Thursday January 24, 2008

 

The day dawned rainy in Bursa, after a relaxed evening of backgammon, pastries, email, and rest.  It was a day long anticipated—Becky’s 21st birthday.  We boarded our bus and headed off to Isnik, the ancient city of Nicaea, where both first and seventh ecumenical councils of the church were held.  On the site of St Sophia’s church, which is closed for some necessary renovations, a few of us recited the Nicaean creed, written in the early 4th century in Nicaea at Constantine’s palace, which is now somewhere in lake Isnik.  The seventh council met at St. Sophia’s in 787 to decide the controversy in favor of using icons to pray and worship, ending the period of iconoclasm in Christianity and allowing for the development of Christian art.

The bus ride toward Istanbul was increasingly exuberant, especially after we brought out the birthday cake at the truck stop restaurant where we enjoyed lunch.  On full stomachs our bus boarded the “feribot” to cross the bay of Marmara.  We fed bread to the gulls along the way, throwing it up in air where the gulls caught our offerings, with a few hearty souls holding up crusts for birds to snatch from their hands.  On land again, after an hour of driving, we cheered as we crossed the suspension bridge into European Istanbul.  The sun was breaking through as the bus sound system belted Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean and Yucel, our driver, made disco hand signals at the wheel.  Surreal.

Our first stop in Istanbul was the Chora church, Kariye meaning outskirts because this particular church/monastery/mosque/museum is located outside the original city walls.  The church is home to the most amazingly well-preserved mosaics and frescoes from the early 14th century.  It is the sort of place you dream of lying on the cold marble for days, studying the intricate gold leaf and beautiful characters, remembering the bible stories they portray.  In spite of the ban on flash photography, we will have some lovely photographs to share.

In Kariye, Yucel’s young adult daughter Sabahat met us for tea in a coffee shop.  We are so fond of Yucel’s caring and playful spirit, and in awe of the way he manages this coach bus along the mountains or in Istanbul traffic.  He is a real master.  It was a delight to have him introduce us to his life apart from our three intense weeks with him at the wheel. 

This evening after leisurely dinners, we are happily settled in our tiny hotel rooms near the Sultan Ahmet area, readying ourselves for three days of intense sight seeing among so many religious and cultural icons.  Our goals include the hippodrome and under water cisterns, the Blue Mosque and the St. Sophia church/mosque/museum, the covered bazaar, the spice market, a Bosphorous cruise, the Suleymaniye mosque, the Topkapi museum, the Istanbul archaeological museum, the Dolmabahce Palace, Turkish baths, Turkish dancing, and food, and people.  We are keenly aware that we have three days more in this lovely place. 

In the past weeks, Mehmet and I, with the generous help of Joanne Jones, have updated this website almost daily from the lobbies of our hotels.  To do so we have copied photos from student camera memory cards, viewed hundreds of photographs, selected and copied representative samples, looking for the smiling faces of all our students, titled and resized photographs (using a Turkish keyboard with two different i’s and c’s), editing student reports, and finally sending it all off to Tuncer Emrullah (our web technician behind the scenes) to upload to the website.  It has been a daily mammoth undertaking and very rewarding.

We think you will understand now that from this evening on, you will be asked to imagine us in Istanbul while we enjoy all it has to offer, even in the evenings.   We will continue taking too many photographs and perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to see one or two appear on the website in the next few days.  Beyond that, our Hollins Odyssey website will remain incomplete until our return to the U.S., whereupon you will see a burst of activity, including the final photos, testimonials, and reports.  Please look for our exciting conclusion.

In the mean time we intend to pack our days and nights with the best of Istanbul’s Turkish Delights.  You might say we intend to catch up on sleep in Virginia.  Thanks to those who have supported us along the way by following our travels and learnings.  Thanks to those generous souls who made it possible for us to be here.

Keep checking.  We’ll be back.

 

Jan Fuller