This is the part where I apologize for sending this along so late--but life has been busy. You shall see presently.
The next day was a day of VERY much driving--about eight hours worth total. Yep, that's right. Eight. Hours. It didn't end up being as bad as I thought, though. After the first three hours we stopped off in Thyatira, which was the home town of none other than Paul's convert Lydia (I took pictures for you, sis). We sat on the antiquities on the little city block of remains and talked rather quickly about women in the scriptures because it was starting to drizzle. [Side note: Our administrator Brother Jackson's general rule is NO CLIMBING ON THE ANTIQUITIES. And we don't climb on the antiqities--we just sit on them for devotional from time to time]. After Thyatira we went to the best restaurant we've eaten at so far--a charming little family-run place in a pretty spot a mile or two out towards the country. The food was amazing--and we could see the women cooking and frying it up in the next room. It was the first real home-cooked food most of us have had in a long while, and we were so grateful for every bite. I also got a good laugh afterwards. I was talking to Katie afterwards when Mary came up and told Katie her skirt was cute. Katie got halfway through "Thanks, I like your--" when Mary burst out with "DON'T GIVE IT BACK!" I almost died laughing. Mary hit Katie's "boomerang compliment" tendency right on the head. It was beautiful.
Anyway--we had another five hour drive ahead to Bursa that none of us was was really looking forward to. It ended up being pleasant, though. We sang our "Istanbul was Constantinople" song and recorded it. The recording featured hand motions, some rather exciting dancing, and a great fez-wearing flute soloist bit. I'll have to show you later--it was fabulous. After that we sang "Shoo Turkey Shoo," and then one of the guys brought his iPod to the front and put his Disney collection on shuffle for everyone to sing to. We did Lion King, Hercules, Mulan, The Little Mermaid (I signed "Kiss the Girl) and a guy-girl duet of "A Whole New World." By then the drive was more than half over--and with a good book and even better company, it was over in a snap.
Our only stop in Bursa was at a beautiful early-Ottoman mosque. We removed our shoes and (girls only) covered our hair, and wandered around inside seeing the interior--the big, bold Arabic script on the walls, the designs in place of wood and carvings (because the Ottomans were poor then and couldn't afford wood and mosaics) and--best of all--a beautiful wooden pulput held together by the puzzle-like fit of the individual pieces, without a single nail in the whole structure. It was a very different place from the Blue Mosque, but it was still very beautiful in its simple, elegent way.
Our final day was headed back to Istanbul. We spent the morning on the shores of the lake at Nicea, talking about what the Nicean Creed affirmed and what we know as Latter-day Saints about the nature of our God. Apparently a few years back four of the teachers (including Brother Jackson and Brother Judd) unoficially reconvened the council of Nicea in a restaurant across the street. They dissolved the decisions of all past councils and adopted the Articles of Faith as its new creeds. They also dedicated the preaching of the gospel on the other side to those who were present at those original councils should they have not received it yet. It may have been unauthorized, but I thought it was fitting and proper all the same. We sang "Josph Smith's First Prayer" as we looked out over the shining blue water and bright sunshine and green hills... It was such an incredibly beautiful place. I don't approve of a lot of things Constantine did (see Nico Revolt, for example) but I have to hand it to him--when it came to his summer home, he had excellent taste. We finished off with a class picture on the very spot where his palace used to stand.
We jumped a ferry over the bay and drove back into Istanbul, singing the Istanbul song one more time on the way. Brother Judd also played us a series of turkey-related songs (turkey as in Thanksgiving, not the country)--such as "Except for the Turkey," "Frank the Christmas Turkey," and even one called "Turkey Burps." Brother Judd's daughter Carrie (she and her sister Megan went with us this trip and we adore them both) called out from the back that she hadn't said yes to any of these selections. Yasemin gently reminded us that the name Turkey has nothing to do with the bird, but should actually be pronouced "Turkiye," meaning the land of the Turks.
Back in Istanbul we visited the Hagia Sophia--which I think all of us were looking forward to immensely. It was extremely different from both the Blue Mosque and the Grand Mosque in Bursa, but still beautiful in its way. We saw tons of gorgeous mosaics, intricately carved porphory collumns, brightly colored walls and ceilings (lots of yellow going on) and a whole lot of crumbling plaster. The Hagia Sophia (sometimes pronounced Aya Sophia) was originally a Christian church. When the Ottomans took over they liked it, so they plastered over all the human figures in the mosaics, turned the crosses into lines and arrows, and called it a mosque. In subsequent mosques they would also copy the Hagia Sophia's dome pattern (one big one, lots of smaller ones) and the style of lights (chandeliers suspended close to the ground--ten feet up or so). Now it's a museum and the plastered mosaics are being uncovered for everyone to admire.
After Hagia Sophia I made a brief visit with a few others to the tombs of the sultans, which were big green house-shaped structures with a sultan's turban on the top--a small one for a normal male family member and a big tall one for the sultan himself (all except for the women's tombs, which were turbanless). There were some lovely Nicean tiles on the wall as well, but on the whole most of the tombs looked a lot alike--so before long we departed and turned to shopping.
I had wanted to visit the Grand Bazar again, but for the sake of time we ended up turning to a little street Bazar just shy of the Blue Mosque. We had a great time wandering among the shops, somtimes purchasing and sometimes just trying to communicate to the persistent shopkeepers that we really were just looking. I found a few treasures--but more on that presently. Thereafter we met up the busses again and went to a seafood place for dinner, where we were served (no surprises) fish--but with heads, eyes, bones, and tails still attached. I didn't mind it too much (I did worse at Chinque Terre) but Mary, who does not like seafood, was not hitting the ceiling over it. She did eat most of it though, and enjoyed it more than she thought.
Then it was off to the airport. We bid a fond farewell to Yasemin and left her with a whole bunch of grateful notes from everyone in our group. We went through some more extremely long lines and sat at the gate for over an hour. I talked with my friend Aliesha and another girl (McKenzie) about my hopes and dreams and worries about serving a mission. Aliesha is an RM herself, so she was great to talk to--her advice was essentially to just not think about all of that right now and enjoy Israel while I have it. McKenzie was also great--she is a font of wisdom and good quotes ("Life by the yard is hard, life by the inch is a sinch"). I also joined a group watching Tangled on somebody's iPad. We eventually took off at 12:55, flew for two hours (with a midnight breakfast served somewhere in there) and touched down at 1:55 (daylight savings--gain an hour). The security people at Ben Gurion decided to ask us all those questions we had been preped for at orientation not when we first got there (as we had thought they would), but at two o'clock in the morning, when nobody could form coherent sentences to save their life. We finally got back to the center at 3:45, getting in bed just in time to hear the morning call to prayer go out. Mary and Annie and Katie and I were all happy to be in the same room together again, and celebrated by promptly crashing into bed and sleeping until ten the next morning.
More in the next post. Ciao!