Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Istanbul Baby

Hello my lovely people-- yes the headliner is correct, I went to Istanbul the other weekend! Now let me tell you all about it-- We decided to take a bus overnight on Thursday and arrive Friday morning to begin our adventure.... but little did we realize that we would 1. get there at 6 am, or 2. get dropped off at a random bus station 20 miles away from Taxim (where we needed to be). It was pouring rain and cold as hell, not to mention it was just me, Holly, and Lauren. But we were not going to let that bring us down so we hailed a cab and ended up in Taxim Square 30TL later. We took the metro down to Sultanahmet and began our day (we even beat all the Asian tourists).

On Friday we decided to do every touristy thing possible and see how much free stuff we could get.
We went to all the must sees--- the Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, the Cistern, The Islamic Art Museum, the Archaeology Museum, the Mosaic Museum and many other things that I forget. The Hagia Sofia was amazing, if nothing more that for it's sheer size. It was HUGE and beautiful. The mosaics were breathtaking and incredibly old (from Justinian the 1st). The blue mosque was nice, but I have to say I like the big mosque in Ankara better. The Islamic Art Museum was really amazing, espcially the rugs! There were these amazing 15th and 16th century Early Ottoman Empire rugs with vibrant and saturated reds, blues and oranges (acutally all the colors). There IS a reason why Turkey is famous for textiles.

oh yeah and I randomly saw
the "Dicscus Thrower" in the archaeology museum. Real tight.

Later that night we made our way back to Taxim to meet up with our awesome couchsurfing dude. If you don't know what couchsurfing is, it's basically
like facebook for travelers who are looking to host or stay with people from around the world. It's an amazing invention and a great way to travel on the cheap.---- anyways, I was super tired ( and super lame) and went to bed a couple of hours later. The girls came home at three in the morning with some vague story of Baduk, wine and a cab driver. I felt ok about sleeping...

On Saturday it was cold and rainy so we decided to hit up the Grand Bazaar and the Spice market. I didn't particularly love the Grand Bazaar... it was pretty big and everything sort of started to look the same. It was ho
wever very interesting to hear the people yell at us to buy their 'special items'. We got everything from "spice girls" to "charlie's angles". It was entertaining to say the least. Our next destination was the spice market which was a little bit of a hike, but well worth it. The spice market was less intense and way more yummy than the bazaar. I bought many different kinds of dried fruit and nuts along with some cool evil eye bracelets (Mike M that's for you!).

After a long day of roaming we went back home and took a well deserved nap followed by a dank dinner. Late we met up with some of our hosts friends and experienced the Istanbul night life which was pretty crazy and a great change of pace. I heard everything from MJ
to the Bee Gees that night and danced my booty off!

Over all it was a great trip. Istanbul has a real spirit, I really felt alive when I was there. I plan on going back in the near future. This weekend I think we may be going south to somewhere warm.. not to sure yet. And for spring break I will be doing the NE and SE of Turkey with some Bilkent
students. I'm ready to see different parts of the country--- I think we're hiking too which is tight.

What else... oh yeah I bought a ticket to Prague to visit Rose and Kelsey for a week-- nothing else even needs to be said:)

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Last couple of weeks

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of undergoing the complete Turkish Salon experience. Holly and I decided that we would go to the Universities salon and get our nails done because we were bored. little did we know what would actually happen to us…. Yes, I got my nails trimmed and painted, but I also acquired many bloody wounds throughout the process. Apparently in Turkey the way to stop a bleeding cuticle is to smother nail polish remover all over (it hurt so freaking bad I can’t even tell you)---- Oh yeah I forgot to mention, there is a complete language barrier here because they don’t speak any English and we don’t really know any Turkish. So in the light of getting our nails done we thought it would be a great idea to get our eyebrows threaded as well. This was a great idea until they WAXED my mustache off! I had no idea this was going to happen. I was laughing so hard and Holly was laughing and the two Turkish girls were laughing all at the same time (although I have no idea about what, probably about how hairy we are). It was the most ridiculous thing ever. I left the salon with pretty red and bloody nails, perfect eyebrows and a skin irritated handlebar mustache.

Phase one= brutal, but on the weekend we decided to go to a traditional Turkish bath (hammam) and lets just s
ay that was a much more relaxing experience. The one that we decided to go to was originally built in 1444 and restored in the 18th century and had a light blue interior with high domed ceiling. Basically you pay money to hang out in a bathhouse all day where you can socialize with other women. We walked in with nothing but bathing suit bottoms on. It was really hot and misty, kind of like a sauna but not that hot, and we were told to pour water all over ourselves (in Turkish). Then they scrubbed us down with this rough pad-like sponges to get rid of all of the dead skin cells (it was so gross) and then gave us a full body massage. It was pretty freaking cool. There were women of all ages and statures. The most beautiful were the elderly large women who sang old Turkish songs. There were little boys and girls running around everywhere playing in the water. It was such an experience I think we might go back sometime because my skin has never been so soft in my entire life. I think I might open one back home after I graduate if I have nothing else to do.

Last weekend I did something mah mama and papa told me not to do… I went to some protests (and they were so
awesome!) Currently Turkey is privatizing many of its national companies to pay money back to the IMF, and in the process many workers are being screwed over. I am by no means going to dog any government’s country that I reside in, but it was a very sad thing to see. One particular company (TEKEL)’s workers decided to protest this decision (because they would basically have no money or way to get another job as a result of this privatization) and have been camping out in downtown Ankara in the district of Kizilay for over 65 days. They created this shanty-like town and have been living and sleeping outside for so long. The Communist Party of Turkey decided to help these workers and have been staging protests and walks that thousands have been participating in. The particular protest that I went to almost felt like a festival with music, dancing, and flags being flown. Famous musicians and party leaders reached out to the crowd with such enthusiasm and passion. I have never seen so many people with similar ideas and beliefs come out together and support a group of people they may have never even met before. These people are exercising whatever rights they have to try and make a change, a difference for themselves. At this point the workers have nothing to loose. Chants and fist pumps filled the crowd and workers with the energy that was needed to stay motivated throughout the cold night. I’m pretty sure Holly and I were probably the only Americans in the crowd (I was wearing a hat for sure). This was pretty Fucking cool---

So yeah, I’m 21 now. My birthday was yesterday. I feel pretty much the same, maybe a little older. Unfortunately I didn’t get to do a crazy bar crawl like I would have in the States, but I think it’s almost better that way haha. I did have a great day though. On Friday night I had a party thrown in my honor where all my friends and people I chill with came. It was very fun and entertaining. On Saturday I just relaxed in the morning, and went and walked around downtown in the afternoon. At night I went to this really nice and yummy restaurant called Tapas. I thought that it was a Mexican or Spanish restaurant because of the name, but that was not the case haha. I ate a hamburger and drank sangria, then got some dank deserts ( sooo good,-- cake-like things). Went home watched a movie and chilled out. Very successful if you ask me.

Turkey is the tightest—I’m going to Istanbul next weekend for 4 days and let’s just say I’m ready to get out of Ankara for a while☺

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Expedition in Cappadocia

A pro of traveling to an uncommon place for study abroad is that the people i
n my program are unique and come from around the world. We have kids coming from Ireland, Poland, Hong Kong, Sweden, France, Italy, Azerbaijan, California, and many more places. There is something to be said for surrounding yourself with people from around the world and talking about politics, religion, and well life in general.

Two weekends ago I traveled to the beautiful and extremely old region of Cappadocia in the Anatolia region with 75 of my closest exchange peeps. I really had no idea of what to expect from this trip and only had a vague idea of what Cappadocia even looked like. Boy was I blown away. To begin our trip I woke up at 4:00 in the morning and got onto a VERY cold bus, so cold I couldn’t feel my lower extremities until we got there (Cappadocia is about a 5 hour bus ride East of Ankara). Upon arriving in the morning at about 9:00 my exploring expedition began. Here's a little bit o history for ya--

Basically the fairy chimneys and structures that Cappadocia is famous for were created by volcanic eruptions over the past several thousand years. Early civilizations (Hittites) and eventually the Christians in the 14th Century, carved into these volcanic structures to create homes and Monasteries to practice Christianity in without persecution.

The fairy chimneys and structures themselves were absolutely breathtaking. They looked like sand castle sculptures, or like frozen soft-serve ice cream with sand rubbed on them. They were Real tight. The weather was nice enough that I was able to enjoy walking through the snow and admire these natural wonders. When I to
uched the homes, it felt like I was touching time and history all at once.

Other things we did on the trip--- eat badass food (traditional Turkish)—On Saturday night we had a
“Turkish Night” where we ate lots of yummy food and watched Whirling Dervishes spin and spin and spin. But apparently these weren’t real dervishes, just ones for show. After they stopped spinning there were very entertaining Turkish dancers that came out and performed for us. Let’s just say Turkish people can move their bodies… especially the belly dancer! It was like her hips were disconnected from the rest of her body—crazy. The dancers continued to perform every couple of songs while the audience enjoyed the massive amount of beverages that were distributed. It was a beautiful thing.

The next day we went and saw some more sites around Cappadocia and went wine tasting at Turasan Winery which makes Cappadocian wine with grapes from the Anatolia
n region. The whole trip was fun, but my favorite place we went was Guray Seramik--- aka Guray Ceramics. We went to the Guray family studio and showroom that displayed thousands of ceramic bowls, cups, plates, and sculptures. The Guray family has been in the ceramic business for hundreds of years. The forms made come from the family tradition and consists of many sun references. The main concept of there glaze designs stem from one singular or central point. Family and heritage are the most important values, and that idea comes from the center and revolves around oneself (or something along those lines). The coolest thing was that they make their clay from the soil that only exists in the Cappadocian mountains. The clay felt so soft and fine, almost like a sticky porcelain with a deep redish-brown tone. The glazes they use are mostly underglazes with a clear coating on top, although they sometimes use glazes fired at a higher temperature. The boy that gave the throwing demonstration was only 18 years old and had been throwing for over six years---- ahhh so cool!
Ok enough—the trip was sweet and the Guray place offered me an internship!---
(my cynical self says of course they’d love an American chick who speaks no Turkish for a summer)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

I'm in Turkey? You're in Turkey

The first thing I realized once I got to Turkey was that I had to eat meat or else I wouldn’t survive. I have been a vegetarian for two years and haven’t eaten red meat in over five. Three day’s in I eat chicken, six days in I ate lamb… let’s just say I am now a meat eater. (I try and eat cheese but we all know what happens when I do that. Not pretty)

After 22 hours of traveling across the world, I finally arrived in Ankara Turkey. I was taken to my (lovely) dorm room to find no towels or toilet paper and let’s just say I needed to use the restroom… Welcome to Turkey.

I was very excited to finally be in Ankara and begin to get settled in. The anticipation of what was to come was killing me. My dorm room at Bilkent University was probably half the size of my room at home and looked like a 1980’s pink hotel room (imagine small, pink, and being completely alone). I got out of there as fast as I could and moved into this great apartment in downtown Ankara with two American girls Holly and Jemma, and one Turkish dude Erman. Both of the girls had already been to Turkey before and Holly was returning for a second semester at Bilkent. She is the best, kind of like all my friends put together, including the craziness and Maggie/ Nikki D’s nasty face (I couldn’t believe it). We get along perfect and if it weren’t for her I would be having a much worse time.

The first week I was in Turkey I participated in the ESN (Erasmus Student Network) orientation program that basically showed me around Ankara, Bilkent University and gave me lots of fun things to do (like get my residence permit, register for classes, oh yeah and organize sweet parties).

During orientation I did the one thing that all Turkish people must do at some point in their lives, and visited Ataturk's Mausoleum. It was SO big. I have never seen something so grand and nationalistic in my entire life. I have pictures that I’m going to try and post or you can check my facebook to see them. When first entering the Mausoleum you have to walk up a million stairs to the walkway to see the actual building. There are two large square temple-like things with large statues of men and women mourning the loss of Ataturks life. Then you must continue down a walkway lined with lion sculptures for about 1-¾ football length fields. THEN, you find your self in this open area enclosed with big wall like structures with openings (you can see all of Ankara up this high) and if you look to your left you see a large square building up on a platform where Ataturks tomb lies. This architectures smells like Egypt and looks really fucking big.Inside the wall like structures and behind somewhere else there’s a museum where they basically kept everything of Ataturks from his cigarettes to his swords, cars and clothes. It’s pretty insane (they love him, so do I).

My apartment is right near Tunus (and super close to the bus stop, which I am thankful for every morning when I sit on the bus for 30 mins to get to school). My neighborhood is very friendly and safe. It’s pretty typical, filled w
ith apartment buildings, markets, small stores, bars, hookah places (called nargile) and Kabob restaurants. It has a quiet sound, although people are constantly bustling around. I feel very lucky to live where I do, only a 5 minute walk to the market and Tunali Street where many more stores and cafĂ©’s are. I still have to explore this area more.

I attend Bilkent University, which is slightly removed from the center of Ankara. It's kinda suppose to be the Harvard of Turkey—aka it’s private and super expensive. My program (Fine Arts) is ok, pretty self-driven it seems.... and I’m just going to leave it at that. Hopefully I’ll do some cool things while I'm here. This time seems to be dedicated to more soul searching than anything else. My academic classes are awesome (Art History and Archaeology). I’m learning about the French Revolution and the Enlightenment in my Art History class and is turning out to be pretty fucking relevant ( Revolution anyone?).

Things about dat Turkey:

  • I am blond and stick out like a sore thumb
  • Everyone here is skinny (well not everyone, but hardly anyone is fat)
  • Smoking cigarettes is a part of life
  • Turkish hospitality and friendliness is the best
  • People drive like madmen
  • There are no clothes dryers- can you say crunchy clothes?
  • Only bottled water
  • It is gray here (reminds me of Michigan)
  • You must walk fast or else you’ll get run or pushed over--Walk with a purpose
  • Traffic between 5 and 7:30pm is horrible, no matter where you are in the city
  • You can get any movie pirated
  • Black clothes are in
  • Beer is cheap--liquor is expensive
  • My neighborhood has a very calm and quiet spirit
  • I go to the market almost everyday to buy fresh food (everything is organic here)

This is all for now, I gotta go shower for school (I am forced to shower here because all the girls I got to school with actually look nice and I stick out as much as it is)--