About Me

I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

22 March 2014

Yoros Castle

The ruins of an old Byzantine castle is located on a hill overlooking a small fishing village called Anadolu Kavağı, just outside Istambul (on the Asia side). The village itself is easily accessible by the Istanbul Long Bosphorus Tour; and it's a short, but steep walk up the hill from the docks.

The castle provides amazing views of both  the village and the confluence of the the Bosphorus straight with the Black Sea. The castle is itself closed to visitors (there are apparently architectural dogs underway), but access is free and worth it for the views alone. There are also two restaurants up there, with great fresh seafood, at awesome prices.

Taksim Square at Night

One of the trendier, more modern parts I Istanbul, Taksim Square was the site of protests last year. There were no protests tonight, but people did throng the area which is full of clubs, bars, restaurants and shops. The older style of shops still persist in this area though, blending the modern with the old. And the signs of protest are still around in the graffiti around the area.

Istanbul's Grand Bazaar

Probably one of the most famous shopping centres in the world, Istanbul's Grand Bazaar is a maze of shops selling a wide range of goods; although jewelery, clothing, housewares and carpets seemed to be the most common goods. 

There are lots of sellers hustling to entice people into their shops, and it is a busy place for both locals and foreigners. Interestingly, for a secular country there were almost no women shopkeepers or even shop attendants. This is in stark contrast to more modern parts of Istanbul (such as Taksim square area) where there is more gender equality in shop attendants.

21 March 2014

Topkapi Palace

Commissioned by the first Ottoman Sultan, and enlarged by every subsequent sultan, the Topkapi Palace is located at the corner overlooking the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus Straight. It is a massive complex, but instead of the western style of a single building, it is composed of multiple smaller buildings.

It's size and variety of sights means that it takes a long time to go through. There are magnificent rooms with amazing decorations, there are collections of jewels and treasures (including some huge diamonds, emeralds etc), collection of gifts and spoils of war, and a great display of armaments across the reign. 

There is also an interesting collection of religious artefacts, which unlike the other artefacts are not covered with detail on authenticity - with good reason when considering the claims I suppose. There is a collection of items supposedly from the prophets before Mohammed (in the Islamic tradition) including Moses and David; while there is a room of items from Mohammed and the first caliphs also. All these were effectively spoils of war when the Ottoman sultans took over the caliphate, so I suppose there is some degree in authenticity on the latter items.

Within the museum complex, but a separate entry, is the Harem - or private residence of the Sultan and his family. After the hot sun outside, the harem complex was amazingly cool - a testament to the architecture I suppose. These spaces were equally impressive in decor and design, and also showed the most stark changes in style across the centuries.

It took us close to 4 hours to cover the palace, and we didn't see all the ceramic collections. The jewels and the opulent rooms make it a worthwhile visit but it is not something to do again and again.

Sultan Ahmet Mosque

Also known as the Blue Mosque, the Sultan Ahmet mosque dominates the skyline with its impressive structure. In contrast to Christian cathedrals and Hindu temples, there are no images of gods or their disciples - but rather decorations are more patterns and calligraphy. This doesn't mean it is any less decorated or ornate - and the patterns actually enable the entire internal structure to be decorated.


Situated outside the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, it was used by the Byzantines for horse racing; but is now just a large plaza. Not much remains of the hippodrome itself except for a few columns, most notably an Egyptian Obelisk. A more recent fountain, donated by German emperor Kaiser Willem II in the early 1900's provides a very elaborate contrast to the simplicity of the obelisks.

Aya (Hagia) Sophia

This is really the reason I wanted to come to Istanbul - I had read a lot about the Hagia Sophia; that it was once the main church of the Roman Empire, which then got converted to a mosque by the Ottomans - but they still preserved much of the church.

The outside is not as impressive as the inside with its amazing murals, mosaics and the amazingly decorated dome. It's probably one of the few places on earth where statements praising both Jesus and Allah are next to each other, in almost perfect harmony.

There is quite a lot of restoration work underway, but that doesn't detract from the amazing views of the interior.

The tombs at Aya Sophia

The ottoman emperors created a number of tombs next to the Aya Sophia, which are mostly notable for their ceramic decorations. It's free entry, and a quick visit.

Basilica Cistern

I first learnt about Emperor Justinian (of the Eastern Roman Empire) during my PhD work - specifically on his legal statutes that became the basis for codified Roman law. He was also responsible for many of the Byzantinian structures that have survived in Istanbul - the two most prominent examples being the Aya (Hagia) Sophia and the Basilica Cistern.

The cistern is a massive water storage tank, that supplied drinkin water to this part of Istanbul for many years, until the Ottomans built their own running water system. 

The soft lighting, the fishes am te two Medusa heads, apparently transported from elsewhere, makes this into an interesting historical attraction.

20 March 2014

Lost in the streets of Sultanahmet

We are staying in a small hotel steps away from the Aya Sophia, but the first thing I managed, after alighting from the tram was to get lost in the alleyways. Unlike Turkish Airlines, people are very friendly, and even if they didn't know the hotel, or even know English, they offered to help. 

Sultanahmet feels like a cleaner version of India; same throngs of people, same feel of the alleyways, some stray dogs and cats; but far cleaner. There is a feeling of life that seemed to be missing from Berlin.

Turkish Airlines

Turkish Airlines is trying to promote itself up to as a competitor of Emirates and the other gulf airlines. It has a far more aggressive marketing campaign (staring Messi and Kobe, and previously staring George Clooney), and has one of the largey route networks.

So it's a pity that its service is so bad. We have taken three flights so far, and the service in each has been far below the levels of the Gulf competitors. Most of the attendants seemed surly and without any smiles - be it talking in Turkish or in English. Their food cart doesn't seem to have the items listed on the menu - whether we were served first or later. In fact, during one drink service they ran out - said they would be back, and never returned (this was 90 mins before the flight landed). 

So, despite the ads; they have a long way to go.

19 March 2014

Apocalyptic Symphony

I have always considered Finnish band, Apocalyptica to be at the forefront of pushing the boundaries - for both metal and classical music. Together with the Finnish 25 member Avanti! Chamber Orchestra, they are currently on a short tour in Europe playing a number of original and cover songs from their repertoire. 

Last night they played at Berlin's Tempodrom. The venue itself, shaped like a circus tent (an homage to its more temporary original) is an excellent space for concerts; catering for a good size crowd (of about 4000) but retaining a feeling of intimacy. 

The crowd was varied - from people dressed in suits, to metal heads with piercings and leather clothes. By the end of the concert, everyone was up and jumping, even the old lady next to me (who was literally jumping on her seat). It was a great combination of their major hits, and overall a much better concert than the last performance I attended (when the played first act for Nightwish in 2009). 

It was a great night, and a fitting end to our time in Berlin.  


One of my favorite places in Berlin was Tacheles - a near derelict building in the Mitte district primarily serving as an artist colony. It embodied the weirdness and strangeness present in Berlin, that makes it such an interesting city. 

Sadly, Tacheles is no more; and the entire site is boarded up. Much of the graffiti seems to have been cleaned up/faded away and the entire area seems duller as a result. Perhaps it's a sign that Berlin is growing up, a sign that it is loosing its edge, that it's coming to its senses - since the other "underground" areas are far less accessible. 

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Known colloquialy as the Holocaust memorial, it is certainly the most prominent of the memorials for World War 2 victims in Germany. 

In my previous visits, I have never gone inside the underground memorial centre - and that is really a missing piece in the conceptualisation of the memorial. It is with the context provided that the seemingly endless rows of concrete blocks turn to unmarked, anonymous, numerous, markers for the many that perished. 

It is also strange to see the stark numbers - that the most of the Jews that were murdered were not German, but rather more Polish, Soviet, Hungarian, Czechoslovakian and  Romanian Jews died than German Jews. The operation of persecution seems more of a hunt, than just neighbors turning on each other.

Ultimately, the sadest commentary for me was in the very beginning - a quote from Primo Levi "It happened, therefore it an happen again: this is the core of what we have to say". Given what has happened since - Serbia, Rwanda and what is happening now in Syria - as the human race we haven't learnt anything. As the saying goes, history repeats itself.

Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism

Is a mouthful, but a poignant reminder not only of the autrocities of the Nazi party, but also of the ongoing persecutions across the world. 

Dali Berlin

Dali Berlin is a permanent exhibition of the works of Salvador Dali, located in Potsdamee Platz. Although the famous paintings such as melting clocks aren't present, it's a sizable collection of paintings, sketches and sculptures. Personally, I liked only a few of them - mostly sculptures - and that is perhaps due to the fact that I am not really a fan of surrealist art. Coupled with no audio guides etc. this is not really an exhibition for someone wanting to learn about Dali or surrealism; but rather an exhibition for the converted.

Schloss Charlottenburg

The only major Berlin attraction I haven't been to before is Schloss Charlottenburg; the palace of Prussian royalty. Originally built by the first queen, Sophie Charlotte, the rooms open to the public are very much dominated by her, even though she didn't live to see the completion. 

Like most palaces of the time, it is lavishly decorated with ornate fixtures, paintings and the queen' speciality - porcelain. It's not an attraction that I would see again, and the political situations entered into by each Prussian ruler (including WW1 by the last) is only mentioned in passing.

18 March 2014

East Side Gallery

The East Side Gallery is a large, completely uncontrolled open air gallery on the remains of the Berlin Wall. It is one of the longest stretches of the wall, with work stretching back 20 plus years; although it has also collected graffiti over the years (including 2 groups adding signatures while we were walking). Some of the art seems newer completely - but it is difficult to say.

Some of the art is political, but most of the overt political art seems to have disappeared. But there is still interesting art to be seen.

The Berlin Wall Memorial

In the northern part of central Berlin, where the first parts of the wall was constructed (and pulled down) is the Berlin Wall Memorial. In my last visit I remember the complex showing the various parts of the wall and their significance, but not the gardens and the individual memorial pieces across the site. 

There are off course pieces of the wall, but there are also places of remembrances for those that died on the wall (some had flowers and candles), and it's more of a park with kids playing, people walking dogs etc. 

It's a strange combination, but it is also nice that it is not all somber and reflective.

17 March 2014


One of the few East-German symbols to thrive post reunification are the traffic lights, specifically for pedestrian crossing. Known as the Ampelmann (traffic men), the stop light features a man barring the way, while the go light features a man walking, seemingly with great purpose. 

There are conflicting stories on whether these lights will eventually be replaced by the more mundane symbols of West Germany, but it is certainly one of the enduring symbols of Berlin.

Anhalter Bahnhof

It is quite strange to come across a ruin in the middle of the town - a ruin that still retains some beauty in its design. It's in front of a football field, next to a school; making it even more conspicuous. Anhalter station (which is now underground) seems quite innocent - but a board outside the remaining facade tells a grim tale. 

This was one of the stations that dispatched many to concentration camps; and the board (only in German) gives the numbers dispatched from the station (or is it only the dead?). There is no formal memorial, but this is perhaps more poignant, more appropriate.

The Islamic Art Museum (@Pergamon Museum)

Pergamon Museum is really a collection of museums under one roof. The Pergamon part covers the altar and the gate of Miletus - basically Ancient Greece in modern day Turkey; the Middle East part covers Assyria and Babylon (Gate of Ishtar), there is the currently closed section of Ancient Greek artwork and lastly there is the museum of Islamic Art.

In my previous visit, I didn't spend too much time in this section; and it is certainly worth spending some time here. Chronicling Islamic art through the various "ages" of Islam, the collection is not all about carpets and calligraphy (although that is there). In fact, it is strange to see depictions of animals in Islamic art - as I thought it was forbidden.

The highlight, which I haven't photographed,is the Allepo room - a reconstruction of the interior of a well of merchant's house. Other highlights include the Mshatta Facade from a desert palace in Jordan featuring elaborate carvings of animals on the walls, glassware, ceramics and sculpture - although unlike the Greeks these are far smaller yet more intricate.