Not the Bird

Travel writing from my study abroad program in Turkey; the Burch Field Research Seminar through UNC-CH. Five weeks in Istanbul, two weeks traveling Western Turkey. Awesomeness.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Turkish Mysteries and Memories

As written down by Amanda and remembered by all of no particular order...

1. Drinking from the same water glass
2. Sheep following us into the cave in Cappadocia
3. Never getting menus at restaurants
4. David’s napkin fiasco (under galata bridge)
5. David getting kissed on both cheeks after spilling tea in his lap at doner stand
6. Cheetos having weird flavors (beef, yogurt, etc.)
7. Mehmet, pilav man
8. Smily, Scowly, and Dad (doner guys)
9. Fake ID (PVC stands)
10. Tiny washing machines and no dryers
11. Power going out night before two week travel, and lantern expedition
12. Robin fiasco (not saving beer and food; emailing Freidrike)
13. Climbing the walls, literally
14. Magnum ice cream
15. Calisthenics with the Turks
16. Rushing Taksim, and the place in Cannakale
17. David getting hit by the car during EuroCup celebration
18. Poisonous plant experience with Emily in Cappadocia
19. David scaring Amanda to death in the darkest cave in the world in Cappadocia
20. Underground city claustrophobia
21. 95 stairs to our flat
22. Lavender shirts, unbuttoned to the sternum
23. Just a minute, loading
24. Emily’s comfy pants
25. Turkish hairstyle
26. No cell phones on the bus
27. Where's William?
28. Ferry to Bursa? Wtf
29. BURSA in general
30. Miscellaneous Turks of all kinds
31. Sabanci University after like three hours on the road
32. Marco Polo map (aka Mini Tours of Turkey, copyright 1978)
33. “Your face looks like George Bush” – to Kelly
34. Black shirt creeper on gay cruise (aka the ferry) and the bus
35. Wine and Gazoz
36. Selman drinking it out of a bowl
37. Edward leaning out window to get fresh air
38. Amanda’s head lamp and dry heaving
39. Chain smoking Turks
40. The broken squatty toilet
41. Kelly’s toilet rating system
42. Hamam in Bursa: the boys and their jammers; girls needing to break out of the penitentiary
43. New variations on old classics
44. Being told not to waterfall at Darkness
45. Scouting out the transvestite club
46. Dartying in the sleeper car
47. Dartying in the cave
48. Not drinking during the call to prayer
49. Group pics everywhere
50. Senior pics : )
51. Breaking the bed
52. Dia % dogs
53. Cat gangs located across the street from said Dia dogs
54. “So I see you have some su in the yogurt tub…” – kitten
55. Mehmet picking his nose
56. Aygaz truck waking us up every day
57. Nobody knows.
58. Mulan “Be a Man” as our theme song
59. Singing in general, karaoke style
60. Swimming across a crater lake
61. Kristina’s camera stuck in customs
62. Every mode of transportation possible
63. Emily’s rhyme game
64. “Emily what do you hit with a hammer?” Answer: "Snail."
65. Akbils
66. Mustafa the bus driver
67. Fortune-telling bunnies
68. Cappy hour
69. Sultan Su
70. Scavenger hunt game
71. “umm I dunno…” - Clayton
72. Bon Qui Qui skit being sung by Clayton to get Amanda down an Aztec-ish ruin
73. Jumping off a ridiculously tall boulder in Egirdir
74. Edward naked jumping off, William getting ready to take a pic
75. “Ohh no” David
76. PowerTurk being ridiculous
77. Euro Cup
78. Emily’s videos in general
79. Trying to skinny dip in Pamukkale
80. Efes
81. Cheese with the fur
82. "Mm hm" - Emily
83. David's bathroom in the village being in the stables across the street on the second floor
84. Myes
85. Esenler - the village
86. “It's like a deer rubbing its antlers against a tree and scraping the bark off” – Yekta
87. Mystic Turks calling Kelly 25 times
88. Picking apricots off a tree from hot air balloon ride
89. Looking for shooting stars from top of caves in Cappadocia
90. Darty
91. Terrace in general
92. Joja jola light
93. C’s being sneaky ass j’s
94. Sitting on the side of the ferries
95. Frogger
96. B.O on the tram
97. Clayton and his kittens
98. “Hello!” - the woman in the Hamam taking off Kristina’s top
99. Having someone else give you a wedgie
100. “Are you ready for this?” - William, about his tattoo
101. Chicken-fighting in the Aegean
102. David and Amanda drowning each other in the Aegean
103. Humpback whales in the Aegean
104. Americans being the exclamation of choice to rally the group
105. Bunny-hopping Murat
106. Techno dance clubs
107. Hokeypokey with Turks
108. Finding all the blacks in Istanbul
109. Energy ball dancing catching on like wildfire
110. Plants growing on peoples roofs, especially in Konya
111. Mussels and lemons being sold on the side of road
112. Roasted chestnuts
113. Corn in cup (misc. toppings such as lemon, pomagrenate juice, honey, mayo, ketchup, etc.)
114. Kumpir
115. Waffles
116. "Hello, my darling."
117. "I saw you on facebook last night."
118. Goose in Kadikoy
119. Ortakoy
120. Greek village by Selcuk
121. Man cherries
122. Very sour erik
123. "That woman cherry tree just bitch slapped me!" - Edward
124. Getting on the train to Syria
125. Simit guy dropping said simit and putting it back on stand
126. Hande
127. "Sarap!" sounding like "Shutup!" when Kristina said it to Hande
128. Cave crumbling around us
129. Cave being freezing and damp
130. Turkish coffee, stuck in teeth
131. Rhombus room
132. Farmers' tan
133. Gross quicksand shite in crater lake
134. Turks carrying loads of shite
135. Three pebbles in Amanda's foot
136. 1 YTL doner
137. Food poisoning
138. Dinners at the profs
139. Breaking shite at the profs
140. Catch phrase at the profs
141. "Eww stink" - Edward
142. Yekta translating for the mufti
143. Orange shirt guy being annoying during meeting with the mufti
144. "Wait, where’s Zoe?"
145. David's kilim
146. Turkish showers, with toilets
147. Toilet paper shields
148. TMT
149. "Wooph!"
150. No central air
151. "Is this a joke?"
152. Turkish mystery
153. Turkish breakfasts
154. Goldella
155. "Japon?" - always directed at Edward
156. The twins - David and Edward
157. Edward = Erol in Turks' minds
158. Dawud
159. Leopard and gunshots in national park
160. "WC X!" (on the train, the X was the fork and knife for the dining car)
161. BBC interview in dining car
162. “And so I can say...” – tour guide
163. Tourguide and Turko being the names Fez tour guide Amanda called our bus driver
164. Uncomfortable Fez bus
165. Kristina’s misc. bruises
166. Amanda’s black eye via Clayton
167. All the sales pitches, especially from restaurants
168. "This is ridiculous!" - David
169. Cucumber stands on the side of the road
170. Changing clothes outside at the calcium deposits in Pamukkale
171. Speedo guy under waterfall the at calcium deposits
172. Swimming in the raki pool
173. Communal shower in Egirdir; hair washing circle
174. Getting as many people in a cab as possible to save money
175. Clayton’s mouth being agape when he learned who Leslie Pearce’s advisor was
176. Amanda: “I think Yekta knows something we don’t.” Clayton: “Yeah, the language.”
177. Clayton having his shoes shined unwillingly
178. Sweetie is that really what you want - song from Cappadocia
179. "What's this little gem?"
180. "Oh hey Cappy, tasting delish."
181. “Well, ya'll have fun redoing the back bedroom!” – Amanda

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Last Week

After sleeping the morning away on Tuesday, I awoke feeling better but still not at 100%. The rest of the day was spent recovering, catching up on blogging, and planning out what all needed to be done for my project on women’s dress in contemporary Turkey with Kristina. That night we had a delicious pasta supper cooked by Edward and Kristina, which worked great on my stomach.

The next morning, Kristina accompanied me to buy a painting from the artist we stumbled upon in Sultanahmet a few weeks ago and to ask the woman if she would allow us to interview her for our project. After looking through a number of paintings of Istanbul, I settled on the perfect one, which I can’t wait to get home and frame. Once I paid, we ventured in asking the young woman for an interview. With a bit of difficulty getting lost in translation, we settled to come back later in the day with, of course, our handy translator Yekta.

We looked around at some hotels for Kristina to stay in with her boyfriend and then rushed back up to Prof. Sarah and William’s flat for a group discussion. We reviewed our two-week adventure and talked about our projects.

Then it was back to our own flat for some R&R until Yekta finished up helping Clayton and Edward get their “Turkish haircuts.” We headed out around 4:00 p.m. and with Yekta’s help had a great interview with Elif, the artist. Elif wears a headscarf, but not for traditional Islamic reasons. She gave us a lot of things to ponder over, such as the fact that she takes off her headscarf whenever she goes to art shows because of other people’s judgment. We also found out her whole family paints and her father is a pretty famous artist in Istanbul. The painting I actually bought was done by her brother.

Then Kristina and I wondered around checking out hotels, getting lost deep in the Sultanahmet neighborhood. In the process we got shot at with water guns by little boys…somebody didn’t teach their children any manners. Eventually we emerged unscathed and made it back to the flat by about the time night fell.

Thursday was a pretty big day. We had an appointment at the American consulate at 3:00. We walked, took a metro, a dolmus, and a taxi to get there. I think we thoroughly impressed the people at the consulate with our traveling abilities. The consulate is a relatively new building; it had previously been pretty close to us in Beyoglu, but they decided to make it a bit more inaccessible.

The consulate literally now looks like a fortress on a hill with walls that surround its grounds. It illicits mix feelings – one, it’s obviously secluded and standoffish; two, I’m happy it looks pretty impenetrable.

We had quite an in-depth discussion with the people at the consulate. They essentially told us not to repeat what they said as we asked questions on the AKP, American-Turkish relations, and other such things. It was interesting and I think we made a good impression. Afterwards, it was back to the flat to do some work.

Friday was all about the 4th of the July and the party we were hosting. Unfortunately, most of our guests, professors and other such people who have helped us while in Turkey could not make it, but we were not going to let that deter our spirit. After all, our Social Chairs (Amanda and Edward) had carefully planned the event down to dividing us into subcommittees to prepare for it. Meat and Cheese subcommittee for said party (Clayton and I) had potentially the hardest task of all – finding good cheese and something that resembles ground beef. With our skills though, we managed to obtain both. Victorious, we returned to the flat, where it was back to work on various things that needed to be done for our program.

Later, Kristina and I headed to Kanyon Mall, a great postmodern structure with numerous stores in an already ritzy area of town. We were originally going to be interviewing a woman there for our project, but she had to cancel and we decided we wanted to check it out anyway. After browsing around, figuring out how to use Turkish payphones, and enjoying a chocolate-chip cookie, we figured we needed to head on back because both of us were on food prep for the party.

Knife in hand, I cut apples and watermelon without managing to injure myself, and I carefully crafted our mystery meat into burger patties. We had a pleasant party with sparklers included and spotted some fireworks in the distance. We also met a Bogazci University student who would be studying at UNC in the fall.

On Saturday I woke up with a sense of finality. I still had two days left, but time was quickly slipping away.

Kristina and I conducted another interview and then headed back to the flat to due some work for the program. That night was my last real night in Istanbul, so I was up for a little celebration. We went back to our old haunt that Murat, our neighbor before he mysteriously disappeared, took us too our first week. Of course, a little dancing was included even though some of the group left for various reasons.

Waking up Sunday was bittersweet for obvious reasons. We met Prof Sarah and William at the Byzantine basilica cistern for once last touristy thing and then took a boat up the Bosphorus where we held our last group discussion. That afternoon, after a short nap and packing, I managed to find the Nadal-Federer Wimbledon final (now considered epic – go Rafa!) on TV and lingered over it before getting ready for supper that night.

Prof Sarah and William were taking us to a pretty famous restaurant for our last meal together. The food was delicious, but the company was even better. Our Turkish teacher, Hande came with us as well. We relived a lot of stories and ate way too much, but as all things this past week, time passed by way too quickly. Prof Sarah and William each presented us a gift, finding the perfect thing for each of us – a Galatasaray football jersey for me – and quite a number of toasts were given.

That night, once arriving back to the flat, we had a special treat. All throughout our stay, there has been singing and one of our favorite songs to sing together was “Be A Man” from Disney’s Mulan. Though we didn’t have the DVD for it, Kevin managed to download it online and we all gathered around his laptop to watch it. A nice way to put an exclamation point on the end of our trip.

Then came the goodbyes. Kevin and Zoe were first to leave as they had a 5:30 a.m. flight. Kelly and I said our goodbyes to the boys as neither of us expected to see them tomorrow morning when we left.

Kelly woke me up this morning as she headed out the door and now, I’m preparing to leave in just a few minutes. My flight from the airport is at 12:30 p.m., not all that of a bad time, but, of course, I feel the need to leave four hours ahead of time.

Expect one more blogpost soon on reflections and whatnot. Nostalgia and hilarity will ensue.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Final Stop: Ankara

We left Cappadocia at 8:00 p.m. on the Fez Bus and still feeling the effects of traveling and hiking, I nodded off to sleep in the cramped quarters after a bit.

We were supposed to arrive in Ankara around midnight, at which point our group would get dropped off and the rest of the Fez Bus would continue onwards. I snapped awake sometime around midnight only to witness the sign for Ankara wiz by on the left as we took the highway on the outskirts of the city under the Istanbul sign. Prof. Sarah was sitting up front at this point and she turned to tour guide Ket asking if our bus driver, Mustafa, knew we were supposed to be dropped off in Ankara. Ket assured us that Mustafa had been informed, or was supposed to have been informed, but before long she started to get a little panicky as Mustafa kept heading down the highway.

As Ket and Prof Sarah kept telling Mustafa to go to Ankara, he got angrier and angrier, shouting in Turkish and taking his hands off the wheel to gesture. By this point, the front half of the bus was awake, and as Ket began making phone calls as Mustafa continued driving along, the rest of the bus awoke.

Mustafa kept passing exit after exit, even slowing down to just 50 km/hr for some reason. I eventually decided to go wake up Yekta who was asleep in the back of the bus around 12:45 because, you know, she spoke Turkish fluently. I was in kind of that antsy, excited state that drove Kristina, sitting beside me, crazy as I couldn’t sit still. I was a little worried, but not overly so even as Mustafa kept shouting as Yekta, Prof Sarah, and tour guide Ket kept trying to tell him to turn around to Ankara.

Ket finally got Mustafa to turn around after calling his boss, but then I got really worried as Mustafa deliberately took the split of the highway to Konya when the other side was clearly marked as Ankara. Then Mustafa decided to back up on the highway, which is a bit more acceptable in Turkish driving than American, but still not the norm as you can imagine. Eventually Mustafa stopped to ask directions to a taxi driver and we took our chance, jumping off the bus and grabbing our luggage. We yelled good luck to the rest of the Fez Bus as we immediately hailed four taxis on the side of the highway at 2:00 a.m.

With Yekta’s translation, we eventually came to the conclusion that Mustafa didn’t go to Ankara because he didn’t know it and as a solution, decided to skip it entirely. Yeah, okay, that logic obviously works.

So here we were, on the side of a random highway in Ankara at 2:00 a.m. Don’t worry mom and dad; everything was under control after we got off the bus and weren’t possibly being kidnapped by an angry Turk with a grudge against Ankara. In the taxis, we headed to Bilkent University where we were staying. Luckily we were on the side of Ankara where Bilkent was, so the drive wasn’t all that long.

Unfortunately, the taxi drivers of course had no idea where each individual dorm was that we were staying in for the next two nights. So we had to stop a fair number of times on campus and ask directions to random students. Good thing it was a Saturday night and a university campus is a university campus no matter where you are in the world. My favorite was when the car I was in, which was the first of the four, pulled right up next to a couple that was getting cozy on a bench to ask directions. My automatic reaction was, “no way is the cab driver going to ask this couple,” but he got out of the car and strolled right up to them like nothing was wrong. I can only imagine what they were thinking as four cabs pulled up next to them with twelve Americans peering out the window.

We eventually found the boys dorm first, and then the Prof Sarah and William found theirs. So after dropping off the boys, we consolidated into two taxis. Luggage and Prof Sarah went into one, while six girls plus the cab driver went into another. I ended up on Kelly’s lap in the front seat with no head room, so I quickly asked for the window to be rolled down so I could hang halfway out and have room. Don’t worry mom and dad, it was a short drive to the dorm and there weren’t any other cars out.

We finally got to crash, split between two rooms, at 3:00 a.m.

Prof. Sarah luckily didn’t have to wake us up until 10:00 as our original guide’s daughter was sick. So without any immediately plans we decided to head out to Gordian - Phrygian ruins and an excavation site run by UNC Professor Ken Sams. The Phrygians were best known for their King Midas, who by legend has it, had everything he touched turned to gold. And Gordian itself is known for the famed Gordian Knot that Alexander the Great cut into two with his sword to fulfill a prophecy. Professor Sams was the second excavation leader of the site since 1957, which was the longest running American excavation in Turkey.

Anyway, we took taxis from Bilkent to the bus station where we loaded up on a, you guessed it, charter bus. We made it to the city close to Gordian with no problems and then, in the process of figuring out which bus to take to the city center where we could catch taxis, a mystic Turk appeared. Before I knew it, said mystic Turk led us to an empty charter bus where the 12 of us loaded up and we were off to Gordian for 100 lira. Along the way, mystic Turk driver (on his cell phone and driving!!! – see previous post about Turks belief on cell phones and brakes) opened the door and one of his buddies jumped on the bus with us.

I can only imagine that conversation:

“Hey, I’m heading out to the middle of nowhere with a dozen Americans so they can look at some ruins; want to come? I’ll let you drive the bus.”

“Sure, I’m on the street corner.”

“Hang on, I’ll be right there, you can just jump on.”

Yekta later affirmed that’s essentially how the conversation went.

Professor Sams gave us a great in-depth rundown of the site. I love archaeology I really do, I find it fascinating, trying to piece together history from whatever ruins and artifacts ancient cultures have left. Archeology is a sister to history; where history is learned from texts, archeology teaches you from artifacts and ancient signs of life. Ideally, you need both to complete a full study of ancient life, but for sites that date back to the B.C. you mostly just have artifacts from which to piece together people’s lives. Despite this however, I don’t think I have the kind of love for it that it takes to toil weeks at a time on one site in the hot sun for just a little money. Of course, that just ups my respect for people like Prof Sams.

I think this is a good point to talk about all the different cultures that have made up Turkey and Anatolia. Here’s a brief rundown of the major empires that have existed in Anatolia and that we’ve encountered in our past two weeks traveling.


And that’s just to name a few. Turks are confused about their identity with all these different things and to add to that confusion they like Hittites and don’t like to acknowledge the Hellenistic stuff unless if it’s for tourists. We don’t quite have that same complication of empires in the US.

After walking us around the site, explaining what they think the Phrygians lives were like, Prof. Sams took us to Midas’ Tomb. Or it’s possibly Midas’ Tomb; they now think the dates are more suited to Midas’ father. The tomb is inside a burial mound that reminds me a lot of the Indian Mounds near Macon, GA where I grew up, but those Native Americans used mounds in their daily lives instead of just as important burials. The tomb is made entirely of wood and, dating to the 8th century, is the oldest surviving wood structure in the world - seeing something organic that old and still completely intact is pretty amazing.

Then after running around the onsite museum for a few minutes we were back on our empty charter bus and back to the small bus station to catch an actual charter bus to Ankara. After a relaxing ride that ended up in Ankara’s very large and busy bus station, we left Yekta to visit a friend and Prof Sarah and William to figure out how we were going to make it back to Istanbul the next night. Fez Bus was not an option after the Mustafa-fiasco. We headed down into the center of Ankara for some strolling of the streets and for food, considering we hadn’t really eaten anything all day besides snacks.

We sat around at a cheap Turkish fast food joint for a long while watching the people pass and talking amongst ourselves. Some of our group went to visit an internet café while the rest of us got accosted by some of the Turks working there after sitting there for an extended period. When I say accosted, of course I mean just attempted conversation. They held a conversation mostly through Clayton who somehow, seems to mystically understand mystic Turks. They eventually figured out we wanted to go see Kocatepe Camii, the supposedly largest mosque in the world. It’s relatively new and, interestingly enough, now somewhat of a symbol for Ankara.

The Turks found some friends to direct us to Kocatepe for some of the way. After we left them, we stumbled up the straight they pointed out to us and then tried to figure out where to go from there. Luckily, we were rescued again by more Turks, this time two women (uncovered), who asked us if they could help. This was the first time we had been purposefully approached by women. Turns out these two university students were on their way to Kocatepe so they would take us. I love coincidences.

Kocatepe is pretty imposing. On top of a hill and designed to look like Sultanahmet in Istanbul, it was twilight when we approached, giving it a mystic glow. The two women took us inside, but unfortunately we were short on headscarves and the mosque had run out as well. After I took a look around, I gave mine over to Kristina so she could go take a look and play photographer. I sat outside a few minutes before one of the women came out and gave me her headscarf. She ushered me inside and in broken English told me that she had a friend that would show us Kocatepe.

The friend was another university woman who had just come down from praying. Unfortunately we got a bit lost in translation, but they were an interesting bunch. Just observing their behavior in the mosque was curious. They weren’t submissive in any sort; talking at a normal level and approaching the front of the mosque.

After a bit we got ready to leave as the EuroCup final between Spain and Germany was approaching rapidly. We said our goodbyes and I tried to give the headscarf back to the woman outside. She insisted it was gift however, and so I still have it as a testament to my time in Ankara, their amazing hospitality, and as a reminder as to what modern Islam can be.

We wandered our way back to the area we were in before and found a good bar to watch the game. I was pulling for Spain much to David’s disdain. Our group was split between Germany and Spain, but luckily Spain pulled out the win – they’re first major tournament win in 44 years.

Unfortunately during this time, Kristina was slowly going under and by the end of the game, she looked pretty miserable. We made our way back to the metro to begin our journey back to Bilkent by taking the metro to the end of its line at the bus station, but unfortunately none of the toilets there were open. Edward went with Kristina as they dashed back to the surface to find a toilet while the rest of us anxiously waited for what we thought was the last metro of the day. We were forced to board without them as they still hadn’t made it back as the metro pulled up to its stop.

Luckily, we were wrong and the real last metro was after the one we took, which thankfully Edward and Kristina caught. Somehow things fell together and as I waited at the metro’s entrance to the bus station with Amanda for them, Clayton somehow organized a dolmus to take the group of us from the bus station all the way to the dorms at Bilkent. Remember, a dolmus is a lot cheaper than a taxi and with nine of us, it just made it easier as well.

We managed to get Kristina who was only getting worse onto the dolmus and the driver who turned out to be a great guy got us to the dorms. We gave him a massive tip for waiting, stopping, and finding our dorms. As us girls rushed off to the dorm to get Kristina inside, the guys stayed behind and also managed to get the driver’s number to call him for transportation in the morning.

Most of the girls went to bed pretty quickly. Kristina was still feeling horrible and, seeing as we are constantly roommates, I was a bit worried. I stayed up a bit to blog in the suite lounge only to watch her repeatedly get up to make it to the bathroom. By 3:00 a.m., I couldn’t even keep my eyes open and so making sure she didn’t want me to call anybody, I went onto bed. I was asleep pretty quickly and woke up only once to see a figure that I later found out was Prof. Sarah in our doorway. Turns out, Kristina called Prof at 5:30 and when I woke up a bit before 9:00 a.m. I found out from Amanda that Prof Sarah came and took Kristina to student health that morning.

With Kristina taken care of and staying behind with Prof to sleep, we began our final day of the trip. Yekta called the dolmus driver and he appeared with his perpetually constant cigarette to take us off to the train station where we would drop off our stuff for the day. For you see, instead of taking Fez Bus, Prof. Sarah and William had got us three cabins on an overnight train to Istanbul. Perfect.

We stuffed our luggage into lockers and William led us to Anit Kabir, Ataturks’ massive mausoleum. Mid walk, I felt a couple of uncomfortable rumblings in my stomach but ignored it for the most part. After all, we were going to visit The Man, The Father of the Turks, Mustafa Kemal, later known as Ataturk and well, all things Turkish Republic.

If I could buried in similar style to Ataturk, complete with all the military guards, the national park, the long walk-way, and the giant columned-building with gold that actually housed my sarcophagus --- that would be perfect. I guess all I have to do is take a crumbling Empire that’s about to be divided up among European forces and turn it into a Republic after winning a couple of great battles and then pass a bunch of reforms to lead the country into the modern era. I better get started.

Yekta’s grandfather led us through Anit Kabir, imparting anecdote and information along the way. He’s a pretty interesting man as well; a lawyer and a politician, one of the guard’s at the museum actually came up and shook his hand upon recognizing him. I swear, Yetka’s family knows everybody in Turkey.

After watching a procession at the tomb – I love how things seem to magically fall into place on this trip – we moved on to the museum where we reviewed what we knew about Ataturk thus far and learned much, much more. Such as what kind of pajama’s the man wore. And that he owned a working rifle disguised as a cane. And that his dog was stuffed put on display in the museum.

But seriously, the museum had information on anything Ataturk even remotely touched during his life, from personal items to each thing he changed and affected in his new Turkish republic such as tourism and women’s issues.

Afterwards we gathered in the café where Yekta’s grandfather treated us to juice and some snacks. I drank a bit of juice and at a small cake, but the rumblings in my stomach increased so that’s all I managed.

Then we jumped into some taxis and headed up to the Museum of Anatolian Civilization. We then did some searching for a lunch place, but I was decidedly not feeling hungry. I didn’t eat and Clayton was in the same boat. I had to visit the bathroom and when I asked the lady working the small restaurant she affirmed my fears that the shoddy little lunch place didn’t have a restroom. Instead she grabbed my wrist and dragged me down a block to a butcher’s shop. She led me inside talking to the workers and showed me the bathroom. I felt a bit better after my bathroom break, enough to laugh at the absurdity of my visit upon returning to the others, but this only lasted briefly.

Clayton and I decided to leave the lunch place early and went back to the grassy area near the museum. We found a shady spot and Clayton laid down next to some stairs, quickly earning a reputation as a homeless man as I kept watch over him and for the others.

After a bit, the others found us and then we waited for Kristina and Prof. Sarah to join us. Kristina still desperately needed some sleep and not in tiptop shape when they joined us so Sarah found her a bench inside the museum. I took another bathroom break with some of the others and in the process made some friends with some high school girls from south of Ankara. Their English was surprisingly good and we had quite a pleasant conversation. While our guide, Prof. Zimmerman, talked to us outside the museum’s entrance, they came up to me again introducing another friend and some more members of their group. I talked with them for a few minutes as my group disappeared.

Here’s some of our conversation:

“Emily, how old are you?”


“Are you married?”

“No (displaying my ringless fingers and noticing their shocked looks). I don’t have time to be married.”

They giggled.

“Do you girls have boyfriends?”

More giggles; then…”Do you like Turkey?”

“Of course!”

Anyway, I wished I could have talked to them longer, but I had to catch up to my group and a few of the high school boys were staring predatorily at the edges of our conversation.

The museum was a collection of amazing artifacts taken from many of the sites we have visited (excluding Hellenistic ones) on our trip. We also possibly saw a depiction of the oldest sex scene ever in a series of images on a giant clay pot – I think all the boys took a picture.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember much of what Prof. Zimmerman told us I was increasingly not feeling well during the tour. My stomach was bothering more and more and I was really cold.

With Kristina still not feeling well, Clayton getting worse, and me not in the best of shape, and a dinner engagement nearby and no where to put us, Prof Sarah decided to rent a hotel room for us to crash in.

I told the group to wake me up for supper as I figured I should try to eat something, but Clayton and Kristina remained behind. Unfortunately I couldn’t manage much besides bread and cheese at supper and that didn’t stay in me for very long. I guess I was due for some stomach problems after all this time.

Feeling kind of shoddy, I don’t remember much from supper or the time before getting onto the train and crashing into my bed. I do remember being in a really bad mood though.

The sleeping train was amazing. Amazing as in once I was asleep in my top bunk, I didn’t wake up till the others told me we weren’t all that far from Haydrapasa Station on the Asian side of Istanbul.

Finally we were back in Istanbul and, unfortunately, my last week in Turkey.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Cave Dwelling

After a brief lunch stop in Konya on Wednesday after leaving our village, we met back up with the Fez Bus and tour guide Amanda. Thankfully it was Amanda and not Bridgette (who we had once before and was kind of unpleasant.) We loaded up and found some of our old friends, most notably the two Kiwis who crack us up. Clayton can especially do a great impression of them.

We stopped briefly on the road to Cappadocia at an old kervansaray (Caravan Palace), which was intact and restored to great condition. We spent some minutes exploring its massive trading room divided up by columns, and then it was back on the Fez Bus.

We arrived in Cappadocia around 6:00 thrilled to find out our hotel had cave rooms. Okay, I know what you’re thinking, “Cave rooms? What kind of hotel are you staying at?”

It’s hard to describe Cappadocia and thus why we were thrilled to stay in cave rooms; it’s really probably the strangest place I’ve ever been. First of all, Cappadocia is more of a region, not a city or town. The Cappadocia region is situated between tectonic plates and volcanoes dot the area. The ash from hundreds of thousands of years has built up forming a soft rock type surface that’s very irregular. It’s kind of a tan color and is very crumbly. We joked that you could take a spoon to it and probably carve out a room. Because of its composition and irregular formation, it has been used for a few millennia as a place of residence. People over these last few millennia have carved out their homes in the rock. Even today, there are plenty of people who live in the rock whether if its in standalone style almost ice-cream cone buildings or built into a cliff.

It’s all very absurd sounding, and believe me, it’s very absurd looking as well. In our trek over Cappadocian valleys, we would look up and see ancient windows that have been carved into the rock. We explored many out of the way caves to find the walls blackened from centuries of fires. Pigeon holes decorated many of the areas and near them you would often find some sort of arched window or door that opened up into midair.

Cappadocia is greatly known and pushed as a Christian and Hittite settlement. Part of this, as we have discussed among ourselves, I believe is draw in Western tourists with Western money, but in truth, it was a great early Christian center. Thousands of small cave churches can be found; many of them decorated with frescos of the life of Christ; various saints, and of course, the Virgin Mary.

Cappadocia is really more like a moonscape with earth, trees, and rivers splashed in between. Though there are plenty of signs of life from over the years, it’s hard to imagine people actually living in them and using them as part of their daily life. We saw plenty of Cappadocians still living in the soft rock during our stay and it was always gave me a pause when I would look up and find a rock formation with a satellite dish sticking out of a window.

So there was plenty of reason for us to be excited about the possibility of staying in cave rooms. Unfortunately, our little inn only had two cave rooms. Drama ensues.

In the end, the smaller cave housed four people and the larger one housed six. We moved a few mattresses and after a bit of arranging, everybody sort of settled in.

We gathered at 8:00ish for supper served by the people at the inn. It was a tasty affair, but pressed for time, I didn’t quite get to enjoy my baklava desert like I wanted too. David, Edward, Kristina, Kelly, Amanda, and I ran out of the inn to catch our ride to go into Goreme, the town in the valley below where we would watch the Turkey-Germany semi-final EuroCup match. Tour guide Amanda came with the Fez Bus driver to get us and took us to a fun little bar.

We settled in and got great seats. Turkey’s miracle run ended unfortunately with a 3-2 loss. However, after a few down minutes in which both Turks and tourists mingled around the bar in melancholy, a celebration of Turkey’s success in EuroCup got started. This celebration included some great music, some weird music, some drunken Aussies, some sparkler-wielding Turks, some fire and the jandarma (military police), and me asking the Kiwis if they ate kiwis because it seemed a witty way to ask if the kiwi was good for anything.

Their response was, “Do you eat eagles?”

Lots of laugh of course.

The next day was full. Four of our group set off for hot-air ballooning at the early hour of 5:00 a.m.. I would have loved to gone as Cappadocia is suppose to be one of the best places to go hot-air ballooning, but it was a bit more than I wanted to spend. We started at 11:00 for our hike down from Uchisar where we were staying to Goreme. Our inn proprietor led us, exploring through abandoned caves and hilly paths to get an up close and personal at the strange, strange landscape that was Cappadocia.

We crashed down for lunch at Goreme sometime around 3:00 and after grabbing some ice-cream, it was off to the Goreme Open-Air Museum for a tour of a collection of churches and dwellings inside the soft Cappadocian rock. Armed with my trusty Cappadocian guidebook, I took to exploring the area by myself. The frescos inside the churches are a colorful collection and it’s interesting to compare the ones from iconoclasm to iconophile. The number of small churches is an interesting phenomenon too. However, I have to say that the biggest impression these strange dwellings gave me was that these people were small. Or there was some messed up restoration; but most of the caves built into the soft rock, free standing or in a cliff, was found as it was.

Oh, and I can’t forget the game of how many Asian tourists can you fit into a small cramped space at one time? Trust me; it’s more than you think.

After the Open-Air Museum, draining a can of Lipton Ice Tea in the space of sentence as I chatted with William, and catching a ride back up to our inn in Uchisar, it was time for supper. I stayed up with David to watch the Spain-Russia semifinal match before crashing.

We met at 10:00 a.m. the next morning to go to one of the underground cities that Cappadocia boasts. It was a bit underwhelming unfortunately because it does sound awesome. Not much of it has been excavated and apparently it is supposed to be huge. It got a little claustrophobic as the passageways were all one-way and tour group after tour group filed in. The worst was when we made it to the bottom-floor after a long trek down a tiny staircase and couldn’t make it back up because more and more tour groups kept coming down. As typical of Turkish monuments, there were no real safety measures. I stayed mostly calm, but all I could think about was what would happen if the already sketchy lights went out. Of course, I only made things worse for some of the others when I announced that we should immediately jump to the walls to avoid getting trampled by the crowds if the lights did go out.

Luckily no trampling was involved and we tail-gated behind a large tour group to make it back up to a wider section of the excavated underground city. With a bit of exploring near the exit we found a sort of an out of the way monastery that we got mostly to ourselves.

Details on the underground cities (there are at least four, I think) are sketchy whatever you may here. No historian is really sure if people permanently lived in them, just used them to escape invasion, or if they were vacation homes.

Okay, maybe we can cross out that last one. In any case, I can’t imagine living underground for an extended period of time. It’s damp, dark, and small. Again, my biggest impression coming out of the sight was that the people who used the caves were small.

After our adventure underground, we got something to eat, and then got dropped off at one end of a canyon after driving out a ways.

This was a legit canyon. The land around it was flat and bare, and then all the sudden, the earth opens revealing that the ground your standing on is more of the soft volcanic rock. In the canyon, which was probably about half a kilometer to a kilometer wide in most parts, it’s all forest with a river running through the middle of it.

It was quite a hike and I, for one, really enjoyed it. At times we would leave the path by the river, and with a bit of climbing, check out the cave dwellings built into the side of the cliff. We eventually got separated as some of us continued on while others explored the caves more extensively, but we all knew that we were to stay to the left of the river. At one point, I was with Amanda, Clayton, and Kristina in front of the rest of the group and as we climbed down over a few rocks, my arm brushed against this one plant growing alongside the path. It only took a moment for my arm to start burning. I jumped to the river as quickly as possible to splash water on it, but the skin where I had brushed against the plant was already bright red and a thick rash appeared. It hurt pretty badly, especially on the sensitive skin of my underarm, but it was hard to be in too much pain when Prince Clayton was fighting for his meter-wide peninsula kingdom against an army of two frogs armed only with pebbles.

As I had a word or two with the plant that gave me the intense burning rash just for brushing against it, we decided too wait for the others. For the rest of the trek we stayed mostly together, encountering cave churches and dwellings, farming in a national park, a random lonely outside café setup in the middle of our trek, and a donkey that Kristina and Kelly rode across the river to name a few things. There was definitely some singing involved as well and maybe, just maybe, a mystic experience.

Though I kind of got to the point, a long with some of the others, that I would only make the hike away from the river to see a church if, in Amanda’s words, Billy Graham came out of it.

We victoriously made it to end with only a few scrapes and bruises, ready for some refreshments and some swimming. The refreshment need was easily fixed and our driver took us to a nearby lake for swimming. The lake was in a crater of sorts not all that far from the canyon. As a few of us pulled a car change into our swimsuits, the rest headed down to the lake. After wading through a somewhat gross bottom and making fun of everyone as they freaked out, we were all relieved to put our feet up and float. Of course, this wasn’t good enough for our group after a while and before long, a number of us were swimming the rough kilometer in width to the other bank. It was quite exhilarating as I’ve never straight swam such a long distance before, but knowing that I could just float if I needed to rest helped ease any lingering doubts. It still probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do considering that we lacked a boat or any sort of floating device, but hey we did have a trained lifeguard.

After two long days of exploration, followed by a night in which Kristina and mine’s bed broke, we were ready for a restful day on Saturday. I gradually got myself together, had lunch, and discussion with Prof Sarah about our stay in the village and our insights into the type of life there.

Then a number of us headed out with the inn’s proprietor again for one final bout of exploration. This involved a jungle, a burning-hot metal ladder, dank caves, and a random Turk in the middle-of-nowhere with fresh-squeezed orange juice. The highlight of this trek was the large cave church. It was amazingly spacious compared to what we had seen in other places and relatively untouched with the stink of thousands of tourists like the ones we saw at Goreme.

We made it back to Uchisar to gather the others and our luggage and all pile into a van only slightly larger than a normal seven-passenger van. We were pretty impressed by the load as we all squeezed in and began our journey to Ankara.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Real Village People

Ah village life…

Monday began with a 9:00 a.m. discussion with Prof Sarah over breakfast. We talked about some our insights that we have gathered on the road the past week. Topics included urban and not-so-urban development, how huge charter buses can just stop on the side of the road and let people off, driving, and how the US and Turkey differ with their everyday laws.

After that, it was kind of a gradual get together at the front of our hotel as some of us dashed off for presents, others finished packing, and the Social Chairs (Amanda & Edward) went picnic shopping.

Then we loaded up in the van and began our drive to the Taurus Mountains. These mountains cover kind of West-Central Turkey and though they are shaped more like the Appalachian, they look nothing like them. Where the Appalachian is covered in forests, the land that we passed, including the Taurus is more shrub-like with a few trees, rocks, and lots of tall grass where the land is not being cultivated. That isn’t to say it isn’t beautiful. It’s a very different sort than I’m used to. Though deeper in the land, where we stayed in our village, there is no question if it is beautiful.

As we drove away from the city of Konya, settlements gradually got smaller and smaller until they were generally nothing but clusters of houses off the road. The land was mostly rolling hills at this point, gradually getting bigger and bigger until we hit the mountains. The tall grass was especially striking as the wind blew; making it look like waves crossed the land. I’ve never been driving across the mid-West, but I imagine it might be something like that; minus the hills and a bit drier – dry enough that my skin started to chap especially when combined with the breeze from our open windows.

I think the journey was about two hours. I read most of the way because I didn’t want to go to sleep. We stopped once for a pit stop and then we were back on the road again. The van we were in kind of putted along uphill, and, well, there were a lot of hills. Eventually, we made it to Esenler; first passing land some nomads occupied with their big mountain goats. As we pulled around a bend, there was our village, sitting on slope of a mountain.

We cruised along the bumpy road that circled around the outside of the village. We pulled in near to the small from there we could see that, before pulling into the small school building on top of the hill, there were actually two villages; Upper Esenler and Lower Esenler. Outside the school building were dozens of carpets; all of which were laid out in order to be faded by the sun.

We piled our luggage out of the van and after being informed that we would be staying in the lower village, we climbed back in and headed up the dusty road for a picnic. We selected some rocks on the slope, choosing to stay in the sun because the wind was cool. We had bread, cheese, and lots of fruit. BTW…the fruit in Turkey, if I haven’t already talked about this, is so much better (and cheaper!) than in the US. Peaches the size of both fists, red cherries, purple cherries, yellow cherries, green plums, purples plums, juicy apricots, bananas as long as your forearm, and more. Though I am still a bit skeptical about the origins of the bananas…

After our picnic, we climbed to the crest of the hill and spent a bit of time exploring the top of a mountain as well as searching for a suitable place to use the bathroom. After messing around a bit and scaring Muammer (our host from Konya who, with his brother Mehmet, helps organize foreign groups to visit their childhood home) peered over the ledges, we headed back into the village.

Muammer then took us to his orchards near the village where he showed us his cherry trees and allowed us to eat as many as we wanted. Of course they were delicious and he grew just about every type of cherry imaginable. I’ve never seen yellow cherries before. Apparently they’re “man cherries” (as translated by Yekta and expounded upon by Edward) and used just to pollinate all the other cherry trees. They can be eaten, but they aren’t as good as they others. A bit crunchy and bitter.

Once we finished up in the orchard, Muammer took us back up to the school where we collapsed on some carpets in the shade. We were served tea and gradually our party grew as more and more villagers showed up.

We spent about an hour just relaxing before they led the group of us down into the Lower Esenler. Our luggage went into a jeep/van/truck/box-on-wheels kind of vehicle, while the rest of us were guided through a winding path in order to see the village. Most of the houses are made of stone, and others were made of brick, but most were a grayish-tan color. Walking through the village, we stumbled on groups of children, cats, donkeys, and other people. There was no real set pathway either; the roads varied in width and were mostly dirt.

First Edward and Clayton left us as a girl led them to their home. The rest of us followed our guide down to the bottom of Lower Esenler where we met the vehicle that carried our luggage. Here we split up as Yekta, Kristina, Amanda, and I went to our house, David and Kevin each went to another alone, and Prof Sarah, William, Kelly, and Zoe went to theirs.

I know, I lucked out getting an actual Turk in my house. Thanks for being an awesome and patient translator Yekta!

Our family was Hasan, Emine, and Yasmin. Hasan grows just about everything in his farm down in the valley by the river and is also one of Esenler’s beekeepers. He’s very wise, hospitable, and open, but generally seems very serious. Emine, his wife, is so friendly and always seems to have a smile on her face. Yasmin is their second daughter. At 23, she’s sincere and seems happy; though apparently she has gone through some troubles. She was engaged to this man, but apparently he changed after their engagement and none of the family got along. Now they’re trying to get the engagement annulled. I know, at first I was confused too, but as Yekta explained, engagements in Turkey (or perhaps for Muslims) are much more regulated and official than engagements in the US. For one, there’s money involved that’s been given out as gifts between families. There’s also Yasmin’s dowry, which is this amazing collection of needlework, prayer rugs, and embroidery that she has been working on since she was eleven. In any case, they’re still trying to get the engagement annulled, but it looks like they have to wait until next year because of the money involved.

Yasmin escorted us inside her home where we met Hasan and Emine. It’s rather large for village standards I believe with two bedrooms, a television sitting room, a large open sitting room, and a kitchen and dining area. They also have a terrace, bathroom, and shower/washroom. One of the first things you notice when entering any of these houses is the complete lack of furniture. There is no furniture whatsoever; no dining table, no chairs, no beds, nothing. Instead, most of their open wall space is lined with thick cushions to lean upon and sit against. At night, they get down their beds which are nothing more than the same long cushions they line up against the wall, except a bit thicker. The walls are mostly bare, and if jackets or keepsakes are hung up, a sheet covers them, hiding them from view. Storage space is built into the walls so there are no dressers or vanities. Meals are eaten on the floor with a tablecloth (except I suppose it’s not really a tablecloth) spread out on the ground and a large round dish placed on something to keep it above the floor. You sit so the tablecloth covers your lap and works as a napkin. It’s very relaxing and leisurely way of eating, but it does feel a bit uncomfortable at first.

After we presented our host gifts to the family, they brought in fresh fruit from their orchards – peaches, cherries, and apricots. Fabulous. The four of us provided much amusement to the family as we struggled to eat still more fruit. Eventually I emerged as the kiraz (cherry) champion; though Amanda took the title for the apricots.

We spent the time talking about many things, moving to the terrace, and meeting other villagers until Kristina got the idea that we should show them pictures of our trip. Once we made sure they still insisted on us not helping prepare supper, we sat down to pick out the best of our stay in Turkey thus far.

Oh, I almost forgot to tell about the last member of the family, Josh. Josh is the family cat named after an American that stayed with them for about a month some years ago who still comes back to visit. He’s a temperamental little fella who meows a lot.

Before long, it was time for supper. This was one of my favorite meals in Turkey except for the aryan which was a curdled buttermilk sort of drink and was possibly one of the worst things I’ve ever tasted; just the smell of it made my stomach churn. I couldn’t stomach it so I asked Yekta if it was okay if I didn’t drink my glass. She said it was; but somehow the other girls managed by taking it like a shot. The rest of the meal was delicious. There was first spicy okra soup, followed by green beans and pilav. This was accompanied by fresh watermelon; that thankfully was juicy enough to work as a drink for me. In any case, the meal was delicious. And all of it was accompanied by heaps of flat bread.

They make all the bread for the village every six months when they get flour. They store it and just put water on it before serving to make it good to go. Every meal had plenty of bread and it was great to roll up the rest of the food in it burrito-style.

After supper we chatted with Hasan about his beekeeping before dispersing as others gathered in the large open room of our house. It was interesting because the men went to the television room while the women and our group remained in the larger room. Yasmin had to do all the serving of the tea because she was the youngest female in the room while the youngest male kept coming back into the sitting room where we were gathered to get more tea. Talking to Yekta, I found out that this was a traditional custom. Eventually some more people gathered and we ended up playing coin games with Yasmin and a few other girls that showed up.

Eventually everyone else left after we spent some time outside looking at the stars. Kristina, Amanda, Yekta, and I then had a brief discussion about sleeping arrangements because they had put two of us in Yasmin’s bedroom and the other two in the Hasan and Emine’s bedroom. Eventually we worked everything out as the family assured us they would be comfortable sleeping in the television room.

Kristina and I, like always, were sharing a room (Yasmin’s) and we promptly passed out as soon as the lights were out. Yasmin woke us up in the morning with repeated and increasing forceful good mornings in Turkish which I can’t even attempt to spell. I eventually rolled out of bed and by 8:30 a.m., we were all sharing a delicious breakfast which featured honey (from Hasan’s bees), walnut, small fried fish, cheese, and of course the flat bread.

It wasn’t long until we got out the door and piled into the back of Hasan’s vehicle where we took a perilous trip around and down the mountains to their farm by the river. Yasmin took us on a tour of the orchard and Hasan showed us his bees. We got to see him move a hive to container, which almost sent me scattering as the bees buzzed furiously. Hasan did say they weren’t angry though so they were unlikely to sting.

Then it was time to pick peaches! Well, we didn’t actually pick them.

Hasan and Emine quickly picked out peaches that were ripe for picking while we helped Yasmin put them into crates. We also helped by taking the buckets full of peaches from Hasan and Emine and bringing them to the small house and shaded patio where Yasmin was putting them into crates for selling.

We spent the morning thus occupied, and soon the family was firing up the barbeque. We had another great meal; this one of grilled chicken, pasta, fried squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon, and the flat bread. We then had a little R&R as we waited for Muammer and the others to show up so we could go to the local waterfall and river.

Eventually Muammer came and the four of us joined the others in the van. We made it to the river where we did a quick van change into our swimsuits as the others continued on. Muammer was waiting for us halfway done the pathway and he took us to the side to show us the waterfall itself. I heard Amanda give her token phrase “What’s this little gem?” as she climbed the small rift to viewing point ahead of me, so I knew it would be something pretty special. The waterfall was surprisingly big and wide. It poured over the edge of the cliff in streams of white and around all the water you could see some type of cavern behind it. We looked down the river and could see rocks everywhere, dividing up the water.

It wasn’t quite as picturesque as the park in Egirdir, but it was still a surprise. When they told us they were taking us to the waterfall and river, I really wasn’t expecting much of anything; after all, we were in the middle of nowhere.

Muammer took us down river a bit where we found the others looking at the water a bit askance waiting for our guide. The current was pretty fast, but Muammer assured us that it would be fine as long as we were careful.

The water was of course, cold, but we had a lot of fun swimming back and forth; letting the current take us a ways before grabbing onto a rock. Muammer threw us peaches that our family sent with us from the bank and we only managed to lose one, but apparently they found it a bit down river later. Amanda was all over it and well, just ate it.

The others explored downriver a bit, letting the current take them along, but I was freezing so I voted to remain where I was, sunning myself on the rocks. I eventually got bored of this and decided to see how far I could rock hop upriver. I didn’t get very far, but I was pretty sure I spotted a somewhat perilous pathway amid the rocks and cliff bank that could take me to the waterfall.

Turns out I was right as soon Muammer was guiding us up the side of the cliff over rushing water, through mud, slick rocks, and general awesomeness to the cavern behind the waterfall. He didn’t want to take such a large group any farther than besides right at the entrance and so feeling really cold, I made my way back.

After washing off, we loaded back into the van to head back to the village. We stopped along the way to pick up Yasmin as Hasan and Emine left to go sell their peaches. I was a little concerned about how we were going to make it back up the dusty, bumpy, and steep mountain road considering the van just kind of put-putted its way along. Luckily we took a different, more winding pathway, stopping along the way so the driver could pick up some herbs for tea. Only in Turkey does the driver stop every time he spots his favorite herb.

We made it back to the village alive and my first order of business was to change clothes. Feeling a bit better, we then set about different activities as Kristina helped Yasmin prepare supper.

The meal was again delicious with small pancake type things as the main dish which was fabulous with the walnut and honey. We sat around for a long while just chatting (through Yekta) with Yasmin. Amanda and I did the dishes after a hilarious encounter in which Yasmin, in accented English, asked what Amanda was doing when she was searching around the kitchen for a washing pot.

We emerged from the kitchen to find that people were once again gathering in our house. Once our whole group arrived we gave Yasmin and a few of the other villagers a slide show of the trip thus far. Eventually everybody else left; some of our group was sleeping outside on the carpets and Kelly was staying with us for the night. Kelly passed out pretty quickly and still Hasan and Emine were not home so Yasmin showed us their collection of photographs including one of a 17-year-old Hasan. She then took us to the two chests that housed her dowry – a huge collection of handmade work.

We got ready for bed and just about when we were going to call it a night, Hasan and Emine came home. Even though we had just brushed our teeth, they announced it was time to eat some fruit. So gathering around a table, we ate cherries, peaches, and apricots that were fabulous after the first couple of bites.

I’ve never eaten so much fruit in one day before.

The next morning, I took a quick shower and packed before we sat down for breakfast with Emine and Yasmin as Hasan had already left to sell the rest of his peaches. Breakfast was, you guessed it, delicious featuring Hasan’s amazing honey on flat bread.

Gradually others gathered at our house and before long we had to say goodbye. We all had one last group picture before climbing into the van, waving goodbye as we drove away back to the rest of the world.

Monday, June 23, 2008

It's Not All Fun And Games...Just 99% of the Time

Friday was probably one of my top days in Turkey. We rose pretty early in Egirdir from our dorm-style room and got a filling breakfast while we overlooked the huge blue-green lake. Then it was off to one of the National Parks in a thirty minute van drive in which I do not recall much of because I kept nodding off.

William went with us as we hiked around a smaller lake and the trails it had to offer. On the sign leading into the trails it said we could see a number of typical wildlife you might find in any North Carolina forest such as squirrels (our first squirrels in Turkey!), deer, and, of course, a leopard. Okay Turkey, a leopard? We get it. You don’t mess around.

Luckily we didn’t see the leopard, but neither did we see squirrels. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m starting to miss the little critters. Though I don’t really mind their replacements – the stray cats that you see everywhere because you can often find kittens and they’re just so cute. So after spending about an hour hiking around this small lake, climbing some rocks, and becoming one with nature we hopped back into our van and went to Kanyon National Park.

It took us about an hour van ride, which I don’t remember at all because I was gone to the world, but upon arriving, we were in a wooded picnic spot next to a riverbed at the end of a gorge. We had a brief lunch of bread, cheese, and fruit and then it was time for our hike upstream.

First things first, we had to hike uphill and get above the cliffs that hung over the river. After a bit of an adventure in which we might have lost Zoe to the wild and Kristina to the gorge, we crossed over on an iron bridge and found ourselves on an old Roman road, the King’s Highway. This road was in much better condition than the trail we just climbed; it was flat, dusted with pebbles, and about wide enough for five people to walk side-by-side comfortably. Along the side of the cliff that loomed above us there were still markers from its use two millennia ago – an inscription of a poem, ledges in the rock, and slick marble from centuries of use.

It was a bit of a hike that got us to our destination, eventually the Roman road gave way to a clearing as the rock fell away, and then that led to a forest. We kept walking upstream, the river looking really inviting down below, as it rushed blue-green around white rocks. It was quite warm and I was happy to be out in my athletic shorts instead of something that covered my knees. Finally we reached our swimming site and after lathering on some screen, we took to rock hopping down to the waterfall pool we had passed just a short while ago.

This gorge probably ranks in one of my favorite places in the world now. Rising above everything are mountains, and immediately around the river was a forest. All the around the river edge were perfectly blooming, pink oleanders. The rocks, which jut out of the river, carving it up into small rushing streams, are an off-white color. They cut an almost meandering path for water, except that it continued to rush and fall everywhere. When the larger rocks give way, small pools appear that range from knee to waist deep. The water, despite being in constant motion and pulled downstream, is pure blue and see-through. When we filled our bottles up, there was nothing to be found in the water, not even natural waste of mildew, leaves, or algae. It was like a place Aquafina would advertise they get their pure spring water from.

Eventually the water comes together as two large rocks loom to either side forming a waterfall somewhere between 25 to 30 feet high. At the bottom of this was probably the most perfect, picturesque pool in the world, though it was a little on the chilly side. (And yes, it ranks above the waterfall pools I got to swim in Hawaii). This is where we decided to swim as the water was who-knows-how-deep and there were plenty of rocks to jump off of and lounge on.

Remarkably, we were the only people there the whole afternoon.

It’s hard to say what this means for Turkey, tourism, etc. I was happy that we had it to ourselves, but it’s almost sad that such a beautiful place was not being shared. Then again, it would probably not be so special to me now if it was teeming with other people the whole time we were there. It was nice to be alone in such a beautiful place. Though it does take a bit of a hike and a drive to get there, it’s not like this place is not advertised. Maybe it’s just not as widely known. In any case, I preferred it as it was; completely natural, very little trace of human activity, and a bunch of American college students without having to worry about anything.

I was one of the first ones down to the waterfall pool as the others got waylaid by the other rocks and smaller pools in route downstream. I met Kristina and David at the bottom after picking up their camera cases and having to climb through a ravine of sorts. None of the three of us had been in the water yet besides a bit of a toe poke so we knew it was going to be freezing. Kevin climbed down on the other side and was already in the pool so knowing it was safe, and sweating from the sun, I was ready to jump in. Kristina and I were going to make the leap of faith together (David was waiting for his swimsuit to be brought down as he wasn’t already wearing it and left it in his hurry to take pictures). But as we counted to three and then I made the jump, I felt her hand leave mine. After rising to the surface and shouting expletives because of the cold, I looked back to the rock only to see her standing and wincing, and David laughing. In another moment, she was in the water and as the rest of group made their way down, with a bit of coaxing, they jumped in too.

It didn’t take Edward very long to climb up a nearby rock that was probably fifteen feet above the water. After cheering his jump in, we all gradually followed suit. It did take Amanda a bit of encouragement as David climbed up there with her to help, but she was thrilled once she did it as well. It was exhilarating jumping off into the cold water because you’re in the air just long enough to wonder when you’re going to hit.

Then Edward climbed up to an even higher rock, one that was a little bit higher than the waterfall even. After a bit of worrying on some of our parts and a bit of hesitation on his, he leaped off, hurtling downward for about four seconds. Seeing that he survived and was ready to go again, some of the others climbed up to make the leap. Maybe given a little bit more time in our waterfall pool, and I might have jumped off as well, but I was happy with my fifteen foot leap. Though Zoe, David, Kristina, and Kevin all jumped off and splashed in just fine. I did get some great footage on my video-camera in between swimming.

We then all headed back up to where we left Prof Sarah and William and all our stuff. After snacking a bit, I decided to head upstream to see what I could find. The river widened here and the rocks became even more numerous with small patches of ground housing trees appearing in the middle, so it was hard to tell where the water all came from. After finding a perfect waterfall slide and coasting down it with a slightly rough landing, I was warded off from further exploring by a giant river crab. It clicked its pincers at me menacingly after having a minute stare down, I turned back knowing it was probably getting close to time to leave and seeing that the river and rocks expanded even further ahead, giving me too much ground to cover.

I found the group in a discussion perched on a few of the rocks with feet dangling in the water. Oops.

After a bit of a discussion on tourism in Turkey, and how we were the only ones at Kanyon National Park, it was time to hike back down and catch our van back to Egirdir.

We did spot some more tourists on our way down, but they were on the opposite side of the river. After grabbing some refreshments, we loaded into the van. Exhausted, I think we all fell asleep in our ride back.

We arrived back in our dormitory only to find the surrounding rooms occupied and facing a dilemma. We only had one shower between about thirty people. I made a mad dash for the shower in my bathing suit and thankfully got clean.

The hostel provided supper that night and then it was time to find a place to watch the Turkey-Croatia quarterfinal EuroCup match. Egirdir is unfortunately a small town, but we asked the guys at the hostel where we could find a sports bar. Not believing him when he said there was pretty much no where to watch the game, we ventured out in almost hurricane-like winds to find a place. We circled Egirdir for virtually the first half, but there was bar to be found. Chagrined, we made our way back to the hostel and watched the rest of the game there.

Once again, Turkey played us. They took Croatia into overtime in a 0-0 tie only to have Croatia score in the last minute. We groaned, thinking it was over; they only had a minute of stoppage time added on.

With seconds ticking down, the backup Turkish goalkeeper (the starting one had gotten a red card in the previous game) made one last desperate punt. A Turkish player settled the ball, turned, and gave the shot of his life. And well, it went in and the ref called the game immediately afterwards. Are you kidding me Turkey? They went on to win in penalty kicks so Turkey moves onto the semifinals. FYI, Turkey has led for no more than fifteen minutes this whole tournament, yet somehow, they still have gotten to the semifinals of EuroCup.

Some of our group stormed the streets of Egirdir. Kristina, Zoe, and I hung out on the terrace of our hostel watching the whole dozen cars circle the town. Needless to say, we missed the celebration in Istanbul or any town besides Egirdir.

The next morning we were back on the Fez Travel bus. After a bit of confusion that sent us to the wrong place, we all boarded and with luggage in the aisles, we were off to Konya. The bus ride for some reason did not put us in the best of moods; something to do with Bridgette, our ill-tempered Fez tour direction, and the cramped conditions, probably.

We did make a stop at a wooden mosque sometime before arriving. This was rather unique as all the mosques we’ve been in before are stone or marble. It’s remarkable that this mosque is preserved as well as it is in any case and their observatory pool setup is cool. Astronomy is very important in Islam because tracking the time for prayers as well as for Ramadan is necessary.

After that brief stop we were back on the road and soon, we were in Konya. Konya is a city of somewhere between one to two million people and is best known as the capital of the Selcuk (Seljuk) Empire. It’s also home of Rumi (Mevlana) and the base of his Sufi Islamic order and the Whirling Dervishes.

The Fez bus left us on the side of the road and for a few moments we just stood there. Before we knew it, a man pulls up in a pickup truck and tells us to load up our luggage. This was Mehmet, (not to be confused with all the other Mehmet’s we know) the carpet store owner that hails from the village we will be visiting for two days. He takes us to our hotel which is right around the corner from our shop.

We dropped all our stuff off in the rooms; the girls in one giant room, the guys in another. Then we gathered downstairs for lunch next door and afterward we went to Mehmet’s shop. He served us mountain herbal tea and we talked awhile about his village, Konya, and the carpet business.

Then we were given some free time. Feeling exhausted, I chose a nap and promptly collapsed on my bed for an hour and a half. Kelly woke me up some time later and we headed back down to Mehmet’s shop so he could show us some of the intricacies of carpet making. We loaded up in a van and first we traveled some back roads to the house of one of the weavers he buys from. There we saw some weaving down first hand as a woman and her daughter worked on a giant kilim. Next he took us to a house he owns on the outskirts of Konya that he uses as place to create his dyes for rugs.

Mehmet’s supplies his weavers with all the raw materials so its necessary for him to have a place for dyes. He also repairs ancient rugs; one over two hundred years old that he would be able to resell for $50,000. Then we headed back into the center of Konya so we could grab some food for supper.

After eating, a number of us met back at Mehmet’s shop for a third time we could witness the Whirling Dervishes. Mehmet’s brother, Muammer, led us to the Mevlani cultural center of sorts.

The Whirling Dervishes are something else. They dress in white, and somehow spin and spin and spin. It’s a way of reaching a connection with God. At the end, one of the dervishes led a prayer and I was surprised to witness a number of Turks in the audiences following along.

Sufism in Turkey is outlawed under their “secular” government because a branch of Sufis originally opposed Ataturk, but they are allowed to perform for cultural and traditional purposes. However, if a Turk is taken to court for practicing Sufism, the judge basically turns a blind eye. It’s a very interesting balance. To add onto that, the Mevlani Order is more of a lifestyle than a religion’ it’s all complicated and gives you a headache if you try to explain and digest it all.

Of course, that could just be my excuse as to not try to type out a very long explanation of it all. It’s late and I’m tired.

Moving on, we called it a night after making it back to the hotel. This morning, we met at 10:00 in Mehmet’s shop for Muammer to give us a tour of his city.

Today was really mosque and museum day. We saw four mosques and went into two museums. I was exhausted even at the beginning; I think the days were just catching up to me. Traveling every other day doesn’t give one much time to rest except on the bus/van/box-on-wheels.

After our extensive tour of important sites in Konya, I picked up a present for the family I would be staying with in the village in the Taurus Mountains, then it was back to the hotel for rest.

We met at 7:30 for supper with Muammer who took us to a great restaurant where we ate in traditional Turkish style. I definitely had a food baby after that meal which included bread, soup, salad, meze, an entrée, and a dessert.

Back in our hotel, I prepared for our stay in the Mountains before finishing up this blog and calling it a night.

These next two days in the village should prove interesting. No internet, no toilet paper, no contact with the outside world…see ya’ll in a couple of days!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Road Trip!

Believe it or not, nothing too crazy has happened to us on the road yet. I know. With this group, something weird or Turkish mystery-related is always happening. I think by typing that, I’m just asking for something to happen now.

Sunday we left early. Like we were up at 5:30 and out the door at 6:00 so we could get to Sultanahmet to catch our bus. No problem. We did it with little drama involved even after having the power go out around 11:00 p.m. the night before. The bus ended up being a little crowded, as in, every seat was full.

We’re using Fez Travel to get around Turkey. They’re an English based hop-on hop-off travel company that goes all around Turkey. Each bus has a driver and then a tour guide to make sure everything goes smoothly. So with our bus full of us, some Aussies, Kiwis, Brits, and one Singaporean family who never talked, the first order of business was to of course go to sleep. Except I couldn’t really sleep in our cramped seats. Ah, but who am I kidding, I can go to sleep anywhere.

After some stops we made it to our first destination – Gallipoli. For those of you who are not war-buffs or are familiar with Gallipoli, here’s a brief little history. Gallipoli was the site of the most important battle for both the Turks and ANZACs (Australia and New Zealand) during WWI. It’s where Australia and New Zealand carved out their identities through a nine-month campaign that ultimately ended in their, and the Allies, defeat. So Gallipoli is a big thing for the ANZACs, which partly explains why you might run into a fair number of them in Turkey. It’s as equally important for the Turks because it provided the one big victory for the Ottoman Empire during WWI and it was under Ataturk who rose to prominence after this one victory. Gallipoli is the peninsula on the European side of the Dardanelles Strait that marks the entrance into the Sea of Marmara, which means it leads to Istanbul and the Black Sea (and the countries with a Black Sea border such as Russia). So the battle at Gallipoli pitched the ANZACs and Turks, who had never had anything to do with each other before, against each other.

With our special tour guide we picked up to take us through Gallipoli we hit all the important battle sites and memorials. This guide was a Turk who spoke English with an Australian accent. It was the strangest sounding thing. Also, he felt the need to be repetitive so it was “the Brighton, the Brighton Beach” and “the Anzac, the Anzac Cove.”

After Gallipoli we said goodbye to our guide and got back our original one and then went to catch a ferry across the Dardanelles to end up on the Asian side. We stayed at Cannakale that night in a hostel style hotel. The best part of the night was Turkey’s monumental, history-making win over Czech Republic in the Euro Cup. You have never seen happier Turks. After playing horrible, the Turks came back from a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2 in the last fifteen minutes. Talk about crazy. So with their two wins, Turkey advances to a quarter-final match versus Croatia.

After a somewhat restful night on a springy mattress it was back on the bus and time to visit another battle site – Troy. Um, can we say awesome? I love ancient ruins. There were nine different versions of Troy and the famous Iliad one was Troy VI. So we explored the ruins a bit with another special tour guide, then it was time to move on.

After some driving down the coast of the Aegean we made it to our next stop after lunch. Pergamum is the ancient Greek and Roman city that lies on top of a mountain. The city itself was a state organization, one made for training soldiers and also providing mental health facilities. They had things such as music and arts therapy even back then. Apparently death wasn’t welcome in the city though; there is no cemetery and supposedly those sick enough to die just left the city. There was more civilization at the base of mountain that helped to support the city at the top.

The best thing about Pergamum is the backdrop – the views are incredible. The theater especially is awesome. It’s the steepest ancient theater and the mountain just drops around you providing an excellent view to the countryside surrounding the city.

Speaking of excellent views, this is good moment to talk about the new camera drama. This time it was my video camera. My hard drive on my video camera is messed up so I couldn’t take any videos whatsoever. I was really frustrated about the whole thing and I hope you, my avid viewers, can understand when I don’t have any video to show of these first two days of my trip. Luckily I was able to drop some money on an SD card and will be able to film limitedly for the remainder of the trip. Ugh. I’m still pissed that the hard drive messed up though. I guess I’ve been using it too hard these past four weeks.

After Pergamum it was back on the bus so we could make it to Selcuk for our next stay. We stayed at the Australian and New Zealand Guesthouse. It was an awesome place, though it’s funny that these Australian and New Zealand things keep popping up. Anyway, they had supper waiting for us when we got there. Barbeque chicken. Yum.

This was a definite upgrade from our stay the night before in a more hostel type place. Here we shared comfortable rooms, though Turks are funny about their bathrooms. For whatever reason, they seem to think it’s a good idea to put the bathroom all together.

What I mean is that the toilet, sink, and shower are all in one small tiled room together. Um, I can get the toilet and sink, but the shower? So basically when you shower, water goes everywhere and if you’re not careful, that’s the end of your toilet paper. I suppose its space efficient. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I come back to the States and I have a whole bathroom to myself.

So whereas the night before we were crashing in a dormitory with some of the people on the tour bus; Selcuk gave us rooms. Amanda, Kristina, and I crashed in one with Kristina and me reuniting in a double bed akin to our flat back in Istanbul.

The next day was supposed to be kind of a do-whatever-you-want relaxing day, but there was so much we wanted to do in Selcuk. We were up and eating a delicious French toast breakfast by 8:30 a.m. Our first order of business was to go to the Ephesus ruins.

Ephesus is one of the best preserved and largest Greek and Roman cities. Pergamum may hold the views, but Ephesus has everything else, including a huge 25,000 seating theater. It’s a good thing we went during the morning because it was still ridiculously hot and there was no shade besides what a few of the ruins provided. What we saw of Ephesus was huge, but only a small amount of the ruins have actually been excavated.

At one point a fair number of us ended up congregating in the shady, beautifully restored library to take a breather from the heat and the huge numbers of Asian tourists. Prof. Sarah shows up a few moments later and comments that she would find us all in the library. I was amused to say the least. We played around the ruins a good two hours. William gave a great monologue from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in the theater. We could hear him perfectly in the top row and he earned a standing ovation from the other English-speakers who were there at the time. One of the crazy things about Ephesus is that where before the city was right on the water, now it’s some seven kilometers away. That’s a lot of sea that has silted up over 2000+ years.

After Ephesus it was time to visit the Virgin Mary’s house. Reportedly it was her last place of residence before her death. John the Apostle brought her there after Jesus’ crucifixion as he was entrusted with her care and in charge of preaching the word in Asia Minor. The house is a restored stone structure in a pretty wooded area on one of the mountains near Ephesus. Mary’s house was alone, but she definitely wasn’t isolate. Ephesus was huge for its time. Some 250000 people at its peak and around the time Mary would have been there. There is a natural spring there as well that provides fresh water.

I’m not Catholic, Lutheran, or Orthodox, but I am very glad we went. That’s all I have to say on that matter.

We headed back down into Selcuk afterwards and had a bit of time to kill before we were to meet Mrs. Gurel for lunch. I know, I know - wait, when did this happen? - you want to know. After spending the weekend with the Gurels awhile ago, Mrs. Gurel wanted to meet the rest of the group. Izmir is only 45 minutes away from Selcuk so she drove down to take us all out to lunch.

Before that though, I got an SD card for my video camera while everyone else went to the museum that housed a lot of the art that has been picked up from Ephesus. We then met Mrs. Gurel who was as gracious and charming as ever. She provided a van to transport us all to the place of our meal. We had a leisurely lunch in the shade at her friend’s place that also supported a lot of ancient and Ottoman arts. It was really nice place and the food was excellent.

After saying goodbye to Mrs. Gurel it was time to hit the beach. Though I did have to work out an issue with the SD card I purchased as soon as that was resolved we finally made it to an Aegean beach. Though I had jumped into the Aegean before at the Gurel’s summer home, it was nice to be at the beach, especially with everyone else. It was such a warm day, the water was perfect. We swam and chilled on the soft sand for about two hours.

Then after a quick change, we went up to a small Greek town in the mountains. I was thinking it would just be this quaint little affair, but it was even better than that. It was so beautiful and we were there at sunset. The weather was perfect and the sun provided great lighting. After walking around a bit, we had a leisurely supper at a restaurant there and then traveled back down the mountain.

David and I watched the Italy-France game once we got back (Italy won), while the others learned backgammon. But after a full day, we were all exhausted and it didn’t take but a minute to fall asleep that night.

Amanda, Kristina, and I overslept a little this morning, but we were still able to grab breakfast before our transportation came. It was then a two and a half hour driver to our next and current destination – Pamukkale. Pamukkale is home to beautiful white calcium deposits with hot springs and mud baths that look like glaciers. That is, if you think glaciers chill in 100+ degree weather.

Our hotel is another win. Very comfortable and the proprietors are cool too. It’s another three girls per room; this time it’s Kelly, Yekta, and me.

Once we got to Pamukkale, we were all ready for lunch so through the heat we navigated the very small town until we stumbled upon a place to eat. Pamukkale used to be a lot bigger with five star hotels on top of the calcium deposits so people could walk right out to the springs. However, some environmental groups showed up ten years ago and closed the hotels down because the amount of people was destroying the calcium. A lot of business left with the hotels and now Pamukkale is much quieter.

After lunch we went back to our nice little pension and chilled for a couple of hours. Some people went swimming in the small pool, others, like myself caught up on blogging. At 4:30 we met with Prof. Sarah for a class discussion before heading up the calcium deposits.

The calcium deposits are beautiful and kind of out of this world. They gleam white in the distance and when actually walking on them, water pours over the surface causing ridges to appear. Apparently Yellowstone has a fraction of these calcium deposits that Pamukkale boasts. It looks kind of like a melting glacier. Or marshmallows. I kept expecting the Ghostbusters marshmallow monster to start moving underneath my feet.

Water emerges from springs at the top of mountain and waterfalls down the side, forming pools and rushing down the pathway we used to climb. Some of the pools look like the infinity pools you find on cliffs. Now imagining this white mountain with water sliding down around you, with a barefoot climb to the top, standing in waterfalls along the side, and to all that, add a mountainous backdrop. All that equals pure awesomeness.

Once we got to the top we made straight for the hot spring and luckily because it was less than an hour till closing time at 7:00 we got in for half price for a swim.

The calcium hot spring was amazing. The water was warm, but not too hot. It bubbled around you, but it did burn a little bit when going under water. And it tasted something awful. But we swam in the hot spring with the ancient ruins of Hierapolis all around us. Roman columns covered in algae could be found everywhere. We found one in a deep section where you could stand on a fallen column and swim underneath it. We all took turn borrowing Yekta’s goggles so we could go under and explore. After paddling around until 7:00, it was then time to explore the ruins of Hierapolis.

Where Ephesus was devoted to the Goddess Artemis and all her many forms, Hierapolis is all about praising Apollo and fearing Pluto/Hades. From all the geothermal energy, there was one particular area that was so thick with sulfur that most animals suffocated. So Pluto had a bit of a cult following with the poison cave/valley. We found the Temple of Apollo and the Pluto cult among the ruins and then we climbed up the hill to the theater. The theater was pretty impressive with its views rivaling Pergamum’s. Add onto this the fact that we were witnessing the sunset in tandem and it was spectacular. Though for whatever reason my eyes had dried out something horrible after getting out of the hot spring so I was struggling a bit with my contacts.

We eventually climbed back down the white calcium mountain and made it back to our hotel where after a quick shower, we were promptly served a delicious and very filling supper.

David and I caught the end of the Russia-Sweden EuroCup game (Russia won) and then it was back to blogging and video-editing. But only for a little while. Despite feeling really content after my shower and being really full and comfortable, I decided to accompany Edward, Amanda, Kristina, David, and Zoe back to the calcium pools for a midnight dip. Unfortunately we weren’t able to communicate very well to the security guards and we had to turn back at the entrance.

We could have snuck in, but none of us wanted to risk getting caught by a Turkish security with a Turkish machine gun, and get sent to Turkish prison. So it was back to the hotel and finally bedtime.

The next morning was nice and slow. We didn’t have to leave until 10:30 and I woke up around 9:00. After getting ready I had a nice breakfast and then played with the two hotel dogs. I can’t wait to see my own pets once I get back to the States.

We piled into a van of sorts with luggage piled all around us. Edward called it a “box on wheels” which I think about sums it up perfectly. Our driver also randomly stopped to talk to a buddy of his. It kind of fit the mystic Turk experience, especially when we started debating if we were being sold into slavery.

“Oh, I got 12 Americans and their luggage…”

“40 YTL, no more.”

You know, Americans come cheap and you can upgrade to a bigger size for only five YTL more.
Luckily our drive in the box on wheels was pretty short. We got dropped off at the bus station in the neighboring city to Pamukkale where, after a short wait, we boarded a spacious charter bus for our journey to Egirdir.

After a few hours of sleep onboard the bus we made it to the beautiful lakeside city of Egirdir (that’s a silent “g”). It was after 3:00 before we got settled into our dormitory that housed ten beds just for the each of us, and by that point I was starving and craving a diet coke.

The majority of us went to get a meal and then it was time for a swim in the blue-green lake. I’ve never seen a lake quite like this one. For one, it was perfectly blue-green and clear with mountains surrounding it; it was like something out of a fantasy. For another, despite the town and the small harbor, there were virtually no boats in the water. It was perfectly calm. Of course, having six Americans go splashing in it doesn’t really help the calm, but the lake was huge. Besides us and some children who were also swimming we were alone in the water.

I’ve never had a swim like that before. The water was crisp and cold and so smooth. I could easily see to the bottom. Interestingly, Lake Egirdir is the second largest fresh-water lake in Turkey. If that was in the US, there would be so many people, so many boats, the water would probably churn brown. In any case, it was fabulous.

With only one shower for our dorm and needing to meet in 20 minutes at 7:00 p.m. we were at a dilemma. So we took the obvious solution, all climbed in our bathing suits and fought over the shower head. Despite our best efforts, we were still late.

At this point, Prof. Sarah wanted to talk to all of us about how we really haven’t been able to meet up academically the past two days. A lot of this has really I think been miscommunication on everyone’s part. But our Prof brings up a fair point. I have to remember that this is not just a vacation, as much as I want it to be. I’m here to learn about the history, and to try to carve out an identity for the Turkish people who brush by these ancient and not-so ancient ruins.

But also, I think with our exploration of ruins, with our constant meeting of new people and new places, we are definitely learning. It’s something I can’t quite put my finger on, but it’s there. How do Turks just pass by such ancient history? And for Kristina’s and mine project, where do the clothes and outward expression of character mean for the women of this country? And most importantly, when did Turks think it would be a good idea to put showers in without some sort of division to the rest of the bathroom?

After our discussion we did a bit of exploration, got a bite to eat at a lakeside restaurant on one of the small islands, and then watched a lightning storm in the distance.

Tomorrow it’s off to the national park near Egirdir for some frolicking on the King’s Highway.