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.

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