Posts Tagged ‘Showers’

Turkish Delight

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

I (Matt) navigated us to the Turkish border the morning of the eighteenth and remained reading in the car while Dan ventured into the offices to assess the costs of entry. He believed the man behind the counter at the border to say it would cost 50 each for a visa. He walked to the ATM and withdrew 100 Euro. He walked back to the man and learned they required Turkish Lira. He walked back to the ATM and exchanged the money into Lira. He walked back to the man and learned they only required 15 Lira each. Let me interject here and tell you that it’s really difficult to differentiate between 15 and 50 in foreign accents. We’ve experienced this several times on the trip, including the time when I insulted a t-shirt vendor at the U2 concert. In my defense, the t-shirt was only worth 15 Euro to me. Dan continued walking, returning to the border checkpoint with our visas before being informed of the required 40 Euro Turkish insurance for our car. He walked to another counter, bought that, and returned to the checkpoint. Daniel drove us into Turkey, delighted to be in Turkey and also off his feet. “To Istanbul!” we almost literally exclaimed.

Once in the city, we sat in a traffic jam off the Bosphorus for an hour before finding parking near the towering Hagia Sophia. We walked across the old city in search of an ATM. Only later did we realize we has walked past half a dozen. Dan must have wanted to walk a little more that day. I’m kidding, but at least we saw more of Istanbul. With our money, we tried to decipher our map and ended up at the Archeology Museums. A few Lera and we wandered the incredible collection of over one million objects from nearly every civilization in history. Istanbul, the bridge between the East and the West, has collected so many impressive artifacts from both sides. These included Hellenistic gravestones with concise, wonderful inscriptions like: “Marcus Flavius, he who caused no harm, farewell.” We also saw the oldest known peace treaty in the world, the Kadesh Peace Treaty, signed between Ramesses II of Egypt and Hattusili III of the Hittite Empire in 1258 B.C. There were some 800 thousand Ottoman coins, seals, decorations and medals. There were even artifacts with crazy-small inscriptions from the early civilizations of Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Arabia and Egypt, a few dating as far back as 5000 B.C. Delightfully mind-boggling dates. We walked back between the Hagia Sophia and the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (aka Blue Mosque) and found a hotel for the night. A room to ourselves, a warm shower, free parking across the street, free wi-fi access, a fan, clean sheets, comfortable pillows, a small breakfast, and the comfort of relaxing : $25. The ability to look out our room’s fourth floor window, across to the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, practically on either side : priceless and delightful.

We walked to the Istanbul Strait for some Turkish coffee and a bottle of water to wash it down. Seriously. I jokingly called it motor oil. Not really, but it was certainly of a similar consistency, really thick and strong. Daniel liked it. Cultural experience. Back at the hotel I called my parents on Skype and Interneted late into the night. The soothing piano music from the restaurant below our window was silent be the time I finally signed off and fell happily asleep, clean body in a clean bed. I mention clean because I hadn’t had a shower since that Monday and had sweat a lot in the week’s summer heat. Another delightful shower in the morning and we left by 11 for church. Over the next two hours were involved in an accident and lost several times.

I had the laptop in my lap, trying to navigate from the Google map, turning right onto a busy Istanbul road, stuck behind a bus, signaled, and when I thought we were clear, Dan pulled around the bus. Halfway into our lane, a taxi whipped around the corner and slid its right, rear wheel well across front, left bumper. Dan pulled off to the side of the road and jumped out to face the less-than-delighted taxi driver. The traffic cops arrived soon and it took an hour to sort out paperwork and work out blame for the accident. An officer assured Dan we were innocent and we left with a photocopy of the taxi driver’s insurance information. We continued to struggle to navigate the city for the next hour, getting “stuck” in a tiny back ally when it suddenly dead-ended and we didn’t have room to turn the Passat around. A woman came out of her apartment and shared laughter with us and with another woman until a man arrived to move his van, letting us out. A couple more narrow roads, steep slopes, navigation in reverse, automotive showdowns, and we found a parking garage and walked to the Dutch Embassy and it’s service in Turkish and English. We attempted to sing along with the Turkish worship music and a man translated the lesson, delivered by four Turkish men. We left the delightful service and were served some coconut, chocolate, and pistachio-flavored Turkish Delight.

We finally visited the Hagia Sophia, the largest cathedral in the world for a thousand years after its completion in 537 A.D. Byzantine Emperor Justinian ordered its construction and proclaimed of the rich decoration, “Solomon, I have outdone thee!” The Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453 and converted the building into a mosque. The Christian features were replaced by Islamic, four minarets were built outside, and many of the mosaics were eventually plastered over. We toured the building, now a museum, enjoying its incredible Byzantine architecture of uncovered mosaics and massive marble pillars and ornamentation. I’m not sure, but Solomon would have probably been delighted. The main columns, each over 65 feet of granite weighing 70 tons, support the 102 feet wide central dome 182 feet above the floor. Not of Solomon’s wisdom but we were delighted. We retraced our steps westward towards Bulgaria.

Matt

Big to Just a Little Bit Smaller

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

We left the big city of Rome and realized we should probably find showers. That’s right, I (Matt) had taken Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica, the world’s largest church, after traipsing, sweating through Rome and living out of a car for six days without a shower. Thankfully, Jesus accepts me despite the smell. That afternoon, a couple hours north of Rome, we stopped at a rest stop and took real showers for a 2 Euro donation. We walked down to the station’s showers and the woman in charge went off in Italian, something about the cold water. She was quieted by our small token of appreciation and smirked at our condition. The water wasn’t hot but it was comfortable, especially since it cleaned.

Around seven that night we arrived in Florence. We quickly stood at a lookout and looked . . . out, over the city, alongside hoards of tourists. We fled down into the city, crossing the river and winding through the streets to its Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, the fourth largest church of Europe. After St. Peter’s, we were more impressed with the dome and the building’s ornamentation than its size. It’s exterior is covered with engraved marble in shades of green and pink, bordered by white. It’s dome, the largest brick dome ever constructed, was engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi after the Pantheon. After the Romans, the formula for concrete was “forgotten” and Brunelleschi was forced to build the dome out of bricks. Brunelleschi, a smart guy, built the octagonal, double-walled dome on a separate drum and not on the roof itself, do that it could be built without using scaffolding. It was the first dome built this way and weighs only 37,000 tons with over 4 million bricks. Barely smaller.

Unfortunately, the museum housing Michelangelo’s David statue was closed for the evening and was closed on Mondays, the next day. Instead, we saw a replica of David and concluded we hadn’t missed much. You’ve seen one naked guy, you’ve seen them all. We camped for the night just outside Florence and drove east to cook lunch on a bridge in San Marino.

We figured we prepared the only spaghetti and popcorn ever cooked on a bridge in San Marino, the world’s smallest republic and Europe’s third smallest country after only Vatican City and Monaco. More interesting facts: San Marino is the smallest member of the Council of Europe and is part of the United Nations though not the European Union. It’s is the oldest sovereign state in the world. The Constitution of San Marino, enacted in 1600, is the world’s oldest constitution still in effect. A stonecutter, Marinus of Rab, Croatia, founded the nation on the third of September, 301 A.D. As the legend goes, Marinus left Rab, then a Roman colony, in 257 under the future emperor Diocletian’s religious persecution.

Shenk, Ziegler, and I only briefly considered these things as we scaled a cliff to the impressive wall above the republic’s capital, appropriately named the City of San Marino (Città di San Marino). Wisely, David opted to remain below to protect his ankle and watch tennis on clay courts. The Dans and I walked the wall a bit but soon returned to the car before splurging on Gelato for a few Euro. Back in the car, we drove and slept between the small republic and Milan. Around noon Tuesday (July 7), we stopped at a rest area outside the city to begin transitioning to the next phase of the trip. Slightly smaller.