I’m back. Back in America and back on the blog. It’s been about a month since I finished up a full day of travel (and a school year in Turkey) by walking out of Dulles International Airport. Virginia greeted me with its characteristic June heat. I did not miss the humidity, but I did miss everything else.
I was surprised at how quickly everything was familiar again, though I do admit that every once in a while the thought of “DUDE, you were just in Turkey” creeps into my mind. Usually when I’m stuck behind an old driver in town.
This past month has consisted of job applications, helping my sister move, putting a dismal effort at retaining the Turkish I learned, and refreshing Twitter every five minutes to see if Everton has signed anyone yet (come ON, Bobby!). I hope to get back into writing here as well. It will be a little bit of whatever comes to mind, so bear with me.
At the beginning of this month Kaitlin came to visit from Germany, and I was incredibly excited to play tour guide for her first time in Turkey. We met in Atatürk Airport and flew back to Antalya together. She wanted to make sure she tried as many Turkish culinary staples as possible we went to Güneyliler, a restaurant that carries a wide array of popular Turkish food once we got into the city. We ordered two different kebab dishes and as the mezes started rolling out we did our best No Reservations impression: her playing Anthony Bourdain, trying everything, and me playing the local (in this case, guy who has been there before) explaining what everything was to the best of my knowledge. After Kaitlin’s first glass of çay, an historic moment for her Turkish experience, we headed home to unpack and plan the rest of the week.
Before I go on, some context. When I was younger, I was notoriously against surprises and change. I have been told that as a toddler I would stay up crying if I had to go to sleep somewhere other than my own bed, wailing “AUGGIE’S BED” instead of falling asleep. I fortunately don’t remember any of this, but I have no doubt that these stories are unexaggerated. Through high school and college, a lack of a plan or uncertainty about where I was going and who was going to be there brought on uncertainty and a certain level of party-pooping anxiety. Living and traveling in a foreign country without a strong grasp on the language has given me a chance to work on this, but there’s still definitely some uneasiness involved. So as you can imagine, jumping on a dolmuş or a city bus without knowing the exact destination is not usually what I’d call a good time. Both trips ended up being excellent, however, and we got to see a lot of what the region had to offer.
Our first excursion was to the ancient city of Perge, right on the outskirts of Antalya. It’s described in the Fodor’s travel book I have as “one of the best places to get an overall impression of a classical Turkish city” but I was not ready for how expansive and well preserved it is. We ate lunch in the middle of what was once a 12,000 person stadium and spent the rest of the day exploring what really is an expansive, thoroughly excavated site. In typical Turkish fashion, there was no one shooing us away from anything and we were able to walk through everything. What I may love the most about history in Turkey is that everything is built on top of each other, one era over another. Different parts of the city were from Anatolian, Roman, and Hellenistic periods, and the ruins of a few Christian basilicas also dot the landscape.
This layered history is on display all over the second place we visited, Olympos. Frequented by Romans, pirates, and crusaders, the ruins are much more overgrown than in Perge, but are incredible in their own way. We poked around old churches and temples, and found some tombs with the carvings still intact. After wandering through the woods, we headed to the beach and it might be the most scenic and peaceful spot I’ve ever been. The beach connects two towns, Olympos and Çıralı, and while they get packed with tourist in the spring and summer, the area was nearly abandoned. As we walked back to Olympos (not yet knowing whether we’d stay the night there or not) we asked a German couple to take our picture. Thank God Kaitlin can speak German. We ended up eating gözleme at the entrance to the park and tagging along to the Chimaera, which is literally fire coming out of the ground. It’s definitely one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen. After dropping us off at a bus stop on the highway back to Antalya, Kaitlin and I couldn’t stop thinking about how many random things had come together to make Olympos such an awesome trip. What could have been overplanned turned out better than we expected it to be. The couple we were with kept saying it was fate, “schicksal,” and I’d have to agree.
It was an awesome way to end a very refreshing break; now it’s back to the (enjoyable but exhausting) grind.
EDIT: Also, make sure to check out Kaitlin’s blog about her time in Mainz here. She writes more frequently (and better) than I do.
First off, a big apology to those who have been waiting for a new post (hi, mom!). The past couple of weeks have led me to realize how much teachers are affected by the same feelings and moods as students at this point in a semester. The hazırlık program here at Akdeniz has entered finals week, and the students are thinking of one thing: going home and enjoying their break. Okay, and Galatasaray playing Chelsea in the Champions League, so two things.
I felt the same way in college. Despite the looming tests and final projects that dictated my final grades, forever altering transcripts and my GPA, a part of my mind was narrowly focused on getting home, doing laundry, and playing with my dog. This attitude stuck with me from Freshman year into graduate school. After a semester of stimulating, valuable, but ultimately tiring coursework I was ready to raid a refrigerator and watch something mind-numbing on TV for a while and wait for Christmas (my go to was usually Rob and Big).
Now, as someone standing in front of desks instead of sitting in them, I’m feeling the same draw as I did as a student. This year, instead of writing papers, I’m checking for grammar mistakes. Instead of going through sources, I’m scouring the Internet and my English textbook for lesson ideas. Both classroom roles are stimulating, valuable, and exhausting.
This last bit of the semester offers me and the students a great opportunity. Being exhausted isn’t always a bad thing, and if students can learn to finish well and study hard despite the gravitational pull of the couch and their mothers’ cooking, it will only benefit them in the future. As someone who plans to work through many more finals weeks in their life, I will benefit from this upcoming week as well.
Anyway, there’s a rambling sort of excuse for not posting as frequently as I had planned. This break will be a great one, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the north and east of the country have in store once I track down some snow boots. Who knows, maybe I’ll track down some Rob and Big, too.
This past weekend, I ventured out to İzmir to celebrate my friend Matt’s birthday. This was the first “big city” trip I’d planned since arriving from Ankara and I was excited to see everyone and catch my first glimpse of the Aegean. I got up early Friday morning to catch the 8:30 bus from the Antalya Otogar (city bus station). When 8 am rolled around and my usual bus had yet to arrive, I grabbed the first bus that came along with “E.Otogar” on its sign. Little did I know, this particular bus took the most roundabout way to the Otogar and made dozens of stops in between. It finally stopped at the otogar right at 8:30, and I ran to the terminal in time to watch the last Pamukkale bus pull out and head off on the highway. After trying to explain the situation to the man behind the counter, I resigned myself to the fact that I would need to buy a new ticket and catch the next bus. If I had known the language, maybe I could have negotiated and gotten my ticket transferred or something. Yet another reason to really buckle down and learn more Turkish.
After a pretty frustrating start, the trip started looking up. This was the first time I traveled by bus during the day, and it gave me a really good opportunity to take in the landscape and smaller cities. The day started out incredibly dreary, but when we popped out of a tunnel somewhere north of Aydın, the sun was out and bright. I can’t help but be reminded of home when I’m traveling, and I found myself again comparing the countryside to America. It looked like I was driving through the Shenandoah valley, with more imposing mountain ranges. The highway zigzagged through the valleys and I finally started to see signs for İzmir.
Pulling into İzmir at sunset was a pretty stunning sight. Much like Ankara, the city spreads out over the hills and valleys in all directions. It was much bigger than I expected, and the sea was nowhere in sight from the otogar. We made downtown through some luck and some clever navigating from Natalie and I (she had made it to the bus on time, and arrived around an hour earlier than I did).
The rest of the weekend zipped by in a flash. The place we rented for the weekend was in the Alsancak neighborhood, a quiet part of the city next to the İzmir Kültürpark. Inside the park was a small but impressive history and art museum. I’m constantly impressed at the amount of history in this country; this museum was empty except for a security guard but still housed artifacts that I would expect to see in a massive museum back home. Most of our evening was spent at one of the most incredible eating and drinking establishments I’ve ever visited. Café del Mundo, situated blocks from the water, immediately felt like home. Many of our group had already met one of the staff members when we were in Eskişehir, and we were treated like old friends as soon as we walked in. We spent the rest of the night squeezed around a table too small for the eleven of us and drinking beers from all over the world. Everything was delicious, especially the complimentary birthday cake.
Other highlights of the weekend included a long run along the harbor with the guys, which my knees are still angry about, and some of the best Turkish cooking I’ve ever had. Ev yemekleri is “home cooking” and this place was serving food straight out of what looked like a home kitchen. I tried to snap a picture, but couldn’t get a good one without seeming really creepy. My friend Mike and I had a chicken dish with curry sauce and vegetables and wiped our plates clean with our bread to make sure we ate all of it. I hope they took that as a compliment.
I’ve also just heard about the flooding that occurred as we left. I hope the people of İzmir are safe and that the city will bounce back quickly.I can’t wait to go back and experience more of what it has to offer, and it has set the bar high for when I finally visit Istanbul.
Kurban Bayramı came quickly amidst all of the teaching and lesson planning. Before I knew it, the weekend rolled around and I had a week off. I gave little thought to travel plans during the first month or so and suddenly I was faced with a week completely to myself. For most of it I would have it literally to myself. The other Fulbrighters each departed for their respective trips during the first few days of the break: Egypt, Georgia via Trabzon, London, and Fethiye. My habit of procrastination and my anxiety over impromptu travel plans combined to keep me here in the beautiful city of Antalya.
Exploring Antalya was great, but since then I’ve been trying to get out and about as much as possible. The two weekends since Kurban Bayramı have been filled with night buses, 3 a.m. bathroom breaks, and some great sites and people. I visited Bolu and Eskişehir, two cities that seem straight out of central Virginia. It was actually cold. I had to wear a jacket, and my teeth chattered when I got on the bus. I loved it.
It’s also been really great to see other Fulbrighters during these past two trips and seeing how universities in Bolu and Eskişehir run. Workloads, living arrangements, and local cultures vary from one city to the next. Getting together and swapping stories with other teachers has helped reinforce how diverse Turkey is and how my experiences are shaped by living in a liberal, coastal city like Antalya.
Throwing on an apron and going to a Halloween party as a kokoreç vendor wasn’t too bad either. As for kokoreç itself, it’s delicious. Just eat it, don’t ask what it is.
I can’t wait to plan more trips, especially to the east and north, in the next few months.This week I may head to Alanya, just down the coast from here. There are some old Seljuk castles and an ethnography museum… and one of the first craft breweries in Turkey. The big trip coming up, however, is a weekend in Germany to visit a very lovely woman who is working and studying there until next year. Exciting times.
Thoughts while sitting in Atatürk Park:
- Finished The Yogurt Man Cometh by Kevin Revolinski today. It’s one of two travel memoirs the commission gave us at orientation and I heard a lot of negative comments about it. I really enjoyed it, however, and he captures what it’s like to live and teach in Turkey really well. Check it out.
- I know I’m supposed to be open-minded and keep a certain amount of cultural relativism handy (and I think I have been pretty good with this), but I will never understand why someone would jog in blue jean cargo shorts.
- These nine months are the best opportunity for me to really learn a foreign language, so I really need to dive in and do it. After the Bayram holiday, I’m going to try and find a class or a group to practice with.
- This park must be one of the most romantic places in Antalya. It’s at least one of the most picturesque. There’s at least one couple (usually more) getting wedding pictures done every time I’ve walked through. Also, fun fact: brides and grooms apparently get their photos done before the wedding. So no waiting around like American weddings. Genius.
- I was craving brewed coffee, so I sold my soul and went into Starbucks. My name was spelled “Avri” and the coffee was gas station quality and super harsh on the stomach. I learned my lesson and will be sticking with çay.
Though I probably should have traveled during this week off, I thoroughly enjoyed my time alone in the city. I was able to explore my adopted home and find some more of what Antalya has to offer (including waterfalls and a museum featuring Atatürk’s pajamas). Beginning next weekend, however, I will be off to see more of Turkey.
Last weekend, I ventured outside of the city for the first time. After weeks of pretty steady classroom teaching I needed to get out from behind my lesson plans and see some trees. So after getting directions from my roommate, a group of us decided to explore the ruins of Termessos, which is situated about 15 km outside of Antalya.
Nora, Theo, and I headed out of the city on a dolmuş, a convenient little bus that shuttles people to and from the many cities and towns in Turkey. I’ve also heard that these busses can get crowded (dolmuş means “filled” in Turkish, which I think is a nice bit of linguistic humor), but ours was spacious and comfortable. An imposing guy in a black sport coat offered me an orange as soon as we pulled out of the station. I had a good feeling about our trip ahead.
Thirty minutes later, I felt a little different. The scenery was beautiful, but the three of us were sure Termessos was not this far from Antalya. I turned around and asked orange man, in my woefully broken Turkish, where Termessos National Park was. He looked puzzled and pointed his thumb back over his shoulder. We passed it. We were in the village of Yazır, a tiny bit of unpaved road about 20 km farther than we were supposed to go. Turkish hospitality showed itself once again, however, and once the dolmuş passengers realized that there was a group of lost Americans we had five or six people telling us what to do in Turkish. The bus driver flagged down a bus heading back toward to Antalya, and we finally made it to Termessos after unintentionally getting a long tour of the terrain.
The views from the dolmuş were nothing compared to the top of the mountain. I had never heard of Termessos before getting here, but the history is worth a read (here and here are good places to start but there’s not a lot out there). An ancient warrior people who lived high in a mountain pass sounds like something from Lord of the Rings, but real life is always cooler. We explored the amphitheater, climbed over rubble that used to make up grand temples and baths, and lost count of the many tombs chiseled out of (or sometimes into) the sides of the mountain.
I think I will be heading back to Termessos with some visiting Fulbrighters tomorrow. Now that I’ve read up on the history and understand the place a little better, I think I’ll enjoy it even more. Also, now I know to tell the bus driver when to stop.