Istanbul: An Honest City

During our short time in Istanbul, it occurred to me how honest the city as a whole is. What do I mean by that? Well, everything in the city seems to be exactly what it is, with no efforts to mask it or make something be any different cosmetically than whatever it already is. There are buildings as old as the year 500 and buildings as new as just a couple years old sitting happily side by side, with no attempt to make one look like the other. Some buildings are even dilapidated or abandoned right in the middle of a high traffic and otherwise well maintained area. Even the new storefronts added to old buildings are built with the style sense of the time in which they were built, so that walking around you can see additions from the 1940’s, -70’s, or -90’s among original and new buildings. I love this about Istanbul, especially in contrast to a place like Los Angeles where sometimes it seems everything has a facade to make it appear to be different than it actually is (not unlike a movie set).

Our first impressions of the city were from the rooftop of the building where we rented our Homeaway apartment. We were practically next door to Galata Tower, and could see it clearly over the nearby buildings.

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Istanbul struck me as a crowded city with little park space for its size, so it was not surprising that people had added greenery on rooftops and patios wherever they could find space.
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Looking out at the sprawl, it seems old, new, and a little gritty. And I will admit, I hadn’t thought much about air quality before we got there, but there was a noticeable amount of exhaust in the air. Istanbul018

Near our apartment, we came across this car. It seemed to fit in quite naturally with the cobblestone streets.Istanbul027

With little sidewalk space and extremely narrow streets, I was surprised at how easily people and cars were able to manuver around each other. With little need for car horns, people would part to allow the cars to come through, and then fill in the road again once it had passed. Both pedestrian and driver were aware of each other and their surroundings, and with a little patience could work together to allow passage.

Istanbul030 Some of the streets were so narrow it was hard to imagine a car would even fit, presumably a result of the original city being built long before cars and the subsequent sprawl that came after. But somehow it worked, and the cars got through. (No huge SUV’s here!)

Istanbul671 It was not uncommon to see the Turkish flag flying, or even a flag for Istanbul. It struck me that people were proud of their home.Istanbul040 And perhaps even more frequently than the Turkish flag, we came across buildings that were no longer fit for use, just left to breakdown right in the middle of the city’s commerce.

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This one struck us as particularly interesting. We could still see the decorative paper on the ceiling and even though it was falling down, I could almost imagine what it must have been like inside in the 1800’s. Istanbul289

Some of our favorite moments were while wandering off the beaten path, just exploring the lesser travelled pockets of the city.Istanbul413

This woman happily posed for a photo, and then immediately ran inside to tell whoever was in the house with her. We couldn’t understand her Turkish, but we heard her excitedly saying “California” to her family inside. Maybe we’ll be able to return one day with a copy of the picture for her.Istanbul414

Closer to the more tourist-travelled parts of town, I notice the colors of the buildings became much more vibrant.Istanbul293

Some of the greenery in the area seemed to have been there forever, like these trees that almost seems to grow right out of the sidewalk.Istanbul424

Roman structures still stand in the middle of the city.Istanbul080

And of course, let’s not forget the Hagia Sophia, which was built in the year 537 and was the third structure to stand here. It was a church first, then was converted to a mosque. Now it’s a museum where both Christian and Muslim symbology are displayed side by side. (More on the Hagia Sophia on Thursday!)Istanbul509

And right across the park is the Blue Mosque, built in 1616.Istanbul511

On more than one occasion we came across chickens like these, which belonged to someone nearby and were presumably used for eggs and food. Istanbul104

And there were loads of stray cats around the city. It seemed that the people take pretty good care of the feral cats in the area. Frequently we would see food left out for them, and the adult cats all seemed very healthy (although they definitely looked more like wild cats than the domestic kitties I’m more familiar with).Istanbul291

Every bridge we crossed over was heavily lined with fishermen. They seemed to just camp out for most of the day trying to catch whatever they could.Istanbul064

And there were always men pushing carts around the city selling baked goods or cooked meats.Istanbul071

Day and night.Istanbul263

At night there seemed to be another world of commerce altogether. Individuals selling all sorts of food and goods anywhere where they could find an open enough space to do so.Istanbul258

We drank loads of Turkish coffee, which is offered after every meal. I loved that this cup embraced the beautiful patterns seen all over Turkey. They do patterns so well in this part of the world!

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We drank loads of Turkish tea, also offered after every meal, as a social drink, and even in some shops while you’re looking around. Istanbul493

We played backgammon, and smoked shisha. (It’s just tobacco folks, don’t get too excited.) Both are traditional middle-eastern pastimes that we found incredibly relaxing after a long day of walking around.Istanbul630Cafes seemed to pop up out of nowhere sometimes. This one was in a small, open area and even had tables set up on tiers that looked more suited as a mini amphitheater. Vines had made their way up over the electrical wires and seemed to have been there for years. (We saw this often around the city, and sometimes they were even grape vines!)Istanbul497

Istanbul is also home to Pera Palace Hotel, where Agatha Christie wrote Murder on the Orient Express. It has been restored to its original glory, including these fabulous skylights and decorative details.

Istanbul673 This cabinet, made of wood and inlaid mother of pearl, houses original copies of all sorts of great classic books by Christie, Hemmingway, and more.Istanbul677

Even the apartment we stayed in held true to its original history. While I don’t know the exact age of the building, the walls were clearly original construction, the bathroom  and kitchen seemed to be afterthoughts (presumably because running water and electricity came well after the building was built), and winding staircase leading up to our 2nd floor apartment had marble steps that had been worn down so much over the years that they seemed to bow, and the edges had rounded over, so that we really had to be careful not to slip coming down the stairs.Istanbul506 The shop owners in the area were so proud of their businesses. (This one was my favorite!)Istanbul686 People walked down the area’s pedestrian street, Istiklal Avenue, even early in the morning before most of the shops had opened.Istanbul681Because of the timing of our trip with the beginning of the protests against Turkey’s Prime Minister, we encountered a few peaceful marches. These people made themselves known by chanting and shouting their cause.
Istanbul035 This one held us up for about 20 minutes on our way to the airport as we were leaving Istanbul. This was the day after they had received union support, and another 240,000 people for their cause. These were happening all over the city that day.Istanbul690 Istanbul692And the views of Istanbul were dreamlike in the evenings. There was a whole level of activity that started aorund the city once the sun went down. And with the glow of the lit-up mosques and the sounds of the call to prayer, it was somehow peaceful, even among such a crowded, bustling city.

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What are your thoughts or impressions on Istanbul?

Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern in Istanbul surprisingly turned out to be one of our favorite sites we visited. It might have been in part because we really had no idea what to expect. It’s such an ancient place and just feels like it is a part of a significant history (which it is). Built when it was still Constantinople, the Romans built this cistern (among many others) to hold the city’s water. This is the largest of all the cisterns they built. Constructed in the year 476, this was by far the oldest place I have ever been (until we visited Cappadocia, that is… but more on that later!).

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The entire place is just a sea of columns. Of course they are now lit for better viewing for tourists, and they keep the water level very low. But just imagine: all this for what is essentially just a water tank!

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The cistern served a very specific function, and there is no disguising the engineering that went into it. But perhaps the most surprising element of design is that all three styles of columns (doric, ionic, and corinthian) exist here in harmony. Why, you may ask? Well, apparently the Romans were recycling, pulling unused columns from all over and just popping them in here to hold up this underground structure. Istanbul368 Istanbul372

Because the Basilica Cistern is now a museum, they’ve installed boardwalk-like walkways throughout, so you can wander all around. They offer a very affordable portable audio tour, which admittedly we shared but found very insightful!
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Among the plethora of columns there is exactly one of these, decorated with evil eye symbols which ward off evil and persons with nefarious intentions.Istanbul376

Even more interesting recycled elements include two Medusa heads. Their purpose was simply to prop up the columns they lie under, but since the myth was that if you look her in the eyes you will turn to stone they were sure to position her on either her side of upside down as a remedy to the possibility that she may do you in.
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We took our time walking through this incredible place, and even though it was dark and damp there was something quite special about being there. Maybe it has to do with the extraordinary contrast of that depth of history in comparison to the very short history of the buildings and artifacts here in the U.S. Istanbul389

But regardless of what made it feel so special, I loved staring down the rows and rows of ancient columns into the darkness imagining what it must have looked like when it was new all those many centuries ago.

Istanbul397What is the oldest historical site you have visited? What did you love about it?

Istanbul: A Boat Tour On The Bosphorous

I’m so excited to start posting about our trip to Turkey! I’m starting with Istanbul, which was such a cool city, and HUGE! Even being from Los Angeles, Istanbul felt huge. We barely scratched the surface while we were there and we’re already dying to go back!

After arriving early in the morning and walking all over the city on our first day to start getting a lay of the land, we were understandably quite exhausted. But we were so excited to be there we didn’t want to waste a moment of our time in Istanbul! So we decided to take a boat tour on the Bosphorus around sunset. It was so beautiful, and really gave us a sense of just how enormous and widespread this very old city is.

The Bosphorus is the world’s most narrow international waterway, and separates the continents of Europe and Asia. As a city, Istanbul exists in both contents, connected by bridges and boats.

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The port we shoved off from was a busy hub, filled with similar tour boats as well as smaller boats that I would liken to LA’s food trucks; people on very rocky boats cooking up a storm. Fish sandwiches, kabobs; you name it, they had it.Istanbul172

As people were getting settled on the tour boat, one of the people running the tour walked around offering juices and Turkish tea for the equivalent of 50 cents a piece. Turkish tea, served in these little glasses, was a staple of pretty much any meal or social interaction in Turkey, and helped warm us up in the cool breeze coming off the Bosphorus water. Istanbul171

As we started to pull away, we got a great view of Galata Tower on the European side of the city, which was a very important landmark for us as we tried to find our way around the city. (We were renting a Homeaway apartment right next door, so it was so helpful to be able to see Galata Tower from a distance and know whether we were heading in the right direction!)Istanbul190

I love this photo as we pull away from the European side of the city, the Turkish flag flying at the stern of our little ship.Istanbul175

There was a lot of boat activity on the strait. Tug boats, shipping freighters, and of course lots of tours like the one we were on.Istanbul182

The light houses have the same sense of architecture and history as much of the city.
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We made a brief stop at a port on the Asian side. Much like you would expect from any waterside town, homes have been packed in from the water’s edge all the way up the side of the hills and mountains.Istanbul188

This port was a little less busy than ours was, but was still poised to take hundreds of people on tours up and down the waterway.Istanbul180

There were plenty of incredible landmarks and historically significant sites to see all along the water’s edge. This is Dolmabahce Palace. Built roughly around the year 1850, it served as the administrative location of the Ottoman Empire for most of its life.Istanbul198

The Rumelian Castle (Rumelihisari) is a fortress on the European side of the city built by the Ottomans in the 1450’s before the sultan conquered Constantinople.Istanbul203

This was only one of several weddings we could see from the boat tour! Now a Four Seasons hotel, Ciragan Palace was built in the 1860’s and also functioned as an Ottoman palace. Such an extravagant, embellished design on the face of the building!

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Another result of the Ottomans, Kuleli Military High School was Turkey’s first military high school (founded in the 1840’s). Now it’s used by Istanbul Technical University.Istanbul192 Istanbul193

We loved seeing so many different pockets of the city. All over, there seemed to be so many wonderful areas to explore.Istanbul216

We passed under the Bosphorus Bridge right as the sun began to set. This is one of two bridges connecting the European side to the Asian side of the city. At the time it was built, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. Istanbul222

As we headed back to where we began, the warm sunset was just beautiful. Our Galata Tower home-away-from-home peeked out in the distance over the city.
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We were able to catch a great view of the Suleymaniye Mosque on our way in too. (We had been there earlier in the day… but more on that in another post!)Istanbul238

There was so much color throughout the city’s architecture, and the colors were really highlighted in the golden hour light.Istanbul242

Just before we docked, we noticed a huge array of seafood restaurants underneath the very bridge we had walked over earlier in the day. There were so many options, I don’t know how you would even begin to choose one!
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After the tour and a quick dinner, and as we made our way back through the crowds and toward the bridge that would take us home, the area seemed to come alive in the darkness. Street food vendors were everywhere, and the bright lights sparked our curiosity at the very least. Istanbul259

There were even people selling t-shirts and clothing along the pavement.Istanbul263We encountered several mobile street vendors on our way home. We definitely got a sense that there is a huge amount of activity in this city after dark!

Overall, the boat tour was a great way to get a broader sense of what Istanbul is really like as a city. When I look at a map and what we were able to do on foot, I realize how very little of the city we were able to visit (even though it felt like we REALLY packed in the sites!) I was grateful for this view of the city, which gave me a much more accurate idea of the scope of it!

A 1920’s California Town

One of the things I love about my neighborhood is that you can see and feel how much history there is here. Most of the houses in the area were built in the 1920’s, and while very well maintained they still show the character of that bygone era. Adam’s Hill is the neighborhood, and the people here work to preserve that history and charm.

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Adams Square Mini Park

Adam’s hill used to be part of a town called Tropico, although it’s now all part of the city of Glendale. Glendale was established in the 1880’s but the residential boom really happened here in the 1920’s. My next door neighbor told me that the owner of my house 2 owners ago, who had been here for 50 years, was a postman and first dreamed about moving here when it was barely developed and there were only a few houses built on the hill. It looked quite different then! 

early photo Adams Hill

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a view of the hill today from my front door

My favorite spot to drive through is on the corner of Adams and Palmer, where I like to imagine what it might have looked like 80 years ago. I imagine a giant Plymouth parked out front of this ice cream shop as a couple sits inside with a root beer float. 

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the Snowbird Ice Cream owner went on to co-found Baskin Robbins

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corner of Adams and Palmer today

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corner of Adams and Palmer today

Right across from here, the Adams Hill Neighborhood Associate was able to preserve an old gas station built in 1936 by the Richfield Gas Co, that had been abandoned for some time. In 1997 the neighborhood landmark was turned into this beautiful mini park, and there is always someone there during the day, either reading, walking their dog, or playing with their kids in the playground.

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the former Richfield Oil Co. gas station

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Adams Square Mini Park sign reuses the gas station’s original sign

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now the old gas station is surrounded by flowers, trees, and other greenery

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flowers in the park

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this overhang used to protect the gas pumps but now it is a shady spot for a picnic

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there are plenty of places to sit under a tree with a book

And just up the street is this 1928 Art Deco building saved from destruction and recently turned into a neighborhood library. It’s small, but has some basic resources, and offers all sorts of public programs, computer access for neighborhood locals, and even a few video rentals.

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this rescued Art Deco building is now a neighborhood library

Even though California is one of the newer states and doesn’t quite have the history of New England, I’m continually surprised at how much history there actually is here. And I love that there’s so much of it right outside my front door!

 Do you know the history of your neighborhood or town?

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