Tag Archives: University

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.

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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.

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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 .

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

Stuck in small spaces

Turkish elevators and I don’t get along.

This morning, I wanted to drop off my luggage at the bus before breakfast, so I squeezed my bags and myself into an elevator and pressed the button for the first floor. Once at the first floor, the inside doors opened and I pushed against the heavy outside door to get out. However, my push was a little too forceful. I tumbled out of the elevator into the lobby, completely face planting on top of my luggage and sprawled out on the floor. Glorious.

Last week in Istanbul, we were coming back at night and I piled into the small elevator with Amanda and Mara. We took the elevator up to the sixth floor, but when we got there, the doors wouldn’t open. We couldn’t get out.

We tried taking the elevator back to the lobby then back to the sixth floor then back to the lobby, but still the doors wouldn’t open. I pushed and pulled on the metal doors, trying to yank them open with my fingers. Our frantic calls to others’ cellphones were unanswered.

Finally, Mara decided that we should try pushing the alarm button. Bzzzzzzz.

“Don’t do that!” said Amanda. “You might wake someone up.”

Several moments passed.

“HELLO?” Amanda yelled, apparently changing her mind. “MERHABA? MERHABA???”

Shortly, a man came and pried open the elevator doors. We decided to take the stairs up instead.

Since then, I’ve been avoiding elevators unless completely necessary, but yesterday I jumped on one to get up to the restaurant on the 8th floor. About halfway through the trip, the elevator then suddenly stopped between floors. The inside elevator doors had opened, exposing the elevator shaft and part of a doorway.

Are you kidding me? Not again.

Luckily, we were able to get it moving again after several moments, but trust me. If I’m given the choice, I’m taking the stairs.

Spiral staircase at the Ethnographic Museum in Izmir

Spiral staircase at the Ethnographic Museum in Izmir

 

Anyways, today’s main attraction was a tedious 7-hour bus ride from Eskişehir to Izmir, so my main challenge was to find out how many hours of Candy Crush I could play before I got tired of it.

Nevertheless, before we left Eskisehir, we visited a model of the Devrim, the first ever automobile designed and produced in Turkey. In 1961, President Cemal Gürsel issued an order to build a prototype engine and car to jumpstart Turkey’s automobile industry. He assigned the job to a group of 24 engineers, who had 130 days to build the car from scratch. It was called the Devrim, after the Turkish word for “revolution.”

Two of the four prototypes produced were shipped to Ankara for demonstration. On the day, President Gümal got in one of the cars for a ceremonial ride. However, the driver had forgotten to put fuel in the tank. So, after approximately 100 meters, the vehicle came to a halt. As a result, the car became the subject of jokes for many years.

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Of course, the Devrim has a greater significance in the history of Turkey’s economy, particularly in Turkey’s attempts to prop up its own manufacturing industry through heavy import duties—something I’m sure we’ll cover in my economics classes this fall.

We then stopped for a visit and tour at Anadolu Üniversitesi, a public university in Eskişehir that has the second largest university enrollment in the world due to its large online open education programs.

After that, it was on the bus for the long haul to Izmir! During the drive, I was amazed at how relatively quiet the roads were—there was none of the kind of traffic that I’m used to during road trips in the U.S. At one point, our bus backed up some 50 feet on the highway because we missed our exit (which was quite terrifying, considering the driver couldn’t see behind him).

California-themed poster for sale at a Turkish pit stop

California-themed poster for sale at a Turkish pit stop

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Nevertheless, we finally arrived at our hotel around 9 p.m. and settled in for the night. Tomorrow, adventures in Izmir!

Three cups of tea

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Each night, right after we come back from dinner, the evening call to prayer filters in through the street noise from our open window. It’s one of those stereotypical sounds you’d expect when you think of the Middle East, but I can’t put words to how special it is to hear it echo throughout the city. Yesterday, we were passing by a mosque on the ferry just as it sounded the call to prayer:

Call to Prayer in the Bosphorus Strait

Oh Istanbul, you enchant me more and more!

While so far we’ve been very much tourists, today we had the opportunity to truly appreciate the benefits of traveling through Turkey as a study abroad—using the city and its people as an educational platform.

After another wonderful breakfast at the hotel’s extensive buffet, we drove from the hotel to the Saliya district to visit Koç University. Koç University is a private, English-instruction university that was founded by the Koç Foundation in 1996. Since its founding, the school has had a long education with Georgetown, namely through exchange programs and its emphasis on modeling the Western liberal arts-style of higher education.

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The campus itself was beautiful, located high atop the hills overlooking the Black Sea. At the university, we had the chance to meet with both the university president and their director of international programs. We were able to learn about the history of the school, as well as the innovative programs they’ve launched to enrich Turkish higher education.

For example, Koç University offers very strong financial aid to each class of 900 undergraduates. About 40% of the students receive full tuition scholarships, and around 70% get some sort of scholarship. The university recruits from the top 2% of Turkish students, and partners with corporations to help sponsor the tuition of students from otherwise underrepresented districts in Turkey.

Another thing we discussed was how to promote innovation within universities. Traditionally, Turkish universities were not allowed to have their own patents, making them often unable to benefit from their contributions to their respective fields. However, more private universities, including Koç, have created ways to benefit from their intellectual property through foundations that put the profits back to the school. Due to this success, there is currently a law pending to allow public Turkish universities to own patents as well.

Turkish hospitality is the best—we were served some lovely tea during the meeting, and then they gave us some rosewater-covered Turkish delights as a farewell!

After the meeting, we had some time to explore the campus. The buildings—let alone the views—were beautiful.

We had lunch in their cafeteria, and then took the bus to meet with representatives at the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce. When we got to their building, we were taken up to the top floor of the building and into this absolutely amazing conference room. Look at this view:

During the presentation, one of the economists at the Chamber of Commerce gave us a basic summary of the role of the Istanbul Chamber of Commerce—which is the 5th largest chamber in the world with some 350,000 members—then gave us an excellent presentation about characteristics of Turkey’s economy, namely how Turkey got out of the financial crisis so quickly and strongly. For example, Turkey’s GDP Growth Rate (% – Annual) went from -4.8 in 2009 to 9.2 in 2010, 8.5 in 2011, and 2.2 in 2012.

For an explanation of this trend, he pointed to five aspects of Turkey’s economy: a strong financial sector, private sector investment, the condition of Turkish public finance, diversification of exports, and a successful monetary policy.

Of course, the sliding Turkish lira, where the exchange rate has reached a new low of $0.50, might threaten this economic prosperity. While the Turkish central bank has said it does not intend to hike interest rates to defend this depreciation of the lira because they believe it is a temporary condition, this could be too optimistic.

Overall, the discussion was a great precursor to the two economics courses that I’m taking this fall. (And at last, those lectures of International Trade and International Finance came in handy!)

Yet again, we were served some pastries and more glasses of tea (this time two rounds!). I even got to take with me a stack of books with statistics on the Turkish economy—I guess for some ambitious free reading?

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We then took the bus to Mor Çati, an NGO for women’s rights near Taksim Square. It was one of the first organizations founded in Turkey to fight against violence towards women, and today runs a shelter for women along with promoting women’s rights through political activism.

The woman we met with was more comfortable speaking German than English, so one of our professors, Katrin, translated the discussion for us. We learned about recent developments in Turkish law regarding women’s rights then had the opportunity to ask all sorts of questions about the current situation in Turkey. One of the most interesting comments she made was how the Turkish state is quick in enacting laws to protect women, but slow in enforcing them. As a result, many changes end up being fairly superficial. Of course, this is a struggle for many feminists—the greater structural issues caused by patriarchy that infiltrate both politics and society.

After the meeting, it was back to hotel for dinner. I plugged in my new Turkish cell phone to charge, but about 5 minutes into charging there was a loud popping noise and the outlets stopped working. Luckily, the phone is fine, but the charger they had provided me doesn’t work anymore.

My flashback-to-middle-school cell phone.

My flashback-to-middle-school cell phone.

Amanda and I went down to the front desk, and after about 15 minutes of very confusing pantomiming and trying to explain the problem, the manager told us he would get someone tomorrow to fix it. But until then, only our bathroom outlets work, so I’m currently sitting on the floor in the hallway so I can charge my laptop.

Tomorrow we’re in for the “greatest hits” of Istanbul: the Hippodrome, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Underground Cistern, and, of course, the Haghia Sophia!