29 June 2012

A true city experience

A short run and a little bit of resistance training at a local park. I hope I didn't wake the homeless guy.

S slept in, so I took off early to Istanbul Modern, Turkey's only modern art museum. It features primarily work by Turkish artists, but there were a couple of western names in there as well.  The museum is a good size, and the permanent collection has a nice selection of painting, sculpture, video, photography, etc. No sound art, btw.  There were also a few temporary exhibits that were striking, particularly one about photography in Turkey.  Photographs were not allowed inside, but I snapped this from the deck of the museum cafe.  Beautiful!

Apres museum, I grabbed a bite (meat-and-egg pide - thanks again Sinan!), picked up one garment that was getting altered, and headed back to the room to do some packing. S and I headed out shortly after to go to the Chora Museum. The building had originally been a church with some amazing mosaics, and when the Ottomans turned it into a Mosque, the mosaics had been whitewashed. Fortunately, they've been restored and are all sorts of wonderful!

This vaulted ceiling piece is about 12' square.

Cats are everywhere! This one liked to hang out where the altar would be.

This mosaic is in the back of the nave and is about 8'x6'

The mosaics are simply stunning. If you find yourself in Istanbul and like mosaics, check this place out.

BUT, if you do, you'll need to take a cab, and if you take a cab, be careful not to get ripped off like I did!  I got swindled for 50 lira today (about $27) from a duplicitous cabbie. Not the end of the world, but I'm still steamed about it.

The sneaky cabbie left S and I without cab fare back to the main part of the city, so we hotfooted it along the city walls to the nearest tram line. The tram was packed with rush hour riders, so we stood shoulder to shoulder with strangers for the whole 40-minute journey. Along the way to the tram station, we had found a bankomat for some cash, so we decided just to head back to Istiaklal Street to dine at Restaurant Vera, one of the places Anthony Bourdain ate at in the Istanbul episode of No Reservations. The food was excellent! Sarah enjoyed her spicy lamb dish, though she enjoyed my grilled meats more. The mezes were great (especially the white anchovies), though I was hoping they'd have some of the unusual dishes that they served A. B. (no such luck). Throughout dinner, S kept eyeing an old lady selling mini kleenex packs as she wandered up and down the street.

After dinner, we wandered down the street and stopped off for dessert (rice pudding for me, with a funky coagulated seal on top - yum!), then hopped the train back to the hotel.

It's 10pm here, and we need to be up in about 6 hours to get to the airport to catch our flight on time. Thanks, Istanbul, for an excellent visit!  We will be back!

28 June 2012

Way up high, down on the water.

What an awesome frigging day.

S rose late, so I went running.  While she was finishing getting ready, I headed up to Sultanahmet Square to do a little field recording. When S found me, we hopped the tram to the north side of the European side of Istanbul, on the other side of the Golden Horn. This are has a few different names, but people refer to it as the New Side. It's definitely more European, more lefty, more young, more progressive. From there, we took an underground funicular up to the Galata Tower, which you can ascend and see the whole city laid out below. The tower offers a cheesy dinner-and-a-show combo in which we were uninterested, but the views were excellent.

After the tower, we headed down to Old Town to catch our shuttle to our Bosphorus Straits cruise. Our guide was a joker named Mustafa who was knowledgable, funny, and not too talkative. We enjoyed the cruise and his information.

After the cruise, we headed the hill to Taksim Square, one of the centerpoints of the New Area I mentioned earlier. From there, we wandered down Istiaklal Street, which was packed with people and shops. I counted four Starbucks in a mile and a half. Also, how un-Turkish does this street look to you? 

After walking the street, S and I headed towards the Spice Market to a restaurant called Hamdi that came recommended by one of my students. We had a great meal and watched the sun go down over the Golden Horn. Thanks, Sinan! 

On the way home, we stopped to listen to a British community orchestra start a concert. They began with a disco version of 'Night on Bald Mountain,' complete with syncopated beats and electric guitar.  S and I couldn't leave fast enough, but before we were out of earshot, the orchestra launched into their next tune - a disco version of Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker; S's head about exploded. 

When we got back to the room, we discovered that one of our credit card companies called/emailed to check in with us about 'suspicious charges' that had appeared on our bill. I checked into it (all of the charges on our card are legit) and wrote them a long email in which I a) assured them that the charges were legit, b) chastised them for making us go through this confirmation garbage when I called them a month ago to let them know about our travel plans, and c) suggested that they needed to figure out an easy way for travelers to confirm charges over the internet.  I mean, why did I go through the hassle of calling the companies in the first place if they were just going to panic when I started spending money abroad?


One more day in this staggering city. Not sure what we're gonna do... but it'll be great!

27 June 2012

Old things and dead men.

Today was not my favorite day. It could have been a lot worse, but it wasn't great.

S & I got a late start today to hit Topkapi Palace. The Palace used to house the Sultan and his retinue, but about 90 years ago, it got transformed into a museum. Now, the grounds are open to visitors, who can tour the buildings and a handful of small museums in some of the larger buildings. Also in the Palace is the harem, which you can tour for an additional fee.  At Topkapi Palace, we visited the harem, the treasures museum, the armory museum, the library, an unknown number of pavilions, and four courtyards.

Hagia Irene is a church on the grounds.

Somewhere deep in the harem.

Frankly, I was underwhelmed by everything except the harem. The architecture was beautiful, but it wasn't anything we didn't see yesterday. The museums were neat, but packed with people. The food at the cafeteria was tasteless, dry, and outrageously-priced. The grounds were beautiful, but not worth the entry charge. After spending yesterday looking at old things built by dead men, I was disappointed that today's trip was also so monochromatic.

So, we moved on out of Topkapi, down the street, pit-stopping at Starbucks for S, and then into a leather store that S read about online.  We had a great time in there with the proprietress and her clerk, and we may have spent some money.

Then, onto the Grand Bazaar, the world's oldest shopping mall, where shoppers of all walks of life haggle with grizzled shopkeepers for exotic wares...

In the Grand Bazaar. Where are the exotic wares?
But which was much more like a huge souvenir stand. The shopkeepers are often pushy, but they're not grizzled. The wares are occasionally exotic (I bought a bell that is purportedly 100 years old), but they're mostly kitchy (S suggested I buy a fez emblazoned with 'Turkey' for my dad). The guide book says that the Grand Bazaar is now reserved almost entirely for tourists, with real Turks doing their business in the open-air markets outside the Grand Bazaar. Even the idea of haggling has gone by the wayside. The merchants haggle to please the tourists, but I'm told that real Turks just walk away if the price is too high. Still, we bought some gifts and headed home.

On the way, we passed a music ensemble doing a sound check in preparation for a concert tonight.

Then home to the hotel for a mini-siesta before dinner. Dinner was back at the place we discovered on Monday. When we walked up, the maitre'd asked us if we wanted the same table from Monday.  Neat! We had a great dinner - a nice end to what had otherwise been a mostly-disappointing day. 

Tomorrow, the plan includes a boat cruise and some drum shopping!

26 June 2012

Getting the lay of this awesome city...

So, Istanbul is awesome. Truly.  I might love this city.

Quick rundown of the day. I got up at 6 (well, 6.15) to run so that S and I could breakfast at 8 and be out by 9. That didn't happen. We were out the door closer to 11.30.  From there, we went to the Blue Mosque, Sultanahmet Square, Basilica Cistern, the Hippodrome, Hagia Sofia, the park next to Topiki Palace, the train station (where the Orient Express arrived), the Spice Market (Egyptian Market), Galata Bridge, Rustem Pasha Mosque, and then a long walk home, passing a baklava vendor as we went. Along the way, I learned a whole lot.  Here's a sampling:

  • Beds are hard in Istanbul.
  • The craziness of traffic is somewhere between Paris and Rome.
  • The Blue Mosque is beautiful, but the blueness is a bit overrated.
  • Mosques smell like feet. They may be a feast for the eyes, ears, and soul, but they're no good for the nose.
  • Mosques in general would be more beautiful if they didn't have to suspend huge ugly chandeliers from the upper dome down to a 9' trim. All those cables get in the way.
  • City parks are great to watch the world go by.
  • Vendors will do anything to get you into their shop/restaurant, including reaching out to shake your hand, and then leading you over to the proprietor by the hand, never letting go (true story). If you refuse, they ask harder. If you refuse some more, they call you an ugly American.
  • There is a cistern underneath a block of Istanbul that used to hold water but now holds tourists. It's well-lit with warm uplight and populated with fish.
  • Hagia Sofia started out as a church, then became a mosque, and is now a museum. There are a lot of elements from the church era that only lasted through the years because the Muslims whitewashed over them during the mosque era. Moral: sometimes, the best thing to preserve a thing is an opposing thing (I learned this in Mexico too...).
  • Small mosques are just as lovely as big mosques.
  • There's something magical about hearing so many languages spoken aloud. Today I counted English (American, Australian, and British), Turkish, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Spanish, Italian, Russian, and a few I didn't recognize. And American likes to say that IT'S the melting pot of the world!  Hah!
  • S doesn't like fried calamari. Combining that with her distaste for shrimp in-shell, most shell-fish, and whole fish, and eating seafood with her while abroad is a great challenge (one which we failed at tonight).

Here's a little selection of photos for your enjoyment...

Entering the Blue Mosque.
Inside the Blue Mosque.

The Basilica Cistern is lovely, but kind of a one-note gimmick.

Hagia Sofia is friggin' awesome.

If I told you this was NYC, you'd believe me.

We bought spices and tea at this market stall.

The interior of Rustem Pasha Mosque is filled with beautiful blue tile.

The view from the hotel terrace.

25 June 2012


The Zagreb airport was a bit of an adventure. C & E dropped us of, but once inside, the signage was poor. We eventually found our check-in line, and when we got to the front, the agent sent us to another window for security reasons. The next window needed to confirm our credit card, since we bought online. Back in the first window, we checked in, but then had to take one bag (not both?!?) to a third window for another security screening. That done, we zipped through security and to our gate with enough time to blow the remaining 110 kuna (about $20) in the duty-free shop. 

Our flight to Istanbul was full of wrestlers. Apparently, there was some inter-continental wrestling tournament in Croatia, and we had teams from Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and two other countries on our flight. Fortunately, they left the competition on the mat, and despite my fears to the contrary, there were no impromptu wrestling matches on the plane.

When you land in Turkey, you have to buy a visa. For Americans, it cost $20 (or 15 Euro) and is available at a kiosk right by passport control. The guy who sold us our visas barely looked at our passports - it's just a legal shakedown for some cash from tourists. I guess the Turks think Canadians are richer - their visa costs $65 USD.

Anyhow, we got into town and to the hotel okay. The hotel is pretty nice - unusually shaped rooms in an old building. Clean and well-maintained, but definitely not new. We spent most of the afternoon in the room, getting unpacked and settled, and generally being excited about not having to live out of suitcases for 5 days.

For dinner, we found a nice casual local restaurant. The food was good and the price was awesome. S had a mixed grill (lamb, chicken, breads), and I had lamb wrapped in bread with pistachio yogurt. We had two mezes (appetizers) - roasted red peppers and marinated eggplant, and a pillow bread similar to poori.

After dinner, we walked up the hill to the Blue Mosque at sunset:

We'll head back tomorrow and go inside, but we couldn't tonight (we were there at evening prayers).

There are so many exciting sounds in Istanbul! From the muezzin to the babel of languages to the sound of various vehicles held together by chewing gum and zip ties, it's a recordist's dream. If you want me to record anything, let me know - I'll try my best!

After the Mosque, we headed back to the hotel room so that I could take part in a video chat with sound designers around the world. Where is the future? The future is NOW.

24 June 2012

Motovun & Glina

A long post today, to cover Saturday and Sunday...

Saturday was a remarkable day on many levels.  After an early breakfast, we hit the road to drive from the Plitvice Lakes region to Motovun, a mountaintop town about 3.5 hours due west, on the Istrian peninsula.  Istria is known for meats, cheeses, olives, and wine, and we've been looking forward to indulging our inner carnivores, but first, we had to get there…

…through the remnants of war-torn Croatia.

The first thirty miles or so of the drive went through farmland sprinkled with little hamlets.  A field of grapes, then a town. A field of corn, then a town. But these weren't just ordinary rural towns; these were towns that had suffered during the war 20 years ago. We passed memorials engraved with crosses and 5-10 names of Croatian soldiers (kids, really, no more than 19 or 20) who died during the war. We passed scores of buildings with bullet holes in them. Some holes had been patched up poorly, but most buildings just let their bullet holes live on in the building, either out of poverty or as a symbol of what had passed. We passed entire villages that looked brand-new - the war had leveled the town, and the people rebuilt. Except that the people couldn't afford the entire cost of rebuilding, so they put up the masonry and some internal structure to make the house livable, but didn't bother to finish the exterior. I don't know if they plan to finish the houses in the towns or what their timetable is. And, of course, we passed houses with roofs that had been blown off, houses with holes where walls should be, houses that had been toppled over by artillery or post-artillery abandonment by the owners. It was beautiful, and it was very very sad.

Soon, we crossed over from the war-town rural areas to Istria, where the people don't seem to have experienced the war in the same way. Istria is more closely tied with Italy than with Serbia or Bosnia, so there was not the same kind of ethnic strife here. We stayed in Istria for one night, in a former-castle-now-hotel at the top of the mountaintop town called Motovun:

We arrived shortly after noon, checked in, and grabbed lunch at an Anthony Bourdain-recommended place called Mondo Konoba (the Mondo Family Tavern). After a huge breakfast by the lakes, we were interested in a light lunch, so S and I split a tomato/mozzarella salad and gnocchi with truffles. See what I mean by Italian influence? Also, Istria is noted for its truffles, and many of the restaurants here offer truffle dishes. Unfortunately, we were a bit out season (truffle season is in the autumn, not the summer), so the truffles in our dishes were dried, not fresh, resulting in muted taste. 

After lunch, we hit the road to visit some wineries in the area:

We ended up at four different places. The first (right outside the main gate of Motovun) had three offerings - a white, a rose, and a red, none of which were particularly tasty. C bought a bag of apples in lieu of any wine.

The second (Tomaz) had some tasty wines, particularly the red.  We were the only ones in the tasting room except for the proprietress and her children. Tasting wine with screaming kids is a little unusual - the atmosphere quickly disappears. C & E bought some wine.

The third tasting room (Benvenuti) was fancy, with a big wooden table that seated a dozen. While we were seated, three other parties came and went. We tried five different wines, and bought a bottle of a very unusual white to share in Italy in a week.

The fourth room (Cesar) was actually more of an olive oil place than a winery. I didn't really like the wine, but the olive oil was stunning. There were four different presses available, each one from a different tree. S & I bought a bottle of the spiciest oil.  Yum!

Then, back to Motovun to scout out dinner and cool off in the hotel room.  The hotel is at the top of the mountain on the main piazza, and also on the piazza is a little bar with some amusing signage.  

After our wine tasting, S & I retired to our room for a siesta while C & E walked town. We met for dinner, followed by a nice walk along the top fortifications of town. We had anticipated a drink at the mustache bar, but we were all a bit tired from the heat. Instead, a quick trip to the terrace to view the stars (astronomer S led us on our gaze) before heading in for the night. 

One more thing - it is HOT! Dubrovnik was in the high 80s, Split was in the mid-90s, and Motovun topped 104 yesterday. Plitvice was a nice break, with temps only hitting the low 80s in the sun.  If you visit Croatia in the summer, get a/c whenever possible.

*** SUNDAY ***

On Sunday, C & I rose early for a run up and down the mountain holding Motovun. After cleaning up and checking out of the hotel, we drove back across Croatia to Glina, a small town in the hills where C's family (the part that I'm not related to) comes from.  The drive was very revealing, particularly as we got back into the part of Croatia that was under siege 20 years ago.  Glina is a very depressed town, with buildings in ruin and many buildings full of bullet holes:

We grabbed lunch at a small cafe and poked around town a bit. One of Glina's darkest moments happened in 1941, when a handful of Croats massacred around 250 Serbs.  The massacre occurred in a catholic church, and the Serbs who were there had come thinking that they were going to be converted to Roman Catholicism from Serbian Orthodox.  It was a terrible event, and though the church was destroyed later, we think we found the foundation of the church today, right off the center square:

Staggering. We were all four in awe.

We didn't want to leave the region without seeking out a cemetery for C to search for some family. We tried a few different churches before finding one with a cemetery. The church itself was at the top of a hill, and while modest, it had a terrific painting behind the altar that was beautiful, mindful of the history of the region, and full of hope:

We scoured the cemetery in the hot sun looking for possible distant relatives for C. At the back of the cemetery, we found about five graves of people sharing his last name (well, the Croat version, not the bastardized American version). C wrote a note asking the reader to contact him and left it on one of the graves, and we drove off.

On the way out of town, we were reminded once again that though the war has passed, this region of Croatia is still a dangerous place:

It took about 90 minutes of backcountry driving to get to the hotel near the Zagreb airport, from which we'll all depart tomorrow: C & E back to the US, S & I on to Istanbul. We shared a nice dinner, talked about the highlights of the trip, what we'd do differently, where we'd like to go next time, and have retired to our rooms to rest a bit before the day of travel tomorrow. After a long day in the car, we weren't much up for more excitement.

This week with C & E has been a lot of fun! S & I have enjoyed traveling with them, and we hope to do it again soon!

So long from Zagreb! Tomorrow at this time, we should be in Turkey!

22 June 2012

Plitvice National Park

No running this morning. We didn't have time for a full run, so C & I just did some cross training. We had to be ready for a 6.30 breakfast of cured meats, cheese, eggs, cereal, bread, coffee-so-thick-your-spoon-stands-up, orange juice, and ladyfingers.  Yum!

The early breakfast came on account of our wish to get to Plitvice National Park before the crowds.  Plitvice is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it features over a dozen lakes interconnected by a series of waterfalls.  The lakes are set in a gorge, the water is super-blue and crystal clear (you can count the trout!), and the whole series of lakes is ringed with walking trails. The largest lake has a series of boats that crisscross it, and there's a tram (that reminds me of the San Diego Zoo tram) that runs back and forth between a few of the resting areas. We wanted to get to the park early to avoid the crowds, and our 7.20 arrival time was perfect. As we were getting out of the car, a busload of elderly Americans was also getting disembarking. Fortunately, our legs are faster, so we were able to hit the trail quickly and get ahead of the Wisconsinites.

We spent the day wandering the park, climbing paths to up waterfalls, wishing we could swim the water, resting our weary legs on benches, and taking lots of photos. The weather cooperated - the temperature felt in the mid-to-high 70s, and the sun spent half of the day hidden behind cloud cover. Like most visitors to the parks, we started at the lower lakes and walked up (the views are better, as the waterfalls are generally in front of you). On the way up the lake, I used my wide angle lens and took a bunch of photos (including some shots that I photoshopped into HDR composites).  Here are a few:

Yes, those are really fish.

At the top of the falls... which you can't see...

Long shutter speeds == more drama.

At the top lake, we stopped for lunch. S & E both had cheeseburgers, which were super-greasy and tasted like fried spam. The 'cheese' part of the cheeseburger was a kraft single that the staff didn't even bother unwrapping before tossing it onto the plate. C & I fared significantly better: we had sausages (with spicy mustard) and Ozujsko beer, one of the Croatian national brews. It's a tasty lager and goes well with sausage (and, as I've discovered, fish, pizza, squid, octopus, salad, and meat pies).

At lunch, I swapped out lenses to my LensBaby Muse, which adds a nice optical blur to the images. They're much less refined, much more mysterious. Anyhow, here are some shots from the walk back to the car.

After the park, we returned to the house for a bit of a siesta and downtime. I caught up on some emails (but not the big ones that require a lot of reading) and did some photo processing before dinner.

Dinner was at the pension and was exceptional. We started out with some plum brandy. Then a salad of lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and two kinds of cabbage. A chicken noodle soup. A platter of food including roast chicken, chicken skewers, grilled veal, two kinds of sausages, grilled trout, sauteed escarole, roast potatoes, steamed veggies, and braised mushrooms. More plum brandy. A cherry/raisin cake for dessert. More plum brandy.  Yum!

Tomorrow we're up early again.  We want to hit the road to get to Motovun in time to spend the day there.  So far, this Croatia trip has been super-successful - only two more full days here before we go our separate ways!

21 June 2012

We're splitting from Split.

I'm a great punster.

6.00 - C and I rise for a morning run. We intended to do 4 miles, but we got completely lost, and by the time we got back to the hotel, we had done over 6.  Oops.  It's still hot and way humid, but S assures us that as we take on the last half of our Croatian journey, the weather will cool off significantly.

8.45 - S and I are packed and clean. We grab a pastry on the way to tour the cathedral, baptistry, and crypt in Diocletian's Palace.  The place was packed with tourists on a port-o-call from a big cruise ship, so there were small groups of people following tour guides with strident voices. It made the entire experience in the cathedral a little disappointing. The highlight was the few minutes that we were totally alone in the crypt, but as we were leaving, S kept turning around to make sure that I hadn't turned into a zombie.  Mu-ha-ha.

After that, we did a little shopping for honeys - success!  We found rosemary, cherry, fig, peach, and raisin.

10.45 - check-out of the hotel, followed by a quick walk to catch our airport shuttle. Once at the airport, it took us a good while to get on the road. There was some mix-up with the rental car reservation, so we had to replace our first car (which was an economy and didn't fit all of our bags) with a full-size. Once we were on the road, the driving was fine, and we arrived at our pension at 3.30pm.

We checked in easily, dropped our bags, and headed out for lunch. C, E, and S got pizza, but I ordered a local meat pie speciality that I'd been seeing on menus since Dubrovnik.  I stuck to seafood before, but now that we're in land, I'm shifting to meat.  The meat was delicious! Lamb and beef, spiced, and filled with a little bit of cheese.  Yum!

The restaurant we ate at was also doubled as a ski equipment shop and what looks like it could only be a training hill.  Here's S in front of the shop (which was closed):

And C and I in front of the lift.

We wondered if perhaps the lift took skiers over the hill to another part of the mountain with more skiing, but a quick review of the trail map suggested otherwise:

After dinner, a quick drive around town to get our bearings, and then back to the pension for a chill night. I did some laundry, am going through emails, etc. We've been talking about a very early start tomorrow to beat the heat, so it might be an early night to bed for us all...

20 June 2012


C & I got up to take a 6 mile run, and at 5.30am, it was already hot and humid. We were glad that last night, we decided to spend the day on the water, taking a day trip to nearby Trogir. Unfortunately, the boat to Trogir wasn't running today, so at the last minute, we booked a trip to Solta and the Blue Lagoon. The trip cost about $50/head and included lunch. At 9am, we boarded the boat and said goodbye to Split:

Goodbye to Split
 90 minutes later, we arrived in Solta, a sleepy island southwest of Split:

There wasn't much to do on the island, but we had three hours to kill, so we got a coffee, did some shopping, and went to the beach.  We found a shop that had some local-grown delicacies, and we bought some apple/rosemary marmelade and some honey bitters:

Then, we swam at the beach.  It was stunning. The bluest water I've ever seen.  Clean, clear, refreshing.  Awesome. The only downside was that you had to wear sandals in the water so that you didn't prick your feet on the sea urchins. Still, beat this: 

We swam this. Oh yes we did.

After lounging at Solta, we got back on the boat for a lunch of fish or chicken, and white wine. S had the chicken (two oily pieces, which she enjoyed), and I had the fish (six small grilled animals, which took a lot of time/effort to clean). While eating, we motored over to the Blue Lagoon, which, if you can believe it, topped the water at Solta. We moored the boat a few hundred feet offshore, and went swimming. C and I jumped off the top of the boat into the cool blue water, and we generally had a great time. S snapped this pic of E, C, and I near one of the abandoned islands.

Um, wow.
 Then, back to Split to get cleaned up and grab dinner. Along the way, I caught a few more shots of town:


The Riva (main promenade) full of diners.

Today was one of the best days ever. While it was sweltering in Split, we were comfortable onboard the boat.  Tomorrow, we leave Split and head north to the lakes. Excellent!