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ISTANBUL -- transversing Europe & Asia

"If the Earth was a single state, Istanbul would be its capital.” ( Napoleon Bonaparte)

Aya Sofya: The largest cathedral in the world for more than 1000 years, this “church of Holy Wisdom” was completed in 537 by Emperor Justinian. The church is filled with expansive marble pillars and intricate Byzantine mosaics. This mosaic above one of the entrances depicts Mary and the Christ child in her lap, with emperor Justinian presenting Hagia Sophia as an offering on her right, and emperor Constantine offering the city of Istanbul on her left.
Sultan Ahmet Camii (aka Blue Mosque): Built to rival the architectural grandeur of neighboring Aya Sofya, this was completed in 1616 during the Ottoman Empire and is now the national mosque of Turkey. The interior glows with intricate tiles and fancy calligraphy of Quran verses, while the exterior impresses with its six minarets and huge courtyard for worshippers. The faithful are called to prayer five times a day via broadcasting from these minarets as well as from mosques all over the city, and this call-to-prayer flowing across the country would grow to be one of my favorite memories of this trip.
Topkapi Palace: The movie “Topkapi” seemed to be a common intro to Istanbul for many of my tourmates, and at the center of movie action was the dazzling jewels collection including the Topkapi Dagger (enormous emeralds) and an 86-carat diamond!
Basilica Cistern: Can you believe the Romans built this gorgeous structure to store WATER?! Built in the 5th century, this underground palace once held 80,000 litres of water pumped and delivered to the Great Palace and surroundings through an elaborate network of aqueducts. Now it's the perfect spot for intimate concerts and cocktail parties.
Grand Bazaar: The original shopping mall... get ready to spend, barter, hunt! Everything you could possibly want you can probably buy here. Absolute hell for a non-shopper like me, but definitely an interesting place to people watch.
Spice Bazaar: spices, nuts, olives, lokum, helvasi, henna, potions and lotions... The colors and scents of this place overwhelm your senses!
Lest you think all of Istanbul is a time capsule of ancient history, here're a few street scenes...

ANKARA -- the capital

"Peace at home, peace in the world" (Muustafa Kemal Ataturk)

Ataturk's Anit Kabir: This expansive mausoleum houses the tomb of this Father of Turkey. This is a popular field trip destination for local school children, where they learn about the nation's war of independence where Mustafa Kemal emerged as the victorious general and then first president of the republic.
Kocatepe Camii on the hilltop of Ankara is one of the largest mosques in the world. Worshippers were streaming into this magnificent mosque lit with a huge (8+ feet in diameter!) chandelier on this friday evening, when others cheered on a game of football in a nearby bar.

CAPPADOCIA – dwellings of early Christians

"All day I think about it, then at night I say it. Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing? I have no idea. My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that, and I intend to end up there." (Rumi)

Land of magical fairy chimneys and honeycomb-caved cliffs. This landscape is truly out of this world!
The Goreme Open-Air Museum consists of a cluster of rock-cut Byzantine churches and monasteries. These primitive-looking churches boast stunning vividly-colored frescoes of Biblical scenes and early saints.
The underground city of Kaymakli was a hiding place for the first Christians who were escaping from the persecution of the Roman empire. Up to 20,000 people lived here in this subterranean labyrinth of 8 levels with many rooms connected by tunnels which could be closed off by large boulders when attackers invade.
Even our hotel resembles the distinctive landscape -- our very own Flintstone mansion!

ANTALYA -- the Turkish Riviera

"The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic His giving, by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves." (St Nicholas of Myra, aka Santa Claus)

The Mediterranean Sea steps from my hotel room!
Life is good...

PAMUKKALE and Hieropolis

"To the church in Laodicea... I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm, I am about to spit you out of my mouth." (Rev 3:14-16)

These steplike traventine shelves are the remnants of the famous Pamukkale hot springs, whose calcium-rich water deposited its minerals cascading down the cliffs.
A popular spa center during Roman and Byzantine times, Hieropolis atop the Pamukkale springs attracted both healthy and sick...
...and some of the sick ended up in nearby Necropolis with some impressive sacrophagi.


"Apostle Paul to the church in Ephesus... I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better." (Eph 1:17)

The best-preserved classical city in the Mediterranean, Ephesus was a great trading city and center of goddess Artemis. The landmark facade is the remnant of the Library of Celsus, with statues representing the four Virtues: Goodness, Thought, Knowledge and Wisdom. The Great Theatre is still used for live performances today.
"To the church in Pergamum... I know where you live - where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name." (Rev 2:13) Pergamum was one of the principal centers of Hellenistic civilization, with the Acropolis boasting a world-class library and the famous Zeus altar. The Theater in the acropolis of Pergamum is known to be the steepest raked Hellenistic theater in the world.
Two versions of the legendary Trojan horse at historic Troy [left], and at neighboring Canakkale [right, donated from the Brad Pitt movie].

My wonderful traveling companions from all over the world...

More photos from my album

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