Thursday, October 21, 2010

Turkey September 22-28th, 2010

WEDNESDAY, September 22nd, 2010
In September, our group traveled to Turkey, and what a trip it was! We started our journey on Wednesday by flying from Athens, Greece to Samos Island in Greece. We spent the day in Samos, taking pictures of the beautiful beaches, and sipping sweet drinks under the umbrella lined street. After spending about 5 hours in Samos, we boarded a ferry and set sail for Kusadasi, Turkey. There were very rough seas and the wind was very strong. Let's just say I am soooo happy I did not wear a skirt. I felt so bad for the group of Australians who had on dresses, but I liked their choice of polka-dotted underwear :) When we arrived in Kusadasi, it took our ferry about 20 minutes to dock. The waves were so bad that the bridge connecting our ferry and the shore could not be secured even with 5 Turkish men trying to anchor it down. Eventually they managed to get some kind of a hold on it, and let the passengers de-board the ferry one person at a time. Once we all got off the ferry, we made our way through boarder control, and then walked to our hostel. The hostel was located at the top of what seemed like the steepest mountain I had ever climbed with my luggage trailing behind me. The incline was very steep, very long, and cobble stone. It was definitely a great work-out after sitting on the ferry for a few hours :)

The hostel was NOT a four-star hotel. Our room was a little sketchy and had a 6-in circumference hole in the bathroom wall leading out to the main street, and we were on the first floor. My roommate Sheila and I joked that the hole was used for the gypsy boys to spy on us while we were taking a shower. The shower and toilet situation made me a stronger person. The toilet was about 3 inches from the shower head that only spewed out cold water.

Luckily, Kusadasi was very tourist-y. We were able to quickly find a restaurant where the waiter spoke English. It was so exciting to speak English!! (There are very few people that speak English in Athens). There were also many shops and vendors on the street that were willing to sell us everything from UGG boots, to Louis Vuitton sheets, to Prada purses- all knock-offs of course. I found an ice-cream stand and was very happy to see the price was only 1 Euro a scoop. I quickly realized it is very hard to get your ice-cream handed to you in Turkey. The stands all have performer-like employees who will hit you with your ice-cream in the face and then pretend to drop it on the ground as you attempt to wipe it off your face. It was a very interesting experience to get ice-cream! The ice cream itself had a gum-like texture. You had to chew it, but it was still VERY tasty. I got pistachio and strawberry, and there were other flavors like rocky road, banana, lemon, cookies, and mixed-berry.

THURSDAY, September 23rd, 2010

Today we woke up early and went to breakfast at our hostel. Turkish breakfast consisted of tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese, cold meats, bread, hard-boiled eggs, watermelon, and olives. I had some bread with tomatoes and cheese, and also some bread with sour grape jelly and hazelnut spread. The men working the breakfast said it was a very traditional Turkish breakfast. There was also Turkish apple tea served, which I reluctantly tried, and actually enjoyed! It was very similar to a hot apple juice.

After breakfast we walked to a bus stop, and met our tour guide for the day. His name was Jorge and he has been giving tours of the area for over a decade. We drove through Kusadasi, and on the way to our first destination we saw the largest water park in Turkey. On the other side, a few miles up the road, we saw its competition- the second largest water park in Turkey. We also saw many local shops and lots and lots of desert-like land that Jorge called farm land. Our first stop was the Ephesus Museum. This museum contained statues, sculptures, and other artifacts found in the ancient city of Ephesus.

After touring the musuem, we went to the actual city of Ephesus. Throughout my years in Catholic school, I had always heard the letters to the Ephesians, but never thought much about it. Well, I was visiting where all of those letters were sent! It was very, very, very cool to see this ancient, once thriving civilization. Our tour guide informed us that only about 15% of the city had been excavated. He said that if the Austrian workers dug at this site everyday for 24-hours a day, it would take about 900 years for all of the city to be uncovered. I thought that statistic was absolutely amazing! There was so much of the city in front of me, but there was so much more of it below my feet. While in Ephesus we were able to see their libraries, theaters, temples, bathhouses, and even their brothel. Jorge told us that when the Austrian excavators found the library, they discovered a tunnel that lead them across the street to where the brothel was located. I thought it was funny because this was so clever!! During our journey through Ephesus, I somehow managed to rip my linen pants right down the butt. I had to wear a scarf around my waist the entire day (and we had many more places to go after this!).

After learning a lot about the city of Ephesus, walking up to stairs to the top of the theatre, and grabbing some lunch at one of the cafes outside the city, our group piled onto the bus, and we were off to the House of the Virgin Mary. The road was extremely narrow and winding leading up to the top of the mountain. I often held my breath as we passed by the tiny cars that we could easily knock of the side of the mountain with our huge bus. When we finally made it to the top of the mountain, we de-boarded the bus and were able to walk up to where the house was located. I walked through and after lit a candle right outside the house. Also, I wrote a message to put onto the wishing wall. Jorge told us that the rule is that if your wish comes true, you must come back to the house and say a special prayer to Mary for granting your request. Jorge said that he would come back in our place if any of our wishes came true.

After getting back from the House of the Virgin Mary, we all took a break in our rooms while waiting for our hostel to prepare dinner. When dinner was ready, we sat on the patio in the back of the hostel and ate. The choices were fish or kebabs. I chose the kebab and it was so delicious. The kebabs were a combination of meat and peppers, tomatoes, and onions. There was also moist rice and an eggplant/tomato soupy mixture. I ate it all! After dinner a bunch of us went out exploring the port-city. We found a hookah bar on a side street and sat down for an Efes beer and some hookah.
The shop called them nargile-water pipes, and the hoses were very long and made of wood and carpet material. I had never seen anything like it before. We got a tobacco hookah, which was actual tobacco leaves wrapped around the coals, and a strawberry-coconut hookah. The tobacco hookah was EXTREMELY strong and nearly impossible for me to even try; however, I told myself that I would try everything once and I did try it once, and only once. At the hookah bar, there was a man who proposed to me and asked me to stay and live in Turkey with him. Although it was a kind offer, I returned with my group to the hostel :)

FRIDAY, September 24th, 2010
On friday we woke up before sunrise and walked over to the port in order to catch a bus to the train station. After about an hour-long bus ride, we arrived at the train station, and boarded a 6-hour bus ride to Bandirma, Turkey. The bus only had a snack cart of soda, chips, and cookies and this was not quite enough for us hungry students! The train also only had a hole in the ground for the bathroom. This experience was very interesting and LIFE CHANGING! Every time I went to the bathroom in Turkey I thought to myself, 'somehow this situation is worse than the last time I went to the bathroom.' Of course over the duration of 6 hours I did have to squat over the hole and go pee. While I was in the bathroom the train made a turn, and I had both my arms against the walls bracing myself. It was a very interesting experience.

When we arrived in Bandirma, Turkey we were informed our ferry to Istanbul, Turkey would be departing in about 20 minutes. We ran to the ferry port from the train station with luggage and all. Our group rushed through security, got to the gate, and showed the man our tickets. He told us the ferry was full, but another one would be departing at 9:30pm. The worst part was, it was only 3:30pm. For those who do not know the environment of Bandirma, you are very lucky. This is the only place throughout the trip that I was actually nervous to be in. There were military on the corner of every street, and police everywhere. Apparently, this city is a common home to terrorists attacks. I was just about to cry from exhaustion and disappointment from missing the ferry when I walked by a local shop and it was playing "Take My Breath Away." For those who do not know my obsession with this song from the movie Top Gun, you are missing out. I was so excited to hear this familiar tune that I quickly wiped the pout off my face, and looked for the good in the situation. Well, the good thing was that I found a bakery that had DELICIOUS cookies for only about 10 cents/ cookie. I was so hungry after the train ride that I bought 6 cookies on the spot and began to devour them! The cookies were short bread, different colors, and flavors. I could not pin point any particular flavor, but all I knew was that they were INCREDIBLY TASTY!

We eventually boarded the ferry, left Bandirma, and arrived in Istanbul. By the time we landed in Istanbul it was around 1am, and we were all SUPER tired from our long day of traveling. Our hostel was located on a street of hostels, cafes, and hookah bars. It was very convenient for our late night snacking habits!

SATURDAY, September 25th, 2010

Today we woke up after sunrise for the first day in a while. We ate a traditional Turkish breakfast at our hostel, and then we were off to all the tourist hot spots. We walked to the mausoleums on the way to the Hagia Sophia. The mausoleums were gorgeous. They were designed by the top architects of the time with special attention given to the construction of the ceilings. There were detailed tiles placed all along the walls. It was a really special experience. After the mausoleums we made our way down the street to the Hagia Sophia. Word cannot describe the beauty of this architectural masterpiece. It was once a palace that was turned into a mosque, into a church, back into a palace, back into a mosque, and so on based on who was in power at the time. There was so much history behind this now museum; it was amazing. The building was incredible.

After the Hagia Sophia we grabbed some lunch and then headed over to the Blue Mosque.
We had to wait in line to get in. While we were waiting, we saw security guards chase after a woman who refused to wear the headscarf, and kept trying to get into the mosque. We made our way through the line, and were able to take pictures inside. The mosque was so beautiful and peaceful. There were people in prayer everywhere, as well as many tourists taking pictures.

At night we stayed on our street and made our way to one of the local restaurants. We ate our meals, and then for "dessert" the owner gave us a free hookah. It was weird that it was considered a dessert in Turkey, but we enjoyed it just the same.

SUNDAY, September 26th, 2010
It rained today, but we still had many things to do and see. We made our way to the Topkapi Palace first. This was absolutely amazing. The palace was enormous with elaborate rooms, furnishings, and decorations in every room. Even the servants' quarters were beautiful. In one portion of the palace, we were able to see what the Turkish people claimed to be the staff of Moses, the headscarf of Joseph, and the beard of Muhammad. I was a little skepictal when seeing these items, but the Turkish people took their artifacts VERY seriously with security guards everywhere.

After the palace, we took a trip to the Archaeology Museum. The museum spanned 3 buildings and contained sculptures, jewelry, plates, statues, and paintings from Egypt, Turkey, Greece, and other parts of the world. It was really exciting to see all of the different styles and areas brought together in one museum.

MONDAY, September 27th, 2010

Today we visited the Zaman Media Group in Istanbul. The group was the home to many publications including a daily, english newspaper. Zaman Today had a large readership, unlike newspapers in the United States. In Turkey, newspaper readership is on the rise, with more and more subscriptions and issues being sold everyday. We were fortunate enough to meet with one of the editors of the newspaper, as well as the editor-in-chief of their future english magazine publication. He told us about how Turkey's media system works and that right now it was growing exponentially. We were given a tour of the media group building, as well as tea, coffee, and cookies in a conference room. The company was very welcoming to our group.

After the tour, we took the metro to the Basilica Cistern. It was an underground waterway in the past, that was recently restored for visitors to view and tour. We were able to walk through and take pictures of the beautiful columns and lighting.

TUESDAY, September 28th, 2010
In the morning, a group of us went to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. It was so big with stall after stall of knock-off clothing, hats, shoes, boots, purses, and watches. There were also amazing lamps on sale, and I of course had to get one! They were made of glass with beads attached and I haggled my way down to 27 Turkish Lira for one of the beautiful purple lamps!

We walked back to our hostel after the bazaar and began to pack our stuff because it was time to go back to Athens. Since there was a transportation strike in Greece, it was impossible to take the train back to Athens. A group of students and myself had planned to climb Mt. Olympus, but could not because of the transportation strikes. Our entire group was left with only one affordable option of getting back to Athens- an 18 hour bus ride.

The bus was not that bad, except it did not have a bathroom on it. Every rest stop we stopped at charged money to squat above the hole they called a bathroom to take a pee. This trip was full of experiences that made me a stronger person. I can honestly say I did not think I would survive the bus ride back to Athens, but I am happy to say that I did.

The boarder crossing between Turkey and Greece was very educational to say the least. There were military lining the whole boarder on both sides. We gave our passports to the Turkish military, and they happily stamped them to have us get the heck out of their country and enter Greece. (Turkey and Greece do not have a friendly working relationship.) We had to de-board the bus when we arrived at the Greece side and talk to a military man at the bottom of the stairs of the bus. We were instructed to hand him our passport and look him in the eyes. The guy looked at my passport, looked up at me, looked back at my passport, and back at me. He seemed very confused between my passport picture, and my appearance in real life. I was just thinking to myself that he would not look so good after being on a bus for about 10 hours. :)
After we made it through the boarder, it was smooth sailing, well sort of. There was a lot of traffic due to the strike. There were trucks blocking many roads and people protesting in the streets. We eventually made it to the bus stop, and walked home. Once I got inside the apartment, I drank a big glass of water, took a shower, and went to sleep in my bed.

Overall, the trip to Turkey was very exciting. I saw a lot of things I had never seen before, and was able to experience another culture first hand. Would I ever live there? Maybe, if I had a water purifier and air-conditioner installed in my apartment :)

As always-
Take a look at all my pictures at:

For now I am back in Athens, and KEEPIN' IT CLASSY :)

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