Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

We started reciting the lyrics to the They Might Be Giants song on the way to the airport...

"Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it's Turkish delight on a moonlight night"

...and didn't really stop until we returned to Vienna.
Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya):  First a Christian Church, then a mosque, and now a museum.

Interior of Hagia Sophia
Benches and faucets for cleansing of the feet, lower legs, hands & arms to the elbows, face, nose, and ears.  This cleansing (physical & spiritual), referred to as ablution, is required of Muslims prior to prayer.  The area pictured here is at the Suleyman the Magnificent Mosque.
Doughy-ball goodness topped with crushed pistachio nuts.
Followed by a glass of tea (cay -- pronounced "chai").  Everyone seems to drink the stuff -- it might as well be the national beverage.
"Every gal in Constantinople
Lives in Istanbul, not Constantinople
So if you've a date in Constantinople
She'll be waiting in Istanbul"
She was, in fact, waiting in Istanbul.  And a helluva cook, too.
Nargile, otherwise known as a water pipe, hookah, or shisha.
Cruise along the Bosphorus Strait
Black Sea.  That way to Russia!
"Even old New York was once New Amsterdam
Why they changed it I can't say
People just liked it better that way"
Cappadocia ('land of wild horses'):  an almost lunar landscape where caves and churches were carved into lava rock as refuge for Christians from the 4th to the 11th centuries.
Rock chimneys populating the landscape.
See the camel-shaped rock formation in the background?
I think this might be a kitchen.
A tunnel in The Underground City:  Early Christians weren't 6"3' tall.
Many of the caves in the area have been converted to hotels.  This was the bedroom in our hotel room.
Early morning balloon ride.  There must have been 30 or so balloons out there.
"So, take me back to Constantinople
No, you can't go back to Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That's nobody's business but the Turks"
View of Istanbul from Topkapi Palace
The Harem housed the sultan, his mother, up to four wives, and several hundred concubines...
...I think one wife is enough.
Turkish Coffee?  Absolutely!
"Isssstaaaannbuuuulllll"

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Please pass the salt

Austria is a beautiful country.  I knew that already.  But my appreciation for its beauty took on even greater proportions when we spent a weekend in Hallstatt, a small village located 3-4 four hours by car from Vienna.  The village is situated along the shores of Hallstatt Lake with homes precariously perched on the mountainside overlooking the lake.  The village is home to the world's oldest salt mine -- Salzbergwerk -- that brought the area wealth, prosperity, and made it a center of salt mining early on in the Iron Age (800 -400 BC).  What the mine doesn't provide in production -- the mine is no longer the predominant producer in the region -- the village makes up for in beauty:  
A Saturday morning in Hallstatt
"May I have this seat?"
Houses perched on the mountainside
The salt mine is ~800 meters above the lake with access either by a funicular train or hiking path.  We hiked.  On the way up we stopped in a trail-side gazebo to take in our progress and look around.  Apparently Lisa's reputation precedes her:

Yes she was!
Not looking too crazy here...
Before you head down into the mine, you have to slip these stylin' duds on over your clothes:

...although these outfits might get us committed under normal circumstances
Just outside the mine entrance is a cafe (Rudolfsturm) with a stunning view of the lake below:
I'm not a religious person, but if this is what god is, then I'm a believer:

According to the owner of the hotel we stayed at, the path around the lake is ~22 kilometers.  We rocked it on Townie bicycles...
"So you're telling us that this is the 'naturist' part of the lake?"
"Yeah, watch out for the nudists."
"Don't worry, I'll ride ahead and let you know if I encounter any."
After nearly an hour of riding, it became clear that 22 km may be a gross underestimation.  No worries though, this was our view for much of the ride -- and the image capturing the Hallstatt we experienced: