Istanbul Day 3 – Pillowcases, spices, a mis-identified bridge and an evening walk at the seaside.

We left Istanbul Monday morning and arrived in Athens in the afternoon.  It rained pretty hard all day, so we just sort of wandered around the area we’re were staying called The Plaka – lots of shops and cafés and such.   After walking for an hour or two, the weather cleared a bit and we noticed that our hotel is pretty much at the base of the Acropolis – you can see it very clearly from almost anywhere.  I know I’ve used this adjective many times in this blog, but the Acropolis is absolutely SPECTACULAR – without a doubt one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.  The skies cleared up completely this evening, so we could look at it lit up as we walked back from dinner – it’s even more spectacular in the evening – the lighting is really, really cool.

A quick note about dinner:  I’ve eaten a version of “donor” kebob 3 of the last 4 evenings – I think I’ve had my fill.  Time to sample the vegetarian dishes or I’ll have to double my Zocor dosage.

But today’s post is not about Athens – it’s about Day 3 in Istanbul, and it will have to be quick because, unlike the wonderful Apricot Hotel in Istanbul, there is no free WiFi at the Adrian Hotel in Athens – you have to pay 5 EURO per hour and I’m basically a tightwad about those sorts of things, so we have to be judicious with our internet usage.  And please forgive any typos and general sloppiness here…

On Friday night James and I ventured out alone in Istanbul to find dinner. It started with a freshly squeezed cup of pomegranate and orange juice – very refreshing.

James watching his fresh pomegranate and orange juice being prepared.

Then we wandered around a lively neighborhood where men were hanging out in front of their shops, drinking tea and smoking.  And playing with the cat…

They do love their cats.

We found a restaurant and ordered, what else – kabobs.  They’re delicious, as you might imagine.

The red pepper sauce is very hot - and very nice with the lamb.

The next morning we headed out in search of pillow cases (instead of carpets).   Before shopping, we had a nice breakfast at the Apricot Hotel where they served us fresh goat cheese from one of the employees own goats – so good with a slice of tomato and mint.

We were served this fresh goat cheese every morning at breakfast at the Apricot Hotel. Lovely!

Then we headed into the Grand Bazaar to shop for some pillow cases – specifically, Margaret was looking for two kinds.  One is the basic pillow you throw on the sofa, hand-embroidered, like this:

Hand-embroidered pillow cases - beautiful. I think we bought a few.

The other pillowcase is called either a camel bag or an onion bag.  It’s a kind of carpet that has been put together to form a bag that was used to transport vegetables on the back of a camel or donkey.  The shopkeeper told us that the bags are at least 70 years old, but I would have no way of knowing if that was true or not.   They’re pretty big, as you can see from the photo below (where Margaret is doing her carpet-buying thing) – I’m not entirely sure what one does with a pillow this size, though I think Sam could make a nice dog bed out of it.  We ended up buying 2 of the large ones – each from a different shop.

Margaret surveys the pillowcase selection.

We also looked for some bowls.

These bowls are available almost everywhere, but you've got to find the best price!And found some chickens and a dog wandering around the shops.

We spotted this chicken wandering around near the vendor stalls. The dog looks like it BARELY tolerates living amongst chickens.

Naturally, all this shopping made Margaret and James hungary, so when they heard the “Kebob Hawker’s Cry,” (I recorded it right there with my iPhone, but the upload won’t go — I’ll get that up later), they ordered up a little chicken kebop.  Note Margaret’s mastery of the Turkish pointing language:  “I’ll have that.”

Margaret makes sure the vendor knows what she wants - KEBOP!

We were making our way to the Spice Market, which really is a spice market that was built in the 1660s.  The streets around this place were absolutely packed.

Crowded street outside the Spice Market.

Spice Market - Istanbul

You buy your spices in bulk here - scoop what you need and they'll weigh it for you.

Some displays are neater than others.

The Spice Market sort of empties out near a bridge crossing into an area called The Golden Horn.  It’s a double-decker job with vehicular/pedestrian traffic on top, restaurants/shops on the bottom.

Bridge crossing into the Golden Horn (but we didn't know that).

Funny story – we didn’t really know where were, so we thought this bridge crossed over the Bosphorus Strait, which would mean that it would cross from one continent (Europe) to another continent (Asia), which would have been awesome had this been that bridge.  As we thought we were doing something pretty monumental by crossing the bridge (from Europe into Asia), we had James record a little video to document the moment.

You can see it by clicking here – he gets all the details right, except for the fact that we’re not crossing the Bosphorus.

Later that evening, I went walking down by the Sea of Marmara and took a few photos.

Mosque as the sun sets.

Can you guess what this is?

The Sea of Marmama Balloon Shooting Gallery man seemed very sad.

There were lots of men (and only men) down on the rocks grilling fish together. Looked like a nice meal.

These men invited me to have some fish with them. It was delicious.

These guys know how to spend a Sunday evening.

That’s it for now.  Pix from last day to come soon…

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Istanbul – Days 1 and 2


This is a shot of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (aka "The Blue Mosque") behind a rug store on our first night in Istanbul. You can see Margaret and James looking at a rug in the store window. My photos do not do the mosque justice -- it's spectactular.


We arrived in Istanbul late Thursday afternoon.  It’s Margaret’s Fall Break at the University of Pecs, so we decided to use Hungary as a launching point to visit some places we’ve always wanted to see.*  We’ll be here until Monday, then we take a quick flight to Athens for 6 days — the plan is to spend  4 days in Athens, then 2 more someplace else in Greece (a nearby island, perhaps?  we’re taking suggestions), before heading back to Hungary next Sunday.   Our first two days in Istanbul have been absolutely fantastic.  The weather was sort of lousy (rainy and chilly) on Thursday and Friday, but today the sun came out and brightened things up.

We’re staying at a terrific hotel in the Sultanahmet district that is owned by Lynn Yeoman (an old friend of Margaret’s) and her business partner Hakan Kocatürk –it’s called The Apricot Hotel and it’s right in the heart of the old city, a short walk to many of the major sites. We’ll be posting full reviews of the hotel on Trip Advisor soon, but suffice it to say that it’s a WONDERFUL place and we’ve been treated like royalty since they picked us up at the airport.  And from what we can tell, everyone gets the same treatment.

Today I’m posting images from our first two days here — I’ll post again before we leave.  As you can imagine, there’s LOT’S to see and photograph here.

Our first night here, Hakan and Lynn took us to a fish restaurant up on the Bosphorus Strait nearly to the Black Sea.  Here are a few photos from dinner:


Our new friend, Hakan -- he owns The Apricot Hotel with our friend Lynn -- pours out glasses of Raki, the "national drink" in Turkey. It's an anise-flavored spirit that is clear until you add water and it becomes cloudy - very nice flavor - licoricey... and STRONG.



Margaret and Hakan -- we're all at a seafood restaurant on the Bosphorus Strait. Those are the various salads that started dinner. Fish came later, but I forgot to photograph it. Darn!


As I mentioned, the weather was pretty lousy, so I didn’t get many good outdoor shots of two main sites we visited on Friday — Topkapi Palace and the “Blue Mosque.”  I’ve linked to the Wikipedia entries because I don’t really have any good photos and they go into detail about the historical significance of each.

Topkapi Palace is HUGE.  Built beginning in 1459,  it sprawls around this beautiful piece of land that overlooks the Bosphorus.  It holds many of the most important Ottoman treasures and holy relics of the Muslim world, including (allegedly?), bits of the prophet Muhammed’s beard.  I certainly won’t be able to do it justice here, so I encourage you to take a look at the Wiki entry.


View of the Bosphorus Strait from Topkapi Palace. Note the hawk...



Margaret and James on the grounds leading into Topkapi Palace. The area behind them contains the kitchens. You'll see the enormous chimneys in the next shot.



This section housed the kitchen - those are chimneys rising up in the background.



Margaret and I at Topkapi Palace. We're getting ready to leave and walk over to the Blue Mosque.



Here's a rainy shot of the Blue Mosque. Those are loudspeakers on the minarets - the Muslim Call to Prayer is amplified through the speakers. Five times a day, you can hear the muezzin summoning Muslims for their prayers - the sound, which gets mixed with muezzin calling from other mosques, is really something else. Margaret recorded a particularly loud call to prayer while we were out today -- I'll try to find a way to post it here soon.



This young man saw me with my camera and told me it was okay to take his picture. Worshippers have to cleanse themselves (including washing their feet) before entering the mosque.



Shot from farther away - there are probably 20-30 of these stools/faucets along this wall. Behind me several men were washing themselves in preparation for entering the mosque.



Here's a pretty gloomy shot from inside the courtyard of the Blue Mosque.



A man praying inside the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque). They do not allow visitors inside during services, so I would imagine that this space is packed during those times. It took this photo from behind a guard rail -- there are probably 250 visitors in there with us.


And now, drum roll please…. …. … the reason why the Sultan Ahmed Mosque is called “The Blue Mosque…”


Sultan Ahmed Mosque -- ceiling domes. Blue is a major theme....



More Sultan Ahmed Mosque ceiling details...



Margaret and James inside the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. Women are "encouraged" though not required to covered their heads out of respect. Everyone must take off their shoes before entering. You can't see from here, but there are about 250 people inside the mosque, in their socks. And it was raining outside. I won't say anymore. About the smell...



I did not take this photo. Actually, I did "take" it - from a travel website. I just wanted to make sure you saw what it really looks like.


Here are some random images from the first two days:


There are very friendly cats EVERYWHERE in Istanbul. Here's a shot of a couple of kittens, sleeping on a stack of rugs in a shop window. Awwww....



A produce truck drove past our hotel yesterday - I imagine this guy drives around and sells produce to the restaurants.



James yawns on the train ride from Pecs to Budapest to catch the flight to Istanbul. LOVE the trains, but this one was an early train - left Pecs at 5:20 am...



The fact that there are many rug shops around Istanbul didn't surprise me, but just how cool some of the shop windows are did -- I love the display of this GIANT rug.



Had baklava with tea yesterday afternoon. Delish!!


That’s it for now.  Went pillowcase shopping today in the Grand Bazzaar, walked to the Spice Bazaar, crossed a bridge into an area called The Golden Horn and took a walk along the Sea of Marmara.  Lots of photos to process…  more later.

*James and I are NOT on Fall Break, but the ANK school knew that we’d be gone this week and we had their approval.  So we’re playing hooky, but it’s okay.

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A Road Trip to Szeged and a dip down into Serbia (!)

Quick post  —  lots of pix —  we rented a car last weekend and drove about 3 hours west to Szeged – a beautiful town on the Tisza river in the area of Hungary called “The Great Southern Plain.”   The Fulbright people organized a weekend of activities there – it was great to see our fellow Fulbrighters and their families who had come from all over Hungary.   We spent Friday and Saturday with the group, then on Sunday we decided to add another country to our “been there” list and drove down into Serbia with David Grosskopf and his family (wife, Stephanie and three brave girls).  We spent a few hours wandering around a town called Subotica, then headed back up into Hungary in the afternoon.  The Serbian detour was thoroughly enjoyable except for a long and somewhat disturbing delay at the border crossing back into Hungary -it took about two hours to get through – lots of vehicle searches (including ours and the Grosskopf’s — I think they were looking for things as harmless as cigarettes and alcohol, but, boy, they take it very seriously!).  The big surprise for me was that there were no Novak Djokovic billboards anywhere!  The other odd thing is that when I mentioned to a colleague at my school that we visited Subotica, she said, “Yes, it’s a lovely little city.  It used to be part of Hungary.”  Must be strange to think that way.

Anyway – not much commentary here (because the history was overwhelming and I was busy taking pictures).

Here are some pix from the trip.


The route: Pecs - Bonyhad - Szeged - Subotica (Serbia). Margaret's great-great-great grandfather was buried in Bonyhad, but we couldn't find the cemetery. We'll go back and look again, I'm sure.



Protest in front of the Szeged city hall. The story we were told was that city employees who worked on a tram project had not been paid. Apparently the contractor went bankrupt AFTER being paid by the city. They didn't make a SOUND - it was a "silent" protest. This photo was taken in Széchényi Square - the main square in Szeged. By the way, the big square in Pecs is ALSO called Széchényi Square.



Klauzál Square - one of the main squares in Szeged. Hungarian cities know how to do a square. And the really great part is that all the squares seem to be connected by very walkable streets. They almost blend seamlessly into one another.



The Votive Church (1913) and Cathedral Square at Dom Ter- the giant twin spires with 8 clock faces are pretty amazing, though I can imagine the Cathedral finance committee asking, "Do we really need TWO spires?"



The cathedral square is huge and eerily empty, save for our friend, Blase Ur, whom you can see hurrying to catch up to the group.



This sculpture commemorates the Great Flood of 1878 when the Tisza River overran its banks and destroyed nearly all the homes in Szeged (fewer than 300 of nearly 6,000 homes survived). The town was essentially rebuilt.



The Tizsa River

The Tisza River.



The synagogue in Szeged.


You can learn more about the synagogue in Szeged here and see more pix here.


This is a shot of the Roosevelt téri Halászcsárda - we had a wonderful meal of fish soup (unBELIEVABLY good) and pasta (which was sauced with something like sour cream and bits of bacon fat and wasn't quite so unbelievable).


On Saturday we all took a bus to a town called Opusztaszer to spend the day at the National Historical Heritage Park.  It’s about a 30 minute drive from Szeged and is considered one of the most important historical sites in Hungary — it’s where the “modern” nation of Hungary was born in 896.  Here are some pix:


The sheep at the National Historical Heritage Park in Opusztaszer.



The Arpad Monument. The Hungarians settled in the Carpathian Basin under Arpad's rule.



I love to bowl with a partially squared wooden ball on bumpy dirt lane!



James helps with the chores - time to bake some pogatch!



The most amazing horse-back archery demonstration I've ever seen. The horse is FLYING along this path and the kid is picking off targets about 75 feet away, one after another.



James gets his chance to test his archery skills (which were honed in Mississippi at Camp Strong).



The melon (or rutabaga?) didn't have a chance! (he sliced it in half with his sword at full gallop).



This is part of the panorama in the rotunda at the park -- it's was painted by Arpad Feszty in 1896. It depicts the arrival of Arpad and his chiefs.


After two great days in Szeged and Opusztaszer, we now headed south into Serbia.  We spent a few hours in a town called Subotica.


Built in 1780, this "Great Church" has some serious structural issues. Look closely at the center. Uh-oh... I may detect a split in the church!



Here's a detail of the church - not sure how this gets repaired. Glue and a giant vise?



WWII memorial - this is adjacent to the church.



Synagogue in Subotica - built in 1902. It's in very bad shape, but it looked like there was some plan to renovate.



Margaret and James enjoying a coffee and an ice cream in Subotica.



In the big market in Subotica.



Us - in Subotica. Photo by our friend David Grosskopfs.



I think this is Hungarian/Serbian celery. I love the display.


That’s it for now.  Pix from the big flea market to come soon…

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“Oily Seeds on a Sofa” – Fun with English Translations

Our kitchen is tiny and restaurant meals are comparatively inexpensive and VERY tasty, so we eat out a lot.  Fortunately, the menus often have English translations underneath the Hungarian descriptions (or we’re given English language menus), but those translations can be pretty funny (to a native English speaker).  Of course, we REALLY appreciate the effort to help us pathetic non-Hungarian speakers, so I don’t mean to mock the thoughtful restauranteurs.  If not for the translations, we’d never know what we were eating.  But sometimes, even with the translations, we still don’t know what we’re eating!

Here are a few that made us laugh:

"Grilled chicken breast with leafy spinach and oily seeds on a sofa in a delicious garlic sauce." The entree below it comes with "buttery grapes," which isn't so strange really when you consider that people use the words "buttery" and "oaky" to describe their chardonnays. Had a great meal here tonight - it's now one of our favorites.

"Breaded mozzarella with fruitgravy." This is a pretty common menu item - it's fried cheese with blueberry jam served on a bed of rice. Or a "sofa of rice" if you prefer.

"Chicken fillet in seasame coat in saladnest with cheese sauce." I love "saladnest" -- it's really the most accurate way to describe something served on a pile of salad greens.

"Milky drinks" featuring a "Cup of milk."

"Corn with milk" and "Corn with yoghurt." We assume that the "corn" comes served in flake form.

"Liver balls soup." I'm sure it's delicious.

"Rib with pineapple and smoked clod with cheese" and "Pork chop stuffed with horseradish and hand of pork." Do you think they meant "hoof" or "paw?" Can't imagine either - a pork chop stuffed with a pork hoof? May have to order it just to see what's stuffed inside that pork chop. This is also one of our favorite restaurants.

"Crackers." Might mean that the bread is toasted.

From the grocery store: "Pizza-Krem." I think U.S. food companies should embrace the tube as a form of condiment packaging. Mustard and mayonnaise come in toothpaste-type tubes and it works really well.

Okay, it's not technically a menu translation, but it's still kinda funny. Vote for the schmuck!

"Blanky!" It's universal - the blanket with sleeves.

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Connections in Komló (or “Coalminer’s Great-Great Grand Daughter”)

Margaret sitting at the desk of her great-great grandfather, Adolph Engel de Jánosi, which is on display at the City Museum in Komló, Hungary. That's Adolph looking down from the wall over her shoulder.

Sometimes when we’re simply LIVING here in Pécs taking the bus to school, teaching a class, going for a run, eating a meal, watching Gaelic rugby on the German sports station, or enjoying a festival performance (which is fairly non-stop around here), I sometimes forget WHY we’re here, why we’ve come all the way to this little eastern Central European country.  I was reminded of the reason, again, when we took the bus to a nearby mining town called Komló about 20 miles north of Pécs in the Mecsek Mountain region.  Wikipedia calls Komló a “planned mining city” during the socialist era.   Unfortunately, the last coal mine was closed in 2000 and now the town has a terrible unemployment problem — there’s essentially no work to be had.

Before the Soviets took over the mines, Komló was called Jánosi.  Margaret’s mother’s maiden name is Engel de Jánosi (and it’s our son James’ second middle name — James Raymond Engel de Jánosi O’Connor), which should give you a clue to the significance of the place.

Here are some archival photos of Komlo:

A mine opening in Komlo, which was likely still called Jánosi at the time.

Komló in 1953 during the Socialist Era - "The Miner's Suburb."

Margaret (and others) are (and have been for some time) sorting through the details and putting together pieces of family history, but I think the gist of the story as it relates to Komlo is that Adolf Engel (1820-1903) essentially opened the mines in Jánosi in the late 1800’s and is at some level responsible for the development of the mining industry in this area.   That’s why there’s a bust of Adolf in front of the museum:

Margaret and James with the bust of Adolf Engel de Jánosi (her great-great grandfather and his great-great-great grandfather) in front of the city museum in Komlo.

And it’s why a section of the Komlo city museum is dedicated to Adolf and his family:

This is part of the Engel de Janosi section of the museum, which features Adolf's office furniture - his desk, sofa and chairs, and the armoire, which was made in his parquet wood factory in Vienna.

And the next two photos help explain why Adolf Engel became Adolf Engel de Jánosi:

This is the first page of the six page document in which Franz Joseph (the Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) makes Adolf Engel (and his "legitimate offsprings") members of the Hungarian nobility. He would now be known as Adolf Engel de Janosi (of Janosi).

This is another page from the documents declaring Adolf's nobility. They're beautifully designed documents.

Adolf Engel de Janosi - a wonderful portrait. Do you see a little of Margaret in that face??? Around the eyes, maybe??

There is a genealogical chart on the wall in the museum – it was an amazing feeling to see our little branch of the family included in the display.

Here we are. Click on the photo to see a larger image.

Margaret and James looking into a display case full of family documents- that's the genealogical chart on the wall below the photos.

This is our new, dear friend, Renata, with Margaret. Renata took us to the museum - she's been incredibly helpful and she's become a wonderful friend. She's a school teacher and her husband, Zoltan, is on the History faculty at the University of Pecs.

Adolf's comput-- I mean, typewriter.

Szent Borbala is the patron saint of people who use explosives. This was on Adolf's side table.

Here are a few shots from around Komlo.  It’s really a beautiful town, tucked into a small valley.  Just looking around you wouldn’t think that the town was struggling.  It was clean and there were flowers planted along the road in front of the museum.  A student of Renata’s told us that it wasn’t safe in the evenings, so we headed out before sundown.

An apartment building that was at one time the pride of Komlo. Still looks pretty nice to me.

Cement powerline poles. Very interesting - perhaps a matter of using materials that are easiest to come by. Adolf also established the first cement factory in the area in 1880.

The hamburger stand inside the bus station in Komlo.

And finally, to show that not everything is serious in Hungary — here’s a shot from the “Sports” section of the museum, which was full of photos, statues and trophies from the town’s rich sports history:

2008 Komlo Team Handball Trophy.

The crazy part of all this is that the Komlo/mining element is only a small part of Adolf’s business/industrial/cultural/philanthropic impact on the region.  He owned, built or invested in real estate, schools, railroads, public swimming pools, and lumber yards.  He build some of the most beautiful buildings in Pecs.  As a leading member of the Jewish community in Pecs, he was instrumental in building the synagogue, but also he contributed to the restoration of the Catholic Church, and he paid for the restoration of a church organ in one of the smaller towns where he had a business interest.

Later this fall, the Mayor of Pecs is going to participate (hopefully) in a ceremony to place a plaque commemorating Adolf’s contribution to the city.  We hope to be there.

Posted in Margaret's Ancestry | 3 Comments