Tag Archives: History

Have your gelato and eat it too

I spent a lot of time traveling as a group in Turkey––beginning with our 2-week orientation tour at the start––so it’s been strange that we haven’t really done any out-of-town trips as a group here in Italy yet. Traveling with a group can be hard; itineraries are often jam-packed and people can only stand on their feet for so long before they get tired. At the same time, there’s nothing like traveling to bring people closer together, like the time we had to walk for an hour to detour around a giant protest in Istanbul or the time we traveled for hours to make a 45-minute long meeting with a village women’s theater group. I think it’s good to be put in uncomfortable situations and go to places that you wouldn’t otherwise have gone on your own. Over the past year, these experiences have taught me to learn to let go––something that doesn’t naturally come to someone who’s slightly Type A like me.

And so, the whole Villa le Balze crew piled in a bus early Saturday morning, made a pit stop to pick up someone who overslept, and headed off to Siena and San Gimignano for the day.

Siena

Siena is only about a 90-minute drive from Florence, but Sienese will fervently assure you of the differences that run between them and the Fiorentini. The rivalry between these two Tuscan cities runs deep, dating back to the 12th century. During the 13th century, multiple wars were waged as each fought for more influence in the region, though Siena ultimately fell under the power of Florence during the time of the Medicis.

Map of Siena by Matheus Merian (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

As a whole group, we spent our Saturday under the guidance of my history professor, who travels back and forth every weekday from Siena to Florence for work. After a bus ride through the beautiful hills of Tuscany, we met Professor Brizio near the city walls.

PC: Will

Photo Credit: Will

The center of Siena sits on top of a hill, with the rest of the city fanned out below. Siena was actually one of the first cities to ban traffic in its center back in 1966, making for quiet and pedestrian-friendly streets that you can wander.

We first visited Siena’s Duomo, also known as Santa Maria Assunta. The white, intricately carved edifice rises dramatically from the square. It was originally intended to be built to a size larger than that of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, though they ended up only constructing one branch of the planned cruciform shape.

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PC: Will

We also managed to snap a group picture, at last.

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PC: Will

We also visited the Palazzo Pubblico, which has served as the seat of government in Siena since 1297.

The Palazzo Pubblico sits in the Piazza del Campo, the famous piazza in Siena where twice a year they hold the famous Palio di Siena on July 2 and August 16. The Palio is a crazy horse race held in the square where each of the 10 contrade or city wards enter a horse and jockey to win.

Before the race, the horses are taken into the church where they are blessed and have a chalice of wine held up to their lips. If the horse poops while in the church, it’s supposed to be a sign of good luck.

We ate lunch in Siena at a charming––though overpriced––trattoria. The whole group of 19 went to the restaurant, but we ended up splitting the bill evenly. That means that athough many of us opted for the 7 euro pasta, we each had to pay 16 euros at the end––yikes!

Price complaints aside, however, this tiramisu may have been the best tiramisu I have ever had.

Price complaints aside, however, this tiramisu may have been the best tiramisu I have ever had. So good, in fact, that I almost finished it before I remembered to take a picture.

San Gimignano

After lunch, we got back on the bus to drive to San Gimignano, an absolutely beautiful medieval walled hill town in Tuscany. When we arrived, we were treated with this view:

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The entire town is surrounded by sturdy old walls. Medieval towers still stand watch over the city.

My only complaint about San Gimignano is that we didn’t get enough time! I could have spent a whole day wandering through its streets. Nevertheless, we had an itinerary to stick to.

The Church of San’Agostino may look unassuming from its exterior, but its interior was elaborately and beautiful decorated.

PC: Will

PC: Will

We also visited San Gimignano’s town hall, the Palazzo Communale.

PC: Will

PC: Will

Near the end of the tour, we were given a choice: gelato or climb the tower. San Gimignano is known for having some of the best gelato in Italy, but I couldn’t turn down an opportunity for a view.

IMG_8362 We raced up the stairs, two at a time, to get to the top. And my goodness, it was worth it.

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We managed to race up and down fast enough––with plenty of photos at the top––to have time for gelato too.

Because sometimes, you can have it all.

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Lost in Venice

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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I can’t wait to return some day.

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.

The Real World: Alanya

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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?

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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!

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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!

Through the streets of Český Krumlov

As we drove through the Czech countryside from Prague to Český Krumlov today, it seemed like every city we passed had began with the word “Český” as part of its name. Perhaps it means “city”? “Ah, no,” replied Pavel when my dad asked. “They just thought the name of those cities sounded too German so they added the word ‘Czech’ or ‘Český’ to the front to make it sound more Czech.”

And so, we woke up early this morning to drive to Český “Czech” Krumlov, a small city about two hours outside of Prague. Because of its well-preserved village and incredibly expansive castle, today the city is further protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Our drive took us through the foggy hills of the Czech countryside—at some points, the fog was so thick that one couldn’t see more than several meters on each side of the road. We stopped for a pit stop at České Budêjovice, which had a huge cobblestoned city square.

When we arrived at Český Krumlov, our first stop took us through the expansive gardens of the castle—past fountains, numerous garden beds, and even an indoor heated riding arena.

The castle itself is gigantic; within the Czech Republic it is second only to the Prague Castle. It dates back to 1240, when the powerful Rosenberg family built the first castle. Over the years, the castle was renovated and updated according to the latest style. To this day, most of the castle remains decorated in the opulence of the Renaissance area, with countless frescoes and lavish furnishings.

We had a chance to tour the castle (unfortunately, no cameras allowed!), and I couldn’t believe how huge and how well-preserved the castle remains today. I couldn’t imagine one family owning all of it!

Afterwards, we had lunch along the river and walked around through the city’s narrow, winding streets.

Once we got back, we had time to sit at one of the cafes in the Old Square then sit down to dinner.

Since my parents leave back for California tomorrow, I can’t say how wonderful and lucky I was to spend time with them, especially in such beautiful cities like Istanbul and Prague. I couldn’t believe how quickly the time passed before it was time to say goodbye to them once again. Skype and email and narcissistic blogs like this one are great ways to stay in touch, but nothing truly can replace the time you spend together.

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.

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We also stopped for milkshakes along the water.

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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!

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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.

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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!