Sep 302010
 

The interior blue dome of Istanbul's iconic Sultan Ahmet Mosque, misnamed The Blue Mosque.


Like its famous Dervishes, Turkey is a whirlwind of culture, history, people and color. It is at once ancient and modern, traditional and sophisticated, religious and secular. A land of contrasts united under one religion, Islam, with a history reaching back to the dawn of civilization.

Istanbul, Turkey’s greatest city, is our introduction into the country’s deep, fascinating history and famous hospitality. It is a bustling megalopolis of 17 million. My first impression is of a clean, modern, city of broad avenues, low hills and a skyline punctuated with the needle-like minarets of numerous mosques rising out of the surrounding masses of multi-level apartment buildings.

Looking east toward the Bosphorus and the Bosphorus Bridge from the Topkapi Palace

Along the Golden Horn

The highway runs east along the north shore of the Sea of Marmara. This broad sea, along with the Bosphorus, separates Europe from Asia as well as dividing Istanbul. The narrows of the Bosphorus, leading to the Black Sea lie in front of us. A broad, tree-lined park with recreation path extends for miles along the shore leading us to Sultanamet, the age-old quarter of Istanbul.

Turning off the highway, we pass through Istanbul’s 1,700 year-old Byzantine walls into a maze of crooked streets lined with restaurants. Men, appearing as timeless as the walls, sit in groups around low tables smoking nargiles, the classic Turkish water pipe.

The timeless lobby of the Turkuaz Hotel in Sultanahmet

Our driver deposits us in front of an Ottoman mansion from the mid-nineteenth century, the Turkuaz Hotel, appropriately painted bright turquoise. Walking down a level through a cool, tree-shaded courtyard, Yolanda and I enter the lobby, stepping into another. Here we find the esthetic of exotic Turkey; marble floors, walls tiled in colorful, geometric designs, dark, wooden pillars supporting a low paneled ceiling, pillowed benches lining the walls. Ottoman lamps, like large jewels, hang from the ceiling.

Marilena, the manager, speaking lightly accented English, shows us to our room, The Sultan’s Room. It is beautiful in its decadent thick, velvet drapes and crystal chandelier. Though not a large or expensive room, it is richly appointed with frou-frou chairs, lamps, dark-wood cabinets and a curtained window seat which Yolanda immediately usurps for a jetlag induced nap.

Our room, The Sultan's Room

Two delicious hours later, we are awakened by the first, of what will become innumerable Ezans, the calling of the faithful to late afternoon prayer. Rising and washing, we set out for some sight seeing and later dinner at a nearby restaurant Maria recommends.

A vendor sells pomegranate juice outside the Aya Sophia, built almost two millenia ago.

The enormous interior of the ancient Aya Sophia built first as a church in 537 CE converted into a mosque after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. They are just now uncovering the angels in the corners and other beautiful, Christian mosaics after hundreds of years. Islam does not permit the depiction of humans or animals in their mosques.

Tahiri Cesme, meaning historical fountain, is a find. The street-side tables beneath the shade of a broad grape arbor quickly fill with tourists and Istanbulus alike. The restaurant’s namesake fountain sits beside the street while an ancient, Byzantine wall forms a backdrop.

The Tahiri Cesme restaurant

Perhaps ten different Meze, Turkish appetizers, are brought on a tray. We pick a spicy eggplant dish and another of a yogurt-based sauce similar to Greek tzatziki. A scrumptious, flat bread puffed and piping hot from the oven appears and we begin our first meal of renowned Turkish cuisine: chicken kabap for $6 and the house special lamb kabap for $8.

Traffic flows sporadically along the cobbles of the ancient, narrow street barely wide enough for two cars. The occasional truck or bus stops to negotiate the sharp corner, clogging traffic and causing honking and much entertaining arguing. As night descends, we finish our meal with the traditional, small, glass cups of hot Turkish tea and head up the winding street to the old, Roman Hippodrome and Istanbul’s famous Blue Mosque.

A few of the 336 columns of the labyrinthine Byzantine cistern built by the Roman Emperor Justinian in 532 CE, filled in over the centuries ago and discovered in 1545. Fish still swim in the waters.

The Romans recycled columns of various styles from earlier periods for the cistern. Here, a sideways Medusa capitol serves as a base. After all, everything was going to be underwater. No need to pay attention to style.

The long, narrow, well-lit plaza of what had been the city’s chariot racetrack two millennia ago, is quiet. A few couples stroll between the monuments. An ice cream vendor fills an infrequent cone. Men, sitting among large pillows along the thousand-year old walls talk quietly, drawing an occasional breath of pungent tobacco from a large nargile.

Meandering along, we find ourselves in the entry courtyard to Istanbul’s largest and most famous mosque. The Blue Mosque or in reality, the Sultan Ahmet Mosque built by the sultan in 1616, is a sublime structure. Six elegant minarets rise high above the multiple domes, dramatically lit against the night sky.

The quiet, exterior courtyard of the Sultan Ahmet Mosque with four of its minarets.

The sacred silence is punctuated occasionally by the click of high heels on stones. Several tourists murmur in a far corner. The occasional shutter clicks. Suddenly, the Ezan, the call to prayer, explodes in the courtyard; one long, loud, unbroken phrase: Allahu Ekber-Allahu Ekber-God is great-God is great.

It is spine tingling! Then the night turns magical as the Ezan is echoed from a distant mosque. The two Muezzin trade phrases back and forth until once again, silence reins over the ancient city. We could not have had a more beautiful and appropriate introduction to Istanbul.

Copyright 2010 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging

www.dreamcatcherimaging.com

Sep 262010
 

After much frenzied anticipation, Yolanda and I are on our way to Turkey. It is so exotic a destination. The imagination conjures images of Sultans on golden thrones surrounded by dozens of beautiful harem girls along with images of turbaned Pashas reclining upon luxurious pillows smoking water pipes.

The history of Turkey extends back thousands of years to the dawn of civilization. It has been the seat of empires, a crossroads of cultures, the interface between western and oriental values and for millennia, the focus of two of the world’s great religions.

Turkey is this and so much more as it spans and connects the continents of Europe and Asia. Here, the Roman emperor Constantine moved his capitol in 630 C.E. splitting the empire and eventually Christianity. For over a thousand years, Eastern Europe and Russia looked to Constantinople for guidance in their faith.

Ultimately, the forces of Islam breached the ancient walls in 1454, establishing the powerful and opulent Ottoman Empire whose eventual decadence and corruption ended in the death throes of World War I less than one hundred years ago.

Now, a modern, democratic state, Turkey is struggling between looking westward toward acceptance into an integrated Europe and eastward to its seemingly natural position of leadership in the Middle East.

Stepping into this incredible wealth of historical and geographical abundance is challenging for the preconceptions that arise. Yolanda and I are fortunate to be participating in a cultural exchange sponsored by Santa Barbara’s Pacifica Institute. Consequently, we are driven to learn as much of the history and current political and economic situation as possible.

As I sought to gain an understanding of this ancient land and its peoples, I have developed a mental image that will undoubtedly be proven to be contrived and wholly inadequate to the richness of Turkey’s reality. And that’s the beauty of travel: the smashing of prejudice, preconceptions and downright ignorance.

I’ve never traveled in a Muslim culture and remember being somewhat shocked in Bangkok. While waiting in immigration, a large group of Muslims passed by on their way to customs. The women were covered head to toe in black, only slits for eyes, following obediently behind their husbands and trailing the luggage they had retrieved. It was so foreign to my experience.

And yet, that same trip, on a boat amidst the emerald waters and jungle-shrouded islands of Vietnam’s Halong Bay, Yolanda and I shared dinner with a lovely, devout, Indonesian couple, accompanied by their beautiful, obviously intelligent daughter and son. No hint of headscarves let alone birkas in their lives.

As America should have learned over these past nine years since 9/11, Islam is an extremely diverse religion, possibly more diverse in its practices and observances than our own Christianity.

Turkey is 98% Muslim: by policy, a secular state. We are to meet and dine with host families and local leaders. Our group will be visiting some of Islam’s most magnificent mosques and holiest shrines. We will be exposed to many facets of this religion to which one quarter of all humanity adheres. And too, we will be exploring some of the earliest roots of Christianity.

On the itinerary is the ancient Roman town of Ephesus, where St. Paul lived, preached and wrote his Letter to the Ephesians. As well, Cappadocia, where early Christians lived out years of persecution amidst a fairy landscape of sculpted stone and subterranean dwellings.

Though I doubt we’ll get so far east, there, near Turkey’s eastern border with Iran, sits 10,000-foot Mt. Ararat, Noah’s storied mountain from the book of Genesis.

And then there is the long, deep Jewish history within Turkey. Seven hundred years of open invitation as a refuge from pogroms and persecution by Christians.

Turkey will clearly be an experience that confounds my preconceptions. I can’t wait to arrive.

Copyright 2010 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging

www.dreamcatcherimaging.com

Sep 062010
 

Entrance to the Hall of the Mosses

I know of no place like it on earth. Perhaps up some lonely Patagonian fjord or an isolated valley along Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, but the incredibly verdant, temperate rainforests of Washington’s Olympic National Park are unique in my experience.

The Hoh Valley provides the quintessential Olympic experience. Opening to the west not far from the ocean, the Hoh feels the brunt of the massive, wet, winter and spring storms constantly brewing in the Gulf of Alaska. Westerly winds pour moisture off the sea. The deep, mountainous valley funnels it eastward where it meets the steepening slopes of the Olympic range, squeezing up to fourteen feet of precipitation into the narrowing Hoh drainage.

The crystal clear waters of a small creek near the trailhead to the Hall of the Mosses

The effect produces a lush, amazingly green landscape. Every square inch of ground is blanketed with life. The massive trunks of the conifers and deciduous trees are thick with a spongy carpet of mosses and ferns. From the spreading limbs hang draperies of dense moss. These old growth, temperate forests contain three times the biomass of tropical rainforests.

The Hall of the Mosses, a short, circular hike outside the ranger station yields the most impressive examples of this rainforest architecture. The campground is nearby as are the trailheads for the short Spruce Nature Trail and the Hoh River Trail leading 17.3 miles deeper into the valley and up the slopes of 7,980’ Mt. Olympus.Along the Spruce Nature Trail

Outside the Hoh Ranger Station

The densely foliaged roots and stump of a fallen giant

Though richly beautiful, the Hoh is only a small section of this huge national park. Two other valleys farther south, the Queets and Quinault, offer similar yet different experiences. High mountains dramatically surround Lake Quinault, just off Highway 101. Both north and south shore roads carry you along its shoreline and deep into the interior valley. Where the pavement ends, hiking trails lead you miles farther into the old growth forests.

Then there are the beaches. Miles and miles of deserted sand, cliff and rock stretch along the western edge of the Olympic Peninsula. Several campgrounds are placed strategically on the bluffs above the beaches. Some campsites open to the ocean. From ours at Kalaloch, (pronounced clay-lock), I watched a pod of Orca spout and play beneath a brilliant sunset.

Sunset along Ruby Beach

Scotch Broom growing densely along the highway

Five Native American tribes make their homes along the extensive coast as they have for hundreds if not thousands of years. Reservations, only a fraction of their earlier lands, stretch from the Quinault in the south, followed northward by the Hoh, then the Quileute, the Ozette and finally the Makah. The Makah Indian Reservation, at the mouth of Puget Sound, occupies the extreme most northwesterly point in the continental U.S..

Leaving the Hoh Valley and heading north, we drive through endless stands of Pines, Hemlocks and Douglas Fir, most being farmed, ready for harvest in twenty to forty years. Passing through Forks, of Twilight Saga fame, we made a turn to the east along the northern boundary of the park where we found a lovely campsite in a practically deserted campground along spectacular Lake Crescent.

Yolanda and I along the trail to Sol Duc Falls

A gentle, abiding peace reigns throughout the old-growth forests of the Sol Duc Valley.

A small cascade descending toward the Sol Duc River

Driving south along the Sol Duc River took us to the Sol Duc Falls trailhead. The easy trail runs through a lovely, exceedingly tranquil forest of widely spaced, old growth Cedars and Firs separated by verdant undergrowth. The roar of the falls beckons. A turn in the trail reveals a wooden bridge spanning the chasm offering a front row seat as the river splits and drops in steps perhaps eighty feet.

Sol Duc Falls

Sol Duc Falls and Bridge

Our final stop in the park was a short drive up the Elwah River Valley to take a first and final look at the Glines Canyon Dam. This dam, along with the Elwha Dam, will be removed next summer, allowing the river to flow freely for the first time in almost one hundred years. This will allow salmon to return and spawn in over seventy miles of pristine river and stream.

Soon to be removed Glines Canyon Dam. It's difficult to imagine the task and how they'll accomplish it.

A return trip is imperative. I have yet to explore the dramatic mountains of the park and Hurricane Ridge where alpine trails lead to many more wonders. The entire eastern side, in the rain shadow of the Olympics, promises additional picturesque hiking and camping at oddly named Dosewallips, Hamma Hamma and Staircase.

As with all our national parks, Olympic National Park is uniquely wondrous: an ecosystem worthy of preservation and veneration, a land of enormous variety and natural beauty, a national treasure well worth exploring.

Copyright 2010 Dennis Jones/Dreamcatcher Imaging

www.dreamcatcherimaging.com