Kittens in my Arms …And Ruins

Finally on our way to Alanya (that came out slightly presumptuous and ungrateful, let’s be honest, I’ve absolutely loved this study tour so far) we made a quick stop to the gorgeous, ancient city of Aphrodisias. During the 6th century A.D. this site marked the flourishing Greek and Roman empires, which were situated along the Meander River. We trekked (and by that I mean we crowded into a tractor trailer) to the ancient ruins, only 20% of which have currently been excavated. There, we marveled at the coarse marble amphitheaters, viscerally beautiful Ionic columns, as well as the broad roads connecting the entire city.

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Lucky for me, there was a local community of cats—complete with at least a dozen kittens—so I spent a decent amount of my time attempting to woo them. Nese cheated—meaning she purchased four sandwiches—and so she proceeded to throw chunks of bread at them in order to earn their unequivocal affection. Regardless, I had the opportunity to cradle a few of them in my arms, so obviously my day was made. We embarked on our trek to Alanya, made a brief stop to a colloquial town in order to view its textile production facilities, and then spent the rest of the evening riding on the highway. As I write this post while aboard the bus, I am optimistic about the new place that I will make my home for the next few months—someone told me that our apartment overlooks the Mediterranean Sea, so that should be a glamorous break from the construction noise that usually occupies the space outside of my apartment at Georgetown.

If you’ve been reading my blog since its beginning—if so, kudos to you, let me know—you’ll notice that my posts have become progressively shorter and shorter. As I begin to settle into a new city, with a new social climate, amidst academics, I will likely have less time to blog mindlessly and snap artsy photos. What I’m getting at is that my posts will be less frequent, but hopefully a little more adventurous (also, probably a little sassier too). On that note, I’ll aim to post once a week in order to confirm to all of my friends and family that I am still alive. 

A Broke Boy’s Guide to the Perfect Mud Bath

This morning we ventured from our quaint hotel in Pamukkale to a nearby site of natural springs and spectacular cliffs. We spent to majority of our time sauntering through the warm, therapeutic water and ‘people watching’ the shocking diversity of swimsuits and physiques. While some tourists took advantage of the scenery to snap some ‘modeling pictures,’ others embraced the overbearing sun to tan—nude, of course. Shannon and I ventured to the former Byzantine city of Hierapolis in order to explore the Greco-Roman remains of an empire that once was. We managed to navigate across the perimeter of the city to the old necropolis, otherwise known as the cemetery. There, we marveled at the impressive cornucopia of cracked sarcophagi and marble houses that had endured thousands of years of history. Because Pamukkale’s springs were rumored to have mystical healing powers, it attracted a ridiculous population of ill individuals. As a result, the city boasted the largest cemetery of the ancient world (that was supposed to be a fun fact).

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As we sprinted from house to house and jumped, literally and dramatically, from tomb to tomb, we asked ourselves if these marvels were actually available for public display. In an eerie and bizarre way, we were alone, in the ruins of a city, only accompanied by the decaying bones underneath us—whatever, I’m Pre-Med, so I should get used to dead bodies.

After we realized how spooky our endeavors were, we headed back with the group to visit a nearby spring famous for its red water, rich in color due to its iron content. There, we were allowed to lather ourselves with copious amounts of gooey, crimson mud. Since I’m obviously too cheap to finance a Turkish bath excursion, this site allowed me the opportunity to exfoliate in the brilliance of nature—and let me say, my pores are looking much better after this free scrub. As we drove back to the hotel prematurely in the day in order to rest, I reflected about my new life motto about hygiene products—only use scrubs and soaps you would be willing to eat. Apparently Turkey has turned me into an organic-crazed minimalist; just call me ‘Nature Boy.’

Some of my Favorite Things Include Corinthian Columns, Theology, and Cheap Wine

This morning we drove from Izmir to the coast of Ephesus as our focus was on the rich theological history of Turkey as well as its fascinating archeological finds. We made a quick stop at the Virgin Mary’s house, where it is posited that Mary lived until the Assumption. The house was quaint, quiet, and peaceful. Older men and women, in particular, bowed upon entering, and there was soft music to generate an aura of serenity throughout the entire space. Upon exiting, we reached a series of wishing fountains, which were supposed to provide the drinker of the water with health, wealth, love, or ‘the rest of your wishes’ for the last two fountains. I selected the first fountain since it is not possible to have the latter four unless you are already healthy and living—sorry to deconstruct the legend by logic, I just had to be rational.  Then, we sauntered over to the ‘Wishing Wall’ where I fastened a short wish written on a napkin to an elaborate ribbon. Apparently, these types of sites are created throughout Turkey—though usually on the branches of trees—outside of holy sites. We navigated over to the Basilica of St. John, had a short lunch, and then explored Ephesus. 

Never having visited a ruins site before, I can only describe my experience by stating that I was impressed, overwhelmed, and invigorated. The site consisted of marble slabs, columns, antiquated arches, and corroded temples, among other splendors. We were able to climb throughout the grounds and literally touch the history of the Greeks, right at our fingertips. I was shocked to find out that only 20% of the grounds has been excavated as I stared at the dazzling Corinthian columns uncovered around me. Later, we ventured to the small down of Sirince to enjoy some wine tasting.

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As you might guess, I mingled with all of the storeowners I could find to secure as many samples as possible. Most of the wines were fruit based, and so they were extremely sweet—perfect for my trashy, college pallet. I purchased a bottle of pomegranate wine, which I am sure I will enjoy once we are settled at the beach in Alanya. Afterward, I stumbled across a small artisan stand of soap and so I had to oblige. I had heard about the marvels of olive oil soap for the past two weeks, so I bought a hearty slab of it at the stand (just to spice things up, I made sure it was Bay Leaf scented). We endured a sticky, tumultuous bus ride, but eventually we made it to Pamukkale. As we passed through a small village on the way, Nese told us a frightening custom of its townspeople. Apparently, when a household has a daughter of marriage age, an empty bottle is placed on the roof to be shot at by a potential suitor. As we moved through the town, I saw a multitude of bottles on the roofs of houses and felt very uncomfortable. However, tonight our hotel has a thermal bath, so after a quick dip in the water, I will likely forget this tale of relentless chauvinism—problem solved?

My Big, Fat, Ironic, Turkish Wedding

Last night our group intended to spend the night out exploring Izmir’s famous, Westernized nightlife, but instead we spent our time drinking moderately in a single hotel room. Why, you may ask? Nese informed us that there were protests a few blocks down the street, and so as a result we were advised to exercise extreme caution. I actually had to run down the street quickly to test out my Capital One account—I haven’t been able to access my debit account since this trip commenced, and so I have had to be very frugal with my purchases so far—and I was yelled at by two separate sets of ‘Polis’ officers, once for obeying the traffic law? As well as another time for J-walking. Regardless, I made my way back to our hotel safely, and so we were able to get a peek from the streets of police transit pummeling through the dense traffic. Apparently, the riot in Izmir was being held to commemorate the death of a 22-year old protestor who died a few days earlier in Antakya after being injured in one of the demonstrations there. As we observed the madness, I reflected how terrifying it would have been to be walking the streets amidst the shrill screams of the protest. 

The next morning, we enjoyed a quick lecture and question seminar with a Turkish professor of government, political history, and media studies from one of the universities in Izmir. His specialty was in Italian-Turkish foreign relations, and so it was fascinating to hear how he could relate the two countries to Izmir’s own, unique history. Nese translated for our meeting, and the lecture consisted of an overview of Izmir’s role in Turkey throughout various war-time periods. The professor talked briefly about Izmir’s impressive ‘tolerance’ in religion and social customs, so I posed a follow-up question asking how this is manifested in the lives of Turks today. However, I was annoyed by the use of the word ‘tolerance’ as opposed to ‘acceptance’ as—maybe this is just semantics—but tolerance in no way seeks to engage other cultures, faiths, or background. Regardless, it was reassuring to know of the added fluidity and flexibility that we have while in Izmir. Afterwards, we enjoyed a quick lunch and browsed throughout the Konak Pier. Unfortunately, most of the shops were mainstream and pricey, so I avoided making any purchases. We headed back to the hotel, finalized our fall break plans—I’ll be going to Belgrade, Budapest, and Vienna with some friends—and then headed out to the offices of FOMGED, a dance group specializing in folklore that has performed at venues throughout Europe.

We met the group at their headquarters, enjoyed some cay, and were even offered gifts from the dancers. Later, we ventured via bus to an amusement park-esq stadium that was lodged subtly in the wilderness. We were confused by the purple bean bag seating quarters, as well as the horse stable nearby—some members of our group rode ponies to the tune of Pitbull, and I felt as though I was undergoing a very severe and twisted hallucinogenic trip—but opted to stay for dinner with the dance group. During our meal, we quickly learned that we would be participating in the show, essentially providing entertainment for the Turkish audience. Our group was asked to select a ‘bride’ and a ‘groom’ to participate in this themed, traditional dance, so naturally everyone voted me as the groom—actually, I volunteered, but the former sounds better. We were manicured and dressed by the dancers in authentic Turkish garb and told to stand on the stage and ‘follow along.’ I’m sure that everyone watching enjoyed the performance as I stood front and center; clapping obliviously to the words I did not know. Afterwards, we changed back into our American clothing, and danced to Black Sea themed music. We bonded with the dancers—or maybe they just thought my pronunciation of the Turkish language was laughable—and eventually headed home for the night. This night was probably my favorite so far, so kudos to Nese to coordinating such a fantastic program!

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Tyra Banks has Nothing on Turkey

After a solid night’s rest in Izmir and a few bushels of olives later, we set out for the morning to investigate a castle in the city’s ruins known as Kedifekale, or literally the Velvet Castle, in English. From our lofty perch, we were able to view the entire city shoreline, all of which the castle enclosed at some point in history. With our free time, we climbed up and down the crumbling walls, and spent some quality time posing and snapping photographs—is there a Turkish version of America’s Next Top Model? Afterwards, we headed down the city slopes to visit a Jewish synagogue.

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As we had encountered at the Jewish Museum previously, it was extremely difficult to gain entry into the synagogue. The man we met, though kind, obviously did not trust us, and was largely uncomfortable with us being in the sacred space. However, he lectured us briefly in Turkish about his nostalgic feelings. Back when Izmir was religiously and ethnographically more diverse, the man stated that he used to enjoy mingling with other ‘groups of people.’ According to him, modern Izmir has become too homogenized, and the Jewish population has dwindled considerably. As the sole caretaker of the congregation, I understood where his sentiments were coming from; he felt abandoned and largely alone. After a quick Turkish style lunch, we migrated to the center of the city to enjoy some open markets and calm waters.

The most iconic image of Izmir is its enormous clock tower known as the ‘saat kulesi.’ I enjoyed the idyllic scene of pigeons scurrying around the clock, flocking toward stray breadcrumbs and away from screaming children. I spent my time wandering alone, as I browsed for some cheap Turkish textiles. For some strange reason, I received a multitude of stares as I was shopping? Ultimately, nothing caught my eye, but I enjoyed an unprecedented view of the sea as the cool ambient breeze swept through my hair. Later, we visited Izmir’s Ethnographic Museum, which housed a ridiculous amount of sculptures, textiles, and paintings as to chronicle the city’s past. I absolutely despised this experience because all of the artifacts were displayed on obtuse, porcelain mannequins. I have an extreme fear of dolls, and so I spent most of my time in the museum fidgeting around and screaming whenever I felt as though one of the ‘models’ was making eye contact with me. Afterward, we enjoyed some free time at the hotel, so I opted to burn some calories at the gym. Unfortunately, there were no Zumba classes offered, so I had to dance provocatively to Pitbull, alone. As I recounted the details of my day, I realized the reason I was getting so many stares at the market is because I was wearing seersucker shorts tucked into an oxford shirt—what could possibly be more WASPy?

Thank God I Found The Library

Our focus for today was to successfully navigate from Eskişehir to Izmir, and so my reflections for the day will be slightly less elaborate. After breakfast, we began our day with a visit to a model of the ‘Devrim,’ the first automobile ever to be designed in Turkey. Literally translating to ‘revolution’ the car’s masculine cubist façade and boasting rims do justice to the 24 engineers that were assigned to construct the vehicle in just 130 days. After this pit stop, we paid a visit to Anadolu Üniversitesi, a public university with the second largest enrollment in the world as a result of its online education courses. I was feeling groggy and grumpy because I only had one cappuccino this morning—God forbid—and so I departed from the tour for a few minutes to enjoy the silence of the library. While I have absolutely enjoyed my experience thus far, I recognized immediately my need for some personal space and introspection. Luckily, there was a cappuccino machine right outside of the quiet room I visited, so my time alone left me feeling recharged and prepared for our extensive bus ride to come.

Cravings for Cay And Cashmere

This morning we enjoyed the most wonderful breakfast spread, complete with a terrace view of the city of Bursa. After our meal, we ventured up into the mountains to enjoy an intimate gathering away from the commotion of the city. Once we reached the spot and exited our bus, I realized that the altitude had reduced the temperature considerably. However, I was exited to utilize some of my winter clothing that I packed, as my summer wardrobe is beginning to appear depleted and wrinkled at best. We enjoyed a quick hike in the forest and then hopped up on boulders to enjoy the view. Later, we reconvened with the rest of the group to enjoy a fresh assortment of figs, plums, bananas, and pears. The produce was absolutely delicious, and I enjoyed learning the ‘correct’ method for peeling unwashed fruit. To add to the excitement, a nearby group of campers offered us each a glass of cay, the Turkish word for tea, and so we were all quite excited to oblige. The herbal, vaporous liquid heated my throat and reinvigorated me after a chilly morning of outdoor activities. As I enjoyed my warm drink, I observed the conglomerates of Turkish extended families, bundled up and huddled on elaborate wool rugs, passing around lunch and sharing stories. Eventually, we drove back down to Bursa to learn more about its history and to try our luck at shopping. 

Referred to by Turks as “Green Bursa,” Bursa has tranquil parks and leafy suburbs set on the lower slopes of Mount Uludag. This disguises the vibrant commercial heart of the city, which today prospers from automobiles, food and textiles, and silk trade developed in the 15th and 16th centuries. In 1326, Bursa became the first capital of the Ottoman Empire, and no city in Turkey has accumulated more mosques and tombs since. We perused through the silk markets at the Korza Han Bazaar, which is famous for its textiles since the discovery of the silkworm. I enjoyed this shopping experience a great deal more than what I endured at the Grand Bazaar as the shops were covered, quaint, and intimate. With less hustling and a large presence of locals, I felt as though the products were more genuine and worthy of my purchase. Ultimately, I bought a grey and blue thin-striped cashmere scarf, which I cannot wait to make use of in December’s frigid, chilly climate. After our bargain escapades, we watched an authentic Turkish percussion performance by a dazzling local fountain. I truly appreciated the thick, caterpillar-like mustaches of the men as well as their traditional, military garb. As we ventured back to the hotel, I thought about how ridiculous I would look with facial hair.