Sure, it’s almost 100 degrees, but we’ve got places to go, things to see

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. IMG_3259

All the buildings were made of wood and had fun, colorful paintings and signs.IMG_3253

The wifi connection was really nonexistent (as it should be in a place like this), so you really get to enjoy everything Olympos has to offer, which is A LOT.IMG_3248

This is the view from my tree house room. It overlooks a couple other tree houses, then the mountains are in the distance.IMG_3261

Our Olympos crew. I had an absolutely amazing Bayram with these guys.IMG_3263

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.IMG_3162

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.


After being at the beach almost all day I explored some of the city’s Greek ruins.IMG_3218

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.IMG_3239

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.


I was truly fascinated by the Library of Celsus in Ancient Ephesus.  IMG_3472

We, of course, had a photo shoot in the ampitheater.IMG_3473

The Library of Celsus, where there are currently no books, but there are plenty of stories.


A view of the larger theater, which unfortunately I didn’t have time to climb.IMG_3444

I was actually trying to tell my “personal photographer” how I wanted this picture to be, but it ended up like this. No complaints.


Not my best jumping picture, but hey, sometimes the crew is just ready to go.IMG_3429

I’m so impressed with the details.


A bounty of selfies were taken.


I swear this kitty was flirting with me.


A model of what Ancient Ephesus looked like. The temple you see just left of center is the Temple of Artemis, one of the Wonders of the Ancient World.IMG_3393

The squad is always prepared to get our picture taken.IMG_3404

We had to make sure we got a selfie in the ampitheater from every angle.IMG_3471

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 remains of a castle from hundreds of years ago outside Ephesus.IMG_3477

A view of Şirince, an adorable hilltop village with plenty of history.IMG_3478

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.IMG_3162

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! IMG_3510

The view from our hotel was unforgettable. It didn’t feel real.IMG_3292

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!

Amasra Is A Real Place

I’m at the really awkward stage in my life where I’m asked kind of often where I’d like to live when I grow up. On one hand, I feel like I’ve grown up a lot since my go-to answer for the classic “What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up” question was “Astronaut!” (Even though I still think that would be so great.) On the other hand though, I don’t feel like I know enough to give a definitive answer. Part of me thinks I’ll be happy wherever I’m paid to do what I want to do, wherever that may be. Even if it’s always winter. Another part of me is more idealistic. (I admit the first part of me is also idealistic. I can’t help it, I’m an idealistic person.) I’d love to live in the mountains and close to the sea. I’d love a place with a rich history and vibrant culture. A colorful town with friendly people and cats. Weather less extreme than Indiana. Foggy, because I think fog sets the scene nicely for an existential crisis. Maybe it’s not a big city, but it’s close to one and has everything I’d need. Fresh produce markets. Plenty of opportunity for adventure. I figured there was a small chance that such a town existed. Even if it did exist, there would be an even smaller chance that I’d find it.

Sometimes the Universe really does work in my favor. (Thanks, Universe.) I’m twenty years old and I’ve found this town that I thought only existed in my head. But no, Amasra is real.

Last weekend, while I was in Trabzon being blown away by a monastery in the mountains, a few of my friends made the journey to this small coastal town of Amasra. I received several amusing snapchats throughout the weekend heard their rave reviews of the setting for their guys weekend. Not to be outdone, a few of my lady friends and I decided we’d have our own Girls Weekend there. Like real Turks, we planned the trip at the last minute. By “planned the trip at the last minute,” I mean we took care of lodging and part of our transportation before leaving town.

The way we got to Amasra might sound super sketchy, but I promise it was safer than you’d think. Also a very “Turkish” way of doing things. By that I mean this is a very normal way to travel here, although it’s not a method I’d recommend to Type A personalities whatsoever.

We took a bus right after class to a town called Bartın. Bartın sits about 20 minutes outside of our final destination, so we still needed another bus. Our first bus driver knew we were going to Amasra, so once we exited his bus he motioned for us to get on a minibus. We asked this driver if the minibus was going to Amasra. He said he’d tell us when to get off. The minibus drove through foggy, winding mountain roads, occasionally offering us a peek of the Black Sea coast. I got the same sort of feeling I got while trekking around Sumela (the monastery in the mountains): I’ve been here before. I felt like this ideal town I had imagined was coming to life before my eyes. It felt so familiar.


A statue in the middle of Bartın,  or at least I think it was the center.

Twenty or so minutes later, the minibus pulled over in the middle of an intersection and said we could get out here if we’re going to Amasra. We got out and took a look around. There wasn’t a lot to work with in the way of signage, but down the street we saw more minibuses and walked toward them. There were probably four or five minibuses, all of them empty. A man walked out of a convenient store (or at least the Turkish version of a convenient store) and asked us where we were going. Amasra. He pointed to one of the minibuses. We got in, half-expecting him to jump in and start the vehicle. We had another 20 minutes before that happen. People slowly loaded in, women first then men. Finally, we took off. After another 20 minutes of astounding scenery, the driver told us we were in the center of Amasra. We got off alone. This journey required loads of trust and patience, and for that reason I don’t think such an adventure could happen in America.

Our AirBnb host said he would meet us at the bus station, but we had no idea where we were. Hopefully in the center of Amasra. We heard a friendly “Hello” from behind us. “I am Kemal,” the voice said. Kemal was the name of our host, so we were relieved he had met us here and could help us find our home for the weekend. Kemal explained that the apartment we would be staying in was close to everything. He showed us where we could buy groceries, gave us restaurant recommendations, and pointed out landmarks.  He left soon after to return to his own home.


We got into Amasra around the time the sun set. It provided a great view. Here you can see an old Roman bridge that was restored by the Byzantines and again in the last few years. It leads to a small island. Toward the right is Rabbit Island. You can only get there by boat, so unfortunately we were unable to go.


In the center of town there’s a statue of a famous musician who is originally from Amasra.


We went to a little market and bought everything to make ourselves this beautiful Turkish breakfast. The view of the island outside our window made for a stunning setting.


We used the toilet garden as a landmark for finding our way back to the apartment.


Saturday morning we walked to the bridge for a photoshoot and to explore the island.


Rabbit Island in the foreground, and the mainland in the background. Taken from the island across the bridge. The mountains were incredible.IMG_2914

I leaned out over one of the cliffs on the island to capture this.IMG_3005

We explored Amasra Castle and found a great view of the city. IMG_3028

A well-timed photo, even though I’m not sure what either of us are doing.IMG_3031

Heads popping out of nowhere has been a recurring theme in my picturesIMG_3039

The main strip of Amasra: seafood restaurants galore, markets, gift shops, ice cream parlors, the works.


I wanted to explore the ancient Roman lighthouse for myself.IMG_3061

The locals love to swim around the lighthouse, and it’s easy to see why: the water is perfectly clear!


A perfect day for swimming.


We hiked up the island across the Roman bridge from us, and found a view that called for jumping pictures!


The view from Amasra Castle left me spellbound.

IMG_2853Some of the graffiti in the stairwell is pretty impressive.

I’m still pretty in shock that Amasra is a real place. I can’t wait to find out what adventures I have the next time I visit.

Last-minute adventures

Since I wrote my last post around midnight, my mind was kind of foggy. By kind of foggy I mean really exhausted. Because of this I forgot to mention two rather noteworthy events of the last week. Not only has CLS planned a lot of excursions for us, my friends and I have also planned our own adventures. Sometimes we find out at the last minute that we have events going on. For example, last Thursday we were climbing off the bus after a day at Beypazarı. We were exhausted from running around town and traveling. The program director gathers our attention and announces that the American ambassador to Turkey has invited us to his Fourth of July party at his house the next day. A formal dress code with lots of diplomats and military generals wasn’t exactly my ideal evening, but there would be free (AMERICAN!) food.

My friend and I showed up to the ambassador’s house about 20 minutes after the party started. Fashionably late but not yet rude, we thought. There was a long security line, but we found a few friends and waited. Our friends got through the line quickly and without having to show their formal invitation. For some reason, we were passed from security agent to security agent, each one looking more puzzled than the last. All the other guests around us had clearly been to such an event before, meanwhile the two of us were a little nervous and clearly giddy. Finally we made it through security and walked up the long driveway lined with American flags. We were greeted first in English, then in Turkish (that made me feel like I spoke really well). There was a line to shake the hands of the Ambassador and his wife. The Ambassador gave some opening remarks, which were then translated to Turkish, then handed off the mic to a Turkish soprano’s rendition of the national anthem. The entertainment for the night was a jazz/soul group from New Orleans. It wasn’t the calming elevator music I expected. It was so much better.

Servers walked around with hors-d’oeuvres, some of which were significantly better than others, but I’m definitely not going to complain about free food at an ambassador’s party. A friend and I found a line for mini pulled pork sandwiches. Wow. What a refreshing taste. The food in Turkey is incredible, truly incredible, but sometimes it’s still really nice to have a little bit of home on your plate. Toward the end of the night, I spotted a server carrying a plate of strawberries. Fruit for dessert; this was my kind of party. The strawberries were dipped in white and blue chocolate, so they were red, white, and blue striped. I ate so many I’m pretty sure the server carrying the tray of delicious strawberries was ordered to stay on the opposite side of the party.

Aside from the entertainment I gleaned from the music and the food, there were also the guests. A Frenchman ran up to my friend and me and started speaking French with us. That sure sent my brain into a scramble. It definitely was not the smoothest conversation I’ve ever had in French. I met a few friendly Turks. A couple of NSLI-Y students chatted with us and asked us for advice, which we very awkwardly gave. (NSLI-Y is kind of like the high school version of CLS. I can’t promise I got that acronym right.) An American woman working at the embassy asked me which bars I would recommend for her son. The look of shock on her face when I told her I had no idea was pretty amusing. Her son, however, didn’t look amused at all. A friend of mine met a few Generals of note. Because of these encounters, she uttered what became the most memorable line of the night: “I have to get to the dance floor without the Peruvian General seeing me.”

All in all, it was a great night. A truly pleasant surprise.

Aside from the Ambassador’s party, another first for me this week was the hamam. A few friends and I decided we go together after class to get “on fleek,” as my friend said, for the Ambassador’s party. Our group ended up being two guys and me. Hamams are separated by sex, there are even separate entrances into the building for men and women. So I said goodbye to my friends and hoped my Turkish was good enough to get me through this. I explained to the woman who greeted me that this was my first time at a hamam, and she assumed I was a foreigner. (Yes, I am a foreigner, but sometimes it’s a huge confidence boost when I can pass for a local. Such events worthy of celebration occur more often than you’d think for a fair-skinned girl from the Midwest.) She guided me to a room, handed me a towel and a key, and told me to get undressed. I should probably clarify at this point that a hamam is a mix between a public bath, a sauna, and a spa. Because of the “bath” aspect, the whole ordeal is done without clothes. (Another reason everything is separated by sex.) I wrapped myself in the towel, grabbed a pair of slippers, locked my little room, and headed down the steps.

As this was my first time at a hamam, I had no clue what to expect. There were actually fewer older women than I expected, but a lot less modesty. Another woman guided me to a sink, and gestured that I should rinse off. At this point, I was in the heart of the hamam. It was wickedly hot, and all the showers and sinks constantly spitting out water made the turquoise tile-covered room more humid than Indiana in July. It was almost hard to breathe. Thankfully, this kind of moisture in the air was easy to adapt to, unlike that in Indiana. Five minutes later, the same woman motioned for me to lay on a giant stone slab in the middle of the room. The slab was so it that it hurt at first. The woman, who introduced herself to me as Gül (Turkish for Rose), took a scrubbing pad to me. She scrubbed off all the dirt and dry skin. No matter how clean you think you are, the people who work at the hamam will find every microscopic piece of dirt that’s on you. After a really intense scrub, I was sent to the shower. I return afterwards, and Gül smiled at me and exclaimed “Massage!!” The hamam is ridiculously hot for a reason. It loosens up your muscles so the masseuse can contort your body in weird ways to relieve tension. Gül then used some soap and shampoo so I would smell like a garden. I felt like a clean, cooked noodle afterwards.

Even though the whole process was kind of awkward, I’m going back tomorrow. For an hour you pay 40 lira, which is about $15. $15 dollars for an hour at the spa blows my mind.

Yesterday, our group had an excursion to Konya. Konya is known for its shrine to Rumi, the ultra famous Persian poet. Rumi lived in Konya for a long time and, aside from his writings, is known as *the* Sufi mystic. The whirling dervishes exist because of him.


Some gorgeous carved calligraphy on a school from the golden age of the Silk Road


The “ince minare,” meaning thin minaret, on the school


A fountain outside Rumi’s shrine. The water is used both to cleanse yourself before entering the shrine and for drinking.


One of the domes in the shrine. I wish pictures could better capture their beauty.IMG_2792

The ceiling over Rumi’s shrine.


Rumi’s shrine


The fountain from above and a gorgeous mosque in the backgroundIMG_2777

The structure of this fountain is based on the philosophy that we come to Earth alone, find a relationship, have kids, watch our kids grow up and leave, and then leave Earth alone.


I am loving the insides of the domes. So ornate and well-crafted. IMG_2750

An architectural fragment from an old Seljuk building in Konya.IMG_2844

Rumi’s shrine in the background. The turquoise tower stands out so beautifully.IMG_2847

The sunset on the way back home from Konya.


Inside Alaeddin Mosque.


Mosques are great places for napping. And taking selfies.IMG_2728

My host brother Emir loves playing in the pillow forts I build for home.IMG_2727

I came home on afternoon and my host grandma asked if I was hungry. Before I could answer she scurried off to the kitchen and came back with a “snack” for me.

I can’t believe this summer is about halfway over. I’ve met some incredible people and had some amazing adventures. Luckily, there are still more adventures to come! This weekend a few friends and I are heading to Amasra! It’s an adorable beach town (with a REAL beach, not just giant rocks) on the coast of the Black Sea. I’m considering going to Turkey’s south coast along the Mediterranean next weekend. CLS planned a trip to the Aegean coast the following weekend. After that an adventure to Cappadocia. And maybe a few more trips sprinkled in the middle.

Tabii, or not tabii. O sorudur.

Yes, I know. It’s been three weeks since I posted anything. But I promise this post is packed full of exciting things. So, without further ado:IMG_1673

A few of us went to Hamamönü after school one afternoon. It’s a cute little old-fashioned village in the middle of the city.


There are so many adorable shops that line the streets of Hamamönü! A great place to buy gifts😉


Apparently during Ramadan there is entertainment in this little village every night. We *just* missed it.


A view of the city from a hill in Hamamönü


A Turkish friend and I had a quick little photoshoot in front of some cute houses.


A bottle garden along the entrance to a restaurant where we ate.


This town was loaded with flowers.


Another town we visited, Beypazarı, is famous for its carrots and silver. An interesting combination to say the least.


One of my friends is an archeologist, and she was freaking out over some of the rock formations we saw, much to my amusement.


As one of our teachers, Ali, so wonderfully models, Beypazarı is known for its mineral water. Apparently it’s 100% natural. They don’t add anything or take anything out. I’m not a fan of the taste, but it does have some great health benefits!


A view of one of the streets in Beypazarı that has all kinds of shops to check out!


Yes, they do in fact have a giant carrot statue in one of the mani squares. Definitely not something you see everyday.


Zavier with the artsy/apathetic/Atlas look going on in a cave outside the town.


We went to a museum in town and were confused by absolutely everything, but there was a cute garden terrace to relax in so it was fine.


Katherine showing everyone up with some cave yoga.


Cave Couture, coming soon to an ancient rock formation near you.


I honestly am not sure what happened, but I think this old Turkish woman made things explode over my head while it was covered with a towel to rid me of my bad spirits. Maybe.


A quick Ebru demonstration at the museum. This art form will always fascinate me.


On the way back home we saw a double rainbow! All the way across the sky!


A really distant (but probably as close as I’ll ever get) shot of President Erdoğan’s new palace. It has 1000 rooms?!


Two weekends ago I went to Istanbul. There is no way to describe that city to someone who has never been. It’s alive. You can feel it pulling you in and begging you to come back. In this picture, you can see the European side of Istanbul on the left and the Asian side on the right.

IMG_2702 IMG_2346

Believe me, I will absolutely be back. If not for the city itself, then at least for this adorable kitty we found sleeping in a basket of harem pants.


The panoramic view from the terrace of our hostel in Istanbul can’t be beat. Sultan Ahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque), Hagia Sophia, and the Bosphorus. Absolutely stunning.


I pinky promise I didn’t zoom in on this picture of the Hagia Sophia from our hostel. She is so beautiful.


The Grand Bazaar! It’s the best place in the world to pay too much for something you don’t really need!


Apparently, I didn’t have a true Grand Bazaar experience because it wasn’t unbearably crowded when I went.


The Basilica Cistern provided an eery, yet comforting feeling. You can feel that it has plenty of secrets.


Medusa’s head serves as a base (although intentionally placed upside-down) for one of the columns in the Basilica Cistern.

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We went for a walk on Istiklal Street at night. It was incredibly energetic and entertaining.

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Galata Tower, where apparently the locals go to drink and contemplate life.IMG_2326

The view from a place we had dinner in Istanbul. This city doesn’t stop impressing me.


A classic Ottoman pose in front of Sultan Ahmet Mosque.IMG_2129

Part of the ceiling in Sultan Ahmet. Unfortunately I couldn’t capture all of the ceiling in one picture. It was so gorgeous.


As if it wasn’t beautiful enough, the stained glass windows amplified its beauty.  IMG_2160

Topkapı Palace’s gate


A few of on a balcony in the Palace with the Bosphorus in the background. By some miracle we manage to see the major historical sites in one day.IMG_2203

Every door in the Palace served as a great potential background for a Facebook profile picture.


Probably the most ornate selfie I’ve ever taken.IMG_2230

This is the room where the Sultan would hang out and drink tea with his guests. How do I get on that guest list?!


A view of part of the jaw-dropping dome in Hagia Sophia.IMG_2065

Hagia Sophia might be the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. No picture could ever come close to doing it justice.


This was basically my face the entire time we were in the Hagia Sophia.   IMG_1992

The Istanbul group! (Minus Christian and kind of Zavier). That weekend will always be one of my absolute favorites!!!


We got free hookah courtesy of our hostel. One of the servers challenged us to a bubble-blowing competition.


This cat basically asked me if I would take it home. It has never been harder for me to say no.


A panoramic view of Anıtkabir, Atatürk’s tomb.


We were lucky to witness the changing of the guard at the tomb.IMG_2447

I think I might have found a friend in this statue of a lion.IMG_2448

There’s a great view of the city from Anıtkabir. IMG_2450

Of course we did.


Evidence that we are very unashamed to take selfies wherever we go.IMG_2457

Christian didn’t feel like playing along with Charlie’s Angels. To be fair, this was immediately after class.


I made eye contact with the driver right after I took this picture. Fortunately, he seemed used to the attention.


From the “beach” in Trabzon where I went this past weekend. There’s a great paved walking path that we took advantage of.IMG_2722

The Black Sea was magical.


The beach wasn’t sandy or good for swimming. The massive rocks may not have aided in having the classic romantic walk along the beach, but they did make for an interesting trek.


Ahhh. The sunset from our apartment’s balcony with food we made ourselves using ingredients bought fresh from the market. That evening was so satisfying.


Saturday I went to Sumela Monastery. It’s about an hour outside of the city of Trabzon, but the nauseating bus ride is worth it for this view. Did I mention the monastery was carved into the side of a mountain about an hour’s hike from the bottom?


Hundreds of years later, these cave chapel paintings still look incredible.IMG_2559

The outside of the chapel in the monastery is mind-blowing. IMG_2564

I tried to get as much of the monastery in one picture as I could.   IMG_2579

A German couple we met on the bus loved taking pictures for me.

(Side note: Salience t-shirt, you’re welcome for the international advertising.)IMG_2585

Sumela felt like a place I had always dreamt about. I could have sworn I had been there before.


Every step provided a new photo opportunity.


We saw another tourist doing this, so we couldn’t just walk by without trying it!IMG_2620

I hiked to the bottom of the mountain and rewarded myself by getting in a waterfall.IMG_2642

The most beautiful, most luscious green view.IMG_2644


While walking home from dinner, I found a tree that was calling my name.IMG_2681

I was loving the mountains in the background. Such a spectacular setting.IMG_2692

I just wanted to touch the water, but the rocks made that quite difficult. I definitely ripped my pants while trying to take this picture.

I’m going to try not to go as long without a post again, but honestly if I do it just means I’m keeping busy and enjoying myself!

One Week Later

First, I wanted to make a quick comment, then I’ve added loads of pictures from this past week. Okay so Turks have a few talents that I both envy and am confused by. 1. Their ability to break open sunflower seeds and eat them in 0.3 seconds without making any kind of mess. How do you do that?! It takes me a solid thirty seconds, I definitely don’t get all of the seed out, and I make a crumbly mess. Last night, I was watching the Turkish version of Survivor with literally every single member of the family (aunts, uncles, cousins, everyone. This is totally normal). We were all eating sunflower seeds. A chorus of sunflower seeds cracking provided the background music that I didn’t know Survivor needed. Every single family member was breaking open these sunflower seeds faster than I could comprehend. Is it a super power?! 2. Their ability to add yogurt to any dish and make it taste better. Literally EVERY dish. Pasta? Meat? Saucy meat? Veggies? I kid you not, they make it taste better with yogurt. 3. Their ability to hear ANYTHING you say, no matter how quietly you’re speaking. My mom could be in the kitchen facing away from the door and my sister in the living room. I swear my mom will whisper to my sister to come to the kitchen, and my sister will come. My hearing is so laughable compared to my family’s. 4. Their homes. They are SO CLEAN. Ankara is pretty dry and dusty, and I have a subtle dust allergy. I have honestly not seen a speck of dust in my family’s homes nor any other home. It’s so impressive. I feel like I’d have to sweep every hour to have a home that clean. Kudos.Photo on 19-06-15 at 17.17 #3

My host brother LOVES taking pictures with all the crazy settings in my computer’s photo booth.


A classic Turkish breakfast has everything I could want: cheese, fruit, tomatoes, cucumbers, tea, bread, and occasionally I’m particularly blessed with Nutella.IMG_1550

After our first day of class, a few of us ventured out to find a place to eat lunch. We were incredibly proud after we each ordered our meals successfully in Turkish!IMG_1554

I told my host family my favorite food is fruit, so sometimes there’s a knock on my bedroom door and I open it to see my sister holding something like this.


We can see Kocatepe Cami from the terrace of our school!IMG_1555

A view of Ataturk Boulevard  (Downtown Ankara’a main strip) from the terrace of the school.


Iskender is definitely something I’ll need to learn how to make myself when I’m back in the states. The server brings out the plate that is already covered in yogurt and sauce. If that’s not enough, they pour a magical amount of thick, hot butter on top. Truly an incredible culinary accomplishment. IMG_1562

We made a friend at lunch this week! There were several kitties running around, and the waiter said they were his. None of us could tell if it was a joke or not.IMG_1573

Another view from the terrace. It has rained a bit here in Ankara, but we haven’t one day with truly bad weather! Also, little to no humidity! It’s marvelous!IMG_1560

Lunch the other day really hit the spot. This restaurant was recommended to us for those that are celiac, since that kind of diet can be difficult to maintain in Turkey.IMG_1643

Eymir Lake. My parents said it’s about five minutes from our apartment, but of course I had to ride a dolmuş 20 minutes to school then ride a bus with everyone from CLS. We didn’t get a chance to actually explore the lake; we only saw it from the bus. Nonetheless it was still beautiful!

IMG_1645Despite not getting to see the lake up close, we still had a very fun (and very exhausting) day! We hung out at a garden cafe, ate kebap, learned some traditional Turkish dances, and taught our new friends the electric slide, the cha cha slide, and the macarena.


There were a couple kitties hanging around us. Unfortunately they were a pretty intimidated by the watchdog who took his job very seriously.IMG_1627

We surprised Zavier for his 23rd birthday. Doğum günü kutlu olsun!


Hung out with these goofy ladies Saturday. Naturally we did a little shopping once we got back into town.


As we left the lake, I saw a couple cows chilling on the hill.IMG_1647

When I saw a lot of clothing with English writing. More often than not, it didn’t make complete sense. But this shirt definitely takes the cake for Most Hilarious Attempted Translation. Worst case scenario, I know I could always get a job translating in the Turkish fashion industry.


I went to Kocatepe Mosque on Friday with a couple friends. I wish I could let the pictures speak for themselves, but no matter how hard I tried I still couldn’t manage to capture the breathtaking beauty of this mosque. It was *literally* jaw-dropping. For those of you that unfortunately won’t have the immense pleasure of visiting, I hope these pictures can do Kocatepe justice.

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Culture Shock?

After visiting the American Embassy in Ankara yesterday, I realized the variety of misconceptions Americans have of Turks and Turks of Americans. We (the CLS group) met with the head public affairs officer in Turkey, and he is basically in charge of America’s image in Turkey. He discussed how difficult this can be because Turks are very proud of their culture and very wary of others. I think it’s fascinating that they can be so skeptical of others, but once they accept you, they are arguably the most hospitable people, a fact they are very proud of.

My family is no exception. My host parents, grandmother, and siblings are always willing to go above and beyond what they need to do to take care of me. I coughed and three seconds later my mom knocked on my door and asked if I was sick, if I needed medicine, if I wanted a glass of water, if I was hungry. They try to feed me twice as much as I could realistically eat. If it’s chilly, my mom makes sure I bring a jacket with me to school. They offer to help me with my homework.

Another interesting cultural note is that Turks tend to be much more direct with questions many Americans wouldn’t ask or answer. They’ll ask you how much you make, they’ll ask about your political stance, your religious views, how much you eat (all of which I have been asked in the last three days). Despite this lack of inhibition, talking to strangers is unheard of. You don’t say more than is necessary to your servers or cashiers. You don’t smile and say good morning to the bus driver. You don’t chat with the friendly looking woman sitting next to you on the bus.

Don’t even get me started on public transportation. I joked with a friend that someone could easily get a PhD in the ins and outs of Turkish public transportation. In Ankara, there’s a metro, which is pretty normal for a major city. There are also buses. I feel like there are hundreds upon hundreds. All over the place all the time. Always uncomfortably crowded.

And then there are the dolmuş. If you were to translate dolmuş to English, it would mean something along the lines of “stuffed,” which they totally are all the time. But that’s not even the interesting part. I mentioned in a previous post that they’re a cross between a bus and a taxi. They have a set route and they don’t stray from it at all, like a bus. However, there are no set stops. You flag it down to get on and you alert the driver when your stop comes up. You pay just for the distance you travel. To pay, you just hand the money to the person in front of you. It gets passed along to the driver who will make change if necessary and pass it back. But the driver isn’t just driving and making change. He’s also probably texting, or maybe talking to a friend. He’s yelling at the other dolmuş drivers. He’s changing the radio station, or fiddling with the air conditioning. Maybe you think this doesn’t sound too bad, but you’re probably imagining this while thinking of American traffic. If you have low blood pressure, I can guarantee that downtown Ankara traffic during rush hour will change that faster than you can say “inecek var” (roughly “there is someone who wants to get off). There are traffic laws, but no one follows them. There are marked lanes, but the lines are pointless. What should be a four lane road quickly becomes an 8 lane road. The only time you might use your turn signal is if you’re turning left and there’s oncoming traffic. Otherwise, you nearly ram the car beside you until it’s forced to let you in. I feel like it’s a game almost. “Let’s see who will cave first. Either I let you in, or you go behind me and try your luck with the next guy.” The cars will get so close to each other (while going 30 or 40 mph!) that you really can’t see any space between them. There’s no such thing as a right-of-way or defensive driving. It’s all offense, even for pedestrians. The cars will not stop for you.

Scary traffic aside, Ankara is so wonderful. My apartment building has a mosque a couple blocks away in either direction. I love it, except during the call to prayer that takes place around 4 in the morning. I find my apartment building (and thus where I want to get off the dolmuş) using the mosques and also the fruit vendors, which are on every corner. The streets are lined with vendors of fruit, bread, simit (like a hard bagel), kebap (kebabs), hairdressers (a seemingly unreasonable amount too), and Turkcell shops (Turkish cell phone company). There are no department stores either. Just little specialty shops. One for snacks, one for dresses, one for shoes, for bags, for books, for school supplies, cell phones, phone accessories, scarves, jewelry, fruit, bread, anything you could need.

Contrary to popular belief (or maybe just mainstream American media), most Turkish women don’t actually cover their heads. Few do, and most of them are older. Ankara, though a relatively modern and less conservative city, has women (and men) who dress comparably to Americans, often more stylish.

All in all, yes, Turkey is clearly a different place than America. In some ways it’s better, in others it’s not. In reality though, it’s not nearly as different as you might think. It’s a great example of how traveling can open your mind and challenge you.

(Also, a side note. I booked a hostel in Istanbul with a group for next weekend. It’s close TopKapi, Suleymaniye, Sultan Ahmet, and Hagia Sophia, which is so great. Also it’s 14 Euro a night, a STEAL. I am so excited! We’re planning on attending some Istanbul Pride events along with the usual tourist activities. Thinking about it has me so giddy!)

Nihayet Türkiye’de

Of the three CLS groups that had orientation in DC together (Turkey, Russia, and Indonesia), we left the earliest. Leaving “early” still meant we had more than enough time to sleep in, grab lunch, explore DC a little more, and pack, all of which I did with plenty of time to spare before our bus to the airport left. Our new friends’ (those going to Russia and Indonesia) flight didn’t leave until around 10pm. Once we got to the airport, everyone was eager to call their parents one last time before it cost an arm and a leg.

For an 8 hour transatlantic journey, the flight was surprisingly good. The woman next to me didn’t speak any English. By peeking at her boarding passes I could see she was going to Tajikistan. Since conversation wasn’t going to happen, I explored the other forms of entertainment the flight offered. There was a screen embedded in the back of each seat, providing each flyer with their own choices of music, movies, and TV shows. Originally I planned to have a mile-high Harry Potter marathon but eventually decided against it after realizing this flight would be my only opportunity to sleep since it landed early in the morning in Munich. However, sleep wasn’t as kind to me as I would have liked. I’m not even sure if I ever actually fell asleep.

As we landed in Munich and prepared for a 3 hour layover, I was quite disoriented. A visit to a cafe with a few other sleep-deprived CLS’ers proved helpful. We talked about how “German” this German airport was (very modern, incredibly efficient, quite sleek) and how painfully easy it is to point out Americans in foreign countries (even if you can tell they’re trying to be inconspicuous). The layover went by quickly, as did the flight to Ankara itself. Other than our group of 20, I’m pretty sure the only other American was a professor of Assyrian studies from California (on whose conversation I eavesdropped easily because we Americans speak so loudly).

IMG_1533 IMG_1528Ankara: a few thousand feet from above

Niyahet (finally) we landed in Turkey. As we taxied to the gate, I counted four mosques, each gorgeous in its own way. Getting our passports checked took all of twenty minutes, a feat I’m sure I’ve never experienced with any other international flight. The belts on the baggage claim circle, unfortunately, broke as soon as we reached them. Half an hour later, we met our Resident Director just inside the airport. She and the director of CLS in Turkey welcomed us to Turkey. They split us up into three vans to be dropped off at our host families’ homes. The divisions were based on the neighborhoods our families lived in. I was excited to live near some people I already considered friends (because long-distance travel helps to forge some pretty strong bonds). However, “close” in Ankara means 20 minutes away. I completely underestimated the size of the city. It never ends. I was the last to be dropped off, so I have lost all sense I had of where I was after zig-zagging around the city to drop off the others.

I had been told my family lived in a great area (Çankaya-Dikmen), but I didn’t know what that meant. I quickly learned. Yes, there was a kuaför (hairstylist) in every other building; yes, there was a market with fresh produce a couple blocks away; yes, we live on a hill and have a remarkable view of the city center; yes, there was wifi! My 11 year old host sister greeted me as I exited the van. She pointed up, and I saw my host mom and three year old host brother waving from a balcony a couple floors up. Dinner was ready when I arrived, but I assumed they had been waiting for me for a while. There was a dish that was similar to a lamb stew, rice (pilav), a spicy Turkish salad, and for dessert: watermelon! I was so pleased; I am a strong advocate for fruit as dessert.

IMG_1540The view from the kitchen balcony!

After dinner came a much needed shower. Unfortunately, when I walked into the sitting room after my shower, my host grandmother was on the couch waiting to meet me. What a great first impression. I didn’t have much time to repair it, however, because my eyelids were too heavy too hold. An 8:30 bedtime felt strange, but I didn’t care.

In the morning, I got ready quickly because I was looking forward to my first official Turkish breakfast. Tomatoes, cheese, bread with jam, and tea. A few of my favorite things. My mom and I left promptly to catch a dolmuş. These things are so useful. They’re like a bus in that they have a set route, but like a taxi in that they don’t have set stops and that you flag them down to catch a ride. There are tons and tons that run the same route one right after the other. To add to the traffic, there are also buses (and a metro). I don’t think Ankara traffic could handle anything else on the roads. There might be two lanes marked, but there will be three of four lanes of cars. Turn signals? Why use those when you can just scoot over when there’s a mere two feet of space for you? Constant honking is a must. There are two very distinct kinds of honking though: the typical “You’re being rude” honk which is long and loud and a quick polite honk that can mean “You can get in front of me,” or “Go ahead and cross the street,” or “You’re not going fast enough.” These honks offer constructive criticism, but they don’t make up for the insanity that is Ankara traffic.

TÖMER, where I’ll be taking classes, is right off the main drag: Atatürk Boulevard. The top floor of TÖMER offers a gorgeous, nearly panoramic view of the city center. I arrived early enough to be able to soak it in. But as soon as the clock struck 9, our professors were quick to give us our placement exams. Two and a half hours later, we were provided with what the Turks called brunch, but what was definitely a massive lunch with all the Turkish fixings: börek, dolma, köfte, meyve, simit, and baklava among other things. After lunch, we had a site-specific orientation that provided us with a few important tidbits about Ankara itself. Then *drumroll* we met our language partners, the poor souls with whom we had to converse using our less than desirable Turkish. My partner’s name is Canan (pronounce the C like the “j” in judge). She is a masters student at Ankara University studying Persian. Along with another language partner and CLS’er, we went to a cafe for some tea. Canan headed strait to the back of the restaurant where there was no roof and a tree was nearly growing through the walls.

IMG_1538The view from my school!

After the çay we attempted to exchange some dollars to Turkish Lira. I had cash, so that involved finding a currency exchange, which wasn’t too hard. The other student, however, struggled to find a bank that would allow her to withdraw lira from her American bank. After an hour or so, we called it a day and split up to head home. Our language partners were tasked with directing us home. Canan and I found a dolmuş that drove through my neighborhood, but unfortunately we didn’t know the stop. The driver assisted us in pointing it out. We walked up to the apartment building, but I forgot which floor I lived on. This meant we spent five minutes struggling to fit my key into the door of what turned out to be a terrified elderly woman. I felt so sorry. My mother invited the both of us in, and she and Canan talked for a while though I only understood bits and pieces.

I begged my mother to let me help with dinner (İzmir köfte with potatoes, pilav, Turkish salad, and watermelon for dessert again). While it all simmered, my sister invited me to play hide and seek with her friends. They all asked me nonstop questions and were surprised to hear me speak Turkish. I felt like a minor celebrity (a la Emilia Clarke). After a quick game, my mother sent my sister and me down the street to the market to buy fresh bread. When we returned, we ate dinner on the kitchen balcony with my father’s mother and sister, who poked fun at him the whole time. Some things are universal.

After dinner we all relaxed and watched the incredibly popular Turkish version of Survivor. My host brother, the bundle of energy that he is, wanted to color on everything. I jumped at the opportunity to give my temporary family their gifts. For Emir (the 3 y/o boy): a Color Wonder set, which could not have been a better gift. His parents were ecstatic because that mean fewer scribbles on the walls. For Yazgı (the 10 y/o girl, pronounced Yaz-guh): a large bag of mini Heath bars, my favorite. For the parents: t-shirts with the Indy Motor Speedway on them (how could I not?) and a bag each of Dove chocolates. They were so pleased. As we watched more Survivor, we drank tea and ate pistachios and lokum (Turkish delight).

IMG_1543Tea, pistachios, and lokum: the most “Turkish” of evenings in Turkey!

My family is overwhelmingly kind. They only want me to relax, which clashes in a great way with my desire to learn the ins and outs of the marvelous Turkish cuisine. Yazgı treats me as if I’m actually her older sister. I braided her hair promised to teach her and my mother how to do it before I leave. My host dad went out and bought me an outlet adapter since the one I brought didn’t fit properly. Emir always wants to play hide-and-seek with me. He wins every time of course. My room is pretty big and comes with its own balcony (one of THREE, as far as I can tell) in the apartment.

I’m growing more and more excited to become accustomed to life in Ankara. Although I know I’ll get lost several times trying to find the ice cream shops I’ve scouted out, I know it’ll be worth it!