Wow. So much that we have seen, and how in the world to sum it up in just a few paragraphs?
The last day that we spent in Istanbul was a really busy one; we started the day walking to a museum devoted to ancient mosaics, where grand mosaics that have been discovered by archaeologists—most found in homes or courtyards—have been painstakingly excavated and moved, so that people can see and appreciate them. From there we walked to the Carpet Museum, where we viewed ancient—and I mean ANCIENT—carpets on display in atmospherically controlled environments.
Hagia Sophia From there it was Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), the church built by Emperor Justinian in 537, that was converted to a mosque after the Crusades (conversion of a church to a mosque involves facing Mecca and saying a prayer from inside the church, then adding some architectural accoutrements that are required for a mosque), which is now a museum. The artwork within it is fascinating, the architecture that went into building it is historically groundbreaking, and the grandeur of the space—even with the scaffolding inside used in current restoration—is stunning.
Interestingly, at the top of the main dome, there is a painting or fresco depicting Jesus, which was covered entirely with a painting of the first verse of the Koran; but allegedly in the ongoing restoration, plans are being made to uncover and reveal the painting of Jesus.
The next day we drove—a LONG way—to view the ruins of ancient Troy, and ponder the truth of Homer’s depiction of the Trojan War (he wrote about it around 5-800 years after the war, basing his story on oral traditions); the archaeological discoveries are jaw-dropping, with some speculation that there may have been a Hittite city on the site that predated Troy by hundreds of years. But the evidence of roads, and homes, and temples, and theater, are plain to see.
After a night in Canakkale, we traveled to the ruins of the ancient city of Assos, visited by the Apostle Paul on one of his journeys (but no mention of his staying there any amount of time), then on to the site of Pergamum, where one of the churches mentioned in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation was. To read and remember that the message to that church mentioned the “temple of Satan,” and to see the many temples in the area—to Athena, to Trajan, to Dionysius, to Zeus—helps one to reflect on the fact that the hope of the Christian faith struggled in a culture that was oppositional to the message of the Gospel. We today, in lands and cultures where the Gospel is unknown (even in America!), and where other faiths are more prominent, need to remember that we must always speak the truth—and in love!
EphesusThe magical port city of Kusadasi was our next stop, allowing us to make a trip to the sprawling, ancient city of Ephesus. Ephesus was an important port city in its time, was where Paul’s preaching and the conversion of many to the Christian faith prompted an economic crisis in the city that resulted in a riot that led Paul to need to “hot foot it out of town.” The Apostle John allegedly ended his ministry and life here, as did Mary, the mother of Jesus. There is a tiny church on the alleged site of Mary’s home, as well as the ruins of an ancient Basilica above the purported site of John’s tomb.
But the archaeological site of Ephesus is simply amazing—it spreads far and wide, with evidences of Greek and Roman influence, but here and there, the sign of the Cross can be found. To think that both Paul and John came here to spread the good news of Jesus; and that a church started here to which Paul later wrote one of his letters—is an encouragement to all followers of Jesus to continue to be bold witnesses wherever we go, and whatever we do.
Lib and I ended the day with a few others at a carpet school, where we were privileged to see how hand-woven Turkish carpets are made; how silk is collected from cocoons and spun into thread; and were later treated to an explanation and display of probably 50 rugs. And despite the soft-sell, great price, and wonderful attention, we walked away without purchasing one!
Next up? The cruise of a few Greek Isles, with the Isle of Patmos, where John received and wrote the Revelation, on the first day!

Philippi to Istanbul

June 4, 2015

Tuesday we travelled from Thessalonica, again reversing the course taken by the Apostle Paul, making our way through Amphipolis to Philippi, the first city on the European continent where someone was converted to the Christian faith (see Acts 16), and where Paul and Silas were arrested and beaten, then jailed, before being miraculously released from their jail (picture is purported to be the location, while history and archaeology suggest otherwise—but it WAS somewhere in the area) and using the incident to proclaim the faith and lead more people to Jesus. Paul's Jail Cell (?)
We then pushed on to modern day Kavala, a nice port city, which was a major port in Paul’s day known as Neopolis. We spent the night there, and had a fun seafood meal in a nearby restaurant (Kavala is known for fishing today.)
Wednesday was a day spent on busses. We left Kavala headed for the border with Turkey, grieving that we would say goodbye to our guide Maria and driver Nikos (we’ll see Maria again, and we hope Nikos.) We arrived at the border around 11:30, and since the bus could not cross (long story, let’s just say that the Greeks and Turks don’t get along too well), we were met by two taxis that arrangements had been previously made to shuttle us across the border.
overloaded taxi We loaded (overloaded!) the two taxis with bags, filled the cabs, and sent the first crew across the border. It took almost an hour before we heard (via call) that they had made it, but the bud and guide on the Turkish side were not there. . . the taxi’s returned, we loaded more bags, and this time crammed five passengers in each cab. Passport went fine, customs went OK, until one car was pulled over, and held up. The car I was in zipped on through, and we waited (the bus and guide now having arrived) and waited and waited. It turns out that the taxi was emptied (of bags and people), and the auto itself was X-rayed. The same thing happened (to the same car!) on the first shuttle.
But finally we were all through, and on the bus with Tosun (guide) and Mahmoud (driver). We drove for a bit, stopped for a bite to eat, and proceeded on to Istanbul.
I must say that crossing the border offered a stark contrast. The terrain is markedly different in Turkey (no more mountains); the country is much more populous, there is a great deal more traffic, gas prices are about double, and the country just feels . . . heavier. With a population that is 99% Muslim (by birth, not by practice), there are as many mosques in cities as there are churches in America, but we are told that fewer and fewer people practice the faith.
After settling in to our great hotel with it’s marvelous views, we enjoyed a five-course dinner at the hotel next door, and returned to our hotel to crash for the night, just as the final call to prayer rang out (at 10:30.)
column in Blue Mosque Today was a really busy day; after breakfast we visited the Blue Mosque, which while still a functioning mosque, is a major tourist attraction (hundreds and hundreds of people lining up to view it and take pictures). Not only is it beautiful inside with its paintings and mosaics, it is also an architectural masterpiece, with the majestic dome flanked by four semi-domes. From there we viewed the Hippodrome (used for chariot races) with its three obelisks, the oldest dating from 390 AD.
Then it was on to the Topkapi Palace, the place from which 30 of the sultans ruled the country; the focus of this compound seemed to be courtyards more than buildings, although there were many of the latter. The treasures room, with an 86 carat diamond once given to a sultan as a gift, was pretty impressive, I must admit.
After lunch we enjoyed a private boat tour of the Bosporus Straight, where our guide pointed out many municipal and educational buildings, as well as many, many, mosques. Chuck & Lib on boat tour
We ended the day with a trip to the Spice Market, where all kinds of spices from all around the world are available (and yes, we did buy some, and hope that they make it home through customs!)
More tomorrow—especially the tour of Hagia Sophia, the Byzantine Church that became a mosque that is now a museum.

How does one sum up thousands of years of history in a few paragraphs? After sleeping on the reality of Delphi and the concept of people traveling great distances to make sacrifices and offerings to ask the Oracle the ONE question you can ask, and to walk away with a vague answer, we rolled out the next morning for more history.
First we made a quick, unplanned, side trip to Thermopyle, the historic site of the real battle of the Spartan army against the power of the Persian Empire led by Xerxes. Of all the movies made in or about Greek history, 300 is the only one the Greek people appreciate and feel that tells the story with authenticity (in other words, forget Alexander and Troy). We viewed the site, took a few pictures, then moved on to the city of Kalambaka, where after lunch, we visited Meteora.
Meterora is this incredible geological formation, where there have been (at one time) twenty four different monasteries; today, there are six still functioning, but the monks and nuns who live in them and find their calling in them, are dwindling.IMG_2974 We visited two of them, the Church of St Barbara, named for a woman who was beheaded by her own (Roman) father when he learned that she had converted to Christianity—it is an ancient Orthodox Church that is maintained by a tiny group of nuns.
We drove past the Monastery of the holy Trinity, which was used in the filming of the James Bond film “For Your Eyes Only”

Used in James Bond movie "For Your Eyes Only"

Used in James Bond movie “For Your Eyes Only”

(I have dim memory of it, and will have to check it out when back home), before stopping at the Monastery and Church of St Stephen—another Orthodox Church, this one maintained by monks. The Church itself is relatively new, having been rebuilt after bombings during World War Two.
Monday we drove a short way before getting on the Via Egnatia, the interstate highway that functionally follows the old Roman Via Egnatia, the road built through the Roman Empire. Rome either managed the road such that there were already established cities, or they created cities about every 45-60 kilometers, basically the distance a Roman Legion could travel in one day.
We stopped in Veria, which in the days of the Apostle Paul was called Berea (see Acts 17), and where there is a monument depicting Paul’s work in that city, with beautiful murals.mural of Paul preaching in Berea While there, our great guide Maria told us a long, rambling story about a Torah scroll dating to 200 BC, on which rabbis had kept historical notes about the community (there was a strong Jewish community in Berea.) In the marginal notes was information about Paul having come there and preaching. But the Torah was stolen by the Nazis in WWII, found in Auschwitz, then moved to Austria, then Hungary, and is now held by a private collector in Canada, who refuses access to it.
You can’t make this stuff up.
From there we made our way to Pella, the site of the birth of Alexander the Great, and visited a museum devoted to the ongoing archaeological excavations of this ancient city, which at one time was the capital of Macedonia, and was the spot from Which Alexander launched his campaign to expand the empire (which he did until his untimely death in Babylon at the ripe young age of 32!)bust of Alexander the Great
Thessaloniki, our final stop of the day, is a fun port city with lots of shopping and night life (none of which we have sampled), but sadly, completely overlooks the impact that the Apostle Paul had here so long ago (again, see Acts 17.)
Philippi tomorrow, where there are ruins of the old city, and sites surrounding Paul’s work there!