Monday, November 30, 2015

9 Places you need to Visit in Istanbul to live the history all over again.

9 Places you need to Visit in Istanbul to live the history all over again. 

Coveted by empires across the centuries, straddling both Europe and Asia, Istanbul is one of the world's great metropolises. Founded around 1000 BC, the colony of Byzantium grew into the Byzantine Empire's great capital of Constantinople and after the Ottoman conquest of the city, retained its glorious place as the heart of their empire. The city (officially renamed Istanbul after the founding of the Turkish Republic) is liberally scattered with glorious remnants of its long and illustrious history ,and the sightseeing here will impress even the most monument-weary visitor.

As well as the big four (Aya Sofya, Topkapı Palace, Blue Mosque, and Grand Bazaar) leave enough time to explore the many other sights. Although many tourist attractions are located in, or near, the old city district of Sultanahmet, there is a dazzling array of other tourist attractions throughout the further reaches of the city.

1. Aya Sofya

It's said that when the Byzantine Emperor Justinian entered his finished church for the first time in AD 536, he cried out "Glory to God that I have been judged worthy of such a work. Oh Solomon, I have outdone you!" The Aya Sofya (formerly the Hagia Sophia) was the emperor's swaggering statement to the world of the wealth and technical ability of his empire. Tradition maintained that the area surrounding the emperor's throne within the church was the official centre of the world. Through its conversion to a mosque after the Ottoman armies conquered Constantinople to its further conversion into a museum in the 20th century, the Aya Sofya has remained one of Istanbul's most cherished landmarks.

2. Topkapı Palace (Topkapı Sarayı)
First built by Mehmet the Conqueror in the 15th century, this glorious palace beside the Bosphorus is where sultans of the Ottoman Empire ruled over their dominions up until the 19th century. The vast complex is a dazzling display of Islamic art with opulent courtyards, lined with intricate hand-painted tile-work, linking a warren of sumptuously decorated rooms, all bounded by battlement walls and tower.

Of the many highlights here the most popular are: the Harem (where the sultan's many concubines and children would while away their days); the Second Court where you can walk through the vast Palace Kitchens and stand in awe at the dazzling interior of the Imperial Council Chamber; and the Third Court (which contained the sultan's private rooms) which displays an impressive collection of relics of the Prophet Muhammad in the Sacred Safekeeping Room, and is home to the Imperial Treasury where you're greeted with a cache of glittering gold objects and precious gems that will make your eyes water. To fully see Topkapı Palace, you'll need at least half a day.

3. Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii)

Sultan Ahmet I's grand architectural gift to his capital was this beautiful mosque, commonly known as the Blue Mosque today. Built between 1609 and 1616, the mosque caused a furore throughout the Muslim world when it was finished as it had six minarets (the same number as the Great Mosque of Mecca). A seventh minaret was eventually gifted to Mecca to stem the dissent. The mosque gets its nickname from its interior decoration of tens of thousands of İznik tiles. The entire spatial and colour effect of the interior make the mosque one of the finest achievements of Ottoman architecture.

4. Basilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıçı)

The Basilica Cistern is one of Istanbul's most surprising tourist attractions. This huge, palace-like underground hall, supported by 336 columns in 12 rows, once stored the imperial water supply for the Byzantine emperors. The project was begun by Constantine the Great, but finished by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. Many of the columns used in construction were recycled from earlier classical structures so feature decorative carvings. The most famous of these are the column bases known as the Medusa stones in the northwest corner with their Medusa head carvings. A visit here is very atmospheric with the columns beautifully lit and the soft steady trickle of water all around you.

5. Istanbul Archaeology Museum

Just a hop, skip and jump away from Topkapı Palace, this important museum complex brings together a staggering array of artifacts from Turkey and throughout the Middle East and sweeps through the vast breadth of history of this region. There are three separate sections in the complex, each of which are worthy of a visit: the Museum of the Ancient Orient; the mainArchaeology Museum; and the Tiled Pavilion of Mehmet the Conqueror, which holds a staggering collection of ceramic art. As well as all the wonderful artifacts on display, don't miss the interesting Istanbul Through the Ages exhibit room in the main Archaeology Museum.

6. Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı)

For many visitors sightseeing in Istanbul is as much about shopping as museums and monumental attractions, and the Grand Bazaar is where everyone comes. This massive covered market is basically the world's first shopping mall; it takes up a whole city quarter, surrounded by thick walls, between the Nure Osmanıye Mosque and Beyazıt Mosque.

Entrance is through one of 11 gates from where a maze of vaulted-ceiling lane-ways, lined by shops and stalls, cover the area. The various trades are still mostly segregated into particular sections, which makes browsing easier.

7. Dolmabahçe Palace

The sumptuous and ornate Dolmabahçe Palace shows the clear influence of European decoration and architecture on the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century. Built by Sultan Abdul Mecid I in 1854, it replaced Topkapı Palace as the main residence of the sultans. The formal gardens are punctuated with fountains, ornamental basins and blooming flower beds while inside the sheer splendour and pomp of the Turkish Renaissance style is dazzling. The interiors mix rococo, baroque, neoclassical and ottoman elements, with mammoth crystal chandeliers, liberal use of gold, French-style furniture and dazzling ceiling frescoes.

8. Chora Church (Kariye Müzesi)

Chora means "country" in Greek and this beautiful Church (originally called the Church of St Saviour of Chora) lies just outside old Constantinople's city walls. The first Chora Church was probably built here in the 5th century, but what you see now is the building's 6th reconstruction as it was destroyed completely in the 9th century and went through several face-lifts from the 11th to 14th centuries.

The church (now a museum) is rightly world-famous for its fabulously vibrant 14th century mosaics, preserved almost intact in the two narthexes and fragmentary in the nave, and the frescoes along the walls and domes. These incredible examples of Byzantine artistry cover a wide range of themes from the genealogy of Christ to the New Testament stories.

9. Yedikule Fortress (Yedikule Hısarı)

Although it's a bit of a schlep on the suburban train to get out to Yedikule, this commandingfortress is well worth it. Built in the 5th century by the Emperor Theodosius II, the fortress made up the southern section of Constantinople's defensive walls. The mammoth arch (blocked up in the late Byzantine period) was known as Porta Aurea (Golden Gate) with doors plated in gold. When the Ottomans conquered the city they used the fortress for defense, and later as a prison and execution place. Yedikule has been restored in recent years and you can climb up to the top of the battlements for superb views across the Sea of Marmara.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Things you should NEVER miss in Thailand.

Do you think that you know everything about Thailand? Have you seen all the great places and temples? Do you find Bangkok boring?

We will change all of that. As we will be discussing things, you may have never heard of but are real and so much fun. A great reason to visit Bangkok with Holiday Factory and explore new things, traditions and festivals.

Let's start!

Annual Phuket Vegetarian Festival:

The Phuket Vegetarian Festival is a colorful event held over a nine-day period in October, celebrating the Chinese community's belief that abstinence from meat and various stimulants during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar will help them obtain good health and peace of mind.
Though the origins of the festival are unclear, it is commonly thought that the festival was bought to Phuket by a wandering Chinese opera group who fell ill with malaria while performing on the island.
They decided to adhere to a strict vegetarian diet and pray to the Nine Emperor Gods to ensure purification of the mind and body. To everyone's amazement the opera group made a complete recovery. The people celebrated by holding a festival that was meant to honour the gods as well as express the people's happiness at surviving what was, in the 19th century, a fatal illness. Subsequently the festival has grown and developed into a spectacular yearly event that is attended by thousands with participants flying in from China and other Asian destination\

Starts on 13th October until 21 October
More about it:

Annual Monkey Buffet Festival:

One of the country’s most unusual festivals is the annual Monkey Buffet, held in front of the Pra Prang Sam Yot temple in Lopburi province. More than 600 monkeys are invited to feast on over two tonnes of grilled sausage, fresh fruit, ice cream and other treats. The locals see it as a thank you to the monkeys which inhabit the village and bring thousands of tourists there each year.
For this we have a man by the name of Yongyuth Kitwattananusont to thank. Back in 1989 Kitwattananusont, a hotelier by trade, gained sponsorship and assistance from TAT – the Tourism Authority of Thailand – to launch his inaugural festival for the benefit of the monkeys’ stomachs, the town’s peoples’ wallets and the tourists’ holiday memories. Now the festival pulls in thousands of visitors every year bringing in much welcome income for Lopburi’s restaurants and hotels.

Khun Yongyuth also takes great enjoyment from the festival and he attempts to make each year a bigger and better spectacle from the previous one. One year saw him dressing up in a monkey costume and floating into the festival by parachute while in 2013, he aims to increase the already magnificent buffet by offering those cheeky monkeys over 4,000 kilograms worth of food!
And boy do those monkeys make the most of their buffet; they don’t care whether it’s good for the town’s collective bank balances or if it gives the tourists great photos to take home and share with their friends and family on Facebook or Twitter – they’re just happy to be able to gorge themselves and fill their furry stomachs to such excess one day a year. They’re probably also quite fond of the added opportunity to be able to grab some extra cameras or bags from unsuspecting tourists too! You have to wonder what these kleptomaniac monkeys do with all the things that they steal; do they store them all somewhere? Do they use them to trade with other monkeys? Have they secretly mastered how to take photos of their babies and upload them to Instagram?

Starts on 28th November until 29th November

Koh Phangan - Full Moon Party
Some time ago, a group of tourists found that the most beautiful moon was in Koh Phangan. They arranged a party along the crescent-shaped beach of Haad Rin to celebrate the Full Moon night. From then on, people from all over the world come to join the celebration...
And now there are 10,000-30,000 people at the party each month. The party  begins at dusk, When the round yellow moon makes its appearance over the  white sand beach. In twilight, small tables are lined up on the beach and thousands of lamps are lit...
As the evening progresses  the beach explodes into a dancing frenzy as different m.c.'s take their  furn on the decks. There is something for everyone here, trance, techno,drum and bass, commercial dance and reggae, no-one is disappointed. Jugglers and fire-eaters entertain the crowds as the night goes on and with the brilliant impromptu fireworks display, the party atmosphere is complete. After a few hours it could be time to chill-out for a while, maybe grab a drink or a bite to eat from one of the many beach traders and wade out or sit down in the warm surf of the Gulf of Thailand, pure, pure heaven.
Revived and relaxed it's time to return to the main beach and get blown into another dancing dimension, While all around people are doing the same, there are no barriers here, no inhibitions, just people enjoying themselves with one unified intention, to rejoice in the magic that is the paradise of FULL MOON PARTY!

Happens every month, on a specific date. So check here to catch it:

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Explore the Magical Ruins in Delphi and get Apollos Advice - Greece

Explore the Magical Ruins in Delphi and get Apollos Advice 

After the Acropolis, Delphi is the most popular archaeological site in Greece. Located 180 kilometers from Athens, a trip to Delphi is listed in just about every tour itinerary and is by far the most popular day trip out of Athens.

Many people don't even know why they are going to Delphi. It's just something they know they are supposed to do when they go to Greece. But for those people who read, Delphi has a special meaning, more than just another collection of ruins in a country that is full of them. Delphi in ancient times was considered the center of the known world, the place where heaven and earth met. This was the place on earth where man was closest to God.

In Mythology, Delphi was the meeting place of two eagles, released by Zeus and sent in opposite directions. Where they met indicated the center of the earth. Delphi is known as the center of worship for the God Apollo, son of Zeus who embodied moral discipline and spiritual clarity. But even before the area was associated with Apollo there were other deities worshipped here including the earth goddess Gea, Themis, Demeter and Poseidon, the well-known god of the sea. By the end of the Mycenaean period Apollo had displaced these other deities and became the guardian of the oracle. Delphi was to become a panhellenic sanctuary, where every four years, (starting in 776 BC) athletes from all over the Greek world competed in the Pythian Games, one of the four panhellenic games, precursors of the Modern Olympics.

The oracle of Delphi was a spiritual experience whereby the spirit of Apollo was asked for advice on critical matters relating to people's lives or affairs of the state. Questions were asked to the Pythia, or priestess who 'channeled' the spirit of the God, in the same way that people now channel Jesus or the various other disembodied spirits who have not only helped people with their advice but kept their channelers on the tops of the best seller lists. Whether one believes in the channeling of Gods or spirits is an individual thing. But even the most skeptical person must realize that there was something 'magical' going on in Delhi for several thousand years and the fact that the town still attracts a million visitors a year makes us believe some of that magic is still there. Many people who come to Delphi claim they have felt 'something'. I suppose it depends on your receptivity and your belief system. But there are those who believe that the spirit of Apollo still resides in Delphi and just as he was thousands of years ago, he is still available now, to answer questions and give personal advice or affairs of the state. One might keep in mind that a visit to Delphi is also on the itinerary of visiting dignitaries and the list of Greek politicians who have not visited the sacred oracle would be a short one. Just food for thought, but visiting Delphi with an open mind may be an enriching experience.

As the reputation of the oracle at Delphi grew, the sanctuary began to develop into an international center as the Greek city-states brought offerings. Remember that this was before the age of paved highways and tour buses and a trip to Delphi was like the proverbial passing of a camel through the eye of a needle, on difficult mountain paths or climbing from the valley below. As the area grew in wealth it developed into an independent state which was governed by the aristocrats. It became the center of a 12 member federation called the Amphictyonia which was a sort of League of Nations which unified the small city-states. Built on the slopes of Mount Parnassos, the town and ancient site are as awe-inspiring now as it most likely was three thousand years ago, overlooking the Gulf of Corinth and a valley filled with olive and cypress trees. The town of Delphi sits on the edge of a cliff and despite the number of tourists and the abundance of tourism oriented businesses, this is still a very remarkable place to be. Hotels are plentiful, there are two campgrounds within a few kilometers of the town and numerous restaurants including the Taverna Vlachos, recommended by Lonely Planet and featuring a beautiful view of the valley as well as good food at reasonable prices.

The center of Delphi is the sanctuary of Apollo, on the southern tip of the mountain slope. The Doric temple was the home of the Pythia, who seated on a tripod above a deep crevasse, would pronounce her prophesies while the priests wrote them down and translated them to the people. The mythology is that when Apollo slew Python, its body fell into this fissure and fumes arose from its decomposing body. Intoxicated by these fumes, the pythia (sibyl) would go into a trance, allowing Apollo to possess her spirit and spoke, with the priests translating or interpreting what she was saying. This temple was destroyed by fire in the fourth century BC and then rebuilt. Carved into the temple were three phrases: "know thyself" "nothing in excess" and "make a pledge and mischief is nigh" which are as meaningful today as they were when they were written even though I am personally confused about the meaning of the last one which sounds like it comes from my local NPR fund drive. The origin of these phrases was attributed to one or more of the Seven Sages of Greece though there is some debate about this and some believe that these were just popular proverbs at the time and were later attributed to the Sages of Greece.

The theater was also built in the 4th century and further above is the large stadium which was famous for its chariot races, renovated by Herod Atticus and considered the best preserved in all of Greece.

The Sacred Way leads to the temple, passing the treasuries and monuments that commemorate great events. In ancient times this road was lined with statues and gifts given by the city state in tribute to Apollo in thanks for victories in battle. The treasury of the Athenians has been reconstructed. My favorite is the Treasury of the Sifniots since it is a reminder of a period when my favorite island was one of the wealthiest areas in Greece. The frieze of the treasury is now in the archaeological museum along with many artifacts from the site including the omphalos, the sculptured cone that stood in the exact center of the world and the famous bronze statue of the Charioteer, one of the most celebrated pieces of ancient art in the world.

Below these ruins are the Temple of Pronoia Athena, also known as Marmaria, or the marbles supposedly because of the abundance of ancient stones laying nearby. The Tholos is probably the most widely recognized building on the site because of the color of the marble and the fact that it is a round temple, not all that common in Greece. Strangely enough what the temple was used for and who it commemorates is not known. Beyond is the Gymnasium and the Palaiastra which were used to train the athletes who competed in the Pythian games, held every four years to commemorate Apollo's victory over Python. The Castelian spring is where pilgrims washed themselves before consulting the oracle and the crystal clear water still flows from it has it has for thousands of years.

In my opinion the oracle at Delphi poses an interesting question which every person should ask himself during the visit, unless he is just going there to see old buildings, or because it was on a list of somebody's list of things to do in Greece. Lets say that the oracle, whether it was the voice of Apollo or some spirit, actually spoke to the ancient Greeks for all those centuries and it was not some scam or a form of mass hysteria, but something which we don't understand because it follows different rules than those we have grown use to living on planet earth in the 20th century. If people actually did communicate with the God at this sacred spot is it likely that the spirit went away or died ? Did it get bored and pack up its holy baggage and move on to some other new sacred site like Sedona, Arizona, or whither away like fruit on a tree that goes unpicked? Or is it more likely that the God still goes on speaking and we mortals have lost our ability or desire to listen. Maybe there are people who still communicate with whatever spoke and perhaps continues to speak to mankind in Delphi. Maybe all it takes is an open mind and heart to hear a voice that for centuries distributed wisdom to mankind.

So if you go to Delphi listen with your heart. Someone or something may be talking to you.