Monday, July 18, 2011

East to West--Barry

Morning view of Murren outside our room door at Hotel Bellevue (if you come to Murren, stay here!)    Rabbits kept in the wooden and wire mesh box in the lower left, by the way.
This past week marked another transition point in our journey as we moved from hot and sunny Jerusalem through Istanbul--the bridge between East and West--before coming to the mountain village of Murren in Switzerland, which is currently experiencing cool (daytime temps in the 50s and 60s) and changeable skies, sometimes sunny, sometimes rainy.

Looking across the Golden Horn from the Old City, Istanbul
Outdoor terrace where we had supper with Chloe
and Camil

One of the Princes islands near Istanbul, no cars allowed.   With its luxury residences it's sort of like Mackinac Island in Michigan--in both places lots of horse drawn carriages in hot summer weather is not an entirely pleasant sensory experience!

In addition to the change in weather and scenery, we've moved from the unfamiliar (Israel and Istanbul) to a place we've been to before and are very comfortable in.  It's been a nice change as we are generally not "city people" when we travel on vacation.

Our four-day introduction to Istanbul and Turkey was an impressive one.   Besides seeing Chloe and Camil there on the day we arrived, we enjoyed being in a place which has a positive vibe, unlike the conflicted feelings you sense from being in Jerusalem and Israel/Palestinian West Bank and observing these two separate communities.   The standard of living in Istanbul--a vast urban area of 15 million people that seems to go on and on--was also higher than I expected, certainly greater than Bucharest (Camil and Chloe agreed).   On a rare night when I turned on the TV in our hotel room, I found it interesting to channel surf and watch commercials that show a nation rapidly becoming a Western consumer society much like ours (both its positive and negative aspects).  Seeing that CNN has a separate channel for the Turkish market (CNN Turk) is yet another manifestation.

Hagia Sophia, which Ataturk in his Westernizing ways turned into a museum from a mosque in the 1930s--a fascinating mixture of Christian and Islamic imagery
Another "self-photo", taken inside Basilica Cistern, a vast underground reservoir built by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century
It was great seeing Chloe and Camil again.   See you again in August back in the States.

I felt a great deal of admiration for what the Turks have achieved.   Their moderate Islamism, economic dynamism, and transition to democracy (much like Indonesia at the other end of the Muslim world) strikes me as a model for other Muslim societies.   While waiting one day for a ferry to the Princes Islands in the Sea of Marmara, we talked to an Iranian tourist and it was so clear (and disheartening) that he wished his country's government was like Turkey's.

Seeing the Hagia Sophia and the Bosporus were like other magic moments during this trip when we saw places long imagined for the first time.   Being in this part of the world for three weeks, we found seeing mosques instead of churches and various forms of Islamic dress increasingly "normal".   One hard-to-get-used-to sight however was observing some young Islamic couples, with the man dressed in shorts and other typical tourist gear for hot weather and the woman in a full-length black burka exposing only the eyes, usually heavily made up.

Turkey, we'll be back (God willing).

Switzerland of course is thoroughly Western, and  Murren, which sits high above the steep Lauterbrunnen valley and is accessible for tourists only by cable car, has a tradition of welcoming English speaking visitors going back to when the Brits developed the first Alpine skiing resort here in the 1920s.  There are lots of well sign-posted hiking trails through the forests and meadows here offering spectacular views of Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau in good weather, and pleasant places to stop along the way for coffee or lunch.   In many places around here you can listen to cowbells coming from herds of what must be the most contented--and highly subsidized--cows on earth.  The network of cable cars, funiculars, and mountain railways here is just amazing, and you don't mind paying the high prices to ride them.   I really want to come here in ski season sometime....

On the walk back from Rotstuckhutte--Bernese Alps in background

Alpiglen, above Grindelwald.   We stopped here for CHF 4.-- (=$5) cups of coffee during our walk.   With views like this, we weren't complaining about high prices.   That's the north face of Eiger in the background.   The milchkaffee by the way was terrific.

The Panorama walk today at Schynige Platte, reached by a mountain "cog" railway.    This part of the walk near a 2000 foot cliff was just inside our comfort zone.

Compared to last time we were here in 2008, Murren seems less busy with tourists which is probably the result of the sky-high Swiss franc.   It's affected visitors from the UK and the eurozone as much--if not more--than the US, and a lot of people here have been talking about it.   While some things are quite expensive, other things like hotel room and meal prices do not have to be that expensive, especially in view of their consistently high quality.

Our next and final stop on this journey is the UK, the place we visited on our first trip to Europe with Emily back in 1986.    Since then we've come a long way.

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