Sunday, April 1, 2007

Ukraine - Kiev

I arrived in Kiev like a zombie. After almost an entire day of sleepless flights (of no fault of my own), it was like landing in a strange place. It didn't help that I spoke just about no Russian and very few people there spoke English.
Somehow despite the language problems, I met up with people I was supposed to meet up with and was taken about the city. 
Kiev center
I would say Kiev reminded me of Korea of many years ago...just as it was growing into more modern city. Perhaps if I spoke Russian like I speak Korean in Korea, it might have made things so much better. But with 2 hours of sleep in 24 hours, I am not sure if that would have helped.

Near Independence Square
City itself was bustling with people. It was strange mixture of fancy modern buildings and old Soviet architecture.
Kiev Center
We took some sort of people mover train to the top of the mountain to see this gorgeous church. I still have no clue what is called.
Mikhailovsky Cathedral
The church or cathedral on top of the mountain was in different fashion than other Cathedrals I am used to. It is of course eastern orthodox based. Yet the beauty of the chapel was still the same.
Mikhailovsky Cathedral
Mikhailovsky Cathedral
From the top of the hill, we walked down and down windy street, which I am told afterwards as somewhat of a tourist attraction. The small streets were full of street vendors selling this and that. I walked through them as if in a dream. 
Andreevsky Spusk - oldest streets in Kiev
I don't remember much of the first day I arrived in Kiev, but I do remember wishing I had few more days to explore at least the orthodox cathedrals.
My last night in Kiev was the Easter night. I was so lucky. The church opens all night, the streets and church are filled with people carrying Easter baskets. 
Saint Vladimir Cathedral
The subways at Kiev are somewhat old and dirty, but definitely great as a transportation and cheaper than anything I've known in terms of public transportation. We wandered the night streets of Kiev...which I would say is infinitely better than the day.
Kievo-Pecherskaya Lavra
I was able to walk into several churches, see the brightly lit gilded statues, murals, and even see the top honch of the eastern orthodox church...who I'd say wasn't really the focal point of the night. I was more impressed by several hundred year old chapel.

Theater in city center
Books about Ukraine & Kiev:

Turkey - Alanya

Alanya is extremely tourist beach resort neighborhood on the Mediterranean part of Turkey. I found myself there in April, which isn't quite the tourist season. Having an empty beach all to myself was nice although it was a bit nippy. Alanya has beautiful sandstone beaches with millions of small pebbles. The water is clear and I could envision the days of old.
Beach nearby Alanya
Endless sandy steps surrounds the beaches of Alanya. I wonder how they came to be. I sit on one of the dry stone steps and look out into the endless ocean. I wonder...will I be transported back in time to the world of ottoman empire?
Beach nearby Alanya
One structure no one will miss in Alanya is the Red tower and the surrounding fortress structure. I hear you will be able to go all the way to the top of the mountain on foot, but exhaustion led us back down in the midst of our climb. The view out to the ocean and to the top of the mountain is spectacular from the red tower.
Red tower
In olden days, one could hypothetically travel all the way to the top from Red Tower. We embarked on one such path only to the thwarted by the erosion due to aging fortress structure. My advice is to take a transport that gets you all the way to the top!  
From Red Tower
You get a spectacular view to the Alanya surrounding beaches from the red tower. I could only imagine what it would have been like many hundreds of years ago.
From Red Tower
You also get a spectacular view to the top of the mountains. Next time, I plan to be on top of the mountain looking down. I suppose next time too, I will want to get a historical details on this coast of Turkey before coming. This apparently used to be a favorite vacation spot for Seljuk kings.
From Red Tower
Looking at the openings on the ceiling, I assume this used to be Hammam, the bath house. I wonder if it is still working Hammam...perhaps it has long ago been abandoned. Wouldn't it be nice to restore something as beautiful as this? I wouldn't so mind living in Harem.
From Red Tower
Alanya coast. I guess I can see why this would have been the favorite vacation spot for Seljuk kings. Who wouldn't want to be here? Seriously though...if you really want to see the rest of Turkey, plan ahead! 
Books about Alanya:

Turkey - Istanbul

I could say I almost died going to Istanbul. Well, I did say I'd go to Istanbul even if it kills me and it did almost happen. I suppose as no fault of my own, I found myself sitting on a bus for 15 hours just to get to this city of my dreams.
Even almost dying was quite worthwhile. When I landed myself in front of Sultanamet...I was overjoyed. All the perilous journey forgotten. It really didn't matter as I walked in, with my head covered into the mosque, feeling equally awed by these mosques as the cathedrals I've seen.
I guess it is a priviledge to actually be able to see inside these structures. As tourists and guests of the mosque, I actually felt more freedom as I wandered and was able to see all, but not be completely part of it.
I have become more and more fascinated by the doorways of old. I don't know, something about the intricate designs...imagine paying such detailed attention even to the doors.
Sultanamet, the doors
So Hagia Sofia I had studied and read about in my Medieval art class...which I had taken many many years ago. I had then not known much about the mosques and thought Hagia Sofia one of the greatest thing on earth, but if I had seen Sultanamet before it, I probably would have been slightly disappointed.
Hagia Sopfia
Hagia Sofia wasn't completely disappointing. It does somehow combine best of east and west, somehow the blend of religion and culture seem to work well.
Hagia Sofia
It is rather incredible to see Byzantine mosaics and Islamic writings all in one place. No matter what, I tells us the wonders of the history...the changes, yet architecture still stands.
Hagia Sofia
The seat of the Ottoman power...I had so wanted to see Harem, but it was closed during that day. The palace was full of beautiful artifacts.

Topkapi Palace
I found myself wandering the streets alone...quite a lot. Especially in the mornings, the picture taking opportunity was incredible. I loved the intricately designed doorways, fountains, windows...every few blocks, I'd find some random architecture I couldn't help but take picture of.
Istanbul street
Suleyman mosque was really massive. I passed through the university, climbed a small hill and saw massive mosque. It was worth a hike. It is certainly one of the most massive and beautiful mosque. 
Unlike other places I visited, I did not know much history of Suleyman mosque. I did know Ottoman empire history, but I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the sign of the tomb of Suleyman the magnificent.
I am not sure, but I certainly was in awe as I walked into the tomb of Suleyman. I thought I'd feel something, but I am not sure...I didn't feel anyone's presence there. It certainly was a privilege to see it. I had not planned on that. 
Tomb of Suleyman the Magnificent
Another doorway. Who passed through there? I wish I knew...
Suleymani doorway
Suleymani ceiling
Suleyman mosque had one of the most well preserved carvings, colors, the ceilings. My neck started to get a crimp as I found myself constantly looking up.   Another beautiful ceiling.     
Suleymani ceiling
My hotel was right near Sultanamet. I thought to look through the SUltanamet through one of the iron wrought gates. Perhaps this is how some people of olden days were only able to see Sultanamet?
Turkish bath...definitely worth it. Be prepared to at least spend couple hours there. It is good to pamper. Being able to walk into 300 year old bath is unlike any experience I ever had.
The eggplant dishes were my favorite. I suppose I loved all the salads and puffy bread too. Apple tea is a must!  
Istanbul fare
I walked into this completely by accident. This is underground cistern for really old days. There were fresh water still there with some fishes underground Istanbul!
Underground cistern
Another Suleyman mosque inside. I wanted to sit and enjoy, but there were so much to see and walk to!  
Suleyman mosque
Books about Istanbul: