Photo by Tony Cece

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Monday 8/6

Monday was another long travel day for our team. Mostly uneventful, we gathered in the morning to eat breakfast at our hotel and then boarded the tour bus for Ataturk International Airport. The large windows on the bus provided us with a final tour Istanbul as we drove along the thoroughfares and expressways through the sprawling metropolis. It was like driving through New York City and it’s suburbs, but with shorter buildings.

The return flight was a bit longer than our original trip from Washington to Istanbul. Because we flew against the jet stream, it took about 13 hours. Couple that with traveling backward through time from the Eastern European Time Zone 
to the North American Eastern Time Zone, causing us to experience 21 consecutive hours of sunlight. After landing in Washington at 6:00 pm ET, my body felt very confused, not knowing whether I should be asleep or awake.

Our arrival in the U.S. was bittersweet. While happy to soon see our families again, many were sad to see our team split up in the airport and go our separate ways. We said one last prayer and hugged each other as we left. The ride back Virginia Beach was very quiet for this portion of the team, many using those few hours for rest. The true impact of our work will settle into our hearts and minds over the coming weeks and months.

Saturday 8/4

After a hot shower and a good night’s sleep, the team awoke with excitement as we boarded our tour bus to see the sights of Istanbul. Our tour guide first directed us to the former site of the Hippodrome, a large stadium complex that was constructed during the rule of the Roman Empire. The complex seated approximately 100,000 spectators and contained a racing track large enough to accommodate horse-drawn chariot races (similar to the Indy 500, but with actual horses). The stadium no longer remains and the site is covered by an active public plaza. However, the original monuments at the center of the stadium remain and our tour guide explained the history behind each object as we walked down the center of the plaza.

Our next stop was at the historic Blue Mosque, at the other end of the plaza. We were greeted by a large crowd funneled into a single file line as visitors prepared to enter the building. The Mosque currently functions as a place of prayer, so only properly dressed visitors were allowed to enter. All were required to remove their shoes and scarves were given to women for a head-covering. Once we entered the mosque, it’s namesake was quite evident. We looked up to the 50 meter high dome, completely lined with ornate blue tiles. It was a beautiful sight and the close up photos that we took of the ornate details of the tiles does not do the building justice.

Upon exiting the mosque, we walked over the Hagia Sophia, a building that has been used as a church, a mosque and not a museum, whose name is translates “holy wisdom.”  We spent a few minutes taking in the scene at the crowded plaza between the two structures. It was hard to believe that two massive beautiful historic structures could be located so close to each other. It was a sight indeed. As we explored the Hagia Sophie, we could see artwork and mosaics that are a testament to the cathedral’s Christian and Muslim heritage.

After touring the two amazing structures, we visited the Istanbul Archeological Museum, where we gazed upon artifacts representing different time periods from across the Mediterranean region. Many of the cultures represented played a vital role in the development of Western Civilization.

For the afternoon, the many from the team ventured into the spice market located a mile or so from our hotel. Though named “spice market,” the selection of goods was endless, including a variety of foods and clothes. The market was crowded and the setting brought with it a degree of intrigue as we searched the endless hall of goods for a gift or sweet treat. Noticing that we were tourists, each vendor attempted to direct us into his shop. We were even allowed to bargain and haggle, a practice that is rarely available to us in the typical suburban mall.

We ended the evening at a restaurant outside the market, giving us all a view of the Bosphorus Strait and the multicolored Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge.