Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Intercontinental Marathon

This past weekend, eight of us BUPS teachers headed to Istanbul on the overnight train for the 30th INTERCONTINENTAL ISTANBUL EURASIA MARATHON. Two of my friends ran the marathon, three ran the 15km run, and the last three (including me) walked the 6km "fun run." All the races started on the Asian side, crossed the Bosporus Bridge and finished on the European side. Unfortunately, due to the massive rainstorm that was not in the forecast which started Saturday night and did not let up for 24 hours, the "fun runners" were unable to finish the race. Cold, wet, nearing hypothermia, these three troopers were forced after crossing the arduous Bosporus Bridge to hail a taxi to a friend's house where they recovered by watching movies, taking naps, and ordering in Chinese Food while staring out the window at the rain, thinking of their friends, Pierre and David, who were "still running."

Their friends who were able to run and generate enough body heat to finish their races did exceedingly well, and we're very proud of them.

The overnight train to Istanbul was an adventure in and of itself. My first experience sleeping in a sleeper car! The train leaves Ankara at 10:30pm Friday night and arrives Sat. morning at 8am. Normally, the trip would take between 4 and 5 hours to drive, but this overnight train makes tons of stops in order to arrive at a reasonable time in Istanbul. The train was complete with folding-down bunks and a drink car.

When we arrived in Istanbul, we took the ferry across to the European side for breakfast and to our pensyon. The early morning light was beautiful! I love the water in and around this city. It is especially refreshing compared to the lack thereof in Ankara.

On Saturday, I put a dent in figuring out the public transport system of Istanbul and found my way to the Salvador Dali exhibit at the Sakip Sabaci Museum, the largest collection of Dali artwork outside of Spain. This man really dabbled in all the media. The exhibit included a film he created for Disney which consisted of all his crazy images moving and interacting (it's called Destiny in case you want to check it out), the set he created for Hitchcock's Spellbound which was cool because my students are studying Hitchcock in our Film Studies class, and some weird black and white surrealist silent films. There were also many illustrations he did for books such as Milton's Paradise Lost, paintings which he created before ever reading the story, images he conjured up in a dream. There was also a recreation of his "theatre of figures": a room full of images/creatures from his paintings, blown up onto huge posterboard and hung around the room to create the atmosphere of one of his surrealist dreams.

Istanbul was in quite the flooded state by the time we took off on our bus at 7pm Sunday night. Reading the paper the next day, we learned the marathon and the rain paralyzed parts of the city.

We arrived back in Ankara after midnight, crashed in bed and woke up early the next morning for school. Istanbul is a fun getaway but is certainly not of the "R-and-R" type.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Long Walk Around Ankara

On Saturday, my friend Josh, and I, who is also into photography, walked all over Ankara trying to capture the many different sides of this city we live in. We wandered around the poorer, older parts, as well as the more modern, richer sections. It is a city of stark contrasts.

I especially love wandering around Ulus and Hirar, the ancient parts of the city. I love the meandering alleyways, buildings about to collapse, dirty children playing in the street, pieces of ancient Roman columns recycled as building materials. I don't know why decrepit falling apart things are so beautiful to me, but they are.

We were even fortunate enough to capture a protest followed by riot police. The policeman looking at me in the last photo was not very happy with our documenting the event. I've never been that close to riot police before, and it was exciting. We couldn't understand the Turkish that the protesters were shouting, but we're sure it was about the conflict between the political party that wants to amend Turkish law so women CAN wear headscarves in universities and the secular party that wants to uphold the founding father, Ataturk's, vision of religion-free public institutions.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Kaçkar Mountains- Entry 1

During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sun-up to sundown, and after 40 days of fasting comes the Şeker Bayram. It's the biggest Muslim holiday of the year, similar to Lent and Easter for practicing Christians. It is a time when the whole country has three days off to visit family and friends and eat şeker (sweets) after practicing sacrifice and appreciation for those who have less. This year the Bayram (religious holiday) fell in the middle of the week, so we had 7 days off school. My friends, Dave and Nadine from Australia, and I boarded a plane for the Kaçkar Mountains of northeastern Turkey. The tourist season in the mountains is very short due to the snow, and we knew that late Sept. was a gamble, but we packed up tents and sleeping bags and headed for the hills anyway.

We flew into Trabzon, a city founded on the Black Sea coast in the 8th century BC. This metropolis was juggled between the hands of Greece, the Romans, the Byzantine Empire, Russia, Georgia, and finally the modern Republic of Turkey. It also occupied the northeast branch of the Silk Route, and today still functions as a major trading port with other countries bordering the Black Sea. Eastern Turkey is more conservative than Ankara; we noticed and felt this soon after landing in Trabzon. Most women wore headscarves, the town squares and cafes were only occupied by men sipping tea (the women stayed home), there were no pubs/bars, alcohol was very expensive (a shot of whiskey cost 25 Turkish lira), and us yabancı's (foreigners) with our blond and red hair and huge backpacks were the town attraction or so it felt with all the stares. Also, unlike Ankara, most of the Turks in Trabzon were actually fasting for Ramadan, and so we could not find any place to serve us lunch. We resorted to buying bread, cheese, and fruit to eat in our rooms so as not to flaunt our food in front of the hungry fasters. Nothing can pass their lips, so they can't even drink water or smoke when the sun is up.

We stayed a couple of nights in Trabzon, checked out bazaars, went out to eat, got rained on, saw a movie in English with Turkish subtitles, drank lots of tea and ate lots of baklava, and took a minibus to the famous Sumela monastery. This Greek orthodox monastery clung to a cliff, and had several layers built on top of each other as different groups of people inhabited it starting as early as the 6th century and ending in the 1920s. I had the same feeling here as I did in Cappadocia- what a simple life it must have been to spend your days praying and painting pictures of your faith. Both places were remote; Cappadocia was encircled by a vast, sunny desert and to me called for adventure and wandering; Sumela was suspended above a tight misty valley where it often rained and to me seemed like a place where you would naturally go inward.

We quickly got "citied out" in Trabzon and so even with the weather looking grim, we were excited to board a minibus and head east along the coast to find our entry into the mountains. The mountains here jut right out of the sea and are farmland for tea and hazelnuts. Tea was introduced to this region after WWII to help this badly depressed area, and it did. This region supplies all of Turkey with tea, and maybe if the Turks didn't drink so much tea, they'd also be able to export this crop, but the Turks drink an insane amount. On our way back through this region, we stopped in the town of Rize and hiked up to a tea garden overlooking the ocean. You could buy all kinds of black tea here, and if you were so inclined you could even purchase tea cologne. I already drink way too much tea; I'd be afraid how much more I'd drink if I were to smell it on myself all the time.

On one of our hikes, we were able to see some women harvesting the tea.