Tag Archives: Customs

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:


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.

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 Little Pashas


As we’ve visited various mosques throughout the past week, we’ve spotted young boys dressed up in elaborate costumes like that of little pashas. The reason? The young boys are dressed up for the celebration of their sünnet, or circumcision ritual.

They have no idea…

In line with Islamic tradition, Turkish boys are circumcised between the ages of 7 and 10. Before the ritual, the boy is dressed in the satin uniform of a sergeant major, and his parents throw as lavish a celebration as they can afford. Relatives and friends proffer money to the young boy, and he gets to eat as many sweets as he wants on his special day. The young boy is also taken around to the most important mosques in the city.


When we were in Iznik, we saw about 10 cars drive by in the little street, honking their horns loudly in honor of a boy’s sünnet.

PC: Lindsay

PC: Lindsay

It’s currently the time of the year where they usually perform the sünnet, so we’ve seen these young boys almost everywhere we go. All hail the little pashas!

After a week in Istanbul, it was sadly time to pack up our suitcases once again for the next part of our trip. Somehow, we managed to pack up the little bus with all our luggage, even though they had accidentally sent us a smaller bus than we were supposed to have. (And for once in my life, I actually packed light compared to rest of the group!)


We then set off on our way to Iznik, a little town several hours out of Istanbul that is famous for its elaborately painted ceramic pottery. Once out of the city limits, the countryside surrounded Istanbul reminded me of California…


About halfway through the drive, I was incredibly excited to see our bus pull onto an auto ferry to cross the Madrasas Sea. I jumped out and ran up to the deck to take as many pictures as I could during our short journey. (On another note, I’m turning into my mom in this way—I’m definitely one of the most obnoxious photographers on this trip with my little blue camera.)

Eventually we reached Iznik, and it was quite evident that we weren’t in Istanbul anymore. Narrow streets crisscross the small buildings that make up the town; mothers and children enthusiastically greet each other as neighbors on the sidewalk.

First we visited the Iznik Ayasofya. While today it functions as a mosque, originally the site was used as a place of worship during the era of the Romans. In the 4th century, a church was built on the remains of the former temple, where Christians worshipped until it was converted into a mosque in 1331. Most notably, it was the location of the 7th Ecumenical Council at Nicea.

We then walked over to the local pottery workshop, where we were able to tour the small building where they create most of the works.

The shops for the ceramic workshop were located in an old madrasa, or school, that was the first one built by the Ottomans. Each of the shops were located in the little cells where the students used to study.

Random note: If you look closely at many pieces of Ottoman-era art, you’ll often notice that tulips are a popular design. Tulips are a common motif in Ottoman art, particularly because they resemble the Arabic word for Allah.

We piled back into the car to drive to Bursa, a large city of about 2 million people that is famous for its silk production. Immediately, it was noticeable that we were in a much more conservative area—our group had the only people we saw who were wearing shorts.

We visited the Ulucami Mosque, a gigantic building that was built early on by the Ottomans in 1399. Since it was a relatively early mosque, its architecture carries elements from the Seljuks as well as Ottomans.

The walls of the mosque were covered with beautiful Arabic calligraphy. There’s also a lovely fountain in the middle—the legend goes that when they were trying to build the mosque, an old Christian woman owned that plot of land. At first, she wouldn’t give up her land, but finally agreed to sell it as long as there wouldn’t be any praying on that plot—hence, the fountain in the center today.

After we exited the mosque, we stumbled upon a public performance of a group playing Ottoman-era music and dressed in the costumes of Ottoman Janissaries. In Ottoman times, the purpose of the music in war was to scare your enemies as well as inspire confidence in your troops. The Janissaries, in their elaborate uniforms, would march at the front playing such songs to let enemies know that the Ottomans were coming.


Lastly, we toured the old Koza Han, where they once housed merchants on the road but now sell all types of silk items for purchase. Hans or caravanserais were roadside inns where travelers could rest and recover from the day’s journey. Often, they were built around central courtyards, around a raised small mosque. Caravanserais supported the flow of commerce, information, and people across the network of trade routes throughout the Ottoman Empire and beyond.

In the evening, we settled into our hotel for the night. Tomorrow, we’re checking out again as we travel to Eskisehir!