Istanbul // Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque

after arriving in Istanbul on an overnight flight, we decided the best way to beat our jet lag was to get out and see the city. I was dazed, trying to take in all the new sights and smells, and lugging around my zoom lens which I kept forgetting was attached to my camera. everything was so different. completely unlike any other place I had ever visited before. and aside from the general disorientation of being in a new place, it was just overwhelming to finally be in Turkey, as this trip had been 10 years in the making.

we started with two of Istanbul's most iconic sights: the Hagia Sofia and the Sultan Ahmed [or Blue] Mosque. I think most bloggers would dedicate a post to each of these structures, but for me they are inextricably linked. [and to be honest, almost blurred together in a jet lag haze.] it's more than just geographic proximity - these buildings share immense domes, towering minarets, and more history than my brain can compute.

you have to begin with the Hagia Sofia, or Ayasofya. the current structure is nearly 1500 years old,  and one of the most impressive surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. while the Hagia Sofia started life as a cathedral, it was converted to a mosque by the Ottomans when they took over Constantinople in the 1400s. the Christian mosaics and decorations were plastered and painted over and minarets were built outside. but with the birth of the Republic of Turkey, the Hagia Sofia [as well as several other churches which had been converted to mosques] were relinquished to the government and restored as museums. what you can see today is a blend of these histories - the layers of cathedral, mosque, museum.

even though it was under renovations when we visited, the scale of the dome and the incredible craftsmanship in all the carvings and marble decoration was just breathtaking. and the influence of its architecture extends beyond the Byzantines. the domed structure of the Hagia Sofia became the model for much of the Ottoman Empire's architecture - including that of the nearby Blue Mosque.

the Sultan Ahmed Mosque was constructed in the 1600s, just a short distance from the Hagia Sofia. the thousands of blue patterned tiles which decorate the interior have supposedly given it the nickname of "the Blue Mosque." I know I just said the Hagia Sofia was a structural inspiration for the mosque - but these buildings are also starkly different. the first is heavy and solid with patterned marble and gold paint, while the second floats on dainty motifs and swirling calligraphy.

visiting the Blue Mosque was overwhelming from start to finish for me, and not just from the jet lag. it was my first time, ever, in a mosque. I was both excited for a new experience and nervous that I would inadvertently do something offensive. we wrapped ourselves up and my jaw dropped as soon as we set foot inside. I must have spent 5 minutes just staring, craning my neck towards the ceiling, before even picking up my camera.

as I was shooting, I realized I wasn't doing justice to either of these monuments. I'm sure you will argue that my photos are lovely as always... but trust me when I tell you that these places cannot be fully appreciated without physically being there. 17mm was not wide enough to take it all in. y'all know I'm a sucker for the details and I would have spent years trying to capture everything in these buildings.

we had actually hoped to return [and shoot more photos] but life had other plans for our trip. I'm glad I had a chance to see both the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, and to see them first. our visit was enough to fascinate me with the depth of history Istanbul holds, and begin what turned into a blue tile obsession. these two structures don't encompass all of what the city has to hold - but they are certainly a good place to start.

linking up for Wanderful Wednesday with: Lauren on Location, Snow in Tromso, What a Wonderful World, and The Sunny Side of This.


your ultimate guide to the 5 worst things about blogging, ever.

if you are a blogger, or even if you just read blogs, you likely have some things about the blogging world that annoy you. maybe there is one issue in particular that just makes you want to pull your hair out. websites with white text on black background? blogs with no "about me" page? people who have accounts set to send out a tweet each time they pin something? bloggers who don't use proper capitalization? eeek - that's me!

I realize there are much larger problems in the world. but just for today - let's playfully vent about this stuff that is not, in the grand scheme of things, actually important. please take this article with a grain of satirically flavored salt. seriously, don't take it too seriously.

[this post is partially inspired by Amanda's blogging pet peeves from last month, and largely motivated by a frustrating email exchange I had this morning.]

clickbait titles that don't deliver

the nature of social media, and how we choose to get our information these days has twisted the way we represent our work. with a flood of articles available, both bloggers and legitimate news outlets have to compete to be clicked. so they amp up the advertisement. "5 easy ways to become a morning person" and "the best quiche recipe, ever" or "the secret to growing your blog" are more likely to be read than honest descriptions.

if you search blogging tips on pinterest you will find charts giving you formulas on how to craft the best titles for your posts. while I agree that getting readers to your content is important, it shouldn't be more important than the content itself. so many articles I have seen sound like they will give useful and detailed information... and then don't. if you're going to write fluff, write fluff, and own it. ahem - like an entire post of slightly judgmental blogging complaints.

oh, this post again...

have you ever started reading a blog post and realized that it seems very familiar? [oh shoot, is it this one?] I see bloggers giving the same advice over and over again. "how to quit your job and travel the world" and "how to create a cohesive instagram feed" and "how to use pinterest to grow your blog" have probably been written to death by now. the same thing happens with news articles. one person writes an original story reporting an event, and a hundred other sites write articles letting us know that someone has written an article about the actual story.

if you don't have something new to say, even just to add your own perspective and experience on the topic... maybe it's best not to say anything at all. I understand that popular and timely subjects generate pageviews. but it does not always generate the highest quality content. [wait... is this the fourteenth "things I hate about blogging" post that you've read this month? dang it.]

irrelevant form emails

this is more a frustration that bloggers endure rather than commit, but lately has been the top of my grievance list. I receive several emails each week from companies and organizations. these emails ask me to participate in some online thing or another, share an infographic about their product, post about a topic related to their company, share some pre-written content of theirs on my blog, or join their website as a member/teacher/associate/affiliate/etc. that's all fine. the problem is that 99% of these emails are related to goods and services that are A: not available in Taiwan, where I reside or B: something that I am, in fact allergic to or C: completely and utterly unrelated to anything having to do with my blog, expat life or travel.

the biggest insult is that these emails all begin the same way. "I was reading your blog and thought..." "we are such a fan of Ink + Adventure and wanted to contact you with this opportunity..." "your content seems like a great fit for our project..." and many other variations of bullshit flattery that precede requests that make it painfully clear that none of it is true. I understand that the people who send these emails are just doing their jobs. they are paid to scan for email addresses and fill in the blanks of names and send them out. they are not paid to actually read blogs to determine if they are truly a good fit. gosh, but wouldn't it be nice if they did?

the "ultimate guide"

the "ultimate guide" is perhaps a special sub-category of clickbait. it happens elsewhere but is most commonly seen in the sphere of travel blogging. guys, spending a weekend in a city does not qualify you to write an ultimate guide to that destination. even a week does not make you an expert. I would argue that someone would need to spend years living somewhere and actively exploring it to be able to even come close.

most of the "ultimate guide" posts I see are simply regurgitated versions of the guidebook highlights. I'd much rather see an honest and accurate representation of your trip - "how I spent a week in Paris" or "traveling Thailand with kids" or, heck, even "I went to Yellowstone and looked up all this information after I got home." what makes a blog interesting [for me, anyway] is not the perfection of the posts or the most information - it's the person and the personality behind it.

the social media and self promotion circus

I'm sure we could all name a handful of blogs we love to read, but hate to follow on social media. the reason? too. many. posts. every reader has a different threshold for how much they can tolerate, and with all the new algorithms everywhere they don't get much of a choice on what they see. unfortunately bloggers don't have much control over it either. the best we can do is try to find a balance in what we share - and hope it is enough to be seen, but not so much that it annoys.

in fact, there's a whole long list of things we bloggers are "supposed to do" after publishing a post to help it circulate the internet. ugh. in fact, now that I have finished this post I have to make a pinterest graphic, come up with a witty description for my facebook post, schedule 87 tweets with this link, and decide which photo and 30 hashtags to share on instagram. #bloggerproblems

thanks for taking five minutes to let me complain about the world of blogging [which, for the most part, I actually do enjoy!] please feel free to commiserate in the comments or share what drives you most nuts about this weird internet world we live in.

and in case this list was too salty for you, try my post on why I love to read your blog.


sunset over Göreme, Cappadocia

Cappadocia is one of Turkey's treasures, and our time there was magical from start to finish. we based our adventures in the village of Göreme. we arrived in the late afternoon, and the dry desert heat was almost refreshing compared to the week's worth of humidity in Istanbul we had just experienced.

staying on the hillside at the west edge of town, our hotel [Turquaz Cave Hotel above] offered a terrace with stunning views over the surrounding valley. we walked down for dinner and made our way back just as the sun was starting to set. my companions went back to the hotel to rest - since we were waking up at 3am the next morning for a balloon ride.

me? once I saw those golden rays angling over the valley and bouncing off the fairy chimneys and towers of the cave hotels, I grabbed my camera and was gone.

the architecture of Göreme is an interesting mix of ancient and modern, ruins and new construction. the cone-shaped rock formations spotting the landscape are naturally formed. somewhere between the Hittites and the Byzantines [1800 to 1200 BC] dwellings were carved into these chimneys and the surrounding cliffs. early Christians also fled to this area in the 4th century, and carved numerous monasteries and churches nearby.

this fantastical scenery and rich history began to draw a large number of tourists. in 1985 Göreme National Park was designated as a World Heritage Site. what followed was the development of restaurants and hotels in the town. while many of these tout themselves as "cave hotels" - most are outfitted with modern conveniences and have expanded architecturally to add outdoor space and common dining facilities.

I spent my time wandering the back alleys and the edges of the town, much of which was abandoned cave dwellings or partially constructed buildings. I think that most tourists stay closer to the center of town, or across on the other side near the scenic outlook plateau [look for the Turkish flag above.] I definitely took advantage of having the streets practically to myself.

one thing I will mention here, and likely again as I write more about this trip, is that events in Turkey over the past 5 years [and this year especially] have caused a drastic decline in tourism. while Cappadocia is one of the country's major attractions, the town was only at 1/3 to 1/2 capacity. the locals were still there - riding their motorbikes up narrow cobblestone lanes or blocking traffic by driving herds of sheep - but at times it felt a little like a ghost town.

while I truly hope that tourism bounces back, I have to admit I enjoyed the solitude. our entire stay in Göreme felt very peaceful. [in great part due to fantastic Turkish hospitality.] after a bustling week in Istanbul - a romantic solo sunset walk was just what I needed.

much more from Göreme and Cappadocia to come...

linking up for Wanderful Wednesday with: Lauren on Location, Snow in Tromso, What a Wonderful World, and The Sunny Side of This.
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