Sunday, April 11, 2010

Checking Off Asia

Wow, so apparently, I'm the worse blogger on the face of the Earth. As much as I had planned on writing about everything on time, I just keep putting it off, and then I have more to write about, so I put it off longer... a bit of a mess. So I'll try to give you a "brief" overview.

First stop: The second half of spring break, which I started to write a long time ago, but never finished.

Despite the warning against Americans traveling in Turkey, I went with two of my friends on a ferry from Lesvos to cross the border. Kate gets us into the most random situations, and I ended up finding myself in the front of the boat steering the ship and had the best view when the dolphins came jumping alongside our boat!

We spent a day and night in Bergama (Pergamum), where we payed a flat rate to have a cab drive us around to the hot tourist spots all day: The Acropolis (which was MUCH bigger than the Athenian Acropolis, and beautiful with all the Greco-Roman structures), something that was Red-brick and looked very Roman, and the Escleapion (which was similar to Epidauros, dedicated to Escleapius the healing god, and was very extensive with a theatre, tunnels and other buildings). We also found a great restaurant right next to our hotel that was super cheap, and our first experience with the amazingness that is Turkish food. I had a dish called Beyit, which was seasoned, grilled chicken wrapped in something that was like a cross between a tortilla and phyllo dough with a tomato sauce on top. They also had a Turkish specialty, Sheep brain soup, on the menu which I unfortunately did not end up trying, though I now regret that. Turkish food is somewhat similar to Greek food, but it has much more flavor and spice to it.

The next day, we attempted to go to Cannakale, which is to the north, and right next to Troia (Troy), however the guys at the bus station thought we said something else, and were going to put us on a train to the south to switch buses and go back north...something that would have added a few hours onto the drive. Luckily, we realized it (after we bought our tickets) and got off the shuttle at the bus station and just got a new bus ticket. Meanwhile, the Turkish, who are much nicer than the Greeks, welcomed us with open arms, and brought us tea and chatted with us. They are very hospitable, and they're ALWAYS drinking and offering tea! However, most of the people do not know English at all, or if they do, they know pick-up lines or just hello and thank you.

We arrived at Cannakale in one piece, to a beautiful hotel from the Ottoman times. It was a very cool city, right on the water. We walked around and saw the horse that they used in the movie Troy! The next morning, we waited for a long time to catch the shuttle to Troy along with a group of helarious Brits around our age. I had heard that there wasn't anything to see at Troy, however, I was quite surprised. There are a fare amount of ruins around, and we had to do a 1 hour power tour so that we could get back to Channakale in time to catch our bus to Istanbul. Made it with time to spare, and took the six hour bus ride up to the former Constantinople (lucky me, for I got to watch movies in Turkish).

In Istanbul, we met up with two other girls from our program who were were rooming with at the hostel and did a little bit of night exploring around the city. The next day we packed in as much of the tourist hot spots as we could, and went to the Blue Mosque, Cistern, Hagia Sophia, and the Palace. All the buildings were beautiful, and I loved the Cistern since you walk around over a pool of water with goldfish, with the only light being little orange lights at the base of every evenly spaced column. The Blue Mosque and the hagia Sophia were outstanding. Huge domed ceilings and beautiful mosaics and frescoes everywhere. At the Blue Mosque, we had to take off our shoes and cover our heads at the door, which made it a fun and unique experience. In the afternoon, we ventured by the tram to Taxim square where it seemed to be much more modern, and a bit less touristy. Did some shopping, since everything is SO cheap (especially compared to Greece) as the Turkish lira is only worth half of the euro, and everything is cheap to start with. We ended up going back to the hostel for a beer and some cards, and went to a great little restaurant down the street from us which had amazing Turkish pizza.

The final day, I went to the spice bazaar! It was outstanding...I think I found heaven. There were big baskets of spices everywhere along with bulk teas, turkish delight, and occasionally some other things thrown in for fun. The men would shout pick-up lines to try and get us to stop, which made us walk along to the other shops. I bought a bunch of spices and can't wait to use them! (Saffron was much cheaper than anywhere I've ever seen it.) I then met up with my friends to go to the Grand Bazaar, which was similar to the spice bazaar, but had all sorts of merchandise, from wooden backgammon boards to scarves, lamps to jewelry. It was extremely packed and we found ourselves getting lost quite often through the covered hallways that ran through the bazaar. After we left, we grabbed a quick lunch and hopped on the Friendship Express--the overnight train that runs from Istanbul to Thessoloniki.

It was such a great trip! No time for pictures right now, but someday maybe they'll appear.

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