Tag Archives: Culture

Tanti Auguri to Me!

I always thought I shared a birthday with a pretty cool bunch of people: Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, Judy Blume, Arsenio Hall––to name a few. Yet, as odds would have it, there were three of us out of our group of 14 who had the same birthday at the Villa this semester. This year, February 12 was time for some real celebration.

In the morning, Julia and I headed up early to Fiesole to get a cappuccino before class, then my Italian professor brought us some brioches and juice for a small celebration for my birthday. She even gave me one of my favorite candies––a Kinder Surprise! (My dad always used to bring these back from Germany for me and my siblings.) The other Italian professor gave me a small sketchbook as well. Julia gave me a wonderful card and candy, and Elaina had gotten a cannoli for each one of us birthday girls. So thoughtful!

At lunch, the kitchen made us three cakes––one for me, one for Fabiola, and one for Autumn. After one big rendition of the Italian birthday song, it was time for the cake!

It also happened to be one of the most beautiful days we’ve had in Fiesole so far. So nice, in fact, that I was able to sit outside to do some reading.

After class, Julia and I went for a long, long walk around Florence, hiking up to Piazzale Michelangelo then walking around the other side of the river. We even stumbled upon a chocolate festival going on this week.


For dinner, we had another celebration with my host family. It was so much fun!

And, of course, another benefit of your birthday is receiving Snapchats like this:


How to Explain Halloween

A pirate, a witch, and a butterfly walk into a Turkish elementary school.


Or that’s how this story would begin if it were a joke. The punch line would have to involve something about being mobbed by second graders, kids pronouncing “candy” like “jan-dee” as if it were a Turkish word, and throwing candy and popcorn around when we ran out of things to do.

On the day after Halloween, Alex, Lindsay, and I headed to the elementary school where we volunteer as part of our CBL, or Community-Based Learning. Our plan was to teach second graders something about Halloween for their English class. We showed up to the school in our costumes, with bags of candy, masks, and popcorn in tow.

The result? Absolute, pure chaos. The very best kind.


We began with an explanation of Halloween, acting out trick-or-treating and teaching them some basic vocabulary: mask, candy, witch, boo, pumpkin, and so on. We then had groups of children come up in groups to act out trick-or-treating as I played the role of the neighbor.


I have no idea how much they actually understood of the whole lesson, but it was incredibly fun to fuel second graders’ sugar high and goofily attempt to explain Halloween.


At one point, we just called kids up to the front of the classroom and dressed them up in different masks to the delight of their classmates.


Back at the Lojman, we had also carved a pumpkin to celebrate the holiday, complete with a Turkish flag design.

Happy Halloween!

The Real World: Alanya


It’s Friday afternoon here in Alanya. Even though it’s now into November, it’s still sunny and 75 degrees in this idyllic beach town. I always thought we had it good in California––turns out, it’s hard to beat the Mediterranean climate.

After the non-stop travel of my fall break, I’ve been equally swamped and busy with work in the past three weeks. Next week, we leave on our study tour, where we’ll travel as a group to see more of this enchanting country––from the Sufi legacy in Konya to the eerie lunar landscape of Cappadocia to Ataturk’s moseleum in Anakara. But until then, I’m busy studying for my economics midterm on Monday and writing an essay on Zafer Senocak’s Perilous Kinship for my Culture and Politics class.

Nevertheless, it’s only fair to take some time to update my family and friends on what I’ve been up to these past several weeks, seeing that they’ve been quite a roller coaster. As we like to joke on this trip, I’m pretty sure that the 9 of us are on some kind of horrible drama that doesn’t get picked up for the second season. Either that, or we’ve somehow found ourselves transplanted into a season of The Real World: Alanya. I guess it comes with the territory. Two months in, we’re all very aware of each other’s idiosyncrasies. But truth be told, I couldn’t ask for a better group with whom to share this all.

Iyi Bayramlar!

Our first week back coincided with the Kurban Bayramı, also known as the Feast of the Sacrifice or Eid al-Adha in Arabic. It’s one of the major  religious holidays within Islam and celebrates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael before God intervened. In Turkey, people have the whole week off from school and work, and  spend the time visiting with their extended family. University students return home for the week, and many families travel to their home villages for Bayram.

In honor of Abraham’s sacrifice, many traditional families still sacrifice an animal––usually a lamb or a goat––as part of the celebration. On Monday, you could see all kinds of sheep and goats tied up near the houses where we live.

There are all kinds of peculiarities that come along with this in an urban area like Alanya: I saw a family try to stuff a sheep into the back of their two-door car. The city designates an area outside of the city in which to conduct the sacrifices, so  I missed much of the animal carnage that comes along with the holiday. Once the animal is sacrificed, the meat is divided into thirds: one third goes to the family; one third goes to relatives, neighbors, and friends; and one third goes to the poor and needy.


Since it was the Bayram, we got the week off from Turkish class (a.k.a. more beach time!).

On Thursday and Friday, we met up with our host families so that we could experience Bayram ourselves. My host family was out of town visiting relatives, so I was paired with Mara’s family for Thursday night.

We met up with Dilara, and spent the evening at the apartments of her uncles. Dilara’s father has seven brothers––all brothers––and we went to the apartments of two uncles over the course of the evening. (They lived just two floors apart from each other in the same building.)

It was so much fun to spend the night with their family, attempting to practice our Turkish and using a lot of sign language to communicate with each other. And my, the sweets! There were so many kinds of delicious desserts and sweets for the Bayram––baklava, cakes, pastries, candied pumpkin, and so much more.


Visiting with Dilara’s family for Bayram.

On Friday night, Alex and I went over to the house of my host family. We had a wonderful dinner, shared all  kinds of YouTube videos, and thoroughly confused Müge with our pantomimed explanations of trick-or-treating and haunted houses.


We were making fun of people who take photos of their food and put it on Instagram, so naturally I had to document my meal.


Müge, me, and Alex in the living room.

It had been Dilara’s birthday earlier that week, so we walked to meet up with Dilara, Mara, and Matt, who were out to eat in celebration of her birthday. They had finished their meal, so we headed over to a cafe for dessert and waffles.


I guess Matt wasn’t as excited as I was for Coffeemania’s waffles.


Mara, Alex, Dilara, and Müge

Afterwards, we invited Dilara and Müge to the Lojman. We listened to music, and they taught us some Turkish wedding dances.


Dans et! If these walls could talk, they’d only tell you how many impromptu dance parties have taken place in this room.

Iyi Bayramlar!

Meet-up at Akdeniz University

The next weekend, Nese had organized a meeting for us with a group of students at Akdeniz University. We drove out to their campus on the other side of Alanya, which had a fantastic view of the Akdeniz (Turkish for Mediterranean Sea, literally “White Sea”). On campus, we were treated to sweets and tea in a conference room.


We all drove over to a local restaurant for breakfast, where we were served a fantastic spread of all kinds of Turkish breakfast foods––all the candied fruits you can imagine, fried bread, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and çay, of course.


Okay, shoot, I totally am one of those people who takes pictures of their food.

I sat down next to Damla, and we talked all about our families, dancing, boys, and things to do in Alanya. We exchanged phone numbers so we can meet up later this semester.


Afterwards, we headed back down to the center of Alanya for a special talk with Professor İlber Ortaylı, one of leading historians in Turkey and director of the Topkapı Museum. During his talk, he argued that Turkey should look more towards the East––towards Russia and Iran––and avoid the European Union, focusing instead on bilateral negotiations with other countries. I didn’t agree with much of what he said, but it was illuminating to hear his viewpoint, especially as such a respected figure within Turkey.


For whatever reason, this was the only photo I took inside of the cistern.

Our talk was hosted in an old cistern near the Red Tower. We had a short break before the talk, so Alex and I went exploring and found this absolutely breathtaking beach near the castle walls.

It ended up being one of my favorite spots in Alanya. I have no idea how we didn’t discover this spot sooner.

Highlights from the rest of the weekend included attempts at facial masks out of coffee grinds, Amanda singing Les Misérables to herself in a headscarf, shopping sprees at Makro Mart, beach trips, and making friends with the staff at Viking.

Also, this sunset:


A little bit of Turkish pride

Every October 29, Turks celebrate Cumhuriyet Bayramı or Republic Day to commemorate the founding of the Turkish Republic on the same day in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal. School is off for the day; instead, schoolchildren gather in public to recite Turkish poems or sing songs to honor the history of the Republic.

After dinner on Tuesday, Alex and I followed the sounds of the music down to the harbor, where we found several hundred Alanyans crowded around a stage that had been constructed by the docks.


The enthusiasm was contagious. Countless onlookers passionately waved Turkish flags in the air; everyone danced to the beat. At one point, someone in the crowd handed us a Turkish flag, so we joined in as well, waving the flag above our heads.


Because honestly, I have to say I’m pretty grateful to be in Turkey too.


I’ve also had a blog post posted on the Junior Year Abroad Network for the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs. Check it out!

Nevertheless, this experience with “Tourist Turkey” has made me wonder: where’s the real Turkey? How can you find authenticity amidst banal internationalization?

Life 101: Lessons in Turkey


I’m currently at the Antalya airport, mooching off this café’s free wifi as I wait for my flight to board. (My flight leaves at 10:50 a.m., but I left Alanya in the dark of 4:40 a.m. in order to take a shuttle with everyone else.) As we begin our fall break and split to our separate travel plans, it seems like a natural opportunity to reflect on my time in Turkey so far. These past 35 days have gone by both fast and slow—it’s strange to think I’ve already been here for over a month, but then it also seems like these experiences fill quite more than a month. Time is a funny thing.

I’ve also learned a lot over these past several weeks. I know it’s cliché to talk about travel in this way, but I don’t quite know how else to put it. Instead, I’ll try to move beyond the clichés of “travel while you’re young” to keep track of all of the specific things I’ve learned thus far:

For example, I’ve learned that there’s few better ways to create a connection with someone else than learning some basic phrases in their native language. This morning, I was proud to know enough Turkish to be able to ask our bus driver how he was and talk about where our school was.

Helping out in the English class at the local middle school

Helping out in the English class at the local middle school

Living in such a tourist destination like Alanya, I’ve also further appreciated the importance of language—and how sad it is that most Americans only truly know one. Earlier this week, when we were trying to order pizza, the man on the phone asked us if we spoke Swedish or Danish, before passing the phone to someone who could speak better English. Many Alanyans speak some kind of combination of Russian, Danish, Swedish, German, or English along with Turkish. We had a conversation about this early on the trip with our tour guide in Istanbul. “Americans are lazy about language,” he told us, “but they can afford to be. You can’t travel to another country if you’re Turkish and expect someone to speak Turkish.”


Sign in front of the bookstore in the Antalya airport

At the same time, I’ve learned to nod and mutter enough “Evets” when someone talks to me in Turkish and I have no clue what they’re talking about. Truth is, the smile and nod can also get you a long way.

I’ve learned that it’s better to walk. Walking allows you to slow down and appreciate your surroundings. It can also allow you to unexpectedly stumble upon a World Lacrosse Expo in the middle of the beach at night—just like Alex and I found after dinner one evening.

Lacrosse... in Turkey? (This was also several minutes before we almost got pegged in the head with the ball, twice.)

Lacrosse… in Turkey? (This was also several minutes before we almost got pegged in the head with the ball, twice.)

I’ve learned that it’s important to make time to write. While I kept a meticulous journal of each day during the study tour, I’m still making sure I write down a couple of sentences for every day even when we’re in class. As a result, this past months has been one of the best-documented times of my life. I’m so afraid to forget anything that I’m driven by this compulsion to obsessively capture as many moments as I can. However, it’s also given me a wonderful record of my experiences in Turkey to look back on once I’m home.

It's also great to receive letters too!

It’s also great to receive letters too!

I’ve learned how to develop a more serious resting face to ward off aggressive shopkeepers and hawkers. This is partly a cultural adaption—it’s very much an American thing to smile at everyone you meet and greet them accordingly. While Turks are equally just as friendly and hospitable, they also don’t go around randomly smiling at strangers (which admittedly can be pretty odd). It can give off the wrong impression. And so, I’ve also somewhat adapted to this habit.

Serious face? (Or maybe i still have some work to do...)

Serious face? (Or maybe i still have some work to do…)

I’ve learned that I can never live for too long away from the beach. It’s something that I truly fell in love with this summer when I lived in Santa Cruz, and it’s something of which I will never tire in Alanya. I love its changing colors—the way it can be like smooth silver in the morning and a rich blue in the heat of the afternoon. I love the waves, the sand, and the sun. I may never truly be able to tan, but I could honestly lie out there for weeks on end (with many reapplications of SPF 50, of course).

I’ve also learned that possibly the best way to cope with locking yourself out of your apartment is to create a blanket fort in the middle of your friends’ apartment and singing Disney songs obnoxiously at the top of your lungs. I’m incredibly thankful for the people I’ve met on this trip so far, and I couldn’t ask for better friends to share in this experience.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


We also stopped for milkshakes along the water.


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!


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.


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!

Toilet Talk


I don’t know about you, but when someone comes back from a vacation in a foreign place and shows me pictures of picturesque landscapes and historical buildings, I think, “Well, that’s nice. BUT WHAT DID THE TOILETS LOOK LIKE?”

And so, my dear friends, take a look at a lovely example of an Ottoman toilet:

As strange as I find these toilets to be, I'm sure it's even stranger than I took my camera with me to document it.

As strange as I find these toilets to be, I’m sure it’s even stranger than I took my camera with me to document it.

There are plenty of your regular Western-style toilets in Turkey, but once in a while, you’ll have to figure a way to work with this gem. It ain’t too pretty, yet somehow you manage to make it work.

I realized that I’ve quickly digressed into discussion of circumcision and toilets on this blog, but I think it is important to discuss the different aspects of culture shock coming from the United States to Turkey. For the most part, it hasn’t been too severe—I was relatively prepared for the foreign language and the different customs and culture. However, there are certain things that make you almost immediately want to write off as weird—but they’re not. They’re just different. An appreciation of these differences is essential when you’re immersed in a different culture than your own.

PC: Lindsay

PC: Lindsay

But back to today’s recap!

Once again we awoke to a wonderful breakfast buffet (Turks know how to do breakfast), but this time with a spectacular terrace view.

After checking out of the hotel, we drove up into the mountains above Bursa to get away from the city and explore the woods.

One of the families who were picnicking nearby even offered us some çay, or tea, to accompany the grand assortment of fruits that Nese had bought from the market.

The park had this sign posted, warning people of how long it takes items to decompose.

The park had this sign posted, warning people of how long it takes items to decompose.


Afterwards, we stopped again at the silk market in Bursa—this time I caved into buying a silk scarf—and ate at Melike Döner, a restaurant that’s famous for its kebab. It holds the Guinness World Record for the largest skewer of kebab meat (5948 pounds!).

It was then back in the bus for a scenic drive to Eskişehir. Its name literally means “Old City,” eluding to its long history since being founded by the Phrygians around 1000 BCE. It’s most famous for its production of meerschaum stone, a soft white mineral that is often used to make elaborately carved smoking pikes.

We looked around the various workshops for glassblowing and meerschaum carving, and spent some time poking around their accompanying shops.

We then checked in and ate a lovely dinner at our hotel, where I finally was able to connect to the Internet to upload photos. We get to sleep in a bit tomorrow, but we’ve got a long drive ahead of us as we turn back around to head back out to the coast at Izmir.