A reminder: by Erica

My dearest Rome,

 

I have lived within you for about 6 months now. You’ve seen my first love letter to you way back in August 2018 https://seekingericafarandnear.com/2018/08/16/the-journey-begins/ , so I want to pontificate (pun intended and all the Vatican stuff) on your other virtues and vices.

Thank you.

Thank you for being unapologetically yourself.

I don’t love all of your garbage and trash that needs to be picked up. I don’t love your endless lines in Coin or even Simply for groceries (there are 3 other people working besides the one cashier, can’t they also help check out?). I don’t love when I give the supermarket cashier a 20 and he/she asks me for more exact change (no I don’t have 2 euros, and even if I did, I want to “break” my 20!).

But I do love you, Roma.

Thanks for the days when I can do this (picture) and rest my hand on all the imperfections of the colosseum and say to myself, “You did this, so can I.”

Love,

Erica

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Istanbul: Topkapi Palace & the Hagia Sophia

I arrived in Istanbul on December 26, 2018, at about 6:30 p.m. from a flight from Bucharest, Romania. I had flown from Rome to Bucharest and then to Istanbul. (My first time “in” Romania! Yay!)  I got off the plane and waited with a mob of other people to go through passport control. I had my Turkish visa printed and ready…

I stayed in the Fatih area of Istanbul, which is on the European side. I picked the hotel and the area because it’s the neighborhood with famous historical sites such as the Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace.

I set up a 2-day guided tour with a company I found suggested on TripAdvisor. I thought it was a small-group tour, but when the guide came to meet me at my hotel in the morning at 9 a.m., I found out the tour was just me and my guide. I almost would have preferred a few other people, but it ended up working out fine.

I love taking guided tours when I first get to the city. I will have already done a lot of reading and research on the history and culture of the place, but I like how I get a broad overview of the city and its important places on a tour. It allows me to familiarize myself with the surroundings and figure out what I want to go back to or see later. I’ve found this is my favorite way to enter a new place, and I’ve done it in many countries around the world. Because I’m such a history buff, it gives me an orientation about the historical and cultural aspects of a place as well, which is one of my favorite parts of traveling.

Our first stop was Topkapi Palace. This is where the sultans lived with about 4,000 of their closest family, friends, children, servants, concubines, eunuchs, and courtiers between the 15th and 19th centuries when it was the court of the Ottoman empire.

Although the palace compound extends around much further, the “museum” opens with the Middle Gate, also known as the Bâbüsselâm or the Gate of Salutation (below). It leads into the palace proper, and with the two towers flanking the gate, it was supposed to serve as a symbol of the pomp and majesty of the Ottoman empire. It has subsequently become an icon for the whole palace.

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Middle Gate, also known as the Bâbüsselâm or the Gate of Salutation

On the upper part of the gate, there is a calligraphic inscription of the Muslim profession of faith: “There is no god but God; Mohammed is the prophet of God.” (below)

Only the sultan was allowed to pass through this gate on horseback. Other state officials such as the grand vizier had to dismount their horses before entering.

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Muslim profession of faith: “There is no god but God; Mohammed is the prophet of God.”

Inside the gate lies the Second Courtyard which includes the Imperial Council Chamber (below), where the Dîvân (Council) made laws, citizens presented petitions, and foreign dignitaries were presented to the court. The sultans were said to have eavesdropped on proceedings through the window with the golden grille.

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Imperial Council Chamber

One of my favorite things about mosques and Islam art is the decoration. In Islam, depictions of the prophet Mohammed and of God are forbidden, so much of their architecture and decoration is mosaic tiles of geometric or floral patterns and fanciful or elaborate script. Here are some examples from Topkapi Palace:

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I explored the rest of the palace grounds, which included palace kitchens, the Imperial Treasury, the harem where the wives and children of the sultan lived, the Marble Terrace, and much more. I could go on with various pictures of buildings, but suffice it to say it was definitely a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the sultans and the Ottoman empire’s ruling class.

My next stop, the Hagia Sophia (Church of Holy Wisdom), is what originally drew me to Istanbul from having studied it in school. I was attracted to it for its historical, religious, and cultural significances. It was commissioned by the Byzantine emperor Justinian, consecrated as a church in 536, converted to a mosque by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453 (and renamed Aya Sofya), and declared a museum by Atatürk (the founder of modern Turkey) in 1935.

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It’s famous for its mosaics, which the Muslims covered up with plaster when it became a mosque. It was only after being declared a museum that they began to recover some of the mosaics that were hidden after the conversion of the structure. Below are some of my pictures.

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The dome

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Ottoman medallions (below, and seen in the pictures above) are inscribed with the gilt Arabic letters with the names of God (Allah), Mohammed, and the early caliphs Ali and Abu Bakr.

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More to come!

Erica

Walking in Rome

I took a late afternoon/early evening walk around Rome on Sunday as I sometimes do. Here are just a few pictures from my walk… and more evidence for my theory that it is nearly impossible to take a “bad” picture of the Colosseum.

Erica

P.S. I want to start blogging more regularly. I still have to finish my Krakow posts and my Istanbul posts. Once I get those done, I want to chronicle more of my everyday life here. Here’s to my New Year’s resolution to start blogging more regularly!

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My “neighborhood church.” This is less than a 5-minute walk from my apartment (and please don’t think this is bragging – I think this is “so cool!”) – See below from Wikipedia

The large Latin inscription on the façade reads: Clemens XII Pont Max Anno V Christo Salvatori In Hon SS Ioan Bapt et Evang. This abbreviated inscription translates to: “Pope Clement XII, in the fifth year [of his Pontificate, dedicated this building] to Christ the Savior, in honor of Saints John the Baptist and [John] the Evangelist”. The inscription indicates, with its full title, that the archbasilica was originally dedicated to Christ the Savior and, centuries later, co-dedicated to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. As the Cathedral of the Pope as Bishop of Rome, it ranks superior to all other churches of the Roman Catholic Church, including St. Peter’s Basilica. (the bold is added by me). As a Catholic girl who went through Catholic schools kindergarten-senior year, it still awes me.

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This is an “opposite” picture. I was waiting near the Trevi Fountain, and I was talking to my dad on Skype messenger. He said, “I can’t believe how many historic sights you have within a walking distance.” So after my dad messaged me, I took a picture of the Trevi Fountain of the people taking pictures. So lucky! (I don’t even like the Trevi Fountain!)

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Piazza Venezia during Christmas

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N.B. These are bad pictures (because I’m not a photographer) with lots of glare, but still the Colosseum looks beautiful

Istanbul: Coming Soon…

Hello!

Happy New Year and Buon Anno! I’m having trouble downloading all of my Istanbul pictures to my computer, so for now, here are a few of my favorites I’ve been able to download so far.

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  1. I get excited when I get new stamps on my passport. It’s not as “fun” in Europe anymore when you don’t get stamps when you’re anywhere in the EU.

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2. Europe (our left), and Asia (our right)

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3. Not a great picture, but the inside of the Hagia Sophia. It was the place I wanted to see the most in Istanbul because it used to be a church built at “Constantinople” in the 6th century (532–537) under the direction of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I. When the Ottoman Turks conquered Istanbul in 1453 under “Mehmed the Conqueror” they converted it into a mosque (in 3 days!) – not really 3 days, but more to come. They covered the Christian mosaics with plaster (or something – I’m not good with materials). Muslims don’t believe in depictions of Mohammed, God, or holy people, so their mosques are decorated mostly with Arabic script and floral or geometric patterns.
It was changed into a museum in 1935 under Mustafa Atatürk, the founder of the current Turkish republic. He wanted it to be a more secular representation of the country.

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4. One of the mosaics that hasn’t been fully restored.

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5. The Blue Mosque from a window in the Hagia Sophia

That’s all for now. More to come!

Erica

P.S. For those readers who talk to my dad, he has pledged to come (to Europe) in the spring now that he has so much time as a retired person. 🙂 He came to Europe a few years ago when I was living in the south of Italy, and we had a great time in Germany together. Let’s put “pressure” on him to come again!

Istanbul (not Constantinople), oh… and my Roma

This is a short post because I am excited to tell everyone that I’m going to Istanbul from December 26-30 as a “gift” to myself. Much to my parents’ dismay (Erdoğan, Khashoggi (RIP), among others), it has been on my “list” for a long time because it’s a literal gateway between Europe and Asia. And winter is the “down” season, so prices are much more reasonable. I go with full knowledge of the risks of a country known as a gateway to Syria, a border country to Iraq, a country in conflict with the aspiring “Kurdistan,” and not the most stable government. But travel and history and culture is the love of my life so far (to be vulnerable: hopefully, someday that love of my life will be a guy – who (must) accept that travel will always be my first love!). All I can do is be grateful, thankful, and in awe of the privileges life has bestowed on me in terms of seeing the world. All I can do is be smart, experienced, and cultured in pursuit of what I love – and that is to see the world through my own eyes, with the privileges of the formal education so valued and gifted to me by my parents as well as the the informal education my life’s journey has sometimes unwillingly dragged me through.

As for Christmas day, I will go to St. Peter’s Square for “Urbi et Orbi” Blessing at 12 noon in St Peter’s Square. Not sure what this is, but I want to experience it.

Also, New Year’s is one of my least favorite days/nights of the year. So even though I usually try to fall asleep as early as possible and miss it completely, I won’t miss a chance to see this at one of my favorite places in the world… A version of this scene was the background on my laptop for years. And here I am. Chills.

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So grateful.

Erica

Oggi sono grato per…

Today I am thankful for 31 things (plus many other things like family, friends, health, etc.)…

  1. Rome
  2. Being from a country that can have 4 former presidents from different parties come together to celebrate the passing of one of them
  3. My (American) passport
  4. Airplanes
  5. International travel
  6. The color red
  7. My iPad
  8. Being able to switch SIM cards from America to Italia and still keep the same phone
  9. How amazing I find it that Italians invented an entire language where basically 99% of words end in an a, e, i, or o
  10. Days starting to get longer on December 22
  11. Cobblestone roads
  12. When I get an end seat on the Metro
  13. Hair clips
  14. Having brown eyes
  15. Amazon Prime
  16. Fruit popsicles
  17. The Colosseum
  18. Podcasts
  19. Piazza del Popolo
  20. “Red days” in Italy*
  21. Living near the San Giovanni Metro stop on the A line
  22. Earphones
  23. How Hannah’s newsletter’s “word” today – athenaeum – was the same as my dictionary.com “word of the day” email (definition: a library or reading room)
  24. Spelling my name Erica with a “c” instead of a “k”
  25. Pearl earrings
  26. The Italian word for “witch,” which is “strega”
  27. English grammar, specifically relative clauses
  28. Did I mention Rome?
  29. The Christmas decorations/nativity scene at the Vatican
  30. Every time I see “SPQR” around Rome
  31. The Christmas lights decorating the street outside the school where I teach (see picture)

* “Red days” are what I call (i.e. only Erica Eve Beinlich, this is not what they are known as in Italy) Italian holidays (no work or school) because the day/date on all Italian calendars is in red. Thus, it is easy to spot no work/school holidays in Italy because the dates are universally (or nationally) colored in red, no matter the color scheme of the rest of the calendar. Every Sunday (Domenica) is a “red day,” and then all national holidays, many of which are religious due to the Catholic history of the country. For example, this Saturday is a “red day” for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception/L’Immacolata. It’s a Saturday this year, so most people already don’t have work or school, but if it was on a weekday, work and school would be closed.

Erica

Two quotes I’m loving today

“The world is before you, and you need not take it or leave it as it was before you came in.” – James Baldwin

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Theresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” – H. Jackson Brown

On collecting paintings & my “relationship” with the Colosseum

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From inside the Colosseum, 2010.

I have a travel tradition of buying an original painting from an artist in the foreign city I’m visiting. I try to match the painting with the feeling the city evokes in me – my Sagrada Familia painting from Barcelona is made with the bright primary colors with which Antoni Gaudi painted the city itself. My picture from Prague (actually an original photograph) is of the city’s landmark Charles Bridge in mostly dark greens, black, and some faint golden light. My painting from Florence is in golds and rusty oranges like the color of the city’s duomo and Tuscany’s reddish-orange roofs. I don’t have a formula for picking the art I buy or the feeling I get from it, I just get whatever emotions the city calls up in me. And I don’t have one from every single foreign city I’ve visited because I have a rule for myself that I’ll only get an image if it shouts my perception of the ambiance of the city I’m in or feel I have to get it. Then I take it to get professionally framed (when I have the money or, recently, as Christmas presents to me from my parents). They then take up residence in my parents’ house to sit humbly in their basement until I (someday) (hopefully) have a place of my own to hang them. Sometimes, when I was living at home (the most recent stretch ended less than a month ago), on sleepless nights or nights when I felt particularly helpless, rudderless, and lost, I’d tiptoe into “my area” of the basement and look at those pictures. It’s as if I had to say to myself, “See? Here is proof there was once a time where you felt happy and alive (and not always just when you’re across an ocean!) with a future you had the privilege to choose.” Isn’t that one of the reasons we take pictures and buy souvenirs anyway?

But I don’t have one from Rome. Why, Erica? That makes no sense! You love Rome, and you’ve been here 7 million times! (My dad will tell you I can be prone to exaggeration, which might be true, especially here).

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The Arch of Constantine with the Colosseum behind it, 2010.

Rome has always been so sacred to me, so brilliantly magnificent and flawed at the same time, that I have never been able to decide what I want my Rome painting to be or depict. The Vatican? The Pantheon, Piazza Navona, or the Spanish Steps? Palatine Hill? The Colosseum? Oh, but the Colosseum is so cliche. It is a symbol of one of the biggest travel cliches (for very good reason, I would argue!) along with the Eiffel Tower or the pyramids (and yes, Egypt, I’m hoping to meet you soon) or the Statue of Liberty.

But how I love the Colosseum. My laptop must have an upwards of 200 pictures I’ve taken of it through the years. I’ve said it before, but it’s true that it still sends a shiver down my spine when I first glimpse it walking around Rome.

I am well aware of its bloody past; the exotic animals fighting slaves and gladiators from all stretches of the Roman empire. I know about the mobs that called for more and more human sacrifice for sport and their viewing pleasure. I have stood before it and tried to imagine the sheer number of lives lost here in pursuit of entertainment.

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From inside the Colosseum, 2008.

And yet I still love it. I love it as a symbol of Rome as a city that is still standing after thousands of years. To me, it is ruins of a once-great empire that is more beautiful than any gleaming new skyscraper in a burgeoning cosmopolitan city. The Colosseum and Rome itself are so comfortable in the seeming loss of their grandeur, in the beauty of their crumbling remains, that the world no longer regards these “tattered” structures as relics of failures and long-ago promise. The very wreckage that is a constant reminder of Rome’s fall(s) are also a testament to its staying power and ability to overcome. To overcome barbarians, to overcome wars, to overcome time, and even the ability to overcome the highest hurdle of them all – the flaws in itself.

I get that. In so many ways. And that’s what the Colosseum means to me.

I’ve finally decided what I want my Rome painting to be. I want a picture of the Colosseum with the ruins of the Roman Forum/Palatine Hill stretching out proudly in front of it.

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Ruins of the Roman forum with the Colosseum in the background, 2016.

Years from now people may see my precious painting of Rome’s Colosseum and ruins and dismiss it as a cliched representation of one of the world’s most magnificent cities. Let them. I know it means so much more. I understand, the Colosseum understands, and Rome understands. That’s good enough for me.

Erica