Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Trojan Horse, Burgers, and Fries

On the third day of our vacation we visited the Ancient City of Troy.  This was an all day event.  We spent 5 hours in the car driving through Turkish villages brimming with character and giant, craggy mountains before we landed at our destination.  The drive was absolutely beautiful; the shimmering sea, the majestic mountains, green, lush fields.  After hours and hours of driving, we were very eager to stretch our legs and explore the ruins of Troy.  My history lovin' husband was on cloud nine. 

We explored the ruins of this once glorious city dating back thousands of years.  We saw walls and towers still in tact from the Trojan War.  We saw the remnants of homes, a theater, the citadel, a well, bridges, and walkways.  At the top of the hill, Dan pointed out the fields below us where the fighting during the Trojan Wars took place.  The farm fields about a quarter of a mile from the city used to be covered by the Aegean Sea but have been filled in over the course of thousands of years.  Because of this, we found little seashells scattered throughout the ruins of Troy.  The natural beauty that surrounded the ruins made our hike even more enjoyable.  It was about 65 degrees outside and felt like a perfect Fall day (even though it was just days before Christmas).  The sun was beginning to set, which painted lavender and pink hues across the sky.  We were surrounded by farm fields and nature, which made the whole atmosphere quiet and serene.

There was also a large replica of the Trojan Horse for visitors to view.  We were even able to climb up inside of it!  Peter loved going up the ladder with daddy into the Trojan Horse! 

On our way home, we drove through a tiny, quaint village near Troy.  We saw roosters and donkeys, little boys playing soccer in the street, and old men drinking Turkish tea.  I hopped out of the car at a little produce stand to buy some delicious bananas for the trip home.  Then we started our 5 hour drive back to the hotel.

One of the challenges we found while driving through Turkey is that there are no drive-thru's.  There are many little kabob stops in local villages, but nothing quick and easy when you have a long day of driving and can't afford the time to sit down at a restaurant.  We ended up eating granola bars for lunch many days.  After several hours of driving on our journey home, we spotted something familiar...a Burger King at a Turkish mall.  Since we had a light lunch and skipped dinner, we were eager to make a quick stop at this familiar spot. 

As we walked into the Burger King, we quickly remembered that we were still in Turkey...and the employees didn't speak English.  We went through our routine of "survival communication" which consists of charades, pointing, and a couple of key Turkish words that we have learned.  We felt that we had successfully communicated our order of 2 burgers, 2 fries, 2 Cokes and a happy meal.  Phew!  The Burger King employee then asked us a question in Turkish.  No idea.  We did our usual smiles and sheepish "I don't know" nods.  He then made a gesture as if he was holding a handle and said "Bucket?".  Ah, yes.  Bucket.  Yes, we would like our food "to go".  Thank you.

Dan handed the man some Turkish Lira and the man handed us an unusually large amount of brown Burger King bags.  When we left the restaraunt Dan commented, "Wow!  That was an expensive Burger King!  Our meal cost 40 TL (which is almost 30 dollars)!"  We peered into our 3 large bags to find 5 Cokes, 5 cheeseburgers, and 5 orders of fries.  I guess we'll never know if our Burger King friends thought it'd be a funny joke or if we're really that bad at communicating in a foreign country.  Either way, it was definitely a memorable language barrier experience.  And we had all of the fast food our American hearts desired.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Mary's Home and Saint John the Apostle's Tomb

As Christ was dying on the Cross, He asked Saint John to care for His mother.  Saint John brought Mary to Ephesus, where she spent the last years of her life.  We had the opportunity to visit this modest stone house where Mary lived after Christ's death and Resurrection.  By far, this was the most incredible experience we have had in Turkey.

Mary's home rested at the top of a breathtakingly beautiful mountain outside of the city.  As our car drove up the mountain twists and turns, we took in the natural beauty around us.  I can see why God chose this mountain for His mother, we marveled.  It was too beautiful for words.  We parked our car and hiked the rest of the way up.  We felt an intense peace as we hiked through the evergreen trees and listened to the cool breeze blowing through the pine needles.  The warm sun peaked through the branches and the fresh mountain air smelled sweet. 

As we came closer, we saw a baptismal font for early Christians.  We hiked further down the path and came to Mary's home.  It was a humble stone house nestled in the trees.  We entered the main room of her home.   It was simple and humble.  There was a statue of Mary, a nativity scene, and several chairs.  To the side was a little bedroom.  In the corner were crutches and leg braces, evidence of healings that resulted from pilgrimages to this home.  A Franciscan brother and sister quietly cleaned and decorated to prepare for Christmas (Dan helped the Sister by holding the dustpan for her while she swept.  He was so excited to say that he helped clean Mary's house!)

  I stood in the little room, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath.  Peace.  Incredible peace.  My heart felt at rest.  During all of the trials and challenges of this year, we have placed ourselves in Mary's arms and asked for her intercession.  When Peter got sick right before our trip, we placed our trip in Mary's hands and asked for her help.  Now we were here, in Mary's home, and we felt loved, we felt safe.  We were at home, with our Heavenly mother.

I could've stayed there forever.  I considered it.  But reality hit in the form of a little boy yelping "Ma! Ma! Ba! Eh! Ah!"  Peter had been so good and quiet on Dan's back, but he was gently reminding us that it was time to go.  As we left, we stopped at a natural spring next to Mary's home that she may have used.  We each took a sip and filled a bottle.  Next to the spring was a wall filled with notes and intentions for Mary.  We sat down and wrote a note to Mary, rolled it up, and placed it in the wall. 

We drove down the mountain and stopped at our final spot for the day: the tomb of Saint John the Apostle.  A Church was built around his tomb.  We explored the ruins of the Church as the sun set over the village.  We asked Saint John to pray for our family.  It had been a long, amazing day. 

The Ancient City of Ephesus

We woke up early the next morning, eager to explore Turkey's west coast.  Before heading out on our next adventure we ate breakfast at our hotel.  Mmmm....absolutely superb!  The breakfast included lots of fresh fruits, breads, olives, cheeses (Peter was thrilled to be able to eat cheese- his favorite food in the whole wide world- for breakfast), yogurt, tea, coffee, and Turkish and Swiss traditional foods (we stayed in a Swiss Hotel).  Yum! 

After breakfast, we picked up our rental car, a little silver Hyundai Getz, and headed on our way.  Dan drove (I am so thankful  for my brave husband driving in a big, crazy city!) and I navigated (well...sort of).  And together, we somehow found our way out of downtown Izmir and onto the highway.  Next stop?  The ancient city of Ephesus! 

The drive to Ephesus was breathtaking.  I accidentally directed Dan to take the wrong highway (first of many times on our trip), which ended up being just a little bit longer and a lot more scenic.  It was worth it.  The mountains on Turkey's west coast are incredible.  There are no words to describe just how massive and grand they are.  I have never seen anything like it.  The fields and valleys around the mountains were lush and green.  We marveled at the shades of green...some so bright and bold it almost seemed unreal.  And the Aegean Sea twinkled in the warm, bright Turkish sun. 

After some exploring and map checking...we found our first stop off the beaten road.  Tucked away from the highway, outside of the city, we found the ruins of the Ancient Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  We hiked through the field of columns and stones and imagined what this grand temple must have looked like when it was new.  Some columns were still standing while others lay on the overgrown grass below.  We found Greek writing and designs on some of the large stones, which helped paint a picture of the ornate beauty that this temple possessed. 

After the temple of Artemis, we hopped in the car and drove down the road to the Ancient city of Ephesus.  Ephesus was first a Greek city built in 1000 BC.  Many of the ruins we see today are from the 4th century BC.  We put little Peter in our hiking backpack and walked down an ancient road and explored this beautiful ancient city.  I love Ephesus.  The ruins are incredible and the natural beauty surrounding them is exhilirating.  

The first stop we came upon was the very first Church dedicated to Mary.  It was here that the Council of Ephesus took place in 431 AD.  The Church was still beautiful, with crosses etched into its stones and archways in tact.  We found two baptismal fonts for the early Christians.  Imagine the early Christians celebrating Mass in this beautiful shrine. 

Next  we saw a theater from the Hellenistic period.  Saint Paul himself preached to the Ephesians in this theater!  This outdoor theater was incredibly impressive; the stone rows of seats reaching almost to the sky.   We climbed almost to the top and looked down on the stage, imagining the firey, bold words of St. Paul echoing throughout the stone walls. 

Next stop: the Library of Celsus.  This impressive structure was built in 114 AD and still possesses much of it's original beauty.  At one time, this library held 12,000 scrolls. This was one of my favorite ruins...the ornately carved pillars and statues were beautifully displayed against the backdrop of the impressive mountains in the distance. 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Adventure Begins...

Merry Christmas!

Our family just returned from an absolutely wonderful vacation to Turkey's west coast!  A few weeks ago, we bought some wonderfully cheap plane tickets to Izmir, Turkey and booked 4 nights in a local hotel.  The days leading up to the trip were filled with anticipation and excitement for a new adventure and nervousness at the thought of traveling all by ourselves in a foreign country.  And then Peter got sick. 

The night before our trip, Dan and I wrestled with the idea of cancelling our trip to spend the week at home taking care of our little guy with the sniffles.  The next morning we woke up, completely unpacked, and took our sniffling, coughing little man to the doctor.  She reported that he had an infection in one ear.  But then reassured us that she'd put Peter on antibiotics right away and encouraged us to go on our trip anyway. 

There was too little time to think too much about it.  It was 10:00 am.  The shuttle was scheduled to take us to the airport at 2:00 pm.   We flew into action and started packing.  Up until this point, I had apprehension about the trip.  But suddenly, I felt at peace and ready to go. 

We miraculously pulled everything together and made it to the airport shuttle pick up by 2:00 pm.  Then our adventure began.  Arriving at the Adana Airport was our first experience of being foreigners in a place where little (or no) English was spoken.  We gestured and guessed our way through the airport security, check-in, and baggage check and waited for our flight to board. 

While we were waiting, Peter spotted a Turkish woman with a little lap dog.  Peter loves dogs and immediately hopped off my lap to meet his new friend.  As we approached, the woman spoke several Turkish sentences to me, in which I smiled and nodded "I don't understand".  She then responded in perfect English that she was from Turkey but currently lives in Canada.  Ah, thank You, Jesus.  She was the first of many angels that God sent to us on our journey.  God is such a loving Father, His guiding hand was with us every step of the way. 

Our new friend, Gabby, and her dog, Maggie, interpreted the flight announcements for us so that we'd board the right plane.  Before long, we were on the plane headed for Izmir.  The flight was a little over an hour and Peter was a great traveler!  He loved looking out the window at the massive mountains below us.  When we arrived in Izmir, we hopped on a Havas (like a Turkish Hertz) bus and drove to the hotel. 

Our hotel was absolutely amazing.  It was in the heart of downtown Izmir overlooking the Aegean Sea.  The hotel staff greeted us and gave us a traditional Turkish winter drink made of orchid seeds, hot milk, sugar and cinnamon.  YUM!  They warmly welcomed Peter and placed a Hot Wheels car in his little hand.  We settled into our room and ordered room service (a luxury we had never done before!) as we got our little man into his pj's. 

A great first day...and our adventure was only beginning! 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

One Week until Christmas!

 It is a unique and sometimes challenging experience to live in a Muslim country around Christmas time.  When we walk off base, there are no twinkly lights, no Christmas carols, no snow covering the ground.  Thankfully, the base does a wonderful job of helping it feel more like "home".  You can find decorations, parties, caroling, and Santa sightings. 

But more than anything, Peter has brought the holiday spirit to our home.  Peter loves reading The Night Before Christmas and exclaims "ehn-nuh!" (Santa) when jolly old Saint Nicolas is spotted.  Peter very seriously and very reverently loves picking up baby Jesus from the manger scene to give Him a big, dramatic kiss (several dozen times a day).  He loves toddling up to the Christmas lights hung in front of the grocery store to gaze in wonder.  He loves gently reminding me ("mmmmma! mmmmma!") to plug in the Christmas lights on our one foot tall tree.  He loves blowing out the candles from our Advent wreath when dinner is done. 

It's just one week until Christmas! 

Dan has a few extra days off this coming week, so we bought some plane tickets and are taking a little trip!  I'm keeping our destination a surprise...but I'll give you a hint.  We will ask Mamma Mary for her intercession for all of you, dear friends, in this special spot!  Please say a prayer that we stay safe & healthy (and that our very basic Turkish will keep us out of trouble!).  

Come, Lord Jesus! 

p.s. Did you know that Saint Nicholas is from Turkey?!?