Olde City Tour – Istanbul

I’m convinced that that best way to see Istanbul is with a guide — unless one speaks Turkish. We hired a government approved tourist guide who gave us a seven hour tour around and through the old city section of Istanbul. His name was Cengiz (pronounced Ghengis — really). Cengiz was terrific. He spoke terrific English — he’d lived in the USA for several years prior to losing a business. Well-educated and secular in perspective his opinion was informative.

Our tour began with a visit to the Sultan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque built between 1609-1617. Only we Westerners call it Blue because of the blue tiles located throughout the structure. The prayer area is immense — the the main domed ceiling is 141 feet high with a circumference of 75 feet. Entirely carpeted it can hold 10,000 worshipers at a time. Its a beautiful building with 30 separate domes that flow from the top like a tumbling stream of water thus distributing the weight without a lot of columns — 26 is all that hold it up.

One Islamic ritual is washing one’s feet and hands before praying everyday outside the mosque:

Cengiz provided a religious history lesson while we gazed at the strucure. Briefly, Islam, Judaism and Christianity are all cut from the same cloth: all use the Old Testament, Torah and Koran as the source material for their beliefs. Abraham, Jesus and Mohammed are all important figures. Muslims are of two main sects — Shite and Sunni. In many ways their split mirrors that of Catholicism and Lutheranism. Historically, religion has been a major driver for war and destruction, for conquest,”redemption”,  for  obtaining wealth and power. And so it goes..

This board  shows the connection between the three major world religions:  starting with Adam and Eve the muslim story mirrors Judaism and Christian beliefs:  Upon leaving the Blue Mosque we entered the site of the hippodrome — if you’ve seen Ben Hur the movie you’ll recall the chariot race (think  Charlton Heston in 1959). Its been said that over 25,000 spectators could enjoy the races at any given time —  the oringinal site rivaled the Coliseum in Rome.  The  “citizens”of Rome  were able to attend horse and chariot races .This edifice built in 200 A.D. by the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus . Of course, sometimes more important uses came into play like the execution of 20,000+ individuals who supported the wrong regime nearly 1,600 years ago.

Yesterday’s  Hippodrome–see the oblesk in the drawing:

This is the Hippodrome today:

This obelisk still stands today– was referenced above:


From the Hippodrome Cengiz to the Hagia Sofia (translation — holy wisdom) Mosque — constructed  between 532 and 537. This structure was originally a church built by the Emperor Constantine. However, depending on “who was in charge” its been either a Church or a Mosque since then — now its a museum. Besides being beloved for its architecture in the past 100-years mosaics  have drawen interest.  These have been found during the many ongoing periods of restoration.  These 13th century examples are of Christ flanked Mary his mother and John the Baptist and Christ flanked by Mary and the Emperor Constantinople the first Roman emperor to support Christianity:

 Scaffolding was everywhere as the entire building is being restored. One standout feature is the worship box for the Ottoman Sultan. He used this to pray away from the masses — he was fearful of an assassination attempt  — typically a knife in the back.  This is filigreed marble: Mosiacs discovered in the Haiga Sofia  from its Christian orgins:
The Arabic that was written when the church became a mosque.

Picture of Mohamed the Prophet — founder of Islam—notice its words since all photos would be considered  idolatrous:

All women must be covered while in a mosque–scarves (robin’s egg blue) are provided–see ladies below:

Later we lunched at the Pudding Cafe for an authentic meal–lamb donar kabobs that were delicious: 

The final historic site we visited was a cistern. There are 500 cisterns scattered beneath Istanbul. Originally built to store the city’s water eventually it evolved into a tourist trap of sorts. Enterprising folks drained most of the water, re-built or replaced the columns that hold up the ceilings and “invited” tourists to visit. It looks spooky with the mood lighting bouncing off the remaining water (2 ft. deep) and the columns. Interestingly, carp can be seen swimming in the water — even a hand-full of goldfish.
See these “spooky” photos — the fish:       and especially the floating head:

and the ever spooky floating head (me):

One thing I really like about Turkey is its respect for its past–antiquities  are not bulldozed out of existence –rather  ruins are salvaged and re-used or left as is:

The day ended with a visit to a rug shop owned by a friend of the guide. At first the visit seemed innocous  until the hard sell started — then we ran for our lives– the salesman followed me out of the sop and onto the street.  Wow, just got out with my scalp intact –almost purchased a genuine handmade Turkish rug. Still the rug shop was educational I was introduced to the ancient art of rugmaking. Its the cost of the labor that drives the price.  The second major factor is the material used to construct the rug  — silk, wool or cotton.  It can take up to three years to make one rug.   The weaver typically works  3-4 hours a day. This is the process–see how a true craftwoman makes a  rug one inch at a time:

  The hard sell and the willingness to barter nearly ensnared me — common sense prevailed. See the flying carpet below–he should be selling pizza:

 The tour ended in the Instanbul grand Bazaar. This gigantic market is one of he largest in the world.  One can purchase a variety of household goods, tools, touristy stuff, clothing, food — spices, teas, etc.   The hard sell immediately begins when one approaches any type  of shop.  Turkish culure requires one to barter which for some can be half the fun:


Finally the sun began to set and this eye opening day was drawing to close. We  were all exhausted and ready to head to our next destination. We said our goodbyes and wished Cengis well — he was returning to America in January — he and his wife had recently obtained  US Green Cards . This time he would have a green card and a job in a rug store in Sherman Oaks, CA. He was looking forward to leaving Turkey–and sanguine at the same time.

Soon we hailed a cab and headed to our next destination.

Whew, I’m tired!

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Gotta Love Vienna!

This is the city of Mozart, baroque buildings and art; and great food!

Known for strudel and tortes Vienna is home to the Sacher Torte only available at the Hotel Sacher — we also had coffee and incredibly rich hot chocolate:

It was sooo yummy!! After rolling out of the Hotel we wandered down a large pedestrian mall.

We spotted this gentleman pouring wine for an outside restaurant:

Later, I came upon this ice cream truck — with lots of willing customers:

That evening we had a private concert on Mozart and Strauss music with some of our close personal friends:

It was another day to remember!

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Lookin Forward to Vienna

Four years ago I spent Thanksgiving in Vienna. This time I had a day! And it was marvelous!

The visit began with a walk around the city. One is quickly reminded of why Vienna looks like a mini- Paris:

broad boulevards and wonderful buildings:

Filled with monuments to royalty like the above dedicated to Empress Maria Therese who ruled the Austrian-Hungarian empire in the 18th century. Bet you didn’t know she birthed 16 kids over 19-years. This included the birth of her youngest daughter — the infamous Marie Antoinette the future queen of France. She lost her head during the revolution because her French subjects refused to eat cake or so some say!

Even statues of Hercules abounded see four below as the hero is showing why is a crowd favorite:

Huge — right?

Here is one hundreds of fountains that commemorate Marie’s rule:

Ever hear of little group called the Vienna Boys Choir–their personal performance hall for over two centuries– they mustn’t be boys anymore is located in the same complex located in the same building:

The hall is part a church located in the backside of this building.

It’s fairly private – only the royal family could worship here until the end of WW I — the monarchy ended with war because there was no royal family after the war:

This entrance is to the same building. It is the chapel located in the coronation building — built over 300 years ago — this picture shows the entrance and its gate (original entrance). Look close, there are two spots above the opening that once worked as pulleys that raised or lowered at the behest early rulers. See two items near the top of the door opening:

this is all that’s left of the moat which is below the to the right of the gate:

Under most of the old city (under the buildings) one can find Roman ruins–this walk is nearly 2,000 years old:

So beautiful!

Next time I’ll mention other special things seen in Vienna.


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Bratislava, where is it?

On our way we traveled through the first lock:

It took forever because we had to wait for others to pass first– it was pretty cool once we entered:

After a few hours we were on our way again!

The visit to Bratislava was short, but sweet! Half a million inhabitants. Most were at work (we arrived at 2:30 or so). And it rained for a short time, like 10 minutes.

It’s home to a gigantic space ship:

It’s a restaurant that landed on a bridge years ago! So now you know where Slovaks came from — yes!

Just kidding of course, or am I?

As with all European cities–plazas take precedent because pedestrians take priority over vehicles.

I liked this sculpture in the plaza and in other places too:

As well as this piece that represents St Martin helping a beggar:

and this one — a sewer worker looking up dresses from a manhole:

and this one — a 10 foot crown on a church steeple that represents the coronation of a king:

perhaps this one — created to signify the end of the Russian occupation:

The buildings also look like sculpture:

or this church:

and lastly this government building:

Franz Liszt, a Hungarian composer spent some time in Slovakia — every Slavic country wants to claim him as their own:

Toward end of my visit I saw these fellas enjoying, well, you be the judge:

Needless to say they were animated!

So off once again.

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Where am I?

After flying for nearly 10 hours I finally arrived in:

Yup, I’m right here in beautiful Budapest (two cities — one is Buda (south of the Danube and Pest (Pesht) to the north. For over two days I’ve wandered over 20 miles which included going on a “free” tour of both sides of the river. The guide was Regi, who learned to speak English as a teenager:

We met her in front the tallest structure in town — St Stephens Basilica. She took us literally everywhere–and I have proof:

If you rub his tummy you get sexually enhanced — really!! That’s why his belly is so very shiny:

Ok, this is Hungarian Folklore or is it?

The statuary of the city is almost everywhere and most it is paid for by the European Union — perhaps we need to join so the USA can improve the look of its cities:

Regi took us through all nooks and crannies of the town:

Plazas–this was in front of St Stephens:

A Ferris wheel called “Eye”– sorry London–at least is half the size of the original:

The Chain Bridge:

A monument to the Black Plague survivors:

and Mathias Church which high above the Danube in Buda. Its unusual to have a non-saint name placed on a Catholic Church. Mathias was a king, hence a non-saint:

As an added bonus the Church has crow on on of its turrets that holds a gold ring– representing Mathias becoming king:

Squint and pretend you can see it!

With that thanks Regi for introducing me to this delightful city!!

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Imagine That!

St. Petersburg, FL has s growing list above average art museums. One of my new favorites is the “Imagine Museum”. This Contemporary Studio Glass museum is barely a year old. It’s exhibits were thoughtful, dynamic and beautiful — the museum:

Housing more than 500 pieces of American Studio Glass and notable special exhibits like one created by American artist Karen LaMonte called Floating World. It’s comprised of bronze and glass sculptures.

The exhibit represents her exploration of the physicality of the human body and its environment. Over a period of seven years LaMonte completed her work — traveling to Japan to study kimonos like this one:

and she traveled the Czech Republic to “fire” her works– see her complete art pieces below:

These pieces look feminine and robust. Fascinated with clothing — LaMonte worked in a variety of mediums including sculpture, drawing and printmaking. To create her work.

The ongoing exhibitions include works from 10+artists including Oben Albright, Rick Allen and others. Below are photos from the museum’s private collection:

The Imagine Museum is at the top of my list of places to go to in Florida. It even includes works by the master of modern glass– Dale Chihuly — see below:

I told you it’s unbelievable–Mo’s photos:

A strength of this museum is the lighting was wash piece– it’s simply brilliant — each piece.

In fact, I’d say it’s one the most unique museums I’ve ever seen.

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The Other Side of the Coin

The second floor of the Holocaust Museum was taken over with an exhibit on Wulf Wolodia Grajonca aka Bill Graham– the famous Rock and Roll impresario:

Wulf, er, Bill came here from Germany via France in order to escape the Nazis at age of 10. He was never adopted, rather he lived with a foster family. Graham attended high school and college in New York.

He moved to the west coast in the early 1960’s. In 1965 he managed a mime group called “The San Francisco Mime Troupe”.

Soon thereafter he teamed with Chet Helms (a noted band manager) and Family Dog to promote a benefit concert. This began a long career of promoting concert events at the Fillmore West and Wonderland. Graham worked with many legendary groups including: Santana, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company to name a few — see photos and original posters:

Jefferson Airplane/Grateful Dead poster:

Walls showing posters and photos of both groups:

Jerry Garcia sans beard:

Etta James and Martha and the Vandallas posters:

A poster for a concert by Jimi Hendrix/John Mayall/BB King:

Graham loved Jimi Hendrix:

Clothes worn by Jimi Hendrix:

Two of Graham’s favorite female performers — Grace Slick and Janis Joplin:

Another Graham favorite — The “Queen of Soul” Aretha Franklin:

Graham promoted many of the Stones tours. At one point Graham tried to halt the Stones concert at Altamont Race Track to no avail:

Graham promoted acts for Woodstock in 1969 — like Santana:

He also promoted Live Aid — to battle world hunger in 1985:

He managed the Philadelphia part of this concert that involved hundreds of acts including:

Crosby, Stills and Nash:

Bob Dylan and The Band (Graham later managed the Dylan/The Band Final tour including the Scorsese film titled the “Last Waltz”):

Of course, Neil Young:

And last but not least U-2 — see Bono:

He also promoted other charitable causes like California Earthquake Relief — here with Bob Hope:


The cause for Black Freedom in South Africa with Nelson Mandela:

Along the way he gathered a few awards — Robin Williams was one presenter at the MTV Awards:

Graham overcame his past and built an amazing life in the US. And he was Jewish. Yes, that’s right he was a Jewish refugee. This man refused to cow to the forces of evil. Didn’t he build an amazing life?

He was present at so many seminal moments of Rock and Roll. Who didn’t he know? Who didn’t he promote? When a cause needed someone to support it — he seemed to always there.

In 1991, he was working to promote a benefit for California fire relief. He’d signed Huey Lewis and the News for the event. The helicopter he was traveling in crashed killing Graham at the age of 60.

Clearly, Graham’s untimely death is offset by his talents as a leader, friend, father confessor and promoting maestro.

Graham will always be one for the ages!

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Sad, But True

It’s seems rather odd how often I’m compelled to see life’s downside; yet enjoy wherever I may be.

Today was one of those days. St. Petersburg, Fl was warm and the air felt like spring. So why was I compelled to see a Holocaust Museum?

Wherever I travel, be it in Europe or the USA, if a town has a museum or an exhibit dealing with this issue I visit it. Perhaps it’s the masochist in me or perhaps it’s my conscience. Whatever it is forgive me and my editorial statements as I briefly share a picture of total evil.

It starts with imaging the difficulty of pushing 140 people into this train car — some would be in rags. Others in their finery. Only a can in a corner for a toilet–not many can get to it — what a way to start a journey to hell!:

Entering the museum we all smile and joke with the staff. Then we are each given a personal radio wand filled with anecdotal information. This separates us. Now each of us has to experience the stories, the pain and yes, the shame of our humanity. this museum alone. Without skipping a beat anti-semitism through the ages is succinctly explained–ouch:

“The History of Hate”. Jews have been scapegoats for hundreds of years from the Spanish Inquisition (15th century) to Henry Ford (and Charles Lindbergh) in the 20th century:

Of course, it was Adolph Hitler and the Nazis who carried out the “Shoah or Final Solution”:

From 1930 until 1945 the Nazis attempted to extinguish the Jews using any means possible:

At first the plan was to let Jews go to whomever would take them; however the rabidness elements of the Nazi Party chose a more permanent way to solve the Jewish question.

This first led to “Kristallnacht” or the night of broken glass — the burning of 1,000 synagogues, 7,500 Jewish owned businesses and the arrest of 30,000 Jews. This activity was followed with blatant identification — Jews are forced to wear the Star of David on their clothing:

Eventually Jews were forced into ghettos:

By the mid-1930’s, the Nazis were arresting Gypsies, homosexuals, political opponents, clergy and Jews. Most were sent to concentration camps to perform hard labor–such as working for the arms industry.

However, many were often murdered just for who they were. Over time Special labor and death camps were established in Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungry — below is a model of Auschwitz both a labor and death camp — many camps like this one and Dachau had the inscription “Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Sets You Free)” over the entrance:

By 1942, Nazi leadership determined that a “Final Solution” had to be implemented to rid the world of all Jews. The Wannsee conference decided the final fate of all Jews within the purview of the Third Reich and it’s allies–named “Operation Reinhard” after an assassinated Nazi:

Now all Jews would face either bullets or gas — below people are shot by guns such as this and buried in mass graves:

In the camps Nazis kept order with weapons such as whips as did special Jewish police who were selected by Nazis to keep prisoners in check:

Nazi doctors ignored their Hippocratic Oath performing horrific experiments on prisoners–these “tools” belonged to Dr. Josef Mengele — the “Angel of Death” of Auschwitz–he was never captured:

Meanwhile, the rest of the world failed to take action to stop the horror. As the Nazis killed 6 MILLION people everyone in the world seemed to look the other way.

The US government finally notice when a Jewish cabinet member angrily forced the issue with FDR. Treasury Secretary Henry Morganthau convinced the president to establish a Refugee Board — alas, too little and too late:

Jewish prisoners did attempt to escape the camps — but uprisings were handled with deadly force:

The end of WWII finally saw the liberation of the death camps by Allied forces:

Was it too late? Yes, for many it was — still some vainly tried to help:

Though many perished — some of those below risked their own lives to save others:

These are only a few of the heroes that worked to thwart the Final Solution.

What can we learn from this terrible situation? Hate must be met with love. No one should ever turn a blind eye to antisemitism or for that matter racism. Especially now–we all must face down the bigotry of those who fail to understand the pain of the past, and of today.

None of us is immune to bigotry. It is in everything that surrounds us. And at times its hidden within us. But if we are honest we must call it out and move forward with a genuine openness to our fellow man. Our failure means these people perished in vain and I refuse to accept that — do you?:

No matter where one travels people have been, or continue to suffer no matter the reason. Whether it’s in the Sudan, Sri Lanka, China or the US so say it now with me “the Holocaust must never happen again!!”

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