Monday, December 17, 2012

Elegy in a Connecticut Corridor

Preface: It's been a while since I've blogged or written anything for that matter, but this weekend, like so many people, I was consumed by the horrors in the school corridors of Sandy Hook Elementary and this piece wrote itself.

Elegy in a Connecticut Corridor
December 15, 2012
 Jake Miller

                Thomas Gray walked a nearby English cemetery following the loss of a good friend, trying to make sense of the seamlessly toppling world about him. Gray’s life had been wanton with woe in 1742, as most of his family and friends had been taken from him, and he lived a rather unsuccessful, underwhelming life as a failed poet. Yet after walking these hallowed grounds, he looked around to reflect on the average men and women buried there. He composed his poem “Elegy Written in a Country Courtyard” pondering that, in another life, those buried there could have been the next leaders, celebrities, and heroes. Gray closes his elegy by thanking God for taking everyone there into His arms.
                The problem with Friday’s tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut, is that the majority of the individuals slain there were very different from those buried in Gray’s courtyard. Tragically, 20 of the 28 victims were elementary students. Instead a long-life lived to reflect, we are now put in the uncomfortable circumstance to ponder who they could have been. President Obama stated that “they had their entire lives ahead of them: birthdays, graduations, weddings… kids of their own.”
As of Saturday morning, with the investigation still pending, the names of these young men and women are still unknown to the public. However, according to Twitter posts from the media on the ground in Newtown, the children’s were identified through a “process of elimination,” etching the horrendousness of this shooting into the social fabric of our nation. Most are believed to be in Kindergarten and first grade.
Some of the victims that are known, however, are a few of the adults. School psychologist Mary Sherlach, 56, was retiring at the end of the school year. She was described by members of the community as someone “who loved her job” and was “excellent” at it.
Teacher Vicki Soto, 27, was a Sandy Hook teacher “who absolutely loved her job,” her cousin stated. She was frantically trying to usher her students into a closet and, in doing so, put herself between the gunman and her students.
Principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, 47, was in her third year as the principal. She was described as a “hero” to the school and someone who cared about every student there, said many parents. She put the school in lockdown mode via an announcement and then decided to enter the hallways and save any stray students—a decision that cost her life.
The shooter, Adam Lanza, and his mother, a substitute at the school, are added to the list of lives lost. Like the 20 young children, the identities of the other 3 adults remain undisclosed.
Like a mysterious, shattered tombstone in Gray’s courtyard, we sit bewildered, befuddled, and beside ourselves as to what could have been and, for many of these young children and the heroes who tried to save them, what never was.
As a teacher, I often think to who could have saved these children from Lanza. There are many people disturbed young individuals who may follow his path. This thought promulgates a need to discuss mental illness in America, because it is sure to factor in why and how such sinister and vitriolic acts of violence occur. Treatment and understanding alone may only prevent future atrocities such as the one we’re mourning in western Connecticut; for the sake of our national elegy, we need to secure the resources to help prevent disturbed people from transforming into malicious murderers and keep children entering schools, not interring in graves.
Lastly, we as a nation need to find a way to help those grieving. The loss of life for every parent is insurmountable and irreplaceable. Thinking about it makes any parents’ stomachs churn and tough to swallow the deep despair. Our nation must help those heal the wounds. There are bound to be many, and they’ll be most exposed when anyone walks that cemetery not far from Sandy Hook Elementary School. Long be the days for those that read the names on the tombstones, seeing how short a chance they had at this world to become the next leaders, celebrities, and heroes – before taken into God’s arms.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Independence Day - Back in USA

Day -1
July 4th
Weather - 81 degrees, mostly cloudy
Plans - R & R

Well, I'm now back in the good ol' US-of-A, and it feels good. No plans today besides unpacking, laundry, posting photos, and enjoying the holiday.

In case you'd like to view my photos, I have about 500 of them total from the trip. You can check them out here, on Picasa -

Back to celebrating! Happy 235th birthday, America!

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Day 14 - Travels to the States

Day 14
July 3rd
Weather - varying across 7 different time zones
Plans - A full 24 hour day, beginning at 4a in Istanbul and ending at 9p EST in New York (4a Istanbul time)... Flights from Ankara to Istanbul and Istanbul to NYC; train ride from NYC back to Harrisburg; crashing on my own bed.

The Dismissal

Each day as I've been blogging, I've been listening to music. As I began today's post (albeit a day early), the song "No Surprise" from Daughtry (music video - began playing, and it has a great place in today's post. The chorus is, in case you haven't heard it:

There's no surprise I won't be here tomorrow
I can't believe that I stayed 'til today

And you and I will be a tough act to follow

But I know in time we'll find this was no surprise

It's no question that, come tomorrow morning at 5:15am, I'll be out of this great hotel here in Ankara, and, by 9:30a I'll be on my way out of the country of Turkey.

I really can't believe that I stayed 'til today. For what it's worth, I can't believe I was fortunate enough to go on a trip here in the first place 14 days ago.

Turkey and me will be a tough act to follow, no doubt about that. I've become so much more cultured as a person, as a teacher, and as an American. I'm proud of the experience I had, and I'll find as time progresses, that will be absolutely "no surprise."

I'd stay a lot longer in this wonderful, growing, progressing, diverse, and culturally rich country, but there's someone special back home I can't wait to see again...


Maybe one day I'll see you again, too, Turkiye!

Day 13 - Ankara

Day 13
July 2nd
Weather - 88 degrees, a shower in the morning, mostly the sunny the remainder of the day
Plans - Anatolian Museum of History, Ataturk Mausoleum, Minister of Turkish-American Relations, Final Dinner

What a beautiful, huge capital city. I could've stayed here at least another few days, no doubt, but our term is coming to an end. So sad to see it slip so quick!

Anatolian Museum of History

A very satisfying place for those who like neolithic cultures, ancient history, pottery, archeology, or Hittites. I'm not much in this fandom, but I certainly enjoyed this place. This is where "King Midas' Tomb" is (I say that in quotations because there's no factual evidence to that), as well as some other things we saw at Catalhuyuk. I quickly mowed through this showcase (not that large, maybe the size of a football field's worth of ancient relics) and then headed outside to take shots of the beautiful roses after the shower we experienced. Gotta love the Rose Country (Turkey's nickname). Here's a photo of the "Mother Goddess" from where we were a few days ago in Catalhuyuk.

Afterward we traveled downstairs and previewed the kids center, sponsored by the Turkish Cultural Foundation. WOW, what a neat place for kids! Down there there were 12 different workshops for them, from being paleontologists, to making coins, to investigating crime scenes using scientific / museum skills. If I were 10 years old, my mom would have to PRY me away from this place.

Afterward we walked to an uphill eatery to eat the only thing I had talked about not eating - the Turkish pita (pizza), served on a long tray and slivered by an old fashioned cook. My God, it was delicious - 1 part spicy, 1 part egg, and 1 part lamb, the 3 divisions were equally good.

Ataturk Mausoleum

To understand a Turk, one has to understand their hero, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Similar to our George Washington, this former general-turned president led his country out of it's "darkest age" into a beacon of democracy, and his people loved him for it.

When I teach my students about Ataturk, I call him the "democracy dictator" for shoving this new system of government down his people's throats. But they revered him and saw him as a nearly perfect leader, so they went along with his reforms. And there were many. Think about turning the former Ottoman Empire, ruled by the same family of sultans for 500+ years, into a democracy. And then think about doing that while your country is occupied by the UK, France, and most of all, the Greeks. On top of that, they badly lost a war, and were fighting a civil war with their own Armenian people.

The 1920s in Turkey were a mess, but, out of the rubble emerges this guy, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, to lead them into the western and modernized world. And the Turks love him for this. The Mausoleum is a must see for anyone visiting Turkey, and we were fortunate enough to cut through the lines (upwards of an hour to enter the Mausoleum and the museum) and see Ataturk's personal belongings, his private library collection, and his role in the many battles that shaped his history as both the commander of the Turkish army and the leader of his people. Just an amazing story, one after another. And the place where he's kept is the perfect capture of their perfect man -

We were also able to see the changing of the guard at the museum, which was a wonderful opportunity. Gurjan, our assistant on the tour, was with me when we watched. He's a member of the Turkish Navy, so he was very astutely aware of the discipline needed to drill and be one of the honorary guards of Ataturk's tomb. He kept nudging me in the side and in his accent, saying, "discipline, discipline, you see?" Here you can see the discipline -

Minister of Turkish-American Relations

This short but incredible powerful woman came to our hotel and walked right ahead of me into this fantastic conference room on the roof. I said, "Oh, you must be our guest." And she introduced herself, but her first name, and I didn't think much of it. Little did I know this woman was the Turkish government's expert and representative to the entire Western Hemisphere. It was great to listen to her lecture and answer our questions. She was like a Turkish Hillary Clinton, without question. We enjoyed her candor in answering things about our interconnected view of the world, problems joining the EU, the Armenian struggle issue, Cyprus's issues, the Arab Spring, and more. What an incredible lady for Turkey to have, and for us to have as a guest!

Final Dinner

I was fearful of our last dinner, since the group planned this recreation skit on the day I was deathly sick. When I heard them describe all of this and also saw the practice, I thought, "My God, I'm going to watch the Titanic sink in Ankara." But the group pulled off a fun parody of our guide (Orhan), bus driver (Miten), assistant (Gurjan), and our TCF Reps, Hulya (the Istanbul Director) and Bonnie (the creator of the program from California). The 5 of them were brought to full laughter and tears as the group recreated some of the highlights of the trip, some improv, and some wholehearted laughter. Afterward we presented each of them with gifts, both monetary and as goods, and then shared some kind words. I was in charge of closing out the dinner by paying tribute to Gurjan and Miten, and I think I did well in giving them their place in our hearts. It's amazing to think that this fully-packed fortnight is now coming to a close. But, here it is, and we'll have to say goodbye to this wonderful country and the people we've met along the way, both from here and from back home!

Friday, July 01, 2011

Day 12 - Cappadocia (Kaymakli Underground & Carpetium)

Day 12
Friday, July 1st
Weather - 77 degrees, sunny
Plans - Kaymakli Underground City, scenic Cappadocia photo opportunities, Carpetium Turkish Carpets

Kaymakli Underground

The largest underground city is located not far from where we were yesterday. Developed as a place of sanctuary against frequent Persian attacks, the Greeks living here in Cappadocia needed a safe-haven every once in a while for the aggression. This was a decent place, and the underground city was quite a feat of human dominance. There were ventilation shafts, communal kitchens, and even wineries. It was a quick visit, too! Here's a video of traveling through the underground city -

Scenic shots

Man, as if we couldn't get enough of the view...

Check out this video of the landscape, too -


I really didn't predict the presentations at the Carpetium would be as incredible as they were, but, like many other things, I underestimated its splendor. First we received fine explanations as to how the thread is made and woven, most especially the expensive silk rugs, as seen in this video -

We then received the full sales pitch, which was the absolute most entertaining and enjoyable sales pitch I've ever seen. They must've had 100 rugs laid out in front of us, of every size, color, region, pattern, and material you could imagine. The best thing to describe it would be the rug circus, but better, and with food (great pita breads, pizza-like style) and wine (sarap). Heck, they even had a birthday cake for one of the ladies who was celebrating her day today!

Mark, Gary, and I talked about setting betting parameters as to how many women would buy carpets. He put the over/under at 5 and, while I originally took the under, I backed out and Mark supplanted my bet. It's a good thing because the ladies purchased 6 carpets, one of them a beautiful cotton/wool blend that was 10'x13' and about $4,500.

I had so much fun, even though I didn't buy anything. Mark completed his burpees for the day here, too -

For now I'm off to dinner; tomorrow we have a nice 4 hour travel to the capital city, Ankara, where we'll meet much more contemporary issues of Turkey!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cultural Differences & Similarities between the US / Turkey

Yesterday I tried to post this in the morning, but the file size was too large for Blogspot.

Use my teacher webpage, and all the way at the bottom of the page is a .pdf file that says pretty much the same thing in this blog title. I worked on this for the last 11 days, so I'd like to think that though it's far from complete, it's quite comprehensive. Open up the .pdf and enjoy!

Day 11 - Sultanham, Cappadocia, Dervishes

Day 11
Thursday, June 30th
Weather - 78 degrees and partly cloudy
Plans - Sultanham Caravanserai, Cappadocia Christan Conclave, Whirling Dervishes in nearby Cappadocia

It's the last day of June, and that makes me sad to think that this great journey is soon going to come to an end. However, we've been gone for quite some time and I'm starting to find myself eager to return to home.

Sultanham Caravanserai

When the Ottomans wrested power from the Seljuks in the early 15th century, one thing they had going for them was that their territory was the keystone on the Silk Road. However, one issue they had was professional bandits from all over the world stationed themselves in the empty quarters of the blossoming empire to ransack caravans in transport while asleep at night. The Ottomans figured out a way to counter this problem - build large, unmanned protective forts along the Silk Road and let the traders and their men use them at the end of a day's voyage; they called them caravanserais. This was a genius edition to the route, and it costs the Ottomans little more than the construction costs, but it was a win for the traders and a win for the people who lived along the route in the empire. I found it to be a compelling place, and though we had a quick stop there, it was a nice tidbit of history to have under my belt.


Easily one of my favorite places along our tour is this immense UNESCO site. Traveling across the Anatolian Plateau has been rather, well, unchanging. Rolling, verdant hills give way to a more steep embankment here and there, but there's not much in terms of variance in the culture or the geography - until we reached Cappadocia. Vast, spear-like rocks jettison out of the ground as if Hades himself built an artillery here in the heart of Turkey. The site of the old volcanic remains would be astonishing enough to the eye, until we remember that this site was used by Christians escaping persecution in the 4th century. The followers of Christ who moved here transformed and adapted to the landscape, turning the tallest of the peaks into guard towers, and the widest of them into vast, intricate churches.

Just walking around keeping your eyes to the bright whites and tans are spine-tingling enough, but when we went inside some of the dwellings, I tried to put myself in the place of the monks who sat at the tables and ate dinner on a rock table while sitting on their rock seats (pictured here to the left). I tried to envision being a nun climbing a ladder to collect pigeon dung to use as fertilizer in the fields. And I tried to think about what it was like to escape the persecution of the Romans who were pushing the early followers into the outskirts of society like this majestic place. See my video of entering the caves here -

However, all my thoughts collapsed when we entered the churches. It's a shame I couldn't take any photos, because the colors that began with simple crosses and designs in the 400s AD and became full on iconography in the 10th century were mind numbing - and to see them in a cave. Wow.

Christians had lived in these caves up until the 1920s, when, after losing World War I, Greek Christians were mistreated in Turkey just as Muslim Turks were mistreated in Greece. The prime ministers of both countries agreed to a population exchange and the many of the Greek Orthodox parishioners were told to leave their 1,500 year home and go back to Greece. Many were glad to escape the violence, and some of it could be seen in the caves.

After the Christians left, Turks and others lived here in Cappadocia until the 1970s, when the government forced them out of there because the 4 season weather in the area (filled with frosts, freezings, and the weather damage done by them) made the caves unsafe to live. Today much of the place remains unchanged, minus the tourism deposits and the upkeep of the intricate church murals. Check out Mark's burpees here for another cool view of the landscape -

Whirling Dervishes

After visiting Cappadocia we went to watch the Whirling Dervishes perform at a different caravanserai. It was a very slow-paced and sleep-inducing ceremony for me, but that's because the atmosphere was so comfortable and dark. For the dervishes, they put on an impressive show. We weren't allowed to take photos or video (minus this online replica I pulled), so I can't share any thing beyond the words here, but the approximately 35 minute presentation was an impressive show of dedication and reverence. I've never seen anyone as physically, psychologically, and spiritually invested in what they're doing as the dervishes in a 10 minute consecutive spin, one arm towards the heavens and one arm towards the ground, locked in position and unflinching the entire time. You can see me do my best to whirl through the doorway not of heaven, but our hotel in Konya, complete with a whirling dervish in the whirling door. It was just too easy to do my own video, complete with whirling through the metal detector -

Tomorrow we head to the underground cities in Cappadocia, watch some of the fools in our crew ride camels, and then attend a workshop.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Day 10 - Pamukkale, Fusi, Çatalhüyük

Day 10
Wednesday, June 29th
Weather - Mostly cloudy, near 80 degrees
Plans - Pamukkale Natural Springs, Fusi Whirling Dervishes Mosque/Museum, Çatalhüyük Ancient Neolithic Ruins

Early to rise, early to the road, but late to travel home. We left our hotel at 7:00am this morning, and didn't sit down for dinner at our hotel until 8:30pm. It was a long day. However we arrived to a hotel with all the amenities, including gasp - air conditioning and a reliable Internet - so I'm going to try and update past videos from missing previous posts for you to enjoy before I crash.

Pamukkale Natural Springs

In the interior of Turkey is a place that was once called Hieropolis by the Greeks (a resort town of about 3,000 people), but now it's called Pamukkale, which is separated into 2 distinct Turkish words, pamuk - meaning "cotton," and kale - meaning "castle." Why the cotton castle, you ask? Take a gander at this photo! This monolithic mountain of calcium stands out against the green Anatolian mountains and plateaus like a rocky, warm glacier. The Turkish government really reeled in this UNESCO site, which we see one almost daily or 2x daily by now, and claimed it as environmental protection. This is great news because apparently it had become gray because of human pollution. However, we didn't get the chance, since there were lifeguard/security dudes stationed all over, blowing whistles at us for doing things we shouldn't have, and then yelling in Turkish. It was a good laugh, but it didn't stop Mark from doing his burpees -

Fusi Whirling Dervishes Museum

This was probably my least favorite stop on the trip. First of all, it took us almost 6 hours to travel from our last stop to Konya, where we're at now. Secondly, we weren't permitted to take many photos.

Before I totally infuse this part with my bias, the Whirling Dervish Order of Islam (dervish, deriving from Persian words der - meaning door and vish - meaning entrance or way), this sect of Islam was cast out by the Saudis and other areas of the Islamic world and they sought refuge in an old Konya 13th century monastery. Here they practiced a life similar to friars of that time, leading a life of sacrifice and poverty for their religion, which was led by Rumi, the supreme Dervish.

However, it was weird we couldn't take photos of recreations of the dervishes, but we were allowed to take them at our next site, so I spent most of the hour here in the flower garden, taking photos of this black & white cat in the colorful bouquets. He always came over to me and wanted to be petted, too.

Çatalhüyük Ancient Neolithic Ruins

It's not too often that you get to venture across 8,800 year old neolithic ruins, nor is it too often our tour guide remains silent and turns over the reins of our tour, but both of these happened simultaneously here in the gypsy land of Çatalhüyük (pronounced Chat-uhl-you-hook), meaning "town on the fork." The head archeologist, a UK scholar at the dig since 1995, was an incredible source of information even when we threw quite difficult questions at her, and was charming, endearing, and funny in doing so.

What to many looks like a sandbox was truly brought to life, and she gave us some appreciation of what life must have been like for the OLDEST known human settlement in the world, a community of approximately 5,000 people which, in that time, was a major place of bustle and business.

What is interesting about these people was that men and women had equal rank in society, maybe even women slightly larger a role. They lived in almost condominium like places, with each house next to one another, and the entryways to the mud-brick cottages were in the roof, not on the walls. Below the homes were kept their dead, buried just slightly below the floor, tied up in a fetal position with jewelry and other sacred things. See video of the "old dig" here, with some of my colleagues waving to the camera -

Not much other than this is known about the Çatalhüyük people, but it's great to let your imagination roar, especially after the most recent dig in Turkey (featured in National Geographic magazine - just a 1,000 km south of this ancient site at Gobleki, and our resident scholar talked about the comparisons to civilization there, even though they had no points of contact, and, also to Native Americans and other places she's been.

I'm no archeology king, but she made us feel like royalty here. I was amazed and full of wonder, all in the same breath, and certainly made the late close to the day all the worthwhile.

However, it's now approaching Midnight here in Konya and I broke off a Skype conversation with my beautiful girlfriend Devin (who I haven't seen on here in days), just so I could finish. And now I am.

Tomorrow we're off to see Cappadochia, another UNESCO world famous ancient wonder, and to see the Whirling Dervishes perform. :)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Day 9 - Atakoy Primary School, Aphrodisias

Day 9
Tuesday, June 28th
Weather - 89 degrees, sun
Plans - Atakoy Primary School, Ruins of Aphrodisias, Richmond Hotel

Sidenote - feeling so much better today. Still not 100%, but getting better. Thank the Good Lord.

Atakoy Primary School

I don't really have much to say about this school except look at how cute these kids are! For these rural youth to see American travelers is a big thing. They had a very nice school, and, as our tour guide Orhan explained, the rural kids receive a much, much better education than the typical urban kids in Istanbul, Izmir, etc. They were all very friendly and didn't speak much, probably partially because they knew little English and partially because they're kids under the age of 11. One of the ladies on the trip brought a bunch of gifts for these youngings, and they were delighted to see the frisbees, crayons, and candy. It was also funny to watch the kids do burpees with Mark -

Aphrodisias Ruins

Quite a find, this ancient ruins dedicated to the goddess of love was actually the site of a current town. A photographer from Istanbul took a ride into the countryside to take photos of camel wrestling, a previously popular sport in Turkey (yeah, seriously), but got lost and stumbled across a village that was built on top of this place. The locals used the old sarcophagi as water banks for their animals and even mashed their grapes in them to make wine. They took the seats from the old theater and used them to play backgammon, and the immense stadium, which you see a photo of here, was formerly a tobacco field. Absolutely crazy.

Our tour guide a special place in his heart for the man who dedicated his life to excavating this site, an NYU Turkish-American professor who spent 31 years here in Aphrodisias and even convinced the Ankara officials to pick up the entire town of 2,000 and move them a mile down the road to complete the excavations. Not as well dug as Ephesus, it has so much potential to be almost just as amazing.

Here you also see a photo of the entry gates, which I love the story. When this professor found the ruins, the Monumental Gates was the first thing he found. All that was there were the bottoms of the pillars, everything else he and his workers put together in jigsaw fashion until the nearly 40 foot tall structure sat very imposing on the fields of Aphrodisias. So did Mark doing burpees there in front of a crowd of Japanese tourists (LOL) -

Richmond Hotel

The only complaint I have here in Turkey is in each of the 5-star hotels we stay in, the Internet connection is awful. The views are gorgeous, the amenities plentiful (the Richmond was our second hotel we stayed at with hot springs), the food great, and the spoiling factor high. However, our Internet is akin to dial-up back in the 90s or worse. However, I'll be the first to admit - if that's my greatest complaint, I'm on one incredible journey; things could be much worse!

Speaking of the journey, tomorrow we have a very busy day. First we'll stop at the Pamukkale, and then we have a busy rest of the day.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Day 8 - Ephesus

Day 8 - Ephesus
Monday, June 27th
Weather - 78 degrees & sunny
Plans - Ephesus ruins, Ephesus Museum of Archeology, St. John's Basilica, Sirince

Ephesus Ruins

I'm not sure if there are any cities in the world as well preserved as Ephesus. At its height, this city's population reached 250,000, 2nd in the world to Constantinople. Chosen for settlement because its one-of-a-kind harbor and natural mountainous protection, Ephesus became a mecca in both the Greek world (home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the original 7 Wonders of the World) and the Roman world for its importance in Ionia and its housing of St. John the Apostle, and, possibly, Mother Mary until her death.

I could go on and on about this place, but since I was just slammed by stomach sickness today, I'm going to be as concise as possible.

Speaking of which, I woke up this morning not feeling right, and, as the day progressed, my stomach just pained me worse with each passing hour. I don't know what happened or how it happened, all I know is it felt like fireworks were being set off in my tum-tum. I tried papaya enzyme from my 4th adoptive mother Peggy, a librarian from Montana, Tums, Mylanta, tea - you think it, I tried it - to no avail. I was finally rescued when I came back to the hotel to have some Imodium and Cipro Max. Thank god for these two, as I can now walk and just received an order of boiled potatoes and bread, which I'm eating as I'm blogging. Recovery is a son-of-a-gun here!

Anyways, back to Ephesus: the ancient city's entrance opens up to a promenade with a Roman bath. Afterward we made our way down some of the ancient streets in the city, which were covered and adorned with towering Ionic columns.

Next stop on the walk was the public bathroom, which was pretty funny to see. Apparently the dignitaries sat in the middle and chatted when others were doing their business. The baths housed about 40 toilets, complete with freshwater plumbing. Across the street, for whatever reason, was a wealthy neighborhood - I thought it would've killed property value, but apparently it was the place to be.

After that was a public water system set up by an aqueduct and in the shadow of a tribute to the Emperor Trajan, a Roman emperor. I found this incredibly interesting because even in the first century AD, the Romans (Ephesians) knew that the world was round, something the West forgot just a few hundred years later. We then walked down the street to the public square, made a right into the 2nd of 4 Roman baths, and then walked up to a balcony overlooking the famous Celsus Library, which is truly a beauty of the ancient age. Complete with 12,000 scrolls, the library was the 3rd largest in the ancient age. I enjoyed picking on Mark here because, as the Harrisburg High librarian, his school had 3,000 less "books" than a 2,000 year old library. That didn't stop him from doing burpees, though - http://youtube/r9cidLl581Y

Check out the must see video of the library here, too -

Afterward we walked next door through the famous Augustus gateway into the agora, or marketplace. This place was massive, probably bigger than a Super Wal-Mart, and home to one of the largest marketplaces of its day. I sat down, stomach churning and all, and tried to imagine the crowds of people buying Artemis figurines, eating fish with friends, or listening to Paul the Apostle preach from the nearby coliseum, which we visited next.

I really was in awe of this place, which was constructed around 70 AD and housed plays, performances, gladiator battles, and, of course, Paul's famous speech to the Ephesians, who he chastised for their idolatry of the ancient Greek goddess of Artemis, who presided over women, childbirth, and virginity. Our tour guide Ohran told us about the popularity of her worship, and people came here as part of tourism to pay homage to the goddess at her temple. I tried to sit in one of the seats and envision Paul receiving a collection of boos from the 25,000 seat capacity amphitheater, leading to his later arrest and imprisonment in the town. I also liked to think about some of the later performances that occurred there, as Ray Charles and a few other contemporary artists played in the confines of this acoustic masterpiece. Check out video of the amphitheater here -

After this we trekked to the Church of St. Mary. It was mostly in ruins thanks to an earthquake, but our tour guide said this became a popular destination for locals and travelers alike as they began to pay their tributes to another Roman "goddess" - the Virgin Mother. Apparently for many people, Mary was more important for Jesus because it was an easy transition to go from Artemis to Mary.

Ephesus Archeological Museum

This place was quite neat, but I sat down most of the time. The stomach was killing me. I did, however, snap some decent photos of Artemis statues, and those of the Roman emperors during the time.

St. John's Basilica

After Jesus died, he entrusted his closest companion, John the Apostle (and popular writer of the New Testament, including Revelations), to take care of his mother. It is with this Biblical reading that many people believe that John protected Mary in the sanctity of Ephesus, even causing some people to believe her final resting place was a cottage on the other side of the mountain (although there's no scientific evidence to thus). There is evidence, though that John died here and was buried in his tomb at approximately the age of 100 years old. The site later served as an emphasis for later emperors, Constantine and Justinian, who constructed this massive, two-tiered church on top of (and paying homage to) John's tomb, which is pictured here.


I'm too lazy to look for the Turkish characters, but this little village was a fun place to visit. It's too bad I didn't get to walk around much, as I just sat in a chair near the WC (bathroom) and waited until I needed to use it, over and again. The part that struck me the most was each time I entered I had to pay 1 TL, even though I tried to explain to the husband / wife employees who charged the fee to use the WC that I was sick and, besides, the bathroom was disgusting. Chock this one up for a time when I wished I knew Turkish, especially ways to show my distemper!

Time to sign off and expedite my recovery. I'm at about 70% right now, and hopefully a good night's sleep brings me near 100% again. I'll need it for our long bus ride to Aphrodisius and Pammukale hot springs tomorrow.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Day 7 - Bursa & Kuşadesı

Day 7 - Bursa & Kuşadesı
Sunday, June 26th
Weather - 75 degrees, cloudy w/ some showers in the morning (gasp!), sunny in the afternoon
Plans - Umu Camii in Bursa, Isa Bey Camii in Ephesus, and Hotel Kismet on the Aegean Sea in Kuşadesı

Umu Camii

The Umu Camii (pronounced Oo-moo Jam-ee) or "Camel Mosque" was probably my favorite religious site after the Hagia Sophia. Stationed in Bursa next to the silk bazaar, the mosque is one of the oldest in Turkey. Constructed in 1399, it was the epicenter of worship in the old Ottoman capital, and I loved its simplicity. The mosque had beautiful fountains on all sides for worshipers to wash their hands and feet before entering for prayer. There's nothing special or ornate about the mosque, but, like I said, I just really liked the look and feel of the place. I also really enjoyed being there so early in the morning (8:00am), so we were pretty much the only tour group in there, and we joined about 10 guys who pointed themselves to Mecca for their morning prayer. To see a video of the Umu Camii, click here -

Isa Bey Camii

The Isa Bey Camii or "Brother Jesus Mosque" is located in Ephesus, and was constructed 15 years prior to the Umu Camii in Bursa. This 1375 architectural piece was constructed at the end of the Seljuk era of Turkish history, and while the previous mosque celebrated a beginning, the Isa Bey was more of a knell to the end of the Seljuks. That doesn't mean this place wasn't beautiful, as, just like some other mosques, the Seljuks used other portions of the architecture, including the nearby Temple of Artemis (one of the original 7 Wonders of the World), among other things. The Isa Bey was used for prayer all the way up until the 1950s, when an earthquake (which plague the country) destructed the minaret and caused it to be of no use. The Isa Bey is also one of the first mosques to sport a courtyard for prayer and congregating, and it is one of the few relics from the Seljuk period that still stands today. Mark also completed his daily burpees with Cynthia, an art teacher from Florida, here among the ruins -
I also have a video of the inside of Isa Bey, which you can see here -


Man, I love this town. Think of your favorite sweet, clean shore town and then remove all the annoying tourists, give yourself 80 degree temps all day everyday, and place your room on the largest deck overlooking the Aegean Sea, and you'll have my room at the Hotel Kimset in the town of Kuşadesı (pronounced Koo-shah-day-shee). The town only has about 5,000 - 10,000 people, so it's large enough to sport a fun night life, but small enough to not be overrun with tourists like OCMD or Atlantic City. It's really a very nice town, and the people all walk around with a smile on their faces. I love it because it's not expensive, either. When we walked through the town center, places were advertising food for 10-15 Lira ($7-$10) and bier for 4 Lira ($2.75). However I'd hate to see the cost of our hotel, only because I'd want to be here again. Check out my photo of the sunset from my room's balcony.

Tomorrow should be a fun day. We get to hike around the ruins of the famous Greek town of Ephesus (where Paul dictated his letter of Ephisians, now a Biblical book) and then come back and hit up the beach all day. I love learning on the teacher tours!

Gule Gule!


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Day 6 - Bursa

Day 6 - Bursa
Saturday, June 25th
Weather - 80 degrees, and, you guessed it, sun!
Plans - Travel to Bursa, Iskender doner (gyro), silk bazaar, Karagoz shadow puppets, Turkish bath

Finally - a great night's sleep! I'm starting to adjust to the time zone change, but I'm sure the seaside hotel and maximum air conditioning helped, too.

We awoke very early to travel once again, as this will be our M.O. for pretty much the rest of the trip. From the Aegean Sea we traveled to Bursa, which is the 4th largest city in Turkey (approx. 2 million), which our tour guide Ohran has dubbed "the Detroit of Turkey," since it's where the automobiles are made.

Bursa is a lot different from the other places we've been to because we're no longer on the coast, and it's mountainous. The city used to serve as the center of Ottoman operations prior to their conquering of Istanbul, so it was very important prior to the 15th Century.

Iskender Doner Kebop

However, our first treatment of Bursa (pronounced, Boo-rh-sa) was to a thing called Iskender kebab, a 19th century treat. Claimed to be the first variation of doner (which means "spinning" in Turkish, or more familiarly "gyro" in Greek), the Iskender was abso-positively to die for. To describe this particular (trademarked) dish, the Iskender doner kebop begins with a small layer of diced pita bread, braised beef cooked on a rotating spit, Turkish yogurt (pronounced yo-oort here), tomato sauce, and topped with a bit of sauteed butter. Awesome, awesome, awesome. Made the Philly cheesesteak forgettable, and I'm certainly going to be bringing that recipe home.

Silk Bazaar

For me, the silk bazaar was neat just because I like the bazaar concept. However, since nearly 75% of the shops were selling almost entirely silk scarves to be worn as hijabs, I didn't really see myself buying things nor did I want to buy them as gifts. I still do like the bazaar concept, so it's nice to walk around, and I did get some great chocolate ice cream - love it because it's always dark chocolate. And Mark accomplished his burpees at the fountain out front -

Karagoz Shadow Puppets

This was our first stop we had on the tour where no one spoke Turkish but our tour guide and the 2 Turkish Cultural Foundation staffers. The host was a really nice man and talented at his job, but the language barrier made it hard to connect with him.

To explain the shadow puppets, this is a 15th century form of entertainment that had almost been lost to history until a few guys in the 1950s, our host included, revived this almost lost piece of culture. What the puppets are made of is camel or cow leather, and they are treated to become transparent. They also have 1 or 2 sticks attached to them, which one would hold in their hand to make the puppet move. In addition, there are many joints on the puppet, so even though you might only be able to move an upper extremity (like a torso and an arm, for example), you can still move a lot of the other parts of the body because it's all hinged. It's really hard to explain, even with photos (which I have attached here), so I also recorded a video of the shadow puppets in motion. Check it out, because even if you know no Turkish, it's still very unique! --

Afterward we were able to go backstage and try our hand at the puppets, so that was also a great hands-on experience.

Turkish Bath

Yeah, it would've been odd to bring my camera into the Turkish bath, so let me just describe them to you. At our hotel in Bursa is a natural hot spring that's been channeled by the Turks since the 8th century. So Mark and I were the only guys in the group to head down and give it a try.

The first thing you do at a Turkish bath is get into your swim trunks - however, we learned for ladies, they're a bit more, how do I say, indecent. Then you grab a quick soaking in a side room with water that's about 85 degrees Fahrenheit. After that we head to a larger room, where the water there is about 90-95 degrees. And more still for the heat-seeker is a smaller pool of water that must be 110 degrees. It was so hot I could barely get my feet in there.

While there we were able to soak, wash our selves, and swim in the pool and just soak away the loads of travel we've been enduring, it wasn't anything that totally surprised me or blew me out of the water (pun points!) One thing that was nice, though, was after we surfaced from the hot baths we were wrapped in a towel to keep the heat in our bodies and sit in a chair. I did that for about 40 minutes and fell asleep, being wrapped up like a baby.

For 21 Turkish Lira (about $15), it was worth it, but I don't necessarily feel I'd have to do it all over again. But for the ladies, they loved it. They all added a massage and an exfoliation for an additional 30 TL ($20), something that would cost upwards of $190 at the Hershey Hotel, according to my lovely girlfriend Devin.

After our Turkish bath a bunch of us met for our dinner, which was a buffet, in the heart of the hotel. It was excellent. To say I'm full is an under-exaggeration, and, coupled with the Turkish bath, has made me quite ripe for another good night's sleep.

Back to our rooms

On our way up, though, we saw a large and swanky partying happening on the steps between the hotel and the mosque, and, upon further inspection, realized it was a bris (bay-reesh as pronounced here) for a Muslim youngster. The people here looked better than they would at an American wedding, which could be because of this 5-star hotel or because of the importance of such an event in the religious culture.

Time to sign off. Tomorrow is a big day - first we visit a famous, ancient, and still operable mosque here in Bursa and then head to the Greek ruins of Ephesus, a true highlight on this trip.

Yarın bakın (see you tomorrow)!


Friday, June 24, 2011

Day 5 - Gallipoli & Troy

Day 5 - Gallipoli & Troy
Friday, June 24, 2011
Weather - 85 degrees, nothing but sun (yep, still not getting old yet)
Plans - Gallipoli WWI Memorial, Aegean sea ferry, Troy ruins, swimming in the Aegean Sea.

Well, last night we never met up with my former student, but we went out in downtown Istanbul and made some new friends. Didn't come home until 3:30am, and had a 6:00am wake-up call. Sounds crazy, but it was worth it!

Gallipoli World War I Memorial

I hadn't know about this site before the trip, which is a shame because WWI is my favorite war to study. This site (on the peninsula before reaching the Bosphorus) was targeted by the British in 1915 to capture the Ottoman capital of Istanbul. However, a German general (Von Sanders) and General Ataturk were in control of the mission to defend the territory against the British and their Anzac force. The Anzacs were a motley crew assembled by then political rising star Churchill, who thought he’d throw Aussies, New Zealanders, Indians, and other empirical soldiers into the gauntlet against the defenses of the Ottomans.

It was this campaign that defined Ataturk’s military leadership, somewhat like Washington at Yorktown, but this was at a great cost. The Anzac force tried to climb the hills here in Gallipoli to capture this incredible natural defense on the hills along the Aegean Sea, but they were slaughtered by the Turks. More than 8,000 of first wave landed on Gallipoli, and none of them remained alive. They were served crushing numbers of casualties, and the Turks also had their fair share, too. It was interesting to see the Aussies and the Turks there at the same place, giving homage to their dead. Some of them even paid respects to one another.


Troy is an interesting place. Called Troia by the locals, it had always been rumored to be a fabled city, like Atlantis is today. But one man, a German-turned American-turned Greek millionaire by the name of Heinrich Schleimann made it his life’s mission to find Troy the Sixth’s crown jewels, as told by Homer in The Iliad. Schleimann found Troy along the coast of Turkey, as it fulfilled the covenant told by Homer, as it was windy, it was near the sea, on a river, and favorable for olives.

However, when Schleimann found the ruins, he haphazardly unearthed them. Not an archeologist by any means, it’s rumored he tossed about the relics (like pottery, clothing, etc) in order to try and find the gold. He employed 300 locals and spent nearly $50,000 a year (a fortune in 1868) to find what he could in the ruins while also trying to deceive the Ottoman inspectors, who gave him permission to dig here. In the end, he found what he believed to be Priam’s Treasure, and then left for his home in Greece and Troy remained disheveled.

The Ottomans had been trying to track down Schleimann’s findings of the treasure, but he claimed he lost it. The gold “disappeared” until 1990, when it was revealed under Gorbachev’s glasnost that the Red Army brought the gold with them to Pushkin Museum in Moscow after looting Greece during World War II. Today both Turkey and the Germans are in fact trying to reclaim the art, but the Russians aren’t budging. It’s a sad story, actually, of one of the most recognizable cities on the lips of man.

While the site is great to view, its condition doesn’t make it too fit for photos. So, with that being said, I’ll provide a photo of me in the wooden replica horse from the 2004 movie, as well as a link to Mark doing (very slow) burpees at the same landmark -

Hotel & Swim

Afterward we stopped at our 2nd hotel on the trip here in Çanakkale. The Internet connection is spotty at best, but we had an awesome dinner of Turkish meatballs and other delicious sides, and the best chocolate pudding I've ever had. Afterward, a bunch of us took a dip in the Aegean Sea, and it was very refreshing. When we came back we learned that the hotel has one thing I’ve been waiting for a while – air conditioning!!!!!!!!!

Time to go and recharge my mental batteries. We’re taking another long ride tomorrow to Bursa, the old capital of the Ottoman Empire prior to Istanbul.