China’s Ming Tombs

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We, the living, are often fascinated by tombs.  We can’t resist the chance to tour them, view mummies, and read about possible curses associated with disturbing the dead.  Enjoy my story of reflection as I toured China’s Ming Tombs:

Even though it was winter, the valley looked beautiful. It reached from a lake, past fruit trees, and toward several hills below mountains. Laid out in the harmonious “feng shui” design by the third Ming Dynasty emperor Yongle (1402–1424), the Ming Tombs are just 26 miles northeast of Beijing and definitely worth a visit.

Emperor Yongle moved the capital of China from Nanjing to its the present location in Beijing. After construction of the Imperial Palace (the Forbidden City) in 1420, Yongle selected his burial site and created his own mausoleum. The valley features tombs of 13 of the Ming Dynasty Emperors, some Empresses, and a royal eunuch. The tombs are spread out across the valley, many on top of hills. A great red gate marks the entrance to a road lined with huge stone statues of guardian animals and officials. Stone and waterways are strategically placed to guard against bad winds, according to Feng Shui, and create a balance between humans and nature. Continue reading

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Beijing’s Stone Gardens

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After an exhausting day of climbing the Great Wall of China and wandering around the Ming Tombs, our Chinese tour guide ended the day at Yuan Ming Yuan Gardens on the outskirts of Beijing. Luckily, we were given rides in electric cars to a gate where we wandered through the Western Mansions section of what was called the Old Summer Palace, where only Qing Emperors and their royal courts could live and conduct affairs of state (the Forbidden City was used for more formal affairs).

At first I wondered why I had to explore the ruins of stone fountains and great halls by twilight when I just wanted to fall into bed, but as I walked across broken marble and listened to the tour guide tell its story, I began to understand the significance of Yuan Ming Yuan to the Chinese people. Yuan Ming Yuan means “The Gardens of Perfect Brightness,” and in its day, it must have reflected the most glorious mix of old-style Chinese temples, pagodas, and galleries with Tibetan and Mongol architecture. In one corner, European-inspired mansions rose above dancing waterfalls, rivers, bridges, and forested hills. Thousands of priceless artifacts such as ancient Chinese vases, gold figurines, carved jade, and intricate paintings once filled the now-ruined complex. Continue reading

Climbing the Great Wall of China

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On a cold, windy day I joined a group of Chinese tourists to climb the Great Wall of China.  It was difficult, but the views at the top were amazing and gave me new perspectives into Chinese history.  Read more about my Great Wall adventures and see photos here.

By the way, Justin Bieber had his bodyguards carry him, but this Chinese grandma climbed the wall with her cane!

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Walk with Me in Turkey

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My “Walk with Me in Turkey” eBook came out today after 1.5 years of working on it.  I started by doing photo essays for “Digital Journal” of places I visited and photographed in Turkey (thanks so much to Editor David Silverberg).  One of my photo essays, “Faces of Turkey” even won an award.  Thanks to my friend and editor Jeremy Gotwals of Holon Publishing, who helped design the eBook’s cover using one of my photos, my book is now available in Kindle format.  If you don’t have a Kindle reader, you can download a free one for your computer, smart phone, or tablet.  For only $2.99 you can see the beautiful, historic places of Turkey, read about their culture and food, and enjoy my adventure stories!  What a lot of work (sigh).  Hope I find some readers 🙂

Here’s the official book summary:

Walk with me through ancient temples, churches, castles, mosques, and palaces of Turkey where I spent 2.5 years teaching English and exploring that beautiful country.  I learned the language and culture and even married into a Turkish family.  Stand with me at the spot where key battles defended the land from invaders and where Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, was buried.  See archeology opportunities with Greek and Roman columns and tunnels directly at your feet.  Tour Istanbul, a city built on 7 hills and divided by a waterway that separates Europe from Asia.  Get caught in the rain by the Black Sea, feast on shish kabob in Kocaeli, dance the horon at a Turkish wedding, explore Kar Tepe’s mountain forest, and swim in the Mediterranean Sea.  With my vivid photos and stories, you’ll feel as though you walked in Turkey with me.

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Since it costs so much to print so many color photos, my book will probably remain in electronic format (with links to other Internet sites for more information).  Let me know if you enjoy it!  Find it here.

Ancient Turkish Towers

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In Turkey, you can find the most surprising things.  Here is a photo of the ancient city wall and tower of Nicomedia in northwest Turkey.  The Greeks built it about 2000 years ago, and it still stands beside a modern restaurant at a hilltop park.  The restaurant made use of the tower’s interior by putting a door over it and using it for storage, but I like to think of it as a mysterious cave into earth’s distant past, full of shadows, carved stone, and spider webs.  Perhaps it also hides undiscovered treasure like a gold ring lost by a visiting king long ago.  His body has since passed to dust and his name forgotten, but the gold ring may still be found by a curious restaurant diner in our modern world.

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Istanbul’s Ayasofya

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Hagia Sophia (“Ayasofya” in Turkish) was dedicated as a Christian church in 360 A.D. Famous for its Byzantine dome, it was the world’s largest cathedral for 1000 years and the focus of the Greek Orthodox Church. It contained holy relics, colorful mosaics, and painted icons (portraits of angels and saints) on silver walls. In 1453, Sultan Mehmed II conquered Constantinople (the former name of Istanbul). He ordered Ayasofya (which was still the largest building in the world) to be converted into a mosque. The bells, altar, and icons were removed, and the mosaics were plastered over. Islamic features such as four tall minarets were added. Ayasofya was used as a mosque until 1931 when the Republic of Turkey, under the secular democratic leadership of Mustafa Kemel Ataturk, ordered it to be made into a museum.

Since then, millions of Christians have come from around the world to admire Ayasofya’s arches, windows, stone carvings, and tile mosaics that highlight Jesus, Mary, and even Byzantine leaders (each with an amazing story to accompany the art). Most Istanbul tours are organized around a visit to Ayasofya, and every day tourist buses can be seen around the historical landmark while tourists stroll along with their cameras. You can even take a virtual tour online.

We can see patterns in Ayasofya’s architecture and mosaics just as we can see patterns in the stars above us and in nature all around our world.  We can even see patterns in history and in human behavior.  See more photos of Ayasofya and read about what’s happening there now:

http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/349934

Amazing Turkish Arcaeology

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The Izmit Arcaelogy Museum 

I’ve been visiting local museums in Izmit, Turkey (near Istanbul).  The curator and museum director gave me private tours.  I took photos of amazing old marble stone carved into Greek and Roman statues, pillars, and archways.  I found Byzantium frescoes and Ottoman fountains.  I even glimpsed ancient coins and gold leaves crafted into crowns and pendants.  Here are my top favorite marble photos.  I just love stone and how it can be shaped into graceful figures and geometrical designs.  Even letters can be engraved into it.  Come and visit me in Turkey, and I’ll take you on an arcaeology tour!

You can see my recent Digital Jouranal photo essays here. Continue reading

Walk with Me (Kale Içi, Antalya, Turkey–with photo gallery)

Walk with me in the historic Kale Ici (Old Castle) section of Antalya, Turkey, on the Mediterranean Sea.  Stroll on cobbled streets between medieval houses topped with red-tiled roofs.  Browse at shops selling carpets, pottery, clothing, and hand-blown glass.  Drink tea at a garden cafe.  Find a newly married couple posing among flowers, sunlight shining on their faces.  Take photos of the Roman Emperor Hadrian’s gates and a church from the Second Century.  See “Paul’s Place,” which highlights the First Century travels of the Apostle Paul through Turkey, as told in the Bible.  Explore the marina and see how the castle encloses it, with restaurants atop its golden stone walls and a swimming cove down stone steps.  Take a boat tour and see Kale Ici across the water.  You will never forget this amazing place! Continue reading