Istanbul – part 4 – Crossroads

PicMonkey Collage1One of the things you should do while in Istanbul, it is to try fish sandwich from one of the mobile kiosks along the Bosphorus. Indeed , try as much as possible from the Turkish food. Turkish cuisine is diverse, colorful and spicy. And very tasty . Dont forget to try Turkish sweets – baklava, Turkish delight and sweets.

IMGP0067The best place to have a cup of tea is coffee Galata . The restaurant is located on the top floor of the few-storeyed building near the Galata Tower. Many tourists leave it behind, rushing to climb the tower, from where to take a quick look at Istanbul. Most of them do not know that the restaurant is located on the roof, where can sit and enjoy the beauty of Istanbul. From there you can enjoy a spectacular views to the Golden Horn and the old part of town. The minarets of the mosques rise high into the air, the seagulls rest lazily on the chimneys or the roofs of the nearby houses .

IMGP0060Maybe the best way to discover Istanbul is to cross it several times. Get our of the tourists zones. At first, this idea will seem scary. The truth is that Istanbul can be quite hostile. Once one friend told me, ” Ever since I came to live here, I changed a lot. To survive in Istanbul, you need a thick skin, you should be more cunning , more tough. ” And he was right. Home to millions of people from different cultures and religions, the city offers many, but expect a lot. In Istanbul you can find everything, you can try everything, you can be everything and nothing. Beautiful residential neighborhoods change into industrial zones, rich houses – into poverty. The western architecture style brings the spirit of the Orient – low rectangular buildings in pastel colors. Elsewhere glossy branded stores make you feel like shopping on the Champs -e- Lysee. IMGP0095But one wrong turn and you could find yourself in a deserted gray area where the usual landscape consists of dilapidated buildings and scattered in the ground rubbish. Modern highways and wide boulevards cross the city, elsewhere the streets are so narrow that only one person can passe. The traffic is terrible – pedestrians are crossing on red light, the drivers dont care about the road signs. It is remarkable how one city where there are still conservative norms can be so messy. Actually , I’m not sure if the one excludes the other. I’m not sure I understand the Turkish culture. There is such a huge difference in class, religious identity and moral values ​​of individuals, so it is difficult to give a simple answer to what is the typical Turk. I do not know if this apply only to Istanbul or not. For this city they say it is torn between East and West, but this definition is not so much about the geographical location of the city as the way of life and thinking of its inhabitants. You will meet radical Muslims, and others who don’t care about religion. You’ll be surprised how much hypocrisy there is in the imposition of certain norms, and how needed are others. In one world, Istanbul is a city of diversity. A city with many faces.

La Fiesta de las Castañas

Autumn in Spain is beautilful. The trees are colored in green and gold and the weather is still quite warm. Everyone enjoys the last sunbeams before the winter.

изтеглен файл (4)Spanish people have their own way to honor this sweet season. Amoung the many traditions they have, it is the so called “La Fiesta de las Castañas” (The Chesnut Festivla). Autumn in Spain means the chestnut picking season. There are various festivals in the whole country. The chestnut harvest is specially celebrated in regions such as Galicia, Cantabria, Cataluña, Andalucia, Asturias, Aragon, and Castile and León. The festival is celebrated with chestnut trails, tastings of roast chestnuts, wine tasting, competitions and traditional dances.

изтеглен файл (1)Here in Baltanas my new roomate and me visited the local school where we helped the stuff to prepare little “festival” for the studenst. One of the teachers explained the history of the tradition to the little children, while another one was roasting the chesnuts on a bbg in the backyard of the school. It is tradition that exists in Bulgaria, althought it is not so popular, therefore I have never eaten roasted chesnuts before. And I can say, I enjoyed it as much as the children:)

Istanbul – part 3 – Colored in yellow and blue

PicMonkey CollageThey say that in every Turkish city there is at least one monument of Atatürk. Well, I dont know about that, but certainly in every Turkish city you can see the national flag on the balconies. In Istanbul, along with the Turkish flag hoisted on the buildings, you can see the flags of the famous football clubs – Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas. Turkish people love to watch football. And like all southern nations they put a lot emotions in it. Once wathing football was emotional for me too. I was drinking my morning coffee, whitle reading the sports news . I knew every player, what salary he gets, how man strippers he ordered for his last birthday. Gradually, my love for football gave way to my other hobbies. But even if I do not watch the games as often as before, football is still a big part of my life. Therefore, during my trips, I often include a tour of some famous stadiums. With Vesi even tried to watch Juventus game during our visit of Turin, but the date of the match was changed at the last minute and we could not go. Actually watching a football game in Western Europe is not easy – the tickets are expensive and they sold out quickly.

969600_10201943675539496_556666075_nAnd what is the chance to be in a foreign city and to just happen on that exact day two of the bigger European teams to play against each other?

Fenerbache – PSV Eindhoven,  friendly game . Ticket price: 30 liras .

Thanks to a few Turkish friends I quickly got a ticket – behind the net, in the heart of the sector with yellow- blue supporters. By happy coincidence, we were staying in the Kadıköy district, just five minutes from the stadium of Fenerbahçe. The facility is named after the former Turkish Prime Minister Şükrü Saracoğlu and is one of the best stadiums in Turkey. Here in 2009 was held the final of the UEFA Cup, which will go down in the history as the last final before the tournament to be renamed UEFA Europa League.

The game started at dusk, but during the whole day we could see in the streets of Kadikoy  dozens of fans to wear the team colors. As if the whole neighborhood was colored yellow- blue …

IMGP0073On the entrance to the stadium there was chaos. The street in front of it was blocked by the crowds, there was police in every hundred meters. Thousands of fans were screaming and pushing to pass through the narrow doors. Being poked in the ribs at least several times was as normal as welcome greeting. Our Turkish friends assured us that the situation was under control : “- Its summer, many people will not watch the game cos they are out of town, or it would be really crazy here”, there were saying. Actually, it was quite crazy already. The Dutch in the company were stunned, they were not used to the Balkan sports atmosphere: “- In Netherlands you cant see such a thing . ” I smiled, I felt like home. With the sole exception that the size of the stadium and the number of the fans were different. The stadium capacity was 50,000 people, more than our national stadium Vasil Levski. And although it was not full to the end, the atmosphere was incredible. While the players were preparing to go out on the field, some glorious moments in the history of the club rotated on a big screen. The fans were already singing club songs. It was this emotion that once drew me to the stadiums. I sitll can feel this emotion. Because football is more than a sport. Football is love.

Istanbul – part 2 – Close to God

IMGP0040Approaching the old city of Istanbul, the amount of people on the streets increased. I could see people of all ages and nationalities. Of course, in this part of the city the concentration of tourists is the highest, because here are some of the city’s iconic landmarks.

Walking around, you will immediately notice the mosque Hagia Sophia. Actually Hagia Sophia is a former Orthodox church, later transformed into a mosque and is now a museum open to visitors.

Impressive is the building of the famous Blue Mosque. Legend has it that Sultan Ahmed ordered his architect to build the most magnificent mosque ever built. He wanted the minarets to be made of gold. The architect, however, understood it incorrectly hearing the wrong word six, rather than the word gold, which in Turkish are alike. So six minarets were built instead of the usual four. The Sultan, however, was pleased by the finished building - ideal proportions of the domes, huge patio with fountains, ornate interior.

IMGP0054We took your shoes off, wrapped in a scarf on the shoulders and thehead, we entered. I remember the first time I entered a mosque - three years ago in Edirne. I’ve never been really into the religion - the churches and cathedrals I’ve always seen as architectural monuments, work of art and culture. However, to enter the mosque is not the same as entering a Christian tample. Our Orthodox churches are dark with painted ceilings, with icons hanging on the walls, from where, in the dim light, hundreds of faces of martyrs are watching you carefully. Western cathedrals do are lavish, with colored glass mosaic with Renaissance paintings on the walls, with massive altars, candlesticks and chandeliers. And while I can spend hours admiring the architectural forms of the domes and the arches, the beautiful paintings and glittering decorationsI coant feel the way you should feel in a temple - close to God.

IMGP0060In the mosques, on the other hand, is spacious, bright, and even painted and ornate, they remain simple, modest. Many believers knelt in prayer while the tourists were looking around at the walls. I would have been furious, I thought, if I was trying to connect with God, and the people around me, were walking, babbling and making photos for Facebook. Being one of these people, I felt somewhat embarrassed that I disturb the worshipers. I mentioned this to my companions, who agreed with me. A woman passing by heard us talking in Bulgaria and started a conversation. Turk, studied in Bulgaria, now she was living in Istanbul with her family, but many of her relatives were in Kardzhali. She was speaking Bulgarian  almost perfectly, we talked about the mosque and the city. I asked her what she thought of all those tourists crammed into this holy place for the Muslims, isn’t it annoying? The woman said in surprise: “To be teased by that? No! How could we have bad feelings when around the temple there are so many pure thoughts and kindness? And she was right.

For God is not in the icons to which we pray, nor in gilded crosses and painted walls. Is not in the Bible, not in the Koran, not in liturgy nor in the psalms. And to be close to him, it is not necessary to kneel, to be baptize, to lock yourslef between in silence the four walls of a temple. God is in our hearts and there we must look for him.

“I searched for God among the Christians and on the Cross and therein I found Him not.
I went into the ancient temples of idolatry; no trace of Him was there. (…)
Finally, I looked into my own heart and there I saw Him; He was nowhere else.”

- Rumi


… Istanbul – part I – In the Heart of the City…

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Istanbul – part 1 – In the heart of the city I arrived in Istanbul, the sun was about to rise. I spent eight hours traveling from Plovdiv by bus, and I could not wait to stretch my legs. A quick glance at the bus station made ​​me feel small - dozens of travel offices were offering me to buy a bus ticket - to London, Paris, Berlin, to Moscow, Baku or Baghdad. I was wondering how many buses were just about to departure, where were they going? Weary travelers were sitting on the curbs, others - were dragging heavy suitcases. How many of them were going to see Istanbul for a first time? How many of them were back home after a long trip? How many of them, searching for hapiness elsewhere, were saying goodbye forever to this city at a crossroads?

2I was going to spend the next nine days trying to get to know Istanbul, and more – trying to fall in love with Istanbul. Time - completely insufficient for any of the two tasks. Located on two continents, in an area of ​​over 5,000 square kilometers, with a population twice bigger than the population of my own country, this Turkish metropolis is one of the largest cities that I have ever set food in. The movement from one place to another involves the use of at least two different types of transport, often – even more. It is situated on seven hills, reveals centuries old history, combines old and modern architecture, it is home of different cultures, of people from all around the world, it grows, it breathes and it seemed to never stop, even for a moment to rest

I always thought that the perfect time to get to a new city is at sunrise. At that point, the first gentle rays of the sun shone down on the streets, inviting us to go on an adventure . For a first stop on our trip we chose Taksim – a name that we heard many times on television in recent weeks. Early Saturday morning, the neighborhood was just waking up. People were passing by in a hurry, the shops had just opened. I already could feel the heat in the air, even though it w3as only eight o’clock. Half asleep, at the beginning I did not even realized where I was. Only when I saw in front of me the Monument of the Republic, I felt the magnetic power of this place. Taksim, they say, is the heart of the city. This is crossroad of multiple tram lines , including that of the old red tram, which we’ve seen on postcards. Dozens of restaurants, cafes and clubs offers drinks and meal for the locals and the tourists. Taksim Square is the cultural center of the city, which hosts operas, concerts and exhibitions. And after sunset the bars and clubs open their doors to those who want to explore the nightlife of Istanbul. Although I could feel the importance and the magic of this place, at this point I couldnt fully realize how much more there was to offer.

4Few days later we returned back to Taksim, this time we had a walk on the famous Istiklal Street. Almost two kilometers long, it reflects the spirit of modern Istanbul. Historic buildings alternate with popular boutiques and glittering shop windows, small shops are nestled between expensive restaurants. Small cross streets invite you to get lost. Streets that lead to the aristocratic buildings and foreign embassies, to modern art galleries and small museums, streets of artists, musicians, poets, dead end streets or streets that will reveal the daily lives of ordinary citizens. Turkish flag lazily swaying in the terraces, along with the flags of some of the most famous Turkish football teams. At the doorstep of every building there was a cat. These delicate creatures are the most loyal inhabitants of Istanbul. Quietly soaking up the sun, huddled in the shadows, half-asleep, but always on the lookout, they look as they are indifferent to what is happening around them, but it is them that know all the faces if Istanbul.

5Walking in the crowd, I could not help but feel lost. Lost among pedestrians, among Japanese tourists, among high and low buildings, among towering in the air minarets. Lost in time, in space - between Europe and the Orient, between now and then. Lost between colors, so many colors - bright, dark, warm. Lost in the fragrance of spices, tobacco, expensive perfumes. Lost in the sounds - in the sound of a hilarious speech in a foreign language, in the laughter., in the hit songs coming from the bars, in the music of those street artists who put their hats on the ground, hoping to fill them with coins, these street artists who sing about love, pain and life, these street artists who play musci in rhythm of the pulse of the city