Tag Archives: Food

You’re going truffle hunting?

As part of our City of Florence class, we’re each supposed to create some kind of final project that investigates a particular aspect of the city. The guidelines are pretty open to encourage us to take whatever direction we want, and projects in the past have ranged from cooking classes to interviews with the artist behind all the graffitied street signs in Florence.

Julia and I played around with several ideas, until I was browsing TripAdvisor one day and inspiration struck. A company offered Truffle Hunting Tours just outside of Florence, and for whatever reason, people were raving about their experience on the tour. I love the taste of truffles, and I was always curious how these mushrooms could be so expensive. In Florence, truffles show up quite frequently on restaurant menus when they’re in season, and the area of San Miniato just outside of the city holds a famous truffle fair every November. So why not see what this whole truffle business is about?

And so, we booked our tour and arrived in San Miniato on a Sunday morning after a short 30-minute train ride from Florence.

Our guide, Francesca, picked us up at the train station along with another couple from the Bay Area, and drove us to her family farm, Fattoria Collebrunacchi. We quickly met our truffle hunting dog for the day, a shaggy 7-month-old Lagotto Romagnolo named Ciocco.

We then headed out into the woods to let Ciocco do his job.

IMG_8377

It was such a beautiful day!

Once we got to the woods where truffles tend to grow, Ciocco began putting his nose to work.

Quickly, he found his first truffle. They grow just below the surface, so Ciocco would sniff out the scent then begin digging towards the truffle until Francesca distracted him with a biscuit.

Once Ciocco found one, he kept finding more and more––lucky for us, because it’s not always guaranteed that he’ll find them that day. March is just the right season to find Tuscany’s bianchetto truffles, which are smaller than the more expensive (and larger) Italian white truffle. Even right out of the ground you could already smell how it would taste! The dirt around it also smelled like truffles, full of spores that would hopefully then grow into another truffle later on.

Good dog!

IMG_8427

We ended up finding around 8 or so truffles before heading back through the Tuscan countryside.

Back at Fattoria Collebrunacchi, Francesca gave us a tour of her family’s farm, where they produce a wide variety of products: wine, grappa, olive oil, honey, and, of course, truffle products. Francesca and her mother do most of the work on the farm along with two other employees, and her father and brother help out on the weekends.

The farm sits around the ancient manor of the beautiful Villa Formichini. The Villa even has its own chapel, dedicated to San Jacopo al colle.

IMG_8454

We got to take a look at an old beehive.

They also had a small circular grove of trees, used for to keep birds for hunting. Different types of trees were planted in concentric rings: pine, oak, then hazelnut.

We also got a small tour inside the Villa as well!

Then it was time for our “tasting,” as the tour website had called it. In actuality, this “tasting” was quite the feast––first, a gigantic spread of antipasti! There was all types of prosciutto, sausage, cheese, and a wide variety of different types of crostini, with both white and black truffles.

Then, we got a heaping serving of pasta with truffle oil and gigantic shavings of the truffles we had just found in the forest before.

Afterwards, we got dessert! (And caffè, of course.)

Once we were done with our leisurely lunch––or, I mean, “tasting”––we had time to explore the grounds a bit more.

At the end, Francesca drove us back to the train station, where we said our farewells.

IMG_8498

In the end, truffle hunting could possibly be the best thing that I’ve done so far––when else can I stomp through the woods, find some mushrooms in the ground, then eat them in a gigantic lunch?

Until then, I’ll just keep on forging far from the well-beaten tourist path.

Time, Money, and Crocodile Skins

On Valentine’s Day, we had our second City of Florence field trip. While the last trip took us into a funky artist studio all the way over in the Oltrarno, this trip took us to a much bigger business: Scoula del Cuoio in the city center.

Looking up at Santa Croce in Florence.

Looking up at Santa Croce in Florence.

The Scuola del Cuoio, or “school of leather” for my Anglophones, was founded in 1950 in the old monastery behind Santa Croce. A family of Florentine leather artisans collaborated with Franciscan friars in order to open a school that would allow orphans of the war to learn a practical trade so they could earn a living. Santa Croce, which lies on the banks of the Arno River, had been a center of leather manufacturing in Florence since the 13th century, due to its amble supply of water needed for tanning.

Over years, the school and business has grown. While the Scuola del Cuoio still offers courses for aspiring leather artisans, it also specializes in creating quality, hand-made leather goods: wallets, handbags, jackets, and so on. Today, the business is highly profitable. Nevertheless, the same family owns and runs the business, ensuring that the focus remains on creating a limited number of quality products.

The current day school operates on the lower level.

The current day school operates on the lower level.

Just like with the other artists we met, TIME remained a theme stuck in my head as we toured the workshop and school––as in, how much time it takes to choose the right materials, how much time is required to construct every piece by hand in limited quantities, and how much patience all this time ultimately necessitates. On the limited occasions that I’ve sat down to draw something or create something by hand, I remain solely focused on the finished product. I then do what I need to do to get there in the most efficient way. As a product of the 21st century, I think efficiency is of prime importance, and I don’t have much patience if I believe things could go a faster way. Nevertheless, these conversations with artisans who unabashedly embrace the time it takes to create quality have encouraged me to question my own mindset.

A master artisan was constructing a handbag from pieces of ostrich leather.

A master artisan was constructing a handbag from pieces of ostrich leather.

At the same time, I was surprised to find myself getting uncomfortable with the discussion of how they buy the leather and what kind of animals they use. I understand the use of animals such as cows or sheep. I’m not a vegetarian, so I cannot draw any double standard. However, the workshop also constructed handbags of crocodile, ostrich, and stingray. These animals make for beautiful leather, but there’s something wrong about using endangered or exotic animals for handbags. Even if all the animals were farmed, the continued use of such skins creates a market for the illegal poaching of these animals in the wild––especially when a small crocodile skin can easily garner a price of several thousand dollars.

Looking at the different kinds of leathers they use.

Looking at the different kinds of leathers they use.

Furthermore, while TIME was prominent in my thoughts on the field trip, MONEY was another. I couldn’t stop seeing dollar signs––or euro signs––flash everywhere throughout our visit. That baby crocodile skin in the photo above? It easily cost over 3,000 euros, wholesale. I may appreciate skilled craftsmanship, but there’s no way I can afford it. Why spend 300 euros on a handbag when I could fill an entire closet of handbags for the same price? In this sense, I was reminded of my own priorities: I’d much, much, much rather spend money on traveling or food or to a good cause than an expensive handbag that I’d be too scared to take outside.

In the end, our lunch afterwards was much more my style: a chaotic, busy trattoria in the middle of the market where only locals go and dishes cost 4 euros.

IMG_7841

That’s what I’m talking about.

Lost in Venice

IMG_7753

Ah, Venice… The magical sinking city that seems to float on water, where residents still need boats to get around and where visitors unfailingly get lost in its winding maze of alleyways, bridges, and canals.

IMG_7659

Venice has always occupied a special place in my heart. In elementary school––and still today––one of my favorite books was The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke, a story of two brothers who run away to Venice and are taken in by a group of street children who live in an abandoned theater. (That description may not do it complete justice, but Cornelia Funke is truly a master in children’s literature.)

Julia and I arrived in Venice on Friday afternoon by train at the Santa Lucia station, where one immediately walks out the doors of the station to see the Grand Canal.

IMG_7663

Beforehand, I had found out that the cheapest way for us to get a vaporetto pass was through a Rolling Venice card from the tourism office. Tip: If you’re under 29, you can purchase a Rolling Venice card for only 4€ to get huge discounts on many attractions in Venice, such as a 3-day vaporetto pass and half-price admissions at the major museums and attractions.

With our vaporetto pass in hand, we boarded the No. 2 vaporetto to take us to the island of Giudecca, where our hostel was located.

After dropping our bags off at the hostel, we took the vaporetto over to San Marco, which was only two stops away by boat.

It was already getting dark, so we wandered around a bit in the rain, winding through alleyways and climbing over bridges. For dinner, we stopped by a tiny restaurant that specialized in cichetteria, little small dishes you can combine to create a meal.

Once back at the hostel, we ordered some hot chocolate from the bar and sat down in the common area. Now, hot chocolate in Italy is completely different from what you experience stateside––instead of a watery mix of chocolate power and sometimes milk, Italian hot chocolate is like a melted chocolate bar: rich, smooth, and thick.

For my first hostel experience, Ostello Venezia was awesome. The building was recently remodeled in October, with a funky common area and cool furnishings.

In the hostel, they were setting up for a “Neon Party” that night, complete with guest DJ performances. Considering that I usually can barely stay up past 11, we were only there for the first hour or so, when there were only two guys swirling around on the dance floor by themselves, so I can’t speak much for the event. But the set-up looked impressive!

IMG_3042

By hanging out in the common area, we met a bunch of travelers from all over: Belgium, England, Scotland, and Canada, to name a few locales. Julia and I passed around a blow-up ball with a backpacker for a bit, then pulled up a bunch of chairs with a group to meet new people.

Fairly early, we headed back to the dorm room since we planned to head out early the next morning. While the atmosphere in the common area of the hostel was great, the vibe in our dorm room was very… strange. A woman had lost a pouch with a bunch of her cash in it, so she spent over three hours crying during the night and talking loudly to her friend and on the phone in Spanish. At first I felt bad––I couldn’t imagine if that happened to me––but by 1:00 a.m. and hour 2 of this, I was wishing she’d leave the room.

Despite all of that, I slept surprisingly well, armed with an eye mask and a pair of earplugs. My top bunk was even more comfortable than my bed back in Florence, and I awoke to discover that the window in the room had a fantastic view of Venice’s main island.

After accidentally terrifying a girl on my way to the bathroom (apparently, when I ask someone “Are you done with the shower?” in my pajamas and glasses it is scary enough to warrant a reaction straight out of a horror movie), we headed back to San Marco in the morning to begin our full day of sightseeing.

After a mesmerizing walk through the Basilica of San Marco––perhaps the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen––we bought tickets for the Secret Itineraries Tour of the Doge’s Palace.

Unfortunately, they don’t allow cameras on the tour, but it was completely worth the 14€ ticket price. Our tour guide enthusiastically led us through the parts of the palace not open to the general public––old prison cells, torture chambers, and archival rooms––while telling us stories from the past, such as how Casanova managed to escape from prison using a bible, plate of pasta, and a small shovel.

After the tour, we then had time to tour the grand public rooms of Venice, where the huge councils of nobles used to meet to govern the powerful republic. For centuries, Venice was governed by a kind of oligarchical democracy, where 2,000 noble men voted in the Grand Council––pretty impressive for a state that never had a formal written constitution. The Doge himself was elected from one of the leading Venetian families usually around the age of 80, then would serve in the position until his death. However, the position itself didn’t have much political power beginning in the 1200s, when the Rialto families controlled the government through various levels of Councils.

 

Afterwards, we got lunch at an amazing take-out pasta place named Alfredo’s then wandered around and got lost––which, truly, is the best way to spend your time in Venice.

IMG_3078

On a small side street, we found a beautiful bookstore, where books lay stacked in precariously leaning towers. I bought some postcards to send back home.

We jumped on a vaporetto to take a look at all the palazzos along the Grand Canal by water.

We pondered some modern art at the Guggenheim.

Then we managed to get so completely lost that a kind man asked if we needed help and pointed us in the direction of the old Jewish ghetto in Venice.

For dinner, we sought out a place where we could try the Venetian speciality of spaghetti al nero di seppia, dyed black by squid’s ink.

photo

Exhausted from a full day of walking, we finally made it back to the hostel for another round of hot chocolate and where we met a group of American students who were visiting Venice for the weekend. Then, we headed out early the next morning to make our train back home.

All in all, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to kick off my birthday week. The Venice of reality was even more charming than the Venice of my dreams.

IMG_7813

I can’t wait to return some day.

Captured by Cameraphone

IMG_2950

From the days of the half-megapixel camera on my old middle school flip phone, cell phone cameras have come along way over the past several years. I’m constantly amazed that my iPhone can often capture a better photo than my Canon point-and-shoot can, without the fancy lens or mechanical zoom.

And so, over the past month or so, I’ve captured a good amount of photos using my phone. While I’m still using the indestructible Samsung phone that I bought in Turkey last semester––sans camera, a pain to text on, yet comes with a nifty Bejeweled knock-off––I tend to often have my iPhone on me as a portable way to connect to the internet or take photos on the go.

Here’s a selection from my January photo stream:

In the air

The tundra of Chicago on my layover from San Francisco to Frankfurt on the flight out.

The tundra of Chicago on my layover from San Francisco to Frankfurt on the flight out.

Apparently, this was enough snow in Chicago to delay transferring the aircraft from the hangar to the gate by two hours...

Apparently, this was enough snow in Chicago to delay transferring the aircraft from the hangar to the gate by two hours…

WHOOHOO! Look at this leg room! I think I could get used to this.

WHOOHOO! Look at this leg room! I think I could get used to this.

Chasing the sunrise.

Chasing the sunrise.

On my Lufthansa flight from Germany to Italy, the flight attendant handed me this. I guess I looked like I was/could speak Italian? (Score!)

On my Lufthansa flight from Germany to Italy, the flight attendant handed me this. I guess I looked like I was/could speak Italian? (Score!)

Now too shabby of a view: sunrise over the Alps.

Now too shabby of a view: sunrise over the Alps.

Strange chocolate/nougat dessert popsicle thing that Lufthansa gave me for dessert after breakfast.

Strange chocolate/nougat dessert popsicle thing that Lufthansa gave me for dessert after breakfast.

In Fiesole

The view from the lookout on my first day in Italy.

The view from the lookout on my first day in Italy.

IMG_2950

After every pranzo (lunch) during the week, we have espresso and dessert––my favorite part!

After every pranzo (lunch) during the week, we have espresso and dessert––my favorite part!

What my everyday walk to school from the bus stop looks like.

What my everyday walk to school from the bus stop looks like.

Sunset from the Villa. (I have a feeling this will be a theme this semester.)

Sunset from the Villa. (I have a feeling this will be a theme this semester.)

Not a bad view for a Monday morning.

Not a bad view for a Monday morning.

The best cappuccino I've had so far from my favorite bar in Fiesole, named Alcedo.

The best cappuccino I’ve had so far from my favorite bar in Fiesole, named Alcedo.

 

CAFFEINE.

SO GOOD.

The burning of the olive groves around this time of year make for some beautiful sunsets!

The burning of the olive groves around this time of year makes for some beautiful sunsets.

In Firenze

Poetry street art posted on some city walls.

Poetry street art posted on city walls.

During the first week, I tagged along with the Art History class on their field trip to the Bargello and Uffizi.

During the first week, I tagged along with the Art History class on their field trip to the Bargello and Uffizi.

Someone get her some clothes.

I think someone forgot to get dressed this morning.

IMG_2973

Awkward Medieval wooden statues.

Awkward Medieval wooden statue. (Almost as good as the many mannequins I photographed last semester in Turkey… maybe this should be my new theme.)

At home

Every morning, my host mother puts out a breakfast spread for us. We eat the traditional Italian way--with a light breakfast of tea, yogurt, cookies, or a pastry.

Every morning, my host mother puts out a breakfast spread for us. We eat the traditional Italian way–with a light breakfast of tea, yogurt, cookies, or a pastry.

Another view of the kitchen.

Another view of the kitchen.

The refrigerator and TV, which we usually have on in the background during dinner.

The refrigerator and TV, which we usually have on in the background during dinner.

Cabinet in the kitchen. So homey!

Cabinet in the kitchen. So homey!

Photos from when I first moved in... Here's my desk.

Photos from when I first moved in. Here’s my desk.

Surfboard on the wall. (So I can pretend that I'm a surfer even in Italy.)

Surfboard on the wall. (So I can pretend that I’m a surfer even in Italy.)

Some of the CD collection in my room. Iron Maiden, Radiohead, Pearl Jam, etc.

Some of the CD collection in my room. Iron Maiden, Radiohead, Pearl Jam, etc.

My adopted dog for this semester! She's named Iside (EE-see-day), after the Egyptian goddess.

And lastly, my adopted dog for this semester! She’s named Iside (EE-see-day), after the Egyptian goddess.

That’s Bologna

Last Saturday, we decided to take the train to Bologna for the day, the largest city of the Emilia-Romagna region in Italy. Filled with good food, beautiful churches, and a vibrant population, it made the setting for an absolutely perfect day of exploring. But why visit Bologna, you may ask?

It’s got the oldest university in the Europe.

Established in 1088, L’Università di Bologna is one of the oldest universities in the world. Even today, Bologna itself feels like one huge college town, with various faculties dispersed throughout the city. At night, the piazzas and streets were packed with all kinds of young people meeting up with friends. But this also means that you can easily stumble upon old public libraries, still serving as study spots centuries later.

IMG_7467

A public library off Piazza Maggiore that we found at the beginning of our day.

From 1563 to 1803, the first official home of the university was the Archginnasio, which now contains the main city library. Its hallways are covered with the over 7,000 coats of arms of former students.

IMG_7483

The Archginnasio also houses the beautiful Anatomical Theatre, built in 1637 to house some of the first cadaver dissections. Butchers used to come to the lectures to help cut up the corpses.

The university also means that Bologna has traditionally been one of the most liberal cities in Italy, with strong history of political activism. In fact, as we walked around, we came across a protest in front of the Justice Building .

IMG_7512

And, of course, street artists have their own political message to make.

IMG_7459

It’s the best city to walk around in the rain.

Luckily, we arrived in Bologna on a stunningly clear day. But if it were to rain, we would have been set. Porticos cover almost every sidewalk in Bologna, and the wide walkways contrast with the narrow sidewalks I must squeeze through in Florence.

It’s a gastronomic capital.

Bologna, and the larger region of Emilia-Romagna, is the birthplace of lasagna, tortellini, parma ham, parmesan, tagliatelle, basaltic vinegar, and––of course––bolognese sauce. The rich and hearty dishes that Americans often associate with Italian cuisine are native to this region, and the two restaurants we visited didn’t disappoint. For lunch, I had some handmade torteloni; for dinner, I went with the classic tagliatelle alla bolognese. (Regarding restaurants, I highly recommend Tre Santi and Quadradimezzo.)

It’s cheap to visit.

By train, Bologna is only an hour away from Florence, and our round-trip tickets cost us less than 20 euros. Once there, we visited churches, wandered streets, and visited public buildings, which meant we paid only a nominal amount in entrance fees.

The main squares were filled with all kinds of street musicians––and music is the best kind of public good there is!

Getting lost is an adventure within itself.

We had a list of places we wanted to see, but we also left some time to wander through the streets, explore alleyways, and then try to figure out we were on a map. But this enabled us to discover things we wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

The best views are from up high.

Bologna’s skyline is dominated by two tours––Torre degli Asinelli and Torre Garisenda––which are among the few survivors of the original 200 that once towered over the city. The story goes that two rival families competed to build the highest tower, with construction beginning in the 12th century.

IMG_7555

Today, you can climb the Torre Asinelli, which at 318 ft (97 m) is the fourth highest tower in Italy after those in Cremona, Siena, and Venice. We climbed over 500 steps of this narrow, slightly leaning tower to get to the very top––and oh, that view!

IMG_7560

When you don’t know the history, it’s sometimes just as fun to invent it.

I tore out pages from my guidebook to bring along, but often we would we wonder about the stories behind other  buildings or statues that we came across.

IMG_7479

Take the above statue. When you don’t have access to Wikipedia, sometimes you have to do with your own storytelling, like about the time when Thomas Jefferson visited Bologna and subsequently scandalized the public by writing risqué romance novels. Later, the city decided to commemorate the visit by building a statue in his honor. (After all, he kind of looks like TJ, doesn’t he?)

Of course, even the guidebook can’t always help you. According to my guidebook, the Abbazia di Santo Stefano contains a basin with Lombard inscriptions from the 8th century. However, we weren’t quite sure what basin contained the inscriptions, so we took pictures with both.

There’s art everywhere.

Speaking of which, churches contain some of the great treasures of Italian art. Where else can you ponder the works of Renaissance greats for free?

San Petronio is gigantic, touring above the main square. But my favorite church was San Domenico, a grand airy church begun in 1221 to house the body of St. Dominic after his death. The inlaid wood panels in choir area were spectacular, each portraying a different scene from the bible in mesmerizing detail.

The Sanctuary of Maria della Vita contained some stunning terra-cotta statues of the Compianto sul Cristo Morto.

Anywhere is great with the right people.

Overall, I had a wonderful day exploring Bologna––ducking into courtyards and savoring every bite of my pasta. But the truth is, what really matters is finding the right people with whom to explore.

Next Saturday, it’s off to Arezzo to tour its famous antique market. But that’s more for next time!

Turkey in Turkiye

We got back late last night after spending the Thanksgiving weekend in a whirlwind trip to Adana and Cyprus, after taking three flights and three days. Our actual Thanksgiving evening was spent in a restaurant in Adana, eating none other than Adana Kebap (so good!). Because we would be away, we celebrated Thanksgiving on the Tuesday before, inviting all of our Alanya friends to a giant turkey dinner.

We don’t have ovens in our apartments, so we were somewhat limited in what we could make, ordering a turkey from a local hotel and pies from a restaurant. Mara and I claimed the mashed potatoes, so we spent the afternoon peeling potatoes, boiling them in water, and mashing them up with copious amounts of butter and milk.

At one point, when Mara, Amanda, and I were peeling potatoes, Lindsay remarked, “Of course we have the Foley’s, O’Malley’s, and Galvin’s peeling potatoes.” Of course.

We decorated Yamaç Cafe with a box of Thanksgiving decorations that had been shipped from the U.S., then laid out all the food in a huge spread: turkey, mashed potatoes, salad, rice, baked carrots, brussels sprouts, gravy, stuffing, pies, and so on. We invited our host families for the meal, and slowly the restaurant began to fill up with our big Alanya family.

My host family was amused that we called the meat “turkey.” In fact, the Turkish word for the bird is hindi, which is also the word for someone from India. So really, the circle of confusion just continues!

While it’s hard to be away during the holidays, there’s so much to be thankful for here in Alanya. I am thankful for my friends and professors, those who have shared this wonderful experience with me. But I’m also incredibly thankful for my “Turkish family,” who has generously and open-heartedly welcomed me into their home and lives. I can’t say how lovely it is to see The Hunger Games in a movie theater full of Turkish teenagers, to play countless games of Okey, and to share meals that always include never-ending amounts of delicious food. (They even brought me a cake and a container of ashure to take home with me after the meal!) They are absolutely the best.

It was truly a Happy Thanksgiving.

The Real World: Alanya

IMG_5718

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.

IMG_5668

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.

IMG_5681

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.

IMG_5683

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.

IMG_5688

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.

IMG_5689

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

IMG_5691

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.

IMG_5696

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.

IMG_5715

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.

IMG_5716

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.

IMG_5719

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.

IMG_5743

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:

IMG_5760

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.

IMG_5764

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.

IMG_5766

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?

Sunset on the Danube

In Vienna, every time we tried to navigate our way through the U-Bahn, we commenced a kind of game of verbal gymnastics, struggling to pronounce all the German words. This was further complicated by indecipherable name of the metro nearest to our apartment: Taborstaße, with a funky ß character that we had no idea how to pronounce. (Turns out, it’s just a kind of s-sound. You can become a better German speaker than me here.) As we would try to chart our route, we would inevitably stumble over stops like Kettenbrückengasse, Donaustradtbrücke, and Perfektastraße. Of course, this was only made more embarrassing by the fact that most Austrians speak English perfectly, with almost no accent.

IMG_2339

We got up extra early to meet Matt at his metro station at 8 a.m., then jumped back on the metro to head to Schönbrunn Palace, which served as the summer estate for the Hapsburgs. Once on the grounds, we quickly purchased our tickets then took off to explore its grounds.

The Schonbrunn Palace, whose name means “beautiful spring,” has over 1,400 rooms inside this Rococo summer residence from the 17th century. The gardens of the palace stretched on far into the distance. Manicured gardens extended across the back lawn and up this gigantic hill, where we climbed up to have a spectacular view of the estate below. As part of the palace estate, there was also a labyrinth, zoo, and never-ending trails.

After a jaunt through the garden, we headed back into the palace to get a tour of the inside rooms, only to realize that the crowds had significantly grown since we purchased our tickets at opening time that morning. Squeezing our way through the tour groups, we picked up our audio guides and began to walk through the imperial apartments. (Unfortunately, cameras were not allowed!)

We headed back over to Stephanplatz to show Matt around the area and finally find St. Peter’s Church, which we had tried to search for in the afternoon rain the day before but failed. At last, we used the handy GPS from the Trip Advisor app to locate the church, and peeked inside for a quick look. Church #7—check!

When we were walking through the area, we also came across the performance of an Austrian dance group in the street.

IMG_2467

Belvedere Palace was the next stop on our list. Along the way, we found the Turkish embassy!

IMG_2475 We also stumbled upon a Soviet monument. Matt was able to translate it for us: “Monument to the soldiers of the Soviet Army, which for the liberation of Austria from fascism have fallen…” Upon further research, the monument was built in 1945 to honor the 17,000 Soviet soldiers who fell in the Battle of Vienna during WWII.

IMG_2471

Belvedere served as the residence of the Prince of Savoy, today housing two Baroque palaces, the Orangery, and the Palace Stables. We didn’t go inside, but we took the time to walk around the gardens and appreciate the buildings themselves.

Afterwards, we headed back to our apartment for the afternoon to catch up on readings for class. In the evening, Alex and I decided to take the U-Bahn down to see the Danube River, since we hadn’t had a chance to visit it in Vienna yet.

The view from the U-Bahn station––much better than the dark, damp tunnels of DC's metro!

The view from the U-Bahn station––much better than the dark, damp tunnels of DC’s metro!

Like Prague and Budapest, Vienna stretches over both banks of a major river. By the time we arrived, it was just in time to watch the sunset.

Once the sun had set, we quickly took the metro over to meet Matt for dinner. We decided on Pancho, a Mexican restaurant that our host had recommended. Coming from California, I could eat Mexican food every meal of my life and never tire of it—so I was extremely happy to find a substitute for my Mexican fix in Vienna. (And it was surprisingly good!)

Afterwards, we headed over to Café Central, one of the famous coffeehouses in Vienna, for some dessert and coffee.

Because when in Vienna, sometimes you have to do as the Viennese do—with sachertorte and cappuccinos.

One Day in Budapest

Since I was already leaving for Vienna the next morning, I was determined to cram as much as I could of Budapest in my one full day in the city. The best way to accomplish this? Free walking tours!

IMG_2263

Budapest is the capital and largest city of Hungary, with a population of over 1.74 million along the banks of the Danube River. While it once was composed of three different cities––Buda and Óduba on the west bank and Pest on the east––it was unified in 1873 into one: Budapest.

Alex and I got out early to meet up for the start of the morning walking tour. You can find tours like it all across Europe, which are most popular with the young and hostel crowd since they’re only funded by a policy of “pay however much you can” at the end of the tour. We were paired with Anita as our tour guide, and started out for a 3-hour tour of some of the major sights on both sides of the river.

IMG_2242

Anita began our tour with an overview of Budapest’s history, from the seven original tribes of the Hungarian people to their horrendous luck in also being on the losing side of wars over the past centuries. In the 16th century, the Ottomans pillaged Buda and occupied it for 140 years, during which they constructed many of the traditional Turkish baths that you can still find in the city. With the fall of the Austria-Hungary Empire in 1918, Hungary declared itself an independent republic. Hungary once again was on the wrong side of World War II, where it suffered serious damage and remained under Soviet occupation until the fall of the USSR.

Our tour began in the Pest side of the Duma River, slowly making our way over the Chain Bridge to the Buda side, where the old castle and palaces are located.

In our tour group, we quickly became friends with Cindy, a girl from Chile who was about two months into her 3-month solo trip across Europe. She had previously spent two years as an au pair in Massachusetts, and she now was traveling across Europe by couchsurfing and meeting up with old friends.

IMG_2269

After the tour, Cindy joined Alex and me to grab some sandwiches at a local grocery store and eat them near the Fisherman’s Bastion. We walked around a bit, crossing over the bridge and taking lots of photos.

Cindy had to go meet up with her friend, so we said goodbyes and exchanged contact information to stay in touch and exchange photos. Alex and I went on the prowl for some free Wi-Fi and  ended up in the lobby of an extremely posh hotel.

Since we enjoyed our morning walking tour so much, we decided to also meet up for the afternoon Communist walking tour. This time, our guide Anna took us by some of the remaining buildings and monuments from the Communist era, but also told us a lot of anecdotes about life under Hungary’s version of “Happy Communism.”

IMG_2305

In 1949, the Communist Party gained control of Hungary, subsequently enacting an era of state socialism under the influence of Moscow. However, unlike many other countries east of the Iron Curtain,  demonstrations in Budapest in 1956 led to the outbreak of the Hungarian Revolution in defiance of the Soviet occupation. In response, the state began to enact several reforms to appease the people––for example, Hungarians were allowed to purchase their own kind of blue jeans and could buy real Coca-Cola at the store. As a result, from the 1960s to the 1980s, Hungary was often satirically referred to as the “happiest barrack” within the Eastern bloc.

Anna shared with us all kinds of stories about life in communist Hungary, such as how the state supplemented two-week vacations for all Hungarians, dubbed James Bond movies in a way that left out all references to Communists as the enemy, and created all kinds of bureaucratic nightmares, such as the arduous seven to 10 year process to buy a car. While Hungarians lacked many types of freedoms, Anna explained the kind of nostalgia for the by-gone era that still persists for many older Hungarians. More than once, Anna commented on the need for a generational change––that it would take several generations to truly instill a “democratic” way of thinking in the country.

After the tour, we scoped out a traditional Hungarian restaurant that we found on Trip Advisor, and ended up having one of the best meals we’ve had on the trip so far—they even had a man playing the harpsichord in the restaurant!

IMG_2323

Afterwards, we walked over to the Buda side of the city once again to get some night shots of the city, especially the Parliament Building.

What a beautiful city!

Turkey’s Next Top Model

An employee uses a kind of "fabric saw" to cut through many pieces of fabric at once

You’re constantly reminded of the importance of the sea everywhere you go in Istanbul. You catch a glimpse between buildings when you’re in the middle of town. You watch the incredibly busy channel from the shore, where one cargo ship after another passes through, loaded down with hundreds of steel containers. At tourist sites, you learn about the two empires that helped build this city, but particularly how their ability to control the seas enabled them to acquire such great wealth.

IMG_4516

And so, it was only right that at least one of our days be spent on this important channel. Today we took a ferry along to Bosphorus to Anadolu Kavağı, a town on the Asian side of the Bosphorus strait at the entrance to the Black Sea.

The trip took about two hours, so we had plenty of time to gaze at the beautiful houses that line the coastline. I even taught some people how to play Connect, a.k.a. the best game ever, which was how we got through many hours of car rides for Mock Trial.

Once in Anadolu Kavağı, we decided on a fish restaurant for lunch. Interestingly, fish isn’t too big of a part of Turkish cuisine, so it was nice to get something different for a change of pace.

After lunch, we had some free time to hike up to the top of the mountain to see the Yoros Castle that once guarded the entrance to the Bosphorus, which is commonly known as the Genoese Castle because it was under Genoa’s possession in the mid-15th century. It was an incredible view.

IMG_4575

We then took the ferry back to Beşkitaş, where our residence director had arranged for us a tour of clothing factory.

The company, called Miarte & Neri, produces clothing of a variety of styles to be sold in mainly Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. It was incredibly special to see the various stages of production—design, pattern making, sewing, and fabric cutting—as well as talk to the owner about how he runs his business. The owner talked about how he traveled to other countries to seek out pieces for inspiration, then brought them back to Istanbul to see what aspects they could incorporate into their own designs. At the location we visited, they created the model garments and cut the fabric for production. After that, the fabric pieces were taken to another location where they were fully sewn.

Later on in the program, we’ll be visiting a textile factory of a larger scale, which should often an interesting comparison between the two. Textiles, after all, are a huge part of Turkey’s economy—most likely the towels in your bathroom will have a “Made in Turkey” tag on them. Nevertheless, in the words of my economics professor, the textile industry “leaves wherever it touches”—as evidenced by the once huge textile industry in the United Kingdom or United States—because it requires such high labor costs. As such, Turkey will have to find other options if it hopes to continue to modernize.