Thursday, December 31, 2015

St. Louis, MO to Russelville, AR

Mom joined us for the rest of the trip. We left Bob and Nan's at 9. It took almost an hour to get out of town. I-44 was closed. So was I-55 and I-270 and a bunch of the usual alternate routes. The flooded Merramac crested last night, but it will take a while for water to go down and roads and bridges be fixed. Steve and Bob studied routes on the internet last night and concluded that Route 100  was the only west-bound route open. At the gas station this morning they met a woman who had had to stay in town last night because she couldn't find an open route home. She hadn't considered Route 100, which seems to have been the only one left. Needless to say, it was heavy traffic despite the holiday. It merged into westbound I-44 where a long string of cars east-bound cars waited to exit and find their way into town on city streets.

Another hour or so down the road gaps began to appear in the clouds and eventually sunlight fell on the fields--the first we had seen in days. Lots of billboards around Branson. They even have their own visitor TV station. Although I would love to see the Shepherd of the Hills outdoor theatre, based on a favorite book of my mother's youth that I embraced in mine, I'm basically not a show person. Branson interested me far less than the surrounding hills.

Once we got into Arkansas, we turned south on Route 7, one of the scenic byways of our National Geographic book. It was "crooked and steep" according to the warning signs. Mostly it followed a ridge top with wonderful views. We kept thinking how spectacular it would be with leaves on the trees. Sigh. We'll have to come back.

Buffalo River from bridge

There was a lot of poverty, uncared for cabins with piles of junk on the porch and in the yard. Some were obviously not lived in (roof fallen in). Others, we weren't so sure. We wondered what people out here did for a living, if anything.

We will see in the new year in Russelville, AR, half way along our mountain route. I guess "See it in" is an exageration since we will see it in with our eyes closed in our beds. But the new year WILL come, and this travel adventure will continue in 2016.

St. Louis, MO

After breakfast with my mother's sister and her two daughters (more gabbing and looking at old pictures) and lunch with our friends the Scotts, we drove to St. Louis on Tuesday through the rain. Lots of rain. We passed places where creeks and rivers had spread out into the fields and woods. At one point the water was only inches below the highway. (We found out later that Interstate 70 had been closed before we got there.)

We spent two nights with Steve's brother Bob in St. Louis. His mother has been here since Thanksgiving, but they still haven't done all the things on their "fun in Saint Louis" list. Wednesday afternoon we went "flood-gawking" as Nan called it. Evidentally this is the second worst flood in recorded history (worst being 1993). Getting out of here tomorrow will be a challenge with so many roads and even the Interstates flooded.

After Bob's fabulous homemade French onion soup we went driving again--this time to see the Christmas lights we had missed in Indy. St. Louis has neighborhoods that certainly do it up right.

Some streets even have themes (Candy Cane Lane, Angel Avenue, Snowflake Road) with lights computer co-ordinated to match music you can tune into on your car radio. Makes the garlands and string of lights I left on our deck at home look pretty pitiful, but it certainly makes up for our disappointment in Indy. Wouldn't the grandkids love this!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Indianapolis, IN

When your father's baby brother turns 90 and his brother and sister are there to help celebrate, it is an event you don't want to miss. We left home Christmas afternoon to get ahead of the predicted snow that my neighbor later told me never materialized. Sigh. We had been disappointed to miss a good storm (from our cozy home with our new extra-efficient fireplace), but we had hoped to return to a nice base for the winter. Not so far.

We went as far as Madison Christmas night and continued Saturday morning in heavy rain. Besides the Smith/Resch clan coming for the birthday party, we crowded in visits with Gail Bennett, Bannons, Scotts, Samples (still here from Christmas), my mom's little sister (also 90) and her two daughters, and both Solid Word Bible Church and Faith Missionary Church. Busy time!

The family gathered at the Holiday Inn on Penn a mile south of my dad's house. We dragged extra chairs into a common area and talked until bedtime both nights. The hotel even brought the birthday boy a slice of chocolate fudge cake which he divided in bite-sized pieces and passed around.

Charles, Marybeth and birthday-boy Bob
Bob and Peg have now moved to a retriement community near their daughter Barb in Detroit, but they spent many years in Indy, so they too had friends to visit while they were in town. Monday we went to a restaurant on the west side where Barb had reserved a party room. Problem: when we arrived we found the electricity had gone out in the whole strip mall. No doubt something related to the rain that had been falling for the last couple days. We stood near the front windows and gabbed while the owner called around and found an alternative place for us--a banquet room at an MCL cafeteria. Not ideal, but what can you expect when thirty-five people need a place at the last minute? We piled into cars and headed for Castleton. Just as we arrived the call came: the electricity was back on; they would love to have us back. We turned around and drove back to George's Neighborhood Grill.

The room was a perfect size for milling and sitting. The food was way better than a cafeteria. The service was excellent. The three siblings were there, all their children (although not all spouses), all but one of Bob's grandchildren, plus representatives of his cousins the Reschs. Barb gave the order that you shouldn't sit at a table with someone you lived with. The conversation was good as always, and the speeches and pictures made us laugh and cry.

Three and a half hours later we adjourned to Dad's house. Between Aunt Peg and us we had plenty of copies of the Hallelujah Chorus for our traditional sing. Dad sold the piano when they downsized, but Kelvin had come up with a karaoke version of the accompaniment that sounded much better than Steve trying to improvise on a keyboard. It came off pretty well despite Jill's laryngitis. Kent brought copies of a carol book they had used at their church, and we ended up singing through it almost cover to cover. There are enough serious musicians that I think next time we should send out music ahead of time to do some interesting choral arrangements.

The singing of the Hallelujah Chorus, a family tradition
More talk until bedtime at the hotel, wondering when we will next be all together. It's a close family despite being physically scattered. Although we don't see each other often, we enjoy each other when we do and support each other in crises.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Day 6: Istanbul

We did a full day city tour today, the most efficient way to see a lot of stuff without doing a lot of research ahead of time. In fact, much of it was very close to our hotel. We even had a rooftop lunch next door.

We went back and visited the Blue Mosque we had seen last night.

You have to take your shoes off to go in. They give you a little plastic bag to carry them with you.

The name Blue Mosque comes from these blue tiles that are used all over.

It's pretty "modern" as things in Turkey go--1616. That's AFTER the time of my Glastonbury Grail characters so it doesn't feel so ancient given the other stuff we've seen.

The plaza where we walked last night in front of the Blue Mosque turned out to be the Hippodrome--the stadium for chariot races from Constantine's time. The Romans were the ones who brought this obelisk from Egypt, originally to Rome before Constantine shipped it here (although he was dead and there was a new emperor by the time it arrived). The stadium seats have long since been recycled to build none other than the Hagia Sophia, but the long plaza remains.

The Hagia Sophia has been a church and a mosque and is now a museum. A wooden church was built here in the fourth century. It burned and was rebuilt. This third version dates from the sixth century.

It was pretty hard to photograph since it is dark and full of scaffolding on one side at the moment. The windows that are there tend to come out so bright in my pictures that they overwhelm to parts I really was trying to photograph, but here is an idea. I would have liked to be there without a tour so I could just absorb instead of listening to information.

We got in on another carpet pitch as part of the tour. This one was way more cosmopolitan, upscale, urbane. I preferred the co-op outside Pergamum, but these carpets too were gorgeous. If I had a few million dollars and the house to go with them...

Actually, I bought two room size carpets here outside the Grand Bazaar--for my doll house.

The guide warned us--look inside, but buy outside for better prices.

We also visited the Egyptian Spice Market, so called because it was built with the tribute from Egypt under the Ottoman Empire. This mosque is across the plaza. There are more than 3000 in the city, minarets in every direction.

Afternoon boat trip on the Bosphorus. Ironically, this fort on the European side was finished in 1452--one year before the fall of Costantinople. Not very effective in the new age of gun powder, I guess!

Bought a loaf of wonderful Turkish bread and some cheese for supper, then off to bed. We will be picked up at 3:30 AM for the airport. Istanbul is definitely a city I could spend more time in. We didn't tour any of the palaces, or walk down enough narrow streets. :-)

Day 5: Istanbul

Said good-by to friends in the morning and flew with some of them to Istanbul, arriving mid afternoon. On the way in from the airport the driver pointed out the walls of Constantinople. That's Constantinople, as in, the capitol of the Roman Empire from the fourth century; Constantinople, as in, fall of which in 1453 ended the Middle Ages; Constantinople, as in, really weird to be in a place continuously inhabited and fought over for thousands of years. Most of the places we have been, the cities have moved over the millennia. Not here.

We are staying in the historic district within easy walking distance to the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, etc.  Dumped our stuff at the hotel and wandered. Have no idea where we ended up, but we did find our way home (which I wasn't at all sure of for a while, although Steve never doubted) and getting there was fun.

You could almost throw a rock across the Bosphorus separating Europe and Asia here. The ferries are maybe three blocks from here. Tomorrow we are doing an all day city tour so maybe then we will figure out where we were this afternoon.

Supper in a hole in the wall.  Actually on the sidewalk outside the hole in the wall, but Steve's kebab was great and the lentil soup was marvelous. Later we wandered up the tram line to see the sights by night. The minarets of the Blue Mosque looked like Cinderella's castle. Bella, I am thinking of you. :-)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Day 4: Smyrna and Ephesus

We began our day in Smyrna--modern Izmir where we have been staying. This is a huge city. Both the day we arrived and yesterday when we went to Pergamum, nearly an hour of the drive was just getting through Izmir, and that mainly on freeways. The agora (market place) of the ancient city has been excavated, surrounded by city.

On the far side stood a basilica, originally more like a court house than a church. The basement remains.

Great views through the vaulting.

The skies were hazy most of our drive to Selcuk, the modern city near ancient Ephesus, but they cleared when we arrived. A major problem here over the millenia has been rivers silting up harbors, so the sea is constantly retreating from the port cities. As everywhere, there are plenty of tourist shops and tea shops. We got a kick out of this one advertising genuine fake watches.

Paul taught for three years in Ephesus, a huge center even then.

As a former librarian and current lover of books, I thought I needed my picture taken outside the Library of Celsus, built by his son to honor his father and a way of having him buried inside the city. (The library wasn't built until 117 AD so it wasn't there when Paul was.) This facade is a modern reconstruction using original materials. We have seen quite a few of those. The practice is contraversial, but it certainly draws in the tourists. Today it was Turkish school children, noisy but enthusiasitc about their history.

 The city was famous for the temple of Artemis (Roman Diana). This fountain on a main street was dedicated to her. That's her image on the keystone.

It was here that the silversmith Demetrius felt his business making souvenir images of the goddess slipping away. He stirred up a crowd that surged down this street from the business district toward the theater. (Okay, so these are theologians, not irate businessmen, and no one was shouting except the school children.)

They surged into the theater and shouted for two hours. The acoustics here are fabulous. One of our colleagues stood at the bottom and read all of Acts 19. We could hear every word. Can't imagine 25,000 screaming, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!"

We ended up singing "Amazing Grace". Not sure that was actually legal here, but it was moving and no one distrubed us. Here's another view of the theater that includes the street down to the now-silted harbor.

Mary, mother of Jesus lived with the Apostle John who became Bishop of Ephesus. Some claim she died in Jerusalem and John only came here after her death. Others insist she came here with him and is buried here. These are the remains of a church dedicated to her--the church where a fourth century church council declared her "Mother of God" not just "Mother of Christ" because Jesus was fully God at his birth. (The Council of Ephesus condemned Nestorianism [Christ had two separate natures] and Pelagianism [no original sin].)

The church of Saint John the Theologian is on the hill outside the Roman city of Ephesus, but well within the modern city of Selcuk. Saint John is buried there at the crossing of the arms in the cruciform building.

They evidently practiced full immersion baptism in the sixth century when the church was built since this baptistry doesn't look suitable for sprinking babies.

A fourteenth-century Turish fort crowns the hill above the ruins of the Church of St. John. I took this for my grandchildren more than anything--a real castle.

Tomorrow we disperse to our various countries. We have been 48 from 16 different countries, more if you count country of origin and country of work. It has been a good time of sharing and getting acquainted with others involved in theological education as well as seeing significant places in our shared history.

We are off to Istanbul/Byzantium/Constantinople for a day before heading home.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Day 3: Pergamum

 The acropolis of Pergemum (modern Bergama) is a long way up, to say the least. Too steep for our bus, so we all piled into taxis. We had taken jackets, but the sun was hot.

The ruins of the Roman citadel were stunning.

The autumn leaves made a lovely accent.

A German tourist asked me to take his picture--after he climbed on to the top of this arch. I did NOT ask him to return the favor.

The site is known for this theater.

My perch on the top row gave new insight into the expression "the nose-bleed section." (A stumble would have caused bleeding from a lot more than just my nose!) One of our colleagues climbed down to the stage area. We could hear him quite clearly even when he spoke without raising his voice. When the call to prayer began, it reverberated from every direction of the valley, a reminder to pray for this land.

Having climbed to the top row, I didn't relish the idea of climbing back down to the middle aisle where we had entered without a railing, so I tried this tunnel behind.

Here's where it came out at the top.

The ancient city of Pergamum overflowed the citadel and filled the steep hillside. In the valley below, this Roman temple of Isis (called the Red Hall) is being restored. A church was built in the courtyard in the fourth century. Although we have seen churches in each of the seven cities, the churches to whom St. John wrote were people. Church buidings weren't legal before Constantine in the fourth century. And when they were legal, the temples no longer were.

This rotunda beside the Red Hall was not part of the tour, but we poked our noses inside and it was cool--literally on this hot day.

Lunch was at a carpet making co-op just outside of town. We sat on carpet-drapped benches and ate wonderful bread with cheese and some kind of meat spread while they showed us their wares--cotton, wool and silk in different patterns from every village. I told Steve he was lucky we didn't still live in Indianapolis or I would have spent several thousand dollars. He promised me years ago that we could tear up the carpeting and refinish the hardwood floors when I finished the needlepoint chair covers for the dining room. Except by the time I finished, we had sold the house and moved to Birch Island. Hmm. The carpeting at BI is approaching twenty years old...

We did stop to pray for France on this terrible day. Our flight home is through Paris. Hopefully there will not be travel problems by then.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Day 2: Philadelphia, Sardis, Thyatira

A busy day visiting three ancient cities. 

See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. 

Philadelphia, the only one of the seven cities about which Jesus had nothing bad to say, is the modern city of Alasahir. All that remains to be seen is the Byzantine Church of Saint John, but at its front door stands this mosque. Praying for an open door.

At Sardis, this woman was selling tea for 1L (about 30 cents.)

I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, 

This Gymnasium has been reconstructed. It made me wish for a sort of ancient Conor Prairie Living History Museum where I could walk through a Roman town as it was instead of seeing only foundations.

The simpler capital on the left is a modern representation. The one on the right is an original found in the ruble.

This synagogue is right next door to the gymnasium, the Roman athletic school and baths.

Beautiful bits of mosaic in the synagogue. Not sure how much is reconstructed.

Ancient Sardis must have been huge. We had to get back in the bus to go from the area of the gymnasium and synagoguge to get to this area where a small fourth-century church stood in the corner behind a major pagan temple. The original Lydian fortress of Sardis topped the mountain you see in the distance until the Persians put it under siege. Getting in seemed hopeless until a Lydian soldier lost his hat over the side and scrambled down to retrieve it, thus revealing the only way up the steep mountain.

Thyatira is also a thriving modern city, which rather gets in the way of excavating. This sixth century church sits under a garden in the heart of the modern town of Akhisar. Sheila Fabiano was wondering if they still did anything with purple. (This was the home town of Lydia who met Paul in Philippi.) The sun was setting by the time we got here, so hard to get any good pictures.