Nine days have passed since my first post. In that time, I have taken three plane flights of decreasing duration (11 hours, 4 hours, and 1 hour), traveled through four major cities (San Francisco, London, Athens, and Istanbul), and seen an infinite amount of unbelievable things.
First Impressions of Athens:
This is a city of contradictions. As much as the Greek are obviously proud of their country, language, and history, the famous artifacts are slowly being covered by a modern city.
The ruins of ancient temples built to honor gods and goddesses are overpowered by the surrounding urban landscape. Highways and crowded streets weave in, out, and around the crumbling ionic and doric columns, practically concealing the marble statues from view unless you happen to turn the right corner and stumble into the Temple of Zeus.
The exception to this pattern is the Acropolis, built atop the highest peak in Athens so that the ancient rulers and armies could maintain control and protect the massive city. We toured the Acropolis Museum which contains scaled versions of the old temples and other archaeological items such as cremation vases and burial urns. The museum itself is built atop an archaeological site of ancient Greek life – the floors are built of glass so you can see the remains of an entire city beneath your feet as you walk between the exhibits. I left Athens with the slightest feeling of disappointment, or perhaps sadness, that this rich history is slowly being written over by metro systems, crowded shopping streets, and smog-ridden sunrises.
Traveling to Istanbul
The flight to Istanbul was one of luxury. Turkish Airlines provided a full meal, hundreds of personal movie options, and even an under-the-plane live camera feed for our one hour flight over the Aegean. We all got “Istanbul” stamps in our passports and loaded onto the bus to take us to campus, where we were welcomed by our Resident Directors. The drive to campus was view after scenic view of the rolling cityscape that is Istanbul -dozens of minarets poke their tips through the surrounding apartment buildings and hotels, as well as thousands of satellite dishes littering the rustic roof tops. The small Fiat taxis weave in and out of traffic with ease, and enormous Turkish flags proudly wave their moon and star above the buildings.
The University’s facilities are far more than I could have ever expected -we each have a single room with a bed, desk, phone, enough storage for an entire house, and my favorite part – a spinny chair. Five of these rooms plus a kitchen, bathroom, and living room area make up each apartment. We settled into our rooms before heading down to dinner. We had to walk through campus to get to the restaurant, and the view along the way was breathtaking. Our walk to class overlooks the Bosphorus with its many glittering bridges and boats illuminating the expanse of the water.
Arriving on campus, the architecture is so far from what I expected. The academic buildings have something of a “Ivy League” or “British” feel about them, which is only enhanced by the cobblestone pathways and perfectly manicured lawns. The obvious difference is in the number of stray animals roaming the grounds. Dogs and cats of all sizes and colors are friendly and playful, and we were informed that there was a veterinarian on campus employed to take care of them. At my college back home, there is something called “Therapy Fluffy,” a week before midterms and finals where students can play with man’s best friend to release stress before exams. Here, the animals come to you whenever and wherever you want. (The vaccinated and neutered ones have ear tags.)
Five of these dogs accompanied us on our walk down to the restaurant, where we sat within fifty feet of the edge of the river. I tried the famous Turkish dish of meatballs, Kofta, and attempted to choke down their national drink Ayran, a cold salty yogurt beverage. Dinner was followed with Turkish tea and coffee, and the walk back up to Superdorm (our dorm apartment complex), which was even more amazing than before as the sun had set and all the lights of the city reflected hundreds of times in the rippling water.
Turkey has already exceeded any expectations I could have set for it. I am beyond excited for what the next two months have in store for me.