Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Üsküdar: exploring the Asian side of Istanbul

No visit to Istanbul is complete without a ferry ride to the Asian side. For my first escape into Asia, I chose the neighbourhood of Üsküdar, just a short journey from Eminönü, the ferry dock near the Galata Bridge (3TL, €1,10). The ferryboat was a bit smelly and old, but it gave me an impression of how Turkey must have been until a few years ago. I must confess that this part of Istanbul, almost completely devoid of tourists, stole my heart.

flower vendor in Uskudar
Flower vendor near the ferry dock

Friday, 25 October 2013

Istanbul: my best meals there (and the food scams)

I had eaten Turkish food before, in this or that other restaurant during the year and a half that I lived in London. It was good food, prepared simply, but healthy and fulfilling, but I knew in Istanbul there were going to be many other options. I have no idea if the food I tried in Istanbul was genuinely Turkish or a mish-mash of various influences, but it was certainly very tasty and inexpensive.

Spices in Arasta Bazaar, Istanbul
Spice delight

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The magic of Istanbul

Where to begin with Istanbul? Well, I was trying to organize a trip outside of Europe for a while now, but both times I was not lucky and I ended up staying at home. I didn't know much about Istanbul before starting to research it, but because I was alone I wanted to go to a safe city, one that I could feel comfortable wandering alone, but that at the same time had a non-European feeling to it. I settled on Istanbul, a city that conflates Western and Eastern cultures in interesting ways.

Istanbul was the capital of many different empires - most notably the Byzantine  and the Ottoman empire - and it went by different names: Byzantium, Costantinople and now Istanbul. With one foot in Europe and the other in Asia, Istanbul has been one of the most important cities in European history. Sacked during the Fourth Crusade of 1202-04 because of trickster Venetians who saw it as a rival city, it was then probably the largest and most sophisticated city in the world.  It was conquered  in 1453 by Sultan Mehmet II, and became the capital of the Ottoman Empire. At the height of its power, the Ottoman Empire controlled much of Southeastern Europe, Western Asia and North Africa, so the influence of this city is felt in a considerable portion of the world. The  empire collapsed only after the First World War, and now Turkey is ironically fighting its battle to enter the European Union.  
Blue Mosque, Istanbul
First glimpse of the main square of Sultanahmet

Friday, 18 October 2013

Reading in Venice: Libreria Acqua Alta

Unfortunately, in Venice bookshops are closing. As it is a city geared for tourism with fewer residents left every year, bookshops have a hard time. Moreover, with all the alternative ways you can get your hands on a book, people don't buy many books from small shops.
In this post I would like to write about a very peculiar bookshop that you might find while wandering the streets of Venice. It is called "Acqua Alta", like the famous periodical tides that flood the Venetian lagoon. The bookshop is located  in Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa, near the eponymous square, Campo Santa Maria Formosa, in the sestiere of Castello.

Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice
The bookshop from outside

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Athens (second part)

So what do you do in Athens once you have seen the Acropolis? Well, first of all there are tons of other ruins all around it, usually in very scenic locations, among pines or with beautiful vistas over the city.

Athens, view of the Parthenon from the Agora
View of the Acropolis from the Agora

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Athens (first part)

When I was planning this trip I was not sure if going to Athens was a good or a bad idea. It was going to be a hassle to get there from the Cycladic islands, and everybody was telling me that Athens is nothing special: too much traffic and pollution, horribly hot and not many sights. Except for the Acropolis. About that I was told amazing things, and I must admit that it didn't fail to meet my expectations.
Athens, the Parthenon
One of my favourite shots of the Parthenon
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