With my mother-in-law here to help with the babies, I had the opportunity to accompany a small group from our parish in a short trip to Constantinople/Istanbul. For those who don't already know this, Istanbul is actually from the Greek as well. Constantinople was simply called "the city" by the Greeks (or "the city of cities," more formally), and in the Greek of the Byzantine era, "εις την πόλη" (pronounced "ees teen mbolee) meant "to the city," i.e. Constantinople. So to the Turkish name for the city is simply a derivation of this common Greek way of referring to it.
Anyway, we left the church at 6:00 AM Monday morning in the church's minivan and headed east toward Turkey. The region of Greece we passed through, called Thrace, is quite scenic. Much of it is farmland, and sunflowers are one of the most common crops, used for oil and bio-fuels. We stopped for a coffee after about 2 hours of driving and I took this photo of one of the sunflower fields along the road.
We reached the border with Turkey after about 4 hours. The Greeks were able to pass through quickly using only their national identity cards (i.e., no passports), while I, as a citizen of a country that provides Turkey with billions and billions of dollars in free money every year, had to stop and pay $20 for a tourist visa. (No questions are asked for security reasons or anything like that; it's simply a matter of forking over the money.)
After another 3 hours, we were in Constantinople. The city has around 15 million residents, depending on how you count, and is the fourth largest city in the world. Thus, it's not surprising that we hit a wall of traffic once we were about 20 km outside the city. Finally, though, we made our way to Panagia Vlahernon. Click here for the story of this site's importance.
In the photo above, Fr. Alexios and Fr. Panayiotis are standing with the site's caretaker, with the wonder-working icon of the Panagia to the left, and the spring of holy water to the right.
Here's Fr. Panayiotis walking back down the vine-covered walkway to the entrance.
After some frightful traffic, we finally found our way over to the famous Chora Church, which I had not had the chance to go to in my first visit to the city with Pelagia nearly four years ago.
Like Hagia Sophia, it is now operated by the Turks as a museum, but it is a must-see. The mosaics are simply the most beautiful I've ever seen.
A shot from below, looking up at one of the domes inside Chora Church, with me, Paris, and Fr. Alexios looking down.
Fr. Alexios looking at the famous fresco of the Resurrection, which has adorned many books.
Fr. Panayiotis standing in front of the former sanctuary area of the church. The addition of the mihrab demonstrates that it was later used by the Turks as a mosque.
A beautiful mosaic of the Apostle Paul, at the right-hand side of the central entrance into the narthex.
This mosaic was the most beautiful I've ever seen. The photos can't do it justice.
Yet another famous mosaic, above the entrance to the narthex.
The front of the church/museum.
Here's a shot of our hotel in the touristy Taksim area of Istanbul.
After checking into our hotel, we went out for a walk in the evening in search of something to eat. Taksim is full of wide pedestrian boulevards with lots of restaurants. Here was a buffet-style place with lots of options.
After dinner, we went up to the roof of our hotel for a view out over the city. The blue lights decorate one of the bridges of the city.
For more photos from day one, click here.
For a retrospective, click here to see the blog from nearly 4 years ago, when Pelagia and I visited Constantinople. Look in the column on the right hand side for the 11 or so posts related to the trip.