This week has been really awesome! (And this post is really long because of it.) We left for Turkey on Sunday morning, and we arrived there later in the morning. Flying out of the Tel Aviv airport took forever! We had to stand in one line for them to x-ray our checked bags. Then we had to stand in line to check our x-rayed suitcases. And we had to stand in another line to get our carry-on bags checked and go through security. Then we had to stand in line to get our passports checked out. And then we had to stand in line to get on the plane. There was so much time spent standing in line! (Probably like three and a half hours.) And it was only for a two-hour flight to Istanbul. But that’s okay because it was all worth it once we got there. When we got to Istanbul the first day, we just checked into our hotel, had a little free time to walk around the city, and then went to a restaurant for dinner.
I’m going to take a minute to explain what the food was like. It isn’t very hard to explain because all the meals were the same. So first of all, we couldn’t drink the water, so we always had bottled water. For breakfast everyday, we ate at the hotels. They always served a salad bar at breakfast with bread, warm milk, stale cereal, warm yogurt, different kinds of fruit syrups to dip your bread in, and maybe some fruit if we were lucky. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day at our cafeteria in Jerusalem, but in Turkey it was definitely the worst meal of the day because nothing felt was really anything that you would want to eat for breakfast. Then for lunch and dinner, the food was pretty much the same everywhere we went. The meals were always in courses at the restaurants they took us to. First they would bring out salad that had wilty lettuce and pickled cabbage. So I hardly ever ate it because it always tasted gross. Then they would bring us bread which was usually pretty good. After the bread, we were served lentil soup at every restaurant. I loved the lentil soup! It was so yummy! After the soup, we were served the main course of some kind of meatball and rice or potatoes. The meatballs were not in the shape of balls though. They were just flat pieces of meat with a meatball-like texture. These varied in goodness depending on where we went. After the main course, we were served either fruit or baklava. The baklava was my favorite thing we ate in Turkey! It was SO good! I wish I could eat that stuff everyday. We were usually only served a little bit because it was always so rich. And every meal was like that. Except for the last night. We went to a restaurant where they served us a whole cooked fish. And I usually hate fish, but it actually wasn’t too bad. I ate the whole thing. I did get really sick one day in the middle of the trip though, and I think it was from the meatballs we had had the night before. I woke up and threw up a few times and had bad diarrhea. I felt sick the whole day even though I didn’t throw up after we left the hotel. I know it was something I ate because I was totally fine the next day and for the rest of the trip.
Here’s what we did each day of the trip:
Monday – We spent the day in Istanbul. (Previously named Constinople before the Ottoman Turks took over.) It’s an interesting city because it straddles the European continent and the Asian continent. The Bosphorus Strait runs between the two halves of the city. The first day, we saw the Hippodrome. That used to be a large track where the Romans would have horse races. It is now just a big open paved space, and the seating has all been totally dismantled. There are some cool monuments in the middle of it though. There is one from Egypt that the Romans took that dates back to about 3000 BC, which is about when the pyramids were built. After that, we went to the Blue Mosque. The real name of it is the Sultanhamet Mosque, but tourists call it the Blue Mosque because of all the blue tiles inside. Then we visited the Topkapi Palace. This was the palace of the Ottomans beginning in about 1500. It was so large and elaborate! Imagine the Turkish version of the Biltmore Estate, and that’s what we saw. There were rooms just full of gifts that the family had been given by royalty of other countries and a large room full of weaponry and armor. We actually couldn’t take pictures of most of it, but it was just gorgeous. After that, we visited the Basilica Cistern. This was a huge underground cistern that can store up to 14 million gallons of water! It was built by Justinian during the Byzantine period in about 530 AD. It is held up by columns all the way through. After that, we visited the Grand Bazaar in the heart of tourist Istanbul. It is a HUGE market with about 4000 shops where you could spend millions of dollars I’m sure. It was really fun to shop in there and see all the neat things you could buy. After the Grand Bazaar, we took a little cruise on the Bosphorus Strait beginning at the south end and ending up towards the north end near the Black Sea.
Tuesday – We visited the Gallipoli Peninsula (the piece of land sticking out where it says Dardenelles on the map) and saw the memorial to the ANZAC soldiers that fought there for the Allied forces during World War I. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. They were soldiers that fought along side the British. Unfortunately, they did not win the battle at Gallipoli, and many of them lost their lives, so they decided to commemorate them there after the war. The reason we took the time to see this is because we watched the movie Gallipoli before we came to Turkey so we could learn more about what was going on in Turkey during the first World War. After this we crossed the Dardanelles Strait on a ferry and visited the ruins of…TROY!! The ruins of Troy are just a little north of the city Troas on the map. This was definitely one of my favorite things we saw during the trip. To see where the Trojan war might have taken place was so neat. I’m so glad that I took a literature class about a year ago where we read the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid that all talk about the Trojan War. It was also cool to visit there having had the Trojan as my mascot in high school. They had the Trojan horse from the movie Troy there before the entrance, so everyone went up inside of it and took pictures. Troy actually dates all the way back to 3000 BC. There are nine levels of city that archaeologists have uncovered. They think the Trojan War happened at level six or seven in about the 12th century BC. One of the funniest moments of the trip happened here. When we pulled up to Troy after having driven for a long time, one of the guys named Cameron said, "Does anybody need to use the Troylets?" Haha!
Wednesday – This was the day that I was really sick. But it’s all right because we spent a lot of time on the bus. First we visited Assos, where there was once a large Temple to Athena, built in about the 7th century BC. Paul traveled here from Troas (a twenty-five mile walk) in order to continue traveling by boat to Mitylene on one of his missions. After this we traveled to Pergamum to see the Temple of Trajan. He was a Roman emperor (100 AD), and there was also an altar here that was built to Zeus. Pergamum was addressed in Revelation chapter 2 and told that it was the “seat of Satan.” This was one of the coolest temples that we saw. Pergamum also housed the second largest library in the ancient world, second to the one in Alexandria.
Thursday – The first thing we visited was the Basilica to St. John near Ephesus, author of the Gospel of John, the Book of Revelation, and the epistles of John in the New Testament. This was a beautiful church that had a tomb dedicated to John, even though we know through modern-day revelation that he was translated. We could see the place where a temple of Artemis once stood. Most of the stones were taken from the temple to build the church of St. John. And then right next to the church is a modern-day mosque. Most of the building material for the mosque came from the church of St. John, so a lot of the same stones were used in all three buildings. After this, then we visited Ephesus. Ephesus was a huge city! They think it had a population of about 250,000 people at its height. The earliest settlement there is thought to be at 1400 BC, and then it was at its height in about the 4th century BC. The city eventually declined because the river that runs next to it caused the harbor at Ephesus to silt up, so the city lost its importance when there was no harbor to bring trade to the city. It had the third largest library in the ancient world. There was also a temple built to Artemis (or Diana) there and a huge theater where we know that the apostle Paul preached. He was there in about 50 AD, and what he said there can be found in Acts 19. He preached against false gods (probably in reference to the worship of Artemis there.) This is also the city where Timothy was the bishop when he received the epistles from Paul of 1 and 2 Timothy. Later on that day, we visited Priene, where there is also a theater and ruins left from the temple of Athena. There were pieces of the temple all over the place. Paul also probably passed through here on his way to Miletus on one of his mission trips.
Friday – First we visited Sardis, which is where a large temple to Artemis once stood. (It’s hard to keep straight which temples were where.) It was built in about 300 BC. This was another one of my favorite places we visited. Also at Sardis was a large gymnasium complex where athletes would train. There was also a synagogue that stood at Sardis, which is a good reminder that Judaism was still being practiced into the 3rd and 4th centuries AD under Roman rule. After this, we visited Thyatira where the story of Lydia in the New Testament happened. She was a “seller of purple,” which meant that she was in the cloth dying industry, which is neat because there are records of a large dye industry in Thyatira. There wasn’t anything really special at these ruins because they have just been very dismantled over time. After Thyatira, we traveled to Bursa, which is the 3rd largest city in Turkey today. (After Istanbul and Ankara, the capital.) We saw the Grand Mosque there, which was really neat because it had 20 domes on the top of it! When entering a mosque, women have to cover their heads and everyone has to take off their shoes. I thought that was kind of gross because that means everyone is walking where everyone else’s gross feet have been, so I was grateful to be wearing socks. But it’s to represent walking on holy ground. The mosque was built in about 1400. Mosques are extremely ornate, and they are really interesting in terms of decoration and architecture. And there are mosques on every corner in Turkey because 98% of the population is Muslim. But it is a very secular country, and most people there are not extremely religious like they are in Jerusalem.
Saturday – We visited the site of ancient Nicea (near Iznik on the map above) where Constantine the Great had a palace. This is where the Nicene Creed was signed. This was a document that tried to unify the Christian sects that had begun to form within the Catholic Church in the 4th century. Three hundred bishops came to sign the creed that stated that God and Christ are “of one substance,” whatever that means. I’m so thankful for the First Vision and modern-day revelation that teaches us that God and Jesus Christ are two separate beings that have bodies of flesh and bones. After this we visited a church called the Hagia Sophia. (Not the famous one in Istanbul.) It was a Christian church that was later converted to a mosque. It was a site of some of the ecumenical councils where the Catholic Church had to again discuss the nature of God and Jesus Christ. Then we took a ferry back to the European part of Istanbul, and we visited the Hagia Sophia that is famous. Hagia Sophia means “Holy Wisdom” in Greek. It was SO beautiful! It was probably the highlight of the trip for me because it is one of the best preserved examples of Byzantine art in the whole world. It was turned into a mosque by the Ottomans, but they preserved most of the Christian art luckily. The mosaics there are really beautiful. It was the largest Christian church in the world for 1000 years, and it is still one of the biggest churches in the world. It is now a museum, and no one worships there even though both religions would like it back as a place of worship. After that, we went to a restaurant and had our fish meal. Then we went to the airport and took a red-eye flight back to Tel Aviv at 1am. We got back to the Jerusalem Center at almost 5 am this morning, and everyone is exhausted after having seen all of those sights and having spent over thirty hours on the bus together this week. We had a sacrament meeting that lasted about forty minutes at 12:30 this afternoon. We had a great time on the trip though. I also forgot to mention that we had the chance to go to the beach three times on this trip in the evenings when we got back to our hotels because some of our hotels were on the beach. So that was really fun. And in order to imagine what our bus rides were like, just imagine one long dance party with breaks for sleeping every once in a while. We had a party on the bus and sang and danced a lot together. It was so fun. The theme song of our trip was "Istanbul, not Constantinople" by They Might Be Giants. I would post the link from youtube, but youtube is blocked at the JC.
This was probably a statue of Trajan at his temple. We all took pictures of us posing behind it.
I took about 200 pictures on this trip, so if there is something anyone reading this would like to see in more detail, feel free to email me or leave a comment, and I can load more pictures on here. I just picked the ones that I thought best captured what the main things I saw and did on this trip.