One Day in Istanbul

Istanbul, Turkey is a delight for the senses – the beauty, the smells, and the spirituality.  I have been to Istanbul before but that only helped as now I was prepared.  My experience has been that sometimes you miss and forget so many aspects of a place when you visit the first time.  That it is the second visit when you can sit back and truly appreciate the gestalt.

Sherma and I visited Istanbul for a day in November (2011) on our way to Morocco. We were onour ownand had seeral things that we wanted to pack into the day. We stayed in a modest hotel with a great location.   It overlooked the famous Blue Mosque.  Of course it is Islamic and the Blue Mosque construction was completed in about 1600.  It is beautiful with intricate exterior details and for a house of worship it is extremely large and can hold about 10,000 worshippers. The architectural style is Late Classical Ottoma. The inside by comparison is very simple and not very ornate – at least certanly not ornate by church standards.

Blue Mosque from the Roof of Our Hotel


Blue Mosque at Night

Also not to be missed in Istanbul is the Basilica Cistern.  This is an enormous underground structure that was used to store water.  It can hold almost 3,000,000 gallons. Today the cistern is for tourism and has served as a Movie set (From Russia With Love). There is very little water in the cistern but in the past the water came from 10 miles North of the city via aquaduct.  The roof of the cistern where the city streets and buildings are located is supported by 336 marble columns. The story goes that htese columns were stolen from Rome. There excellent information regarding Basilica Cistern on Wikipedia

Basilica Cistern Istanbul Turkey


Sherma in the Cistern

I mentioned that one of the great things about Istanbul is the smell.  Walking through the Spice Market (which is very near the Grand Bazaar) is fun.  One of the things we purchased was dried/sugared lime peel.  It is delicious and refreshing particularly compared to the chewy texture of some dried fruits. We bought some Iranian Saffron and we have used it as part of a fish rub since we arrived home.  It is woderfully fragrant and supposedly Iranian saffron is the best saffron. In the photo you can see the sign for the Iranian Saffron – I think the vendor spelled wrong!

Istanbul Spice Market - copyright 2011 Steven Pinkert

We tried to visit the Hagia Sophia but it was closed for the day. The Hagia Sophia is a beautiful Mosque that was originally an orthodox basilica.  The inside is particularly interesting because it is extremely ornate for a mosque and there is plenty of evidence left of its origins.


Hagia Sophia copyright 2011 Steven Pinkert

We spent some time walking trhough the outdoor markets – which are interesting. Large variety of foods and clothing and household goods.  By the way, taking photographs in Istanbul as in most Muslim countries is particularly challenging as many people do not like to be photographed.  If you take there photograph without permission you occasionally get yelled at.  It is a better practice to ask permission although admittedly if you rushing – as I usually am – it is difficult.


Istanbul Market Early Afternoon copyright 2011 Steven Pinkert

We walked back to our hotel a bit tired and after a nap we took in an evening Belly Dancing Show. I describe the show in a separate post.

Istanbul Turkey Belly Dancing Show

Sherma and I recently visited Istanbul. Our hotel concierge suggested that we go to a famous belly dance / dinner theater. We were picked up by a van that went from hotel to hotel picking up guests for the show. In the van we met a few interesting gentlemen that we asked to share our table at the show.  One was a parisian artist, the other a Moroccan physician on holiday. The artist was hilarious and looked alot like Salvador Dali.

Our travel friends we met on the way to the show.


We arrived and were seated at a table not too far from the stage.  Food was ok but the show turned out to be excellent.  First there were two exotic belly dancers that performed. Although I am no judge of Belly Dancing the dancers were sexy and fun to watch.

Then the Master of Ceremonies explained that they were going to have a Sultan contest.  They picked four men from the audience to compete to be the Sultan for the evening.  I was one of the men selected.  They had a contest where we had to compete in various tasks – such as showing our biceps, repeating drums beats, etc. I won and then I was crowned Sultan and entertained in front of the entire audience – a bit embarrassing!

The Winning Sultan

The Coronation

After crowning a new member of my harem was selected and then she performed especially for me.

The "Private" Dance for Steven

We all laughed so hard. We had a wonderful and memorable evening 🙂



Morocco September 2011

Sherma and I spent our 60th birthdays and 35th anniversaries, all of which occur in the same week in Morocco.  We began in Tangier – a fairly commercial city and quickly moved on to Chefchaouen.  Chefchaouen is known as the “Blue City.”  This is a nice photo of us and it is obvious why Chaouen as it is known to the locals is called the “Blue City.”

Steve and Sherma

Sherma and Steven Pinkert in Chefchaouen

 From Chefchaouen we proceeded South to Fes. We stayed overnight at a beautiful Riad located in the medina (old city). The riad is a converted palace that has about 8 guest rooms. The recent owners of the Riad are a charming French/American couple and they could not have been more hospitable.

Sherma Pinkert
Sherma in the Courtyard of Riad – Fes

The food was very good at the Riad and throughout Morocco – mostly we ate traditional Moroccan food during the trip. The mainstay of Moroccan food is the Tajine. It is a stew of various types baked in an earthenware  pot. Usually a meat and several vegetables – quite rich and delicious.

We loved walking through the Medina in Fes, trying to avoid the mules used to transport goods on the narrow streets.

Watch out for these guys in the narrow medina

The highlight of the Fes Medina was visiting their famous leather tannery.  Here they treat the cow hide in large tanks.  Workers walk on the walls between the tanks.  For perspective, the photograph of the leather treatment tanks is a kind of courtyard that covers almost a square block.

Leather Tannery - Fes

Sherma bought several pairs of slippers and a jacket.  Very nice quality leather and the shop keepers were entertaining to say the least. It was alot of fun to bargain with them.  They are a bit resistant to bargain in the tannery but if you are nice and persistent they reduce the price a bit.

Sherma shopping for slippers at the Fes Tannery

I should add that the more you buy the more they bargain. The problem of course is having enough space in your luggage to get you purchases home.

The More You Buy - trying to sell us leather ottomans

After a few nights in Fes we continued South and after a long journey wound up at the edge of the Sahara desert.  It was remarkable.  In order to get into the desert your choices are walk, camel or and off road vehicle.  So we switched from our car to an off road vehicle and road into the desert.  The terrain of the Southeast Sahara begins as a combination of rocks and sand, then as you progress deeper into the desert (either South or East) the terrain changes to smooth sand dunes.  The dunes look like a movie set.  We pushed very hard to arrive before sunset and we just made it to the desert as the sun was setting. It was beautiful.

Sahara Desert at Sunset

We spent the night sleeping under the sky in the Sahara.  Unfortunately there were a few clouds so sky was nice but I admit that I was dissapointed.  We were awakened at 4 am to take our camels up to a tall sand dune to watch the sunrise.

photo by Steven Pinkert

The sunrise was beautiful in the desert.  The sand dunes appeared almost artificial and at times seemed like a photographers backdrop.

Sunrise on the Sahara - Steven Pinkert and Sherma Pinkert

Camel rides are fun and very easy. They certainly were one of the highlights of this trip. Sherma is an avid animal lover and camels were no exception.

She also loves goats.

Sherma and Goat - Copyright 2011 Steven Pinkert

And Cats

Sherma and a Cat - Copyright 2011 Steven Pinkert

And Monkeys

Sherma and Monkey - Copyright 2011 Steven Pinkert

I have numerous Sherma and animal shots that I will add as I select the best.  By the way sometimes she actually tries to get the animals to feed her…

Sherma Waiting for a Nut - Copyright 2011 Steven Pinkert

Sherma and I continued our journey South and spent several days in Marrakesh. Marrakesh is a remarkable city.  The Medina is interesting and similar to the Medina in Fes. The products in the different souks (part of a market) are interesting to window shop – though of course there are rarely windows. Typical goods include baskets and woven crafts, metal work (tea pots), wool and silk goods.

Silk Headcover - Copyright 2011 Steven Pinkert

More interesting to us was the food.  We loved the “pancakes” that were cooked fresh over a curved hot iron and folded to make them easy to handle.

Pancakes - Marrakesh - Copyright 2011 Steven Pinkert

But also of interest is the Place Jemaa el-Fina.  This is the famous square in Marrakesh and in the evening it comes alive with street entertainers of all kinds and intereresting local street food. Snake charmers, dancers from different regions, fortune tellers, artists, even tooth pullers!

Tooth Puller, Marrakesh - Copyright 2011 Steven Pinkert


Sherma having a Tooth Extraction - Marrakesh Copyright 2011 Steven Pinkert

Marrakesh also has numerous restaurants. We visited the famous hotel Mamounia to listen to some jazz at night.  Talented band and beautiful place to relax and listen to live jazz.