Turkey Day One and Two

The destination for this year’s Indonesia Media Spring Break Tour of 2011 was to the country of
Turkey. I must admit that when I first heard of the tour’s destination, it seemed a bit daunting since any
prior experience of the Middle East for me only went so far as an occasional showing of Aladdin and the
neighborhood Arabic restaurant. Fortunately, I willed away any anxieties I possessed and marched
towards the cultural overload, which is Turkey.

Some may say that obstacles hinder your path when they might just reroute it in a way that you
might find even enjoyable. While sitting in my seat in the airplane and swiping the complementary
magazines to sneak in a quick read before I could be absorbed by the touch screens planted firmly in
front, an alarming announcement blared through, “We are sorry to inform you that we will have to
cancel this flight, due to some trouble pertaining to our equipment. Any inquiries can be answered at
the airline’s help desk.” Now as you may know, cancelled flights are among one of the
proclaimed “worst things that could happen to you at an airport, but after some back and forth with the
airline staff, we were finally able to get our group onto the next available flight out of L.A., leaving us
with an overnight stay in New York City, with complimentary hotel rooms and meal vouchers. As I pulled
out my iPod through the tangled mess, that was my bag, the grumpiness from a canceled flight soon
started to wear off. Sure I would miss one day in Turkey, but I would also be able to stay in New York
City. We had already informed our tour guide to simply just rearrange the schedule so we could still see
all the stops, and we still had another day planned in Istanbul to begin with. A break in New York City
would be nice, and it would also let me experience a place I loved to visit, even for just a short time.
Those were my thoughts before I stuffed my earphones in and went into a doze for some much-needed

As I arose from my seat at the discounted breakfast wiping away some of the lingering
sleepiness, a group of people including myself stuffed ourselves into a cab and headed into the streets
of New York City. We roamed thorough Central Park, 5th Avenue, and Times Square, but after grabbing a
couple of hot dogs from the numerous street carts situated at practically every corner, that also include
a variety of any type of food you could think of, we went back to the hotel, grabbed our luggage, and
headed off to Turkey.

Turkey, a.k.a. the Republic of Turkey, is a Middle Eastern country split between the continents
of Europe and Asia. Islam is the predominant religion in the region, and the country’s official language
is Turkish. Though history of people migrating towards the area can be traced back to the 11th century,
it would be after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and until 1923 when a cadre of young military
officers led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk would establish the first modern Republic of Turkey.

We met up with our tour guide, Mr. Murat and headed to our first destination in Turkey which was
its largest city, Istanbul, historically known as Byzantium or Constantinople. Istanbul has a population of
13 million and has served as the capitol city of many former empires. To be more specific we visited the
Hagia Sophia, a former Orthodox patriarchal basilica, mosque, and now a museum opening on February
1, 1935. Famous for its monstrous dome and considered a perfect example of Byzantine architecture,

the Hagia Sophia is a site tourists flock to every year. It is also considered to have “changed the history
of architecture.” The massive amount of detail and work that must have been put into such a structure
is amazing, especially when surveying the intricate mosaics that cover the majority of the Hagia Sophia
inside. The images of Virgin Mary, Christ, and other figures showcase an extraordinary use of real gold.
You get the overall monstrosity especially when standing under the dome and looking up at the church
or from the Loge of the Empress, where the empress and the court-ladies would watch from. One
interesting, and interactive, portion of the Hagia Sophia is the Weeping Pillar located to the left of the
Imperial Door. There are two legends that come with this location. One is that if you stick your thumb
into the hole and it comes out wet you will be cured of all your ailments, another is if you stick your
thumb and turn it 360 degrees one of your wishes will be granted. It was amusing to see the members of
our tour group try and try again to twist and turn every which way in hopes of making it to 360 degrees.
At first glance the Blue Mosque, located across the Hagia Sophia, may seem superior in terms of exterior
but the Hagia Sophia is by no means inferior once you walk inside.

Our time in Istanbul would have to take a break until later in the tour as we drove in our tour
bus to our next destination, lunch. We dined at the Tamara Restaurant for Turkish kebabs and LavaÅŸ
dipped in lentil soup. What was interesting was the rice or pilaf that had a unique taste by being cooked
in a seasoned broth. By the time they brought out the oranges, I knew the food was going to be a
highlight of this tour. As a treat from IM Tours we were given free lunch for the duration of the trip and
though Mr. Murat was a local Turk, he was fluent in Indonesian.

To go to Çanakkale we crossed the Dardanelles by ferry, and by “we” I do mean including the
bus itself. The bus drove onto the boat along with several other cars and let a flurry of people stretch
and head for shelter from the harsh cold in the warm waiting rooms. By crossing we would travel from
the European portion of Turkey into the Asian portion. After some getting to know each other and some
casual talk, we finally arrived and drove to check into the Kolin hotel, where we would also have our
buffet dinner.

Sure we had a minor change in our plans, but it didn’t take away from our trip and we even
gained a mini trip to New York. It gave us some more time to get to know each other and left us with a
great story to tell. As I switched off the bathroom light and kicked off my slippers to go to sleep, what
came to me was this, “this trip is going to be unique and something people don’t generally do, so why
would I let one little thing get in my way.” My travels in Turkey have just begun, but trust me the sites
and camaraderie of the group hold so much more in store. Görüşücez or for those who don’t know
Turkish, see you next time.

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