Archive for February, 2011

Chiang Mai

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

After over 15 hours of travel, I’m finally in Thailand! I went from Athens to Istanbul to Bangkok to Chiang Mai. When I got to the hotel room late afternoon, I took a very long nap. But I am so glad to be here just to relax with some like-minded friends in the next five days.

Imperial Mae

After my nap, I went to the night bazaar to look for something to eat. I came across this plaza with street food, massage, garden, souvenir shops, and lots and lots of tourists. I resisted the temptation to spend more time than I should. There’ll be plenty of opportunities later.

After dinner, I gave myself a treat and got this rotee, a Thai dessert. It’s like crepe but thicker, and they also put condensed milk as topping. What a way to end a very long travel day!

banana and chocolate rotee


Sunday, February 6th, 2011

I had an extra day to spend in Athens before flying to Bangkok. I checked in to this hotel with a wonderful view of the Acropolis.

view from the window

The hotel is centrally located so I was able to walk around the Plaka, a marketplace area where tourists abound. Like all souvenir corners around the world, these places threatened to trap me with its keychains, magnets, playing cards, shirts, and mugs. I resisted successfully, partly because I have no more room in my luggage and I still had more traveling to do. I bought a deck of cards, though, because I collect them from each country I visit.

souvenir shop

I actually walked far enough into the city that I reached the wet markets and alleyways. For some reason, I felt comfortable being among the locals who shopped for regular foods — meat, vegetables, fruits, and wares. I even spotted a few Chinese stores which was a surprise. Greek-Chinese … go figure.

Some Chinese stores

For lunch, I had street food and ordered my favorite in Greece: lamb souvlaki. I like it because they include the fries inside the pita along with the meat, tomatoes, and all the other ingredients.

lamb souvlaki

Athens, Greece

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

On Mars Hill

This place was a very important site because it was like the Supreme Court of ancient Greece. It was here where philosophers and thinkers like Plato debated and argued. It was here where democracy was born. It was also here where Paul was brought before the Council and he gave his famous speech in Acts 16. We climbed up these marble steps that led to the top of this rock with a clear view of the Acropolis from across the hill. The view from up there was breathtaking as we could see most of Athens. My friend took more of my picture than the rock I was standing on. Sorry about that.

The Acropolis

The Acropolis is what every tourist in Athens comes for … and though it was not necessarily in Paul’s footsteps, we just had to go take a look. It is definitely an ancient wonder. No wonder its architecture inspired many buildings around the world!

Plaka (night walking)

The Parthenon is a building dedicated to the goddess Athena. Here I am with our directors, Pastor Nate and his wife, Chris.

The Parthenon

We went on to the ruins in Corinth, the Las Vegas of the ancient world. Our group talked at length about how notorious the Corinthians were in their promiscuity and immorality. I learned that to be called a “Corinthian” in those days was an insult. It was said that though Paul considered the city to be strategic in location and influence, he was afraid to go into the city because of its reputation. The Agora in Corinth was a very big one, including a temple to the god Apollo. It was interesting that when we were taking pictures of a very old fountain, we could still hear water from below the mouth of the spring.

ruins in Corinth

As the tour comes to an end, I remember the two people who made it special for me: Katrina and Angel. We ate most meals together and sat together in the bus. We had all kinds of fun telling stories, cracking up at jokes, and sharing meaningful moments, not to mention taking each other’s pictures along the way. Thank God for Facebook.

Katrina, Angel, and me

Footsteps of Paul

Friday, February 4th, 2011

In the itinerary today: Philippi and Thessaloniki.

A major road that took us from Kavalla to Philippi is the New Ignatia Way. We drove along for hours on this highway. When we reached the ruins in Philippi, we saw the original Ignatia Way where travelers of old used to reach this ancient city. The apostle Paul walked these very steps to enter Philippi.

Via Ignatia

Paul most likely passed by this large forum and mingled in the marketplace, or the Agora, to gain an audience here. We surveyed where the shops, the theatre, the colonnades, the temples, and the bath houses used to be. I imagined Paul getting up on the bema (platform) and gathering a crowd to hear him teach about the gospel. It was here that a slave girl became a believer and lost business for her owners. This led to Paul’s imprisonment and eventual encounter with the Roman soldier who also became a believer. Along with Lydia, these converts began the church movement in Europe.

During the Byzantine era, the city of Philippi tried to build a basilica to rival the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul; however, the dome collapsed. They settled for a smaller octagonal church within the original structure. We saw the mosaics of this church’s ruins.

forum in Philippi

After another drive of about two hours, we reached the second largest city in Greece, Thessaloniki. Instead of ruins, we saw a thriving city here. We visited a museum and drove by parks, city halls, resort hotels, shops and restaurants, and a very large university (100,000 students). The streets are busy with people and construction. An interesting fact I learned is that stores are usually closed from 2-5 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays for siesta. They open again at 5 p.m. and open until 9 p.m. Greeks eat their lunch around 2-2:30 and dinner at around 9 p.m. Mornings begin around 8 a.m. No wonder Aristotle Square was slow at 1:30 p.m. when we decided to have a late lunch!!

Aristotle Square, Thessaloniki

We were also able to visit a Greek Orthodox Church called St. Demetrius in the heart of Thessaloniki. Since we could not do our devotionals inside, we gathered right outside for scripture reading and prayer. We read from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians when he exhorted them to hold on to the hope of Christ’s second coming. He said, “encourage each other with these words.” This is exactly what we did today.

Scripture Reading

Inside the church, we saw icons, relics, censers, and all kinds of liturgical elements of the Orthodox Church. Our tour guide gave us a quick lesson on their practices, beliefs, and history.

St. Demetrius Church

Apart from the historical tour, I was able to have some alone time to just walk along the shores of Thessaloniki after lunch. I caught sight of a familiar flag and inadvertently found the Philippine consulate in Greece! Later that night, I saw a sign next to a clinic that read “MedinPinoy” which is clearly Filipino (unless it’s a Greek word). It made me wonder about the Filipino population in this town!

Philippine Consulate in Greece


Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

We spent most of the day traveling from Turkey to Greece. Early morning, we crossed the border by taking the ferry on the Dardanelles, a most historic body of water in this part of the world. I remember studying about this river in World History class. This morning, I actually crossed it!

sunrise at Dardenelle

After Paul left Troas, he sailed with Silas to Neapolis. During the Byzantine era, Neapolis was renamed Christopolous. When the Ottomans took over, it was renamed Kavalla. It still bears that name today and our bus drove along the footsteps of Paul in this ancient city. As we looked around, we saw Roman aqueducts as well as Byzantine forts. Most of the Ottoman ruins are gone. I learned today that Greece is 97% Orthodox Christian, 2% Muslim, and 1% Others (Catholics, Protestants, atheists). Although I don’t know much about Orthodox Christianity, I felt a sense of familiarity seeing church steeples instead of minarets, fancy boutiques instead of chaotic bazaars. Our first stop today was the place where the first convert in Europe was baptized.

river in Philippi

“On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God.” (Acts 16:13-14)

Our tour guide noted that even though Lydia is known in the Christian world as the first European convert, she is actually the first convert in Europe. The truth is, since she is from Thyatira, geographically, she belongs to Asia Minor.

In this spot where it is believed Lydia and her family were baptized, a cathedral was built called the Church of Saint Lydia. It is a quaint little place of worship.

Baptistery of Saint Lydia

Inside the church are icons of the saints, stained glass windows, an octagonal baptistery, and beautiful arches. Even though the dome is not as big as the cathedrals I’ve seen, it is rich in detail as the baptism of Jesus is depicted in its art.

dome at St. Lydia's Church

Pergamum, Pagan Pilgrimage

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

“I know where you live–where Satan has his throne.” (Revelation 2:13)

The visit to Bergama today made me think about this verse in the letter to the church in Pergamum. We saw the ruins of what appeared to be temples dedicated to all kinds of gods. On top of the acropolis was a gigantic one for Caesar. Emperor-worship trumped the worship of gods and goddesses. Right below the hill of the Caesars were the ruins of the temples of Zeus (sky god), Bacchus (god of wine), and Athena (goddess of wisdom). It was indeed a place where people’s lives centered around pagan gods. The first Christian martyr in that area was Antipas, the “faithful witness, who was put to death in [the] city—where Satan lives.” I will always remember looking up at the high columns and climbing the wide rocks where the emperor temples used to be. I can only imagine that it was as grand as a cathedral when it was still standing.


We are blessed to have three pastors to lead us in devotionals throughout this trip. It was especially important to have spiritual perspective as we pass by places like this one where pagan practices seem to have infiltrated the early Christian church in Pergamum.

Nate, Jason, and Dale

On the bus ride to Troas, I saw this beautiful scene of sunlight streaming through the clouds casting its light against the Aegean Sea.

light through the clouds

During sunset, our group had a devotional by the shores of Troas where Paul bid farewell to the church elders. We read Acts 20 and sang a song. I was especially touched by the part where the brethren “all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.” (Acts 20:37-38). We stood on the very shores where this took place. It was sobering to think that Paul knew it would be his last time with them; we all picked up some pebbles to remember the place.

shores of Troas


Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

bird's eyeview

Ephesus was the most important city in the Roman province in the west coast, and it shows. It took us most of the morning to tour the entire city. The ruins of a theatre, a stadium, library, baths, agoras, paved street, and temples are still visible. Besides the renovations underway, there are distinct structures that are still standing. My favorite is the library. It is said to the be the grandest library in ancient times, second only to the one in Alexandria, Egypt. The scrolls are, of course, gone but the beauty of the building is still breathtaking!

Ephesus Library

“The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together. Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater.” (Acts 19:29-31)

This ancient theatre seated 25,000 people and it was the same spot where Paul wanted to speak to the crowd but was prevented from doing so. The Ephesus crowd was so entrenched with the worship of Artemis that they took offense at Paul’s message (read Acts 19). Here I am in the theatre with fellow pilgrims.

Ephesus Theatre

Our Turkish tour guide is not a Christian but he explained this concept so well I thought it is worth sharing. He talked about early Christians and how they came up with the fish symbol and how they identified themselves with each other. I thought it was fascinating, particularly the pie chart-looking symbol.

We drove another half hour to St. John’s Basilica where we visited the supposed burial place of St. John the Theologian, the writer of one of the gospels and the book of Revelation. The tour did not include the ferry to Patmos Island where he received the visions for the seven churches. But I was happy to just see the ruins of the cathedral built on top of the traditional place of his burial.

St. John's Basilica

Finally, on our way out of the different sites, I saw something that made me think I was back in China. After a whole day of intense historical and spiritual study, it was good to have a good laugh about this one.

they're everywhere!