The Hagia Sofia

I don’t remember much of my history lessons from high school (sorry Mr. Carroll!) but I do remember reading about the Hagia Sofia.


Largest dome in the world for hundreds of years, an architectural engineering marvel that collapsed several times and had to be rebuilt, this was my first stop in Istanbul.

I love these marble floors, grooved and worn from almost two thousand years worth of people walking over them.


And these low flat chandelier light fixtures that were once oil lamps and now are electric.


The ceiling is almost impossible to photograph because of the height and the scope.


Here you can at least see some of the scale, and the scaffolding that covered half the main floor.


The Hagia Sofia was a Christian cathedral for 1000 years and then in 1453 when the Ottomans took over, they converted the Hagia Sofia into a mosque. They removed all the figurative art – in accordance with Islamic law – and plastered over any mosaics of people. Those giant discs are made of wood and leather and have the names of Islamic prophets and caliphs.


Any statuary is gone for good but you can see the restoration efforts are attempting to remove the plaster and reveal the Byzantine mosaics.


Beautiful cats run wild all over Istanbul. Even in the mosques.


We walked up to the second floor by way of a ramp instead of stairs. Sultans were carried by servants, even in church, and I’m guessing stairs are tricky while holding a massive wooden litter.


The arches in the top gallery are kind of incredible


As is the view


I found the Hagia Sofia to be quite beautiful although it felt empty. It’s been a museum since 1934 and has lost any feelings of warmth or human interaction. It’s also under a lot of construction for restoration and parts of it are quite dilapidated. I’d be very interested to see what it looks like if they can restore the paintings and some of mosaics.


It’s worthy of a grand rebuild. Such an important building in the history of the world.

A Taste of Prague

Prague: Where hotel rooms have chandeliers

Boutique Hotel Constans Prague

You know. Casual.

And tourists fill every square inch of the city.

Gate to Mala Strana

So busy today! I think I saw more tourists today than I’ve seen anywhere else combined.

Also, apparently there was a hockey game? USA vs. Czech and the USA won! Which is only great when I’m not in Prague, trying to take pictures of a beautiful building that no one cares about because there’s a game! on! the! giant! TV!!!

Old Town Square

I couldn’t beat them, so I got a beer and a dog and joined them. Go USA! (sorry Czechs…)

Prague sausage

The time is fast approaching when sausages and beer will lose their appeal. I’m not there yet but I can see it in the distance. How do these Europeans live on a diet of bread, beer and sausages without dying of scurvy? I don’t get it.

I’ve been here only a couple of hours but my favorite thing in Prague so far is the Charles Bridge. It’s part of the old Royal Road, a procession route for newly crowned kings of Bohemia to travel to their castle. Here’s the view off the bridge into the Staré Město, Prague’s Old Town

Staré Město Charles Bridge

The bridge is lined with statues and joins the Old Town and the Mala Strana, the Lesser Town where the castle resides.

Charles Bridge

The sun sets directly over Mala Strana and shines through these gorgeous gates on either side of the bridge

Charles Bridge

So far, Prague is pretty cool. More tomorrow.

Charles Bridge

Beautiful Poznan

Citadel Park Poznan

I love a good swath of greenery in the middle of a busy city.

Poznan’s green space is Citadel Park, 89 hectares of grass and hills which contain a number of landmarks, a few cemeteries and the remains of a military stronghold.

The Bell of Peace, rung every year on Liberation Day – Febuary 23 – and allegedly heard 10km away

Citadel Park Poznan

Also these cast iron figurines created by a local artist who also did an installation in Chicago.

Citadel Park Poznan

The guidebook calls them the “headless fright patrol.” I can’t improve on that.

Citadel Park poznan

Cool, green and lovely. A nice break from the sun and the city.

Green selfie in Citadel Park

I spent today walking around, getting lost, taking pictures and exploring. Here are a few things I found:

The remains of the old city walls

Old city walls poznan

A few pieces of street art

Street art Poznan

Street art Poznan Noriaki

Lots of examples of that little guy on top, the one that looks like a tiny black alien with only one eye. As far as I can tell, the artist is a local guy named Noriaki and that little guy is everywhere.

I took pictures in Chopin Park

Chopin park poznan

I stopped by the mall because they had butterflies everywhere

poznan mall

And visited the Lesser Basilica of St. Stanislaus because it was right down the street

Lesser Basilica of St Stanislaus Poznan


Lesser Basilica of St Stanislaus Poznan

Lesser Basilica of St Stanislaus Poznan

And then I broke my “no museum” rule and went to the Rogalowe Museum because they had a demonstration about the St. Martin’s Croissant.

St. martin's croissant

You know it had to involve food for me to break the rules.

Problem was that the demo was in Polish. It was supposed to be in English at that time but, as they explained, if Polish people show up then they do it in Polish. Seems totally fair.

Rogalowe Museum Poznan

So I got a personal translator, that charming young man on the left, who called me “Chicago,” tried to teach me some Polish words and not only translated for me but also for the mostly German speaking lady sitting with me.

The demo was great with some funny moments and a modicum of history. The high points are as follows: St Martin was a Roman soldier who gave his cape to a beggar. He subsequently gave up his military career to help the poor. His horse lost a shoe, he became a saint and then a baker in town made a croissant in the shape of a horseshoe to honor his piety and named it after him. Perhaps I missed some salient “tying together” details? But that’s what I remember from my translator and a slightly hilarious animated film showing the history of Poland as it pertains to croissants.

By an edict of law, Poznan is the only city in Poland that can make these croissants. They’re filled with a mixture of white poppy seeds, almond flavoring, peanuts, raisins, orange peel and cookie crumbs and need to weigh between 150-250g.

Rogalowe Museum Poznan

When my young translator passed out chunks of the croissant for us to sample he said “hey, Chicago. Is this your first croissant?”

Me: nope. I had one yesterday.

Translator: so… you would say that yesterday was a very important day for you. Perhaps one of the best of your life?

He also informed me that the word “butt” in Polish sounds like “America” and he doesn’t know why but perhaps because neither one can be easily seen because they’re far away.

Polish people have an engaging sense of humor, a theory underscored by the man at the liquor store who tried to ring up my vodka and then finally said “Are you American?” When I said yes, he said “Let me help you out because you are buying the vodka of poor people.” Then he took all of my small bottles away and gave me a bunch of other ones.

Joel, get ready because we’re sampling these on your birthday.

Joel's Polish Vodka


And that was the end of my Polish adventure. I was so pleasantly surprised by Poznan! Such a lovely little city, friendly people and great food. I’d recommend it highly to anyone staying in Berlin.

Dziękuję Poznan! I had the best time and I can’t wait to come back.

Tomorrow, back in Berlin.

Monday in Poznan

Stary Rynek Poznan

I chose to live in Berlin this spring in part because it’s close to Eastern Europe, which I haven’t visited at all. When looking at a trip to Poland I realized I could just pop over the German border in a day trip and then I’d have “been there” but it seemed like cheating. A friend here in Berlin recommended Poznan so I booked a ticket and 6 trains later, I arrived in Poznan.

In the end it’s a good thing that I booked all local trains because it allowed me to circumvent the German train strike but when I’d been traveling for almost 5 hours and the 6th train filled up with drunk shouting college students, I had a moment. A “it’s a good thing I can’t understand you because I’d probably want to punch you in the face even more than I already do” moment. I didn’t punch anyone and probably I was hangry.

I actually did a modicum of research before I arrived in Poznan but nevertheless I arrived at the train station to discover many signs with English translations (hooray!) and completely different currency (um… what?). I just assumed they would use Euros. They don’t. So then I had to do some old fashioned sleuthing to figure out the currency exchange since all I had was Euros and I couldn’t get wifi for Google help.

I checked the train ticket machine and then went to an ATM and made a guess. If a 48 hour tram pass costs 21 zlotys perhaps 800 zlotys will be enough for 2 days? In any case, it was the least amount I could withdraw so I went for it. It all came out in 100zloty bills (of course it did) none of which the train ticket machine would take (naturally) so I had to charm a cute shop keeper into letting me buy 5zlotys worth of stuff and pay him with a 100zloty bill, which he did after treating me to my first English language sentence “you can’t be serious…” Alright, it’s like using a $50 bill to pay for a pack of gum but the interaction brought back memories of every country I’ve ever visited (hello Honduras, Vietnam, Cambodia, Guatemala) where giant bills come out of the ATM and no shopkeeper wants to take them.

After all that I was supposed to take a bus and two trams to my hostel but … I didn’t. 6 trains, a mystery currency and a whole new language to solve seemed like enough for a day. Taxi! Plus I figured I’d spend some money quick before I figured out the currency exchange and felt bad about it.

10 minutes and 18 zloty later, I arrived at Rosemary’s Hostel and was escorted to Rosemary’s room.

Rosemary's Hostel

Yep, this hostel pays homage to Roman Polanski films and I got the Rosemary’s Baby room so it’s just me and Mia for the next couple of days. The upstairs has Polanski film quotes all over the walls and they picked some curious ones

Rosemary's Hostel Poznan

Polanski films are full of dark quotes but these are interesting choices for a hotel, right? But it’s cheap and clean so I’m fine with it.

After checking the exchange rate – very favorable – and orienting myself, I took off to see Stary Rynek – the Old Town Square – and get some dinner. The weather was cold and grey and rainy, leading to drab pictures of a very beautiful square. But dinner at Brovaria on  was fantastic, which makes me reevaluate my theory that all restaurants in a public square will have great views and crap food.

Brovaria pork knuckle

Dude, that’s a pork knuckle, beloved all across Germany and Eastern Europe. I only need one this month and I’m glad this was it because it was stellar.

I’m so glad the weather got cleared up this morning because all the museums are closed on Mondays and my only option was to wander the city. Here’s the difference between yesterday

Stary Rynek Poznan

And today.

Stary Rynek Poznan

Isn’t this the prettiest central square you’ve ever seen? I couldn’t stop photographing it

Stary Rynek Poznan

Stary Rynek Poznan

Stary Rynek Poznan

This building in the middle of the square used to be a castle and is now a museum

Historical Museum Poznan

and has mechanical goats that come out at noon and butt heads

Poznan goats

This is only interesting because these goats have been part of this building since 1551, and keep getting replaced every time they wear out. That picture strained the limits of my iPhone, but you get the idea. It’s a big tourist draw.

After the goats I just wandered around the city, and took in a local market

Poznan market

It’s asparagus season here in Europe

White asparagus Poznan

And some beautiful modern and historical architecture all juxtaposed together

Plac Wolnosci Poznan


It’s such a pretty city that I could post a million pictures of the architecture. But I eventually made my way to Cathedral Island, where Poznan became a city 1000 years ago. Now it’s the home of the Poznan cathedral with a lovely mix of Gothic hallways

Poznan Cathedral

And baroque chapels

Poznan Cathedral

And some murals that seem to be a mix of the both with some Polish decorative accents

poznan cathedral

The cathedral has 12 separate chapels and has been rebuilt, remodeled and renovated multiple times since 968. It’s gorgeous and I’m glad I made the effort.

That wasn’t the end of my day but I’ll leave you here and I’ll tell you about the Citadel tomorrow, as well as this guy

St. Martin's Croissant Poznan

More Poznan tomorrow.