“They” say you can’t pick your family, but the truth is, that if I had choices, I would still pick my aunt Bones…as well as some of my other family members…you know who you are!
Turkey wasn’t on my original list of places to visit, but with cheap ticket prices from the States, I found myself staying for four weeks to connect with Jason and then Bones. Instead of the group of countries I originally planned, I ended up only visiting Turkey, Israel, Palestinian Area Territories, and Iraq, but for longer periods of time that made me feel better connected and left me with a desire to get back quickly.
When Jason left, I had two days before Bones’ arrival in Istanbul and I honestly did nothing. It was raining and my weather sensor was clearly off because 50 degrees felt so cold. I was thankful that Bones was coming because this was a point when I wondered if the question I was asked so many times before I left…”Do you think you’ll get homesick?” might come true. So…I was rested when I boarded a coach to meet her at the airport and quickly learned how unpredictable traffic can be in Istanbul. The ride, that took less than an hour during previous rides, suddenly took over an hour and a half to travel from Taksim Square. Oh, no! I couldn’t believe I would be late and miss my chance to greet Bones as she walked into the waiting crowds, but I also knew she was a savvy traveler and would be fine while waiting. When I arrived, she was nowhere to be found, but lost for only for a short time. We finally found each other and, with hugs, kisses, and laughter we were reunited after too many months of being far apart.
We spent our first days in Istanbul catching up on home news and events. No fancy meals for us…we enjoyed the same $3.00 salad bar every night because it was so lovely to enjoy the fresh vegetables and a big variety of options. We shopped and sat in cafes reading and talking…further bonding and without a need to rush around town. That was nice! At the Grand Bazaar, Bones bargained for some Picasso-esque pillow cases and I bought the last things I need in the world…more scarves!
One thing you quickly learn when hanging out with a gray haired woman…they enjoy quite a few benefits and lots of affection-especially from young and handsome men. The shopkeeper brought her tea, shared stories, and playfully negotiated a good price for all. In fact, even though Bones is 82, I don’t see her as an “old” person, but we had a few good laughs when others did…like the time we were in a cave and warned by a guide that the stairs we faced to reach the farthest point were many and steep and that the hard part of the experience would be the walk up the stairs. Bones was reluctant at first, but with my “encouragement” she accepted the challenge.
We soon found walking down stairs was the easy part. We lagged behind the group until we completed the walk up the more than a hundred steps where we were greeted by others in our group; some of whom were out of breath, but waiting with interest to see if she was okay. When she reach the top step, they gave a cheer and a clapping of hands. Then there was the time when the captain of our hot air balloon picked her up like a bride to carry her out of the balloon…or when some other truly “old” ladies said they were impressed that she took the balloon ride. Me? I never gave her a minute to feel old… pushing her to walk faster and assuring her that the hills weren’t always too hard to climb.
Out first stop out of Istanbul was a quick visit to Ankara…on our way to Cappadocia…an area like nothing I have seen before. The area is covered with peaked caves formed by volcanic land weathered by rain and wind. We stayed in the town of Goreme which is surrounded by caves and pale carved landscapes as far as the eye can see. Some caves have been hollowed for houses or hotels, but we enjoyed a few days at a small hotel named Heybe. They pampered us with kindness including rides around the mulitiple cities in the area, delicious breakfasts, and an upgrade to a semi suite where we each had a bit of our own space. Breakfasts in the Middle East are amazing and make me want to totally change my eating habits. The breads, cheeses, and vegetables are filling and leave me satisfied for much of the day!
Goreme is a small town that can be easily walked in a short time, but it is so beautiful that the trip never gets old. We found a favorite lounging spot at Coffedocia cafe where we enjoyed hot drinks and good wifi. I know there are some among you who remember Bones’ 70th birthday, when a group of us chipped in to take her on her missed dream of a balloon ride in Africa to watch the migration of millions of animals. We were aiming for a special day over Joliet, Illinois where we could all join her. Our “perfect” outing was less than ideal with two people missing the balloon ride by minutes, me feeling a bit nauseous, and our best view being of Statesville prison. We have always laughed about the less than perfect trip, so when Bones suggested a ride over Cappadocia, it seemed like a perfect idea, and it was…perfect!
The early morning sunset ride was beautiful because of the views, but just as cool was the sight of at least 40 other balloons making the same trip. We were high in the sky and surrounded by colorful balloons at every turn. It was one of the most beautiful views I have seen…gliding above a fantasy land that looked like illustrations from a children’s book. Balloon landings are the only thing that are a little scary about a journey-as you duck down into the basket and are not sure when landing is coming. You land with a boom…not the light, soft bump ending of an amusement park ride. After the landing, men who follow the balloon, pick up the entire basket filled with people and place it on the bed of their truck for a ride to an open area for a champagne toast…two glasses for Bones and zero for me (just saying).
Our next stop was Antalya…a coastal city where we did a bit more shopping, did a bit more relaxing, and bonded even more. It was nice traveling with Bones because the hotels were swankier than my norm, so we really enjoyed just being at the hotels-hanging out, sharing breakfasts, and often going to sleep quite early. We walked along the coast and had a day at the beach. Well, I laid on the beach and Bones talked to people occasionally yelling my way requesting that to say Hi to her new friends. The beach time ended when she came walking over with the guy who wanted to sit on the beach and chat. So much for the quiet beach time. 🙂
Speaking of chatting…there is only one thing that I am growing tired of during this trip-and that is telling my “life story.” Really, I bore myself to tears. You cannot imagine the number of times I have answered questions like…Where are you from? What is your job? Are you married? Where have you been? Which place did you like best?” These are necessary questions. It’s just that I am way more interested in what others have to say than hearing my own details and want to quickly gloss over my stuff to get to theirs.
There is also is a awkward moment that I encounter regularly when people ask about my family….like “what do your parents think about you traveling?” and I say that they have died, but I know they would be excited. Then, with a sad face we quickly change the subject and I am asked if I have siblings…and when I answer that question and feel their discomfort, I can only say to myself, “Thanks, Dave” with a sarcastic inner voice and know he would be laughing at me officially winning the title of the family “black plague” that we joked about. It’s funny how many times I think about Dave and can’t help but laugh at some of our own inside jokes. He was always pleased that I was a “good audience for him” and proud that he gave me “lots of material” to laugh about. I feel blessed that I have a lifetime of his sayings, antics, and stories to keep me smiling.
Time with Bones ended with another few days in Istanbul before heading to our next stops-Bones heading home and me back to Israel. I think our time together was a success…we had fun like friends while enjoying memories that only family can share. Bones will probably say…I spend too much time on my phone, I have too many “rules” about quiet time, and that I am a bit quirky, but I think she had fun, too!
I arrived back in Tel Aviv in the middle of the night, but they have all night “sheruts” or small vans that take you into Jerusalem. It took me directly to Christ Church Guest House inside of Jaffa Gate. It is such a beautiful place to stay with the lively atmosphere outside and peaceful garden and cafe on the grounds. I was scheduled to stay there for four nights and enjoyed every one of them.
Last time I was in Bethlehem, Ira and Nova who I stayed with on previous vist, introduced me to Osama who is a taxi driver they trust and like. He is a funny and gracious man. I took a bus back to Bethlehem on my first day nearby to see some other friends. When I got off the bus, I heard my name being yelled. It was Osama and he had another man in his car. Osama said that he told the man to wait a few minutes because he had a feeling I was on the bus. He said God told him to wait. Usually, I would be skeptical, but even odder was that the man in the front seat knew my friends of the area and we had common connections. Since no one knew I was coming, it had to be a Divine connection and reminded me of Hebrews 13:2 which says “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.” My year has been filled with all kinds of angel interactions where people have been right where I needed them…just in the knick of time.
There was another special moment that Osama and I shared with others. While staying in Jerusalem, there was a church group staying at my hotel. They were traveling through Israel to learn about important Biblical sights, but had been discouraged from visiting the West Bank on their free day, but were considering taking an expensive taxi ride to Bethlehem. Since I was going there on that day, I offered to show they how to use the public bus to get there and promised to connect them with Osama. When we got there, he was waiting (half an hour early when we showed up) and drove them into the city center near Manger Square and the Church of the Holy Nativity that marks Jesus’ possible birth location. After spending a bit of time making lasagna with Nova and her friends, I was frustrated at myself for committing to take them back to Jerusalem and would have much rather stayed and enjoyed the delicious dinner we were making, but because their church friends were reluctant to see them go to Bethlehem, expecting bad things, I wanted to be sure they made it back with a positive story. Osama picked us up from our respective places and dropped us off at the bus. Only after he left, did one of the girls realized that she left her prescription glasses in his car. I had his phone number, so we asked a man on the bus to call him…and then we watched as the driver, the man with the phone, and Osama put a plan into quick action where he delivered the glasses back without us having to miss the bus. Calls were exchanged, Osama was running, the bus was waiting, and no one would take a penny of thanks from the girl. All of the moments worked together as an example of the kindness of strangers and showed the beautiful hearts of the strangers they encountered in Bethlehem.
I visited Isfiya near Haifa for a weekend trip to visit two of Jason’s friends live there in a Druze area. I had to do a quick Wikipedia hunt to get some background, where I learned that Druze are a religious minority in Israel. They are Arabic-speaking social group and religious sect who often keep their beliefs covered to others. Druze living in Israel serve in the Israeli Defense Forces and tend to live together in villages. Ronit and Tom were some of my favorite people I have met on my trip. I wish they lived nearby so you could all meet them. They opened their home and hearts to me…and filled me up with the most healthy and delicious foods as they are living a vegan life of salads, soups, and juices. I left feeling spiritually inspired by their strong faith and awed that I really enjoyed their fresh juice made with greens and beets. The weather was cold, and Ronit has a great sense of style…so I got a mini makeover with a new jacket with gold studs and a cool new sweatshirt with a built in neck covering. Tom and Ronit have a beautiful love story that she shared with me in her testimony and they were fun to be around because they have so much affection for each other. After many years of marriage, they’ve still got love in their eyes for each other and the playful spirit of two people who have shared lots of life together.
I returned to Jerusalem and ended up with a cold…maybe my body was confused by that juice and rebelled a bit. I woke up stuffy and hacking and whined for a bit in bed…which was ridiculous because it was not a bad cold. My suitcase has a bag of emergency meds from my doctor that I have been blessed not to use so far, but still I was looking for some sympathy. I came to this trip being mentally prepared for malaria or worse, so it occurred to me that I couldn’t let a runny nose be the end of me. I survived, but was prompted to spend a few days at the beach of Eilat instead of doing further traveling to great distances. After nine months on the road, I have decided that I am not really a “gotta see that” person. I can’t remember many places I have seen, but I remember the people, the experiences, and the foods where I have been peaceful and still…so I am doing more of that.
All I want now is to stop the clock. I don’t want this dream to end. In many ways, I am excited about returning home, but I also recognize that this dream trip will be over soon. As I head to Italy…my final destination, I am starting to get mushy nostalgia thoughts about the past nine months where I have gained some insights of a rested heart-that will likely bore or freak people out when I get home. If I can keep my focus, you are going to meet my powerfully peaceful self when I get back. No…I AM going to do it. Really! I swear! Wait! You’ll see! I mean it! No doubts! Just believe me, okay?