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Having gone on pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the footsteps of Jesus, the next best thing seemed to be to travel down the Aegean Coast of Turkey in the steps of St Paul. So at the end of May a group of twenty three intrepid pilgrims set off to fly to Istanbul for a week of travelling, visiting ancient sites and sampling Turkish cuisine (variable) and sunshine (brilliant).
Istanbul is a beautiful city, sitting on the Bosphorus, a cultural crossroads where East meets West. We explored Hagia Sophia, the Justinian underground cisterns (setting of a scene in 'From Russia with Love'), and the Topkapi Palace, with its lovely grounds and ancient Harem.
Having immersed ourselves in the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires we then headed off by coach to the Gallipoli Peninsula, scene of terrible carnage in the First World War.
We stopped at Anzac Beach to visit the tiny cemetery and in glorious sunshine at that beautiful spot we paused to remember those who had died nearly one hundred years ago.
Ancient Troy in the evening light was a peaceful but confusing place, untangling so many layers of excavation, but the lizards were fun to watch, and the view over the plain was impressive.
From then on we began to tread in the steps of St Paul, visiting Laodicea, the Roman City of Aphrodisias, and the spectacular wins at Ephesus, where Paul caused a riot by the silversmiths of the city and had to be smuggled away secretly. At this point we were not only following Paul's third missionary journey, but also visiting the seven churches of Asia mentioned by St John in the Book of Revelation.
We celebrated communion at the House of St Mary where St John and the Virgin Mary are supposed to have settled when they left Jerusalem.
On our final day we stood in the theatre at Miletus where Paul summoned the elders of the Church at Ephesus before he set sail for Jerusalem. We imagined him making his sad farewell to the Christian community as we too prepared to pack our bags ready for the journey back to England.
We came away with a kaleidoscope of images and experiences, ranging in date from the thirteenth century BC to the twentieth century AD, having witnessed evidence of the rise and fall of kingdoms and civilizations, and the vitality but also the fragility of the Christian Church. Thank you McCabe Travel and to Janet Kitchen for smoothing our way and making the journey possible.
We found the Christian cross carved on tombs, pillars and walls at many ancient sites, a reminder that our faith is 'ever old and ever new', and that we must never take it for granted.