Category Archives: Travel

On the Road (Airway?) Again: Countdown to Firenze

It’s strange to be leaving again.

My huge purple suitcase is once again stuffed with a semester’s worth of stuff. I’ve got my system down at this point. In fact, I hardly unpacked at all during the two weeks that I’ve been home. It only took several hours this afternoon to throw everything back in, replacing the shorts and dresses that were my staples in Alanya with clothing more suited for the rain and cold of a Firenze spring.

With my bags all packed, I’m now utilizing every outlet in my room as I charge up all the electronics for the travel marathon that commences tomorrow at 3:30 a.m., which is when I need to leave my house in order to make my early morning flight out of San Francisco. From there, I’ll stop in Chicago and Frankfurt before finally touching down in Florence on Thursday morning. (That is, if everything goes to plan!)

Over these past couple weeks, I’ve been so busy savoring my time with family and friends that I haven’t really had much time to reflect on all the wonderful experiences I had in Turkey last semester. And so, as I’m preparing to leave for Italy, it’s not California that I’m starting to feel homesick about, but Alanya.

I unpacked my duffel bag this afternoon to find the picture frame that my Turkish host family gave to me at our last dinner in December. Next to it, I found the beautiful blue, loopy scarf that my host mother had knitted for me. I am incredibly thankful for the charming people and culture that welcomed me to Turkey––encouraging my attempts to make conversation with my broken Turkish, cooking endless amounts of food and sweets, and inviting me into their homes and businesses. I hope that my experience this semester amounts to even just half of that.

I’ll be actually living with a host family this semester––something that both excites and terrifies me at the same time. While last semester I went to my host family’s flat for dinners and hung out with my host sister in town, now I will be living, sleeping, and eating with my new Italian host family. I’m excited to explore and have time away from the Villa in this sense, since that physical separation between home and school was absent in Turkey, where we did everything in the same building. I cannot wait to have my own Italian family, but I’m nervous about the logistics of living in a stranger’s home.

That being said, I cannot wait to explore the city of Florence itself and to touch and feel its centuries of influence as one of the great cultural capitals of the world. I cannot wait to rome its streets, capture its words on paper and its beauty in photographs. I splurged on a couple of the DK Eyewitness Travel Guides for Florence and Italy, and I’ve been pouring over the photographs and drawings. Though they take up several precious pounds in my suitcase, I hope to try out some of the self-guided walking tours for myself. And then, there’s some places that I’ve already bookmarked. I can’t wait to picture the Medicis at home in Fiesole, explore the bizarre taxidermied collection of the Museo Zoologico La Specola, or marvel at Renaissance art.

I’m truly thankful for the incredible opportunity that I have to continue my adventures abroad in Italy. I hope to build off my one semester of Italian to become somewhat conversational in this beautiful language. I hope to learn not only about what Italy meant in the past, but what it means today in global politics. But above all, I hope to have time to wander and savor the country and its people.

In the Fields by Day, On the Stage by Night

We woke up early on Thursday morning to catch a flight to Adana, where we then took a bus to a small village outside of Mersin that is home to Ümmiye Koçak.

Who’s Ümmiye? By day, she works in the fields or takes care of her family, as is typical of women who live in this small village in the Taurus Mountains. But at night, she writes plays.

In 2000, Ümmiye attended a theater production at a local high school in Arslanköy and watched her very first play. She was mesmerized.

From The New Yorker:

For a long time, [Ümmiye] had been puzzling over the situation of village women––the many roles they had to play. In the field, they worked like men; in villas, they became housekeepers; at home, they were wives and mothers. “I kept turning it over in my head, how is it that I do all these things,” she later recalled. “Then I saw Hüseyin’s theatre. That’s when I decided that the thing I’d been turning over in my head was theatre.”

Inspired by the performance, Ümmiye set out to create her own theater group. She gathered together a group of other village women, many of whom couldn’t read, and formed the Arslanköy Women’s Theatre Group. Soon, the group collaborated on their own play, based on their own difficult life experiences, which included domestic violence and forced marriage.

Over the past decade, Ümmiye’s troupe (still all-women) has attracted attention far beyond the borders of their small village. Their performance of Hamlet was covered by The Guardian; last December, even The New Yorker devoted a profile to this courageous group of women.

At the request of one of our professors, we traveled to the village to meet specifically with this group of women. As the sun was setting, we sat outside her house in the country, talking to Ümmiye about her work and it means to her.


She explained how she spends most of her day in the fields, then spends several hours each night writing and working on her plays. Currently, she is working on a series of plays: one is a conversation between a mother and daughter about global warming. Theater gives her an outlet, a voice, she said.

The sun had set by time we got back to Adana, where we went to a kebap restaurant for dinner and settled in at our hotel for the night. The next morning, we had a quick tour of Adana by bus, before catching our flight to Cyprus. At our short glance, Adana is a very different city than those we’ve encountered so far––it looked and felt like we were more in the east.

Turkey and the European Union

“The EU Accession process is less of a negotiation than an imposition,” we were told, meeting with Michael Miller, the Head of Political Affairs for the EU Delegation to Turkey in Ankara.

And indeed, the accession process is intrusive, as the European Commission issues thorough recommendations about what must be done for Turkey to bring itself in line with the European Union acquis. As a result, the EU Accession process has been a driving force behind reform in Turkey.

The headquarters of the EU Delegation to Turkey in Ankara.

The headquarters of the EU Delegation to Turkey in Ankara.

The EU Accession process has also been a long time coming. The EEC and Turkey first entered into an Association Agreement in 1964, aimed at eventually securing Turkey’s full membership in the EEC. However, the next several decades were rife with political violence and instability, with military coups in 1970 and 1981. In 1987, Turkey applied for full EEC membership; it was rejected as the European Commission stressed the existing gaps between Turkey and the EEC. Turkey and the EU instead formed a Customs Union in 1995. Finally, the European Council finally entered Turkey into its list of candidate countries at Helsinki in 1999, and accession negotiations opened in October 2005.

There are some obvious benefits of Turkey’s accession for both sides. The EU has an interest to stabilize Turkey politically, and the location of Turkey as a key energy transit route would make its EU membership extremely strategic. For Turkey, the EU is its biggest trading partner, accounting for 40% of its foreign trade. The EU is by far the biggest investor in Turkey, and it would make sense to solidify this economic partnership through greater integration.

However, the European Union has evolved significantly from its beginnings as an economic union in the EEC. In this sense, Turkey is chasing a moving goalpost or target when it comes to EU accession. The EU has increasingly been seen to embody a set of European values with regards to democracy and human rights.

While these reforms can be made, there remains hesitancy whether it is worth it. After initial progress in the early 2000s, the accession of Cyprus to the EU without resolving the border dispute spurred Turkish resentment, resulting in a hiatus in accession talks between 2004 to 2012. In contrast, many chapters are closed in the Turkish accession talks until a resolution in Cyprus. Comments by French President Sarkozy that “Turkey… has no place inside the European Union” suggest that even if Turkey could meet the acquis, it might still be unable to receive the unanimous vote to ultimately become a member.

There is also the question about whether Turkey actually needs the EU. The country managed to breeze through the world financial crisis of 2008-2009 relatively unscathed, in part due to the banking sector reforms instituted as part of its IMF loan package at the beginning of the decade. It has a large and growing domestic market, as over 50% of its population is under the age of 30. Also, there tends to be talk in Turkey about its options in the East, looking to Russia or countries in the Middle East as possible economic and political partners.

At the same time, Mr. Miller told us, “Turkey would do well to look at the costs of non-membership as well,” believing that Turkey does not have the political ability to institute reforms without external pressure. The lack of progress after 2004 has demonstrated this shortcoming, although Prime Minister Erdoğan’s Democratization Package may signal a renewed dedication.

“We need to get the EU accession process back to the leverage it had in 2002 to 2004,” Mr. Miller said.

On the Steps of Anıtkabir

As we drove around Ankara, I couldn’t help but get a little homesick for my own capital city. Over these past couple years, I’ve grown to consider Washington, D.C., almost as much of my home as California. After three months in Alanya, I can’t help but crave the way the sun reflects off of the monuments or the way lobbyists and politicians bustle about with their aura of self-importance. And so, it was nice to spend a couple days in Ankara, amidst the capital buzz of embassies, NGOs, and politics.

Ankara has been the capital of Turkey since 1923, corresponding with the founding of the Turkish Republic. With that importance, Ankara has grown to become the second largest city in Turkey, after Istanbul. It’s quite a remarkable growth. Today, its population sits at around 4.3 million, but just in the 1960s, it hovered more around 1 million.

After a night at our hotel in Ankara, we began our day by visiting Anıtkabir, the mausoleum and museum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Our visit coincided shortly after the memorial of his death on November 10, so the memorial was packed with groups of schoolchildren paying their respects.

The mausoleum and museum were beautiful, situated on a tall hill above Ankara. But my favorite part was spotting these kids:

Credit to Lindsay, who snagged a picture of these schoolchildren wearing Atatürk masks

Credit to Lindsay, who snagged a picture of these schoolchildren wearing Atatürk masks

For the rest of Ankara, our trip took a decidedly academic turn, as our itinerary was full of meetings with different kinds of organizations that operate out of Ankara. I found the conversations to be some of the most interesting aspects of my time in Turkey so far. There’s only so much that I can learn from the news or from the readings for my classes, but the best kind of insight comes from those on the ground who are working through the issues.

For the rest of the posts from Ankara, I’ll take a more topical approach, discussing some of the issues that we  studied in class as well as discussed in meetings with various leaders during our time in the capital. Stay tuned!

Walk Like a Hittite

On our long drive to Anakara today, we detoured to Hattusa, the long ago capital of the Hittite Empire during the Bronze Age.

The Hittites Empire dates back to the 18th century BCE, when the kingdom at Hattusa was first established. At its height in 1285 BCE, the empire comprised a large part of Anatolia, northwestern Syria, and upper Mesopotamia. When one considers the fact that the peers of the Hittites were the other great empires of the Egyptians or Assyrians, it’s surprising that one doesn’t hear as much about this powerful empire.

Map of the Hittite Empire at its greatest extent under Suppiluliuma I(c. 1350–1322 BCE) and Mursili II (c. 1321–1295 BCE).

The Hittite kingdom was commonly called the Land of Hati by the Hittites themselves. The term “Hittite” actually comes from the King James translation of the Bible, as in the “Children of Heth.” In the 19th century, archaeologists originally attributed their findings to these biblical Hitties. Today, there remains some dispute over whether the biblical Hittites were those headquartered in Hattusa or one of the neo-Hittite empires that came later.

In Hattusa, we first visited an open air sanctuary from the Hittites, which was most likely used for some kind of worship. The stone carvings were quite well-preserved.

We then explored the various gates of this former capital.


The Lion Gate of Hattusa, which was one of two city gates.

The Earth Gate, or Sphinx Gate, was particularly striking. Underneath the former city wall is a 70-m long tunnel, built from flat stones that lean towards each other to form a triangle. You can still walk through it today. The purpose of the tunnel is unknown––since its entrance was clearly visible from the outside and flanked by two sets of stairs, it seems dubious that the tunnel could have had any serious defensive role. Most likely, it served for some kind of religious or ceremonial purpose. (Imagine, building a 70-m stone tunnel just for a ceremony!)


We had a long drive ahead of us to Ankara, but we broke it up along the way with a visit to the Ballıca Cave. It was huge inside!

I’ll write soon with an update about our time in Ankara (NGOs galore!), but in the meantime, you can check out my latest post for the Berkley Center’s Junior Year Abroad Network:

In Turkey, nationalism is part of the daily political discourse. While the state plays an active role in the cultivation of this nationalism, the feeling runs deeper. The omnipresent Atatürk paraphernalia goes beyond state sponsorship—you can buy Atatürk earrings, Atatürk phone cases, and Atatürk notebooks.

Raw Materials and Raw Meat

Probably one of the coolest aspects of my program is that we have the opportunity to do all kinds of unique things in Turkey, whether it’s meeting with guest speakers, performing with a folkloric dance group, or navigating situations that would otherwise be difficult with my shaky command of Turkish.

And sometimes, it means getting to tour the largest mattress factory in Turkey.

I’m taking two economics courses this semester on Turkey, where we’ve been discussing the development of Turkey from an economy based on import substitution industrialization to an export-driven market, so it was interesting to see what’s behind Turkey’s remarkable growth. For our day in Kayseri, we spent the day touring two factories: the Yataş mattress and furniture factory and the Mercan sausage factory.

The Yataş Group is one of the largest retail companies in Turkey, with an umbrella of mattress, bedding, and furniture brands. The company was originally founded by a businessman who returned to Turkey after receiving his MBA in the United States and realized there weren’t any mattress factories in Anatolia; they were all being made in Thrace. Seeing this opportunity, he opened his own factory which today produces over 1,000 mattresses each day, plus a large furniture production, in a facility that includes over 80,000 square meters of enclosed space. (A far cry from the home textile looms we visited earlier in the semester!)

Today, Yataş is the largest brand of mattresses in Turkey, catering to the country’s large and growing population. Recently, the company has begun to expand into Russia and the Middle East, an interesting turn considering the debate in Turkey over whether to focus East or West. In fact, Yataş had opened 14 retail stores in Iran before the Iranian government instituted import restrictions. Now, the company is investigating whether they could open up a production facility in Iran, due to the low labor cost and large domestic market. However, business in Iran remains extremely difficult due to international restrictions, especially on money transfers. (On another note, it will be interesting to see what direction Iran takes following the recent election of a new president.)

In between factory visits, we had some free time to walk around Kayseri.

Kayseri is well-known for its pastırma, a type of cured, spicy dry meat, so it only made sense that we would complete our time in Kayseri with a visit to a sausage and meat factory. The origin of pastırma reportedly comes from when Turkish warriors would put meat under their saddle, where it could last for months while they went on military campaigns.

First, we had to suit up and be properly sanitized to enter the production facility.

Then, we were given a tour of the process.




I didn’t know quite what to expect from a visit to a meat factory, but I thought that for sure I’d end the tour as a vegetarian. Yet unexpectedly, it wasn’t that bad as you would think. Sure, there was raw meat, but it by far wasn’t as gory or disgusting as I thought it might be. (And by the end, I was hungry and ready to taste some!)


Afiyet olsun!

Something Out of This World

After an early morning seeing Cappadocia from the sky, we joined the rest of the group for a morning full of vista views.


From legend, the name Cappadocia, or Kapadokya in Turkish, which means “Land of the Beautiful Horses” in Old Persian. The area has a long and storied history due to its central location in Anatolia, at various times under the control of the Hittite, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires.


You can see the door to a house carved into the rock!


Centuries ago, the people in the area used this "castle" to retreat from invading troops.

Centuries ago, the people in the area used this “castle” to retreat from invading troops.

Group photo in front of the evil eye tree.

Group photo in front of the evil eye tree.

This was one of my favorite stops. We found a path down to one of these rock houses and explored the inside.


Next we visited the Derinkuyu Underground City, a series of connecting caves that stretch down eight levels to a depth of approximately 60 meters below the surface. The city could accommodate up to 20,000 people in case of an attack, when the entrances could be blocked by large stone boulders. It’s an impressive engineering feat: a series of ventilation shafts, wells, and narrow passageways keep the city comfortable and protected. The rooms of the city stretch on and on––there’s even the cross-shaped room of a church! Historians are not quite sure who built the tunnels, which were most likely expanded over the years; however, some estimates date the city back to the 7th or 8th century.

This was one of the occasions where I’m glad to be just under 5′ 5″––for many of the tunnels, I had to completely crouch over to make my way through the dark. I have no idea how you would fit if you were much taller!


Outside of the cave, I found this strange animal sculpture and made Alex take a picture of me. “Oh, that’s definitely going on the blog,” he mocked me. (So here it is!)

We had lunch at a restaurant called Aç Kedi (or “Hungry Cat,” in English). So naturally, it provided another cat-tastic photo-op:

One of my favorite sights of Cappadocia was the Göreme Open Air Museum, the impressive remains of one of the earliest Christian communities. By the end of the 2nd century, a large Christian community had formed in Cappadocia, which lasted until the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne instigated a massive population exchange of Christians and Muslims between Greece and Turkey. In the 3rd century, St. Basil founded a lively community of monks in the area and introduced forms of worship to the early Christians. The Göreme Open Air Museum was the site of much of this religious education, where you can today visit a number of these early Christian churches, many with fantastic murals decorating the walls. The churches and accompanying rooms were directly carved from the soft volcanic rock, making the site visually as well as historically rich.


Lastly, we had some time to hike around one of the valleys in this beautiful region, exploring the physical beauty for ourselves.



What a place.

Above Cappadocia

Slowly, the rising sun illuminated the dark outlines of the valley below. Huge rock spires shot out dramatically from the ground, seeming to support the sky above the earth. Stone cliffs dotted with countless windows bordered the patchwork of farmland. Our hot air balloon gently ascended into the sky, joining the many others that dotted the horizon.

Words can’t describe how magical it was to watch the sun rise over Cappadocia this morning from a hot air balloon. While it wasn’t a part of our regular program, a bunch of us splurged on tickets for the ride, leaving our hotel at 5 am to meet our bus.

Before the ride, they fed us some breakfast and coffee as they began to inflate the balloons. When it was still dark, we boarded the balloon, with a total of 28 people fitting into the basket. (They’re bigger than you think!)

Firing up the hot air!

Firing up the hot air!


View from the ground. (Right when we arrived at the hot air balloon site, my camera died and I forgot my extra battery back at the hotel. Luckily, I had my iPhone camera with me!)

It's always time for some hot balloon selfies.

It’s always time for some hot balloon selfies.

Our balloon then ascended, joining the other 40-60 balloons that filled the sky that morning. Over the next hour, we ascended and descended, going with the wind as we drifted over Cappadocia.


The gas cylinders that create the hot air to lift the balloon into the sky. The pilots used these to control the height of the balloon, but its direction depends entirely on the wind.

Some hot air balloons ready to take flight.

Some hot air balloons ready to take flight.

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A landscape that looks like something out of this world.

A landscape that looks like something out of this world.

Look at those rocks!

Look at those rocks!

Me and Amanda on board the balloon, about 40 m up in the sky at this point.

Me and Amanda on board the balloon, about 40 m up in the sky at this point.

Slowly, the sun continues to rise.

Slowly, the sun continues to rise.

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Afterwards, they handed out certificates as part of our post-flight celebration.




PC: Lindsay


PC: Lindsay

We got back to the hotel by 8 a.m., then headed off on another full day. (Because there’s no time to rest when you’re on vacation!) I’ll write more on that later, but for now, I’ll leave you with a look at this:

PC: Alex

PC: Alex

On the Silk Road

We hit the road again this morning to travel to Cappadocia, the picturesque region of Central Anatolia. As we settled into the ride, I once again found myself curled up with Anna Karenina, amusing myself with the randomness of my iPod’s shuffle.


So flat!

Our journey followed the very same path that thousands of merchants once traveled along the Silk Road. Along the way, we stopped at the Sultanhan Karavansaray, which is the largest and grandest caravanserai of the Seljuks. Alaattin Keykubat built the caravanserai originally in 1229, where it once served as a lodging and trading post for merchants who traveled from all across the world to seek profit on the Silk Road. The caravanserai itself consists of two sections: a large open courtyard for summer and a huge indoor cavern for winter.

We then visited Hacıbektaş, a small town in the Nevşehir Province in Cappadocia. Notably, the town has a large Alevi population, members of a religious group that combines Anatolian folk Shi’ism with Sufi elements. In Turkey, they have faced a history of long oppression under the Sunni majority.

The town gets its name from Haci Bektasi Veli, a prominent Turkish-Muslim Sufi thinker who lived from 1248-1337. Similar in many ways to Rumi, his system of thought is based on tolerance, peace, love, and equality. His tomb is located near the center of town in his former monastery, which now serves as a museum and a site of pilgrimage for Alevi and Bektashi from throughout Turkey.

We also got to see a traditional dance of the Alevis.

The chair and table where Ataturk sat for tea when he came to visit the town, now on display in the town's cultural center

The chair and table where Ataturk sat for tea when he came to visit the town, now on display in the town’s cultural center.

The theater of the performance

The theater of the performance

As the sun was setting, we stopped in the pottery town of Avanos. The town sits near the banks of the Kızılırmak, the longest river in Turkey, whose red clay has been the raw material of pottery for centuries. We visited a local pottery shop, whose workshops had been steadily producing pottery pieces by the same family since 1843.


Looks almost straight out of the American Southwest.

By the time we drove into Ürgüp, it was dark. Only the bus’s headlights gave glimpses of the eerie rock monuments that define the landscape of Cappadocia. The rest would have to wait until the next day… by hot air balloon.

City of the Whirling Dervishes

After several weeks in Alanya, it was once again time to head out again for our study tour, a weeklong trip as a group where we’ll be traveling through central Anatolia to Ankara. Since the last week was packed with midterms and papers, the study tour couldn’t have come at a better time. By the end of the week, I couldn’t wait to hit the road again.

We left Alanya early on Saturday morning, driving inland to our first destination: Konya.

Konya is a city of around 1 million people, located about a five hours drive inland from Antalya. Konya was historically the capital of the Seljuks, who ruled Anatolia before the Ottomans. Most famously, it is the home of the tomb of Jalaleddin Rumi, the famous 13th-century Sufi poet and mystic.

Rumi was born in 1207 in present-day Afghanistan. As a child, his family moved extensively throughout the Middle East before finally settling in Konya at the invitation of the Sultan of the Seljuks. In Konya, he attracted a great following as an accomplished professor in religious sciences at the largest theological school in the city. After his death, his followers formed the Mevlevi Sufi order to follow his teachings.

Today, Rumi’s poetry has been translated into countless languages, preaching its message of compassion and love. One of his most famous poems is his Seven Advice:

In generosity and helping others
be like the river.

In compassion and grace
be like the sun.

In concealing others’ faults
be like the night.

In anger and fury
be like the dead.

In modesty and humilty
be like the soil.

In tolerance
be like the ocean.

Either you appear as you are or
be as you appear.

With these words in our minds, we first visited Rumi’s tomb and museum. (The Turks know him as Mevlana.) The courtyard was unbelievably crowded with all kinds of tourists and pilgrims squeezing into the rooms.

Our next stop was the Karatay Museum, an old 13th-century madrasa that today houses a collection of tiles from the Seljuk period.

Afterwards, it was time for a çay and kahve break on the citadel! The citadel is this giant artificial hill in Konya, reportedly built from a tax that required everyone in the city to bring a bag of dirt to the center of the city. Today, the largest roundabout in the world encircles the hill.

We peeked inside the Alaeddin Mosque, which sits at the top of the hill. The mosque is built in the Seljuk-style, with a large square building built out of red stone.

Then we were in for a special treat. We visited a Dervish House, where one of the dervishes walked us through their ceremony and explained the basic tenets of Mevlana’s philosophy. We got to make our own attempts at becoming Whirling Dervishes ourselves!

Luckily, I got tons of video footage of them spinning around and bumping around as they attempted their own version of the meditative dance.

And after dinner, we got to see it done by professionals at the free show on Saturdays at the Konya Cultural Center.

It was so mesmerizing! I have no idea how they don’t get dizzy.

We then settled into our hotel for the night, exhausted from the day of travel.

“What you seek is seeking you.” – Rumi