Sunday, May 30, 2010
Depart Israel Arrive Turkey
Today we left our Jerusalem hotel early and went to the Haram Al Sharif where we got an up close look at the Dome of the Rock. Unfortunately, since 2000, no one who is not Muslim is allowed in either the Al Aqsa Mosque or the Dome so Dr. Shafiq and Mustafa went into the Dome to pray but the rest of us had to wait outside. We then left through the Lion's Gate and I made a note to self never to enter or leave the Old City through that gate. What a madhouse! Hordes of tourists and its one entrance that a lot of cars and trucks use so it is very hard to traverse. We were very glad to see Sami our driver and our bus after struggling through the crowds to get out of there.
We got to Ben Gurion airport with plenty of time to spare. Getting out of there was the usual Israeli third degree. Our team leader explained to the airport security folks what we had been doing in Israel, but they still pulled one of our members out of the line for extra questioning. They had her there for quite a while, asking very detailed questions about who we are, what we had done while there, lots of questions about our two young men, especially Mustafa who is Muslim. Then a few folks had to have their suitcases opened and searched and there was lots of drama about some books we had been given at Al Quds University. Susan and George had to mediate that mess but in the end they let us all through and didn't confiscate any material or haul anyone off for extended questioning, thank goodness. Honestly, the entire atmosphere in Israel is anything but welcoming, with army soldiers all over the place toting their uzzis and the pervasive atmosphere of suspicion and danger. Our flight left about 45 minutes late. Nonetheless, I recommend Turkish Airlines - the flights have been great and the in flight service is very good too. Much more civilized than most American airlines these days.
We got to Istanbul and just arrived at the Almina Hotel, in a wonderful lively neighborhood within walking distance of the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The rooms are lovely, and I'm delighted to finally have internet in the room!! This feels like a luxury. We're pretty tired but are going to convene on the roof in a few minutes for dinner overlooking Istanbul and the lights on the Blue Mosque. Then I suspect we'll all crash, as it has been a long, tiring day.
P.S. - Dinner on the rooftop terrace was spectacular. The Blue Mosque is vividly visible lit up against the night sky and the water of the Bosphorous is on the other side view. As we were sitting enjoying our dinner and fascinating conversation with two young men who were exchange students at Nazareth College last year, both of whom are Kurds, the evening call to prayer sounded. It was gorgeous to hear the muezzin from the Blue Mosque, who was described by one of our party as the Pavarotti of muezzin. Truly, the chanting of the call to prayer was magical, and as we looked at the minarets against the night sky, there were seagulls flying all around the minarets, almost as though they were dancing to the call to prayer. It was truly breathtaking. We'd all been in animated conversation until the call to prayer sounded and then we were simply transfixed by the sound. What is also incredible in Istanbul is that there are so many mosques and they all do the call to prayer at the same time so you hear it echoing all over the city from every direction. Truly beautiful. I've posted a blurry, but suggestive photo of the Blue Mosque taken from the rooftop where we were sitting.