Landscapes of Stone: Cappadocia and Konya

This post will be heavier on photos than text, because the pictures can explain the places I visited far more than I could through my writing. Our group spent four days this weekend in central Turkey, far from our coastal abode, in a part of the country that had a far different culture, history, and climate than where we had visited before. Driving to Cappadocia (as well as the earlier drive to Ankara) showed that there is a part of Turkey that resembles nearly every part of the US, as we drove on precarious switchbacks through the Taurus Mountains, through the never-ending (though barren) fields of Turkey’s breadbasket past Konya, and in the arid hills of Cappadocia proper as we drove along the old route of the Silk Road, now a modern highway with much greater economic impact but much less romanticism. The major takeaway from this drive, however, was that Turkey has a lot of rocks, both in the mountains and the fields, perhaps a reason for the profusion of historical monuments. These drives between locations, though long, provided a look into Turkish rural life, where even the gas stations have prayer rooms, dogs and cats roam freely in the streets (OK, they do that in the big cities too), and no one seems to work but everyone is able to eat.

Sultanhani Caravanserai

Sultanhani Caravanserai

Inside, Sultanhani Caravanserai

Inside, Sultanhani Caravanserai

Landscape between Konya and Cappadocia

Landscape between Konya and Cappadocia

Cappadocia itself is a fascinating landscape, with each of the half dozen towns in the region having its own local attraction, which always differs. Uçhisar has a honeycombed mountain used as a castle, Derinkuyu a cave city, and Goreme a complex of over one hundred ancient churches. The ingenuity of the ancient inhabitants of this region is phenomenal, as we visited homes under the ground in cave cities, homes carved into cliffs and pillars 100 feet above the ground, and homes hewn directly out of mountain faces across the street from modern habitations. The lax regulations around these sites, and their omnipresence in the landscape, meant that we were able to clamber around and into them to a far greater extent than one could ever find with historic or natural sites in the US, though that did cause a few moments of panic as I found that getting up was far easier than getting down, and that the poor climbing quality of the stone was another factor protecting these homes from invasion. Getting up close was fun, but the only way to get the full view of Cappadocia is from above, in a hot air balloon. These balloons are a Cappadocian institution, with close to one hundred in the air at the same time as our group despite it being only 6:30 in the morning, but the tremendous views of all of the rock formations below and the sunrise over the valleys definitely explained their popularity and justified the extra cost, and indeed, the balloons themselves added as much to the view as the landscape below. Interestingly, almost all of Cappadocia’s dwellings were originally Christian, and the profusion of crosses and images of the saints inside are a marked contrast with the minaret spires in the modern villages.

Pigeon Valley, Uçhisar, Cappadocia

Pigeon Valley, Uçhisar, Cappadocia

Close-up on cave dwellings, Uçhisar

Close-up on cave dwellings, Uçhisar

Uçhisar Castle

Uçhisar Castle

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Sunrise, Cappadocia

Sunrise, Cappadocia

Balloons Over Cappadocia

Balloons Over Cappadocia

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Looking down from the balloon

Looking down from the balloon

Hoodoos and Balloons

Hoodoos and Balloons

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Cappadocia from above

Cappadocia from above

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Goreme

Goreme

Frescoes in a cave church, Goreme

Frescoes in a cave church, Goreme

Outside of cave church, Goreme

Outside of cave church, Goreme

Inside of cave church, Goreme

Inside of cave church, Goreme

Goreme

Goreme

Çavuşin Valley

Çavuşin Valley

Camel Rock

Camel Rock

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Derinkuyu Cave City

Derinkuyu Cave City

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Ala Church, Ihlara Valley

Ala Church, Ihlara Valley

Ihlara Valley

Ihlara Valley

From Cappadocia we traveled back to Konya, the seventh largest city in Turkey that, like much of Turkey, combines ancient history as the Seljuk capital with booming modern development as one of the “Anatolian Tigers”. Unfortunately, the former is very much overshadowed by the latter, as the few attractions of Konya are hidden by sprawling industrial parks and apartments which form an unattractive cityscape. The focus of our visit to Konya was its status as the center of the Mevlavi order of Sufi Islam, better known as the whirling dervishes. As part of a lecture on dervish practices, I got to participate in the ritual, which was a very unique experience. I can definitely see how the whirling can be a meditative and trance-inducing exercise, though from my experience it would take plenty of practice before I could overcome the dizziness. That night, we got to see an actual dervish performance, which unfortunately seemed to be little more than a spectacle for tourists, and the next day we visited the tomb of Mevlana, the dervishes’ founder. The conservatism of Konya and Cappadocia stood in contrast to the relative liberalism of Alanya and Istanbul, as nearly all women were veiled and signs for the conservative AK Party (Erdogan’s party) were everywhere. Lastly, the cooler weather caused by the higher elevation of Central Turkey was a pleasant change from Alanya, where it is still in the upper 80s and humid every day, and it was definitely nice to get a brief taste of fall weather.

Mosque, Konya

Mosque, Konya

Whirling Dervish Performance

Whirling Dervish Performance

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With the trip to Cappadocia, the actual school week was very abbreviated and unremarkable, though a lunch with a neighbor of the villa, a wealthy playboy arms dealer descended from WWI leader Enver Pasha and the Ottoman royal family, was certainly an interesting experience. The excursions and other unexpected events of my study abroad are certainly still going on, with a planned harbor cruise on Saturday as well as a host family meeting and class activities, but with major class trips finished for a time, my attentions can fully focus on my plans for fall break-which will be my next post.

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Home for the Moment: Alanya and the First Week of School

Not many first weeks of school include three (or more) trips to the beach and climbing over an ancient castle. But, that’s just one reason why I am constantly reminded that I made the right choice in coming to the McGhee Center. This week was just as busy as the last few, though in a different sense, as instead of traveling I settled into my home for the next few months, Alanya, and started the routines of the school year.

Save (partly) for the small peninsula that houses our apartments and villa, Alanya is very reminiscent of Florida-and that’s not a compliment, for the most part. Rows and rows of low-rise condos and hotels, hundreds of shops and restaurants designed specifically to serve the less discerning traveler, and tour buses and boats galore, all focusing on a beach that has a different bar or restaurant every 50 feet. Yet on the other hand, when examining the natural environment, the towering mountains that reach almost to the sea, the warm, clear waters of the Mediterranean, and a rich history, you cannot blame those who choose to spend their vacation or golden years in this small piece of paradise, nor the enterprising Turks who developed and commercialized it beyond what in America would be tasteful (besides, some of these pseudo-Scandinavian establishments are not too different from some in the Upper Midwest). Even if I’ll never get why someone would travel a thousand miles away from home and then buy knockoff basketball jerseys and eat terrible imitation Tex-Mex cuisine served by aggressive waiters with Australian accents at one of a dozen identical restaurants, I can’t help but admire the Turks that learned Finnish to expand their tour company’s clientele, or learned how to make schnitzel to make German tourists feel at home. Commercial Alanya may often be ugly, but it’s capitalism at its best, and for better for worse Alanya’s success is a model for much of less-developed Turkey. And even living here for four months, I’ll still be a tourist until I can speak fluent Turkish, which won’t be this semester, if ever, despite the fact that my Arabic knowledge gives me a head start on some of the vocabulary. Alanya may not be the optimal place for being immersed in the Turkish language and culture (though I’ll likely pick up some Russian or more German, given the multilingual signs everywhere), but those can still be found, and there are plenty of leisure activities to find something fun and new for the entire length of this excursion.

Looking over Alanya

Looking over Alanya

An Average Street in Alanya

An Average Street in Alanya

Our Local Beach

Our Local Beach

The Mountains Around Alanya

The Mountains Around Alanya

Luckily, our lodging and learning accommodations are located halfway up the soaring peninsula that is the site of the castle and old Alanya, which if not much more peaceful, with barking dogs, music from cruise pirate ships, and calls to prayer, at least seems more Turkish and is removed from the commotion of the beach and main streets. The hills provide some great exercise going to and from class, the beach, or the supermarket, and when examining the sheer cliffs that surround us and the still impressive strength and scope of the fortifications, it’s no surprise that Alanya has never been invaded or attacked in strength. Our villa, while not the original site of the program, which was closed for renovation, is still a beautiful hundred-year old building with fantastic views of the harbor and town that is a perfect size for the 14 students on the program. Even though there are only a half dozen rooms (only one of which is air conditioned), most of us prefer to spend the whole day there than return to the apartments (not just because of the formidable hike back). Classes may have the same demanding standards as any other Georgetown course, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that I’m just at an extended summer camp. Luckily, our cook has done a phenomenal job thus far for the provided meals, since I doubt I’ll ever get the hang of shopping at the Turkish supermarket or cooking without some of the appliances and accessories that are essential in an American home, but not in our apartment. The apartments will take some adjustments to get accustomed to, but I really have still hit the jackpot in terms of study abroad class and living arrangements.

Our apartment building

Our apartment building

The Villa

The Villa

Interior of the Villa

Interior of the Villa

Kizil Kule-Red Tower

Kizil Kule-Red Tower

The Castle on its Peninsula

The Castle on its Peninsula

Ehmedek-Lower Castle

Ehmedek-Lower Castle

Upper Castle Walls

Upper Castle Walls

The Lower Castle and City

The Lower Castle and City

Old Byzantine Church, Alanya Castle

Old Byzantine Church, Alanya Castle

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Lastly but perhaps most importantly, this week we all met our host families. Luckily, my family speaks OK English or I would be in trouble, but spending time with them should be a great way to improve my Turkish (nothing helps solidifying knowledge of Turkish numbers as well as playing UNO in Turkish) and also to discover new parts of Alanya less frequented by tourists. While my family is fairly modern and well off, they provide a great introduction to Turkish culture, such as eating a traditional Turkish breakfast with them this morning, and despite the language barrier, it’s a lot of fun to spend time with them.

My Host Family

My Host Family

Even in Alanya, our travels haven’t stopped, with next week containing four days in Cappadocia and Konya, followed shortly after by fall break. But those will be for a later post.

The Travels Begin: Istanbul and Ankara

This blog title is still a misnomer, since having just arrived in Alanya today, I will leave a description of the town and my lodging until the next post, instead focusing on my last week and a half divided between Istanbul and Ankara. Despite misfortunes on both ends of visiting Istanbul, traveling in this city was a spectacular experience. Unfortunately, my flight into town was delayed by five hours due to problems with half of the bathrooms on my plane forcing us to return to Toronto, in my mind a terrible decision despite the relative comfort of the Toronto airport. This delay on my flight (which was already coming in later) caused me to miss our group’s tour of the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Topkapi Palace, the crown jewels of Istanbul and definitely a major disappointment. Still, an early morning run later in the week at least got me good outside views of these impressive monuments (and some weird looks from commuting natives), and Istanbul is so full of sights that each of the other days was quite enjoyable as well. A visit to the Dolmabahçe Palace and a cruise up the Bosporus to an ancient Byzantine castle reinforced the immense historical value of this center of two great empires, while seeing the sight of last year’s major protests, Taksim Square, and a visit with an NGO focusing on women’s rights was a reminder of the challenges still facing Turkey (shopping at the crowded Grand Bazaar reminded me why I hate visiting overly popular locations). Istanbul is a marvelous if contradictory city, sprawling over hundreds of square miles on two continents, with 15th century Ottoman mosques side-by-side with 20th century apartment blocks and skyscrapers still under construction, and despite its diverse heritage, arriving on Victory Day showed it has quite a lot of patriotism. While parts of Istanbul were reminiscent of other European cities or New York (including the crowds, traffic, and terrible drivers), the minarets (and their calls to prayer), veiled women, and few English speakers outside the tourist districts definitely show that despite almost a century of Westernization, Istanbul is still more Middle Eastern than European. After six days we moved onto Ankara, but that was also the time that the intestinal problems common to travel in less-developed nations started to appear. I was the unlucky first one to get sick, and on our tour of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Istanbul, I vomited all over one of the holiest sites in Orthodoxy (luckily, it was on the stone floor where it was easy to clean instead of one of the priceless relics). Most of the group also got sick in the subsequent days, though not in such a mortifying fashion, but this ailment certainly detracted from a couple days of the trip.

Inside of Fatih Mosque

Inside of Fatih Mosque

Sultan Murat Mosque?

Sultan Murat Mosque?

Taksim Square

Taksim Square

The Tortoise Trainer, Pera Museum

The Tortoise Trainer, Pera Museum

Entrance to the Grand Bazaar

Entrance to the Grand Bazaar

Inside of the Grand Bazaar

Inside of the Grand Bazaar

A Skyline of Mosques

A Skyline of Mosques

Panorama of the Sultanahmet area

Panorama of the Sultanahmet area

Tower Outside Dolmabahçe Palace

Tower Outside Dolmabahçe Palace

Side Gate, Dolmabahçe

Side Gate, Dolmabahçe

View over Bosphorus, Dolmabahçe

View over Bosphorus, Dolmabahçe

Inside of Ortakoy Mosque

Inside of Ortakoy Mosque

Eminonu Park

Eminonu Park

Obelisk in Sultanahmet

Obelisk in Sultanahmet

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

Galata Tower

Galata Tower

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace

Dolmabahçe Palace

Dolmabahçe Palace

Fortifications of European Istanbul

Fortifications of European Istanbul

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Byzantine Castle near Black Sea

Byzantine Castle near Black Sea

Mouth of the Bosphorus into the Black Sea

Mouth of the Bosphorus into the Black Sea

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Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Istanbul

Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Istanbul

Our next destination, Ankara, though it had many similarities to Istanbul (poor urban planning, the same three types of restaurants, ongoing development), had a very different atmosphere. Located in the center of the country, the natural landscape of Ankara resembles Utah or elsewhere in the Western US, with arid scrublands and dry, still heat, in comparison to the remaining verdant forests that surround Istanbul with its humidity and sea breezes. Most of Ankara is unfortunately fairly ugly, with sprawling rows of identical apartment blocks randomly punctuated with hotel towers and construction sites. While Ankara’s history dates back to pre-Roman times, it remains much fewer traces of its historical past than Istanbul, save for the impressive citadel in the center of the city. However, the tree-lined streets and small parks of Ankara were an improvement over the urban barrenness of Istanbul, a contributing factor to the latter’s Gezi Park protests. We only spent two days in Ankara, visiting the aforementioned citadel as well as Ataturk’s Mausoleum, an edifice that fittingly seems to combine the monuments of the National Mall for a man who is revered in Turkey as if he was the combination of all the Founding Fathers, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Reagan in America. His image is ubiquitous; one could even make a scavenger hunt out of trying to find his picture in every Turkish business or home. The mausoleum also includes a small but well-done museum of Ataturk’s military career and reforms (which for a military history buff like myself was very exciting), and is guarded by the elite of the Turkish military. As the capital of Turkey, Ankara also served as a fitting place to discuss Syrian refugees with representatives of the UNHCR, and Turkey’s application process to the EU with a member of the EU’s delegation in Turkey. We may not have had homework, but class topics were definitely a large part of these tours. In both cities we met Georgetown alumni for dinner, and in Ankara an evening at a bar with one of these alumni was a great time that definitely gave a fascinating perspective on Turkey’s current situation from someone who knows the country well.

Ataturk's Mausoleum

Ataturk’s Mausoleum

Ataturk's Tomb

Ataturk’s Tomb

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Ankara Castle

Ankara Castle

Looking over Ankara

Looking over Ankara

Despite flight delays, illness, and long days of travel, the beginning of my study abroad journey in Istanbul and Ankara was everything I could have hoped and more. I regret that my lack of knowledge of Turkish kept me from getting a full experience of the cities (though noticing the high number of Arabic loanwords and use of Arabic script made me hopeful that choosing to forgo learning Arabic by choosing this program over Jordan won’t mean a complete end of my Arabic studies), admittedly if I didn’t have to eat another pide, kofte, or kebab for a month I would be grateful, and by today I was looking forward to unpacking and relaxing without constant tours, but I will definitely return to both of these cities at a later date since there is so much more to see (and much more that I did and didn’t include in this post. Stay tuned for next week when I can give a picture of my new (and amazing) accommodations and experiences in Alanya, as I settle in with classes and weekly routines.