Saturday, May 30, 2009

Castle Hopping (aka Torturing the Kids)

Good afternoon (actually early morning for those of you in the western hemisphere). Michael here. I was in charge of the last outing so I get to write about it (actually there has been one other outing since then but we are trying to go in order). Last week I took the kids into the Taurus Mountains to see some castles. Linda stayed home. She has never been as interested in the history of this area but she has indulged my particular idiosyncrasy and even volunteered to keep the smallest one home. So it was me and the three oldest kids.

The castles we here hunting for were the castles that guarded the passes through the Taurus Mountains from the Anatolian Plateau down to the Cilicain basin. The so called Cilician Gates. It is the classical route that invaders have used since time immemorial. Cyrus the Great and his Army of the 10,000 on his way to Greece, Alexander the Great on his way to fight the Persians, Paul the Apostle on his missionary journeys, The Knights of the First Crusade on their way to Jerusalem all came through here. The Germans also built the rail line to connect Istanbul with Baghdad through these passes. So castles were built to guard the passes and control the passage of people and goods. There are three main passes and each is guarded by a castle (the main pass by 2). And we went and saw each one.

Here is a map of the area we went to (of course too small to see). The yellow pins represent the castles. The Anatolian Plateau lies to the left (North) while the Cilicain Basin lies to the right (South). The green areas are the river valleys cutting down through the plateau.

The first castle is called Tekir Castle. It was a small castle and not as old as others- probably dating to the medieval period. But because it is newer the walls were in good shape. The thing the kids liked most was the turtles. That’s right turtles- actually tortoises and there were a bunch of them. And they were pretty big. We found 5 in the hour we spent at the castle. And the first ones we found were um… mating. That’s right- spring was in the air and they were going at it. At least the male was. The female was just not that interested. Maybe she had a headache. No surprise given that the way the male shows his interest is to ram her shell repeatedly with the front of his shell. That’s right. Just banging away and it was loud- could hear “bonk, bonk, bonk” all over the mountain. Maryn was pretty embarrassed and the boys didn’t understand what was going on. But it made it pretty fun for the kids (they usually tire of the actual castle part after about 5 minutes).

The next castle was Gulek Castle. And it was not as impressive as I had hoped but I had been warned in advance. It was built on a promontory so there were not many walls (why build walls when nature has given you a cliff) and the walls that were there were in pretty poor repair. There was a cool gateway and a few little towers but that was about it. What made the site interesting was the views. The views from Gulek were stunning. In all direction you could see forever. It was said the sentries at Gulek could see an army three days away. And I believe it. We had a picnic lunch with a campfire (again- had to keep the kids interested and my kids love fire. Wonder where they got that from). And then on to the next site.

The little black strip Bennett is pointing at is the 6 lane freeway at the base of the hill.

The next site was a distance away on a less than impressive road. Pretty remote. On the way there is a large lake and the kids had hoped to go swimming (bribe to get them to come along) but the lake’s banks were really muddy and we decided to push on with a promise being made that there was one other spot to swim later on. The name of the castle is Lampron or Namrun. It was the seat of the Armenian Hethumid princes in the middle ages. It ruled over a wide fertile valley and guarded the pass.

By the time we got there it was raining but I had driven 2 hours and was not going to skip it just because of a little rain. The kids were not excited to climb the hill in the rain but they did not have a choice. Like Gulek, the castle is built on top of a mesa with cliffs all around. And with cliffs who needs walls. There was a keep situated at the north end but could not be reached. The rope in place to climb the bluff was slippery and while I might have been able to get up, the kids would never have made it. So we took our pictures and pressed on. In the picture Maryn is smiling but really mad at me. She has the best fake smile of all the kids. (Later I found out that a path leads around the back of the bluff and allows you to get up there).
You can see the wall on the cliff behind the kids. The Keep has a flagpole on it which shows up as a line on the top of the Keep.

Bennett thought he could keep the rain off by keeping his hands on top of his head. He kept them there for probably an hour. They really didn't keep him very dry.

The next castle was on the other side of a steep gorge. Without a paved road. In the rain. Sounds fun. Lets go. The view was stunning. With the cool air and the rain in the pine trees I could have been in Oregon. We switch-backed down the mountain to the river at the bottom. It was running high due to snow melting and the rain but true to my word I said the kids could go swimming. They got their suits on and went to the water and put their feet in and retreated from the freezing water and back into the car. We tried to make it up to them with a little fishing but the flow was too fast and I’m not sure I had the right tackle. A local turk (out walking her goat) tried to help but the language barrier made it impossible. So we pushed up the other side of the gorge and on to the next site.

Here are the kids glaring at me for the inadequate swimming facilities.
Again- the scenery was stunning. Spring in the mountains. Everything was green and fresh with the recent rain. Farmers out with their flocks and fields full of thriving vegetables. I could have been in the south of France. We drove through a few small villages and into Gozne. The castle at Gozne was really just a watchtower. 2 small buildings built on a promontory overlooking a broad valley. From the tower you could see all the way to the Mediterranean ocean. The kids were not impressed. In Maryn’s words it was “the dumbest castle you have ever taken us to”. (I disagree- The castle as Limonlu was far worse. I think she was still mad about having had to hike in the rain).

And then to the car and home.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Okay, okay, I'm done!

For those of you that were waiting for the rest of the saga, it has been posted. I just wanted it all in order, so I messed with the date and posted it after the first post. Just endulge my desire to be silly about this - and scroll down. =)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

After your head explodes, Clean up is a bugger

Warning: The following post will be incredibly long due to the fact that we have been slackers and I tend to ramble on about things. These two factors, coupled with the amazing trip we took make it necessary for me to warn you to get something to eat and go to the bathroom before you start in on this epic dissertation.

Go Ahead. I'll wait.

Okay, now, I realize we have been back for two weeks now - and many of you are curious about our trip. I have had the best of intentions, but life came at us fast and furious. For those of you who didn't hear, Michael's Grandmother passed away during our trip. We got home to Turkey just in time for him to turn around and fly to Utah for the funeral. I'll let him tell you about the drama that turned into. (Mostly in the form of flying to Germany, then taking a cargo plane to South Carolina, then flying to Atlanta to take a plane to Phoenix to finally arrive in Salt Lake City. But like I said, I'll let him tell it.)

Because the kids like to find creative ways to injure themselves whilst Daddy is gone, and because it had been so long since the last time he left, they put their heads together and came up with some great ideas. Two days before Daddy returned - Maryn went first by trying to hit a baseball with her face instead of a bat.

Not to be out done, Dallen arranged for a friend to head butt him in the lip and split it open. And exactly 10 minutes before Daddy's plane landed, Bennett, in his excitement to get to the Passenger Terminal to greet Daddy, ran into the open tail gate of a parked pickup truck. Which, lucky for him, was just at eye level.

Now thankfully Hayden decided not to injure himself this time, but he was feeling left out, so he just used a black sharpie to draw on his face. Needless to say, we were quite a sight when we welcomed Dad home.

We also found out this week that we need to apply for (and receive) multiple entry visas before we can enter Britain. If this was as simple as it sounded my eye wouldn't be twitching as I am writing this. Apparently the process takes 3 to 4 months to complete (do you remember the part about how we only have 3 months left? - Yeah I was laughing too....)

AND to get the process started, we have to pay about $3,000 in fees ("But wait Ma'am, you will be reimbursed once you arrive at Lakenheath" - OH! Well then! Good thing I sleep on a big pile of money, because I'll just pull it off of there for the time being. But make sure you reimburse us quickly because I get back aches when my pile is crooked.)

AND we have to drive to Gaziantep about 3 hours away to get fingerprinted and submit all our passports. Which of course I have to do with all the kids during business hours (translation -with out Michael, because naturally, he is the only one that doesn't need this special visa, so they won't let him off work) Oh! And as I am writing all this, some guy just brought Hayden back in from down the street. Twitch...Twitch....Twitch...

Do you wonder why I don't blog very often?

With all my complaining, I really should be working on the Visas right now, but this is more fun.

NOW! back to the original reason you checked the blog:
Our trip! It was, in a nutshell - AMAZING! If you ever have a chance to go - do it!

This is the view from the BYU Jerusalem Center. Our guide was very funny, when he found out we were Mormon, he took us up there even thought it wasn't actually on the itinerary. It was neat to see it, though.
Outside our Hotel. The drivers here are as skilled as Turks, with just as much temper. It made us feel right at home.

This is the Church of the Ascension. It is believed that when Jesus ascended into heaven he stepped on a stone and the stone still holds his footprint. Let me just clarify right now, that I realize that a lot of these holy sites cannot be verified, or can be interpreted differently by different religions (like for instance - the Eastern Orthodox Church believes that they have the body of Mary in a Tomb, but the Catholic Church has a shrine marking the site where Mary was taken up into heaven "without tasting death".) I am not going to try and figure out what really happened where, (although, if I did maybe I'd be a genius and be showered with wealth. Either that or burned as a heretic) Anyway - I am just going to show pictures of where we were - and let you take it for what it is.

This is the site where Jesus looked out over the City of Jerusalem, and knowing what was to come, wept. That golden ball is the Dome of the Rock. You can tell what Dallen thought of all this "holding still and posing for pictures" nonsense.

One of my favorite sites! You can tell by the number of pictures I posted! =) This is the Garden of Gethsemane. This is one place that is truly verifiable, and the Holy Spirit was very strong here. It was a very peaceful and reverent place. Many sites have been over-run with vendors trying to sell to tourists, but there are a few of the important places that are respectfully kept holy. It was so surreal to think that the trees that we were standing in front of, had been there since the time of Christ (though they had regrown from the roots after the Romans cut them down in 70AD).
This is believed to be the rock that Jesus knelt upon and bled onto when he took upon himself the sins of the world.

This is Hayden playing peek-a-boo outside the Church of All Nations. He was wrapping everyone he met around his little finger. He was such a good sport, walking everywhere (well, usually running) and singing to himself. When we'd enter a church, he'd turn to us and say, " wewent (reverent)" and then proceed to sing "I Am A Child of God" really loud.

I snapped this from the bus window. I just thought it was neat to see the street signs in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. I also thought it seemed just a little surreal to see road signs with things like "Mt of Olives" or "Sea of Galilee 10 km".

I'm not sure if Hayden is throwing a fit or worshipping, so I am going to go with worshipping to make me feel better as a mom. =)

The kids were such good sports about the food. On the Arabic side of the city, the food was very much like what we have in Turkey. (Here the kids are eating a pita type sandwich called shawarma. They actually liked it as long as the sauce was left off) But on the Jewish side, it was a lot more American/European. We tried to find them burgers and pizza whenever possible. Because believe it or not, we were with a family that had even pickier eaters than me and my kids! Also check out the soda cans - the sprite is in Hebrew and the Coke is in Arabic. Cool huh?

Most of the holy sites were underground (because of course the landscape has changed in 2000 years) Here we are at the entrance to Jesus' birthplace, the Church of the Nativity. You walk into the Church of the Nativity and take steps down to the stable and manger. The boy on the right in the red shirt is part of the family that traveled with us, and the guy in the burgundy shirt is Michael's brother Robert (talking to his wife - the ever awesome Jenna) We were so lucky to have two other families with us. It made losing Bennett that much harder to do. (But not impossible, as he proved to us a couple of times - he just had to be more creative.

Once downstairs, they have the spot of His birth covered and marked by a shrine. You can reach inside the hole and touch the stone.

Then to the other side is the manger where He slept. It is that little trough looking area on Hayden's left.

The inside of the Church of the Nativity. (which is the oldest Christian church in the Holy Land being built in 565 over an older church from 333. The Persians who sacked the city and tore down all the other churches in the 600's spared it because inside was a mosaic of the wise men who were from Persia.)

The doorway to the Church of the Nativity. (Intentionally made small to prevent looting and force you to bow when entering.)

The Church of St. Catherine in Bethlehem.

Outside the Church of the Shepards
The Church of the Shepards marks the spot in Bethlehem where the angels appeared to the shepards watching their flocks, and announced the birth of Christ.

Border crossing through the West Bank on our way to Tiberias. The tour guide casually mentions where we are while my husband says, "COOL!" and snaps pictures and I try not to wet my pants. The barrier fence between Jewish controlled and Palestinian controlled areas can be seen on the left side of the picture.

Outside the Church of St. Anne near the Pool of Bethesda.

Inside the Church of St. Anne at Bethesda.

Original foundations and cleansing pools. (Notice how far below ground they are now - like I said before, a lot has changed.) This is called the Pool of Bethesda. It is where Jesus cured the paralysed man that had waited for 38 years. See John 5:5-8

This is the Via Dolorosa or Way of the Cross. These are the paths Jesus walked while He carried His cross on the way to Calvary. They have "Stations" along the way that mark things that happened to Him as He struggled with His burden. For instance, the places where He stumbled, the places where He asked the women of Jerusalem not to weep for Him, and some people believe He left His hand print on one of the walls when He leaned against it for support.

All along the way are statues and tributes to this Great Sacrifice. The conclusion I came to, was that regardless of exactly where each thing happened - the Atonement happened. And if anything, my kids and I got an even greater reverence and appreciation for what Jesus did. It made it so much more real to all of us. I chose not to get caught up in the nit picky of the speculation, and just savor the spirit surrounding these Holy places.

The doorway to the Ecce Homo. Meaning "Behold the Man" This is where they placed a crown of thorns on His head and dressed Him in a purple robe and brought Him out to the people. See John 19:5 Inside the Ecce Homo Convent, they had a few artifacts including these small tombs. These are the original caskets used by the Jews for the remains of their sons that were killed when Herod ordered all the babies 2 and under to be slain. We all hugged Hayden a little tighter after seeing those. In the midst of all this holiness, leave it to the kids to bring in some humor. Semi-inappropriate no less. We entered a shop who's back wall was part of the Roman fortress of Antonia where Pilate lived. (our guide recommended we have a look). Well the boys found an "artistic sculpture" of a young lady, and decided to giggle and pinch her bum. I hope this isn't sacrilegious.
The Greek Orthodox Shrine built on the site where it is beleived that Jesus' cross was placed. This site was very difficult to get close to. Obviously everyone wanted to touch the ground where His cross stood. The line was two hours long, mostly because of Easter and Passover

Are you still with me? I warned you this would be long!

You aren't allowed to take pictures right in front of the Wailing Wall, this is as close as you can get. We were able to go to it an touch it. It was kinda cool seeing it stuffed with prayers. For those of you who don't know, the Wailing Wall is the original western wall of Solomon's temple. So once again, it was awesome to touch history.

The road that Jesus walked as a free man from the last supper to Gethsemane, and then as a prisoner after Judas betrayed Him. Dallen said something interesting to me when he saw people kissing the stones of the road. "Mom, why are they kissing the stones?"

"Well, this is the road Jesus walked, and they are thinking of what happened here"

"Are they thinking of the road, or Jesus?"

Ahh the wisdom of a child. No judgement, just stop-you-in-your-tracks innocence. I kind of let that be my mantra for the rest of the trip. Sometimes the sites become the focus instead of the miricles that took place on them.

I thought of that again when I saw Mary's tomb. From what I have ever read about her, she seems humble and quiet. I wonder what she thinks of, looking down on all this ceremony.

The Tomb of King David. I just had to get a picture of the first site we've been to in almost two years where the men had to cover thier heads instead of the women!

Okay, I've got to divide this up, or we will never get through it. I've been working on this for days, and I keep getting interrupted. (What, do I have four kids or something?) I'll post what I have so far, and finish tomorrow.