June 22, 2013
Ruth Lesher, scribe
We spent the night in the port of Istanbul (Byzantium/Constantinople) between the Marmara Sea, which is itself between the Aegean Sea and the Bosphorus Strait, which leads to the Black Sea. The dock area was called Karakoy. The Galata Bridge connected us to the Old City across the Golden Horn. Party boats with music and lights carried lots of folks back and forth from Europe to Asia, and back, across the Bosphorus until late into Friday night. While we were docked to the European continent, we could easily look across the water onto the hills of Asia from our cabin on the ship.
Taksim Square, the location of many anti-government protests in the last two weeks (protests designed to protect the last bit of urban green space in that part of the city from being developed into a shopping mall) was in the same general section of Istanbul where we docked, but it was still some distance from our ship and not visible from it. Our guide said there was no need to worry because the police ran out of tear gas, having used as much in six days as is normally used in a year by all of Europe! We later learned that they had switched to using water cannons!
This morning Emerson, Gerald Shenk, and I walked across the Galata Bridge to the Spice Market and the shopping area around it, which seem to be where the locals were also shopping this Saturday morning. We had until 1:00 p.m. to visit Istanbul on our own.
There were stands of spices: cardamom, cinnamon, red pepper variations, mint, saffron from Iran (the best!) for food and some ground mounds to add color to both food and textiles.
The stands of fish, cheeses, and olives seemed to be grouped together, perhaps because of the smell.
And there were lots of sacks of nuts, dates, and figs, along with mixtures of all of them, made into Turkish delight candies and pastries.
There were also lovely linens and some hand-carved spoons from local wood. We were able to use Euros instead of Turkish lira to make a few purchases. Then we returned on the same bridge with busy fishermen on the traffic level, and restaurants on the lower level. Two prior attempts to build this bridge were unsuccessful—one by Leonardo da Vinci and another by Michelangelo! Perhaps it had to do with how fearful the sultans were of everyone. Would you want a bridge that connected the city with the palace if you saw people more as a potential foe than a potential friend?
We enjoyed a long, leisurely lunch with dear friends as we left the port of Istanbul. For about two hours at sea, the city skyline of this immense surrounding metropolis remained in view. It even seemed to grow as we left the port.
This was our first experience on the trip with a culture that was predominantly Muslim. There were five calls to prayer, though not as loud and dominating as in some Muslim countries. Women had head coverings—mostly scarves, though some had burkas that covered the whole face, except for the eyes. Many people knew English and were familiar with both Euros and U.S. dollars. We tried to remember that the U.S. dollars was worth about 1.92 Turkish lira, and that the Euro was worth about 2.56 Turkish lira, but the shopkeepers seemed familiar with all three currencies.
The rest of the afternoon and evening was relaxing. I finished Walter Wangerin’s novel on Paul and read in preparation for our visit to Ephesus, coming up tomorrow. The sea remains calm and the skies were mostly sunny. We are starting to feel some sunburn on the back of our necks.
Good dinners continue to be served. The 43 of us in the tour group configure ourselves variously at our assigned tables. Every evening we have our choice of appetizers, soup or salad, entrée, and dessert. After dinner some may find some live classical guitar music, attend a show somewhere on the ship, or enjoy the evening in our cabins or on our verandas.
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Welcome to this window on the 2013 Mediterranean Cruisetour. As Sara Wenger Shenk, AMBS president, and Loren Johns, AMBS professor of New Testament, and 43 other travelers explore the places where the Apostle Paul traveled, they will share photos and reports here. Come back to this space for what we hope will be daily snapshots in words and photos of what the group is experiencing.
Visit Menno Travel to learn more about the Cruisetour.