Aesthetic Feasting at the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum

In 2010, my wife and I were married in Morocco – two months later we took our honeymoon trip to Turkey. At the end of our trip, we were again at the Ayasofia Hotel where we had begun it. 

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Checking into the Ayasofya Hotel, we found ourselves with one last day ahead of us. Hanane was exhausted but there were a few things I still wanted to see before we left Turkey.

I walked up the street past the Blue Mosque and across the Hippodrome to the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts while Hanane showered and took a nap in our big plush bed. The museum holds a wealth of Turkish and Islamic art from the Ottoman and Seljuk periods along with beautiful pieces and implements from as early as the 8th Century A.D.

The museum building itself is the palace of Ibrahim Pasha which was built by Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent’s own architects. Ibrahim Pasha was Suleyman’s Grand Vizier from 1523 to 1536. The building has elements which date back to 1500.
Ibrahim was choked to death and his wealth taken by the imperial government when after the Sultan’s death he voiced support for the wrong prince. That’s why I usually don’t pick one Prince over another.

The museum is filled with Turkish carpets, illuminated Qurans, calligraphy (at which the Ottomans excelled), carved and inlaid wood, glass, porcelain and stone treasures. I went through quicker than I would have preferred but felt that this was more of an exploratory mission.

The Turkish ethnographic exhibits were interesting though quite a bit like modern life in rural Morocco, I saw many things that are used daily in the house of my in-laws laid out as museum pieces.

I would have enjoyed lingering but a Canadian film crew was there and had set up some very hot lights for a TV shoot in that section.

A modern Turkish arts section in the front was small but had an interesting exhibit of claiigraphic embroidery which I enjoyed a lot.

While I was out I booked us seats at a Whirling Dervish performance. Originally, I had thought we might be going to Konya to see the real thing (no admission and not really for tourists) but since we hadn’t I thought it would be a shame to leave Turkey without seeing the whirling dervishes for which the country is famed.

The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art is open from 9 to 5 (closed Monday). Admission is 10 Lira.

Skopje – A Place with Surprisingly Expensive Boutique Hotels and Hostels #slideshowsaturday

I’d always had a desire to visit Macedonia, the birthplace of Alexander the Great. No other character in history held such fascination for me until later in life when I learned of the many great wanderers of the ancient world like Pausanius and Herodotus. My chance came in early February of 2011 – it was a quick stop in Skopje before a whirlwind trip back to Turkey and then back to Morocco. I thought Skopje would be more like Volos in Greece, Skopje was not what I had expected….

Skopje, Macedonia

One of the things that surprised me about Skopje, Macedonia was the prices of hotels. I suppose this surprise came hand in hand with the incredible number of bronze statues, the massive amounts of construction, and…this is my opinion only but it makes sense…the fact that Skopje is the closest city to Kosovo and thus had a huge number of NGO employees, UN staff, and other people who are on expense accounts going through it on a daily basis.

Honestly, I had thought that I would find a hostel for around 10 Euros or be able to find a hotel for 20 Euros but that, my friends, was a pipe dream.

The Hosteling International Hostel was in a lousy location and wanted 22 Euro per night, more (at the time) than in Hawaii, Istanbul, or the low end of accommodation in France. Frankly, the place didn’t look like it was worth the price. I took a low end hotel room for 25 Euro per night. 3 Euro per night to have my own bathroom and bedroom was worth the price difference.

Skopje, MacedoniaIt was only after I was getting ready to leave that I stumbled on the Art Hostel, which looks like just the kind of funky, fun atmosphere place I was originally looking for and sits firmly in my price point.

I looked at the Hotel 7 which was fairly close to downtown and cost about 40 Euro per night, it was okay and believe it or not, that price was among the lowest I found, but let’s face it, when I’m traveling and paying 40 Euro a night, I want more than just okay.

I realize it’s not very realistic, but since traveling in places like South Korea, I sort of expected to find something like the Duvet Boutique Hotel in Skopje when I’m paying that much. I went in and really liked it, but the lowest price I could get them to was 95 Euro per night. It just wasn’t THAT nice.

If I’m going to pay that much, I might as well have gone to the Aleksandar Palace Hotel Skopje, which since it was winter, I”m sure I could have talked into giving me a room for 95 Euro.But, I didn’t want to pay 95 Euro so I slogged around all day until I found a place that had a nice view, decent mattresses, heat, a TV, and a price of 30 Euro. I managed to negotiate Hotel Square down to 25 Euro, but it wasn’t easy. They had wi-fi in the rooms which was important to me and the location was great. The funny thing is they have online rates that are 80 Euro + and I just want to let you know, for that price, you can do much better.

I met an American worker from the UN and he swore by the Hotel Aristocrat Palace, but then he had a car to get there. Frankly, it reminds me of the dirtiest joke in the world which has the punchline….the Aristocrats. I could make up one about this hotel, but the truth is, it looks like it really is a nice place and the price point seems to be about 50 Euro. Definitely where I will stay when we go back to Macedonia.

In any event…these are the pictures I took while I was there – I wish I’d obsessed less about hotels and focused more on exploring the place – but frankly, I was in a hurry and didn’t have nearly enough time.

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