Archive for February, 2013|Monthly archive page

Istanbul – The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the Grand Bazaar

DSCF0105The Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia dominate this part of the city. They look at one another with 2000 years of built history between them. One is a living mosque, the other a museum having been both a mosque and a church. The Blue Mosque is blue by virtue of the blue tiles that adorn the walls. The dome (left) is vertiginous. However, the mosque is not as blue as the name suggests, but as a place of worship, one is in awe of its scale.

The Hagia Sophia was designated a museum in 1934 by the state’s founder, Ataturk himself. I suspect FebruaryDSCF0136 is not the best time to visit as it is a naturally dark and cool space. But the scale is incomprehensible and the remnants of the mosaics stunning. There are two levels for visitors – ground level where one finds the alter, and a mezanine where one finds the mosaics coupled with an elevated panorama. The mosaic on the right – the Virgin receiving a model of the new church from Justinianus and the city from Constantine (10th Century).

DSCF0130The columns below are pervasive around the building, but have some beauty in their detail.

The Grand Bazaar is as one would expect. Large, Byzantine (of course) and challenging. However, it is not a Souk similar to what I have experienced in Marakesh, for example. The Grand Bazaar is merely a glorified shopping centre, complete with cash machines for those caught without enough currency. We visitors are always at a disadvantage when it comes to bartering, but we came away with a few items at prices that we can live with. Lots of textiles, leather goods, spices and trinkets. Very busy, of course.

Today the sun shines. Time for a go on the ferries along the Bosphorus.

Istanbul – some observations

DSCF0112I’m enjoying a very short sojourn in Istanbul. We are staying in a hotel located in the shadow of the Blue Mosque looking out onto the Mamara Sea into which flows the Bosphorus.The district is called Sultanahmet. It is connected to Taksim Square, another centre of interest, by a modern tramway. Our hotel is the newly-built Magnaura Palace Hotel. Extraordinary place. The breakfast room is on the roof with a fabulous view. Would recommend.

February is optimal in terms of travel and hotel deals, if not the weather. It has rained today and the temperature is around 8 degrees. As one might expect, there are a lot of very friendly people, largely men. The desire to sell is high. There are also large populations of feral dogs and cats.

Eating is very easy for vegetarians. Vegetable casseroles and Kebaps are ubiquitous and come in at about 20 Turkish Lira (about 8 pounds). The wine is excellent. In particular we enjoyed Yakut. We’ve also tried some of the Turkish dark beer, EFES. At 6 per cent proof, it is strong. But it has lots of flavour.

Tipping is expected at 10 per cent. Service is, however, to a very high standard. There are a few well maintained and clean public toilets. Charges were 1 Lira – about 35 UK pence.

Picture – Blue Mosque, Istanbul, 28 February 2012


PferdeaugeThe discovery of horsemeat in ‘value’ burgers in UK supermarkets comes as no surprise. Whether the ‘mafia’ – as alleged by yesterday’s Guardian newspaper – is at the root of it, who knows? And any debate about whether the British have a problem with eating horses is a red-herring. The safety concerns are, of course, a factor. The content of manufactured food is supposed to be traceable. Clearly the inclusion of horse renders the contents far from traceable. Rather amusing really. Though the question is, what type of horse has been included. I do not mean the difference between a pony and a cart horse. I do mean the difference between one full of drugs or disease – or both – that should not be in the food chain and those that are not.

Rather, the issue is about price. Animal protein is expensive to produce. Using traceable meat particularly so, even if it is mechanically re-configured, or whatever they call it. The pressure on food producers is to cut costs in order to produce – for many people – affordable meat products. The pressure often comes from the supermarkets – and it is no surprise that it is the discounters and those offering ‘value’ level products particularly affected here. That said, there is no evidence so far that ‘premium’ products are not also contaminated.

Maybe this is just a critique of global capital. There are so many non-UK subcontractors in this story, one can see how messed up is the food industry. The eventual supply has been traced to Romania (via Cyprus and the Netherlands and France). Why Romania? Arguably, there are still many working horses there. Perhaps more importantly, the cuts in funding for trading standards departments in local authorities has reduced the detection capabilities.

I do not eat meat, but I do often cook from scratch – beans, vegetables and fruits. It takes time to prepare and cook, but I am pretty sure it is cheaper than cooking with meat.

Picture source: Wikipedia (Waugsberg)