Tag Archives: Mediterranean

Perché no?

Over the past several months, I’ve quickly adopted a new motto, a handy two-word Italian phrase that fits almost any situation.

“Should I get seconds on dessert?”

Perché no?

“Should we see if this door opens?”

Perché no?

“Should I go walk around the city instead of working on homework?”

Perché no?

Perché no literally translates to “why not,” but it’s become more than that. It’s the kind of attitude that I’ve adopt through the kind of adventures that come while living in a foreign country. In fact, Perché no is a pretty good way to describe how I ended up going to Sardinia in the first place.

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Back in January, Julia and I sat down and started to map out where we wanted to go during the semester. Venice was a must. Bologna and Arezzo were also added since they were close and convenient. by train. Rome was already scheduled as a group field trip for a weekend in March.

While we were planning, I played around with different options on Google Flight Search, a fairly new application that lets you select an airport and your dates then view how much it would cost to fly to different destinations on a map. And so, Cagliari emerged as the cheapest destination for our open weekend in March.

“Hey Julia, what do you say about going to Sardinia?” I asked.

Admittedly, I knew little about Sardinia or Cagliari when it showed up on my search results, but a round-trip plane ticket that cost 50 euros and a quick image search that turned up beaches and mountains quickly sold me on the idea. After all, perché no?

And so, it was the fate of perché no that led us to this beautiful Mediterranean Island for a quick beach getaway. We also got Dimitra, Staci, and Landon to join us, so we had a happy little group of 5 for the weekend.

Where in the world is Sardinia, anyways?

Sardinia––or Sardegna, as the Italians call it––is the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, after Sicily and just before Cyprus (where I had a wonderful trip last December). But unlike Sicily, Sardinia is far off the coast of Italy, making it even more isolated from the mainland. Sardinia is an autonomous region of Italy, yet Sardinians have managed to maintain their own distinct dialect and culture. Almost every great Mediterranean power has once controlled this small island: the Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Genoese, Pisans, and Aragonese. In fact, Catalan is still widely spoken on the island and was once the official language until it was replaced by Spanish and later Italian in the mid-18th century.

Andiamo!

After a quick and easy flight from Pisa, we arrived in Cagliari around 1 p.m. on Friday, taking a taxi to our apartment for the weekend. I had found a place for the five of us to stay on Airbnb in the old part of town––far from the main tourist drag. The taxi driver’s reaction was priceless when we arrived at our place.

“Are you sure it’s this?” he asked in Italian.

He dropped us and our bags off at the address then drove away, likely laughing at the confused Americans he dropped off in the middle of a local neighborhood.

No worries, Mr. Taxi Driver. We picked up the keys from our host’s mother at a house down the street, then walked inside.

The apartment was way better than I expected, complete with a spiral staircase that led up to a roof-top terrace with a beautiful view.

Once we dropped off our backpacks, we headed out to explore the city. Sometimes, the best way to sightsee is simply to wander.

At one point, we came across a glass elevator that took you up to the top of the cliff above.

“Should we take it?”

Perché no!

For a brief amount of time, I was able to convince everyone else that this elevator was indeed the number-one tourist attraction in Cagliari on TripAdvisor, until I hurriedly assured them that I was joking.

But the top truly did have a beautiful view!

PC: Julia

PC: Julia

From the elevator, we headed down the street until we came to a large, palazzo-type building. The outside looked like any other type of government building, with EU and Italian flags on the outside. But there was an open door so––perché no––we went inside.

Turns out we had stumbled upon the Royal Palace. The eery part was that there was no one else in building––no other tourists, no security guards. It was like we had snuck in.

PC: Julia

PC: Julia

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We were mainly excited to take pictures on the fancy couches. (PC: Julia)

Nearby, we walked into a beautiful church, the Cathedral of Santa Maria.

The Castello District of Cagliari sits high above the city, with piazza after piazza with amazing views.

We slowly made our way down to the water. It was so good to be near the Mediterranean Sea again! Seeing it every day last semester from my living room window was one of my favorite things about Alanya.

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Hair buddies! (PC: Julia)

We walked up to Il santuario di Nostra Signora di Bonaria, located up on a hill overlooking the harbor.

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Then it was time to navigate back to the apartment! (Those who know me would be amused to know that people actually think I have a “good” sense of direction here––at home, I can barely drive anywhere without plugging it into the GPS.)

PC: Julia

PC: Julia

We had dinner at a lovely seafood restaurant, then headed back to the apartment to quickly fall asleep.

A “walk” to the beach

The next morning, we got pastries from the nearby pasticceria and brought them back to enjoy our breakfast on the terrace.

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Our main plan for the day was to seek out the beach. Cagliari’s main spot is Poetto Beach, a 5-mile long stretch of sand that Google Maps told us was about an hour walk away from our house. Sure, we could figure out how to take the bus there, but… perché no? We decided to walk.

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Our walk took us down to the harbor, and we figured that if we followed the coast, eventually we’d get to the beach… right? After all, I had a general idea of what direction to go for the beach.

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But soon the path along the harbor ended, so we had to head inland.

As we passed by a military base and an old abandoned cannery, I wasn’t so sure anymore about what direction we were going. But nevertheless, it was important to keep up appearances.

“Don’t worry guys, this abandoned cannery is actually the #3 attraction on TripAdvisor! Isn’t it cool?”

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Julia also played along. “Guys, isn’t this underpass awesome?!”

Except then we ended up on a bike path that seemed to be taking us further and further away from where we wanted to go.

Eventually, after we’d probably been walking for 90 minutes, we asked a runner for directions. You should have seen our faces when he told us that the beach was still around an hour away.

"All right, everyone show how excited they are to be on this bike path!"

“All right, everyone show how excited they are to be on this bike path!”

After following his directions, looking at several maps at bus stops, and walking on the side of the highway, we finally arrived at the beach after about two hours of walking.

It was beautiful.

IMG_8615And oh, we had earned it.

We ate lunch at a surprisingly cheap restaurant on the beach, then spent several hours tanning on the sand. It was a little too cold to go swimming, but we at least put our feet in so we could say that we went into the Mediterranean.

Afterwards, we walked to a gelateria that we had passed along the way. The unassuming establishment turned out to have the best gelato that I’ve had in Italy thus far––a flavor called Torta Paradiso that tasted faintly like key lime pie.

Staci and Dimitra went pack for a second scoop.

Afterwards, Julia and I wanted to check out another beach nearby, while the others took a taxi back to the apartment for a well-deserved nap. (Turns out the taxi only costed 10 euros… Oh well.)

It was probably best everyone headed back, because Julia and I managed to get lost once again. We debated just heading back, but decided to preserve. (Mainly for the sake of our pride over anything else.)

Eventually, we turned down a road that led us through the countryside, and finally, to Calamosca Beach.

It was so worth it.

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Afterwards, we ambitiously decided to walk all the way back. (Again, there was a slight matter of pride.)

An hour and a half later, we finally made it back to the apartment. At last!

We all ate dinner at a restaurant nearby, then watched The Lizzie McGuire Movie in honor of our trip to Rome next week.

Because, after all, why not?

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Castle Walls and Friday Bazaars

Last week, I had some free time in the afternoons to go exploring around Alanya. On Tuesday, it was exploring the area near Red Tower and the castle walls, climbing our way up the cliffs along the castle wall. On Friday, I made a solo expedition to the weekly bazaar, where local farmers line up their produce for sale in a vibrant outdoor market.

Only a week left.

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Memnum oldum, Alanya

By now, we’ve got somewhat of a grasp of this city: where to buy groceries at the nearest Migros, what shortcut gives us the quickest way to beach, and how to conquer the massive hills that surround our residence. But after a week in Alanya, it was time to finally become more than acquaintances with this city and its people. And my, what a lovely introduction it was!

First, we met our bus outside of Yamaç Café at 9:30 a.m., before we took a quick drive up the hill to the McGhee Villa.

The McGhee Villa is an Ottoman-era mansion, built in the 1830s by a local Orthodox Christian merchant who specialized in the export of timber to Egypt. However, after World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Alanya’s trade routes were severed and its merchants left the city. The villa itself fell into disrepair as most Turkish families families moved to modern apartment buildings.

Ambassador George McGhee served as the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey from 1952-1953, and discovered the Villa as he traveled throughout Turkey with his in the 1950s and 1960s. The McGhees then purchased the Villa in 1968 and renovated it as their summer home. (They also decorated the Villa with numerous pieces of antique wood they had collected in their travels.) In 1989, the Villa was donated to Georgetown, where it’s been used to operate educational and language programs by the university ever since. Unfortunately, right now the villa needs some serious structural restoration, so we are unable to use it for the program this semester.

After our visit to the villa, we continued up the hill to visit the Alanya Kalesi, or Alanya Castle. The castle is one of the best-preserved castles in Anatolia—the Seljuks built most of the current structure in the 13th century, when Antalya served as an important port and strategic fort.

The castle is located 250 meters above the sea on a rocky peninsula that protects it from three sides. Today, you can wander the castle walls and gaze at the spectacular view.

We then drove back down from the Kale Area to the city center, where Nese pointed out the important places to know in the city: the nearest grocery store, post office, pharmacy, and beach, of course. We stopped for lunch at a local restaurant that serves traditional Alanyan cuisine—something that’s actually surprisingly hard to find in Alanya with its glut of restaurants selling hamburgers, pasta, and hot dogs to tourists.

Spotted a creepy mannequin at the restaurant to add to my photo collection.

Spotted a creepy mannequin at the restaurant to add to my photo collection.

After lunch, we visited Alanya’s Archaeological Museum, which surprised me with its extensive and well-showcased collection. At this point, you would think I would be museum’d out, but the museum in Alanya offered a truly thoughtful presentation of artifacts found in the area. (My favorite piece was a beautiful iron Pegasus ornament for the bow of a boat, dating back to the first or second century A.D.)

We got back to the lojman, or apartment building, with just enough time to squeeze in a trip to the beach before we had to meet up with our host families for dinner. With all of our classes, we hadn’t had time to go since Monday, so Alex, Matt, Jo, and I headed down to Cleopatra Beach for an afternoon swim.

For the evening, we were paired up with a host family to have dinner and learn about Turkish culture. Alex and I were paired up with a lovely family with a 17-year-old daughter who had studied English in school. Through a handy translation app on her cellphone and an English-Turkish textbook, we were able for the most part to communicate throughout the night.

They first drove us to their apartment, which is located down the hill near the city center. They gave us a tour of the apartment, and Alex and our host sister bonded over her collection of science and math textbooks. (She studies at the science high school in Alanya, and currently spends hours each week studying for her university comprehensive exams. She wants to be an Industrial Engineer.)

We had dinner in their kitchen, where endless plates of food endlessly appeared before our eyes. First, it was bread, soup, and salad. Then, we were served rice and sarma, which is rice and meat wrapped in vine leaves and served with yogurt. After that, our host mom also served us a huge plate of breaded chicken called schnitzel with French fries.

After dinner, we watched some television with our host sister. The newest show in Turkey right now is a remake of The OC, with Turkish actors playing out the drama of Southern Californian high school students. We then flipped through the various music channels, and our host sister introduced us to some of the current stars in Turkish music. At some point, the channel was changed to the world championships for female wrestling. I think our reaction to wrestling was interpreted as genuine interest, so we ended up watching the female wrestling championships for about 30 minutes.

We then moved out the balcony, where they served us tea and an assortment of Turkish delights and cookies. And the food just kept appearing… a gigantic bowl of hazelnuts, a humongous plate of fruit… It was all absolutely delicious, but I didn’t know how much more food my stomach could fit.

By this time, we had gotten into a routine of using a combination of hand gestures and pantomimes to try to convey what we were saying. We listed off all of the Turkish words and phrases we knew (by this point, you can pretty much count all of it on my fingers and toes), and they taught us some more words.

After being gone now for some three weeks, it was so nice to be in an actual home and feel a part of a family for the evening. Our host mother works as a secretary in the hospital, and our host father works in one of the hotels in Alanya. Through our makeshift sign language, we talked with them about how much Alanya has changed over the past several decades and how much we’ve enjoyed our experiences in Turkey so far. They told us they wanted to take both of us to visit Gazipasa sometime, a nearby town where our host father is originally from.

Soon enough, it was almost 11:30 p.m. and Alex and I were uncomfortably trying to figure out the best way to leave. Under Turkish hospitality, it’s extremely rude to ask guests to leave. Turks will gladly sit with their guests late into the night, and go to great lengths to take care of their guests—even offering them to sleep over for the night. In fact, many Turkish homes have a type of sofa bed that serves this purpose, which can easily be converted into a place for guests to sleep.

After we had tentatively asked about three times if they needed us to go—“Don’t you have homework and studying to do?”—they drove us back to our apartment around 11:45 p.m. (Luckily, they also handed us a mineral water for the road to help with digestion!)

I arrived back at the apartment, stuffed and exhausted, but bursting with appreciation for how wonderful our host family was. We met up with everyone else, and sat swapping stories about our host families until we got too tired.