Innovation on Earth

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Archive for the category “Turkey”

Istanbul Smiles

Istanbul is growing on me.  I’m getting to know my way around one area, Sultanahmet (the old city). While Ukrainians aren’t quick to smile at strangers, Turkish people are big smilers!  In fact, they seem insulted if I don’t chat with them as I pass on the street.  They all want to know where I am from and how I like their city.  I had been warned by fellow travelers that Istanbul is crowded and salesmen are pushy.  It’s true that they try to sell their products, and get you to by a carpet or whatever else.  However, today I wandered through the grand bazaar market without any problems. It was really fun haggling for lower prices and chatting with all the shopkeepers, and much more calm than I expected.  It can be hard to negotiate prices, since we don’t do that in America, but it is an interesting part of the Turkish culture. My favorite purchase of the day (which I’m sure I paid too much for) was fresh squeezed pomegranate juice.  Delicious!

I did a lot more than shopping today.  In the morning, I visited the Blue Mosque, which dates back to the early 17th century, and the Basilica Cistern, which is an early water system from the 6th century. In the evening, I went to a Turkish cooking class!  I learned a bunch of new recipes, and look forward to trying them out when I get home.   I hope to do a blog entry on Turkish food soon too.

Turkey is a country with a lot of ancient history, but it’s also very modern.  This makes it really fun to explore — sometimes I turn the corner and see something totally unfamiliar, and sometimes I run into an American chain store.  People are very open to diversity here, as the locals come with a variety of religious backgrounds, skin colors, and styles. I look forward to my first Turkish school visit tomorrow!

Note: I’m having some technical difficulties with the blog and it’s taking me a very long time to upload movies and photos. I have a lot more of them to share, but I’m not able to get them posted.  I will try to resolve the problem so that I can add more soon.

Living in a Cave

Caves of the Ilhara Valley in Cappadocia (notice the little spots for pigeon nesting, which people used to encourage near their houses)

As you can imagine, a cave is not the best living environment.  It’s cold, cramped, and the walls are hard and rough.  However, thousands of years ago, people in the Cappadocia Region in Central Turkey perfected this lifestyle.  They didn’t live in caves all the time. They built monasteries and churches in which to worship, as well as dwellings that have lasted for thousands of years. In my visits, I could see doors, pillars, and air shafts in the caves.  I also saw places to tie up animals, blackened ceilings above cooking areas, coffin-like trenches for the deceased, and religious paintings (frescos) on the walls. The people who built these, by hand, must have been very smart!

Since I arrived in Turkey, I’ve also been trying out cave life.  In Goreme (Cappadocia), my hotel was built into the rock, amongst the real ancient caves.  This is common for the hotels in that town, and I loved it!  My only complaint was that it was a little dark since there was only one small window.  Overall, it felt very peaceful and it was fun to fit into the natural world around me.  Many of you requested a video tour, so here it is. It was pretty unusual:

Busy Istanbul, as viewed from the Bosphorus River ferry

I’ve also been living in a cave-like room in Istanbul, although I don’t think these hotel managers had that intent in this case.  Istanbul is just more expensive to travel in.  So, for about the same price that I paid in Cappadocia, I have a room that is so small that I can barely walk around the bed. In addition to the small size of the room, my bathroom has that musty smell that unfortunately is coming from shower mold this time and not from natural rock.  It’s not ideal, but it’s otherwise clean and in a great, centrally located spot.  You don’t need a video tour of the hotel though — it’s not so exciting.

I also felt a bit like I was living in a cave today because it was my first real lonely day since I left the United States.  I’ve been lucky to have met so many warm new friends in Ukraine and Turkey.  Today, I spent most of the day by myself.  In the morning, I tried to meet up with a Turkish woman who was actually my sister’s middle school penpal.  Unfortunately, due to the Labor Day holiday here (May Day), there were many political demonstrations and roads were closed. I spent close to two hours trying to take public transportation to meet her, but eventually gave up. The journey was challenging but interesting.  I had one bus driver spend a long time trying to help me figure out where to go, even though he spoke no English. He drove me to the spot to get the right bus and wouldn’t let me pay him.  I also had a second bus driver who literally got out of the bus and had a fist fight with another bus driver (a bunch of passengers on my bus got out and broke up the fight — they were responsible bystanders!).

An old Turkish man on Prince’s Island gave me these flowers, even though he couldn't answer my question about directions due to the language barrier.

In the end, some people here are very kind and some are not, like anywhere you go. I mostly did my own thing, wandering the city and taking a public ferry to a place called Prince’s Island. It was nice to explore on my own, but I am starting to look forward to coming home to the familiar places that I know and love.

It’s likely that the early people who lived in the Cappadocia caves were squished inside in large groups. While sometimes our classroom space can feel squished like that, I imagine that it would be easier to live in a cave if you had good company. I do wish you all could join me over here! Tomorrow, I will try to visit some of the big tourist sites in Istanbul, like the ones listed here.  Since you can’t fly over yourself, let me know what sites YOU think I should visit!

Top Ten Cappadocia

Cappadocia is a place that I definitely want to visit again someday.  I met a Belgian couple today who have been coming back over and over for the past 13 years — so many times they’ve lost count. They took me on a hike this afternoon that I never could have found on my own.  I see why they find it so special. Here are my top ten highlights from my visit:

10. Seeing Mount Erciyes before I even got off the plane, but then getting to get much closer

9. Going underground to see how people used to live when they felt danger close by.


8. Coming up from underground to see a double rainbow in the rain and sun mix

7. Waking up early this morning to see the hot air balloons over Goreme

6. Meeting people from all over the world who have come to see the rock formations and mountains

5. Seeing interesting plants and animals, smelling walnut leaves and tasting green buds of apricot

4. Battling the heat by trying new kinds of ice cream treats

3. Getting off the beaten track and squeezing through small tunnels between cliffs and caves going straight through

2. Meeting a local family and making them balloons

1. Experiencing the amazing variety of colors and shapes in Cappadocia

I’m working on a few videos of my time in Cappadocia, but they may take me a little while to finish.  I couldn’t stop using my camera, and now I have too much footage to look through.  I also made a video of the hotel, upon request of some of the people who commented. I’ll get those up as soon as I can, but I also want to focus on enjoying the rest of my time in Turkey.  I’m now in Istanbul, where tall buildings replace mountains. It should be pretty different.

Scrub-a-Dub Hamam

A visit to a Hamam is an essential part of any trip to Turkey, because it is central to the Turkish culture. Many friends who had been to Turkey told me that I absolutely had to try it out. A Hamam is also called a Turkish Bath, and they’ve been popular in Turkey for thousands of years, literally.  People didn’t used to have bathrooms in their homes, so they’d go out to a central location for bathing.  Roman baths were also popular back in the day, but the way it’s set up in Turkey today comes from the time of the Ottoman Empire.  Hamams generally have three rooms: the hot room (sauna), the warm room (steamy room with hot marble to lie on and old people who scrub you with suds), and the cool room (for relaxing with a cup of tea).

I had a long day exploring Cappadocia under the hot sun, so I spent the evening relaxing at a Hamam. The man at the front desk helped me to explain to you about this special Turkish tradition:

I wish I could share my photos and videos from my day exploring the mountains, rocks, and caves of Cappadocia, but the internet is very slow here and I need to go to sleep.  There are many tourists in the area now, and I did an organized tour called the green tour.  I met people from all over the world.  For example, I had breakfast with a Brazilian guy, lunch with a Bosnian guy, and dinner with a Japanese woman.  The sights were gorgeous, even though I felt a little like a fish swimming in a sea of hundreds of other tourists.  We walked on the tippy tops of cliffs, looking down at the scenery. We climbed up rocks and explored caves in the sky. We drove zigzags around mountains. We went underground and ducked through tunnels that were built at least 1,000 years ago. We sweated through the heat, the sun blaring down on us. We walked along a canyon as the rain began to fall (and even caught a glimpse of a rainbow). Stay tuned for more visuals tomorrow.

Also, some exciting NEWS: I was interviewed by a really fabulous website,  Check out my interview here!

Magical Lands of Turkey

Stunning mountain seen out the plane window on the approach to Kayseri, Turkey

The comedian Louis C.K. has a funny sketch in which he talks about how “everything is amazing and nobody is happy.” He uses airplanes as an example.  He talks about how people complain about delays and silly issues like leg room, but they don’t take the time to stop and realize how incredible it is to sit in a chair in the sky and fly like a bird. We often don’t think about how in a few hours we can now cross continents that used to take people years to get through.

View from the deck outside my hotel room

Today, as I flew through the air from Kyiv to Istanbul, and then Istanbul to Kayseri, I was truly amazed by the miracle of flight.  In between, I will admit that I had some other feelings: exhausted carrying my heavy backpack, confused by the process of getting a Turkish visa for my passport, and a little annoyed when my second flight didn’t have a movie. Despite these grumblings, it was all worth it.  Looking out the plane window, I was in awe at the landscape of Turkey.  I saw farmland, oceans, islands, rivers, mountains of every shape and size, valleys, and more. Then, after an hour of additional driving, I arrived in Goreme, in the center of the Cappadocia region.  The landscape is breathtaking.  See for yourself:

Students: I’ve been realizing how much I’m using other kinds of learning to get by on this trip.  See if you can help me solve some of these mysteries using skills from your various classes:

1. Math: In the taxi from my hotel in Kyiv to the airport, my taxi driver got up to 130 kilometers per hour. And there were no seat belts in the back! How fast is this in miles per hour?

2. Science: If you were to create a topographic map of the Cappadocia region, what interval would you use for the contour lines?  What’s the highest elevation is in the area? Are my sneakers enough for hiking around here? I didn’t bring boots.

3. English Language Arts: I have to write a letter to a principal in Istanbul to try to convince them to let me visit their school this coming week. What should I use for my hook and/or topic sentence?

4. Math: It will cost about 35 Turkish Lira to do a load of laundry.  Is that worth it? Or should I wear dirty clothes this week?

5. Language: Help me figure out some basics.  How do I say “thank you” “good morning” and “excuse me” in Turkish?

6. Social Studies: I know that most people in Turkey are Muslim. Will I offend people if I wear short sleeves? What about a tank top?

7. Science: I’ve caught a glimpse of the bizarre rock formations in Goreme National Park. How did they form?

Can any students out there help me with these? I don’t have time to do all this research on my own and your skills would be much appreciated.

Ukraine… and Turkey!

I found out in December that Teachers for Global Classrooms is sending me to Ukraine in April.  I am also able to take an extra week and visit Istanbul, Turkey. I am thrilled!  This week, my ticket got booked. It’s official!  I will be visiting schools, learning about new cultures, and reporting back for friends, family, and students to learn through my experiences.

Here’s where I’ll be going in April and May.  First, I’ll be in Ukraine for two weeks, and then I’ll spend a week in Turkey.

Want to learn about other places I’ve traveled?  Click here!

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