Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Apres sharks

We've had busy days and the internet is so bad here that it is usually useless to try to post anything. The next day (Tuesday) James went para-ponting. Then the following day (Wednesday) we had our astounding day to Cape of Good Hope. Followed by Thursday a Hop On Hop Off bus around the peninsula which allowed us to combine 2 days' events into one: wine tour and visit to a township ( a haunting conversation with our guide as we looked out over the corrugated tin shacks with 700 homes sharing one water spiggot and three bathrooms; we saw two distinct other residential areas in the distance: "coloreds live over there, the rich whites over there, and we live here.". "Do you think it is changing?" "It won't ever change." "Never?". "Never.")

Today - Friday - James' last full day here, we worked in a movie ("Three Days to Kill"), a lunch at the waterfront, and a ferry ride to Robbin Island where Nelson Mandela was held for most of his 27 years in prison for opposing Apartheid.

James left yesterday (Saturday May 17, 2014) to go home.  What an amazing, fine young man God has given me. It hurts me that he was so wounded by my battles to see him, but I see his recovery behind those walls he erected against the world. That recovery is grounded in his faith in Jesus.   

My flight was cancelled so I'm following a day later which allows me to go back to Central Methodist Church to hear another sermon of the sort I wish we had in America.

Post Script

Cape Town is set in a beautiful place but it is just a big (5+ million) dirty, poverty-stricken, racially segregated, technologically antiquated city with minimal public transportation. I am very ready to return home. Being in this place - so very far away from all of the people I love and who love me - is exceptionally lonesome. Hopefully I am wiser from this experience. I'm on my way....

Sunday, May 18, 2014

James and the Hundred Great White Sharks

Wow!  Sharks and more sharks!  Some over 13' long!  Today, Monday May 12th James and I headed out on his bucket list: to go cage diving with the Great White Sharks. I had heard that it was not uncommon to have a trip cancelled for bad weather, or to have a trip without seeing any sharks. Well, that didn't happen. We had about 100 encounters in 2 1/2 hours. Up close. One came by when I was in the water, it turned away from the bait, looked directly at me, swam a bit toward me, then at about 5' away, it turned and swam away!  This blog won't let me post videos!  So I will have to post to FB one of them then add a link here for the rest.

The most amazing thing of the day happened near the end when a 10' GWS crashed into the cage, knocked open a section designed for use by professional photographers, and got about 3' of its length IN THE CAGE with its nose shoved into an Irish journalist's stomach. It was upside down and locked in place so it couldn't bite. James was running video from just overhead so we will surely be posting links to that everywhere when he wakes up.  The Captain said he'd been doing this 22 years and had never seen a shark get in a cage.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Why Wi?

Rollin and I spent 2 weeks battling poor WiFi in hostels across the UK. Trevor's WiFi in Poland was great. The WiFi in the Paris hostel was good. The Prague WiFi was also good. A hotel in Salzberg: D-. Then Ramsau Germany. It was so minimal that email was very difficult. Bucharest: just marginal. Istanbul: lousy. Cape Town: worse than all but Germany. C'mon people!  This is 2014 not 2004. Inadequate internet gets your hostel/hotel/apartment a 2 letter downgrade. So an "A" becomes a "C". Fix it, or change your line of work!!

James and the tall, tall mountain

Once upon a time there was a boy who we then called "Frank" (now "Rollin") who had a big little brother James. Daddy and Frank used to love to hike to "the ghost house" when James was too little to go all the way. So Daddy (me) would hold James' hand as he walked 4 little steps to one of mine.

Life happened and James is now 21, 6'3" and 210. Life happened and I'm almost 63. So, with few remaining chances left, James and I went out on a walk that was challenging to the edge of one of our abilities. But this time, it was my ability that was pushed to its limit as James and I climbed - for 2 1/2 hours - to get to the top of Table Top Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa. 

James and I are here to celebrate his 21st birthday. He wants to go cage diving with the Great White Sharks. Scheduled for tomorrow. Monday May 12th.

So on the 11th we climbed and climbed and climbed some more. At 2:15 I was completely gassed with :15 left to go. But I made it, then we ate and rode back down in the lift. 

#82 & 20 & 21

3/4ths of the way to my "bucket list" item of seeing half the world's countries, Romania was #81 and South Africa is #82. 21 more and I'm there! 

And, I'm here during SA's celebration of 20 years of freedom.

Istanbul with Donna was one of those really great, memorable experiences. Now starts South Africa with James who arrives at 2p today, May 10 to celebrate (a few months late but we had to wait for the season and his final exams) his 21st birthday.  The days now seem to have flown by. 2 months?  Wow.

It's raining - fairly hard - today.  First real rain of the trip. Gear held up well. Dinner at the hostel - I was starved. Dinner 2 at the Zulu Bar next door.  Photos posted on FB. More to come. At airport awaiting James....

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

St Sophia

Version 3 - the current one - was completed 1500 years ago. It is 7,000+ sq meters of floor space (70,000 sq ft) and the ceiling is 59m (180 feet) high. Which makes it bigger and taller and a thousand years older than the great French cathedrals we visited last spring. Here are a couple of photos from inside.

In the late 1400s Constantinople fell to the invading Muslim army and Constantinople became the capitol of the Ottoman empire. Sophia was converted from a church where people had prayed to Mary for the prior 900 years, to a mosque where people would pray to Allah for the next 500. Finally, in the 1920s, it was converted to a museum.

The photos show the image of Mary and the Islamic writings adjacent.

Monday, May 5, 2014


The ancient palace of the victorious sultans who overcame the eastern Roman empire and eventually established the Ottoman empire centered here in Istanbul and ruling a huge section of the Middle East and North Africa. Some of the spectacular items I saw 41 years ago are missing and photography is not allowed. However, in one small room there was an incredible collection of artifacts which would be hard to prove or disprove. Mohammed's footprint beard and tooth, St John's arm and a piece of his skull, David's sword, Joseph's hat, and Abraham's bowl.

Sunday, May 4, 2014


Photos taken by me June 1973 and May 2014 in Istanbul.  Built and roofed by the Romans 2,000 years ago for chariot races, furnished then with a 1,000 year old obelisk by the Egyptians, the Hypodrome is in the center of this city of 20,000,000 people

Meeting Sadik

It was time. We had arrived one evening (Friday) and set up our "stuff" in the apartment. Saturday - the day after changing apartments - is a rest day so we took the 2 hour cruise and gathered food from various stores and figured out the tram/metro system. Wine here is 3x the price in Romania, Czech, or France.

Today was exploration. But first pancakes with honey (some) or blackberry jam (others), coffee (still Czech coffee) and tea (English, from Romania). Dressed for rain and headed out. Stopped at the Blue Mosque (see Donna's blog for photos) and met Sadik.  The courtesy and conviviality for which cultured Turks and Arabs are known is exemplified in Sadik Turhan.  He volunteered to be our guide to the Blue Mosque, got us in ahead of the lines, agreed to help us find a better and less expensive apartment when we return (our current apartment is fine, if a bit expensive) in March for 6 weeks, and gave us a tour of his carpet and jewelry businesses. This was fun too, and we shared a cup of tea (Donna) and coffee (me) with him as he answered all of my questions.  Here are photos of his businesses.  My left arm is halting a car that was about to hit our photographer!  If you need what they have, Donna and I can attest to their fine quality and gracious hospitality:

The sun came out, the temp climbed, and we headed back to cool off and change clothes.  More later....

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Is it possible?

On this trip Donna and I have found two cities which - in their own, unique ways - rival Paris: Prague and now Istanbul. What a spectacular place this is: the ancient home of 15-20 million people. 

Friday, May 2, 2014


Turkey is prepared. They have a prosperous Muslim democracy, based in manufacturing, technology, agriculture and tourism. They have friendly natives, excellent infrastructure, and awesome weather. They have Greek and Roman ruins, in aggregate lined up along their coast, unsurpassed even in Italy. And they have their long, island dotted coastline on the beautiful Mediterranean. Their airports and harbors are new - built for expected crowds of tourists.

But in the single-most important aspect of becoming tourist-friendly, they get an F-.  Ease of access. I wrote at length about the difficulties getting here. First impressions last. But last impressions... they last longer.

Today we arrived at the airport 2:20 early. No signs for Pegasus in a HUGE airport, almost empty of people.  At the far end was Pegasus. "Your flight leaves at 2:55" the agent proclaimed sourly and then just looked at us. "OK, now what?" I asked.  There was then a 3 agent huddle to decide.  We were to pay 41 Lira (US$19) because our bags - which had been fine on 2 trips on Pegasus this week - were suddenly overweight. I had checked: 31 kg per person was the weight allowance. Ours totalled about that - so half of the allowance.  We would have to cross the huge airport, find the ticket office, stand in line, pay the fine, and return. But wait!  She said she could take the payment if we used a credit card. Problem solved. Or so we thought. Her credit card machine was suddenly broken, so off we went.

A tremendous hassle on the way in to collect $68. A tremendous hassle on the way out for them to collect $19. So less than $45 per person. Why don't they just add it to the $200 airline tickets. A 20% tourist tax.

No restaurants in the airport. None. No news stand. No wifi. A sandwich shop open to the outside so everyone - everyone - was smoking. We took a pair of unnamed sandwiches and 2 bottles of water and a cup of coffee (US$18) and sat in the airport, eating and waiting for our flight.

I love Turkey. I HATE the airports.

Memo to Turkish govt:  hire American or German or French or Japanese or Korean or Qatarian airport service management.  In fact, just about any country west of Hungary, east of China, north of here.

PS. When we arrived in Istanbul, we waited 20 minutes for our luggage. Then boarded the shuttle bus - which the driver promised would leave in 20 minutes - for 40 minutes. We left at 5:19 for a 45 minute ride to a 5:30 appointment. "The bus/train/airplane will leave when we all get there" - does not work.

PPS. The bus driver, driving a huge new-ish bus packed with passengers going downtown in this ancient city of narrow winding roads kept taking telephone calls and chatting with great animation as we swerved through traffic.

Sons of Abraham, Peace be upon him

If you have followed Donna's blog - and you should have been: hers is far better than mine; you would have seen that we two Protestant Christians joined a young Colombian Catholic and a Muslim family of three from Libya and Hungary. I spent much of our 2 hour walk talking with "Faresh" (I thing that was the husband's name) about religion. Initially, he was concerned that as a westerner, I thought all Muslims were terrorists. I assured him that I knew otherwise, from my earlier life as a Baha'i (related to Islam as Christianity is to Judaism) and from my studies. He spoke of his Sunni sect of Islam and looked with some disdain at the harshly more strident Shia sect. He was very knowledgeable about his faith and was curious about mine.  Sunni do not believe that Jesus died but that He is in heaven and will someday return to lead all Muslims to Paradise.  He condemned the anger and killing in the name of religion and was interested to know that so had Jesus - even to condemning anger as equivalent to murder. So, too, he said in Islam.  I told him that Jesus had abolished the 640 Jewish laws and replaced them with just "Love God, Love man, Speak of Him to the world.". He liked that. 

When I would mention any of the holy 4 - Moses, Abraham, Jesus or Mohammed, he would interject "may peace be upon him."

We found lots in common, and I think were each surprised at what we heard from the other. Sons of Abraham indeed. I hope he contacts me through this blog or email. He has my contact info but I lack his.

Smiling in Smyrna

If, 2 days ago, I had said to Donna: "I want to rent an apartment in Smyrna" she would have assumed that I hit my head. Our beautiful home near Waleska Ga has no disadvantages compared with an apartment in Smyrna Georgia. Ah, but Smyrna, Turkey. Known - as we discovered last night - as Izmir, Smyrna has Greek and Roman ruins equalled in my experience only by Rome and Ephesus. We came to Izmir because the train tracks between Bucharest and Istajnbul were under construction. So, by flying, we had 2 days to "kill" and so I thought of Ephesus. And Izmir is the giant city nearby and with an airport. So this morning we set out to find the Roman agora. We walked by - unimpressed. So we headed for the open market but discovered it was 6 miles away. We turned around to return to our hotel and, in a few minutes, there - suddenly - was THE Agora!  We had seen the backside wall and - like everywhere in our journey east of Prague - there are no signs. We explored the main portico. About 600' x 200', we walked through the huge basement (much is still not excavated) and along the column-lined 1st floor. The top of the columns was the 1st floor ceiling and there was an equally large and tall 2nd floor (now gone) with identical columns and a huge roof. Photos.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Epistleless in Ephesus

Speechless. A unique moment in time and space.

28 years ago this week:  "This week and next we are going to be studying chapter 2, verse 8 of Ephesians" said Pastor Steve Brown at Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church.  "For it is by grace you have been saved, and not by works, lest any man boast"

Whatever. I'm here in the back waiting for Simone to get out of church. And isn't Christianity all about don't do this and don't do that and hell and stuff? Whatever.

Simone and I didn't hit it off (I remember her name because I heard shortly thereafter that she was diagnosed with MS and quickly died) but the next Sunday I remembered the cool room, the deep voice. The puzzling message, so I returned.

This is what I've been trying to tell you all along sang my heart. Jesus died for  God loves me as much as Daddy???? No way.  Well, MAYBE!  That day I asked Jesus to enter my life and be my King.

And it started from a sentence a guy named Paul wrote to his friends in Ephesus. Those friends in Ephesus would come to include John before he was exiled by Domitian to work in a rock quarry on Patmos. And Mary, Jesus' mom.

A quarter of a million people lived here - the second largest Roman city. The library here (photo) rivaled Alexandria and the Egyptians stopped selling papyrus to stop it's growth. The industrious Romans switched to animal skins - parchment - and to keep them together as written, later bound on edge: books!

Ephesus. Wow, I'm walking where two men lived who personally knew Jesus, who wrote about him, whose writings survived the first thousand years and now teach me what they knew. Ephesus!