Monthly Archives: June 2012

Dogs and Angels

Angels can appear in the most unexpected places

Many years ago, I was walking the country lanes in Waimea on the Big Island of Hawaii, when a pack of angry dogs attacked. That story, “Four-Legged Angel,” was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Book of Miracles. I just heard this morning that my story will get a second life. It was chosen for Chicken Soup for the Soul’s newsletter, “Positively Pets.” You can sign up to get the free newsletter here: http://www.chickensoup.com/form.asp?cid=signup

 

Categories: Hawaii, Photography, Published Work, Stock Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Travels in Turkey: Underground Temple

the “killer” shot

When visiting another country, we have to decide: Do we drink the water or not? For Turkey, travel guides often advise buying bottled water. We followed that advice and went a step further—lugging a charcoal-filter pumping system with us. Nothing spoils a vacation faster than a case of Montezuma’s Revenge. On the other hand, I have a friend who always drinks the water wherever she goes—including Turkey—and never gets sick. I think it depends on your constitution. Cast-iron digestive system—go for it. Otherwise, err on the side of caution.

But that’s not exactly the subject of this post although there is drinking water involved. So to get to the point, I’d like to introduce you to Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern.

abstract

The largest of Istanbul’s underground cisterns, it was built in 542 AD by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I (way back when Istanbul was Constantinople), and was capable of holding 100,000 tons of water, which arrived via two aqueducts from a source in the Belgrade Forest (about 19 kilometers away). Back in the day, the water level was a lot higher, and citizens retrieved their water through large, round, well-like holes in the ceiling of the cistern. Justinian may have thought this oversized well, which supplied water to his palace, was pretty slick, but future conquerors—the Ottomans—not so much. By some accounts, they preferred running water, so the cistern system fell into disrepair.

Everybody pretty much forgot it was there until 1545, when a Frenchman who was researching Byzantine antiquities noticed that some residents got their water (and sometimes caught fish) by lowering buckets through holes in their basements. He also found an entrance at the back of someone’s garden, and steps leading down into the cistern.

The chamber was alternately restored and ignored over the years, and even used as a dump for junk (and corpses). Then in 1987 Turkish authorities realized what a great tourist attraction it would be and cleaned it up, pumping out tons of mud and dirty water and building a walkway around the interior perimeter.

Peacock feathers or tear drops? A unique column from the Arch of Theodosius

Although it’s not in somebody’s garden these days, the cistern entrance is still not that obvious. Just go to the northern end of the Hippodrome, across the street from Hagia Sophia and opposite the yellow building of the Tourist Police, and look for the queue in front of an inconspicuous ticket booth. Once you’ve paid your ten Turkish lira, follow the 52 stone steps leading down into the chamber.

I had seen pictures, but nothing prepared me for actually viewing it firsthand. A forest of 332 marble columns and their watery reflections mesmerized me, and it was hard to focus on the task at hand—getting that one killer photo. After setting up my camera and tripod as inconspicuously as possible, I waited patiently for the hoards of people swirling around me to snap their pics and move on. Eventually, a space opened up. I moved in and took a quick series of shots: f11-22 for maximum depth of field (sharpness), and shutter speeds ranging from 3 to 15 seconds.

Just a note here: tripods are actually not allowed, although in my defense, I didn’t know that at first (if there was a sign, I didn’t see it, officer. Honest). I found out when I was later asked, politely, to put it away, and I can see the reasoning. Lots of people crowding around (even groups of schoolchildren on outings), and it’s too easy to trip over extended tripod legs. Again, in my defense, I kept the tripod legs in a very narrow stance, and blocked them with my legs during the few minutes I was shooting.

Getting that shot was the highlight for me, but there was more to see. A dozen or so merchants have set up shop just below the entry steps, selling art, kitschy souvenirs, photos of you dressed in sultan/harem costumes (which they supply), and food. There are fish swimming in the shallow water, and musical concerts are sometimes held here (the acoustics must be awesome).

If you’re into ancient architecture, it’s interesting to note that the cross-vaulted ceiling is made of brick, and the column tops (capitals) are from different periods: most Corinthian, some Doric. Even the columns were gathered from various ruined buildings. So although it’s a magnificent feat of engineering, it was, in fact, cobbled together.

Stone-faced Medusa. Not so scary anymore, is she.

Two of the cobbled parts (and no one knows where they came from) are blocks carved as the head of Medusa—that gorgon whose unruly hairdo—a mass of writhing snakes—could turn a man to stone with one glance. Both blocks support columns. One head is planted upside down, the other sideways (the why of that is also a mystery).

Since you’ve read this far, here’s your reward—a bit of movie trivia. In “From Russia With Love,” James Bond (Sean Connery) gets away by rowing a boat through the Basilica Cistern.

Categories: Architecture, culture, History, Photography, Stock Photography, Travel, Travel: Turkey | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Photo of the Day: And the Band Played On

Eguisheim town square on a Sunday morning

Finally: a room with a view. I photographed this scene from the 2nd-floor window of our hotel room in the ultra-charming town of Eguisheim in the Alsace region of France.

It was sheer luck that we arrived here at all. Our hotel in nearby Colmar was booked for the last three days of our stay. There was no room at the Inn, you could say. So we ventured further down the road and ended up here. A little bakery under the white awning made the most wonderful quiche, which we ate for breakfast. And surrounding the town—vineyards. White wine so clean and fresh it tasted like drops of heaven. And French cooking. Need I say more.

Perhaps the band and all those people knew we were reluctantly leaving that morning. Perhaps they came out to give us a proper send off. Perhaps……

Categories: France, Photography, Stock Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Travels in Turkey: Where to Park your Camel

When I was a teenager, my parents moved us—lock, stock and barrel—from Pennsylvania to Southern California. We made our way across the country packed in our station wagon, checking into a motel each night and seeing the sights by day. When we were hungry, we stopped at a diner or supermarket along the way. All we had to worry about were boisterous bikers, a wrong turn here and there, and getting caught smuggling our parakeet, hamsters and cat into the motel each night.

About a hundred years earlier, eager settlers made the same trip via another kind of wagon—a wagon train. They had it a little tougher than we did. No convenience stores and plenty of danger from marauders or the whims of Mother Nature.

Now let’s go back a little further—to the 10th century AD. There were no cars, busses, trains or planes back then, so travelers—mostly merchants carrying the riches of Persia and China to the markets of Europe, and vice versa, along the Silk Road—made their way across the landscape of central Asia in camel caravans. Safety in numbers, right? But there were plenty of highwaymen lying in wait in the dark of night to rob and kill.

a hallway off the central courtyard

Fortunately, the sultans of Turkey had a bright idea. They knew the best way to encourage commerce (and the taxes, political power and prestige the label of “trading dynasty” brought with it) was to protect the merchants, so they built a series of caravanserai (essentially parking garages for camel caravans) along the trading routes—each one a day’s journey from the last.

These caravanserais were like stone forts or castles, with a large entry portal to accommodate the animals and whatever they were carrying, and an iron gate. There was no roof over the central courtyard, which often held a small mosque. Interior rooms included a great hall, bathhouse (Turkish-bath kind), bathrooms and places to sleep. Ovens were embedded in the ground to keep the place warm, and candles and lamps provided light. A manager oversaw operations.

Elaborately chiseled entrance to the Great Hall

Not only would these government-run caravanserais provide a nighttime safe haven for travelers, their camels, horses, donkeys and cargoes, they also offered services such as doctor, imam (prayer leader), veterinarian, messenger, blacksmith, shoe repair and cook. Travelers could stay for three days, and all services were free during that time. It was a win-win situation for both travelers and government.

When Europeans found new ways to China, the Silk Road declined in importance, and after the 15th and 16th centuries, most caravanserais were never used again. Many are in ruins, but some are well preserved and a treat to visit and explore.

Categories: History, Photography, Stock Photography, Travel, Travel: Turkey | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Photo of the Day: Easter Island Horse and Rider

Romeo and his steed. Easter Islanders are skilled riders, and for many, horses are their only transportation.

Categories: Easter Island, Photography, Stock Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

gadflyonthewallblog

"To sting people and whip them into a fury, all in the service of truth."

10 Cities/10 Years

the road is life

on the road with Animalcouriers

pet transport through Europe and beyond

The Abject Muse

Embracing the absurd since 2011

Captured by Aishwarya

Thoughts captured by my pen, images captured by my cam

Recipe in a Bottle

Connecting to Friends, Old and New, Through Recipes, Gardens, and Dinner Parties

Life in Minutes

Living in the moment

GINGERSHOUTS

Set your thoughts free

Netdancer's Musings

Live Life Passionately

China Icons - Your guide to life, work and travel in China

Natural wonders, jaw-dropping engineering, delicious food, bustling cities, ancient temples, glamorous fashionistas, visionary thinkers. This is the site to meet China's icons - past, present and still to come

The Shower of Blessings

Giving and Receiving Blessings

Bon Voyage

Traveler & photographer with a passion for everything

%d bloggers like this: