Constantinople / Istanbul - Ancient and Modern - Crossroads of the World

Constantinople / Istanbul - Ancient and Modern - Crossroads of the World
Istanbul/constantinople - Ancient/Modern - View of the Old City from across the Golden Horn, atop the Galata Tower.
… follow the footsteps of our recent Popes: Benedict XVI. John Paul II, Paul VI, and John XXIII (fondly remembered as “the Turkish Pope”)
… cross the paths of St. Paul, St. Peter, St. John the Evangelist, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and many other Apostles and Saints
… discover the heritage of faith left to us by the great Fathers and Mothers of the first seven centuries of Christianity
… explore the fascinating and little known history of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires
… come to understand the faith and culture of Islam: what we as Christians share with Muslims and how we differ.

Is It Safe to Travel to Turkey?

The October 31 suicide bombing in Takskim square, which is a few blocks from our hotel in Istanbul, of course raises questions about the safety of our annual Pilgrimage to Turkey.  Only the bomber himself was killed, and 32 persons were injured, about half of them police officers.  The attack seemed to target the police, and they were the most seriously injured.

It is certainly not surprising that there would be this kind of thing in Turkey.  What is surprising is how little of it there is.  If you look at the statistic of "terror-related" incidents in Turkey compared with other places we commonly travel to, including Europe and Mexico, I think it's safe to conclude that that the risks of travel to Turkey are no higher than anywhere else.

Tom Brosnahan, who probably knows (and loves) Turkey better than anyone else in the American travel community, has a website, Turkey Travel Planner, with pages dedicated to the overall safety of travel to Turkey, as well as the fear of terrorism.  I highly recommend reading these.

In addressing the question of safety, I believe Brosnahan is "right-on" in his analysis of the risks of travel:

Turkey is not only friendly, it's as safe as Europe and North America, although no place is completely safe. ... You must answer this question to fit your personal tolerance for risk. If you believe the statistics and look at it rationally, you'll probably go. If you're going to worry about safety a lot while you're there, the worry may make your trip less pleasant, and so you probably shouldn't go.

It's hard for me to address this topic of safety and risk without asking you to consider the crime- and gang-related violence in our own neighborhoods, and how our daily news reports look to the people of a country like Turkey with a far lower crime rate than ours.  Let's face it, we're not as safe at home as we'd like to think we are!  Here's an interesting (and sobering) comparison.

Early Reservation -- Don't Delay: big discount before October 31!

All the information you need to make your reservations now for the Early Christian World Pilgrimage to Turkey is at hand.  Come on this exciting voyage to the discover the mysteries and wonders of "the Other Holy Land!"  Reserve now for $300 off the total cost.  (If you're new to this site, be sure to scroll down for the detailed itinerary, and links to videos.)

The big question, how much does it cost?
The full cost of the Pilgrimage is $3,000, double occupancy, not including transportation to and from Istanbul. However, there are substantial discounts if you register early.
If you reserve before October 31, the cost is $2,700, a $300 discount. (The reservation must be secured with a $1,000 deposit.)
If you reserve between November 1 and December 31, the cost is $2,800, a $200 discount. (The reservation must be secured with a $1,000 deposit.)
After January 1, 2011, the full cost of $3,000 will apply. A minimum deposit of $1,500 must be made at the time of the reservation.
For all reservations, full payment must be made by March 1, 2011. A limited number of single rooms will be available at an additional cost of $650.
As you can see, I am giving a strong incentive for early commitment and early payment.
There must be a minimum of 20 committed participants by December 31, 2010, or the Pilgrimage will be canceled. If you are interested, please do not delay in making your decision. (If the Pilgrimage has to be canceled at this time due to lack of committed participation, all deposits will be immediately refunded. I sincerely hope not to have to do this.)
The Pilgrimage is also limited to a maximum of 40 participants. If we reach that number, you can be included on a waiting list in case of cancellations. Another reason to make early reservations.
Here is the reservation form.  Just print it (click the square in the upper right corner to open it in a new window, then print with control-p or option-p on a Mac), fill it out, and send it to me with your deposit, and you are assured of a place.

(Note: talk to me before you try to contact ATI regarding flight reservations.  While they have an agent willing to help with reservations, they are not able to offer anything more than your own local travel agent, or than you can get online. See the next post below.)

Or you can download it here:

Here's a copy of the current flyer:

Flights to and from Istanbul

Since the Pilgrimage begins and ends in Istanbul, all Pilgrims are faced with the task of getting there and back.

In a nutshell, Delta has always been my airline of choice for a compelling reason that I'll explain below.  However, in March 2011 Turkish Airlines (THY) will begin a four-times-a-week nonstop flight between LAX and Istanbul (IST) that, IMHO, beats all competition hands-down.  It's a bit more expensive, but takes 13-hours non-stop, instead of 19 or more hours for most of the other one- or two-stop alternatives.

The LAX-IST flight (TK 10) departs at 5:55 pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, arriving the next day at 5:10 pm.  The IST-LAX flight (TK 9) departs at 11:10 am on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, arriving the same day at 3:25 pm.

Here's my itinerary on Turkish Airlines (THY), which I have just booked and paid for:

From To Airport Departure Time Arrival Time Info Airline Cabin/Class
Los Angeles - Istanbul
LAX-IST 17:55
THY Economy/Q
Istanbul - Los Angeles
IST-LAX 11:10
THY Economy/Q
  • LAX: Los Angeles - Los Angeles Airport
  • IST: Istanbul - Ataturk Airport
Free baggage allowance: 2 pieces

Total billed to credit card:  $1,140.70

Going on Turkish Airlines will require an additional night's stay (Monday; about $100) at the hotel, but gives plenty of time to rest, explore a bit, and prepare before the Pilgrimage official beginning at 5:00 pm Tuesday evening, April 26, at the Madison Hotel.

(There is no Turkish Airlines flight on Monday, and unfortunately Tuesday's flight will get you to Istanbul a day late, which won't work.)

The Pilgrimage officially ends on Saturday, May 14.  If you want to come on the same flight with me to Istanbul, there is a return flight home on Turkish Airlines on May 14.  But if want to stay an extra day or two and leave on Sunday or Tuesday, you can easily do so.  I am planning some very interesting "Pilgrimage extension" activities for Saturday and Sunday.

All the  Turkish Airline flights currently are $1,140.70, including all taxes and fees. (As you see, this includes two checked bags free.) This may be a temporary promotional fare because the flight is brand new.  It may rise a few hundred dollars without warning.

Now a word about Delta, which has been my airline of choice because they offer a daily non-stop New York to Istanbul, which is quite convenient.  DL 72 is scheduled to leave JFK at 5:25 pm and arrives in IST at 10:15 am the next day (Tuesday).  It's often late, which doesn't really matter much.  From LAX, you have to take DL 246, which leaves at 6:30 am (Monday).  The total time is 17 hours and 45 minutes.

There is also a Delta flight that leaves LAX at 9:00 am (Monday) to Atlanta, and then transfers to Paris, and then to Istanbul (using Air France equipment).  Although it's two stops rather than one, you can get a few hours' extra sleep before leaving and you still get to Istanbul the next day (Tuesday) in plenty of time for the official start of the Pilgrimage.

There are several return options as well on Delta.

DL 73 is the daily nonstop from IST to JFK; it leave IST at 12:15 pm, and arrives at JFK at 4:55 pm.  It too is often late, which could put getting on the JKF-LAX flight at risk.  (I've missed it a couple of times.  Usually they'll arrange a flight an hour or two later.)

Delta, codesharing with Air France, can get you on a much better itinerary through Paris, leaving IST at 9:00 am and arriving at LAX at 4:00 pm.  (With this flight you go through customs in LA, which is much better than in New York.)

All the return flights arrive in LA the same day that you leave Istanbul.  (You gain back the day you lost 'way back when.)

All the Delta options currently are $1,085.50 -- supposedly including all taxes and fees.

All in all, I think Turkish Airlines is the better deal by far.  My (somewhat limited) experience of them has been very good (and that seems to be a pretty consistent reputation), while my experience of Delta has been on the lower borders of OK.  Air France is better, but, IMHO, Turkish outdoes them, at least in coach.

Turkish Airlines also partners with American Airlines through Chicago or New York, but that has always been more expensive.

There are more options, utilizing other international carriers and other stopover cities, but it's important to pay attention to your arrival time in Istanbul.  You don't want to arrive later than 2:00 pm on Tuesday.

Although I have said that AmericanTours International (ATI) can help with flight reservations, they basically have only a regular travel agent at their service.  There is no inside information or advantage, and they cannot help with travel insurance.  Your best bet is either to book your flight (and buy your travel insurance) from your own local travel agent, or do it online if you are comfortable with making these kinds of arrangements on the internet (which I am).

Note: I had a bit of difficulty getting my credit card accepted, but it wasn't the airline's fault.  It had been blocked because the bank thought it was an unusual and possibly fraudulent expense.  Two phone calls cleared that up, and it went through.  I was more grateful than annoyed by their vigilance.

ECW Pilgrimage 2011

The next Early Christian World Pilgrimage will be from April 25 to May 14, 2011.

Monday, April 25, the day after Easter, is when you will have to leave the USA in order to get to Istanbul for the official start, the evening of Tuesday the 26th, at the Madison Hotel in Istanbul.  On the last day, Saturday, May 14, you will be able to leave Istanbul in the morning and arrive in Los Angeles (or anywhere else in the USA) on the same day.  (Yes, that means you could be back to work on Monday, May 15, if need be.) There will be an optional two-day (or more) extension, at modest extra cost, for those who can afford the time.  (It will be worth your while to do this if you can.)

Please see the post below this one for some reflections on why I believe this Pilgrimage is important.

The cost is  $3,000, double occupancy, not including air transportation to and from Istanbul. (Right now that runs $1,000-$1,200, plus whatever fees the airlines may choose to add.)  I think you could conservatively budget around $5,000 for the entire trip, plus about $400 for the two-day extension.  Early reservations will get a substantial discount.

Here is the complete schedule.  As you read through this, be sure to click on the links for many details and pictures about each place.

Day 0, Monday, 4/25 - Easter Monday. Travel USA to Istanbul (10 hours time difference). I will book and publicize my own flights early in case anyone wants to join me.  I will also have recommendations for various options.

Day 1, Tuesday, 4/26 - İstanbul arrival at Atatürk International Airport, and official beginning of the Pilgrimage in the evening with Mass, orientation talk, and dinner at the Madison Hotel in the Beyoğlu district, where we will spend two nights.

Day 2, Wednesday, 4/27 - Orientation tour of İstanbul (including the view from the Galata Tower, the Hippodrome, Blue Mosque, Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, Hagia Sophia, Miniaturk, and Bosphorus cruise), concluding with Mass at St. Esprit Cathedral.

Day 3, Thursday, 4/28 - Travel from İstanbul to Gallipoli to visit WWI Anzac Memorial, then to Troy. Overnight in Çanakkale at the Tusan Hotel.

Day 4, Friday, 4/29 - Visit Alexandria Troas, the Temple of Apollo at Gulpinar, Assos, and Pergamon, then to İzmir for overnight at the Kaya Prestige Hotel.

Day 5, Saturday, 4/30 - In the morning visit Sardis; return to İzmir for lunch on the waterfront, followed by Mass at St. Polycarp Church.  After a brief tour of Izmir. we drive to Kuşadasi for dinner, and two nights' stay at the Pine Bay Marina Hotel.

Day 6, Sunday, 5/1 - Full day in Ephesus, during which we visit the ancient city, including the Curetes Street, Terrace Houses, St. Paul's Cave, the Double Church of the Theotokos, lunch and a "fashion show" at a local leather factory, the Basilica of St. John and the Ephesus Museum.  We conclude the day with Mass at the House of the Blessed Virgin Mary, returning to our hotel for dinner and overnight.

Day 7, Monday, 5/2 - We drive to visit Aphrodisias, followed by a leisurely lunch at a wonderful outdoor restaurant and then to Hierapolis, with time for a tour that will include the amazing limestone formations of Pamukkale, and a hike up to the hilltop Martyrion of St. Philip.  After a long day with a lot of walking, there will still be time to soak in the warm mineral water pools at the Lycus River Hotel before dinner.

Day 8, Tuesday, 5/3 - After driving past the ruins of Laodicea, we travel to Pisidian Antioch (present-day Yalvac) and then on to Konya (ancient Iconium) for the night. After dinner at the Ozkaymak Park Hotel, we will have an opportunity to witness a private performance (sema) of the famous Whirling Dervishes.

Day 9, Wednesday, 5/4 - We first go to the tiny St. Paul's Church downtown for Mass, followed by a visit to the tomb of Mevlana (Rumi), the Sufi mystic founder of the Whirling Dervishes.  Then we visit Catalhoyuk, excavations of a 9,500-year-old neolithic settlement.  Then we drive to Silifke (ancient Seleucia) to visit the Cave and Monstery of St. Thecla.  Finally we spend the night at the Kilikya Hotel on the Mediterranean coast, on the way to Tarsus.

Day 10, Thursday, 5/5 - In Tarsus we visit St. Paul's House and Well and other important points of interest, including Mass at St. Paul's Church.  Then we drive to Antakya (ancient Antioch-on-the-Orontes) for a two-night stay at the Buyuk (Grand) Antakya Hotel..

Day 11, Friday, 5/6 - In Antioch we will visit the Grotto of St. Peter and the Mosaic Museum before celebrating Mass at the local Catholic Church, which is in a nineteenth century house, much like in the time of the Apostles.  After lunch, we will drive to Seleucia Pieria on the coast to walk through the Tunnel of Vespasian, visit the Necropolis and an Alevi shrine.

Day 12. Saturday, 5/7 - Today we drive from Antakya through the Taurus Mountains and the Cilician Gates to Cappadocia, visiting the Eski Gumus Monastery and the underground city of Kaymakli on the way.  We will spend two nights in Cappadocia at the Perissia Hotel.  After dinner tonight, we will have the opportunity to enjoy a folkloric music and dance show.

Day 13, Sunday. 5/8 - We begin our full day in Cappadocia visiting a Turkish carpet and kilim cooperative and learn how Turkish carpets are made.  We will have lunch and Mass at the village of Gamirasu, where the modern hotel and restaurant are carved into the hillside, and there is an ancient cave church.  Then a scenic drive to Avanos to visit local art and pottery centers, and back to the hotel early to get a good sleep for the balloon ride tomorrow.

Day 14, Monday, 5/9 - Very early in the morning we can take a sunrise balloon ride over the fantastic landscape of Cappadocia.  Then, after breakfast, we will tour some of the many rock-cave churches, with fabulous frescoes, in the Goreme Valley.  After lunch, we will drive through the ancient territory of the Galatians to Ankara, where we will have a quick tour, including the Mausoleum of Ataturk and government buildings, and settle into the Ickale Hotel for dinner and the night.

Day 15, Tuesday, 5/10 - This morning we will tour one of the greatest archaeological museums in the world, the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations.  Here we will see artifacts and treasures from many of the sites we have already visited, and it will help us to put these ancient peoples in perspective.  We will then drive to Safranbolu for a taste of the Ottoman culture and architecture, and spend the night in a hotel which is a restored house from the Ottoman period.

Day 16, Wednesday, 5/11 - We will drive to Iznik, ancient Nicaea, and have lunch by the lake, near the site of the First Council of Nicaea (325 AD), and then visit the Hagia Sophia Church, where the Second Council of Nicaea was held (787 AD).  Aydin will then take us to a small town not far from Iznik, where we will meet his childhood Nanny and her family, and get a taste of small village life.  We then return to Istanbul and the Madison Hotel for dinner and a good night's sleep to prepare for the next two days of touring Istanbul.

Day 17, Thursday, 5/12 - Today we will first explore the unique and fascinating Basilica Cistern, followed by the Hagia Irene Church, one of the oldest in Constantinople, and the site of the First Council of Constantinople (381). (It's usually closed to tourists, but is a popular concert venue.) Then we tour the Topkapi Palace, where we will have lunch and see the Harem.  Our tour will conclude with the nearby Archaeological Museum, followed by Mass at the Church of St. Antoine on Istiklal Street, the largest and busiest Catholic Church in Istanbul.

Day 18, Friday, 5/13 - Friday-the Thirteenth will find us first visiting the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate and St. George Church, followed by St. Stephen of the Bulgars, one of the few remaining churches built entirely of cast iron.  We will then admire the wonderful 14th-century mosaics and frescoes of the Church of St. Savior in Chora (Kariye Museum) and see the Kalendarhane Mosque (Kyriotissa Church), on our way to the Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent, where we will witness the Friday Prayer.  Following lunch at the historic Daruzziyafe Restaurant, we will tour three significant Byzantine churches: Pammakaristos, St. Mary of the Mongols, and the Pantocrator Monastery.  We will then return to the Madison Hotel to celebrate the final Mass of the Pilgrimage, and go to the Liman Lokantasi Restaurant at the water's edge for our sunset farewell dinner, where we will say goodbye to Aydin and our driver..

Day 19, Saturday, 5/14 - This is the official end of the Pilgrimage, and those leaving for home this morning will arrive the evening of the same day.

Day 19 (extended), Saturday, 5/14 - For those who choose to extend the Pilgrimage, there will be options of exploring on your own or coming with me to places not yet determined, for example: spending more time at museums, mosques, or churches we've already visited (Hagia Sophia and the Archaeological Museum will both amply reward more time spent there), or seeing something new; taking a leisurely Turkish bath at a historic hamam; finding a concert or musical performance (Mehter military music is performed every day at the Military Museum bear our hotel); shopping (Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar, Istiklal Caddesi, etc.); or just wandering around and soaking in this wonderful city.  I plan to conclude the day with Mass at St. Esprit Cathedral, followed by dinner at the nearby Akcanlar Ocakbasi, at the end of Papa Roncalli Street, named after Pope John XXIII.

Day 20 (extended), Sunday, 5/15 - This day is pretty much free, but I plan to begin it by joining the tiny Chaldean Catholic community in Istanbul for their liturgy at 10:00 am.  For other activities, the same recommendations as yesterday.

Day 21 (extended) Monday, 5/16 - The extension concludes today, and those who leave for home in the morning will arrive by day's end.

I will be planning to stay a few more days (until Thursday) in another hotel (probably the Terrace Guesthouse in the Sultanahmet area -- a truly wonderful spot).  Anyone who wishes to join me for any of these extra days will be most welcome.

If you haven't yet seen my videos from previous pilgrimages, I encourage you to enjoy them on YouTube.

You will also enjoy Aydin's 2005 Video tour of Turkey, also on YouTube:

And his 2009-2010 Video presentation of the Treasures of Istanbul:

Why I Am Convinced This Pilgrimage Is Important!

Here is a collection of articles and brochures I've written in the past -- some are dated and need updating -- that you may enjoy reading.  I want to share with you why I believe it this Early Christian World Pilgrimage is important for intelligent and faithful Catholics.

There are many reasons why I believe this Pilgrimage is important.  Some are summarized below, but I think the tragic events of September 11, 2001, brought home to me the need for understanding both our own traditions as Western Christians, and the religious convictions of the 1.5 billion Muslims throughout the world, whom we are all too ready to dismiss with easy generalizations. Please read "It all began on September 11, 2001 -- the What and the Why of the Pilgrimage."

I am especially seeking Catholic School teachers, and there are several incentives:

1. Participation in the Pilgrimage is accredited by Loyola Marymount University for 4.5 semester hours of extension credit.  The information has not yet been updated for 2011, but click here for last year's information.  I am sure it will not change substantially for 2011.

2. A $2,000 scholarship for Catholic School teachers.  I realize that participation in the Pilgrimage, necessitating two weeks out of school at the beginning of May, has to be a hardship for both the teacher and the school, I am able to offer a limited number of generous scholarships: $1,000 deducted from the cost of the Pilgrimage for the teacher, and $1,000 to the school to help defray the cost of a substitute teacher.  Click here for the "open letter" I sent to principals, and click here for the course syllabus.  There are many ways that the whole school community, as well as teacher's own class, can benefit immensely from a teacher's participation in the Pilgrimage.  And I am eager to help explore and develop those possibilities.

3. Last year, Maddie Murphy, 5th grade teacher from Good Shepherd, was a Pilgrim.  Click here for her blog, a diary of the experience that she wrote for her students; and click here for the photos she posted on Picasa.  through Skype, she was also able to be in frequent direct contact with her students and with the school during the trip -- a wonderful opportunity for her class and for the whole school community.

Come, journey on this Pilgrimage with Fr. Tom Welbers as we
follow the footsteps of our recent Popes: Benedict XVI. John Paul II, Paul VI, and John XXIII (fondly remembered as “the Turkish Pope”)
cross the paths of St. Paul, St. Peter, St. John the Evangelist, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and many other Apostles and Saints
discover the heritage of faith left to us by the great Fathers and Mothers of the first seven centuries of Christianity
explore the fascinating and little known history of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires
come to understand the faith and culture of Islam: what we as Christians share with Muslims and how we differ
What is a pilgrimage?
It’s a spiritual journey in which we open ourselves to the God who is ever-alive among us in all times and places.
It’s a journey of discovery to places made holy by the encounter between God and his people.
It’s a journey of understanding where we can learn and appreciate the hand of God working among many people.
On our Early Christian World Pilgrimage, we will visit wonderful places, in the comfort and security of modern travel, be led by an expert tour guide, enjoy wonderful food, and stay in excellent hotels.
But this is not a vacation; it is a pilgrimage. It's more like a retreat than a sight-seeing tour.
We will celebrate Mass whenever we can, sometimes in ancient, historic churches. Every day will also be punctuated by brief morning and evening prayer, and appropriate prayers and reflections at many significant places.
Both our guide and I will speak about the spiritual meaning of the sites we will visit and the sights we will see, in addition to their history and culture.
We will study and reflect on relevant passages of Scripture, and probe other historical documents to shed light on the development of our faith.
We will have many opportunities to learn about the Catholic and Orthodox Byzantine churches and their unique spirituality, as well as the faith and practice of Islamic traditions and present-day Muslims.
And . . . not least . . . we will get to know one another in new ways and form wonderful new and lasting friendships.