What I truly have to say about Constantinople (Istanbul) is two fold. It is an amazing place. 15 million people, and absolutely gorgeous. But there is something that I felt is so difficult for the people of Greece to take. This was once Greece's greatest city. The greatest city in the world. One that had the most beautiful churches, the center of civilization. The pride of all Greeks. Only to be taken by the Turks. So this trip for any Greek must be bittersweet to say the least. I asked the priest how does it feel to be in Turkey, (knowing that it was once Greece) he said "it is like I killed my mother and father." Wow.
Well, it is a 10 hour bus ride to Constantinople (Istanbul, but don't say that to a Greek) from Thessoloniki, and it is an amazing ride passing the town of Xanthi, and Fillipi on the way. The scenic views of the mountains with snow capped peaks is absolutely majestic. The ride was long but for some reason I was able to sleep most of the way. As we began to cross the border the tension mounted, not that I had any reason, but I could feel it from the rest of the people on the bus. Turkey, if you may not know occupied Greece for an extended period, and Greece and Turkey have had a long bloody relationship.
What you notice first is the large red Turkish flags across the border and how they contrast with the light blue flag with a white cross of Greece. You couldn't have two more different flags.
Here is a video of our approach to the Greece-Turkey Border
click box below to see the video :)
|From Greece-Turkey Border Crossing|
Once we were were across it was pretty boring, we stopped for some food and wow, I thought it was incredible. Not exactly for the dishes themselves, but for the yogurt that they served with the meal. I don't know if you have ever had fresh yogurt- but it tastes completely different than the stuff at the store. It was fresh, scooped out of a pan. It tasted like milkified butter. I ended up putting it on everything.
Our first night was rather uneventful, after a long 10 hour bus ride that started at 4am it was off for a short walk down the main drag and off to bed. We stayed at the Peak hotel, where I was able to have my first stand up shower, and first full size bath in Europe! We also got a complimentary full buffet breakfast every day :)
Our first day was full, and our first stop was a the Palace of the Prime Minister of Turkey
It was quite grand, although it could be seen on the faces of all the Greeks that were with us as if they were looking at thier stolen property, now in the hands of another.
...for more palace pictures click on the picture below, then click SLIDESHOW in the upper left hand corner :)
|Residence of the Turkish Prime Minister|
Our next stop was a boat cruise of the harbor of Constantinople, which was about 2 hours and was amazing. Along with service of coffee and snaks it was great to take a look at what the town had to offer from the view of the water.
more boat tour pictures click on picture below, then click SLIDESHOW in the upper left hand corner :)
|Boat Tour Constantiople Harbor|
Once we were done with that, we got a chance to go to our Mother of all churches, the grand model in which all Orthodox Churches have been built Agia Sofia!
It was rather difficult being in Agia Sofia. While it is our home, it is half laiden with Islamic writing, and most if not all of the crosses are desecrated. So while it is truly a joy to be in such a church, the sadness that we do not celebrate liturgy and glorify our Lord in it is quite disheartening. The priest that I shared my time with couldn't help it but cry upon our entrance, it show's that his love for God is much more than mine. I think it was all so surreal that I didn't know what to think or to feel. The Icons were amazing, the fantasies that I made up in my mind of worship in this magnificent building were mind boggling. And also to think that the emperors of Rome worshiped Christ in this church, amazing!
Please click on the picture below to see more photos, then click SLIDESHOW in the upper left hand corner :)
That was about the end of day one we did some walking around the city by the hotel.
In reflection, day one was magnificent, stunning really. I think sometimes that I am living a dream, that I am walking not in reality, but must it be heaven? Walking today into Agia Sofia, and touring the city on a boat, was quite awe inspiring and to do it with someone (my Father confessor) who I hope to be like one day as a person and as a priest.
Stay tuned for Day 2!! In about a week :)
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