Sunday, October 27, 2013

Another day in paradise

Have I ever really talked about the stuff I’m studying out here? My blog probably makes it sound like I wander around doing tourist stuff all day. But I only do that once or twice a week. The rest of my time has been spent studying like the dickens. Or trying to recover from all the studying and test-taking we do. Let’s see if I can paint a picture of what our student life is like. Ahem.

Imagine you’re drowning… and then someone hands you a baby.

No, sorry… That’s Jim Gaffigan’s description of what it’s like to have 4 kids. As a side-tangent, I think anything less than 4 kids in my family would be boring! So sign me up for the drown club. I’ll learn to scuba dive! I’ve already been snorkeling. More on that later J

Well, I’m sure I could throw in a sarcastic remark about the designers of this program trying to kill us, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Our teachers here are incredible. We just finished studying through the Old Testament class in one block. Now, we did just cover over a thousand pages of scripture in about 8 weeks, but when going that fast, we obviously didn’t read every page. That being said, I’ve still spent easily a good 2 hours studying for each day of Old Testament alone. Now, combine that with comparable reading and/or assignments and class time for Field Trips class, Israel, Palestine, Ancient Near East, Hebrew and Arabic, along with 3 meals a day and an absolutely vital daily nap, and maybe you’re starting to see how much of a pressure-cooker school has been.

Good news, however! Next week is finals week for half of those classes, since they are on block schedule. So while they were all crammed in super-tight this first 8 weeks, that means that we’ll be done with everything but Ancient Near East and Field Trips as of next week. Then we’ll start New Testament, and start going on even more field trips! Next week we go to Jordan for 4 days. Guess what’s in Jordan, folks? Petra. I’m excited!

In addition to the adventures and schoolwork, life has also been intensely spiritual. I will never be the same. With 2 hours a day of scripture study, I’ve come much closer to the Lord than I’ve been in a while. I receive promptings every day as a rule. My journal is filled with impressions about myself and the world around me, and God has been molding me into a better person in such a way I can look back and see how fast he’s changed me! One of the most powerful spiritual experiences I had here was last Sabbath in a home teaching visit. My companion, Jared Sybrowsky, and I prepared specifically for the people we taught, and handled it like missionaries would prepare a lesson, really. As a result, we had the most powerful home teaching experience I’ve ever had in my life. Prayers were offered, testimonies were shared, priesthood blessings were given, and the spirit was present. I truly will never be the same again.
And with that, here are some of the fun things we did this week!

Hezekiah’s Tunnel

A water tunnel cut through 1770 feet of solid limestone rock. This brings the waters of a nearby spring inside the walls of Jerusalem to the pools of Siloam. This would give Jerusalem a water supply while under siege. (See 2 Kings 20:20, 2 Chronicles 32:4, 30)
Hezekiah's Tunnel, with Stephanie Leigh and Joey Nelson in the background

Red Sea

The very southern tip of Israel touches the Red Sea. So we drove down there in buses for 4 hours each way. On the trip, I finished Brandon Sanderson’s latest book Steelheart. I recommend it for fantasy / sci-fi lovers. Then we got there and went snorkeling in the Red Sea! Ah, good times. I swam around, realized how tiring swimming without a lifejacket can be, dropped my snorkel to the bottom, found a lionfish, and went to the aquarium. What a great day!
This cat was the security guard for the ticket booth. But you can bribe him with attention and he'll turn a blind eye.
Red Sea. That's Saudi Arabia behind us. We also saw the mountains of Egypt off to the south!
(Left to right: Jessica Steele, Amanda Vogt and me)
I became a temporary addition to the Red Sea Aquarium!

Olive Harvest

It’s olive season, folks! Last week we wandered all over the campus grounds to climb trees and pick olives. It made me miss rock climbing a bit. Anyway, we used those (and some more we had to purchase) to process at our on-site olive press to make authentic olive oil with our own hands! There’s tons of symbolism involved with olives and the olive tree, but the one thing I want to touch on is this: Olives, like sardines, are super gross.
IT BURNS! With Angela Cheney
So you soak them in brine to get rid of the bitter flavor and burning sensation. Then they are less gross. Then you pour them in that giant stone bowl you have sitting in your backyard (everyone has one of those, right?) and roll your favorite giant circular rock over the top of them until it looks like mush.
Olives before getting crushed
Me and Cam Cardon crushing the olives in an ancient-style... olive crusher.

Once they are mush, scoop it all into a basket with a hole in the bottom.
Sheri and Megan with some olive mush
But where do you put this olive mush once you’ve scooped it into a holy basket? On a rock, of course! Preferably the kind that has an olive press nearby. It makes the job a lot easier
(Pretend you see me at the olive press... low bandwidth is )
Then, as you can guess, you squish all of the baskets! And everything oozes out into a multi-level filter system. Each time the oil falls into a new container, it’s a little purer than before. This stuff isn’t nearly as bitter as eating an olive straight from the tree.
(picture with oil)
Olive oil is special because it separates itself from water and impurities. So you leave it in that hole in the ground for a day and it will separate out all of the impurities until it finally resembles that yummy stuff you put on your salad! Or in my case, it resembles the stuff I can use to give a priesthood blessing. What an adventure! And what an awful flavor I had in my mouth that day…


Even though the Passover takes place in the Spring, we celebrated it Thursday for the experience. Our wonderful Israel teacher, Ophir Yarden, lead out the whole thing. Now if your seminary experience was like mine, you may have celebrated a “best of” montage of the Passover in seminary class, where you read a couple scriptures and eat a few funky things. That night, however, we celebrated the whole Passover in all of its intricate, detailed glory. Actually, that’s not true. It took us 3 ½ hours with dinner included, and we still skimmed over some of the scripture reading that would have been done. It was quite the experience! Oh, and they ordered wine instead of grape juice.
Anyone feeling tipsy??
Luckily they caught that before too many of us took a sip. In that silly sort of way I kind of wish we would have found out after the fact! Wouldn’t it be hilarious for a bunch of Mormon students to accidentally get tipsy while celebrating a Jewish holiday on the wrong day? Ah, the stories we could have told…

Well, that brings us up to date! The people here are incredible. The friendships I’m making are wonderful. The food is exquisite. My feet stink… exquisitely. Something about the food and environment does that. Well anyway! The bottom line is that life continues to be an absolute pleasure out here. Every day I wake up in Jerusalem is another day in Paradise.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Time for a Turkish Picture Explosion

Good news, folks!

I've finally found a reliable (so far) method of uploading my photospheres to the web: Picasa! Good old Google. Of course they are the solution. But because I'm using this, I had to create a new link for my Google+ photosphere album. So forget everything you knew about the old album link, and use this one instead:

The album is now currently up to 41 shots. Here's three reasons to check them out:

  1. All of them have a description of what you're looking at
  2. They may or may not include floating limbs
  3. Many of them point out interesting things to look for. It's like having a Holy Land Where's Waldo game delivered to your computer! Tourism + Your Childhood = Photospheres. 
You can count on this album being updated when I make a new blog post (as long as I have a new Photosphere, which is like, always) and it will often get updated between blog posts, as well.

So! Let me show you some of the photospheres from Turkey that I didn't get to show off yet. I told you about most of these locations in my previous post, but now you can see them f'real.

Courtyard of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul (not Constantinople, remember?)

The Grand Bazaar, containing over 4000 shops. This is just one of a bazillion intersections.
Also notice the hole I tore in the space-time continuum. Don't eat Turkish beans.

The Pergamon Acropolis. Disneyland, eat your heart out. Check out the Temple of Athena, the theater and the valley below.
Also notice my roommate AJ and his twin AJ. What great guys!

Here's some rockin' seating in the Ephesus theater!... Get it? Please at least give me a pity-laugh. Ephesus contains some of the best ruins in the world, methinks. The city has been under excavation for 100 years. We expect another 100 years before we're done.

I'm holding a picture of Ephesus while standing in the picture of Ephesus.
See Bible Dictionary: Epheseption.

Nicea. Emperor Constantine's palace, where confusion all began in 325 AD, is under that water.
Actually, the confusion began when Satan decided he was the shiz.

Those are just a few of the best Photospheres. Finally, I'd like to take this moment to remind you that I'd like to remind you to check out my Photosphere album for the rest of the shots I got in Turkey, especially the ones inside the mosques. They are stunningly detailed, and really big. So now that I've reminded you of that reminder, let me give you the actual reminder, in which I remind you to check out my Photosphere album. That's what really completes this blog.


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Do 'ya neeeed a break from modern livin'?????

That's me on the right. Well, that's all of us on the right =D
Wow, oh wow!Turkey has been a high-class vacation... from living in Jerusalem. What a life, right?

Let me apologize up front for the lack of pictures today. Not enough time to get them all online for you today. But keep checking out my Jerusalem Photosphere album, because this is what I spend most of my picture-taking efforts doing. Each photosphere has a brief description of itself, and I try to point out a thing or two to look for. This, along with my blog, will sum up my Jerusalem adventures quite nicely.

I did actually find out why they feed us so many nice meals out here. It's because there's a bacteria that the Turks are adjusted to, but we are not. So to be careful, they feed us really nice meals everywhere we go to keep us from... well... uncomfortable potty breaks.

But at the same time, they really are just treating us very well while we're out here. The first two nights here were spent in a 3- or 4-star hotel in Istanbul. Since my first blog we also saw (in Istanbul):

  • The Blue Mosque: a hop, skip and a jump away from the Hagia Sophia. Just as ridiculously huge.
  • The Basilica Cistern: the largest cistern (water storage bunker) in the world. It's featured in Dan Brown's latest book, Inferno. 
  • The Grand Bazaar: contains over 4000 shops. Unfortunately, I got jipped on buying Acqua di Gio cologne... they watered it down :S.
  • A ferry tour of the city by water.
Well! Then came the really fun part, when we left the wondrous city of Istanbul, and started road-tripping southward along the west coast of Turkey, visiting sites like...

  • Gallipoli (pivotal WWI battlefield)
  • Troy. Yeah, you heard me. Troy!
  • Assos, where Paul preached the Gospel. It's really high up and has some gorgeous views! I took three photospheres there alone.
  • Pergamon, one of the seven cities that John writes to in Revelation. This was the best sight I've seen so far! And I've heard Ephesus tomorrow will beat it. Anyway, Pergamon has an Acropolis, which means "High City." This is absolutely correct, as we had to ride a cable car to get up to the ruins! There was a Temple of Athena, an Altar of Zeus, an ampitheatre overlooking the city valley below, a complex water-storage system, a courtyard, and a library to name some of the things we saw! I took four photospheres here, and it still may not have got the feel for how amazing this place was.
Well! Now I'm staying in a 5-star hotel resort in Izmir, which is just outside of Ephesus. Think of the book of Ephesians. This is apparently going to be one of the biggest, if not the best highlight of our Turkey trip. I've already seen a video preview of the place, and it's mind-boggling. Prepare for lots of photospheres of the Ancient Roman empire where Paul preached the Gospel!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

So I was in Asia AND Europe today... nbd.

What's the best way to fly to Turkey?
By PEGASUS! (look at the wing)
Ah, the adventures begin. As if the adventures didn't already begin a month ago! Today began our first extended field trip. We woke up at 3:00 AM (Right when priesthood session started, actually) and flew to Turkey, where we will spend the next week!

Now if you were anything like me, you have no idea what's worth seeing in Turkey, or why anyone would go there on a religious-pilgrimage-style study abroad. Well, let me tell you. Now I know you. You're totally the kind of person that grabs your scriptures when you read my blog. Because let's be honest, everyone has those handy when they read blogs. A quick glance at map 13 of your scriptures would confirm that the Apostle Paul traveled all over Turkey on his missionary excursions. So we get to go follow in the footsteps of Paul!

So today we landed in Istanbul (not Constantinople) and immediately had our first meal in the city. It was a four-course meal at some ritzy place along the shore. At first we all saw them bring out this small appetizer and thought, "seriously? We woke up at 3 and we're starving, and your giving us this tiny little mushroom-crepe thingy?" But then when we finished that, they brought out more food, and then more food, and then dessert!

So after being thoroughly stuffed and tired, we set out to tour around Istanbul for the rest of the day. With only half a day remaining, we didn't see a ton, but what we did see was amazing!

1) First off, we drove over a bridge. Isn't that exciting!

...Why aren't you excited? Bridges are awesome. When's the last time you built something that could support cars while they cross a river? Seriously. But! Awesome architecture and physics aside, there was something special about this bridge. It is an inter-continental bridge! That's right, on the left side of this picture is Asia, and on the right side is Europe. Istanbul (not Constantinople) is a city of two continents. How cool is that?!
Asia on the left, Europe on the right

2) Next, we went to the Hagia Sophia. This thing is a massive piece of architectural genius! It was originally a Christian Cathedral, and the home of the Orthodox church. It was the largest church in the world for almost 1000 years! In 1453, when Istanbul (not Constantinople) fell to the Ottomans and became Muslim territory, it was turned into a mosque. Then when the Ottoman empire fell, it became a museum. So we got to go inside! I took 4 photospheres in the area. Check my Jerusalem Photosphere Album for all of those later.

3) After checking out the Hagia Sophia and the Turkish Archaeological Museum, we had a five-course dinner in the upper room of another seaside restaurant, which overlooked the view to these two continents. And now here I am in the Grand Washington Hotel! Not sure what the star-rating is here, but it's pretty nice in any case.

So! This week is going to be a great week. After being worked to the bone for the first month, it's almost like we're going on vacation, visiting amazing sites, eating great food and staying in nice hotels for a week. And yet all the while, we'll still be learning all about the sites and stories of the Bible.

And I'll tell you what, I've never seen the Old Testament come alive before like it has here. Seeing the sites is great, but it's really our Old Testament class that makes the difference. I read a lot for the class, but I get out what I put in. And as I've been putting all of this effort into my study, I've been feeling the spirit in remarkable ways. The Lord has been very carefully and intently guiding me to grow into what he wants me to be. There are ample opportunities here to feel the spirit. It truly it like a little piece of Zion out here, because we are of one heart and one mind, and I am always seeking to draw near unto the Lord.

Let me tell you what, folks. As you draw near unto Him, He will draw near unto you.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

How did I forget this?!

I was looking through my pictures this morning, and realized that I'd somehow left out one of my favorite photospheres! This is the view from the seventh floor balcony of the Jerusalem Center.

Edit: If you see a circular icon in the center of the picture, that means you can click on it and drag it around to see more. This is photosphere!

I'm hoping that the image embeds itself directly into the blog so that you can view it without going to another page, but I won't know for sure until I post it live, so here goes! Just in case it doesn't work, here's the link to one of my favorite photosphere shots:
Jerusalem Overlook from BYU Jerusalem Center

Post-post comment: It worked! But the quality is much better when you view it through the link, so use that if you want to look closer, such as picking out the Dome of the Rock down below.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Church-ception and Spelunking!

Finally! I found a moment with enough bandwidth to upload three whole photospheres! I'm so proud of myself.

Wow, where to even start. A week is a long time out here. Classes have been pretty hectic lately. However, they're still not as bad as my CS 236 class last Fall. Nothing will ever be as difficult as that, because at the end of the day, I can just choose not to do a piece of work and cut my losses. But in CS 236, every project built upon the previous one, so everything had to be perfect every time. And if not, every assignment afterward would automatically fail. So yeah, it's stressful sometimes, but never, ever so bad as it was a year ago.

Some good news from inside the center itself:
  • They finally finished remodeling the classroom area. You didn't even know it was being remodeled, did you? That's because I never mentioned it. But now it's done, and it's great! It honestly has given the whole place a different feel, especially because the windows all along the sides make it lighter than other places where we'd usually study. Plus, it has carpet. Soft carpet! Ahh...
  • In addition to making photospheres of our adventures, my other Memories Committee job is to gather photos from everyone. So I plugged my external HD into one of the lab computers and made it accessible to all of the other ones through the network. Once I did that, I set the background on each computer to shuffle through those photos. The cool thing is that as soon as one person adds a picture to the collection, it starts showing up in the slideshows on all of the computers! Oh, I miss being nerdy. I frequently have minor programming withdrawals.
But aside from the time I've spent living in this wonderful little paradise of a center, I've got to experience some great things! Here are some tales from outside the center. I have three pictures in particular, which will save me 3,000 words. That's so much less for you to read! You should thank me. But make sure to check them out in sphere view using the link below each picture or you're totally missing the point!

  • Ethiopian Church - On Sabbath (Saturday, remember?) a few of us went out to see the Ethiopian Church. It was totally silent inside, and there were carpets laid out all over the floors. In the center of the church was a basilica (which is pretty much a really old name for church / cathedral) which we couldn't enter, because it was fenced off. But we could look inside that dark doorway and see what looked like a shrine to Mary and Jesus. There was also a wedding shoot going on outside with a beautiful young Ethiopian couple! Congrats to them.
Ethiopian Church in central Jerusalem.
Notice the building inside the building.

  • Zedekiah's Cave - The bomb-diggity! Only 10 shekels for students. It goes something like 235 meters back (770 feet). So it was a lot of fun going down tunnel pathways and opening up to yet another big room! This is the supposed location where the rock for Solomon's temple was quarried out.

Zedekiah's cave, a quarry beneath the old city.

  •  Bell Caves - Just as bomb-diggity as Zedekiah's cave! They get their name from the bell-shaped domes, which are topped off by a hole. We came here with the whole center as part of our field trip across the low hills of Israel. this was also a quarry for... something. Acoustics are great. Lots of singing here. And it's familiar if you've seen Rocky III :)

The Bell Caves.
This should ring a "bell" if you've seen Rocky III

  • Underground Houses - Seriously, this week has felt like I lived in a movie. While visiting some of the more severe areas on our Monday field trip, we got to explore a series of underground neighborhoods carved out of the stone. I wish I could have explored it all! Some parts were fenced off, and some parts we just didn't have time to check out. But seriously, it was like a movie. I took a 1-minute video and ran down to the bottom of just one small finger of one of these neighborhoods. But there was so much more than what I could record! It was quite the adventure wandering through these cistern-like caves that once kept the people here alive!
Jared Sybrowsky and me at the entrance to just one of the caves

Next week we're leaving for Turkey. Last night they gave us an orientation on what to expect, and I'm pretty sure that Turkey is going to be one of the BEST EXPERIENCES EVER!

Stay tuned!