Turkiye - Food, food and more food (plus a good deal of meetings and ancient wonders).
Tuesday 20th September, 2022
Istanbul is a hectic city of 15.5 million people and it’s been fun to experience a little of this populous city this past week. The first thing you notice is the traffic…my 1.5hr ride from the airport was full of what I thought were ‘close calls’ but to the average local driver, just another day at the office. I felt jet lagged again after about 30 hours of travel. But after unpacking and a quick shower, I was off to the ‘doner’ restaurant with some of my colleagues for my first taste of local cuisine.
I was in bed by 8pm as I was so tired. The Turkish breakfast was something to behold with baklava the first thing that caught my attention closely followed by the Turkish delight and the honeycomb frame. Sorry to my naturopath but the GF, DF diet is going out the window this week! Thankful that I had a day to rest before meetings began, I was able to get in a swim and even a half hour massage at a nearby hotel - a Balinese one at that!
The next morning was a working day. I finished preparing my session for the afternoon prayer time and it was a beautiful time together with some of my International colleagues as we used the Lord’s prayer as a basis of praying through many things of concern.
Friday and Saturday our whole Global Leadership team met together, around 50 of us. It was the first gathering of its kind since the pandemic and it was so good to meet people in person. It was a full program but on the Saturday night, after a 1.5hr bus ride into the old city of Istanbul (again fighting the congestion), we experienced an authentic Turkish dinner, including being entertained by local musicians. I’ve discovered that many restaurants serve the same thing and it all comes with complementary tomatoes, cucumbers, some kind of green (like rocket) and a truck load of bread! They sure know how to eat here!
On Sunday we joined in worship with a local church, a short walk from the hotel. It was amazing to be with so many different nationalities and languages. Normally the service is in Russian and Turkish but with so many visitors this day, they also shared in English. I was spent, so I went back to the hotel with a handful of others to rest while everybody else went back into the old city.
On Monday and Tuesday, the different Area Leadership Teams met. We divide the world into geographic areas which includes Asia/Pacific, the Americas, Africa and Europe, Middle East and North Africa. I had the privilege of sharing with each one of them at different times and also giving them copies of my book. I’ve had some say they are interested in translating it, which would be amazing.
One interesting (not sure I can call it fun) experience from the time here was taking a Turkish bath with my colleagues from Europe and the Middle East. I don’t think I’ve ever been scrubbed so hard in my life and my skin noticed it as I broke out in a rash on my tummy and back the next day! The rest of my body felt as smooth as a baby’s you know what though.
Friday 23rd September, 2022.
The meetings we had in Istanbul seem like a long time ago but in reality they finished just three days ago! After a 3am departure from the hotel in Istanbul on Wed morning to go to the airport, we arrived in Izmir at around 9am. After finally figuring out how to pick up our hire car (there was no ‘shop front’ but someone meeting us at the exit), we fuelled up and headed into town to our hotel for the night. We were met by two Australians, Josh and Angela. Josh was a contact from my friend in Australia and it was such a blessing to have them show us around the city they call home. We headed up to the Kadifekale (a castle ruins on a hilltop), walking through narrow streets where cars hardly fit, until we got to a street where we could catch a taxi. It is thought that Polycarp (one of the church fathers) was martyred on this hill.
We walked down the narrow, winding paths, which included a lot of steps, to have lunch in the bazaar. It was a style of Turkish ‘buffet’ where you fill your plates with what you want, then they weigh it and you pay by weight. It was delicious. The bazaar is full of life with fish mongers trying to sell you their catch and colourful stores full of every kind of ware. There’s sections for clothing, including wedding gear and even special clothes for the circumcision of boys.
At 3pm, we met our local guide, Selin, a friend of Josh and Angela’s. She showed us around the Smyrna site, the remains of which is the agora, or market place. We sat and read the letter to the church in Smyrna - so wonderful to be able to experience. After wandering back through the bazaar area we reached the clock tower and the Aegean Sea. No beach here, just water right up to the walk-way. Very different to what we are used to in Australia! After another traditional Turkish dinner, including a taste of soup made with sheep head and feet, we farewelled Selin for the day to head back to hotel for the evening.
Selin met us at 8am on Thursday morning and we drove together to Ephesus, about a 1 hour drive from Izmir. What a site to behold! It covers around 550 acres in a valley. There is so much to take in as you wander through this ancient city, from the baths to latrines to the homes of the wealthy and the amazing library and theatre. As we sat in the theatre, we read Acts 19 which is the story of the riot that happened in Ephesus because many were turning to Christ and threatening the silver smith trade. Sitting in the place where this all happened was amazing! After about 4 hours of wandering around we headed to a restaurant with the real traditional Turkish meal (reclining at the table). In the afternoon it was into the township of Selcuk to see St John’s Basilica a local Mosque and of course one couldn’t go to Turkey without buying Turkish delight! Selin saw us to our accommodation for the night and we wandered back into the market area for a doner dinner and some souvenir shopping.
Today we drove about 3 hours to Laodicea. As we didn’t have a guide today we did an audio tour of the site. Just when we thought we were done, there were other captivating sites that drew us in, including a church with intricate floor mosaics and another large theatre. After meandering through the ruins for about 3 hours, we headed to Pamukkale where the ancient city of Hierapolis is located with the stunning thermal springs. As we walked up the white ‘cliffs’ (made so by a combination of carbon dioxide and calcium) we were met by different pools of varying temperatures and the ruins of the city of Hierapolis were at the top. There is an ‘ancient pool’ there, which they say Cleopatra swam in, so I couldn’t resist paying the extra 130 lira for a brief swim in the warm, mineral water. To end the day, we took in the amazing sunset with our feet soaking in the thermal stream flowing down the ‘cliff’.
Monday 26th September, 2022.
I made it to Munich, Germany, yesterday after another early morning start. My colleague’s flight was at 7.15am and mine was at 8, but I decided to go to the airport early with her. After a quick change over in Istanbul, I arrived in Munich around noon local time. That afternoon I came down with a bout of vomiting, which appears likely to be food poisoning from our last meal in Turkey as my colleague had the same on her flight home to the States! However, I digress.
Our last day in Turkey on Saturday saw us driving back to Izmir via St Jean’s Church in Aleshir (Philadelphia) and Sardis. There are not really any ruins in Aleshir as the modern city was built over the ancient one. All you can see is ruins of the church which are from around 600 AD. Sardis is a relatively small site compared to Ephesus and Loadicea with the main attraction being a restored synagogue and the impressive gymnasium. There was some pretty stunning views on the drive back too, at one point going down a steep decent into a valley filled with grape vines. Apparently it’s one of the largest sultana grape areas in the world. After being all sight-seeing out, we rested in the hotel in the afternoon. Our last Turkish dinner of soup and Pide (Turkish version of Pizza) was enjoyable - until the after effects the next day!
Overall, the time in Turkey was an amazing blessing. Hopefully I’ll return one day to take in more of the ancient sites I didn’t get to see this time.