call it the central area of Turkey.

Dr. Irfan was another member of the GSE team and we had lost contact with him over the years, but Julide let him know we were coming to Turkey and he wanted us to come see him in Antalya.  We are blessed to have regained the contact and now have another dear friend.  He is a general surgeon in Antalya.  Antalya is located on the Southern tip of Turkey along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.  His flat over-looks the sea, but we managed to put up with the view!  I guess someone had to do it! …to say the least, his flat and the view were both gorgeous and we laughed so much with him!

Everyone was so generous and kind to us as we made our visit to see him or her in their respective cities in which they live.  I am so glad that after all these years we finally made that connection with them and that we got to see their beautiful country.  Filiz has asked us for years, “When are you coming?”   Finally, we made it; we just had to find the right time.  There were two other team members, but Puren is living abroad in London and Nezaket was not available when we visited in Ankara. We thought we would get to see her, but timing did not coordinate... maybe next time for Nez and Puren.

Each area of the country we traveled had so much to offer as far as sites or things to see, but our time with each of them is what we cherish the most.

We arrived and made connections with Julide first in Istanbul.  We began to make our way through traffic starting from the European side, with our goal to get across the bridge to the Asian side where Julide lived.   It really wasn’t far from the airport but getting across the bridge took about two hours because of construction and because of Istanbul traffic.  We literally crawled at a snail’s pace, but believe me the rest of our time in Istanbul was anything but slow!  Julide can walk faster than anyone I know!  And there were times we needed to walk fast, or rather she did and we jogged behind her trying to keep up.  At times I laughed so hard I could hardly jog!  So many funny memories with her; and we had the pleasure of meeting her boyfriend, Tolga, and spending time with him as well.  We loved Tolga too!

Anyway, July 10th was our first full day in Istanbul, and Julide was scheduled to guide a tour for a Princess cruise ship that day.  We knew her tour was scheduled, but she had other plans for us while she did that.  We all took the ferry in early morning back to the Asian side of the Bosphorus Strait, which is the dividing factor of the two sides.

There was much to see along the way on the ferry ride.  The Haydarpasa Train Station was one of the spectacular sites.  It is the busiest rail terminal in Turkey.  It has connections to the bus and ferry services and the tram is only a few blocks away from the station.  The building itself is beautiful.

Haydarpasa Train Station on the Bosphorus.  The station opened in 1872.
View as we approached closer
Station from the front and Pier
There was a fire on the roof in 2010 and the station is now being renovated

To be Continued:  Dolmabahce Palace

Changing of the Guards in Athens, Greece...

July 9, 2012
Greece/Turkey Trip

We continued on our way to watch the ceremonial procession of the changing of the guards at the Parliament Building.  This elite unit is called Evzones and they are all volunteers being selected from the Hellenic Army's Infantry.  Most are identified during basic training at the Recruit Training Center.  They guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Presidential Mansion 24 hours a day.  The guards are disciplined standing at attention and cannot move.  There is a minimum height for them of 1.86 meters which converts to just a little over 6'1"; but most of them average over 6'3".

The military police are responsibility for them and if something on their uniform gets out of place, blowing in the wind or such, it is up to the police to straighten or keep everything in place during their guard duty

Here we are with one of the guards.  Obviously we could not touch them.
If we happened to do that, (which we did not); but if we did,
they would bang their gun on the pavement and the police would come. 
They have a regimented walk or march they do changing from one tower to the other every 15 minutes just to keep circulation going in their legs and feet.  They stand guard for one hour and then a new set of guards comes.  Lambros explained that they have a shift with this rotation for 6 hours; then new guards do the same rotation -- thus the changing of the guards.  We happened to get there for one of the hourly changes taking place.

The kilt-like uniform is interesting including the leggings and clunky shoes all adorned with tassels.
Here are a few photos of the pomp and circumstance they go through (well, maybe more than a few once I compiled them):
The change begins...
the march is very slow and controlled.
They pull their leg up and then it goes straight out
and then they hold it there.
There is a very precise way of going back down too.
It is all in slow motion.
Now he waits for the other guard to basically
do the same thing.
I noticed this guard did not get his leg as high :-) 
They meet in the middle and the military police
inspects and straightens their uniform.
Two new guards are escorted in by another guard and the military police.
Orders are given by the escort
The old guards...
begin their march away, perfectly in sync. 
...every step in sync!
until gone.
The new guards then begin their march into place.  Our guide, Lambros, told us that people are usually lined along the sidewalk, but we picked a perfect time to be there.  (It’s nice something right happened for us.)  He also said that if people are in the way, then the guards still do their march and there are times that people get kicked.  The whole process was interesting and we had the best view and could move for pictures as needed.  I found the whole process very interesting.  I cannot imagine standing in the blazing hot sun wearing that uniform – not able to move or wipe the sweat.

One last thing in Athens, we stopped to by some baklava and Lambros circled around the block.  While we were waiting, we saw these police and just snapped a picture; no particular reason, just part of the touring for us.
Greek Police 
There was another policeman standing over a little ways and he was not in the picture, but he came up to us and very arrogantly asked, “why?”  Dennis told him just touring and was just curious for our photo collection.  The officer again asked, “why?”

I’m thinking did you not just hear what we said, and we explained it again.  He again asked, “why?”  By now, I could tell he was really on a power trip and we certainly had not done anything illegal; but, I asked him, “do you want me to delete it?!?  He just held up his hand and said, “bye!”  We walked away and just laughed and thought that it was pretty sad that the only really rude person we have met thus far was a policeman!  He was very young…and what’s funny, he was not even in the picture and the other guys who were... never said a word.

With that said and done, Lambros made his way around the block and picked us up.  We were now headed to the Athens airport to depart for Istanbul… we’ll hope this flight goes uneventful :-) We will first meet up with our friend, Julide, in Istanbul.

Thanks to Lambros and Private Greece Tours for a wonderday day!  I have linked to the web-site throughout this tour and on my blog because the company truly did cater to our needs and wants. We were on a limited time-frame for the day but yet we were able to see so much (between 10:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.) because of our flight schedule.  Private tours are the best, a luxury I recommend to everyone who tours.  Your schedule is around you and the places you want to go and it is at the pace you want to go.  You do not have to wait on anyone or worry about keeping up with anyone.  Our pace is usually "on go!" we enjoy the fact that we are never waiting on anyone!

Okay, our travels continue on to Turkey and there is nothing better than spending time with a friend who can show you around!

Continued… Istanbul, Turkey

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Athenian Agora & National Archaeological Museum in Athens, Greece

July 9, 2012
Greece/Turkey Trip

We stopped for lunch at a quaint little restaurant and had one of the traditional gyros that are so popular in Greece.  We then headed to the Athenian Agora and walked through the grounds.  It covered a fairly large area and they were still working on and excavating parts of it. We spent quite a bit of time here and really enjoyed the area.
Church of the Holy Apostles Solaki.
This is the only monument apart from the Temple of Hephaistos that has
remained in tact since it's foundation.
Window in the church
Dome in the church
Alcove in church
Temple of Hephaistos on the Athenian Agora.
(This is also known as the Temple of Hephaestus)
This is the best preserved temple in all of Greece.  It is the only temple in Greece that still has a roof.  It was dedicated to two Gods - Hephaistos and Athena.  The temple began construction in 449 B.C.  Here is a link for more info.

This is the Stoa of Attalos and was originally built in 150 B.C.
It has been renovated and now is used as the Ancient Agora Museum.
It houses many of the statues -- some with and some without heads;
along with pottery and other artifacts.
Here are a few heads; sorry, I have no idea who these people are, but I should mention 
that many throughout this museum and other museums as well, are missing their noses.
Excavating of the Athenian Agora.
This is just one of the many sites they are still excavating in Greece!
We could see the Acropolis from the Agora...
seems like you can see the Acropolis from everywhere!
We also stopped at the National Archaeological Museum which was founded in 1889.  If I remember right, there were 95 hallways or rooms and tons and tons of artifacts.  We are not big on museums, but we made a quick run through it.  There are findings from ancient Greece and all over the Greek World.  The exhibits include, statues, frescoes, vases, jewelry, weapons, etc.  
The most significant item of the museum is the golden mask of Agamemnon.
We were not allowed to take a picture of it, but I got this from the web.
Here are just a few pics I took:

Gold Jewelry, etc.
After viewing the Agora, we stopped and bought some ice cream, taking an ice cream bar back to Lambros.  We had had a discussion about it being his and Dennis' favorite snack.  He was very appreciative and ended up wearing part of his chocolate on his nice maize colored pants, but he said it was worth every bite.  He said in all the years he has given tours, we were the first to ever buy him ice cream.  We really had fun with Lambros.

Here is a picture of him where we ran into one of his colleagues at the look-out point; and as you see him in this picture, he was always smiling.  We loved him!  He was young, fun, and very knowledgeable about his home city of Athens.  We were so glad we booked the tour and had him for a guide. He was proud of his home city of Athens.

Lambros in middle, his colleague on the Left and Dennis on Right
Lambros was our tour guide from Private Greece Tours
To be continued:  Changing of the guards

"Neoclassical Trilogy" in Athens, Greece

July 9, 2012
Greece/Turkey Trip

As we drove through Athens, here are a few pics I took… it is hard to remember the name of everything, but I promise, Lambros (Private Greece Tours) knew and told us about each thing that we stopped at or drove by.
National Academy is part of the Neoclassical Trilogy.
It is the highest research establishment in the country.
It was established in 1926 and operates under the Ministry of Education.
Close up of some of the detail at top. (National Academy)
This is Apollo standing on a tall ionic column in front of the Academy.
Located on the right side
This is Athena, she stands in front on the left side.
Both statues are beautiful.
The National University is also part of the Neoclassical Trilogy.
And lastly, The Vallianios National Library completes the Neoclassical Trilogy
These three structures all stand in close proximity in downtown Athens. 
Meet "Dromeas" (which means "runner" in English).
He is made from shards of glass and he stands nearly 30 feet tall.
He was created in 1994 and stands in the middle of Athens.
He is not the typical Greek architecture, but is very unique.
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