Tag Archives: Europe

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.

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.

What’s all the Praha-ha

We met up with Pavel again in the morning, for our second half of the walking tour around Prague. To begin, we took the metro and tram across the river to Lesser Town to visit the magnificent complex of the Prague Castle.

The Prague Castle sits on a hill overlooking the river, where it has served as the seat of the Kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman Emperors, and the presidents of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic. It holds the Guinness World Record as the largest ancient castle in the world, occupying an area of almost 70,000 square meters.

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The castle dates back to the 9th century, where the first walled building was the Church of the Virgin Mary. At the beginning of the 10th century, the rulers began work on the Basilica of St. Vitus, a gigantic gothic church that remained under construction for centuries until it was finally finished some 600 years later. Look at those stained glass windows!

We also toured some rooms inside the castle itself––from the grand coronation room to the offices for the government scribes.

My mom’s favorite part was this row of little houses built into the castle walls––complete with a collection of torture devices (yikes!).

Afterwards, we walked around Lesser Town and visited the Lennon Wall.

Beginning in the 1980s, people began to cover the wall with all kinds of Beatles-inspired graffiti and song lyrics. Under the communist regime, the wall served as a source of irritation. Young Czechs began writing grievances on the wall. Multiple times the wall was painted over, only to be covered again with flowers and lyrics by the next night.

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After the tour with Pavel, we had lunch as we decided what to do for the rest of the afternoon. First stop: the Communist museum!

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The Communist Museum of Prague had a somewhat creepy collection of old artifacts and mannequins, depicting life in Prague during the Communist era. When we had asked Pavel what life was like before the fall of the Communists, he always told us the same thing: “Gray. Everything was gray.” It was fascinating to contrast the photos of drab, ramshackle streets with the beautiful facades of Prague today.

My favorite part of the video was an old documentary that depicted the protests that erupted in Wencelas Square in 1989. Crowds numbering thousands, strong-willed protesters, police brutality… yet all of this underscored by the remarkable success of the subsequent regime change, all with no violence or lives lost.

We also visited the Spanish Synagogue, with its arched ceilings covered with tiny, intricate geometric designs. The synagogue also had a remarkable collection of Jewish artifacts from all over Central Europe. When the Nazis gained control of the synagogue, they had kept a staff working at the museum charged with the task to create three private exhibitions to document many of the Jewish artifacts seized from the territories under Nazi control. All of the museum staff was eventually sent to Auschwitz.

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We had dinner at an Italian restaurant near Old Square, and we then went to the top of the clock tower after dinner to have a view of the city at night.

What a sight!

Czech It Out

After two packed days in Istanbul, my parents and I woke up early this morning to catch a flight to Prague, the largest city and capital of the Czech Republic. Our flight went smoothly, and we arrived in Prague just before noon with a new stamp in our passports.

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Immediately, you could feel the change from the chaos and bustle of Istanbul. While Prague is a large city in its own right, its population of 1.3 million people pale in comparison to Istanbul’s 13 million plus. Its narrow cobblestoned maze of one-way streets keeps most of the cars out of the city center.

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We had lunch at an Italian restaurant just off the Old Town Square—where I scarfed down an entire pizza more as a testament to my gratitude to eat something besides Turkish food than to the quality of the pizza—before meeting up with our guide, Pavel, for an afternoon walking tour of Old Town, New Town, and Josefov.

The four hours that followed took us through a leisurely stroll through the streets of Prague. Repeatedly, I was amazed at the beauty of the architecture of the buildings—a testament to the many centuries of immense wealth and power invested in Prague throughout the centuries. While today it serves as the capital of the Czech state, it has also been the seat of two Holy Roman Empires, the historical capital of Bohemia proper, the capital of Czechoslovakia, and an important city to the Habsburg Monarchy and its Austro-Hungarian Empire.

We began our tour in Old Town Square, slowly wandering over to Wenceslas Square. Wenceslas Square played a significant role as the site of many protests leading up to the Velvet Revolution and subsequent fall of communism in Czechoslovakia.

We then traveled over to one of the most recognizable panoramas in Prague—the view from Charles Bridge, which spans over the Vltava River. The construction of the bridge started in 1357, and served as the only means of crossing the river until 1841. As a result, this crossing helped make Prague important as a trade route between Eastern and Western Europe.

We finished our tour in Josefov, which historically served as the Jewish district of Prague. There still stands a remarkable vaulted gothic synagogue known as the Straronová Synagoga (literally “Old New Synagogue”) that dates back to 1270.

And sometimes, there’s truly no better way to explore a city than on your two feet.

Back in Old Square!

Back in Old Square!