I remember sitting in one of our orientation sessions in DC listening to the program coordinators tell us that this summer would be an emotional rollercoaster. At the time, I thought I understood. Oh, no. These last several weeks have definitely challenged me. I will definitely emerge a much (MUCH) more patient person. A more open-minded person. A better person, I’d like to think.
Before I become too involved in analyzing how my time in Turkey has affected me, I’ll give a rundown of my last two weekends that, of course, did not come without their own unique sets of challenges (and adventures, too, of course).
Last weekend was Bayram. Bayram is a giant celebration at the end of Ramadan. Everyone who has been fasting for almost a month is ready to devour a feast that is guaranteed to be delicious because it’s Turkish. Children visit all their neighbors and are presented with sweets (comparable to process of Halloween, minus the costumes). You drop by the home of pretty much every person you’ve met in your entire life. The entire extended family comes for the massive meal that’s been a work in progress for days (kind of like Thanksgiving). Thursday is a half day of work and school, and Friday is free. Bayram is a mega-holiday. It’s no joke.
The Monday after returning from Amasra, some of my friends invited me to vacation in Olympos with them for the long weekend. Olympos is basically paradise in Antalya (on Turkey’s southern Mediterranean Coast), so that was an offer I couldn’t refuse. At the same time, there was no way I could miss out on this mega-holiday. My friends were leaving Wednesday right after class for the airport. (Olympos is about a 10-12 hour drive from Ankara, so the cost is flying is pretty worth it.) I compromised and decided to take one of the last flights out Thursday so I could still experience some of a traditional Bayram. Our teacher, the angel that she is, didn’t assign any homework over the extended weekend. Wednesday at 1pm we were completely free.
Wednesday and Thursday I spent time with my family, whom I’ve realized I’ve never really introduced. My host parents are in their mid-thirties, Koray and Ebru. High school sweethearts, or at least the Turkish equivalent. Both were raised in Ankara, although my mom was born in İzmir. I have an 11 year-old sister named Yazgı who is constantly talking, as you might expect from an 11 year-old. She has learned a little English and enjoys practicing with me, but I definitely speak more Turkish than she does English. And then there’s Emir. He’s a 3 year-old firecracker that could outlast the Energizer Bunny. He probably gets away with more than he should because he’s so cute and he’s definitely learned how to tug at your heartstrings at just the right moment.
Late Thursday morning, the five of us and my overpacked backpack headed to the city center. I thought they were bringing me along for some pre-feast shopping at first, but then we ended up at a restaurant where I recognized two of my host uncles and my host grandfather. It turns out Grandpa owns a restaurant that’s a 5-10 minute walk from my school. You can eat here without having to pay anything! my sister exclaimed. As a college student, that is truly a dream come true. We shared some köfte (a meatball-like dish) and then hit the town for some shopping. But before I knew it, it was time to head to the airport.
One of my friends decided to fly out Thursday night as well, so we met at the city center to catch a bus to the airport. In traditional Turkish fashion, we hadn’t made it two blocks before our bus driver rear-ended a taxi driver. (It was so minor that my friend and I didn’t even realize we had been in an accident until after the bus driver leapt off the bus screaming to more conveniently portray his anger to the also screaming taxi driver. We were asked to board another airport-bound bus. We made it to the airport and checked in with time to spare.
Our plane was bigger than expected. It seemed like half of Ankara was flying to Antalya with us. Because our plane took off around 8 pm, we got to watch the sunset from above the clouds. I would the pictures I took of that spectacle could have more accurately captured the vibrancy of the colors.
One of the better pictures of the sun setting over Ankara.
Despite our teacher claiming there are no sharks in Turkey (or at least none we should worry about) a shark’s mouth adorned the baggage claim of the Antalya airport.
We landed in Antalya a little after 9 pm. However, all the buses that ran to Olympos had ended their service for the night. Despite this, we were lucky because a good friend of ours had friends who lived in Antalya and were gracious enough to offer their homes to us for a night. We were instructed by the friend to board bus 600, ride it for about an hour then get off at a high school. After finally finding the bus stop, we got on the bus. And so did basically every passenger on our flight. Along with all their luggage. There was hardly any room to move. In the middle of the bus was a pile of suitcases and backpacks almost as tall as me. Whenever anyone tried to get off the bus, it was a hassle locating their luggage, retrieving it, and passing it to them. We bonded with a lot of people on that bus. Finally we decided it was about to to get off the bus. We started walking down the street hoping that we’d run into our host for the night. Miraculously, we did. She look way more German than Turkish, but I definitely won’t judge someone especially if they’ll let me stay at their house and cook me dinner for free. After our 11 pm dinner, our host took us for a walking tour of the coast of Antalya.
I found this sign near one of the piers. I’m not 100% sure what it’s supposed to do but I love it.
From an elevator on a hill we could see a small port where “pirate ships” took tourists out for daily cruises.
A piano staircase near the pier.
A piano bench? Lounge area? I couldn’t quite figure out what this was supposed to be.
There’s a little stream that feeds into the Mediterranean by the pier. At night, it’s lit up with purple, blue, green, red, and pink lights.
Friday morning, we woke up and ate brunch with our host, who turned out to not be our friend’s contact in Antalya, but rather our friend’s friend’s friend. Because Turks are willing to host two complete strangers. Our friend’s friend joined us for lunch then escorted us to his house where we hung out with him and his roommate for a couple hours. We would have actually done something other than sit on the couch, talk, and listen to music, but it was so hot that (I later saw on the news) the soles of the shoes of people out walking on the street in Antalya were melting with every step. It was wickedly hot. We had fans going, we were drinking ice cold water, and we weren’t moving at all. Yet somehow I sweat more in those couple hours than I feel I ever have before.
My friend and I decided we’d better head out before we missed the last bus to Olympos again. All the sweating proved worthwhile because our new Turkish friends hardly let us leave without promising to come back and visit them. Our friend took us to the bus stop, where we learned the bus we were boarding would take us to the bus going to Olympos. A recurring theme in Turkey: Endless Public Transportation. We boarded our second bus, which ended up having more people than I’m sure was ever intended. It was a small bus, so everyone was more or less sitting on top of each other. The ride lasted about an hour, but there was (weak) air conditioning and a gorgeous view of the mountains and the Mediterranean so it wasn’t really that bad. The bus pulled into a rest stop, clearly nowhere close to where we would actually be staying, and we found out we’d have to board yet another bus that could drop us off at our hostel.
In the meantime, we enjoyed the view from the rest stop.
Our third bus driver of the day, an energetic yet elderly man, jammed to Rihanna, Miley Cyrus, and the like while he sped down the steep, twisting roads of Olympos. We arrived at our hostel soon after and quickly met up with our friends.
This wasn’t your average hostel, though. It’s called Kadir’s Tree Houses, and you’re literally staying in tree houses. (I would HIGHLY recommend it. We found out after the fact, or at least I did, that this place has consistently been ranked as one of the top 20 hostels IN THE ENTIRE WORLD.
This bench caught my eye (no surprise there). On each log, “Hello” is written in dozens of languages.
We dropped by Cafe Cactus both nights I was there to dance to some reggae music. It wasn’t touristy, the music was funky, and the whole crowd was having so much fun.
A panorama of the beach we visted on Saturday. The water was the most beautiful color, there were mountains in every direction, and we found some chairs with umbrellas to lounge in when we weren’t swimming.
The water was crystal clear up close and turquoise from a distance. It was the perfect temperature as well.
From the beach you can see what remains of Ancient Greece’s Olympos.
This is what’s left of the massive gate to the temple. To give you an idea of how huge it is, I’m about two or three stones tall.
If I read the sign in Turkish correctly, this is the wealthy neighborhood of Ancient Olympos.
A little stream feeds into the sea. Along the stream are some ruins whose windows are in particularly good shape.
I was climbing around the ruins, and I think I might have accidentally ended up in a restricted archeological dig site.
One of my favorite pictures from my exploration of the city.
The complementary breakfast and dinner at our hostel were surprisingly delicious! As you can clearly tell from our faces.
All in all Bayram was spectacular, despite the fact that I got incredibly carsick on the bus to the airport. That’s been a trend on buses in Turkey for me, one I hope doesn’t continue when I’m here for a year.
Thursday CLS offered us an ebru class. Having tried this gorgeous art form of making paint dance on water before, I couldn’t resist.
This is a pretty basic form. At this point, I had only applied the paint, I hadn’t started to manipulate it at all.
This is called gel-git style (literally come-go). It’s super easy to do, but it creates some mind-blowingly beautiful effects.
I wanted to play around with the paint after trying gel-git, so I created some spirals and ended up with this.
I couldn’t possibly claim that I did this on my own. Tulips are one of the hardest ebru styles, and I don’t think I could replicate this without a lot of coaching.
Thursday night our whole cohort, along with our teachers and program staff, boarded a bus for a painfully long journey to Kuşadası, a gorgeous city on the Aegean Sea coast. This was supposed to be a group excursion, but it was essentially a program-wide vacation. Our bus left Ankara around 10 pm, and reached Kuşadası around 7:30 am. No, I did not sleep on the bus. How I wish I could have been so blessed. We ate massive traditional Turkish breakfast together, then headed to the last known residence of the Virgin Mary.
Pictures weren’t allowed inside the house, unfortunately.
Many people prayed inside her house, then lit a candle and placed it in a sandbox, from what I understand, as a representation of “releasing” the prayer.
Outside of the Virgin Mary’s (Meryemana) home is a wall covered with tiny pieces of paper. Visitors from many different languages, countries, religions write a wish on a small piece of paper then fasten it to the wall in hopes that Meryemana will help it come true.
Beside the wishing wall are three fountains from which you can drink. The first (right most) will give provide you with love if you drink from it. The second gives you happiness, and the third gives you health. I drank from all three, so we’ll see how well I turn out.
As we left Meryemana, which is located on the top of a VERY large hill, there was a beautiful view of modern day Ephesus.
The Library of Celsus, where there are currently no books, but there are plenty of stories.
I was actually trying to tell my “personal photographer” how I wanted this picture to be, but it ended up like this. No complaints.
I’m so impressed with the details.
A bounty of selfies were taken.
I swear this kitty was flirting with me.
At the exit of Ancient Ephesus are a bunch over tourist trap shops. Including vendors that charge you to take a picture of a camel. Unless you go incognito. (I went incognito.)
Are they genuine? Are they fake? Are they certified fakes? The world may never know.
The restaurant in Şirince where we had the best meal of the program was drying out peppers and herbs above the tables. A very classic Turkish thing to do.
The beach in Kuşadası, like every other beach in Turkey really, was so clear an gorgeous. However, after talking to my professor, I learned that this is considered a crappy beach. I guess I’ve been deprived because I’d still call this beautiful! The mountains of the Greek islands were even within paddle boat range!
I got home from Kuşadası late Sunday night, after Emir had gone to bed. Monday, however, he was very happy to see me! Next weekend the whole program is going to Cappadocia, and he’s been begging me to let him come along. If only!