Saturday, March 31, 2012

Istanbul was Constantinople...

Istanbul! What a city. Up until a year ago, students at the Jerusalem Center would spend a week in Egypt, visiting important sites there. However, with the Arab Spring and resulting political uncertainty, the program has been changed, and students now spend a week in Turkey instead. I must say I was fairly disappointed in this change at first. I’ve always wanted to go to Egypt (hasn’t everyone? Mom- no input here :), and especially now that democracy is blooming there. People my age are stating their opinions and making real changes in the government. I find that so exciting. Thus, Turkey seemed only like an afterthought. But, after spending a week there, I have to say: I love Turkey. What an incredible country. And, especially, especially Istanbul.

ISTANBUL! At the airport.
Mercedes-Benz bus... the height of luxury...
We arrived in Istanbul at night, and the next day we spent exploring the city. We visited the Blue Mosque, which was absolutely incredible. We've seen a lot of mosques here, but this one takes the cake. Fun story: most mosques only have two minarets, but the Blue Mosque has six. Sultan Ahmed was 19 when he began construction on it. He wanted it to be bigger and better than all other mosques (some young man testosterone acting up, no doubt), so he wanted six minarets. However the Masjid al-Haram- the main mosque in Mecca- had six minarets itself, so people were reluctant to let Ahmed have six on the Blue Mosque. However, the Masjid got one more minaret, and then the go ahead was given to Ahmed to have his six minarets, and prove his testosterone once and for all. Google search for pictures of the interior... seriously, it's beautiful.
In front of the Blue Mosque -- probably the most gorgeous mosque I've ever seen

Me, Sarah, and Becca inside the Blue Mosque

Then we went to Topkapi Palace, in downtown Istanbul. It's seriously gorgeous. And huge. Oh yeah, and I got to see an 85 carat diamond there. nbd. It overlooked the gorgeous Marmara Sea, which was a bonus.
Looking out over the Sea of Marmara
Some examples of the beautiful tiles, architecture, etc. at the palace
At the palace... Haggia Sophia is technically visible over my right shoulder... if you squint...
We also spent an hour at the world renowned Grand Bazaar, which has over 5000 shops!! Crazy. There was so much to see there.

In the Grand Bazaar!
We ended our incredible day with a boat ride on the Bosphorus. One side of strait was Asia, the other was Europe. Crazy sensation to literally be between two continents. It was one of the most beautiful sceneries I have ever seen, and, coming from Montana, you know that means something.
Sunset from a ferry on the Bosphorus.... so beautiful.
Not the most attractive picture ever, but it comes with a good story. On a boat ride, we figured we had to do a rendition of Lonely Island's "I'm on a Boat." So we did an edited version. And it was great. When I have good internet again (so probably when I'm back in the States), I'll post it.  :) 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Separation Wall Tour

 Visiting important religious sites has been one of the most incredible and rewarding parts of this trip. The spiritual insights I have gained and continue to gain are priceless to me. However, as well as the plentiful amounts of Biblical sites, Israel is also full of political strife. These issues are completely and entirely fascinating to me. I came to the Holy Land not really fully understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As Americans, I don't think it's a concept we'll ever be able to fully understand. These issues date back farther than our country's establishment. There are parts of it that will elude us, no matter how much we want to understand. 

But there are other parts; other very, very important parts that we can understand. Or, at least, that we can gain a greater understanding of. Before coming, I didn't necessarily align myself with either side. Without a full understanding I knew it would be immature and ignorant to pick a side based on assumptions, or the simple fact that the USA is "pro-Israel." After coming, and gaining a much greater understanding, I have to say that I am still, and, honestly, even more unable to determine which side is correct. In fact, I've become a whole lot more cynical about the whole issue. I used to wonder why it was so hard to come to a two-state solution. Now I can't even begin to imagine how one could draw up the borders. 

I don't think I'm supposed to get particularly political through blogging while here, and I still have another month to learn more about these issues and proposed solutions. But for now, just know this: the issue is a lot more complicated than the American media, President, or Presidential candidates would make it seem. On both sides of the conflict there are some very, very good people. Both sides have legitimate claims. Both sides have made mistakes. No solution is going to come about overnight, or in a month, or probably even in five years. I will be more than glad to share more with you all when I return. In the meantime, pray for the peace of Israel

Photo cred to Sarah Smith. :)
Palestinian messages written on the Separation Wall.
The phrases are written in English with a very specific purpose in mind: to communicate with the West. 

One of my favorite field trips yet.

A little taste of Jerusalem (and home!)

For one of our "free days" we went on the Ramparts Walk. After paying eight shekels (a little more than two dollars), we were free to walk on the walls surrounding the old city. From there, we got some beautiful views of Jerusalem, many of which are things I'm blessed to have the opportunity to enjoy every day. I thought I'd share some of these with you, so you could better imagine what we see here. This is mainly a picture post, but the captions should explain most everything.

Ramparts Walk! In Hebrew, English, and Arabic

This is the street we walk up every time we want to go to the Old City. Further up on the left from here is Damascus Gate, where we enter the City.

Barbed wire is everywhere here. Without sophisticated means of security, people use what they can. In some places it's broken bottles that have been lain into cement, or other times just piles of thistle. 
Me with the Church of Mary Magdalene, a Russian Orthodox church, in the background. We went there a few weeks ago--it's a beautiful church. They have a small glass box displaying what appear to be human bones, and which they claim to be Mary Magdalene's. As to the truth in that statement- who knows. In the end, I don't know if it matters all that much whether or not it's the truth, so long as we're able to experience or learn from it. 
A view out over the beginnings of West Jerusalem. This city is very divided between East and West Jerusalem. Upon first getting here I wasn't sure if I'd be able to distinguish between what was what in order to comply with rules such as, "Be out of East Jerusalem by dark." However, we quickly learned to differentiate. 
A shot of the Jerusalem Center!! This is where we live!
A view looking back towards the Center
The Dome of the Rock--probably the most recognizable landmark in Jerusalem.
Right after entering in through Damascus Gate. We walk through here at least twice a week.
The Old City is filled with hundreds of small merchants, all of whom have the "best deals around"... especially if you're "Mormon! BYU!" Then you get their special "Mormon price." And, if you're lucky enough, you'll hit the shops at "happy hour," which, magically, seems to be whatever time you feel like shopping.
A view into the more residential area of the Old City. Notice the black tanks on the houses--in case their water supply is stopped. One of the easiest ways to recognize a Palestinian home.
After our enjoyable Ramparts walk, we took some time to explore the Jewish quarter of the Old City... and get some food! I've gotten as good at eating as I am at naming the parts of a Byzantine church... and that's really saying something. :)
One of the many streets in the Old City, this one being a little less crowded than most. Sarah and her cute hair on the left.
While in the Jewish quarter we saw this guy- hilarious. Tefilin are the small boxes, containing scripture, and straps that  many Jews where to keep the scriptures close to their heart and their head. It was fun to see this, understand it, and find the humor in it.
We then found some huge and delicious donuts in the Jewish quarter. So. Good.
And, finally, a big highlight for me. I am definitely a "beef" kind of girl, and all the kosher beef here just doesn't cut it for me. However, we heard that McDonalds here, though kosher, tastes somewhat normal. Additionally, McDonalds in Israel is known to have the largest burgers out of any McDonaldses, anywhere in the world. That was all anyone had to say to get me to walk all across West J, in new leather flipflops that hurt like heck, and dole out 50 shekels to get myself a "Big America" burger. So worth it. It's really fun getting to try so many interesting foreign foods, but living in a foreign country is a lot different than visiting one. Eventually, you have so much of the local cuisine that you just need some good 'ole greasy McDonalds fries to hit the spot. And oh boy, did they.
Tender and Juicy, 100% Beef. With a Diet Coke. Hallelujah.
The people I was with were a little skeptical as to whether or not I could finish off all of my  food. I told them they had no idea how much McDonalds I can put away. Guess who won that one? :)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I adore/love/cherish my roommates.

I have been so lucky with roommates this year. Fall semester my roomies were the, and we had a blast. This semester, I've been equally lucky. We make up a very eclectic group. Very eclectic. But somehow, it just works. We have dance parties all time, stay up late talking and doing each other's hair, and watching episodes of "The Voice" (which y'all should start watching too!). Anyway, this post is dedicated to my roommates and some of the fun things we've done these past few weeks.

During our finals week, right before we left to Turkey, we were swamped and stuck in the Center for far too long. Thus, we decided we should celebrate later in the week for all the hard work we'd been putting in. Concencus on the best place to celebrate: West J at the Waffle Bar! I've never been particularly into waffles, but these are seriously the best. waffles. ever. My waffle had white chocolate chips and chocolate whipped cream (so good), as well as a heaping side of ice cream. De-li-cious.
My waffle! So. Good.
The roomies and I outside the Waffle Bar
Janae and I- her with her delicious pizza and me with my waffle

We take any chance we can get to celebrate here, and thus, leap year was no exception. To celebrate it here we had various activities, including an iPod dance party and a giant steam roller in the hall at midnight. Additionally, we used it as an excuse to dress up (because we're always on the lookout for those...). The idea was to switch identities with another person. Many students dressed up as professors, but we decided to switch things up as roommates. Even though we woke up a little late, we managed to pull it all off pretty well. I dressed up as Lee, Lee dressed up as Sarah, Sarah as Janae, and Janae as me. It was a blast, and everyone was impressed with how much we looked alike.
Janae, me, Sarah and Lee... or should I say me, Lee, Janae, and Sarah... :)
The cowboy hat on Janae gives it away... Oh, to be a Montana girl... :)
Finals was crazy stressful. When we finally made it through, we wanted to have a little fun, or at least something to look forward to. So, as roommates, we instigated "80s Day." It was the first day we've been able to sleep in all semester (which felt so good) and then with an extra hour before lunch we did our hair and makeup (limited clothing didn't really allow for dressing up as well). We rocked the 80s like no one's business. My hair was glad to finally get a chance to show off. ;)
Lee, Sarah, Janae, and Me
And again. Popped leg... yes.
Janae and I, rockin' on.
Probably the only picture I have where Sarah's not making a face... :)
Roomies! Love her.

Monday, March 12, 2012

"Forbidden Love"

Holidays in the Center aren’t like holidays anywhere else. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be here for Fall Semester, and celebrate Labor Day, Halloween, and Thanksgiving here. We experienced our first holiday away from the states on February 14th, Valentine’s Day. We celebrated in the ways we could. Most everyone wore red and pink, and Sarah and I cut out hearts which she decorated and put up all over our apartment. The faculty handed out heart-shaped suckers, and we listened to purely love songs (of the country persuasion) while in the apartment. That Friday, however, we had our Valentine’s Day Dance. As stated various times before, dancing is kind of my thing, so I was pretty psyched.

Roomie pic before the dance!
The theme of the dance was “Forbidden Love.” It’s an inside joke of sorts for the Center. Dating within the Center is against the rules here, both so that we can concentrate on our studies, and also so things don’t get awkward with breakups and whatnot. This makes for a lot of awkward “almost-relationships” around the Center among the students here that aren’t otherwise committed. 

Bonnie, me, Sarah, Lee, Grace, Janae, and Loie
Me, Becca, Sarah, and Lee
The dance itself was a blast. Almost everyone here loves to dance (I think it’s a BYU thing in general, and it’s only exaggerated among the JC students), which makes for a stellar party. Wesley DJ-ed for us, and thus we had sweet music all night long. Sarah and I sometimes danced “dance-off style”… which happens basically every night in our room, but this time, there were other people to notice. More than once, we ended up being surrounded by everyone, yelling, as we went hardcore for forty five seconds or so. Way fun. We’ve now heard more times than we can count “woah- I didn’t think you guys could dance like that,” which is either flattering or slightly offensive… we haven’t decided which yet. Haha.

Halfway through the dance- Madison, Me, Amy (up above :), Becca, and Loie
Janae, Becca, me, and Sarah
Wall pic- haha. Becca, Sarah, me, Janae, and Lee
The best part of Valentine’s Day, however, was getting Valentine’s mail!! Both a Valentine from my diligent Aunt ‘Reen’ who’s sent me a Valentine every year since I can remember, and a package from the ever incredible Mitch. With plenty of Valentine’s candy and even Justin Bieber valentines. :) 

Thus, I had a most lovely Valentine’s Day, even though I couldn’t spend it at home.