Turkey was fantastic! I loved the ruins, the people, the language, the clothes, it was all great. Here is a day-by-day account of the best bits of the trip:
Monday, Sept 19th: First off, we visited the Blue Mosque and the hippodrome of Istanbul. The Blue Mosque is amazing!! It is mostly blue tilework on the inside (hence the name...) and it has a large center dome with four half domes surrounding. It really was incredible; it was so ornate and the tiles were incredible. It was definitely a great introduction to Islamic architecture and style. Next we went to the Topkaki Museum, which is the Sultan's palace. It is HUGE. There are four different courtyards, and it depends on how well you know the sultan to see which courtyard you are received in. Once again, I loved the architecture and domes and tiles. I think I took more pictures of the tiles than anything else. One part of the museum is the treasury, and let me tell you, the Sultan was not in need of anything fancy- I think he had it all. My personal favorite was the pear cut 86-carat diamond set with a double halo... don't mind if I do, thanks. Another part of the museum that we were lucky to visit was the harem! It was interesting to learn more about something that Westerners always stereotype into the Arabic culture. I was surprised by how much of a place of learning it was. The director of the whole shabang was the sultan's mother, and she would train up the girls then choose the best ones to go serve the Sultan at tea or something. Then, if one of the girls caught the Sultan's eye, he would marry her (for the first wife). However, if he wanted another wife after that, he had to get permission from the first. I thought that was funny. After the museum (which took a LONG time) we went to the Grand Bazaar for a bit. Let me tell you, if you thought the men in the Old City were a little forward and flirty, you would have died in the Turkish Grand Bazaar. I think I got proposed to (or set up with their son) twice, was told I was beautiful 10 times, and was given "very low" prices because I was so special at every store. Now, I'm not saying this to try to show off or something, but I'm trying to illustrate how ridiculously forward these men are! It gets a little uncomfortable sometimes. Luckily though I never felt unsafe, just a little awkward. Tis life. After the Bazaar, we had a beautiful scenic cruise down the Bosphorus and dinner in a fish restaurant where we were served whole fish that looked up at us as we ate them (and they were delicious).
Tuesday: Ferry across the Dardanelles to get to Troy! Yes, the actual city of Greek Mythological fame. Unfortunately, other than the huge Trojan horse tree house at the entrance, the site was a little dry. But, there were some pretty cool columns and ruins at the end where we had a nice little photo shoot to keep us occupied. The best part of the day was the hotel that night! It was right on the water, and it had a huge long dock that stretched out over it. It was beautiful to watch the sun set over the water and just sit out on the dock. They also had a pool that was right next to the water, and it was greatly appreciated by all of the students! Needless to say, we all had a blast playing Sharks and Minnows, losing (and finding) our professor's wedding ring in the pool, and watching our Turkish guide Fatih get inaugurated into the group through multiple rounds of Chicken Fights. The hotel also had a little bitty stretch of beach in front of the water, and they let us build a bonfire and have a dance party! It was so fun. I've never really done something like before, so hey, why not do it in Turkey? It was definitely a bonding moment for us all as we danced around the fire, tried to dance to Turkish music, and doing a conga line down the entire dock in the moonlight.
Wednesday: First stop was Assos, one of the places that Paul mentions in Acts. It was such a cute little town with cute little people! They all had these little stand along the street going up to the ruins, and they sold their little handicrafts such as crochet and embroidery and knitting. I got some awesome woolen booties. They are so cute and the lady was so old and precious, I couldn't say no. The ruins of the temple at Assos were incredible, especially since they were set up on this cliff overlooking the sea, and we got there in the morning so the sun was reflecting on the water. Picture perfect. The second site of the day was Pergamon... that was interesting. As the original site of the Altar of Zeus and other Greek gods, I guess it was only appropriate for Zeus to rain down mightily on us non-pagans. We got drenched to say the least. I think I get less wet in a shower. The site was incredible, but the experience was a little dampened (pun intended) by the thunder and lightening. We were all very nervous because we had a long drive ahead of us to get to the hotel, and we didn't want to sit in the bus in our soaking wet clothes for three hours. So luckily we got to pull off the road, kick the boys out, close the curtains, and the girls changed inside the bus. I don't know what the boys did, all I know is that I was nice and dry and comfy on the way to the hotel. Thank goodness.
Thursday: Ephesus was the main focus of today and it was grand! I loved that it was so well preserved/reconstructed, because then you could actually see how the city was organized and get a better feel for how life was. One high point for everyone was the latrine room... everyone was very fascinated by the Roman's version of indoor plumbing. Who knew that ruins of toilets would be so engaging for a group of 19- to 28-year olds? No, the entire city was great, especially the library. The architecture was beautiful, look up a pic online if you have time. We also stopped by the site of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world- the Temple of Artemis! It was a little anticlimactic to tell you the truth. There is only one column standing now in the middle of a marshy field. Not too picturesque. After lunch and a drive, we also stopped at Miletus, another city in ruins (are you catching the trend?).
Friday: First stop of the day was Hierapolis! The exciting part of the site was the hot springs! The water has a lot of calcium in it I guess, so it has deposited tons of it down the mountainside, creating a white wonderland! It is just layer upon layer of white calcium deposits along the plateau and then down the mountain. The best part is that you can walk on them, and then the hot water is running in a little rivulet down the side! Ok no, the best part was all of the middle-aged European tourists who came in their Speedos and bikinis wade in the pools. That was a sight to see. The rest of the day was spent on the bus... such a long bus ride. We had some interesting conversations to pass the time, that's all I'll say about that. Once we got to the hotel (which was so so nice!!) we had a little church meeting since we would miss Sabbath this weekend. It was a really great meeting and nice for all of us to be able to be together and sing and pray and listen.
Saturday: Last day in Turkey! The morning was spent in Iznik/Nicea, where the Nicean Creed was established in Constantine's lakeside palace. Even though we as Mormons do not subscribe to the Nicean Creed, we do believe in God, his son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, who together form the Godhead. It was a really spiritual experience to talk about what we believe and how it is similar and how it differs from other Christians. We sang "I Believe In Christ" right next to Lake Nicea, which was a really powerful experience. Next... THE HAGIA SOPHIA!!! This is what I was looking forward to for the entire trip. No, my entire life. Seriously, I was so so excited to go! I still can't believe that I've now been inside the Hagia Sophia. The best part (but not really) was that as I walked in and started taking pictures... my camera dies. Oh the irony. I may or may not have had a minor emotional breakdown, but I quickly recovered and did some reconnaissance on an unsuspecting student's camera so I could take my pictures. Anything for the Hagia Sophia.