Sunday, November 11, 2007

We are preparing to weigh anchor from Istanbul and return to the Aegean Sea. There we will pass through the Mediterranean Sea and into the Adriatic Sea to Dubrovnik, Croatia. But Turkey was a pleasant surprise, very European in "feel” with lots of agricultural land. We gathered in the Union three days ago, with my friend Kathy Soule and Eileen Chalfoun as Trip and bus leaders. About 8 did not show, so we were all placed in one bus with no seats to spare, 45 all together. Our Guide was Bora, one of the very best yet. With a wry sense of humor and perfect timing, he wove the story of the Neolithic to the Ottoman Empire to Gallipoli to Ataturk to today with ease. I learned so much, and with it a new and good understanding of this country and culture in the global community.

Turkey is 97% Moslem, but they have a democratic and secular government. Religion is practiced freely and there is no place for it in the government. It really feels that way, too. I did not get the heavy-handed feel of Islam as I had in Egypt. It was very, well, loose. They love Ataturk, who beat the allies in Gallipoli and then challenged the Ottoman Empire to establish a free Turkey and succeeded. He modernized the land. Changed the alphabet, made the government secular and democratic and allowed them to compete in the west. His photo is on all notes and coins, flags are everywhere as well as his likeness. While we were here, the anniversary of his death at 0905 on November 10th happened and the country literally stopped. We were at a mosque in Bursa and sirens sounded for 2 minutes and in that time no one drove, spoke or moved. It was incredible. Then life happened again as if the country had suffered a petit mal seizure.

We traveled by bus along the Gelibolu (Gallipoli) Peninsula through the expansive Istanbul city. In addition to Turkish food, it has many western restaurants, including KFC, Chili’s, Fridays, and El Toritos! It has lots of car dealerships, Ford, Toyota, Honda, and many more, all made here. Despite this, it is hailed as an agricultural country and once we left Istanbul, it was almost all countryside with olive trees, apples, and turned fields that had had crops of corn and sunflower seeds. Fall was here with cold winds and rain and new snow on the mountains above Bursa.

After a few breaks and lunch, we went to Gallipoli. Bora gave us an excellent background to the closing of the Dardanelles by the Ottoman Empire of Turkey and Russia’s need to get through, and the allied effort to reopen it, to no avail. We learned of the sea battles that sunk the British ships and the fateful landings at ANZAC cove by the Australian and New Zealanders as well as the British landings at Sulva Bay. If not for the efforts of a young Turkish Officer, Mustafa Kemel, later Ataturk, the high ground would have been taken. Nine months and over 200,000 lives later, the Allied forces left a victorious Turkish people who proceeded to start their new country. There were grave markers and a cold wind down by the water and the usual statues and monuments. But there were also old and redone trenches from the horrible fighting.

After the tour of the battlefields, from Lone Pine to the trenches, we went to catch a ferry to Canakkale, across the Dardanelles Strait. It was a 35 minute cold ride and, looking back to the hill above the land on the Gelibolu Peninsula was a huge white soldier and a Turkish poem about leaving their heart on the land. At Canakkale, we stayed is a 1-2 star hotel, and walked down the street to see a wooden horse from the movie Troy. It was donated by the movie studio and is quite impressive, especially in the haloed lights of the night. A street vendor was selling cotton candy from an old fashioned stand that had a flame in the middle! Then back for a good night’s sleep.

The next day we were only 30 minutes from Troy and arrived to yet another large wooden horse. This one was made for the National Park years ago and people could climb up into the horse. Some students held a sign with a single word on it, like 'you' or 'giving' on a piece of paper. One of the Resident Directors is coordinating a program for any student who wants to participate. The students hold up a single, different word at various sites through out the world, at the Taj, Great Wall, Pyramids, etc. Eventually, they have a montage for photos for their parents that says, “Thank you Mom and Dad for Giving Me the World.” A very neat idea.

At Troy, Bora taught us the archaeological site actually holds at least nine different settlements from the Neolithic (3600BCE) through to Ilium, about 500 CE. (BCE=before the common era and is the same as the old use of BC, and CE, common era, replaced AD now, keeping science secular). The Troy of the horse is thought to be Troy VI, a Bronze era settlement of 15th to 13th centuries BCE. There is a neat story about the association of Homer’s Iliad and the settlement. Troy was a very prosperous city that had the wind in its favor so ships came there to trade. It also controlled the Dardanelle’s. Successive cities were built and destroyed, often due to fire, earthquakes or war, but then built on the rubble of the past. The archaeologists feel that Troy VI was destroyed by an earthquake and that the god of earthquakes was Poseidon and his symbol for that power was a horse. So it is believed the legend and the story grew in telling the destruction of Troy by an earthquake and over time the battle and horse became the poem that Homer related over 700 years after the fall of Troy. A neat theory.

Then on through agricultural land to Bursa, the first capitol of the enormous Ottoman Empire named after Osman Gazi (Osman = Ottoman in western talk). These Sultan begat successive generations that replaced the Roman Empire influence with Islam throughout the near and middle east. Here we viewed a Mosque and church (one of the later sultans allowed Christianity). We spent the night and were up for another day’s exploration.

Through farming communities, we drove to the ancient Roman town of Nicea, which was felled by the Ottomans and renamed Iznik. Its claim to fame is the tile industry, each made by hand from over 80% quartz, and each tile takes two months to make. Here the tiles for the Blue Mosque were made as well as other great structures. The ancient city wall of Nicea still stands in many places. We then caught another ferry across an inlet of the Sea of Marmara to Istanbul. Because the Grand Bazaar, with over 4000 stalls and the Spice Markets were closed on Sundays, many of us were dropped off to explore that remarkable sea of humanity. After two days of nice weather, the cold, hard rain returned, but it was still incredible. I used the public Metro to return to Findikli, the stop near our Pier, and dried out. I spoke to several staff and students about some of the political controversies that have come about on the voyage. It has put a slight damper on things. Some students have a drinking problem and others a real problem with authority. The ship’s administration took all the proper steps to release them from the program but parents threatened to sue and the company that runs Semester At Sea, the Institute for Shipboard Education (ISE), reversed the Dean’s order to release the students. So the good students, the vast majority, are incensed, and the jerks feel like they can do anything. We are not happy with ISE. But, like all organizations and situations, I treat them like a kidney stone, it hurts for a while, but it will pass eventually.

Today I traveled into the heart of Istanbul with Kathy, our Ph.D. librarian who has a great sense of humor and is a straight shooter. In the cold rain and hail of the morning, we caught the tram to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, better known as the Blue Mosque due to the abundance of blue tile from Iznik inside. It has six minarets and just this morning I read an e-mail from Sandy that Sean was making a model of this very mosque and could I get photos? Absolutely, I was on a mission and have sent the photos off, so I hope Sean has a great time building his model.

Then to the ancient church of Haya Sophia that was built in the Christian-allowed era and later converted to a mosque. It had a bit of construction going on, but it still looked neat. Then, in the fall leaves and breeze and a bit of sunshine, we made our way to Topkapi Palace. The Sultans from many generations were here with their harems and were the recipients of goods from China via the Silk Road. Under guard, we saw emeralds and rubies the size of kiwi fruits, and huge gold thrones and swords of diamonds. It was incredible.

On our way back to the ship, we had a west attack and went to a Turkish McDonalds for fries. It was nice, even though I must admit Turkish food is exceptional. The doner kebabs are great and chicken dishes very good. The bread is bland, but it is just a vehicle for the great sauces.

Now I teach for two days then we arrive in Croatia. I plan a lot of independent travel with only one organized trip our last day there to a mountain village called Osojnik. As I write this I hear the loud speakers calling the faithful to prayer. What an experience this global venture has been. My, my!

Posted by Nancy @ 08:52 AM pst