Monthly Archives: September 2013

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Palmistry, UNO Games, and Harry’s

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One of the special components of the McGhee program is the opportunity to participate in different options for Community-Based Learning (CBL) while you’re abroad. It’s an integral part of the experience because it allows you to get involved with the community and interact with the beautiful city and people of Alanya—whether it’s helping to plant a flowerbed at the waterfront or assisting special needs adults with a crafts workshop.

This semester, I signed up to help teach English at a local middle school in Alanya for my CBL. On Friday morning, we got a ride over to the school in the morning, where we met up with Mehmet Bey, who teaches us Turkish twice a week but also is a regular English teacher at the middle school. When we arrived, he gave us the basic run-down of the plan as we sipped cups of çay—first we’d help out with the seventh graders, then we’d go help out with the eighth graders.

We soon made our way up to the seventh grade classroom, being mobbed by students along the way who kept wanting to show off their English to us—“Hello! How are you! What’s your name!”

We introduced ourselves to the class, and then sat down with a group of students to help them go through the lesson. After so many years of language classes, I’ve always wondered how strange our conversations and readings must sound to native speakers. And so, it was a lot of fun to re-enact a dialogue with Amanda on the topic for the day as Sam and Pam. It went somewhere along the lines of this:

Sam: Hello, Pam! Let me see your palm.

Pam: Why do you want to see my palm?

Sam: I am studying palmistry. Palmistry can tell you about your personality and traits by reading the lines on your palm.

Pam: How does it work?

Sam: For example, you have strong lines on your palm, which means you must be optimistic.

Pam: I don’t believe it, but I need to go to the cinema at 4 o’clock.

Sam: Okay. Good bye!

I have no idea why Unit 1 of their textbooks includes a lesson on palmistry of all things—and I’m not quite sure any of the students understood what was going on—but it made for a very entertaining lesson.

After our lesson with the seventh graders, there was time for recess, so we went outside to join the rest of the kids. It was almost like we were celebrities—everywhere we went the kids would point at us, and then mob us with questions about what our names were and where we were from.

We then went to the eighth grade lesson, where Mehmet Bey handed us the textbook and told us what pages he wanted to go over today. And so, I somehow ended up leading the class through an impromptu lesson on the vocabulary for character traits.

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This time, the passage was an email from a girl to her friend back home about her new friends in London—“Let me tell you about Elaine. She is very rude and inconsiderate. I wish I had a true friend like you.” After reading it several times and going over the assigned questions, we worked on the pronunciation of some particularly difficult words: honest, punctual, ambitious, generous, etc. (Turkish is written phonetically, with 29 letters and 29 sounds—unfortunately, English isn’t quite as straightforward.)

At noon, we were picked up and had lunch at Yamaç Café before getting our stuff together to head down to the beach. (I can’t get there often enough!)

We had some time to read for class before getting ready for our reception that night. Every year, the McGhee Center hosts a huge reception for members of the Alanya community—host families, the mayor, and even the governor! It was hosted on this outdoor lawn, right next to Cleopatra Beach, with a huge buffet laid out for all of the guests. My host family came, so I was able to hang out with my host sister Müge and her friend Dilara, who is Mara’s host sister.

Afterwards, Müge and Dilara wanted to take us out to some places in Alanya. So, after the reception, we walked down to the waterfront near the Red Tower to listen to the free jazz festival that’s going on this weekend.

After watching the concert for a bit, we then played UNO for an hour or so at this café nearby, which has a huge collection of board games and cards that you can choose from.

Harry's

By midnight, we finally headed over to Harry’s, a bar on the main strip that plays live music on the nights. We had a wonderful time listening to the band, who played all kinds of American rock and had an absolutely gifted lead singer.

I can’t name a better way to top off a Friday night than jumping onto the dance floor with Mara singing every word to “I Will Survive.”

On another note, I’ve updated Georgetown’s OIP blog with a summary of my time in Turkey so far:

The dance group took us backstage, and dressed us in elaborate costumes that represented traditional garb from various regions in Turkey. Our instructions? “Just follow what we do.”

And so, the nine of us took the stage along with our professional friends, clumsily walking and clapping with the beat as we acted out a traditional wedding ceremony. I’m pretty sure our Turkish audience was quite bewildered why a group of clumsy Americans were also included in the show that night. (We were too.)

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Memnum oldum, Alanya

By now, we’ve got somewhat of a grasp of this city: where to buy groceries at the nearest Migros, what shortcut gives us the quickest way to beach, and how to conquer the massive hills that surround our residence. But after a week in Alanya, it was time to finally become more than acquaintances with this city and its people. And my, what a lovely introduction it was!

First, we met our bus outside of Yamaç Café at 9:30 a.m., before we took a quick drive up the hill to the McGhee Villa.

The McGhee Villa is an Ottoman-era mansion, built in the 1830s by a local Orthodox Christian merchant who specialized in the export of timber to Egypt. However, after World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Alanya’s trade routes were severed and its merchants left the city. The villa itself fell into disrepair as most Turkish families families moved to modern apartment buildings.

Ambassador George McGhee served as the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey from 1952-1953, and discovered the Villa as he traveled throughout Turkey with his in the 1950s and 1960s. The McGhees then purchased the Villa in 1968 and renovated it as their summer home. (They also decorated the Villa with numerous pieces of antique wood they had collected in their travels.) In 1989, the Villa was donated to Georgetown, where it’s been used to operate educational and language programs by the university ever since. Unfortunately, right now the villa needs some serious structural restoration, so we are unable to use it for the program this semester.

After our visit to the villa, we continued up the hill to visit the Alanya Kalesi, or Alanya Castle. The castle is one of the best-preserved castles in Anatolia—the Seljuks built most of the current structure in the 13th century, when Antalya served as an important port and strategic fort.

The castle is located 250 meters above the sea on a rocky peninsula that protects it from three sides. Today, you can wander the castle walls and gaze at the spectacular view.

We then drove back down from the Kale Area to the city center, where Nese pointed out the important places to know in the city: the nearest grocery store, post office, pharmacy, and beach, of course. We stopped for lunch at a local restaurant that serves traditional Alanyan cuisine—something that’s actually surprisingly hard to find in Alanya with its glut of restaurants selling hamburgers, pasta, and hot dogs to tourists.

Spotted a creepy mannequin at the restaurant to add to my photo collection.

Spotted a creepy mannequin at the restaurant to add to my photo collection.

After lunch, we visited Alanya’s Archaeological Museum, which surprised me with its extensive and well-showcased collection. At this point, you would think I would be museum’d out, but the museum in Alanya offered a truly thoughtful presentation of artifacts found in the area. (My favorite piece was a beautiful iron Pegasus ornament for the bow of a boat, dating back to the first or second century A.D.)

We got back to the lojman, or apartment building, with just enough time to squeeze in a trip to the beach before we had to meet up with our host families for dinner. With all of our classes, we hadn’t had time to go since Monday, so Alex, Matt, Jo, and I headed down to Cleopatra Beach for an afternoon swim.

For the evening, we were paired up with a host family to have dinner and learn about Turkish culture. Alex and I were paired up with a lovely family with a 17-year-old daughter who had studied English in school. Through a handy translation app on her cellphone and an English-Turkish textbook, we were able for the most part to communicate throughout the night.

They first drove us to their apartment, which is located down the hill near the city center. They gave us a tour of the apartment, and Alex and our host sister bonded over her collection of science and math textbooks. (She studies at the science high school in Alanya, and currently spends hours each week studying for her university comprehensive exams. She wants to be an Industrial Engineer.)

We had dinner in their kitchen, where endless plates of food endlessly appeared before our eyes. First, it was bread, soup, and salad. Then, we were served rice and sarma, which is rice and meat wrapped in vine leaves and served with yogurt. After that, our host mom also served us a huge plate of breaded chicken called schnitzel with French fries.

After dinner, we watched some television with our host sister. The newest show in Turkey right now is a remake of The OC, with Turkish actors playing out the drama of Southern Californian high school students. We then flipped through the various music channels, and our host sister introduced us to some of the current stars in Turkish music. At some point, the channel was changed to the world championships for female wrestling. I think our reaction to wrestling was interpreted as genuine interest, so we ended up watching the female wrestling championships for about 30 minutes.

We then moved out the balcony, where they served us tea and an assortment of Turkish delights and cookies. And the food just kept appearing… a gigantic bowl of hazelnuts, a humongous plate of fruit… It was all absolutely delicious, but I didn’t know how much more food my stomach could fit.

By this time, we had gotten into a routine of using a combination of hand gestures and pantomimes to try to convey what we were saying. We listed off all of the Turkish words and phrases we knew (by this point, you can pretty much count all of it on my fingers and toes), and they taught us some more words.

After being gone now for some three weeks, it was so nice to be in an actual home and feel a part of a family for the evening. Our host mother works as a secretary in the hospital, and our host father works in one of the hotels in Alanya. Through our makeshift sign language, we talked with them about how much Alanya has changed over the past several decades and how much we’ve enjoyed our experiences in Turkey so far. They told us they wanted to take both of us to visit Gazipasa sometime, a nearby town where our host father is originally from.

Soon enough, it was almost 11:30 p.m. and Alex and I were uncomfortably trying to figure out the best way to leave. Under Turkish hospitality, it’s extremely rude to ask guests to leave. Turks will gladly sit with their guests late into the night, and go to great lengths to take care of their guests—even offering them to sleep over for the night. In fact, many Turkish homes have a type of sofa bed that serves this purpose, which can easily be converted into a place for guests to sleep.

After we had tentatively asked about three times if they needed us to go—“Don’t you have homework and studying to do?”—they drove us back to our apartment around 11:45 p.m. (Luckily, they also handed us a mineral water for the road to help with digestion!)

I arrived back at the apartment, stuffed and exhausted, but bursting with appreciation for how wonderful our host family was. We met up with everyone else, and sat swapping stories about our host families until we got too tired.

Life in Alanya

I like to get up early enough to sit in our living room and appreciate how the light streams through the cloud cover in the mornings, spotlighting different parts of the city from up above. I usually take some time to scan the headlines, check my email, and catch up with my family back home.

After a shower, I head downstairs to the common area, where a delightful woman named Urman always puts out a spread of different kinds of Turkish breads, pastries, fruit, honey, chocolate hazelnut spread, and peanut butter for us to choose from. She’s also shown me how to microwave my simit to eat it warm, and she usually hands me another kind of pastry or bread so I don’t miss what’s fresh for that day. I then pour myself a cup of kahve (coffee) or çay (tea, pronounced like “chai”) and head back upstairs with my plate and mug.

This morning, I sip on my kahve as I mindlessly browse Facebook, then turn back to browsing the New York Times. It’s raining this Thursday morning, which might otherwise be gloomy if I was a tourist here on vacation, but otherwise makes it incredibly pleasant to stay inside all day for classes.

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On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have a class in the morning period, from 9 to 12 noon. Today, it was the first meeting of my economics class on the Political Economy of the Turkish Republic, where Steve gave us an introductory overview of 19th century Ottoman history to set the stage for the rest of the semester. For most of the class, we’ll be discussing the effects of political events in the 20th century on the Turkish economy. In general, my classes are small. There is a total of nine Georgetown students on the trip, and we’re each required to take four out of the six classes offered in addition to Turkish. My class this morning was one of the largest: seven students.

The little classroom set up in the bottom floor of the lojman. (The McGhee Villa needs restoration work, so we're unable to take our classes there this semester. Although, this way we get the benefit of waking up 5 minutes before class and still making it in time.)

The little classroom set up in the bottom floor of the lojman. (The McGhee Villa needs restoration work, so we’re unable to take our classes there this semester. Although, this way we get the benefit of waking up 5 minutes before class and still making it in time.)

We got out slightly early, so I had some time to work on reading before lunch at 12. For lunch, it’s a short walk to a tiny restaurant down the road. The McGhee staff have worked with the woman who cooks there to plan out a variety of different dishes for lunch each day. On the first day, we got to sample a lavish spread for breakfast of all different types of jams; today, it was a kind of lentil soup, rice, salad, and köfte (meatballs).

After lunch, I usually have a small break before my afternoon class begins at 1:30. My afternoon classes meet twice a week for 90 minutes––today, we talked about the history of veiling in my theology class on “The State and the Veil,” which will compare veiling practices in various countries around the world.

Then, every day, we all have our Beginning Turkish class from 4 to 6 p.m., where we’re currently learning how to say basic phrases (how to say hello, good bye, thank you, sorry) as well as form basic sentences. (Ben Amerikaliyim!)

So far, we’ve been trying different restaurants each day for dinner, so we can then choose what we want our schedule and rotation of restaurants to be for the following months. This first week, we ate a wonderful buffet of all types of salads at a hotel down the hill, sliced open fresh fish from the restaurant down the road, and took our pick from a traditional Turkish kitchen. Today, we ate at a special restaurant called “Old House,” where the cook, “Uncle Charlie” as he told us to call him, puts together a new fixed menu each day based on what he finds at the market.

After dinner, we usually hang out in one of the living rooms of the apartments or work on reading. Our days are busy, but honestly, it’s nice to finally be able to settle into a routine.

Are you kidding me?

The beach!

“Are you kidding me?”

Those were the words that Alex and I kept repeating to ourselves over the course of yesterday and today as we walked around in shock—in shock at the view from our apartments’ living rooms, in shock at the almost never-ending stretch of beaches, in shock at how beautiful this city truly is.

We spent yesterday and today walking around the city, trying to orientate ourselves as much as possible to where things are and where we should go. (Yet sometimes, we managed to get lost almost every time we tried to get back to the residence.)

View from our apartment balcony at sunset.

View from our apartment balcony at sunset.

There are many parts of Alanya that just scream TOURISTS COME HITHER, like the continuous call of vendors to their restaurants and shops or the live camel photo op along the main stretch of Atatürk. Hordes of bikini-ed and speedo-ed bodies crowd the beaches during this time of year; at night, you can hear the throb of club music down below even from our apartment balcony on the hill.

Yet there are other parts that are truly remarkable, like the cliffs that shoot straight down into the Mediterranean Sea at Cleopatra Beach or the sunset behind the castle on the hill. I could spend all day in the wonderfully warm and salty water; at night, city lights below shimmer through our apartment windows.

I can’t wait to watch Alanya transition from summer to fall, as the tourists lug their suitcases and leathery tans home and many businesses close up shop. Of course, it’s lovely to be able to walk around in a swimsuit all day, but it will be interesting to discuss with locals how tourism has changed their picturesque town.

My classes began today with an introduction to one of the economics courses that I’ll be taking this fall, “Turkey and the European Union.” After our orientation tour of Turkey, it will be nice to finally settle into a routine of classes and reading, as mundane as that sounds.

After a wonderful afternoon spent at the beach, I’m settling in for the night and planning on getting some reading done before I go to bed. But of course, it’s not so much of a study grind when you’ve got the view from on top.

Meeting the Muhtar

At last, we checked out of our final hotel today, bags packed for the final trek to Alanya, the city that will be our home for the semester.

But first, in the morning, we stopped to tour the beautiful ancient city of Aphrodisias, an important archaeological site of the Greek and Roman period in Turkey. Along the banks of the Meander River, the city flourished from the first century B.C. through the 6th century A.D. Due to the dedicated work of one archaeologist, the site has been beautifully restored, with most of the original artifacts remaining at the site or in its own museum. (Unfortunately, many of Turkey’s precious artifacts from this period now belong in museums in Europe or other places across the world.)

We took this tractor tram from the bus parking lot to the entrance of the archaeological site.

We first toured the museum, which had an excellent collection of sculptures and artifacts found at the site.

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There were also lots of cats outside of the museum! (We’ve been very cat-centric this entire trip over all the cats in Turkey.)

We then headed into the archaeological site. One of the most famous sights of the ancient city is the gigantic sanctuary of Aphrodite, the city’s patron goddess of love.

There’s also an extremely well-preserved council hall in Aphrodisias, where city officials once met to discuss governance.

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Aphrodisias is also home to the second largest stadium of the ancient world (the largest one is in Laodicea, but it wasn’t open to the public yet when we visited). It was huge!

After Aphrodisias, we began to make our way southeast to Alanya, a good 6-hour drive away. Yet several hours into our journey, Nese surprised us with a stop in a small village known for its textile production!

She hadn’t been able to get ahold of the village muhtar by phone, so she asked around once the bus stopped to see if we would be able to get a tour of some of the production areas where they make the textiles. Luckily, the muhtar was over at the local kahve, so we walked over the meet him for the tour.

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The muhtar is the elected leader of a village, chosen due to their status and level of education. After meeting us at the kahve, the muhtar of Kizilca generously gave us a tour around the town, demonstrating the various types of equipment they use to produce cloth—from the fully mechanized Russian looms to traditional looms.

At one point, the muhtar decided to even welcome us into our home to demonstrate an old semi-mechanical machine that is used to produce the spools of thread that are fed onto the looms. As we toured the village, the villagers were incredibly welcoming and hospital, allowing us to duck inside their own homes to take a look at their handiwork.

One of the women demonstrated how to fashion the fabric they were making into a headscarf on our professor, Lauve. The muhtar then gifted the headscarf to her as a gift!

Then it was time to pile back into the bus for our drive to Alanya. We slowly made our way to Antalya. (Good news: The bus’s AC was fixed!) Once we made our way to the city center of Antalya, we finally saw the first signs for Alanya.

As we drove into Alanya, it was dark so you could only make out the outline of the ocean on our right-hand sign. Soon enough, our bus was somehow making it up the steep hill to our apartments.

Oh, how good it was to be home! The apartments are wonderful—with an even more spectacular view—but I’ll write more on that later. For now, it was time to finally unpack my suitcase.

Indiana Jones Style

We woke up today in Pamukkale, a city whose spelling I have to look up almost every time but more importantly is famous for its natural springs and breathtaking cliffs.

You can spot the cliffs of Pamukkale, or the “cotton castle,” from our hotel—huge white faces of travertine stone that glimmer amidst the surrounding hills. Today, water flows over the travertine terraces to keep them a shiny white, since they don’t receive as much natural water flow as they once did.

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Fun Fact: The people of Hierapolis were the first to wear underwear!

First thing in the morning, we traveled up to the top of Pamukkale to visit the ancient Greco-Roman and Byzantine city of Hierapolis, which was built on top of the white “castle” beginning in the first half of the 3rd century BC.

Once at the site, we had free time to explore the ruins and thermal pools. Alex and I ended up walking to the far end of the old city, where thousands of broken sarcophagi fill the old necropolis, or cemetery. Since nothing was roped off, we were able to climb right inside of the tombs, peeking inside where once the wealthy were laid to rest. Because the waters of Pamukkale were thought to have healing powers, many sick people traveled to the city hoping to be treated. As a result, Pamukkale had the largest cemetery of the ancient world.

It was unbelievably cool to duck through doorways and climb down marble slabs into the tombs. Because most tourists stick to the thermal pools, the area around us was completely empty besides us. On more than one occasion, we turned to each other to ask, “Are we supposed to be here?”

 

And so, we got to explore the old tombs of Hierapolis much like archaeologists might several decades ago.

We eventually made our way back to the city’s famous hot springs, where large groups of scantily clad tourists waded through the pools. The cliffs were beautiful! The stone was so white that it almost looked like stone.

Quickly, the day was getting hot, so we got back into the bus to drive to lunch. On the way, we stopped by another hot spring known for its red waters—instead of the calcium-rich waters of Pamukkale, this hot spring had large quantities of iron in the water.

After lunch, the constantly rising temperature made half of our group want to go back to the hotel to rest. However, there was no way I was turning down a chance to visit an archaeological dig in progress.

So, our remaining group of two professors and four students continued in the sweltering bus to Laodicea, where there’s an ongoing archaeological dig to investigate the ancient metropolis dating back to the 200s BC.

Along the way, we stopped at a traditional kahve in the middle of a tiny agricultural village. They were surprised to see us, but welcomed us to have some çay!

Notice that we were only given three cups. In village culture, sharing is extremely important, so usually groups will only get one cup from which to share. (Because we were guests, we got three to drink water from.)

Notice that we were only given three cups. In village culture, sharing is extremely important, so usually groups will only get one cup from which to share. (Because we were guests, we got three to drink water from.)

We met up with one of the archaeologists from the site, who had been working on the dig for almost 11 years since he was 19 years old. The archeological dig operates 12 months per year, with a staff of 100 workers, to slowly uncover the vast ruins of the ancient site.

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While Ephesus and Pamukkale were impressive in their own respects, it was even better to see the archaeological excavation in action. Unlike Ephesus, where almost 80% of what you see is recreation, the ruins at Laodicea were relatively well-preserved, since it was ultimately several severe earthquakes that caused inhabitants to abandon the city.

One of the most exciting finds at the site is the Laodicean Church, which was established in the earliest period of Christianity and dates back to the 3rd century. It’s best known for being one of the seven churches addressed by name in the Book of Revelation. They are still working on restoring the church, so it wasn’t yet open to the public, and they’re waiting on the Pope to come to the site for the first public unveiling. However, our guide was able to get us in to peek at the inside of the church for one minute.

When we ducked inside, we were able to see the expansive, beautifully intricate mosaics that covered the entire inside of the church. What was more impressive was that every piece of the mosaic was original—the archaeological team hadn’t added or recreated any portions themselves.

By the time we left Laodicea, it was hot—the thermometer was registering 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). We got back into our bus to head back to the hotel for some much needed time in the pool!

If you liked it then you should’ve… broken my bottle?

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As we drove from Izmir to Pamukkale today, it was clear we weren’t in the city anymore. Our bus had to repeatedly stop to let sheep pass by, and we followed a winding country road to get to our hotel.

In one village we drove through, they still practice a particular traditional Turkish custom. On the roofs of some houses, you may notice an empty glass bottle. Traditionally, when a girl reaches marriageable age, a bottle is placed on the roof to alert eligible bachelors about the possible match. The bottle is broken by an interested bachelor, who then seeks permission from her father to marry the girl.

Notice the outlines of two bottles on the chimneys.

Notice the outlines of two bottles on the chimneys.

This house happened to be the home of a widow, so she put an extra large bottle on her roof!

This house happened to be the home of a widow, so she put an extra large bottle on her roof!

While many practices have faded away over the years, many small villages continue to practice traditional customs. In many ways, these small villages play an important role in preserving the traditional Turkish way of life.

 

We began the morning in Izmir, as we checked out of our hotel and bid goodbye to the city to travel down the coast to Ephesus. However, our first stop was the Virgin Mary’s House, where Mary reportedly lived until her Assumption after she was taken to this stone house by St. John.

The house itself is humble—a peaceful, small little stone room with a single altar and little decoration.

After you exit the house, there are five different wishing fountains—the first one gives you health, the second one gives you wealth, third one gives you love, and the last two are for the rest of your wishes. (I drank from the fountain for love, because isn’t all you need is love?)

If the fountains aren’t enough, you can also visit the Wishing Wall. This tradition is practiced all over Turkey, and one can find walls or trees covered with wishes all over the country, especially near historic places. People write their wishes on a napkin or piece of paper, and then tie their wish to the wall.

We then explored the Basilica of St. John, which today lies in ruins but once stood as a basilica in Ephesus in the 6th century. The grounds of the basilica are huge—you climb past column after column, marble slab after marble slab, as you climb around the ruins of the basilica.

After lunch, it was time to explore Ephesus. I’d been to Ephesus once before, but it was still as impressive as I remember it.

Only 20% of Ephesus has been excavated, yet I can’t help but walk around awestruck at the beauty of the ruins and technology of ancient Greece. I could try to describe it in words, but sometimes, it’s better to just show its magnificence in pictures:

After Ephesus, we visited the town of Sirince for some wine tasting and shopping. The village was once named Cirkince (“ugly”) because its inhabitants did not want to be bothered by foreigners or share the beauty of their village. In truth, it’s not ugly at all, located on top of a mountain and surrounded by vineyards and peach orchards. Today, it’s also famous for its fruit wines.

We then had a very hot and sticky ride to Pamukkale, with 35 degrees Celsius heat and a bus with a finicky AC. Needless to say, we were relived to arrive at our hotel for the night––but mostly to get out of the hot bus!

The show must go on!

Last night, we were planning to finally go out and explore a bit of Izmir’s famous nightlife in Alsancak. However, after dinner, we got a call from Nese that there were protests down the street and we should stay inside to be cautious.

So instead, we gathered in one room and watched traffic build up in front of the barricade down the street. While we didn’t see any of the protests directly, we did spot one of the police riot vehicles make its way through traffic from the window of the hotel room. In Izmir, the rally was being held to commemorate the death of a 22-year-old protester, who died on September 10 in Antakya, after being critically injured during a demonstration there the previous day.

Primarily, the main impact of such protests is travel disruption, as the police and protesters block off certain areas from traffic. However, as an outsider, it’s important to avoid such areas, particularly because you don’t know how both the protesters and police might respond. Izmir, in particular, has been a flashpoint of gatherings in connection with Gezi Park due to its prominence as one of the major cities in Turkey but also due to its characteristic relaxed nature as being one of the most Western-leaning cities of Turkey.

And speaking of the west, we began today by meeting with a Turkish professor of political history, who is the department chair at one of the universities in Izmir. Interestingly, the professor’s specialty was Turkey and Italy relations—he had just gotten back from Rome where he was reading letters from Italians who had returned from Turkey who were asking permission from Mussolini to return to Anatolia.

The professor spoke Turkish and Italian, so he gave us an overview of Izmir’s place in history in Turkish while our program director translated for us. The relationship between Izmir and Europe is particularly intertwined; in many ways, Izmir has served as the gate of Turkey to Europe. To this day, Izmir’s characteristic tolerance for outsiders—who now primarily come from rural Turkey than Europe—allows immigrants to become more integrated into society than in Istanbul.

Nevertheless, post-WWI Turkey faced serious threats of outsiders who wanted a piece of the territory, particularly Greece and Italy. The Treaty of Sèvres made these threats even more real. The response created significant changes for the non-Muslim community, such as the fires that raged through Armenian and Greek neighborhoods and the return migration of many Europeans to their home countries.

After his talk, we had some time to ask questions, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to use a little bit of  Italian to introduce myself and preface my question before I asked it in English for the rest of the group. (I guess that one semester of Italian comes in handy!)

The rest of the afternoon was free, so we wandered down to the waterfront to find a restaurant for lunch. We also stumbled upon the Konak Pier, which was designed by Gustave Eiffel in 1890, but now acts as a high-end mall.

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We also stopped for milkshakes along the water.

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In the evening, we met back at the hotel to drive over to the offices of FOMGED, a folkloric dance club that aims to provide multicultural involvement for youth through cultural and social events in Turkey.

We met them at their club, where they talked about the club, served us çay, and gave us  giftbags with FOMGED shirts!

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Then, we were driven to this amusement park place, where they serve food and have a large outdoor stage. During the summer, FOMGED performs on the stage at night, sharing folkloric dances from all regions of Turkey. The surprise? Tonight we were going to also be part of the show!

We were so confused when we first got here. You can see the stage in the back, and all of those purple lumps are bean bag chairs to sit on.

We were so confused when we first got here. You can see the stage in the back, and all of those purple lumps are bean bag chairs to sit on.

Apparently, this amusement park place also had horses, so several members of our group paid to ride the horses around the ring. (Unfortunately, I was wearing a dress.) I have to say, it was kind of surreal to be driven to a random amusement park to watch our friends ride horses as Pitbull and Gangnam Style blasted over the loudspeakers.

Afterwards, we ate dinner at the tables outside and we were able to talk to the Turkish students. They were extremely nice and it was fantastic to be able to talk to people our own age. Turns out, Beyoncé is an international phenomenon!

Then, it was time for the show. They dressed us up in traditional costumes from a variety of regions, and I got dressed it this bright, floral costume that apparently comes from Eastern Turkey.

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For the dance, we were going to act out a traditional wedding, with Lindsay as the bride and Alex as the groom. Basically, our instructions were just to follow what the dancers were doing—sounds good, right? Right.

Once we got to the stage, the audience had filled up with all sorts of Turks there to watch the show. I don’t know what they were expecting, but it was their lucky night. I don’t think it’s every day that the show includes a bunch of clumsy Americans stumbling through walking in a circle and clapping with the beat.

After we changed out of the costumes, it was Black Sea Night at the park, so musicians were on stage playing music from the Black Sea area. At one point, everyone got up and started dancing, so I also joined in!

Of course, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. The dance lasted for some 20 minutes, and involved this crazily complicated dance step that’s very similar to Greek line dancing. Nevertheless, I’m proud to say that I finally got some semblance of it down!

Driving home after the show, we couldn’t get over how unbelievable was the night. One night you’re camped out in your hotel room from protests; the other you’re turned into minor celebrities where random strangers take photographs with you.

Note: I’ll update this post soon with videos of the performance, but right now my Internet is too slow. Check back later!

Three and four times happy

We’ve been to a number of museums this trip, but I have to say I judge the entertainment value of a museum by the creepiness of its mannequins.

Welcome to the collection of Izmir’s Ethnographic Museum:

Truth be told, I loved gazing at the old costumes, fabrics, and household items from the Ottoman era. But my goodness, these mannequins.

 

In the morning, our bus climbed up the hill to the outskirts of the city, where there sits an ancient castle known as Kedifekale, or literally the Velvet Castle in English. From the top of the hill, you can see down to the shoreline, as well as map out the area that was once enclosed in the ancient city walls.

The first defensive walls built at the site on Mount Pagos dates back to 306 BCE, under the leadership of Lysimachos, a successor of Alexander the Great. The move to this location from Old Smyrna comes from a legend—apparently, while Alexander the Great was resting after a hunt, he was awoken by goddesses who told him to transfer the city to the new spot. After this, the oracle was consulted, who responded:

Three and four times happy shall those men be hereafter, who shall dwell on Pagus beyond the sacred Meles.

And certainly, one can imagine how lovely it would be to live in Izmir. The city surrounds the water, with apartment buildings perched up on the hills overlooking the ocean.

We had some time to explore around the castle and climb up the crumbling walls.

Afterwards, we traveled back down the hill to visit a Jewish synagogue in one of the old neighborhoods of Izmir. The elderly sole caretaker talked about the responsibility he takes for the building and his community—as well as his worries over his dwindling congregation.

One of the most recognizable icons of Izmir is its clock tower (saat kulesi), which was built in 1901 to commemorate the anniversary of the sultan’s accession to the throne. The clock itself was a gift from Emperor Wilhelm II.

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In many of the former Balkan provinces of the Ottoman Empire, you can find similar Ottoman-era clock towers.

Mara and I then got hopelessly lost in the maze of streets that make up Izmir’s Kemeralti Market. Nevertheless, we finally were able to get some directions and managed to reunite with the rest of the group.

We then toured Izmir’s Ethnographic Museum, which had a large collection of old clothing and personal items from bygone eras. Outside of the museum, they had stacks and stacks of broken columns and statues. (I guess that’s a problem when you have such a rich history, you don’t have places to store it all!)

In the afternoon, we headed back to the hotel for some free time. Lindsay and I decided to go explore the area around our hotel by foot, and we ended up on this gorgeous promenade down by the water.

I certainly think I could be three and four times happy here.

Stuck in small spaces

Turkish elevators and I don’t get along.

This morning, I wanted to drop off my luggage at the bus before breakfast, so I squeezed my bags and myself into an elevator and pressed the button for the first floor. Once at the first floor, the inside doors opened and I pushed against the heavy outside door to get out. However, my push was a little too forceful. I tumbled out of the elevator into the lobby, completely face planting on top of my luggage and sprawled out on the floor. Glorious.

Last week in Istanbul, we were coming back at night and I piled into the small elevator with Amanda and Mara. We took the elevator up to the sixth floor, but when we got there, the doors wouldn’t open. We couldn’t get out.

We tried taking the elevator back to the lobby then back to the sixth floor then back to the lobby, but still the doors wouldn’t open. I pushed and pulled on the metal doors, trying to yank them open with my fingers. Our frantic calls to others’ cellphones were unanswered.

Finally, Mara decided that we should try pushing the alarm button. Bzzzzzzz.

“Don’t do that!” said Amanda. “You might wake someone up.”

Several moments passed.

“HELLO?” Amanda yelled, apparently changing her mind. “MERHABA? MERHABA???”

Shortly, a man came and pried open the elevator doors. We decided to take the stairs up instead.

Since then, I’ve been avoiding elevators unless completely necessary, but yesterday I jumped on one to get up to the restaurant on the 8th floor. About halfway through the trip, the elevator then suddenly stopped between floors. The inside elevator doors had opened, exposing the elevator shaft and part of a doorway.

Are you kidding me? Not again.

Luckily, we were able to get it moving again after several moments, but trust me. If I’m given the choice, I’m taking the stairs.

Spiral staircase at the Ethnographic Museum in Izmir

Spiral staircase at the Ethnographic Museum in Izmir

 

Anyways, today’s main attraction was a tedious 7-hour bus ride from Eskişehir to Izmir, so my main challenge was to find out how many hours of Candy Crush I could play before I got tired of it.

Nevertheless, before we left Eskisehir, we visited a model of the Devrim, the first ever automobile designed and produced in Turkey. In 1961, President Cemal Gürsel issued an order to build a prototype engine and car to jumpstart Turkey’s automobile industry. He assigned the job to a group of 24 engineers, who had 130 days to build the car from scratch. It was called the Devrim, after the Turkish word for “revolution.”

Two of the four prototypes produced were shipped to Ankara for demonstration. On the day, President Gümal got in one of the cars for a ceremonial ride. However, the driver had forgotten to put fuel in the tank. So, after approximately 100 meters, the vehicle came to a halt. As a result, the car became the subject of jokes for many years.

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Of course, the Devrim has a greater significance in the history of Turkey’s economy, particularly in Turkey’s attempts to prop up its own manufacturing industry through heavy import duties—something I’m sure we’ll cover in my economics classes this fall.

We then stopped for a visit and tour at Anadolu Üniversitesi, a public university in Eskişehir that has the second largest university enrollment in the world due to its large online open education programs.

After that, it was on the bus for the long haul to Izmir! During the drive, I was amazed at how relatively quiet the roads were—there was none of the kind of traffic that I’m used to during road trips in the U.S. At one point, our bus backed up some 50 feet on the highway because we missed our exit (which was quite terrifying, considering the driver couldn’t see behind him).

California-themed poster for sale at a Turkish pit stop

California-themed poster for sale at a Turkish pit stop

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Nevertheless, we finally arrived at our hotel around 9 p.m. and settled in for the night. Tomorrow, adventures in Izmir!