Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv is that starting point for this, which will probably be the last blog I write before returning home to reflect on the entire trip.
Let me say that If I had to choose between LAX on a busy day or Ben Gurion, I would happily choose LAX. I do not want to bore you with the details, but let me summarize it this way:
Stand in a very long line that keeps shifting to different areas of the airport, meaning schlepping bags back and forth, to finally have passport and ticket checked. Place the luggage you plan to check into the scanning machine, and await its return from the other side via a kind of rocket launcher that shoots it up in the air, guaranteeing that anything fragile you may have packed carefully between layers of clothing is now broken. Move to another line where the bag is inpsected because it is believed one has ceramic plates inside, which I did have prior to the rocket launcher - it goes on from here, but you get the drift. It is excessive officialdom and suspicion from beginning to finally boarding the flight.
Returning to Istanbul is a joy. We are staying in the Old City, in a small and gracious hotel with Turkish hospitality at its best. We can see the spires of the Blue Mosque from the rooftop, as well as look out over rooftops to the Bosporus beyond.
I love the Old City. I have visited the sites we have seen this time on a prior visit, but what I enjoy most are the people themselves. Schoolchildren walk by and say 'hello" and giggle when we answer. They are excited to speak English with us, and delighted when we answer them. Shopping isn't just a hurried in and out visit - there is a cup of tea served and an invitation to sit a while and speak English with the shopkeeper. Meals are prepared and served to be shared - so we have many different plates on the table and we all partake of portions of each one.
The weather has been beautiful. We have sailed on the Sea of Galilee, floated in the Dead Sea and yesterday we motored in a boat on the Bosporus. The boat was an older one, which was chartered just for our group. the top deck appointed with cushions worthy of a Sultan, and all of us flopped down on them to sink into God and enjoy the beautiful view of the palaces, mosques, resorts and exquisite residences along the shores.
The pace here for us has been slower, visiting the usual sights - Topkapi Palace, which is filled with the artifacts of the lifestyle of the rich and famous Sultans as well as articles believed to have been worn or used by Mohammed himself - including hairs from his beard.
One thing I must say - as we visited the many holy sites, and were told the history of each place, we also learned to be a bit skeptical about the validity of some of the claims. For instance, it seems the Angel Gabriel really got around - he is mentioned in nearly every holy site we have visited. At the Topkapi museum there is a clay impression believed to be the footprint of Mohammed. Yes, no, maybe? How is this verified? We don't really know.
Today we spent time at the Blue Mosque, and Dr. Shafiq demonstrated how the Muslims do their ablutions, or ritual cleansing before entering the mosque. We then sat in circle while he talked more about the practices of Islam, and gave us history of the building of the Blue Mosque.
We took a short walk to the entrance of the Hagia Sofia, one of the most magnificent structures built during the reign of Justinian the Great between 532 and 537.
After many years as a Christian Church and enduring a fire and rebuilding, it was converted to a mosque during the reign of the Ottoman Empire, and is now a museum.
It's late and time for sleep. Tomorrow we take the ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul to visit a university. then back here to pack and prepare for our return home. There is much more to share as I reflect on the trip when I get back.
Read more: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/Who_built_the_Hagia_Sophia#ixzz1OcYruyDe