Amsterdam, 2013 Visit.

I’m back in the States now, having just completed a great few weeks in Turkey and a wonderful visit to Amsterdam!  I flew on Air Lingus from Amsterdam to Dublin, then Dublin to Chicago.  I was very impressed with Air Lingus!  The service was great overall, good meals and friendly staff!  The really great thing about flying through Dublin is that it is one of the few places outside of the USA where you can clear customs before arriving in the US.  That means when I arrived in Chicago, it was like a domestic connecting flight, very nice!  No long lines or passport checks!

Amsterdam continues to be one of my favorite cities in the world!  I really never get tired of exploring this city on foot.  It seems like every time I think I have seen all there is to see in Amsterdam,  I take a turn down a new street and see something really interesting!  I love the architecture of the city center.  The building facades along the canals are quite unique compared to other cities.  There are beautiful, majestic 15th, 16th and 17th century homes, alongside 21st century coffee-shops, with old and new cafes and restaurants on every block.  It’s pretty hard to get lost, as long as you can follow one canal to the next you will eventually find your way to your destination!  As I’ve said before, Amsterdam offers something for everyone, so don’t be afraid to visit!  The cliches of pot-smoking and the red-light district are true but there are dozens of awesome museums, great restaurants and picturesque neighborhoods around just about every corner!

Bikes rule on Amsterdam Streets, so be careful and pay attention as you walk the city.
A must-do event during a visit to Amsterdam, A tourist canal boat ride!
The canal boats near the Munt Toren.
Another canal boat navigates the narrow bridges of Amsterdam.
A family feed the ducks and seagulls from their canal houseboat early one morning in Amsterdam, 2013.
Ever wonder how XXX got associated with Adult Movies?  According to a friend of mine, much of the early adult material came from Amsterdam and since the XXX has been on the City Emblem for centuries it got associated with Adult Content.
A variety of building facades in Amsterdam, 2013.
A few more beautiful building facades along Heren Gracht in Amsterdam, 2013.
The Westerkerk Church steeple seen behind a few apartment facades, Amsterdam, 2013.
The Westerkerk Church as seen from the Jordan neighborhood, 2013.

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Haring Met Uitjes, a Dutch tradition!

I’ve said it before, one of the great things about traveling is getting to sample all kinds of different foods. Every country I have visited has had an incredible culinary dish or two that I have really loved! I’m pretty easy to satisfy when it comes to feeding time, but that’s not to say that I don’t have good taste, or at least good taste according to my taste buds. But isn’t that why they say ‘there’s no accounting for taste.’ I mean, everyone has their favorite food, right? What is a delicacy to some, may not be fed to the dogs, by others. It’s really amazing what foods some cultures eat! When I come across, what for me, seems like a bizarre food, I always wonder, ‘who was the first person to try this?’ Like oysters for example! Who was the first human to let a raw oyster slide down their throat? Or who climbed the walls of a cave to rip a bird’s nest off the rock-wall and make soup? Were those foods eaten out of curiosity or necessity? I can assure you, most new, off the wall dishes I try are because I’m curious more than anything. I’ve eaten guinea pig in Peru, menudo in Mexico, all sorts of weird raw fish and other creatures in Japan, dishes in Africa that to this day, I’m not sure what I ate? Most of the time things turnout fine, but there have been a few occasions where I consumed something that made me sick for days. Like the time I ate a ‘Chinese beef and noodle’ dish in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and was sick for a few days, I mean bad-sick. Or the time I ate ‘rare grilled chicken’ in Thailand and it soon exited me simultaneous from both ends. And how could I forget the time I drank some ‘counterfeit Gatorade’ on the Inca Trail and was sick all night long! Great travel memories…..lol. Not! Even with a few bad experiences, I continue to try just about any food other humans eat!
It’s funny but my 2 brothers are kind-of the exact opposite when it comes to food. They think I am crazy to eat some of the things I eat! So where do I get it? From my Dad! My father had pretty much the same attitude when it came to eating! He loved weird stuff like I do! When I lived in the Netherlands in the early 1990s, my parents visited and of course we had to try some of the local dishes. My father and I ate ‘raw herring and onion sandwiches.’ They were, and still are, very delicious! My father passed away in the late 90s but I know if he was alive today, he would have joined me in eating a few ‘raw herring and onion sandwiches’ or as the Dutch call them, ‘haring met uitjes.’
In memory of my father, today I ate one raw herring sandwich for myself and one for Dad!

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Alles is Lekker, Amsterdam!

Anyone who has spent anytime in the Netherlands has probably heard the Dutch use the word, ‘Lekker.’ Look up ‘Lekker’ in google translate and you will see a number of English equivalents.

It can mean,

nice
tasty
delicious
yummy
snug
tempting
dainty
luscious
enticing

Lekker is used to describe just about anything in a positive manner. The weather on a sunny afternoon can be ‘Lekker.’ Your meal can be ‘Lekker.’ A warm fireplace can be ‘Lekker.’ It really has so many possibilities that you will probably hear it spoken a hundred times a day in Holland. It’s similar to the British using the word ‘Lovely,’ but with so many more possibilities!

Since the Amsterdam is so ‘Lekker’ and it’s kind-of on the way home from Turkey to the USA, I decided to stop over for a few days. I was fortunate to find a hotel room at the last minute, as this weekend there are two busy events in town, the Amsterdam Dance Event and the Amsterdam Marathon. Both events bringing tens of thousands of visitors to the city.

I’ve tried to explain to friends who don’t know Amsterdam, why it’s one of my favorite cities. Everyone knows all the cliches, like prostitution and marijuana being legal. Well, that’s true, but since I don’t partake in either of those pastimes, they are not what draws me to this city. I think I like the fact that the city offers everything other international cities offer but kind-of has a small town feel. No matter how busy the streets are, even in the tourist district, you can always escape the mayhem by stepping into a small cafe for a drink. Over the door of one of my favorite cafés, carved in stone is the year ‘1619.’ I always think it’s pretty cool to have a drink in an establishment that has been in business for almost 400 years. Imagine if those walls could talk! Amsterdam is also very foot-traffic friendly and has fantastic public transportation. I like traveling in cities on-foot, you see so much more than in a vehicle. There really is no need to take a taxi or rent a car in the city center, you can reach just about anywhere by bus or tram, followed by a short walk. There is of course a seedy under-belly of the city, but that’s completely overshadowed by the wonderful museums, art galleries and a multitude of other cultural attractions. No matter what your favorite food is, you can surly find it in Amsterdam! I’ve mentioned the ‘cafés’ already, but there are literally thousands of cafés all over the city. The Dutch homes (apartments) are pretty cozy (small) so I think that’s why they meet at the many cafés to socialize. I speak Dutch, but for non-Dutch worried about getting by in Amsterdam without knowing the language, worry not. The Dutch speak better English than many Americans I know. With a country of only about 17 million people, learning foreign languages for the Dutch is a must! So… When and if you do visit Amsterdam, don’t be afraid to grab your map, and umbrella, and just start exploring. Follow one picturesque canal street to the next, just wander, stop in a small local cafe for a drink. Just remember, ‘alles is lekker.’

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Turkey, 2013, a Really Great Adventure!

As I bring my Turkey adventure to a close, I depart with nothing but good things to say about this country. I saw just enough to know that I will certainly visit Turkey again! It's a country rich in history and culture! If you can't find something interesting to do or see in Turkey, you probably should not be traveling, because you probably don't have a heartbeat! I don't pretend to be an expert on Turkey after a 2 week + visit, but I am certainly better informed today, than I was last month. My experience was extremely positive. I found the people to be very friendly and helpful. They really understand the importance of tourism to their economy and go out of their way to welcome you. Even in Istanbul, where there seems to be a degree of 'organized madness' 24 hours a day, people were happy to point you in the right direction and answer questions. My last few days were spent in the seaside town of Kusadasi, a very popular European travel destination on Aegean coast.

A few pictures of the seaside town of Kusadasi, Turkey, 2013.

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The Ancient City of Ephesus.

Historically, Ephesus is probably most famous for being home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Unfortunately, all that remains of the temple today is one column. Numerous earthquakes over the centuries and finally a raid in 268 AD by Goths finally destroyed the temple for good. Today, Ephesus is famous for the well preserved roman-ruins, most notably the facade of the ancient library. It is also believed that the Gospel of John may have been written in Ephesus, as he spent a good portion of his life there. An earthquake destroyed most of the city in 614 AD, and it continued to lose economic importance as the harbor began to silt-up, making it too shallow for commercial ships. The well preserved ruins are a result of the city being buried for centuries by tons of earth, until re-discovered in the mid-1800s by German Archeologists.

A trip to the Turkish-Aegean Coast would be incomplete without a visit to Ephesus!

A few pictures from my recent visit to Ephesus,

-The famous facade of the Library.

-The ever-so popular ancient Latrines!

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The Ancient City of Pergamon.

The Pergamon Acropolis.

The Pergamon fortified city walls.

Pergamon Theater, said to hold 10,000 spectators and have the steepest seats in all of antiquity.

The view from ‘The Eagle’s Nest’ high above the modern city.

The arches allowed for various temples to be built on the uneven terrain above.

Cited in ‘The Book of Revelations’ as one of the Seven Churches of Asia, the Turkish city called Pergamon reached its peak of importance in the Hellenistic period. It doesn’t take long to figure out the strategic importance of the acropolis of ancient Pergamon, it sits high above the modern city, with a commanding view in all directions. Historians claim Alexander the Great appropriately called the city, ‘Eagle’s Nest.’ Any invading army would have had a very difficult task attacking the fortified walls of the city, after a difficult climb to the summit. Pergamon is probably most famous for its incredible library, once rumored to hold over 200,000 books, second only in historical importance to the ancient library at Alexandria in Egypt. Parchment, the ancient method of writing on soft calf-skin to produce books, comes from Pergamon. Evidently, the development of parchment was out of necessity. Before parchment, books were written on papyrus imported from Egypt. But as the library at Pergamon grew in importance, the Egyptians stop selling papyrus to Pergamon. Some say out of jealousy and fear that the library at Pergamon would surpass that of Alexandria in importance? Whatever the reason, the need for another material to write on become necessary and parchment was invented. It is also believed that Mark Anthony and Cleopatra spent their honeymoon in Pergamon? I can’t imagine what the city looked like 2000 years ago, as it played host to Cleopatra and Mark Anthony on their ‘weekend getaway’ but today the overwhelming beautify of the city and its surrounding landscape make it certainly worthy of a visit!

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The Ancient Healing Center of Asklepieion.

Just a few kilometers from the ancient city of Pergamon is the famous healing center of Asklepieion. It is believed the center dates back to the 9th century BC, reaching its height of importance in the second century AD. Since the center was not within the fortified walls of the city of Pergamon, it suffered countless attacks and was eventually abandoned in the 4th century AD as Christianity gained in popularity. During initial archeological excavations in the mid-1800s, no surgical tools were found among the ruins, leading historians to believe the center was what we today would call a holistic healing center. Patients from all over the region arrived by boat or horse-draw carts to participate in a wide-range of therapies including, massage, hot and cold baths, mud therapy, psychotherapy, sports-therapy and even one treatment that required the patient to walk the length of a cool, dark tunnel, while a soothsayer recited a treatment through small holes in the rock walls. It reminds me of a modern day medical-spa. With enough money 3000 years ago, just as today, one can find all sorts of therapies to treat every imaginable condition. I'm sure if Asklepieion was operating today, many of our Hollywood-Elite would surly be patients.

A few pictures from the ancient healing center of Asklepieion. The tunnel is where patients would walk slowly from one end to the other, while soothsayers would recite treatments through small holes in the walls. Theater also was a form or therapy, wow, maybe a ticket to a popular Broadway Show could be an alternative to popular pharmaceuticals.

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The ancient City of Troy

Few ancient wars are as well known today as the Trojan War. Due in large part to High School students all over the world being required to read Homer's Greek epic poem the "Iliad, and also in large part to the 2004 Warner Brother's blockbuster film, Troy.

The "Iliad" focuses on the last year of the 10 year siege of the city of Troy (Ilium) by a coalition of Greek States. Long story short, Paris of Troy, takes Helen, the wife of Greek King Menelaus to become his wife. In 1100 BC, just as it is today, it's not a good idea to steal another guy's woman. Menelaus asks for his wife back and the Trojans refuse. Evidently, Helen must have been one fine lady. So, Menelaus convinces his brother Agamemnon to lead an Army against Troy to get Helen back. The Greek Fleet brings thousands of warriors to the shores of Troy and lay-siege on Troy for 9 years, never able to penetrate the awesome walls and defenses of the Trojan City. Finally the Greeks devise a plan, they build a giant wooden horse to present to the Trojans as a sort of peace-offering. Of course as everyone knows, the horse contained warriors hidden inside. The Greeks push the horse to the gates of Troy and then depart with the Fleet as if returning to Greece, only to hide the ships behind an island a few kilometers off the coast. The Trojans accepted the horse, and bring it into the city. As the Trojans sleep, the Greek Warriors come out of the horse and open the gates to the city allowing others to join them in sacking Troy… or so the story goes. Historians have debated for centuries the authenticity of the story of the siege of Troy, many thought it was nothing more than a well told story, others argued parts of the story couldn't possibly be true. Of course, how many histories are absolutely true, certainly not one written in 800 BC. I think it's pretty well accepted by most Historians and Archeologists today that Troy is undoubtedly the city in Homer's epic poem. Did the war really take place? Who knows? The Troy one visits today is probably 9 cities, one on top of the other over a thousand plus year history. The one described by Homer is thought to be probably the 6th Troy city in the chronology.

A few days ago I spent 3 hours touring the ruins of the ancient city of Troy. The one thing that surprised me was the fact that the entire city could probably fit on 2 acres, the impenetrable walls of Troy were probably no more than 25 ft tall and not all that spectacular to see. I certainly was not expecting to see an exact replica of the 2004 movie, but I thought I'd see a larger city. It was a great visit nonetheless! I had the opportunity to touch the walls of a city that may have been the scene of one of the most well known wars in ancient history? My tour-guide did a great job explaining what parts of the story were probably fabrications and why other parts were probably based on fact and then tried to weave a plausible story for me. He mentioned that when a certain well know American actor was being interviewed for the movie-premier of Troy, he was asked where Troy was today and the Actor responded Greece? When in fact Troy is in modern-day Turkey. My tour-guide laughed and said, "at least Warner Brothers sent to Horse to the correct city." Evidently the giant horse used in the film was given to the City of Canakkale, only a few miles from the ruins. The other funny thing I noticed while visiting the Troy ruins was that the Asian tourists were not really interested in the ruins of Troy and spent most of their time posing for pictures in front of or inside of the big wooden-horse at the entrance of the ruins? They were laughing and posing for multiple photo-ops…. maybe it reminded them of Godzilla?

Two of the pictures are from the eastern walls of Troy 6 and the eastern gate. Notice in the one picture, the wall curves around toward the gate, this curve before the gate prevented attackers from using battering-rams against the wooden-gates!

The other picture is of course of me in the small theater of Troy.

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Cappadocia, Turkey, 2013.

I escaped the hustle and bustle of Istanbul with a short visit to the Cappadocia region of Turkey. Cappadocia is located in Central Anatolia, just look south of Ankara on a map to find it. It's where incredible natural beauty meets world changing historical events. Probably the most well know historical fact about the region is that it was home to many underground cities. These underground cities were used by early Christians as hiding places before their religion was widely accepted. The area was also on an important trade-route between East and West and often occupied by invading armies as they moved through the region to more lucrative cities. The underground cities offered a degree of safety for the villagers, their livestock and food / water supplies until the invading armies moved on. The cities were not occupied full-time but were connected by tunnels to the homes above, dug into the limestone rock faces. After centuries of erosion, most of the above-ground structures now have a conical-shaped gnome-home-like appearance with the iconic "fairy chimneys." The terrain is dry and void of much vegetation in Cappadocia, so looking down on the towns from the surrounding hills make the structures look like a 'Star Wars' movie set. The physical beauty and historical importance to early Christianity make Cappadocia a must see region for all visitors to Turkey!

Technical note….

I am posting during this trip with my iPad, and it is proving to be once again a challenge!

Since the iPad does not have all the features needed to post with blogger, I am going through gmail with email posts. The format does not always work. I posted the 'Amazing Istanbul" post 4 times and it appeared 4 different ways in blogger. I will try to clean-up the posts and add more pictures when I get back to the USA and have a laptop to work with. Until then, please enjoy the posts as I am doing the best I can for now!

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Amazing Istanbul, 2013

There really isn’t anything new that I can say about the amazing city of Istanbul that has not already been said for probably the last 100 years or more.  It’s such a wonderful city with a rich history, spanning literally thousands of years, that I could never do it justice in a 2 paragraph blog post.  What I can say is if you have never been to Istanbul, I highly recommend you visit this incredible city!  There really is something for everyone to enjoy in Istanbul, hundreds of historic sites, mosques and churches, shopping and great restaurants seem to be on just about every block! You can probably see most of the major attractions in 4 or 5 days, but you will need to plan carefully.  Istanbul is the largest city in Europe, with over 20 million people.  It’s busy day and night and traffic can be challenging, even for an experienced taxis driver!  I recommend you take a tour, perhaps on a sightseeing bus, the first day in Istanbul in order to get your bearings and then after that, get your map, tour book and just wing it.  The city really is quite safe and the locals are more than happy to help even if they don’t speak your language.  Most of the major attractions are located between the Old City and Taksim Square.  You can easily walk between the two areas in about 30 mins.  You will want to use the Galata bridge to get between the two areas.  The bridge is very foot traffic friendly and a great way to see the dozens of mosques that dot the hillsides in all directions.  The best thing about crossing the Galata Bridge on foot is that you can take a break and sample a grilled fish sandwich on either the west or east sides of the bridge.  They are only 6 Turkish Lira, about 3 USD, and really delicious!  As you cross the bridge you will rub elbows with hundreds of fishermen casting their lines off the bridge, quite a site to see indeed.  As I have mentioned before, I love to wander.  That’s not to say I don’t have a general objective in mind when sightseeing, just that I often wonder off track to see something interesting along the way.  There are hundreds of shops selling everything under the sun from spices, fresh fruit, gold jewelry, silk scarves to leather goods and ceramics…just about anywhere in the city!  You will want to have small bills of Turkish Lira in hand when you go shopping and don’t be affraid to bargin!  I have read where some really seasoned Istanbul shoppers say start your bargaining at about 25% of what you are willing to pay for anything and go from there!  I have found that many shop keepers will ask you repeatedly to visit their shop, but if you are not interested, remain firm and just say ‘no thanks!’  You are not the first person to politely decline their offer to look at 100 turkish rugs!  

Some of the attractions that I think are must see during a 4 or 5 day visit to Istanbul are;
-Topkapi Palace
-Hagia Sofia Museum
-The Blue Mosque
-The Grand Bazar
-Taksim Square
-A Bosporus Boat tour
-The Suleymaniye Mosque
-A local Hammam
-Sample street vendor food like, an ear of corn, fresh squeezed pomegranate juice or a doner kebab!

Blue Mosque in Istanbul, 2013.
Boats of the Bosphorus, Istanbul 2013.
Fish Market Istanbul, 2013.
The fish sandwich grilling man, Istanbul 2013.
Galata Tower, Istanbul, 2013.
Light for sale, Istanbul, 2013.
Medusa Head, Basilica Cistern, Istanbul, 2013.
Street Band near Taksim Square, Istanbul, 2013.
Street Vendor, Istanbul, 2013.
Fruit Stand, Istanbul, 2013.
Street Vendor, Istanbul, 2013.


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