Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Last bit of Turkey!!!

Day 7

Here we go... last bit of the glorious Turkey trip! We started the morning at the Grand Mosque of Bursa. Compared to the Hagia Sofia and the Blue was small potatoes. Beautiful but nothing like the other two. Still, this mosque had 20 domes and a beautiful fountain inside of it, and it was an old old one. Yasmin took us inside and we learned a bit about the Islamic faith and the history behind the mosque. We took a few pictures but we were all anxious to get just outside to the silk market waiting on the other side of the Mosque.
Some of the girls inside the Mosque
Once we headed to the silk market I was on a mission to find the silk Han where all the silk was made. I looped around the market a bit... found some gorgeous scarfs...but no silk worms. I ran into Garrett and he was down to find the silk worms. We found the Han but it just looked like a square full of shops and a little cafe. A beautiful scarf caught my eye and I asked the shop keeper, a young women in her 20s, about it. She brought us into her shop, and I asked about the silk worms, she lit up and pulled out a box full of the silkworm cocoons  and a photo album showing how she made the silk last fall. It was fascinating! We sat and chatted with her for a while, she taught us how to identify silk, and served us some more of that delicious apple tea! Before we left, both Garrett and I had purchased some real silk and she showered us with a few token cocoons.

After Bursa we drove a couple hours to Nicaea, ring a bell? Where the Nicaean Creed was established and the 7 ecumenical councils happened. It was really interesting to learn about what had happened there. I had never really thought about the Nicaean Creed before, I mean, I knew what it was, but had never thought about what it meant to me as a Mormon. I now have a whole new appreciation for the beliefs of Orthodox Christians. Not to mention the even bigger change the Joseph Smith brought through the first vision. It's incredible!
Outside the Church which is now a Mosque 
After the church, we went to the site of Constantine's palace. I sat on the beach for a solid hour contemplating and thinking about what had happened there. Honestly this place is perfect for having life revelations!

Finally it was time to head back to reality... and by that I mean Jerusalem... what a reality to head back to!!! We drove for a couple hours back to Istanbul singing and laughing. We stopped for dinner but I was a little bit car sick so I didn't eat much. Then it was on to the plane. By the time we boarded... I was not feeling well at all. I settled into my seat and had a instant panic attack, I was trapped in the middle of the plane, over the wing, window seat. If I needed to make a dash for the bathrooms I wouldn't make it. So I traded seats with a classmate and sat next to Kari, who after one look at me realized I was not well. She gave me some motion sickness pills and I tried to focus on breathing as we took off. It was rough and I realized that I was going to need a priesthood blessing if I was going to keep my lunch down throughout the flight. I asked Kari to get the attention of the nearest boy from our group. Turns out Jon was right in front of me, which turned out to be a blessing. He took charge, grabbed Jeff and gave me a blessing and throughout the remainder of the flight, every time I needed help he was there. And despite the blessing I faced one of my biggest fears of being sick on a plane. I don't remember much from the next 24 hours, but I was so grateful to have friends who took care of me and let me just sleep and get over the bug I'd got, and once we got back to the center, I slept for the next 22 hours. If I was going to get sick here... that was the day to do it!

But, the story doesn't end there. I realized when I finally regained consciousness on Monday, that I was signed up to run a half marathon on Friday. This had me super super worried, I was super weak and dehydrated still on Wednesday, even though I'd been able to get up and continue my normal life on Monday. I stressed until Friday morning and then decided, I was just going to run as far as I could. Race day excitement caught on and before I knew it, I was at the start line, Israeli music was blasting, people were cheering and then the gun went off and the mob moved forward pulling me with them. I started running with Matt, but before long he left me, and I was just fine with that, it was a beautiful morning, I was wearing shorts for the first time in months, and I had a great playlist. I was surprised how well I was doing, I ran around the Kinesset, through Beniyuda street and across the Old City before it hit me. A massive shooting pain in my stomach...not my stomach on top of my stomach, 8 km into the race. I panicked! I was running with Tanner Potter and Nate Monson at the time. Both of them stopped and tried to help me, but I waved them on. Either I was going to drop out, or work through this on my own. After about 5 mins, the pain turned into an ache and I kept going. Every time I went down hill it returned, but not nearly the intensity that it had been before. After I passed half way I knew I could finish. And guess what... I did! My time wasn't wonderful, but for not training, having the flu, and some weird stomach pain... I was so proud of myself!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

When in Rome... Kindof

Here we go again I'm going to try and wrap up the Turkey Trip in one post... wish me luck!

So Day 3 of the trip started with a solid road trip up the coast of Turkey to Gallipoli/Dardenell Straight and the Aegean Straight. I don't know what I was expecting of a WWI site exactly but it wasn't what we saw. When we drove up it was a beautiful beach with set against scenic mountains, not exactly what you would  picture for a WWI massacre scene. Our professors spoke to us for a bit and Yasmin the tour guide gave us a synopsis of the history of the site. Then we were turned loose to walk down the beach to the cemetery. As I walked, I thought of the only connection I had to WWI. When I was in High School, the Senior Committee went through all the yearbooks and I was assigned the years 1914-1924...I spent an afternoon pouring over them, especially the war years. It broke my heart as I saw young boys my own age a hundred years before leave, some of them never to come back. Instead of a graduating class the books had an army. And as I walked along that beach I thought about those boys who left the football team and chemistry class to visit places like the one I was walking on with a gun in their hand and fear in their hearts. It was a tender and spiritual experience. 
After Galipolli, we headed to yet another ferry ride!!! I don't think I could ever get tired of ferry rides! This one was so frigid I went looking for shelter almost immediately... and found a wonderful surprise.  A man showed us how to feed seagulls from the boat. If we tossed it, well lobbed it into the pack of waiting birds, they would all dive for it and one lucky bird would come up victorious. I shouldn't have been as entertained as I was by this simple game, but Tanner, Ramsey and I spent the entire ride mastering this. Sometimes, it's the really simple things that are the most memorable to me! 

Finally the moment we had all been waiting for... Troy! We went to the dig of that infamous wooden horse. It was so cold I couldn't enjoy it a ton, while walking around it, it honestly felt like just another tel. But it was fun to think of the epic battles that had happened there. 

That night we stayed at quaint little resort right on the Aegean Sea, once we checked in I went straight to the dock. Even though it was fridged cold... I couldn't resist sitting out there watching the sun set. Just before it went down over the mountains, two dolphins started jumping right in front of us. It was honestly magical!

Day 4
This day was jam packed of ancient Roman cities. First stop was Assos, and my first major exposure to Roman civilization. Fun fact, from this site I could actually see Greece! It was sort of frustrating to be so close and yet so unbelievably far away from another place that I want to go... but it just makes it even more of a priority for my life! Assos was beautiful and something I didn't realize that would be happening on this trip: an actual site where Paul visited!  And of course, sorry to be so redundant, but I couldn't get enough of these:
Who would have ever thought I'd get to causally sit on an ancient column top?

While sitting there, the New Testament started to come together for me. What an experience to sit there where Paul contemplated his work and his testimony. Of course the Temple of Athena was intense, the walls were impressive, but the testimony was amazing!

After Assos we had a very long bus ride down to Pergamom. When we finally made it to this site, it was a short tram ride to the top of a mountain that sported my favorite Roman city of the trip. I don't know what it was exactly about Pergamom, but it caught my imagination from the very beginning and didn't let me go! There was a breathtaking temple to Athena overlooking the valley, I couldn't get over the massive size of everything! You know you read about how impressive these structures were but nothing can compare with seeing them! 

After spending some quality time at the Temple we headed to a lovely grove of trees that no one seemed to really care about and quite honestly I couldn't understand why we had stopped until Yasmin told us this was the site of the magnificent Alter to Zeus that I had learned about in Mr. Orem's class! That's when I got excited. My imagination started working double time as I rebuilt the Alter on the site in front of me! What I imagined was fantastic, I can only imagine what it would have been like sitting there overlooking the valley... spectacular! One day I'm going to Berlin to see the actual alter and picture it on the site where it came from!

Finally, we ended at the most spectacular theater I've seen yet! The view was so amazing... I don't know how to even describe it!
This kinda starts to describe what I was looking at sitting on those ancient seats. The mountains reached as far as I could see, the sun was shining and you could just picture the city meeting there for a play or performance. I sat there lost in imagination for a long time...finally it was time to leave...but not before we had some fun taking pictures on the columns. Right before we headed down the mountain, I decided that I needed a memento of Pergamom. I found the perfect ring and now carry a bit of Pergamom with me!

Day 5
And que another day of intense Roman ruins. We started at the church of John the Beloved...well the ruins of the church of John the Beloved. I was honestly not feeling it at this site. I didn't really know what I was looking at and once I figured it out, well... I honestly didn't know that much about John the Beloved so I just enjoyed the view.... and of course the columns!
This about sums up my mood that morning... but hey look at those column tops (and I'm sitting on one too!)
Ok, after that we went to the church we drove around the mountain to Ephesus. Ephesus... wow!!! That was one beautiful city! It was the most complete Roman city I'd seen. I did this site a little bit differently this time though... I unplugged my head set and followed Dr. Belnap around. He pointed out little details that were fascinating: donor tributes, hidden mosaics, and little tricks to recognizing reconstruction. It was fascinating! Finally we made it to the most imposing theater I'd seen yet and there I began to fall in love with the New Testament. Dr. Belnap painted the picture of Paul rushing to the exact theater where I was sitting to save his companions that had started a riot. It was so real to me! I'll let the pictures do the talking of what I saw, but at Ephesus, the scriptures really came to life for me! 
View from the top of the theater. Can't you just picture a mob rushing in here and deliberating on the lives of the Christians?

The library at Ephesus. I was imitating the statue behind me here, but let's be honest, you can't really tell. The architecture was so amazing, I stood there speechless just admiring the craftsmenship

Gorgeous mosaic floors that were everywhere h

This street was lined with statues of important members of the community... so we decided to try it

Recognize this? It's the picture in the back of the Bible... the theater is in the background. It was so gorgeous!
Last stop of the day was Priene. I didn't learn a whole lot at Priene, by this point I was kind of burned out from the day. But it was still incredible! It was almost like a column graveyard. This site wasn't like the others, it was peaceful and small. At this site we talked about Paul and what he must have felt through out his mission. I felt such an incredible outpouring of love there. It was a wonderful experience for me!

We finally loaded the bus... well all but 2 of us. 39 of us sat on the bus for 45 minutes while we looked for the 2. Turns out they had found 2 baby goats up on the site and decided to bring them back to the bus. The bus erupted when they came back... mostly because they made us late to getting back to the hotel, the one hotel with a swimming pool. A few calls were made and we were allowed to go swimming that night! Thank goodness... and the new joke was on the bus was team goat or not!

Day 6

Ok I'll make today real quick. We started at Sardis. First at the temple which was another one of the 7 churches from Revelations. Then we went to the synagogue and gymnasium. It was fascinating, these old ruins sitting just by the side of the road. We went into the gymnasium and the boys immediately started organizing a football game... with the receivers. Quite honestly, the rest of the day was spent on the bus. So. Much. Bus. Time. It got to the point that the back of the bus developed a "tribe". I honestly felt like we were in 3rd grade again as we split into boys and girls making up rules and dumb signs.... but it made the ride go a lot faster! We finally made it to Bursa just before the market closed. It was long enough for us to look around make a game plan for the next day. 

Alrighty... this is absurdly long, I'll finish the rest of Turkey tomorrow!  

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Turkey Time!!

Ok, I said no more massive blog posts… but this can not be helped! I had the most glorious week ever traveling around Turkey! I have fallen completely and totally in love with the country and it is high on my list of places to go back to!

I’ll try and keep it relatively short… but let’s be honest, it won’t be!
So we left the center at 3 am… yes that’s not a typo, that was a real time I had to get up and leave! Surprisingly, my roommates were so excited that we sang and danced starting at 2 am as we finished packing and getting ready. I absolutely love living with these girls! We loaded the bus and I was so hyped up and excited that I couldn’t sleep. We got to the airport at 4 and then waited in line FOREVER. Security check after security check, having my bags searched, scanned, passport check… it felt like it would never end! And, the wheels on my bag had had it! Logan decided to be a gentleman though and carried my bag throughout all the lines and I was super grateful and surprised! Finally… FINALLY… we loaded the plane and we didn’t have a jet way, we loaded from the run way. It kinda felt like celebrity status walking up those stairs!

As we flew into Turkey, Katie Dahl and I were staring out the window and it wasn’t until we were almost on the ground that we could see land. And once we got off… and felt how cold it was, all the coats came on. That day it did not stop raining. Once. It was freezing cold and miserable. And do you know what? I loved every minute of it! Istanbul is a gorgeous and intriguing city. It is split between two continents – Asia and Europe – linked together by 3 bridges. I couldn’t pull my eyes away from the window, even with the depressing grey clouds pressing down on us, I kept getting more and more excited. The sky line was dotted with modern skyscrapers and minarets. The apartment buildings were colorful and clean. There were beautiful parks and interesting statues dotting my view. And then the Bosporus. There is something about water that captivates me, and the fact that as we crossed over this massive straight with barges and ferries steaming through going from Asia to Europe… it was indescribable! I felt like I was living a dream (granted part of it may have been serious sleep deprivation)! I kept thinking how lucky Garrettt was getting to serve there! Even before we really got to see the city, I decided at some point in my life I want to try and move there!

The first site we stopped at was non other than the Hagia Sofia! Now, Mr. Oram did a wonderful job describing this site back in High School… so wonderful actually that the Hagia Sofia was #2 on my list of things to see in the world (Nike of Samothrace is #1… but I know I’ll go to France one day!). I could hardly contain myself as we pulled up. Our tour guide, Yasmin built up the suspense by not letting us actually go in. We stopped at random points outside. And guess what… the outside of this magnificent building is ugly… not just awkward, but it’s a rancid kind of pink color that looks hodgepodge together and old.

We finally went into the entry way… I could hardly handle it… we were so close to seeing that great dome! We stood and talked for what seemed like eternity about doors and sculpture, and then… it was time! We walked in and immediately, effortlessly, my eyes were drawn heavenward. Even if I didn’t know about that dome… there is no way to not be awed by it. I was only slightly disappointed because it was so cloudy that we couldn’t get the effect of the sunshine coming in through the transepts. But the gold, the mosaics, the intense space covered by the dome, the beautiful carvings and architecture… ahhh I’m doing a terrible job describing just how much I love this building and how much it moved me. I’ll just leave it at … it’s incredible!
Next we went to lunch, I’ll just say this up front now… the only thing that was delicious in Turkey was the bread. I finally ate normal portions because I didn’t really enjoy the food.

After lunch we went back to the area of the Hagia Sofia and to the Istanbul museum. It was kinda cool. The best part of it was the pieces of the Ishtar gate that were there. While I was staring at these famous gate pieces, I was fascinated because they are not only beautiful colors, but the animals are not just painted on, they are sticking out of the tiles… kinda like a relief, but there were 5 lions all right there, and they were all the same dimensions. It blew my mind that they could bake those tiles so perfectly to get these images. It was marvelous! Some other highlights were the Alexander the Great sarcophagus and all the beautiful Greek/Roman statues there! I’m obsessed with Roman art and architecture I’ve decided. That my have been why this trip was so magnificent to me! 

That night we checked into the hotel and despite the cold and continual drizzle... a group of us embarked on a journey to walk from Europe to Asia across the Bosporus. We jumped on the metro and successfully maintained the awful reputation of loud obnoxious Americans as a couple of the kids in my group played "bumper hips" off each other in the standing space. But it was all worth it once we got to the end of the line and started walking along the shore of the Bosporus. I'm completely obsessed with it! We walked right up to the old Palace on the shore and it was all lit up and beautiful! There weren't any guards around so I went to get a picture by the gorgeous gates... I wasn't 5 feet away from them when out of nowhere 2 guards came running at me motioning for me to back away... so I didn't get a picture... but it was a crazy experience! We walked all along the river shore trying to make it to the bridge. Sadly... we didn't make it before we had to turn around to make it for curfew. Just before we turned around, the bridge lit up with a fantastic light show. Still though, every experience I had on the Bosporus was magical and potentially romantic... I've decided that I will go back there one day with someone special! 

Day 2
The next morning started bright and early and chillier than the day before! Our first stop was the Hippodrome, it was impressive and incredible to imagine what it would have been like in it's glory days but there were a few other things that really hit me there. 1. Turkey has an unreal amount of BIG stray dogs. After my run in the week before the stray in Jerusalem, I wasn't super excited to get to know these big boys, but our tour guide told us that the government takes care of them, cleans them, feeds them, and sure enough most of them had tracker chips in their ear and were pretty friendly. 2. All the important events in the Ottoman Empire happened within about a 1 square mile radius.  

After the Hippodrome we crossed the street to the Blue Mosque. Now, I've learned quite a bit about the Blue Mosque but my expectations were not as high as the Hagia Sofia. Let me tell you... the Blue Mosque is every bit as spectacular! It's a different kind of spectacular, but breathtaking nonetheless. I couldn't get enough of the intricate tiles and soaring heights! My pictures don't even come close to doing it justice... but it starts to give you a basic idea. 

After the Blue Mosque it was over to the Sultan's Palace which has been turned into a museum. Honestly it was so cold that I don't think I really appreciated it the way it should have been, but I loved it still. The exhibits were not like anything I'd seen before. Elaborate guns, exquisite headpieces, interesting costumes, and the biggest diamond in the world! While walking through the layers of courtyards and series of rooms it was so easy to imagine the charmed life that the Sultan and his court lived. Not only that, but see how the Orientalist ideals that we associate with the Ottoman Empire came to be. I thoroughly enjoyed it!  

Next we went to the Basilica Cisterns. Who knew that I would grow to love ancient water containers so much over here, but they are soooo cool! And this one is, as my Ancient Near Eastern Studies professor put it, "The mother of all cisterns!" And it was! It was exactly like I imagined the underbellies of the Paris Operahosue in Phantom of the Opera. It was surreal! 

But by far the best part of my day came as we loaded for a private cruise on the Bosporus. It was enchanting! Freezing. But enchanting! I stood on the deck and watched the barges go by, Asia on my left and Europe on my right. It was fascinating to see the different kinds of cultures that were so separated by this river. And the houses! Oh my, the houses!!! They were so beautiful and charming. And then the palaces that sparsely dotted the view. Oh it was so perfect! 

After the cruise, we were turned loose on the Grand Bazaar. It was like a giant old city with better stuff! I loved it... spent a bit to much... but it was so fun! And, I'm not half bad at bartering! As we stood in the rain loading the buses to get dinner, Richie told me they were going to see the Whirling Dervishes right now and I could come if I want. No brainier! A group of 7 of us, plus my New Testament professor trekked to the Old Train Station and were not disappointed by the show. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't what we saw. It was a peaceful and mystical experience.

 They were spinning in an effort to become one with God. But the spinning was so controlled even if it was so fast and I honestly am still trying to figure out how they did it! Also... before the show they served us Apple Tea. I'm. Obsessed. It's delicious! I think that we should establish the habit that they have there of serving anyone you sea Apple Tea! 

Finally we walked back to the hotel and dropped into bed exhausted... A perfect two days in Istanbul! The next day we were headed to the coast of the Aegean Sea... but that's a story for another day! 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Yet another catch up...

It's been almost 3 weeks since I've been able to sit down and even think about what I want to record here. So much is always happening here that spare moments to myself are few and far between. And to be completely honest, I've been caught up in the Divergent trilogy craze. Even half way across the world I can't help myself from devouring those books. Mom, I don't think you'd like them... it's super similar to the Hunger Games story line... it's just a nice break from the Jerusalem Center life here. 

I'm going to go backwards in these past couple weeks to try and get everything in. 

Yesterday 10 of us went up to Haifa, a port town close to Lebanon. I've been spending the past couple weekends with this group because they like doing weekends in small groups, packing lots into one day at the cheapest cost possible, even if that means we walk... a lot! And they like doing things that no one else in the center is doing. Love it! So Haifa, we left at 5:45 am... that was a major struggle for me, 1. Because, while I am a morning person, I hate getting up before 6 and 2. because I was up until around 2 the night before finishing all my homework so I could go. But, let's be honest, I can sleep the rest of my life, and I only get to be here in Israel once! So we ride the train up to Haifa, and when we get there, it's pretty overcast, McKay kept saying that it felt like home (San Francisco). I was a bit worried though, it didn't seem like a morning fog that would burn off... more like a kinda nasty day. McKay and I even made a bet... spoiler alert - I won! 

So we started off the day hiking up to Elijah's caves where Elijah supposedly stayed on his way to destroy the priests of Ba'al. It was kinda a let down... just a small cave with a Jewish synagogue inside (and yes I do realize how snobbish I've become, back at home that would be the highlight of me week to see something like that). After the cave we hiked up to the Monastery on top of the mountain, but since it was Sunday we hit Mass and couldn't go into the Monastery. Funny story... we walked into Mass right as they were beginning communion. A few of our group jumped right into line, and received communion from the priest. Jon and I watched almost in disbelief that they were actually doing it. 

Seriously... look how perfect these flower beds are! So BEAUTIFUL!
Incredible view of the upper terraces that we had already climbed down. This
was about half way through the Garden. 
The highlight of the day for me though was going to the Ba'ai gardens. Ba'ai we learned is a religion very similar to Islam except they don't believe that Muhammed was the last prophet and that there is a chain (though not continuous) of prophets still to come. I'd never heard of another faith that believes in modern day prophets... very interesting! Anyways, these gardens were 18 levels of exquisite manicured lawns and flower beds, with lots of colors, designs and themes. And there was an ornate shrine there to the last prophet that had been on Earth. They were beautiful and the architectures from balconies to the replica Roman temples just added to the peaceful feeling there. Although in all honesty, I still prefer Temple Square! 

After the gardens we went straight to the beach (Mediterranean Sea nbd!) Sadly, my prediction of the weather turned out to be all to accurate. It was freezing!  The crazy boys that I was with were determined to go swimming though. So we walked along the beach looking for a lifeguard. Even on a cloudy day, there is not a lot that can walking barefoot in the sand along the beach! And this was super cool for me because tons of huge Jellyfish had washed up on shore. I'm talking massive as in maybe 2 feet across. Even if it was warm, after seeing all those stinging creatures on shore, I'm not sure I could have talked myself into swimming where I knew they were! After a while, we gave up looking for a life guard and a few of us decided to look for a place to have lunch/dinner. Once we were done, it was way to cold and I was so tired... I decided it was time for a nap. Almost the minute I laid down I was out and didn't wake up again until a really cold burst of wind woke me up and I realized just how cold I was. Jon woke up a few minutes later and put his coat on me. I decided to be a girl and let him and honestly I was really thankful for it! Finally, we were all cold and couldn't think of anything else to do so we caught the train home.
This was some kind of tomb complex/ruined church. Eric went
up on the roof and took a picture of us from above!

On Friday, Jon, Richie, Eric and I went exploring. Jon knew about a monastery that he wanted to explore and I was up for an adventure. We walked through back neighborhoods and up a breathtaking hill just to find that the monastery was only open Tuesdays and Thursdays. Perfect. Thankfully, the monastery is nestled into the hill that has the field of blood (where Judah hung himself) on top. Up we went. I didn't realize that we would be hiking that day so I was in a skirt and sandals. It proved to be a bit difficult but I made it! We crawled into promising holes in the mountain discovering tomb complexes and more than one giant spider.

While we were up on the hill we heard some kind of crazy party going on at the foot hill. When we were done exploring we decided to walk by to see what it was. We saw from a distance a bunch of men flocking to this tent that had music blasting out of it. The boys all wanted to go check it out, but I didn't see any other women and I got really nervous. Finally we agreed to at least walk across the street to see if we could tell what was going on. When we got there, we realized it was some kind of celebration, and little kids were crawling all over the tent! But I still didn't feel easy about going in. One of the younger guys saw us and motioned us in, we tried to wave him away but he came over and tried to talk to us. Sadly there was a pretty significant language barrier. Richie pulled out his phone and between google translate, hand gestures, and another guy... we figured out that it was something like a 5 year as a neighborhood block party. We had about 15 minutes before we had to head home so we went in for a few minutes. Our friend found us chairs (turns out all the women were sitting in the middle of the tent that's why we could only see men), and pretty quick we had made friends with the little kids who swarmed us, and I chatted as best I could with the women next to me. Speeches were made in Arabic and then a group came out and did a traditional dance. We did Arab dancing at our culture night a few weeks ago, but these kids were fantastic! We were clapping and laughing and I did NOT want to leave! But we finally pulled ourselves away after much hand shaking and waving and started to run home. We got a little bit lost and turned down what we thought was a shortcut road... we were right... except we ran straight into the jaws of a ticked of rabid dog! When the dog started coming after us the boys took off running as fast as they could, remember I'm in a skirt and sandals and it takes about a half a second for me to realize there is no way I can out run it so I freeze. The dog stares me down and bares it's teeth. I tried not to show fear while my mind is racing with ways to get out of this! Eric thankfully came to my rescue, pushed me behind him and I backed away. A local man saw our plight and came and chased the dog away from us.  5:30 hit and we weren't even to the old city so we flagged down a taxi and hopped in. Our driver was a Palestinian refugee. He started telling us his story, and quite honestly... it was fascinating! I feel like I've done a good job getting to know the Jewish culture here but Palestinian culture is a bit harder to get to know. But that night was one of the best experiences I've had with the Arab culture!

One goal I've made here lately is to expand the circle of people I do things with, so I decided to go to the mall with a bunch of the girls here. So right after lunch I ran upstairs to meet up with them, only to find out they had ditched me. Not gonna lie...I was kind of hurt. But I pushed it off and went to search out a different group to go out with. There was a group going to the Dome of the Rock so I jumped in on that opportunity. We got there just as the temple mount closed to visitors. Lame. But we decided to go explore the sights of the Jewish quarter that many hadn't seen. We kept striking out though. Nea Church - school wasn't out so we couldn't go in, John the Baptist Church - only open MWF, and then we met up with another group. We were to large, so we split up half going shopping and half going to a church that Eric, Matt and I had discovered on a wander/jog through the city. I was with Nate Bridgewater (Mom, he's your friend's nephew), Bob, and Mike. None of them had done much exploring in the Christian quarter, so I lead them up to the roof by the cisterns. They were blown away and we obviously had to stop quite a bit, but I hadn't been there in a while so it was fun. While in the cisterns, Nate started singing. We sang lots of hymns. They asked me to do the alto and I did fine until Mike started singing the melody... a half a step flat, consistantly. Then I lost it, I started giggling and I couldn't sing much after.  Nate finished up singing Where Can I Turn for Peace and it was almost haunting hearing it echo around the cistern.
We finished out the day at the Patriarch Chapel - where the second in command to the Pope lives and reigns. It was a beautiful church and the guard seemed to love chatting with us.

The field trip of the week was a trip to a Biblical lands and plants reserve. It honestly sounded kind of lame to me... and it wasn't my favorite one. But the day had a few highlights - hearding sheep and goats, drawing water from an ancient cistern, and seeing different herbs that are talked about all the time in the Bible. The highlight of the day for me came at the end when we got to try and make lunch - pita bread and lentil stew. I jumped right in! I've missed cooking!! By the end of the afternoon I was half way decent at making Pita bread and I can't wait to try it when I get home!

Sunset over the Sea
A week ago, my little group went to Tel Aviv. Almost all the center went to En Gedi where we had been the week before (I'll get there... promise). Our bus driver decided to be DJ for us and we had club music at 8 am on the way there. By the time we were dropped off... we were so hyped up, there was no way the day wasn't going to be great! We rented bikes and took off! I was wearing a skirt that day and it made riding a bike fairly tricky, but for the most part, I think I did alright. I kinda felt like I was in the Sound of Music as we rode! We rode up and down the boardwalk along the beach, oh what a perfect day huh? We split up into small groups so everyone got to do what they wanted. I was with Katie Dahl, Jon and Tabor. I honestly can't even remember where we were trying to get to all day, but after we had explored the beach for a couple hours, we rode into the city, turning down roads that looked promising and at one point accidentally turning on to an on-ramp to the highway. Right as we got to the center of the city (really, we were right in the middle park like a block away from town hall), the chain on Tabor's bike broke. As we waited for the replacement to be brought to us, we laid in the sun and chatted for what turned into almost 2 hours. Thankfully they gave us extra time on our rental so it was just an extra hour we gained to explore on the bikes. We went to the mall and I got some much needed items, and we tried to get our way onto the 50th floor to the look out but with no luck. When we left, we passed City Hall that was swarmed with what I'm guessing were refugees looking for settlement. Very interesting to observe. Finally at the end of the day we found a life guard and Jon jumped in the water for a swim, while the rest of us watched the sun set over the Sea. Such a perfect day!

The famous dome that encapsulates the supposed Tomb of Christ

On top of the Church
I can really only remember one adventure from the week before... and that was finding our way onto the roof of the Church of the Holy Seplechure. One of hte shopkeepers here offered to take us up one afternoon and how can you say no to that chance!?! We wove through Jerusalem and he spoke to the guards, they teased us as we passed - "Only because you are with the best man in Jerusalem!" Once on top of the church the view was breathtaking. We could look down on the courtyard of the church and all the pilgrims that flock there, see the legendary dome up close, and see the formation of the church. I feel so lucky to have all these adventures!

Ok, last adventure for the day. En Gedi. Wow wow wow!!! It was honestly one of my favorite days besides Petra. This was my first out of Jerusalem adventure without the teachers. I went with a fairly active group so I was ready to spend the day hiking. En Gedi is the oasis right next to the Dead Sea where Jacob hid from Esau. I would hide there too if I had to pick somewhere here to hide. It was beautiful!! So many waterfalls and gorgeous views.... ah I fell in love almost immediately. The other thing we did almost immediately was put the swim suits on so we could wade around the pools! It felt so good to be in something other than baggy shirts and skirts... and to be away from the view of the center! Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for the watch they keep on us... but sometimes I wish they would treat us more like the adults we are. Anyways, we had a wonderful time wading and splashing and hiking all over the mountains. We took a trail off the beaten path towards the "caves". At the top of the caves however, we got side tracked by the large pools that slid down into each other. The boys went crazy sliding down the natural water slides into the pools and all of us had fun wading/swimming through the pools.

Finally when we had hiked all we could (we actually got kicked out cuz the trails were closing), we decided to check out the Dead Sea. We knew we weren't allowed to swim without a life guard... but as luck would have it... the beach we checked out had not one but two life guards! We jumped in faster than you would believe! It was the craziest feeling! You couldn't drown there if you tried! Swimming was the weirdest feeling...the water was almost thick, slimy is the word that comes to mind...just odd. We tested our strength against the salt water for a while - trying to dunk one another, standing vertical in the water and running through it, and finally building a raft of legs and having people climb up on us... finally we had to leave. I can't wait to go back, but I'm going to be a bit smarter next time - not shave and bring soap to rinse off with! Still it was such a wonderful crazy day!!! This group has developed a bit of a trend. We check out a site one week and the next week the rest of center goes there. I love being the pioneers discovering the wonders of Israel.

Some other highlights of these past 3 weeks that I will just highlight:

Elias Kindelberg - a holocaust survivor came and spoke to us. He was such a sweet, and energetic man
Even at 97, he wanted us to hear his story and know that the only thing that will change the world
is when people are kind and good people to each other. It was such a humbling experience to hear him.

  • We went to Yad Vashim - the Holocaust museum. It was a very interesting experience for me, and not nearly as hard as I was expecting. Maybe because I had spent all of the previous week dealing with untimely death, but as I walked through, I couldn't help but feel hope. Hope that all those who lost their lives in this horror, will have found peace and rest in accepting the gospel on the other side. Don't get me wrong, I was really horrified by the scenes I saw and testimonies I heard... but that hope was always there
  • We had a Passover dinner. It was quite the experience and a very touching one. I remember reading Number the Stars as a little girl and that was my first exposure to Passover. So many questions were answered and such a cool feeling was there, as our Israel history teacher lead us through the rituals explaining their significance to his people. We ended the night by lifting him on a chair singing and clapping. 
  • The drama here at the center is driving me crazy! So many couples! So much tension! 
  • I was paid one of the nicest compliments I've ever received a few weeks ago by Tanner. One of the guys here assembled a team of us to brainstorm his business idea. We argued and discussed the different angles and at the end, Tanner turned to me and said "You should really consider consulting! You have the right mind for it!" Wow, that was such a compliment!