Loti Cafe in Eyüp/Istanbul/Turkey

For Pierre Loti fans who have read the previous post, it might be of interest to know about the Loti Cafe on the hill of Eyüp overlooking the Golden Horn in istanbul. being one of his admirers  and fascinated readers, I did the ‘pilgrimage’ to both places.

Rochefort, France

Eyüp, Istanbul

For Muslims and people interested in Islam, its history and art, Eyüp is a place of pilgrimage and an absolute must see. The district is vast, but the best known and most frequently visited  part is  the hill which rises from the Eyüp pier along the shore of the Golden Horn. I took a ferry from the Galata Bridge on the Eminönü side and enjoyed a 20 minute boat trip, crossing the water fron one side to the other until at last arriving at Eyüp pier. To get up to the hill you can take the easy way or the more challenging one. The latter is to climb up on foot through the cemeteries which cover the hill until you reach the Pierre Loti Café. The easy way up is by funicular. I chose this one, not only out of laziness but because I also wanted to enjoy the fabulous view as the entire Golden Horn unfolds before your eyes.

View of the tombs from the funicular

Golden Horn

Ayyub al Ansari, the close friend and standard bearer of the prophet Mohammed died near here around 670 at the time of a first attempt by Arabs to conquer Constantinople. He was buried on the hill and his grave was forgotten, until Sultan Mehmet II was successful in 1453 and, so legend has it, his mentor rediscovered the tomb. Sultan Mehmet II ordered a mosque to be constructed, the first Ottoman mosque and a türbe over the tomb of Ayyub-al-Ansari. Since then, the mosque, türbe and other buildings have become an important place of worship for Muslims. More and more wanted to be buried near the old tomb and now the entire hill is covered with grave upon grave, many with elaborate head stones.

Walking around the complex of the Eyüp Sultan Mosque and  through the cemetery, shaded by cypress trees and listening only to the twitter of birds whilst contemplating the tranquil waters below is a spiritual experience, regardless to which religion you adhere to.

Then, of course, there are the followers and admirers of 19th century French novelist Pierre Loti, who not only fell in love with a Turkish lady who lived in a harem but with the country herself. Between his travels due to his profession as a naval officer, he returned to Istanbul many times, living in different places, among them a wooden house in Eyüp where he conducted his clandestine meetings with his beloved Aziyade. And got inspired for his novels by sitting in the café which bears his name, wandering around the cemeteries and waiting for the sun to set over the waters turning it golden and hence having given it its name.

Loti Cafe exterior

Memorabilia in the cafe

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Maison Pierre Loti/Rochefort/France

Does it get any more eccentric? A 19th century, highly decorated French naval officer, who wore make up, trained as an acrobat, performed in a circus, traveled the world, seduced a Turkish harem lady, wrote novels to great acclaim, became a member of the Academie Francaise and converted his modest French town house into a mosque, also featuring a medieval dining room and an opium den. His pen name is Pierre Loti and his home town was Rochefort, a small provincial town located between Bordeaux and La Rochelle.

In the aptly name Rue Pierre Loti, I finally found La Maison Loti, the novelist’s town house. The state of the building is very fragile which is why groups of only 10 people are admitted at any one time and prior booking is essential. Photography inside the house is not allowed. The tour starts off with a conventionally furnished living room, dark carved furniture, dark red velvet on the walls and family portraits everywhere, just following the fashion of the 19th century bourgeoisie. Followed by a somewhat lighter dining room and then…you pass through a heavy velvet curtain and are   bawled over, because you step into a medieval banquet hall. The ceiling roars up three stories high, the walls are covered with Flamish tapestries, an enormous carved dining table surrounded by chairs takes up the middle of the room and a carved stone staircase leads up to a gallery. All of a sudden you are in another world where Loti used to throw lavish parties for his Parisian literary friends, among them the ‘divine’ Sarah Bernhard who had to attend in period costume and were only allowed to converse in medieval French.

And the wonders continue. Next comes his oriental fantasy, a large room decorated as a Turkish mosque, with blue tiled walls, divans, carpets and, as the center piece, the stele and portrait of his beloved Aziyade, the Turkish woman he fell in love with and never forgot. Loti used to wear Turkish clothes and his servant had to sing out the Islam prayers whilst he knelt on the prayer rug and meditated. Further ‘meditation’ took place in the smaller adjacent opium den, where Loti found inspiration and recreation,  smoking one of his many opium pipes.

In stark contrast to these lavish fantasies is his bedroom, nearly bare, white walls and a very narrow bed with his seaman’s chest, a small writing desk and his officer’s insignia as the only decorations.

The tour ends with a visit to a small but beautiful garden. Truly a sight not to be missed.

For reservations call: +33 546829190

 

 

 

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Meerschaum Museum/Eskisehir/Turkey

Over the past couple of days I asked several of my friends if they knew what ‘Meerschaum’ is. Four out of five didn’t have a clue, but when I showed them pictures of my latest find and explained what it is used for and what it looks like, they went: Ahhh, of course! We have seen that. So that’s what it is called.

Let’s lift  the mystery. ‘Meerschaum’ is a German word which translated into ‘foam of the sea or foam of the ocean’. The name alone inspires the imagination. Also known as sepiolite, Meerschaum is a soft, white mineral, sometimes found floating on the Black Sea. The majority however is found in nodular masses in alluvial deposits on the plain of Eskisehir, a city half way between Istanbul and Ankara in Anatolia.

It’s mined there and worked into pipes and cigarette holders. The soft material hardens when exposed to sunlight and warmth and the white or grayish color changes to shades of yellow, orange or amber with use. What makes these pipes, which, at first glance can be mistaken for ivory, such amazing pieces or art is the elaborate carving. Modern pipes are a bit simpler, but, what I discovered in the Meerschaum Museum in Eskisehir, took my breath away.

The pipes on display are antiques and some of the pipes are so big, I suppose they were smoked resting on the floor or a table because you couldn’t possibly hold them up, leave alone between your teeth. The tradition of Meerschaum pipes dates back to the late 1700s and Meerschaum pipes are coveted and very valuable collectors’ items, whether you smoke or not. To give you an idea about the value: the pieces exhibited in the museum are of course not for sale, but the artists will be happy to make you a replica to order: at $5000 a piece!!! Luckily, small and modern pipes are a lot more affordable (and much less elaborate) and a small amount of jewelry and  boxes would make a very pretty gift or souvenir.

Enormous carved pipe head

 

 

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Münchner Residenz/Germany

I love museums, from small and quirky to big and majestic, but if I happen upon one which is or was also a palace, so much the better. My imagination can fly and I can evoke before my eyes the image of kings, queens and noble men who once filled these ornate rooms with life, celebrated, ate, slept, conversed and plotted, surrounded by treasures they had accumulated over the centuries.

Munch’s Residenz fits the bill to a T. With a reputation as one of Europe’s finest palace museums, surrounded by fabulous gardens which invite to a stroll and, as I did, visited on a Bavarian summer day with blue skies and white clouds, it’s quite a fairy tale way of spending a day in Munich.

Munich Residenz served as a seat of government from 1508 to 1918, mainly for the kings of the Wittelsbach Dynastie. They were all avid collectors and, over the centuries, accumulated works of art and jewelry which, since 1920, are open to the public to admire. The style of the many rooms ranges from  Renaissance to Baroque, Rococo and the neo classical era. The Residenz suffered huge damage during WWII, but luckily has been restored and many works of art have survived.

Highlight and center piece is the treasury. Upon purchase of your ticket, you have to check in everything which exceeds a tiny purse, but then you are left pretty much to your own devices to wander around and get close to crowns, jewelry and objects fashioned from gold and silver.

The Residenz museum is an incredible array of ‘Prunksäle’. Wander through the Kurfürstensaal, the Kaisersaal and the Reiche Kapelle and pay a visit to the Cuvillies Theatre.

The Münchner Residenz is best entered through the Hofgarten, located in close proximity  Odeonsplatz and Prinzregentenstrasse.

The museum is open daily from 9am to 6pm.

Admission is EUROS 7 each for the museum and the treasury or EUROS 11 a combination ticket.

Afterwards, enjoy a stroll through the Hofgarten.

www.residenz-muenchen.de/englisch

 

 

 

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Händel House Museum London/UK

Guess what Jimi Hendrix and Georg Friedrich Händel have in common? Apart from music, of course.  They lived in the same building in London’s  Brook Street in the elegant district of Mayfair, although with a time difference of 200 years. A flight of imagination invites to speculations what they would have had to say to each other had they ever met.

Born in Germany in 1685, the great Baroque composer and musician had a distinguished (and lucrative) career, living and working in Hamburg, Italy and, finally London where he stayed at 25 Brook Street from 1723 until his death in 1759. It was in this beautiful period building, that Händel wrote masterpieces like the Messiah, Zadoc the priest and Music for the Royal Fireworks. The Händel House Museum opened to the public in November 2001 and is the only museum dedicated to a composer in London.

To find the entrance you have to take a few turns around Brook Street but then a visit is utterly rewarding. Although none of the original furniture have been preserved, the rooms have been reconstructed and you’ll see instruments used by the great man himself, as well as many paintings and original sheet music. Start with the rehearsal room on the 1st floor with many portraits of the singers Händel worked with and a reproduction of a Ruckers double-manual harpsichord. Continue on to the 2nd floor and have a glance at Händel’s bedroom and the so called London Room. No photography is allowed inside the museum, but near the London Room you’ll find a closet with period  Georgian costumes which visitors are invited to try on and the helpful assistants  are happy to take your picture.

Händel House Museum Entrance

It’s fun trying on the costumes

Outside this area, the stairs go up to the top floor, but they are roped off and that’s where you learn about the Jimi Hendrix surprise. Because during his stay in London in 1968, he occupied rooms on the top floor, but there is no access for museum visitors.

However, sheet music of both musical geniuses is  displayed side by side.

The museum is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and satruday from 10am to 6pm, Sunday 12noon to 6pm. Thursday evenings at 6.30 there are live performances and there are many more events which take place in these historical surroundings.

For details please consult the museum’s  website: www.handelhouse.org.

Admission is GBP 6 per adult.

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Historical Museum of Southern Florida/Miami/USA

What do you think if you enter the lobby of a museum and are greeted by a huge, multi colored flamingo, wearing trainers and sunglasses? Ok, not a living bird, , a statue, but even so, you can’t help but break into a huge smile and realize, that, indeed, you are in southern Florida, where everything, serious or not, is presented with a touch of fun and humor.

The Historical Museum of  Southern Florida, also known as HistoryMiami, is no exception. Located in the heart of downtown Miami, at 101 W Flagler Street to be exact, the museum documents the multifacetious  history of the south of Florida. Spred over three floors, the museum features permanent exhibitions as well as changing ones with various subjects, all of them interesting and entertaining at equal parts.

The museum was crucial in the excavation and restoration of the Miami Circle, a sacred site of the prehistoric  Tequesta Indians who settled close to the Miami River. The second floor is dedicated to a vast collection of artifacts from the Seminole and Miccosokee Indians who still live in reservations in the nearby Everglades.

Miccosukee Village in the Everglades

Of course, Miami would never have become Miami as we know it without the pioneers Henry Flagler, Julia Tutle and others and their vision of the future. Their lives and achievements are documented in details throughout the museum.

And there are other aspects too, like the collection of Pan Am artifacts and exhibits related to water sports and underwater photography.  As you can see, Miami’s history is extremely colorful and so is the museum. Upcoming is an exhibition dedicated to the Guayabera, the lose, embroidered shirt which originates from Cuba and is a garment you can see gentlemen wear every day in the streets of Miami.

To continue with the theme of fun: weekends are dedicated to families who want to visit the museum. Kids can play at pirates, local ladies often prepare Florida specialties and will happily teach you how to make them. Workshops are conducted where you can learn how to make things from shells and beads.

In short, a museum which uniquely succeeds in combining the serious aspects of local history with ‘hands on’ fun which will interest kids in their  origins better than any history lesson at school ever could.

Opening hours are from 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Friday. Weekends have different opening times and admission is often reduced or free. During normal museum hours admission is $8 per adult.

For more details visit the museum’s website. www.historymuseum.org.

 

 

 

 

 

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Neue Galerie New York/USA

One of my favorite painters is Austrian artist Gustav Klimt. Born in 1862 in Vienna, Klimt is considered the most famous representative of the Wiener Jugendstil and combined painting with many outstanding works  of decorative art in Vienna, among them at  the Burgtheater and the theater in Karlsbad. Best know is probably his painting ‘The Kiss’, followed by his portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer. What catches the eye is the rich and abundant use of gold leaf which form the background for Mrs Bloch Bauer in her turn of the century coiffure and utterly revealing evening gown. Vivid colors are made even more vibrant on a background of shimmering gold.

Imagine my pleasure when I happened, really just by walking along from the Guggenheim Museum, upon the Neue Galerie, located at 1048 Fifth Avenue New York. What first attracted my attention was the building itself, a work by architects Carrere & Hastings, commissioned by industrialist William Starr Miller, completed in 1914. It’s considered as one of the finest buildings on Fifth Avenue and the elegance of the structure makes you really stop in your tracks.

And then I discovered, that the building is actually a museum, dedicated to early 20th century German and Austrian art and design, prominently among them my favorite Gustav Klimt. The Neue Galerie was created by art dealer Serge Sabarsky and business man Ronald S. Lauder who purchased the building in 1996 to house the vast collection of paintings and other objects d’art  by Egon Schile, Oskar Kokoschka and many more of the same period. Their aim was to exhibit the close connection between  art and decoration with Gustav Klimt being a prime example.

Beautifully arranged on the three floors, reached by a sweeping stair case, a visit to the museum makes you forget that you are actually in New York. This feeling is enhanced by a visit to the downstairs Café Sabarsky, inspired by the finest Kaffeehaus Kultur of Vienna. Not only can you listen to a piano player sitting among potted palms, but you can also enjoy typically Viennese coffee in many varieties as well as cakes and Schlagober (whipped cream).

Rarely have I seen a museum shop which offers such an excellent collection of art books, as well as prints of the various works of art which you can admire in the original in the upper floors of the museum.

Opening times are from 9am to 6pm.

Photographs of the building and Café Sabarsky  courtesy of www.neuegalerie.org. The website will also provide further information incl. special events such as exhibitions and concerts.

 

 

 

 

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