Posted by: epotosky | 8th Jun, 2009

Last Day

There are little things you do to keep yourself from thinking about it. You brush your teeth, do your laundry, tidy your room and throw things away, trying to pretend that it’s your daily routine. I’ve been trying to trick myself into thinking that the gradual emptying of my room is spring cleaning. I’m doing laundry because I’ve run out of clothes and for that reason alone. Brushing my teeth is actually just hygenic and doesn’t bother me except everytime I do it I stare in the mirror and think “this is it.”
I’m done. All of my exams are finished. There is no reason for me to be in Istanbul anymore, which my plane ticket to Jordan confirms. I am no longer “Ben oğrenci” simply “ben tourist” and I do not like the reclassification. Everything I do feels like a last breath. The bus ride back from Kabataş was so painful, and though I hate that long, traffic-clogged street I found myself wishing it wasn’t the last one, and knowing that it was.
Meeting up with people is almost like pulling teeth. We were all haphazardly planted here and grew together and now were leaving as haphazardly as we came. Some I probably won’t have a chance to say goodbye to, and some I’ll probably never see again. Even if I do it won’t be the same. We’ll meet for an hour in Starbucks in some undistinguished city and talk about Istanbul and the food and places, unable to progress from the past to the present and leave, wanting real cay and to walk the rickety, narrow streets of Istanbul but settling for chai tea lattes and the broad, ordered streets of the average American city.
Studying abroad is like a roller coaster, Chris Musick told us at our orientation, with lots of ups and downs. You start incredibly excited but nervous and then the culture shock sets in and down you plummet. Throughout the entire year you build back up, gradually until you peak at the end, happy with your surroundings and with the prospect of going home. Once you go home you experience reverse culture shock and plummet back down. Wow, I remember thinking, that sounds absolutely awful. Why would anyone want to do that?
I applied for the Cultural Envoy Scholarship late at night as a whim – not because I didn’t take it seriously but because I didn’t think I would get it. I got it. Then I knew it was for real – I was stuck and had to study abroad. Dr. Yook talked about culture shock, Chris Musick did too, everyone I talked to that had studied or lived abroad mentioned how lonely, isolating, and utterly heart-breaking it was. Then they all went on to say it was amazing and I would have the time of my life. Needless to say I was terrified.
Now I know exactly what they mean – they weren’t exaggerating at all. It’s painful, so much more than I’d originally expected. It’s so hard to be taken out of one’s original environment and placed somewhere new, and once you get not only used to your surroundings but grow to love them, to get transplanted again. I hadn’t realized how much I had adapted until Leah came to visit. I had forgotten that stray dogs generally are not a good thing, gotten used to the stares, and people generally don’t sell spirographs on the streets in the United States. I have to make sure to eat breakfast in the mornings because there will be no more simit vendors on the way to class hawking their wares “buyrun, buyrun, buyrun!” Tea will cost money but water will be free.
I end the semester the same way I started it. I’m sitting on my bed in my half-packed room. Most of my clothes are dirty. I have no food whatsoever and I’m writing this by hand in my diary because I have, yet again, blown the fuse in my power adaptor. But I have friends, I can hold a conversation in Turkish, I love and know my way around this absolutely amazing city and tomorrow I will be in Jordan. My journey continues.

Posted by: epotosky | 29th May, 2009

Computer Problems

I won’t get into it now but I’m having computer problems that are making me unable to access my computer. I will continue blogging about my adventures when I get home around June 25th. I still have a lot to tell :).

Posted by: epotosky | 18th May, 2009

The horror, the horror.

I’m interrupting my spring break blog entries to bring you some terrible news.

My friends, I know I haven’t been the best at blogging.  I know I’ve kept you in the dark for days on end, and I have glided over some things you’ve been wanting to know.  This ends here.  Just because I’m upset about this, doesn’t mean I have the right to keep you in the dark, to try to protect you.  I’ve gone through the phases of grief: denial lasted awhile, as did anger; I bargained as well, “I promise I won’t blog about it if you make this go away soon.”  Now, finally, I feel I can accept this – I know the mullet is here to stay.

No no no, not the traditional mullet of the 80s that we all know and, well not exactly love but reminisce about fondly.

This is the eurotrash mullet.  An example of this would be Gunther, a former model and now a Swedish musician.

The traditional mullet was at least “business in the front,” the new eurotrash mullet is “party all the time,” especially the Turkish mullet.  The Turkish mullet tends to be more complicated than its eurotrash variant.  Imagine, if you are able to without being psychologically disturbed, a man with not only a mullet, but multiple rat tails sticking out at various angles throughout his head.  Also, all of his hair is gelled.  I wish I had a picture for you, but apparently people are just as revulsed as I am and google image search is pulling nothing up for “turkish rat tail mullet.”

Please, Turkey, I am begging you, get rid of the copious amounts of hair gel and stop overcompensating with your hair.

Posted by: epotosky | 15th May, 2009

Day 2: Transit (4/24)

We were originally supposed to go straight to Urfa but the only direct bus was at 6 am so we decided to take a bus to Diyarbakir and from there go to Urfa, thinking that Diyarbakir wasn’t that far away so we could spend most of the day there and then arrive in Urfa by nightfall.  We were wrong.  Before going to the bus we ate Maraş Dondurma, which is a special kind of ice cream that’s made with milk, sugar, and (apparently) powder from the tubers of wild orchids.  It’s served with a fork and knife generally, and mixed in a certain way to give it a very different taste and texture.  The shop owner had just opened so the ice cream wasn’t properly mixed but he let us try it and we mixed it ourselves and it was delicious.

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We then took a dolmuş to Diyarbakir and it took about four hours.  Sonya and I sat together and an old man kept trying to speak to us in Turkish but I could only understand very little.  This happened throughout the rest of Spring Break and it’s made me realize how abysmal my Turkish is.  I mean, I’ve gotten better, but it’s still pretty bad.

We arrived in Diyarbakir and realized that we had no time and if we got on a bus directly to Urfa we’d still arrive pretty late and we did not want to stay overnight in Diyarbakir.  When we arrived at the otogar we were mobbed by little children asking us for money.

We got on another bus immediately and took it for four or so hours into Urfa.  Elif and Ross made friends with a man named Mustafa, who ended up being the owner of the bus company, so he took us into the center as opposed to the otogar and took us out to eat.  Urfa is known for its lahmacun and kebabs so we went to a kebab place.  We got a giant plate with chicken, beef, tomato, hot pepper, eggplant and wrapped it all up in bread.  It was the best and most delicious kebab I have ever eaten.

Posted by: epotosky | 11th May, 2009

Day 1: Malatya, (4/23)

We took a taxi to the airport at 4:30 am because our flight left from Ataturk airport at 6:50.  Sonya had problems with her plane ticket but we resolved the problems with plenty of time to spare and arrived in Malatya at 8:30 am.  Malatya is a big city but seems small, because they are heavily based in agriculture.  Its airport is outside the city limits (we had to take a Havaş bus to get to the city center) and there are only two flights per day from Istanbul.  Upon arriving to the city we went to the tourist office and befriended Kemal.

“Kemal from Malatya” is apparently well-known (he’s listed in both Lonely Planet and Let’s Go Turkey!) and he’s very distinctive looking.  He has a long, reddish-brown combover and apparently when he helped out a fellow tourist she asked what his address was to send him something as a thank you and he said as a joke “Kemal, Malatya;” one month later he received a letter, on which was enscribed “Kemal, Malatya” and a drawing of him.

The whole reason we wanted to go to Malatya was as a base for seeing Mount Nemrut (Nemrut Dağı), otherwise known as “that mountain with the giant stone heads.”  We could base ourselves out of Malatya or Adiyaman but Malatya had an airport.  Other than Nemrut there’s not all that much to see in Malatya so we left our stuff at the tourist office and headed to the apricot bazaar and the copper bazaar.  We didn’t buy anything in the copper bazaar but it was cool to walk around and look at metal-working done traditionally, i.e. bludgeoning sheets with hammers.

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The one thing that Malatya is really known for is its apricots and their dried apricots, the latter they call “miş miş.”  The reasoning for this is one of Turkey’s past tense endings (the one talked used when I talk about something that happened that I myself did not witness – Turkish grammar can get a bit complicated) was always used when describing the things that happened to these dried apricots so they became known as “miş miş.”

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(Obama approves).

We walked through the bazaar and went to two different shops.  In the first I was given a few free samples and in the second we were literally fed everything in the store.  We tried two different kinds of dried apricots, sundried grapes, nuts, dried mulberries (I bought some of these, they’re so good), mulberry syrup (good for coughs, like a delicious cod-liver oil), apricot nutella (“apricella!”), apricot lokum (turkish delight), apricot lotion, soap, and the list goes on and on.

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Really, really full and loving Malatya we made our way back to Kemal who had a car waiting for us to take us to Nemrut.

I never got our driver’s name but Kemal called him “Rambo” because his name apparently was similar.  It was a three hour drive up to Nemrut which we punctuated with a stop for lunch and other rest stops.  The landscape was incredibly mountainous.  The road wound right, pin curves around the mountains and through valleys going ever higher.  It took three hours just because of the incredible topography.

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We arrived at the foot of the mountain and could go no further because the path was covered in snow and was incredibly muddy so our driver waited in the car and we rolled up our pants legs to our knees and hike dup on foot.

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Just like the roads the path wound in and out so the two kilometers to the summit took a good half-hour to walk but you could see for miles and there were no buildings except for the small Güneş Hotel.
Some history about Mount Nemrut: It was found by Karl Humann and Otto Puchstein in 1890 and Friedrich-Karl Dorner between 1939 and 1963 and was a monument built by the Commagene rulers. The Commagene empire was independent for a very short period of time, being swallowed by the Romans around 72 AD. Antiochus I, one of the kings, proud of his treatises with Rome set up a monument to himself seating himself with the gods. These gods include Apollo, Zeus, and Hercules, and Antiochus’ head is the one with the pointy-hat. The big mound behind the beheaded bodies is his burial mound, which people are not allowed to climb up.

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When we finally got to the top we took lots of pictures and hiked to the other (the Adiyaman/Kahta) side and waited for sunset.
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The sun didn’t set.  We waited for two hours and it hardly moved, just hanging in the sky taunting us while it grew colder.  Elif and I decided to leave because when the sun finally did get low enough to create a sunset it was really cloudy and we couldn’t see and at this point it was really windy and crowded with other tourists.  Ross and Sonya followed us shortly afterwards and we then drove back to Malatya (another three hours) and fell asleep, exhausted.

Posted by: epotosky | 11th May, 2009

Spring Break Overview

For spring break I decided to go to Eastern Turkey… I was torn between going with two of my friends to Romania and Bulgaria or going to Eastern Turkey but I decided that those countries were far more accessible later in life than Eastern Turkey, and I wanted to learn as much as I could about the country that I’m currently staying in.  I traveled with Elif, a Turkish girl that I hadn’t yet met, and Ross and Sonya, two American exchange students.  We had made a rough itinerary consisting of Malatya/Adiyaman (Nemrut Dagi), Sanliurfa, Mardin, Diyarbakir, Van, Dogubayazit, Kars/Ani, and Trabzon.  We booked flights to Malatya and from Trabzon back to Istanbul, but other than that we did not plan out any hostels or transportation… We took buses and dolmuses (small, local buses) the entire way and though we didn’t do everything in the order we originally thought we would, we ended up seeing most of what we wanted to.

This trip has made me feel that Istanbul is not even Turkish, it’s something else… a strange conglomerate of Turkey, Turkish stereotypes, and Western attitudes.  This is the first time I’ve left Istanbul and gone somewhere that was not touristy… and after spending time in the East I’m noticing major differences.  The landscape is so varied – there are hills, plains, flatlands, and huge mountains.  I saw the Tigris, it’s been unbearably hot, and I’ve been on mountains where there were snow banks that were five-feet tall.  I met Kurds, Turks, Iraqis, Iranians, Muslims, Christians, and Allevis.  For the first time since I’ve been here I did not travel to see sights.  I talked to people, rode on public transportation, ate food, and I feel like I actually experienced Turkey in a way that I never have in Istanbul.  Turkey is so big and so diverse, and I feel that I made the right choice in choosing this for spring break.

Posted by: epotosky | 20th Apr, 2009


It’s spring in Istanbul and absolutely MARVELOUS!  Istanbul has gorgeous flowers but they’re especially known for their tulips.  Every year there’s one week where all the tulips are in bloom and this is called the Istanbul Tulip Festival.  I accidentally went to part of it in Uskudar last week and on Saturday I went to Emirgan Park, where the biggest tulip celebration is.  I went with Grace, Katie C, Brooks and Tyler and we had a marvelous time.
No real substance to this blog entry, just gratuitous amounts of tulips.

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They had the PRETTIEST yellow flowers. It made me quite happy.

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They also planted tulips in designs like here it’s a nazarlik (a charm that wards off the evil eye) and following are pansies in the shape of people holding hands [insert joke about pacifists being pansies].
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Everything was tulip-themed! They even had tulip gates, and tulip fountains.
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And they even decorated large tulip-statues!
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some glamourous
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some beautiful
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some just plain creepy

So we spent a nice, warm day lounging and enjoying the sun and the flowers. What a beautiful start to spring.
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Posted by: epotosky | 16th Apr, 2009

Further Adventures in Istanbul

Further Adventures in Istanbul

On Thursday April 2nd Caroline (one of the American exchange students) and I went to the Basilica Cistern.  The Basilica Cistern is located in Istanbul near Sultanahmet.  It is an underground chamber of 143 metres (470 ft) by 65 metres (210 ft), capable of holding 80,000 cubic metres (2,800,000 cu ft) of water, and covering an area of 9,800 square metres (105,000 sq ft). It is supported by 336 marble columns each 9 metres (30 ft) high. The columns are arranged in 12 rows each consisting of 28 columns, spaced 4.9 metres (16 ft) apart.

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The capitals of the columns are mainly Ionic and Corinthian styles, with the exception of a few Doric style with no engravings.

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The cistern is surrounded by a firebrick wall with a thickness of 4 metres (13 ft) and coated with a special mortar for waterproofing. The cistern’s water was provided from the Belgrade Woods-which lie 19 kilometres (12 mi) north of the city-via aqueducts built by the Emperor Justinian.

There are two columns with Medusa heads on them, one upside down and one sideways.  They are located in the northwest corner of the cistern. The origin and reasoning of these heads is unknown, though it is thought that the heads were brought to the cistern after being removed from an antique building of the late Roman period.

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It was nice and cool down underground, and apparently people hold concerts in the Cistern.  The acoustics must be absolutely amazing. There were a lot of fish swimming around in the water and we noticed a lot of lira coins and kurus (cents) in the water, so Caroline and I made wishes and tossed a lira in. Not telling you what I wished for :).
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On Saturday April 11th Caroline and I went to Üsküdar, which is an area of Istanbul that’s on the Asian side of the Bosporous.  It’s very easy to get there – you take a bus to Besiktaş and then take the ferry over. 

First we decided to trek up to Büyük Çamlıca, which is the highest hill in all of Istanbul.  Constantinople was called “The Second Rome” because it was also based on seven hills. 

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Istanbul is famous for their tulips, and currently the Tulip Festival is going on from April 12th through the 19th.  Everywhere in Istanbul, including on this hill, gorgeous flowers are blooming.

Uskudar 002 (I actually bought a tulip! It’s sitting in a pot in my room right now).

We got really good views of Istanbul from the top, and we ate lunch and enjoyed the scenery.

We then went to two mosques, the first of which was the the Çinili Cami or “Tiled Mosque” which is a very small mosque but it contains beautiful Iznik tiles. 

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It was built in 1640.  All of the famous Ottoman tiles were made in Iznik, and in the words of Evliya Celebi, a 17th century Ottoman traveller “All the decorated wall tiles in the land of the Ottomans are made in the city of Iznik. Words are incapable of describing the tiles ornamented like chameleons which are produced.”  Traditionally Iznik tiles are blue and white but from the 1530s onwards turquoise was added. Then after the 1540s they started to add mauve and purple followed by green and coral red (which was incredibly rare and hard to make, so there isn’t any in this mosque).

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The second mosque we went to the Atik Valide Camii which was one of the mosques designed by Sinan, commonly thought of to be second only to Süleymaniye. 

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It’s one of the most important Ottoman mosque complexes in the country.  It was built in 1583 for Valide Sultan Nurbanu, who was the wife of Selim II and mother of Murat III.  When she was 12 years old she was captured by Turks on the the island of Paros, and made into a slave in Topkapı.  Murat III’s dedicated it to his mother, and placed on Üsküdar’s highest hill.  She was Selim II’s favorite concubine and became very powerful in Ottoman political life.  She started the Kandınlar Sultanatı (Rule of the Women) where powerful women influenced the decisions made by their sultan husbands and sons.

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Uskudar 032 (beautiful designs on the ceiling of the courtyard. I couldn’t take pictures inside the mosque but it was beautiful).

Last, on our way back to the ferry, we ran into a huge bazaar.  This Saturday market put our market in Etiler to shame.  They were selling food, clothing, basic supplies, anything you could possibly think of.  I ended up buying a small rug for my room, sweatpants and bobbypins.

Posted by: epotosky | 16th Apr, 2009

The Classroom

I’ve had  a lot of people ask me how the school system here compares to the one at home, and I realize that I haven’t really addressed that, which is suprising seeing as I’m supposed to be here to learn.  In all honesty, to me at least, the teaching style here is not all that different from in the states.  This probably has a lot to do with my major (philosophy) and the fact that out of my four teachers only two of them are Turkish.  Voss, my advisor and also my teacher for Ontology (the study of being) is American, my other philosophy teacher is Greek.  I am only taking four classes, which equates to 13 credit hours, and due to the odd scheduling system I only have class on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.  The clases I’m taking are Ontology, History of Philosophy II (which is supposed to be medieval but seems to be mostly Aristotle), Hittite History and Archaeology, and Turkish for Foreigners.

All of my classes are taught in English, and I haven’t run into some of the problems the other exchange students have.  Apparently some teachers prefer to teach in Turkish, so if the class is low on exchange students that can be a bit of a problem.  Not necessarially because they will teach in Turkish but because the students will ask questions and the professors will respond all in Turkish and the discussion doesn’t get translated.  One of my Turkish teachers teaches Turkish for Foreigners so I obviously don’t have that problem, and the other is of the opinion that if you cannot understand her English that you don’t deserve to go to this university.

Teachers here are incredibly nice, and the students are ridiculously smart, especially the philosophy students.  BU is by most standards considered to be the top school in the country, so it’s basically Turkish Ivy League.

The biggest change to get used to is the scheduling.  The normal three credit class is generally taught twice a week, once for one hour and once for two.  However it seems like teachers can schedule classes however they like, as I have my Hittite class for three hours on Wednesday mornings.  Classes are generally lecture with some discussion, which is the same for me at home.  I’m used to the seminar style with my philosophy classes, smaller class sizes and a little more discussion, but it’s not all that noticable.

One thing that I’ve noticed is I have a lot less homework.  History is very regimented and tells me exactly what to tead when, but philosophy tells me to pick up a packet (I think I’ve explained the photocopies before) and I read through it at my own pace while the teacher lectures.

Posted by: epotosky | 9th Apr, 2009


Cappadocia blog post!  I know, I thought it would never come… turns out I just have to not want to do homework badly enough (totally joking mom and dad please don’t send me an email I’m doing fine with my grades thank-you-love-you-bye).  Instead of planning it myself I went on this trip planned and organized by a former Bogazici student named Mert and about 40 other students from both Bogazici and Coç, another university in Istanbul.  We left on Thursday, March 12, and took a 10 hour overnight bus to Cappadocia.  I actually had no problem sleeping most of the bus ride, and we arrived at our hotel at about 7 in the morning on Friday the 13th.  We dropped off our bags and headed out to Uçhisar Valley, (Pigeon Valley).

Before I go into specific places let’s talk about the history of Cappadocia.  Cappadocia is an area in Turkey in Central Anatolia.  It has many geological wonders, such as the fairy chimneys which are a result of the volcanic eruptions that occurred in Erciyes, Hasandag and Gulludag, which created a large plateau from the volcanic tufas and was then eroded by wind and the Kizilirmak river.  The Hittites, Frigs, Byzantines, Ottoman civilizations have settled in this region. In the 2nd century BC the first Christians escaped from the persecution of the Roman Empire settled in underground cities and built rock churches.

We ran around Uçhisar Valley for about 45 minutes, marveling at all of the houses. 

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Little did we know that this would be the least impressive thing we would see during our whole trip.  Afterwards we made our way to the Uçhisar fortress.  It is 60 meters (200 ft) high, making it the highest point in Cappadocia, and carved out of a natural hill.  Did we climb it?  Oh yes we did.  It had an amazing view of all of Cappadocia from the top.  Katie and I on our way down went off the path and explored other parts of the fortress.  There are hundreds of little rooms just jutting off of the mountain.

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We then had lunch, and went to another valley (I don’t actually remember the name) to climb into more rock houses and explore more fairy chimneys.  In Turkey they treat their history much more differently than we do.  In America we take our artifacts and ruins very seriously and we’re practically paranoid about our history being destroyed.  We have something from the Civil War Era and we’re very careful with it, and when we have something from the 1700s we put it behind glass and act like it is made of glass and lace.  I think it has something to do with the fact that we’re such a new nation, and this small 300 year sliver is all we have.  At places like the Grand Canyon there are guard rails and you’re not allowed to go anywhere even slightly dangerous.  Here there were no guards, we were touching history with our hands and clambering around, giving each other boosts up and climbing up the rock face without any proper equipment.  Yes we did some dangerous things.  I ended up falling down a rather steep hill at one point, and I probably could have fallen out of a house, but no one got hurt.  It was a lot of fun, because everything felt like you were discovering it for the first time.  There were no paths, no guided tours, and no plaques.  If you saw a hole that you could reach, you climbed in through the hole.  If you were small enough to go through certain nooks and crannies then you did so.  Goodness did we get some miraculous views.

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Oh by the way I rode a camel.  It was smelly.

That night we went to a “traditional Turkish night” arraigned by Mert. We went into this large restaurant and were given sliced fruit and nuts and wine, Efes (the national beer of Turkey), and rakı, the traditional anise-flavored (i.e. it tastes like liquorices) drink of Turkey.  Our entertainment was a dance troupe doing several traditional folk dances, and then a belly-dancer. 


Then it got weird.  We were all pulled up into a conga line and danced out of the restaurant and they had started up a bonfire and we congaed around it.  The entire time I was exchanging incredulous looks with the other exchange students going “and this is where they steal our money”.  Nothing of the sort happened obviously, but it was still very strange.

The morning after we woke up to snow(!) and went to Derinkuyu Yeraltı Şehri, which is one of the many underground cities found in Cappadocia.  It once housed up to 20,000 people.  When the Christians fled from Rome they settled in cities similar to this one to avoid persecution, and also hide out in these cities during the Crusades.  Massive circular doors were rolled across the passages to seal the occupants safely inside. Many of the rooms had already been roughly hollowed out by natural geology and the people before them (I think the Hittites) but the Christians expanded on these cities, making them much more elaborate, implanting ventilation systems, stables to keep their horses in, and bridges.  This is just one of many, and the area that we saw was only a small portion of the actual underground city.  There are 8 floors of tunnels open to the visitor.

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Afterwards we went to a local pottery exhibition.  Cappadocia is known for its pottery, and we had a man show us how to make it.

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We then went climbing up to Chavuşin, which has old rock homes and churches are carved into a very high cliff.  I didn’t actually go into any of the houses or churches this time around because I was busy scurrying to the top.  I was one of the first people up there and the view was spectacular.

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After this we went to a winery for a brief tour and wine tasting.  Apparently Cappadocia makes really good wine as well as pottery.  I enjoyed my samples, especially the white surprisingly enough.  After this some students went out to do some nargile (hookah) but I stayed in and Grace, Katie C., Alex, two students from Coç and I played card games then called it an early night.

Then it was Sunday, our last day in Cappadocia.  We checked out of our hotel and on our way back to Istanbul stopped by the Ihlara River Valley.  The entire River Valley is filled with old rock churches.  It was the first place the Christians settled when escaping from the Roman soldiers.  This valley had over 20 rock churches in it though because they were all pretty far away and we had time restraints I only got to see 4.  They had absolutely beautiful frescoes inside of them.

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Then it was back on the bus and a 10 hour ride back to Istanbul.  All in all totally worth the 20 hours of transport, I just wish I had more time to see it all.

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