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Oriental Discoveries – Istanbul in 2015 Pt. II

Situated both on the European and on the Asian continent, Istanbul is the entry gate to the Orient, yet at the same time it is also the last major European city in the southeast. Istanbul, or Konstantinopel, how it was called before the Ottoman conquest, has always been a metropole. Today roughly 15 Million people call it their home. The vast sea of houses is divided by the Bosporus, a water way connecting the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. It is one of the busiest waterways in the world. Not far away – on the European site – grand mosques arise, built over the centuries by Ottoman rulers to show of their power.  They are majestic indeed, rich decorated with Islamic ornaments and beautiful interiors. Between the mosques you will find the Grand Bazar, a covered bazar consisting of 61 streets and many thousand shops. In Istanbul everything seems grander than usual.

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Hill of Crosses, Lithuania Pt. II (2014 Update)

This one is a follow up to a series I did last year about the (in)famous Hill of Crosses in Lithuania. You can read it up here. To be honest, not much changed since then. I guess the hill grew a little bit and there are some more crosses now, as they seem to mulitply on a daily rate. It remains a mysterious place, strangly alluring yet somewhat creepy. It makes for interesting pictures, that’s for sure.

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The Silk Road: The Grand Market in the Mountains Pt. 1

While Eastern Usbekistan (about 70% of the country) largely consists of deserts, with green spots along the river of Amudjaria, the west looks much different. Getting closer to the Tajik border large mountains begin to arise, soon occupying the whole horizon. They are part of the Pamir mountain range, a vast plateau which connects the Tian Shan in China with the Hindukusch and the Himalayas in India. Combined it is the largest mountain range of the world. At the western end of this plateau, already in the hills but still reachable from the fertile lowlands at the bottom of the mountains, there lies the town of Urgut. For centuries it was a transshipment point for goods on the Silk Road, where travelers from China sold their goods to Central Asian merchants, who in turn transported them on camels through the desert and brought them closer to their final destination – Europe. Therefor the Grand Market of Urgut (the largest of Usbekistan, of course) is what it must be and always was: A transitional space for people and ideas from the Orient and Oxident. Probably one of the few early melting points of human civilization still in existence, looking not much different then centuries ago. Except.. the iPhone cases and pirated Gucci handbags, the new luxury goods of the 21th century coming from China to Europe. A new kind of silk one could certainly argue.

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Hill of Crosses, Lithuania

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The Hill of Crosses is a sacred place in Northern Lithuania close to the city of Silauliai. Basically it consists of two small artificial hills (maybe 5 to 6 meters high)  in the midst of vast farming land. The origins of the crosses are largely unknown though there are many legends speaking of soldiers finding their last rest in the ground beneath. In the 19th century the place became regarded as mystical and holy. First crosses were erected in honor of fallen soldiers and in remembrance of deceased family members, later also to celebrate happy occasions like weddings and baptisms. The Soviets saw the hill as a place of fanatic cultism and closed it down. Despite the repressions they were not able to stop the tradition and after 1990 the Hill of Crosses grew even more becoming a national symbol of religion and endurance. Today crosses can be seen from around the world and not only catholic crosses but also orthodox and evangelical ones. If religious or not the place definitely doesn’t leave the visitor cold.

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