MY ADVENTURES IN ISTANBUL, TURKEY
Three weeks ago, when packing for a family vacation to Istanbul I couldn't help feeling a frisson of fear crawl down my spine. The number of well-wishers, friends and family attempting to dissuade us from traveling there, due to spreading unrest, could now be counted in multiple digits. Our flights to Turkey were booked for June 19. On June 16, World Press reported that Istanbul came to a standstill 24 hours prior, as an army of riot police cordoned off streets and used teargas on protesters in Taksim Square, the centre of the city, at the order of the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
I'm happy to report that we are alive and well as is Istanbul. On June 24 (during our visit) Turkish police clashed anew with protesters, who had gathered in Istanbul's flash point Taksim Square, chanting for Erdogan to step down. Following this incident, police locked down Taksim Square and closed off the adjacent Gezi Park where demonstrators were wont to gather. On June 28th we ventured out to Taksim Square; everything appeared eerily peaceful in the presence of an overwhelming number of military trucks and plains clothes police men standing two feet apart, preventing any attempt by the general population to re-group. (see photos on right)The assault on Taksim Square by the army has angered local folks who say they are waiting anxiously for next year's elections to boot Erdogan out. The world will be watching too.
In other news, Istanbul is as fantabulous as reviews describe it to be. My favorite spot to visit (it's hard to pick only one in a city teeming with magnificent monuments, historic bazaars and extraordinary experiences like crossing two continents - Asia and Europe multiple times a day each time you cross the Bosphorus Strait) is Aya Sofya. Commonly recognized as one of the greatest buildings in the world, it was once a pagan temple, then built into a church, then converted into a mosque by Sultan Mehmet II and is now a museum. It's the only place in the world where you can see both Islamic and Christian influences side-by-side: the interior has forty stained glass windows, typical of 12th century churches, but the exterior showcases four minarets dating back to when the church was converted into a mosque; likewise, paintings of Virgin Mary and Christ co-exist with 19th century medallions inscribed with gilt Arabic letters. For history lovers, it's truly an amazing sight!
For outdoorsy folks, head over to Capadoccia in central Turkey to be enthralled by one of the most unique natural wonders of the world, popularly known as fairy chimneys. The result of eroding rains and winds - throw in a volcanic erution or two - and voila, there you have it - unusual rock formations that were used by humans as homes for more than a 1000 years. Don't miss the sunrise or sunset hot balloon air ride for an after worldly experience, floating gently over the magnificent and magical moonscape that is Capadoccia! (see picture on right)