Tag Archives: Islam

Hunger Day

As I write this there’s a constant feeling of hunger in the background…today I haven’t eaten anything since dawn.

It all started after doing a 10K charity run for Cancer Research. I wasn’t going to do another charity event this year, after raising £187 for a Multiple Sclerosis rehab centre.

But then my friend’s dad, who has myeloma (bone marrow cancer) asked me to do a 10K. The money goes towards research he is participating in at Hammersmith Hospital in London. If you would like to help me out with a donation our link is here. 

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I asked some Muslim colleagues to help out and they said they’d sponsor me double if I did a day of Ramadan with them. Fasting has lots of health benefits, among them lowering cholesterol, levels of stress hormones in the blood and boosting brain cell production. So I thought it’s only a day, I’ll give it a go.

I’d never fasted before except two days when I was eight and travelling and got ill from the flight food. We’d gone to New Zealand on a non-stop 36-hour flight and if I wasn’t suffering from food-poisoning it was travel-sickness. We stopped in Abu Dhabi and I remember we were told not to eat anything at the airport as it was Ramadan, but I was so ill I didn’t want to. I remembered the hungry eyes of the turbaned wrinkled man sitting on the tiled bench there.

The closest I’ve come to not eating in more recent times was the 5:2 diet, which I followed for a few weeks (two days of eating 400 calories), but then I could drink as much water as I wanted. I had been inspired by Mike Mosley and lost 2kg. I was doing it to improve memory and alertness. I didn’t notice a change in either, but maybe I didn’t try it for long enough.

Ramadan is really strict. No water, no food and because it’s summer, you have to do that for 18 and a half hours.

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The only time I haven’t appreciated the sun

I thought that it started at sunrise, so I excitedly got up and finished my toast and cereal breakfast for 4.40am for sunrise at 4.41am. I was reminded of the days of midnight feasts. I thought eating that close to the time was really smooth until I went to work and was told that they stop eating two hours earlier for morning prayers. This is intense.

The hardest part was at lunch. I was acutely aware of people eating, so I spent my time checking out local takeaways planning dinner (I’d be too weak to cook and I needed to have something to look forward to). I also normally snack at 10am, so I got hunger pains then. As I have IBS I was also belching and burping quite a bit at work which was really embarrassing.

After about 1pm, the hunger feeling faded to background noise and was easier to deal with. By the end of the day I was getting quite distracted. Seeing food or hearing about it did not make me hungry, the smell did. It was like part of my brain was disassociating itself for self-protection.

I felt weak and a little like I was floating when I walked. But apart from a slight ache in the belly I was fine. I had expected to have a drier mouth.

I wouldn’t do it again unless I had a similar charity deal. I’d rather appreciate those who have less than myself by enjoying what I do have.

It’s getting harder as it gets later. I started counting down the hours at 6pm.

Now I can’t wait to break this horrendous hunger with a buy-one-get-one-free pizza deal. Veggie and fish of course so I don’t eat non-Halal meat…

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Filed under Food, Life of Lydia

Introducing Turgutreis

My journey to Turkey started with a trip down to London as we were flying from Luton airport.

To get there I took a bus, two trains, two tubes, a train and then another bus. This was easy to do as links in London are pretty efficient, not as provincial as up North, where bus drivers take breaks every 15 minutes to read The Metro.

It was once I got to the airport that I experienced delay – our plane was late coming in and then this happened next to it…

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The oil spill delayed us by an hour. Green powder was spread all over it and then it was brushed up before we could depart.

When we finally got to Bodrum-Milas airport in Turkey we were tired and I was hungry (I am usually hungry). We got our taxi to the hotel, which was probably the most expensive part of our holiday at 80 Lira each. You divide by about 3 for Sterling so this was about £27 for an hour’s journey to our hotel in Turgutreis. The first thing we noticed was that almost everyone smoked. Our car reeked of it.

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Our hotel was lovely, having been built on the site of an old hotel only a year or two before. It was very modern and featured a spa, indoor and outdoor pool and private pier which we later jumped off to go snorkelling. But tonight I needed dinner before bed. Luckily there was a family-run outdoor diner just next to the hotel. I had some kebabs bursting full of flavour next to a Turkish family who were having dinner with their little one at about midnight.

 

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The next morning after a great sleep I opened the curtain to heaven on earth. Before us was the light blue of the pool and just in front of that the darker blue of the sea framed by the sun blazing down from the bright sky. I went onto the balcony and was dazzled. The light was so bright that my camera malfunctioned and all the pictures that day came out white. We spent most of that day getting accustomed to the brightness, squinting British tourists sweating in the sunlight.

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We thought we’d take in the local village and the new culture. It was a 15 minute walk away and we could walk along the seafront to get there.

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We saw lots of dogs and a few cats, both pets and strays.

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We passed a lot of cafes and restaurants with shouts of “hey bella take a look at our menu” “hello how are you English?”.

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Turkish delight

We also went down a street with tourist tack shops and also a bakers and tailors. The tailors was very busy with many alterations being made on the spot.

 

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Bougainvillea brought bursts of colour to the white buildings.

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I had some ice cream made of natural fruit juices, pistachio and blackcurrant. The locals were very friendly and cheerful.

We walked past the empty expensive shops in the harbour, admiring the tiled walls and the figureheads of Turgut Reis – the sailor who gave the village its name.

 

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After that we spotted the villlage mosque in front of a McDonalds and headed for it.

We weren’t sure whether we would be allowed in but it appeared that all was welcome. We were both wearing long dresses so we took off our shoes, donned scarves and entered an oasis of calm. There was one big carpet on the floor divided into sections for prayer and lots of beautiful tiling and chandeliers, with a big one hanging from the high elaborately painted dome in the centre.

 

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It was empty apart from some scholars buried in their books in the corner, prayer beads in hand. We took care to be quiet and had a rest there for a while. We heard later that the mosque had only been built about 5 years before.

On the way back we went to the supermarket to get lunch. There was fresh fish by the entrance and a man was picking out what he wanted for about £7.

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Then there was a vast array of fruit and vegetables piled up and further down were dried fruit and nuts of all varieties.

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On our way back we saw plenty of statues and flags with Ataturk (or “father of the Turks”). Ataturk was an army officer and the Republic of Turkey’s first president who ruled unchallenged from 1923 until 1945. He was responsible for wide-ranging social and political reform to modernise Turkey. These reforms included the emancipation of women and the introduction of Western legal codes, dress, calendar and alphabet, replacing the Arabic script with a Latin one. He briefly made the fez the compulsory national headdress and people faced heavy fines if they wore a turban. He was and still is treated almost like a religious figure, with one portrait description even describing him as “immortal”. In almost every city there is a statue of him.

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After filling our bags with local delicacies we headed back to our hotel for some sunbathing on the pier. The next day we planned to go over the border to Kos in Greece.

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June 1, 2014 · 8:55 pm

Istanbul Day 1 – Tokapi Palace

Kebab pizza

Kebab pizza

After the magnificence of the Haggia Sophia we refreshed ourselves with a visit to a traditional restaurant where we ate kebab main meals (when in Rome, or rather Istanbul!). I had it with the hot spiced apple tea again. It was sweet and revitalising and I couldn’t get enough of it. I then had a tea but I had to ask for milk – if you don’t they just serve it black! Every drink is also served with mounds of sugar cubes as well as having it added. After a while I began to appreciate the EU sugar limits.

Lamb kebab. Photos copyright literarylydi

Lamb kebab. All photos on this page copyright literarylydi

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delicious cous cous salad

We then continued our tourist experience by buying up boxes and boxes of Turkish delight and nougat. Massive blocks of the stuff were chiselled off.  They had an array of colours and nuts, it was quite a display. The Turks are very fond of anything with nuts in. 342

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We then went to the Tokapi Palace (Tokapur in Turkish pronunciation), where we marvelled at the variety of styles of 16th-17th century tiled walls.

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We walked in ancient regal rooms with 16th century bronze and tile fire places. Odd things with pointy tops. Every so often there would be a little courtyard, sometimes with a fountain.

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I got the impression the Turks were also very fond of these, which seemed logical given that Turkey is usually lovely and warm, unlike the bitter cold that day. I had forgotten gloves and I soon lost all feeling in my hands.

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The best bit of the palace were the imperial treasures, which at one time only the royals could admire. I had never seen anything like it. Such a large amount of incredibly valuable precious-stones, gold and diamonds, all glistening and dazzling in two rooms, crammed together in a breathtaking display of opulence. There were bronze and ivory thrones from the 16th and 17th centuries, every inch dripping in rubies and emeralds. I asked my boyfriend whether I could have some ruby or emerald jewellery for Christmas. Even if we won the lottery I doubt that is possible, but one can dream. I was like a magpie in the dragon’s cave of the Hobbit. I had never seen anything like this before.

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The gold was highly polished and almost blinded you in its magnificence. The diamonds looked thoroughly transparent. These were the literal jewels in the crown of a vast and wealthy Empire that had at one point stretched all the way to “threaten the gates of Vienna”. Incredible given that they started off as a nomadic desert tribe. Unfortunately we couldn’t take photographs.

We saw the Harem where the Emperor’s many wives and the black Eunuchs that served them were housed. The quarters of the Eunuchs were the most modest rooms in the palace, quite small but still richly decorated with painted tiles.

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We saw the religious artefacts (the Prophets beard, bits of the Kaa’ba in Mecca and so on). These were the busiest rooms and there was a hushed solemn silence throughout the crowd.

The Library of Ahmed 3rd was built in 1719 for use by royal officials. Today its books are stored in the Agalar Mosque.

The Library of Ahmed The Third was built in 1719 for use by royal officials. Today its books are stored in the Agalar Mosque.

We saw the library and as the sun went down we walked through the gardens to the edge of the palace. Here there was a viewing platform with a little seat. The city stretched away on the other side of the river. It was quiet and rather romantic and we took a picture against the sunset.

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The building’s illuminating lights came on and after three hours touring this vast complex it was time to go, we were told the palace was closing.

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I had enjoyed feeling like a princess and would have to make do with our “palace” hotel instead that night. As we walked out we saw that the place was guarded by armed soldiers. The Haggia Sophia looked even more dominating in its floodlit glory.

We walked back using the GPS on my boyfriends phone, winding around narrow dark streets, all the while passing burnt down houses standing as they were, dilapidated houses that surely were not safe to live in, disturbing alley cats scrabbling at the rubbish, some of them with infected eyes.

We crossed a railway and navigated for a while longer through the gloom – there were few street lights. Thankfully the streets were largely deserted and we finally made our way back to the hotel.

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December 26, 2013 · 2:45 pm

Istanbul Day 1 – The Haggia Sophia

The next morning I awoke expecting sunshine and was dismayed to hear rain lashing against the window and a dull grey sky. Any photographs I was going to take would be ruined.

I must point out that this photo was taken at night, it wasn't this dark in the day.

The hotel chandelier. I must point out that this photo was taken at night, it wasn’t this dark in the day.

We went down for breakfast. I’d never seen such a selection. Pastries, fried eggs and bacon, deli meat, salad and cheese, cereals, yoghurts and dried fruit. I had some of this with delicious sweet Turkish tea, sipping it under the massive hotel chandelier which took centre stage, glistening even in the gloom.

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We headed to the main attraction, the Hagghia Sophia, by way of the Byzantine Hippodrome. The history of it was incredible. The obelisks thankfully had a brief information plaque and were barricaded off. Other relics of a lost age have simply been left where they were dumped, abandoned ancient rubble in amongst the modern tram tracks on either side. The Turks do not seem very interested in the Byzantine history of their country. Apparently Prime Minister, Recep Tayipp Erdogan  even bemoaned the “clay pots” and “other stuff”, excavations of which delayed the building of a new underwater tunnel under the Bosphorous. We went on a boat tour of this river, but that is a story for another day.

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The Hippodrome was a vast square and we were walking where horse-drawn chariots would have thundered down and around it for public entertainment. The obelisks looked like giant stone fingers reaching into the air, and each one had been carefully engraved. One was stolen from Greece and had hieroglyphics all the way up. Another had Byzantine sculptures on it (above left). Then there was randomly a broken bronze sort of sculpture next to them all. I wanted to know more about the history of these objects, as the plaques really just described what we were seeing. But my boyfriend was not a fan of audio guides.

We walked on to the Haggia Sophia (As I’ve said before, the Turks call it Aya Sofya and didn’t always understand if we said “Haggia Sofia”). We were dwarfed by this beautiful colossal structure. It looks like it couldn’t possibly have been built by humans as the scale is unbelievable. We went towards it past the fountains and trees framing it and it just kept on growing in size until I felt very small indeed.

Due to the weather the only decent photos of the Haggia Sophia were taken at night.

Due to the weather the only decent photos of the Haggia Sophia were taken at night.
All photos on this page copyright of Lydia (literarlydi). Please contact me if you wish to use them.

We queued for some time at the ticket office, but thankfully as it was December and a rainy overcast day, we didn’t have to wait long. The ticket price was very modest without a tour and it would have taken far too long to find out about the former church/mosque and museum as it is so steeped in history. Looking up minarets and domes went up into the sky as far as you could see.

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As we entered we were engulfed. Entering through the vast doors a massive painted, columned, domed space opened out before us and took our breaths away. I got a crick in my neck trying to admire the central dome. It had Arabic script in massive gold linear script. Next to it in a marvellous fusion of religious art, was the Virgin Mary and child.

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A zoom of the ceiling painting you can just see in the first picture of the Haggia Sophia interior above

All around the edge of the central dome, light flooded through from windows carved into the stone, framed by orange and green painted triangular tiles. There was a second level  almost touching the roof it seemed, with delicately carved viewing screens.

The floor was made up of slabs of marble, worn slightly from the worshippers and visitors over hundreds of years. In fact the main shell of the building is 2,500 years old, the first structure being built on the site around 500AD by a Roman emperor. There is a fantastic programme on the BBC at the moment: Byzantium: A Tale of Three Cities which can tell you much more than I can about the history of Istanbul and buildings such as the Haggia Sophia. It really brings the past to life, and without virtual reconstruction scenes in a way which is really quite clever. Let me know if you watch it and what you thought of it. I found the narrator quite amusing with his ironed jeans and fancy sunhat at a jaunty angle.

All photos displayed on this page are copyright Lydia Benns.

The lights seem to float in the air. All photos displayed on this page are copyright of Lydia (literarylydi)

The main area of worship was dark on this cloudy winter day and this made it all the more atmospheric, the gold Islamic inscriptions illuminated by rows of hanging metal chandeliers. Of course they no longer held candles but odd electric lights in little individual glass jars. They seemed to hang by themselves as you could hardly see the thin chains in the gloom, stretching down right from the cavernous roof.

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We then walked out of the doors and up to the royal viewing floor, the “upper gallery”. On doing so you really feel yourself following footsteps of the past as the beauty of the church dramatically disappears and you climb up a rough cobbled stone corridor weaving around and up with stone arching around you.Apparently this was part of a network of secret passageways enabling the Emperors and their families to go to the church/mosque without having to mingle with the commoners.

The Upper Gallery

The Upper Gallery (Copyright literarylydi)

Suddenly the cramped walkway opened out without warning into a grand open space, the high ceilings completely covered in painted and tiled patterns. This time you could not see the individual slabs of marble on the smooth shiny floor. There was so much history you could almost physically feel its presence in the building. There was even a bit of Viking graffiti reminding you of its age, vertical lines rudely etched into the viewing wall.

There were columns framing the space on the side towards the mosque, intricately patterned at the top. They were blackened up here with the soot from what must have been hundreds, perhaps thousands of candles hovering above the floor below. Every inch of ceiling was carefully painted and the variety of colours and patterns was astounding. In places you could make out where Byzantine church crosses had been painted over after the building was converted (literally). I had never seen mosaics of such scale. The whitewash that had previously covered them had been removed and they glittered even now. The figures looked at you serenely from their lofty perches, exquisitely detailed and done with such care and attention, showing how even their creation was a kind of worship.

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The view to the church below was an awe-inspiring sight. Watching the service from this height, royalty must have felt like Gods themselves.

I was in a dream-like daze in that superhuman structure. It is hard to believe it was built just 500 years after the supposed birth of Christ, without the impressive civil engineering technology we have today. I wondered how many slaves had died building it. The scaffolding must have been terrifying.

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I don’t think I will ever see anything as beautiful or as incredible as the Haggia Sophia again. If you haven’t seen it yet you must experience it for yourself.

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December 17, 2013 · 11:45 pm