April 5, 2014
Spring break came a week later for those of us across the pond, but it brought the same feelings of joy and freedom. After completing an intensive course in biblical history at Jerusalem University College, we appreciated the week of independent travel. Small groups of travelers departed Jerusalem for Tel Aviv, Eilat, the Galilee, Bulgaria, and Turkey without the leadership of our faithful professors Linford and Janet.
For the group who went to Turkey, we were met with yet another new culture in our adventurous semester. While I enjoyed Israel, it was nice to see something fresh. We landed in Istanbul and spent most of our time in the Sultanahmet area with the most famous sites the city has to offer. The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia loomed nearby and captured our attention throughout the week. A rainy afternoon was a good time to explore the grounds of the Topkapi Palace which included numerous exhibits of Ottoman artifacts. Finally, the Grand Bazaar provided plenty to do in between. We carefully navigated the scores of shops, hunting for the best possible bargains. In all of these experiences, I felt the rush of adrenaline that comes with witnessing the magnificent.
Even though we appreciated the more touristy aspects of the city, we managed to get off the beaten path and even connect with local Turkish people at times. In this way, our independent travel served as a microcosm of the whole semester. Our apartment manager, Batman, showed us real hospitality by providing us with the best toruist information and keeping our house clean. I cherished the time we spent together as a group playing cards, reading and hanging out together. By the end of the week, we really appreciated the nearby bakery with its fresh loaves, the local Doner sandwich shop, and the many supermarket owners we saw on a regular basis. These connections in a small part of town away from the crowds made us feel like a part of the community even for a brief time. We certainly had a different experience than the tourists staying at the nearby Best Western. Our last full day in Istanbul was a perfect way to end the week. We hopped on a ferry and headed for the Princes Islands. Because no vehicles are allowed on the island there was a peaceful and relaxing vibe. As we have returned to Israel, reconnected as a group and shared our variety of stories with one another, we hope to let the good times roll in the rest of the trip.