Monday, October 27, 2008

Shame on the US

Bedouin family, west of Hama, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

And now to the US invasion/military attack on Syria… Who on earth do these people think they are?And, just like they did in Somalia at the end of 2006, they seem to have missed their targets and killed civilians. This time, they killed a father and his three children, the farm guard and his wife and also a fisherman. As the Syrian foreign minister Walid Muallem said ‘Killing civilians in international law means a terrorist aggression’.

But then, I suppose that Turkey does similar things in northern Iraq whilst trying to attack the Kurdish terrorists who operate from there. I suppose the main difference is that the US tries to sell itself as the defender of freedom and democracy and world leader, whilst all Turkey is trying to do is to defend its own people and territory.

Shame on Turkey

In and around Kirkpinar, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Any regular reader of this blog (if there are any!) will know how keen I am on Turkey, so they will also understand how upset I am to hear that Turkey has banned this blog, together with all other blogspot blogs, since last Friday. (Strange because I am sure I managed to upload and access this blog on Saturday as well).

There is this religious nutcase who seems to have a lot of power, with lots of money and friends in the right places, including judges. His name is Adnan Oktar, and writes silly books under the name of Yahya Haroun. He is a fanatic creationist and anti-Darwinist who has produced and load of very trashy books and pamphlets, which he seels and gives away at his own bookshop on a prominent street corner in the touristy Sultanahmet area of the city. I mentioned here in 2006, when we were traveling through Turkey that I read the booklet which I had p;icked up as an interlude to reading Richard Dawkins’ magnificent The Blind Watchmaker. The latter discussed almost every one of the silly arguments put up by the creationists, every one of them put forward by this Yahya character and showed what utter nonsense they were when subjected to rigourous intellectual scrutiny.

The man also produced a few books comparing Darwin to Hitler to Stalin and the mass murderers of the 20th century, through the link with social Darwinism, which had nothing to do with the great man himself. At the time, I thought this man to be a figure of ridicule and sad extremist with an individual hobby to attack Darwinism as a way of justifying his belief in his god.

But it seems not. He is a powerful figure. He managed to get Richard Dawkins’ own site banned in Turkey earlier this year and now he has done the same to all the blogspots (as well as WordPad and others). I am amazed that he has managed to do it, but he has.

This is not good news for Turkey or its people. I don’t know how much we can blame on the politicians, as he managed to get these bans in place through the courts but it is unthinkable that he could get so far in Turkey without the support of the politicians. These politicians from the religious AK Party, who say they are not interested in creating an Islamic state and who say that secularism in safe in their hands… well, you just have to wonder…

But maybe I should not say too much here, as I might find it difficult to get back into the country next time I try…

The nightlife in Istanbul

So, there we had it, our week in Istanbul, amazing how quickly it goes. We can only say that we appreciate even more the qualities of this great city than we had before as we continued to discover new areas to visit and particularly this time, more places in and around Istiklal Caddesi for eating and drinking. There are many many alleyways and narrow streets where they set out tables and chairs, where you can eat or drink. Some very basic, some very trendy. Inside and sometimes outside there are bars with live music, where eventually people will be singing along, clapping and dancing, not quite on the tables but almost. We went to a Kurdish bar, decked out like the inside of a tent, where a beautiful singer with black hair and a black dress sang folk songs accompanied by a guitarist and keyboard player. She sang very well (and we do prefer the women singers of Turkey to the men), singing requests from the public, with great joy in her eyes and in the meantime had two mobile phones which she was using very now and then to receive and send sms’es which was a little out-of-place.

The previous evening we had been to a gay bar, where the music was very loud, mostly electronic and coming from a backing tape, while the young singer walked around with his microphone singing powerfully and emotionally songs which seemed to be very popular again among the guests. The bar seemed to be a meeting place for young men with the most extreme forms of the hair-in-the-air style which seems so popular in Turkey. The (thick and dark) hair is brushed up above the crown and then gelled into various shapes. There was a whole table of them, about seven in a row all with this style. We noticed that you can go to a barber shop and get the barber to spend a couple of minutes with some gel and his hands in your hair to get a new style, for which you pay a half euro or so.

The colourful backstreets of Fener

Back again in Amsterdam, just less than a week after we left for Istanbul. It was raining when we left our hotel and stepped into a taxi in Istanbul and it was raining when we landed in Amsterdam and walked home from the nearest tram stop. The only difference was that it was much darker and greyer in Amsterdam than in Istanbul The streets of Istanbul had become mini-rivers and the road along the wall had some major puddles which meant that impressive amounts of spray were created as we drove along.

It stayed dark and wet the whole afternoon, so we stayed indoors, with the central heating on for the first time this autumn. Fred made a cake and I watched racing from Aintree and saw Snoopy Loopy become even more like his predecessor Take The Stand, by racing in top class company, running really well but keep banging into his fences and making mistakes. I don’t know what their trainer, Peter Bowen does, but he seems to have some magic in getting such improvement into his horses, seemingly at some cost ot their jumping abilities.

Fred found some vegetable soup on the freezer and some mushrooms in the fridge and this became our dinner before we watched the results of the previous day’s Strictly Come Dancing, followed by a new BBC production of Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit, followed by bed, back in our own bed.

It is our company’s financial year end this week and there are a few things which need to happen before we close the balance sheets, so it might be a busy week this week, let alone catching up on what I missed last week.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Charles and Fred, the day after

Here we are after yesterday's beauty treatments... not too bad, eh?

Istanbul in the (heavy) rain

Istanbul in the (heavy) rain, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

I have often wondered what Istanbul would be like in the rain, as it has always been sunny when we have been here. Wel, today we found out as there was heavy rain when we finally set out this morning (after a very fun but late night last night).

The fishermen of the Galata Bridge were all out there in the rain coats, with umbrellas, wet sheets and so on, as many today as there would be on any other day. They made great sujects for photographing (although it is generally difficult as they lean and look over the bridge, often allowing just a sideways glance at them - as can be seen here.

The weather cleared up and we managed to spend the rest of the day walking around Eyup, which occasion provided us with another decent crop of photos and other headgear.

Last night tonight and with an early start to the airport, I doubt if we'll get much sleep, but we can always catch up when we are back in Amsterdam.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Istanbul in black and grey - stairway to heaven

It was a bit cloudy in our part of Istanbul today, after a bright start, so many of the photos didn't work out too well (Sony's not being renowned for doing all that well in low light conditions). Anyway, I managed a good crop of pics today as we walked around the backstreets from Eminonu towards Fener. At last we stopped off for a shave (me) and a haircut (fred) and ended up an hour-and-a-half later with a full facial beauty treatment (this time without the electrolysis, thank goodness). As in Amman it was completely unasked for and ended up being more expensive than what we thought we were letting ourselves in for but it was cheaper than just one of Fred's haircuts in Amsterdam. In the meantime, my hair got some attention as my barber was not happy about the state of my hair, just two weeks after it having been cut by my Syrian chap back home. But the good news is that we do looka fair bit younger this evening and have faces with skin as soft as a baby's bottom!

Now back ın Istanbul,,, two days to go...

The Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why we travel

The Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Sometimes you wonder why you do it, leaving the comfort of your own home, getting up early in the mornings, buying tickets, queueing up, being ripped off by taxi drivers, packing one's bags, sleeping on uncomfortable beds and eating stale bread for breakfast and all those other troublesome things related to travelling and then one arrives... Yesterday to the bus station outside Edirne after a two-and-a-half hour bus ride from the bus station on the outskirts of Istanbul. It is in the middle of nowhere and we catch a dolmus (minibus) into town and take a route through various universities and some modern suburbs and you still wonder why you do it. But then, after getting off the bus in the centre and quickly finding a hotel (the Efe Hotel, as patronised by Michael Palin), having a quick splash and going out onto the streets, you find out why. Another colourful and bustling old Turkish/Ottoman city, full of characters, small shops, bars, cafes, workshops and vegetable carts and so on. There is a buzz about the place, an infectious joy and we know why we do it.

Edirne is important in the history of the Ottomans as it was from here that they launched their successful attack on Constantinople in 1453. It is now famous for the Selimiye Mosque and for the oil wrestling championships in Kirkpinar in July, amongst other things.

There seem to be quite a lot of old mosques in the centre of Edirne but all of a sudden, in the mid-distance we see some exceptionally high and beautifil minarets which tell us they must belong to the selimiye Mosque so we make our way up the low hill, through some (badly laid out) gardens until it comes into full view. A magnificent building with four minarets all gleaming in the bright sunshine, more beautiful than any mosque I have ever seen and later I will view it as the most beautiful building I have ever seen.

Large buildings (like St Peter's in Rome) might often be impressive, but they can also be a bit clumsy and overwhelming. The Selimiye Mosque, despite the fantastic artwork of he tiling, the windows, the carved mihrab, its painted ceilings and so on, still manages to be graceful, peaceful and charming. Everything is in perfect symmetry, a recent rennovation has been unobtrusive. Set in gardens on a hill, surrounded by plenty of trees and not being incredibly busy (when we were there), it exuded peace and quiet, almost like an English country church, but without the darkness and fiddliness you often find in such churches. And it should be said, the mosque inside is incredibly light. A real jewel of a building. It was designed and built by Mimar Sinan at the age of 80 and he reckoned it to be his crowning masterpiece. Wonderful.
Posted 7 hours ago. ( permalink | delete | edit )

CharlesFred says:
Edirne is more than justa city of mosques and oil wrestlers (all we saw of the latter were statues outide the wrestling grounds). It is a university city and there seem to be lots of schools in the city such that the streets are full of children and teenagers in uniformn, all the boys wearing ties with the knot half way down their (white) shirts. Cool! In additon to these, you will find many gypsy/Roma folk, as seems to be typical in the Balkans (of which Edirne, next to Bulgaria and Greece) is an outpost of.they are dark-faced and look quite poor, often working as street cleaners and sometimes even begging. Some of the men have horses and (simple) carriages, transporting goods around town. The women mostly wear baggy trousers with dark floral designs and lighter scarves.

One other place to mention is the Medical Museum at the beyazit Mosque, also a place visited by Michael Palin. A great big complex the other side of the Tunca River, it housed a large 15th century medical centre including a sanitorium-type place for the treatment of the mentally ill. Whereas in western europe such people were often killed or burnt-at-the stake, here they were treated to water, musical, herbal and accupational therapies, whildt the doctors studied the works of the ancient Greek and later islamic philosophers. The Museum is extremely well-presented and is well worth a visit, if you are in the area.

And now, ee have travelled back across the golden rolling landscape of Thrace and are in a traffic jam on the outskirts of greater isanbul surrounded by maga-large building and development projects. It is 18.20 and we have to take a tram into the centre and find a hotel, the one we were staying at on our arrival, the Lush Hip Hotel, being a bit pricey for our tastes. And then we will be off to tatse the Istanbul nigh-life. Another football night with Galatasaray hosting Olympiakos.after Fenerbahce hosted Arsenal on Tuesday and lost 2-5!

Coming back this afternoon/evening gives us two full days before our early flight back on Sunday.

Fred at the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne

The Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

The Selimiye Mosque in Edirne

The Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Maybe it was the warm sunny late October weather, or the peace and quiet and lack of tourists, but from the moment I set my eyes on the four towering minarets, I fell in love with this building. The atmosphere reminded us of the Yesil (Green) Mosque in Bursa, but this was even more magnificent. I would say that it is the most beautiful, graceful building I have ever seen in my life.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Among the mussel folk of Rumeli Kavagi

Today, our second day we took a ferry trip up the Bosphorus to Rumeli Kavagi, retacing our steps from July 2006. It was a lovely (mostly) sunny day. Coming off the boat we went straight to the fishing harbour where we came across a number of families who were opening fresh mussels and putting them into buckets. These mussels will be sent to France to be eaten, apparently. The people wre a bit shy at first but became more friendly and allowed us to take some photos of them.

One of the street foods in Istanbul is mussel shells filled with a peppery rice and a mussle. They cost two for a pound, or 25 eurocents each and they are delicious!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Back in Istanbul

Christmas Day in Istanbul, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

We arrived to warm sunshine in Istabul this morning and spent the afternoon walking down the Istiklal Caddesi to the Galata Tower and across the Golden Horn to the New Mosque. It is National Day next week and there are Turksigh flags flying everywhere.

Fred and I remarked as the taxi driver brought us over teh Galata Bridge that it felt like coming home, so familiar is this great city becoming to us.

It seems that I very stupidly left the cable which connects the camera to the PC behind in Asmterdam so am unable to uplaod any photos, which is a pain. I need to find a cable asap.

On our way back to Istanbul

Christmas Day in Istanbul, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Half term holiday and we are off to Istanbul again, this time visiting Edirne, the formere Ottoman capital as well, for a couple of days.

My knees are a bit sore after yesterday's efforts during teh Half Marathon, but it should be OK. Looking forward to going back!

After the Amsterdam Half Marathon

After, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Feeling even better, after running under the 1 hour 59 minutes - which turned out to be 1 hour 49 minutes and 14 seconds. I started slowly, turning up the speed after 5 kms, running my fastest 5 kms between 14 and 19 kms, which is always good.

Well, I reckoned I was 10 kgs (14%) heavier and 5 years (12%) older than when I last ran the Amsterdam Half Marathon. I ran it three-and-a-half minutes (3.5%) slower than last time, but more to the point, I really enjoyed it and was able to sprint towards the end

Brilliant autumn

Brilliant autumn, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Happy Birthday, Thomas

The rappers, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Friday, October 17, 2008


Hogewegplein, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

This is our Hogewegplein with the fountain at low. The horse chestnuts were looking at their best.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Nescio bridge (for cyclists)

Nescio bridge (for cyclists), originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

This amazing contruction links Amsterdam Oost-Watergraafsmeer (where we live) to the new suburbs of IJburg (which was built on land created out of the IJsselmeer a few years ago). It is only for cyclists and pedestrians, a powerful symbol of the importance of the bicycle in Dutch life.

Evening bicycle

Evening bicycle, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

This is one of my favourite more recnt photos. I don't normally like to take photos of my bike because I always think it brings bad luck.

But still, I took a few this weekend and what happened today? The gears broke and my back wheel got stuck and I skidded on the wet leaves. I had an early meeting in the office today, the first half an hour of which I had to miss as it was too late to catch that early train...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fred against the wall

Fred against the wall, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Here is a nice photo of us at Place St Michel, Paris

Zarkava, worldbeater

Zarkava in the paddock, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

This is the horse who did it. She won each of the seven races, five of them Group 1's, she ran in and won them all very easily. A real equine superstar. We saw her last year at the Arc day meeting but didn't take too much notice of her, concentrating on the main race but here she was again, striding around the paddock like a proper princess.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Life echoing art

Dans les Tuilleries, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

Two days of sunshine we had and today it was like mid-March weather, with the Arc run in rain and failing light as if it was the last race at the Cheltenham festival. Still, nothing to complain about as we all had a great time together. It was Martin's first time ever in Paris and Femke's first time since she left school and somehow we managed to show them many of the best things the city has to offer.

Dinner last night at a3 was wonderful. Not the largest servings but very very tasty and well prepared. On on good thing we didn't get too drunk before eating as Fred and I did one year.

The big race was won by the big favourite Zarkava, a filly of the Aga Khan's who has never been beaten.

My money was on Youmzain, like last year and just like last year he came second, although he lost by on on bigger margin than last year. Also had some money on Soldier of Fortune who came third. So close and yet so far, again...

However, the biggest disappointment of the day was for a Hungarian trainer as follows (from the BBC)

"Sunday's meeting started in chaotic scenes with a false start called in the Prix de l'Abbaye after one horse failed to leave the stalls as Fleeting Spirit's gate refused to open.

Most of the runners had raced over three furlongs while Hungary's Overdose blazed a fruitless trail down the five-furlong course. Officials eventually decided that the race would be re-run at 1730 BST.

"We're not going to run again," said Overdose trainer Sandor Ribarszki. "I'm devastated. I've never felt as low as this in my life. I didn't travel 1,700 miles to be ridiculed like this."

We do not se many Hungarian horses over here and certainly none as good as Overdose who, like Zarkava, was unbeaten, so it was very sad for him to come all this way to be beaten by a silly mix-up like this. The mood seems to match that of the chap on this statue...

Four have fun in Paris

Four have fun in Paris, originally uploaded by CharlesFred.

With four of us going to Paris together and with the price of the Thalys train so high, we decided to rent on on car for the long weekend.

It was on on rainy day and there were over 400 kms of official traffic jams in Holland. It took us almost three hours to drive the first hundred kms, by which time we were almost in Belgium. On entering Belgium, we put the Jacques Brel CD on and that lasted all the way to Kortrijk and Lille.

The car got flashed for speding along that fast track from lille to Paris, which we entered throughthe Porte de la Villette, on on few difficulties with the one way sysytem and we finally made it to our Palace Hotel in Rue Bouchardon after midnight, seven hours after leaving home.

Time for a beer or two on a heated terrace, we left the car in a loading bay which the hotel manager said was good until 9. As there were four of us sharing the room it took on on while for us all to get ready for breakfast, which which time it was already 9.15 and the car had already been towed away... (we later found out that they had arrived at 9.06 and had towed the car away at 9.11, so we were only four mionutes too late...

All of on on sudden the expensive train journey seemed a better alternative...

CharlesFred says:
We have the car back, albeit 171 euros later, now finding on on place to park it,hopefully at on on sister hotel for 11 euros on on night - a bit cheaper.

It is cold with on on chill wind, the clouds. Have come over but it is still dry.

Having a wonderful time here in Paris, the sun has been shining all day and we are now sitting next to the fountain in the gardens of the Palais-Royal, on our way to The Louvre.

We walked up to Gare de l'Est and Gare du Nord, then to Sacre-Coeur, down to Montmartre and on to The Opera.

Yesterday saw us going up The Eiffel Tower and across to Trocadero, then the Arc de Triomphe and on on metro back to Hotel de Ville where we tanked up on on on couple of pints of Happy Hour beer at our Cox Bar.

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