Taksim Square

[A logical follow up from June 25, 2013]  We arrived in Istanbul and drove in the direction of our hotel — the Crystal (No. 7, Taksim).  It was a little after 9:00 pm on Friday night, May 31st.   The activity going on around us was disconcerting.  Hundreds of people on the streets wearing masks and balaclavas and carrying signs and banners.   All heading to the thousands already gathered in Taksim Square.  Our bus could not make it up the narrow street to Taksim No. 7 so we had to get off the bus and carry or pull our luggage the last block and a half.   The street had barricades a la Le Mis.   It was about halfway up the street that the tear gas hit us.  At first, I thought there was something wrong with my eyes and I began blinking.  Rapidly.  Then squinting.  And I realized — tear gas.   I squinted as hard as I could keeping just enough vision to sherpa my way up the street.  I looked around.  Donna followed in my wake.  Head down.  “Let’s go” I said (quite unnecessarily).

We mercifully got to the hotel.  One of our number was in distress and being attended.  The lobby was jammed.  People.  Luggage.  The faint whiff of tear gas.  And sweat (the day had been warm).   Our hotel was at near-capacity with many Libyan guests (some with medical conditions presumably from the revolution).  After what seemed an age, we got our room keys and went up to our room.    In our first room, the toilet was flooding.  And the flush mechanism fell into the toilet.   I went down to the lobby.  Got another room and I went up to check it out.  I went in.  And quickly went out.  The room was full of tear gas thanks to wide open windows.  Brilliant. . . .  We got a third room.  Seemed to work.  No tear gas or toilet leaks.  We sat down on the couch.  Sipped some water and looked at each other.  Welcome to Istanbul.  And we went to bed.

The next few days, however, were perfection.  We were able to travel around unhindered.   The Blue Mosque.   Hagia Sophia.  Topkapi Palace.  Mass in one of the old Christian churches.  Wow!  But the evenings that weekend made the stay interesting as the crowds gathered in force — with sporadic violence — to protest the planned urbanization of Gezi Park . . . .

Say What You Will. . . .

Say what you will about Turkey and its current issues.  I would have to say that Istanbul is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  Set between two seas, with a history going back four millennium, Istanbul is chock full of “must see” sites.  And our trip with the CTU visit to Istanbul covered the big ones — and some of the lesser ones. 

The Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Camii) was to me the most dramatic.  Built between 1609 and 1616, the structure still functions as a mosque to the faithful.  My question — how in the Dickens do they hold up the roof and dome?  Mercy!   On arrival, Donna and the ladies needed to don head scarves to enter the mosque.  And many of the women put on wrap-around skirts to cover their legs.  And men with shorts?  They did too. 

The Hagia Sophia runs a close second.  This orthodox basilica (later a mosque) now stands as a museum and point – counterpoint with the Blue Mosque on the landscape of Istanbul.  The Hagia Sophia is a thousand years older than the Blue Mosque – with construction begun in 561 A.D.  I’d love to meet the architects. . . . .

Topkapi Palace?  Wow!   From the time of its construction in the 1450’s, Topkapi was home to Ottoman Sultans until 1856.  Topkapi holds some of the holiest relics of Islam including Mohammed’s cloak and his sword.  While many of the rooms of the Palace are open to the public, a great many are closed.  The Palace is guarded heavily by police and the Turkish military. 

A visit to Istanbul wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the main shopping bazaar, the spice bazaar (Donna and I got lost), the beautiful Chora Church (amazing mosaics) and a boat ride on the Bosphorus.  Would I go again?  You betcha.    

The Footsteps of St. Paul

Donna and I recently returned from a trip to Greece and Turkey with the Catholic Theological Union (“CTU”) at the University of Chicago.  There were 35 of us making a pilgrimage — following in the footsteps of St. Paul.    

Saul of Tarsus was born in Tarsus in the Roman province of Cilicia in about 5 A.D.  Saul was a Roman citizen but he was also a Jew and a Pharisee.   And as a young man, he zealously persecuted the followers of Jesus of Nazareth and vigorously attacked the early Christian church — and its members.   He played an active role in the stoning of the St. Stephen.  And he was involved in the rounding up and silencing of Christians.  However in or about 35 A.D. while walking on a road to Damascus, Saul of Tarsus was struck down by a bright light and the voice of the Lord (Acts 9; Acts 22).   Saul was blind for three days and upon opening his eyes, he literally saw the light.  He underwent a dramatic conversion and began preaching the Christian gospel to all who would listen.  And he was henceforth known as St. Paul.  St. Paul went on to preach the Gospel of Christianity to Jews, Christians and Gentiles until his death at the hands of the Romans in 67 A.D.    

The pilgrimage with CTU took us to most of the places where St. Paul wrote his iconic letters and to those places where he spent time:  Thessaloniki (I and II Thessalonians); Philippi (Philippians); Corinth (I and II Corinthians); Ephesus (Ephesians); Antakya; Athens; Kavala; and other places.  And we visited Tarsus.  Where it all began.   All I can say is “Wow!”  And. . . St. Paul sure got around.  And we did too.  The trip was a bit arduous on occasion but immensely fulfilling.    The only time of mild concern when we arrived in Istanbul on the evening of Friday, May 31st.  Just after 9:00 p.m.  To our hotel off Taksim Square. . . . .