Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pamplona, Spain (April 28-29, 2008)

Pamplona, in the Pyrenees, has been the capital of Navarra since the ninth century. It was traditionally a fortress town defending Spain´s northern border, with a large pentagonal citadel just outside the old city walls.

Pamplona is most famous for its annual Fiestas de San Fermin and associated encierro (running of the bulls), a tradition that originated in medieval times. During the rest of the year, the quaint Old Town makes a charming destination for leisurely strolls. Bars serving local wine and pintxos (small plates) line the colorful narrow streets, ensuring that visitors stay well fed along their walks.

A narrow street in Pamplona´s Old Town
Pamplona´s Ayuntamiento, in the center of Old Town
Inside the Iglesia de San Saturnino, built in 1297 Patrons enjoy wine and pintxos at a local bar. It´s customary to have a drink and one or two pintxos and then move along to another bar.
The Plaza del Castillo
The view from the Old City wall

Casa Batllo and La Pedrera, Barcelona, Spain (April 27-28, 2008)

Antoni Gaudi was born in Reus in 1852 and began his studies in architecture in Barcelona in 1873. He was taught by Elies Rogent and Josep Fontsere in the spirit of the Catalan Renaixanca, and his work helped usher in the Modernist era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Gaudi took inspiration from the shapes, colors and geometry of nature, and he paid particular attention to even the smallest elements of his work, from tile patterns to door knobs.

Gaudi designed a number of buildings for the Barcelona bourgeoisie, including the Casa Battlo and La Pedrera (both pictured below). Other Gaudi constructions in Barcelona include La Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell.

The facade of Casa Batllo, restored by Gaudi from 1905 to 1907
Inside the Casa Battlo, with its rounded stained glass windows
Gaudi used catenary arches to form the top floor of Casa Batllo
Gaudi´s signature rooftop designs
La Pedrera, built between 1906 and 1912
The rooftop of La Pedrera

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain (April 27-28, 2008)

Construction on La Sagrada Familia began in 1882, and Antoni Gaudi was named project director one year later. Although Gaudi spent more than 40 years working on the cathedral, he died in 1926 before it was completed. Construction continues to this day, based on Gaudi´s original project plans. La Sagrada Familia is unlike any cathedral I´ve ever seen, and the finished structure is sure to be amazing.

Eight of the twelve 100m-high bell towers of the facade are complete; these four form the Facade of the Passion
The unique interior of La Sagrada Familia. Gaudi based his design of the supporting columns on tree trunks.
The intricately carved Facade of the Nativity
A close-up of one scene from the Facade of the Passion
Another close-up from the Facade of the Passion
This model demonstrates how Gaudi determined the structure of the cathedral using his hallmark catenary arches. Each weight in the photo hangs from a single arch, if you can picture this model upside down, you should see the whole cathedral.

Barcelona, Spain (April 27-28, 2008)

Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, is a beautiful and bustling portside city in the north of Spain. From the crowded pedestrian avenue of Las Ramblas, to the narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter, to the landmark Gaudi architecture throughout, Barcelona is a city best explored on foot. Spacious parks and the popular beachfront area provide respite from the city's busy downtown.

Looking out over Barcelona from the top of La Sagrada Familia
The view towards the Mediterranean Sea
Rambla de Mar, a popular family destination in Port Vell
The Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter), dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries
Las Ramblas, Barcelona´s main pedestrian thoroughfare, is lined with cafes, craft stalls, street artists and flower stands
Barcelona´s Ciutadella Park leads to the Arc de Triomf

Final Scenes from Istanbul, Turkey (April 25-27, 2008)

Istiklal Caddesi's famous street car
Marble columns rise from the water of the Basilica Cisterns, built in the 6th century to supply water to the Byzantium palaces. The cistern measures 140m long by 70m wide and held water transported by aqueduct from the nearby Belgrad forest.
Colorful pottery for sale in the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul's large covered market. The Grand Bazaar has everything from gold bars to turkish delight.
A classic red simit stand
Tulips were in bloom all over Istanbul

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul, Turkey (April 25-27, 2008)

Topkapi Palace sits on the hillside of Sarayburnu, with a commanding view of the Sea of Marmara and the Golden Horn. The palace was built in the 1460s during the rule of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror and served as the official residence of the Ottoman sultans, and as the administrative, educational and cultural center of the Ottoman Empire for 400 years.
The palace has an impressive collection of Ottoman documents, clothing, silver, armor and stunning jewels (including the 86-carat Kasikci diamond). The museum also holds a number of sacred relics, including the arm of John the Baptist, Moses' staff, David's sword, and the beard and sword of Prophet Muhammed.
The Babus-Selam, or main entrance to the palace
Inside the palace, this white marbled terrace overlooks the Golden Horn
Inside the Imperial Harem at Topkapi Palace. The Harem served as the private living quarters for the sultan and his family, and the only people allowed within the Harem's walls were the sultan himself, the sultan's mother, the sultan's consorts and favorites, the princes, the concubines and the eunuch guards. The Harem consists of approximately 300 rooms, 9 baths, 2 mosques, 1 hospital and many dormitories.
An elaborate fountain in Topkapi Palace
One of the many silver tea sets in the palace collection

The Ayasofya and the Blue Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey (April 25-27, 2008)

The Ayasofya from the outside
Inside the enormous Ayasofya. The Ayasofya was built in 537 AD under orders by Emperor Justinian. When Istanbul was conquered by Sultan Mehmed in 1453, he had the church converted into a mosque. Today, the building is a museum and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
An intricate mosaic inside the Ayasofya
Here I am, wearing blue in front of the Blue Mosque (it's the inside of the mosque that's blue). The Blue Mosque, or the Sultanahmet Camii by its proper name, is decorated with approximately 20,000 tiles that give the mosque its popular name.
The beautiful interior of the Blue Mosque

Istanbul, Turkey (April 25-27, 2008)

Istanbul is a fascinating and beautiful city jam-packed with both sights and people (particularly with Australians making their annual ANZAC Day pilgrimage to Gallipoli). To call Istanbul exotic or mysterious sounds too cliched, but the city does have a unique essence that is impossible to ignore.

Bisected by the Bosphorus Sea, Istanbul sits with one half in Asia and one half in Europe. To a non-European, it has the feel of many large European cities: beautiful old palaces sit alongside swank new shops; narrow cobblestone streets veer off wide avenues lined with trees and cafes. And to someone from a (relatively) new country that proudly celebrates historic buildings only hundreds of years old, every street corner holds the promise of a glimpse of the distant past - an exquisitely tiled fountain or a crumbling fragment of ancient wall.

What makes Istanbul so alluring is the distinctive Eastern influence that permeates an otherwise "Western" city. The minarets and domes of countless mosques dominate the skyline, their competing calls to prayer echoing from all sides. Graceful Arabic calligraphy and intricately painted tiles in vibrant shades of blue and green decorate the walls of buildings. Instead of crepes and waffles, street vendors sell simit (a circular pretzel/bagel-type bread), roasted chestnuts and corn on the cob. And, of course, there's the ever-present turkish delight and baklava shops, interspersed with nargile (water pipe) cafes.

Istanbul is a city of minarets; here´s the view of the Blue Mosque from the top of the Ayasofya
The view crossing the Bosphorus from Asia to Europe. In the background is Sultanahmet, with the Ayasofya in front and the Blue Mosque behind.
The busy Eminonu ferry landing, near Sultanahmet
Fishermen line the upper deck of the Galata Bridge at dusk
The Beyoglu district of Istanbul

More Photos from Goreme, Turkey (April 22-25, 2008)

More interesting rock formations
The creatively named "Love Valley" - no joke
Goreme is known for its beautiful carpets
A well preserved mural at the Goreme Open Air Museum
Another mural from the Open Air Museum
The Tokali church - the oldest known rock-cut church in the region - was built in the 10th and 11th centuries