JHU Around the World: Turkey

Me in front of the library

Welcome to JHU Around the World, a collection of my thoughts and musings as I travel the world representing Hopkins! I’m Dana M., and this is my fourth year back at JHU working in admissions (I’m also an alum – I graduated in 2001 as a Political Science major).  I have traveled abroad on my own and for Hopkins before, but this year, I am literally spanning the globe!  By the middle of November, I will have traveled to 8 countries on 3 continents, with 5 languages and 8 currencies.  Just don’t quiz me on what day or time it is, and I should be fine!

This is the third of several travel blogs I will be writing. You can read about my experiences in China here and London,  and stay tuned for adventures from France and the Caribbean.  Also, if you are from Paris, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad & Tobago or Jamaica, you can come hear me talk about Hopkins!

To RSVP an Explore Hopkins or Group Travel, click here:

Istanbul is probably one of my all time favorite cities (and I grew up in Manhattan!).  When I realized I’d be traveling to to 8 countries, and 3 US cities (plus a return to trip to France in a couple of weeks), I was happy to see Turkey on the list.  Two years ago, I traveled to Greece and Turkey for JHU and was able to see some of the highlights of the city (the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Aya Sofia, etc).  Istanbul is often described as East meets West, and it is.  It is at once both exotic and foreign and incredibly cosmopolitan and European.  It’s a city I simultaneously feel both at home at and pushed outside of my comfort zone.  Sadly, my stay in Istanbul was much shorter than the last time, but I am plotting a summer vacation…..

Nike, the Greek god of victory (and maker of fine footwear)

I spent my birthday flying from London to Istanbul.  I’ve always been a big fan of birthday celebrations, so I can’t say this will be  my most memorable birthday of all time, but the hotel recommended a great restaurant when I arrived (one suggested to me two years ago by a separate hotel).  So I brought my book (Storm of Swords – or vol 3 of Game of Thrones), and set off for a great, late meal.

If you’ve read my previous blogs, you may have noticed my frequent comments on local cuisine.  I have always loved good food, so I packed my appetite and running shoes for this 4 week trip (I find it best to strike a healthy balance, especially on a long trip with so many varied and fabulous meals).  Turkish food is delightful.  It’s Mediterranean in flavor, simple, heathy, and absolutely delicious.

I spent my first full day in the city meeting with a great group of students at Uskadar and Koc.  At Koc, I was also able have lunch with a handful of Early Decision candidates (yay!) and do an evening case studies program with juniors and their parents.  I am the oldest of two and remember feeling completely baffled by the college process my junior year, so I actually enjoy trying to provide a little clarrity on such an important, dread enducing, and confusing process.  After the presentation, our Koc hosts – Larry, Didem, Asuman, Nilufer and Azziz – took the  four of us college counselors out to a Syrian/Turkish dinner (more food!).
I attended the CIS college fair on my second day in Istanbul. The fair didn’t start until 2pm, so Bridget from Colgate and I set off to bargain at the Grand Bazaar.  I had a whole plan of buying a soft, plush hammam bathrobe for my brother’s birthday this  month but was quickly thrown off track by the stalls and stalls of beautiful silk scarves.  I did look at some robes too, but felt oddly indecisive and paralayzed by the different styles and options (I was the goldilox of bathrobes!  Too long. Not soft enough.  Wrong color.  Too short.  It was terrible!).  I can’t say I’m a pro at haggling, but I am very happy to report that I bought some lovely scarves for myself and some other people (though, not my brother – any suggestions on a good gift?).

Grand bazaar w/ Bridget

Sunday in Turkey was a free day for me.  I have been delighted to write about a number of sight seeing adventures, but for the most part, I have worked six or even seven days a week (with perhaps an hour or two in there to squeeze in a little adventure).  I had the option of either staying in Istanbul or flying early to Izmir and attending what I lovingly reffer to as a class trip to Ephesus, an active archeological sight.  Victoria from American Collegiate Institute in Izmir graciously planned a trip to this Roman ruin for any college counselor who was flying to Izmir a day early for their fair.  Having already seen some of the major sights in Istanbul, I opted instead to fly to Izmir early and head out with about 20 other college reps to see the ruins.

The library (it had a secret passage to the brothel across the street)

Admissions reps like myself spend a good part of their time giving presentations to students and parents, so when I say that we all thought our tour guide, Volcan, was fabulous, please know this is very high praise.  He has been giving tours there for 16 years and knows a lot about Roman mythology, the history of the city, and the archelogical dig and recunstruction going on right now.  More than that, he seemed excited to tell us about it.  I went into the trip know very little about the dig, but left with some great, did you know, facts.  For example:

1) Mark Anthony and Cleopatra honeymooned in Ephesus.  As a sign of respect to greet the guests of honor, citizens would throw red wine on the marble walk ways.  A red carpet is still of way of honorring an important guests.

Me in front of the library

2) Archeologists can tell the size of a Roman city bases on the largest theater in the city.  Roman cities would build their theaters to hold roughly 10% of the population of the city.  By dividing the seating surface (or tush area) of the arena by the size of the average Roman, archeologists can tell roughly how many citizens lived there.  Ephasus was home to about 225,000 people.

Roman theater

3) While Romans were welcoming to other religions, beliefs, and ways of life (there’s even a menorah engraved on the steps of the library), soldiers captured during battle were often sold as slaves or used as gladiators to entertain the people.  To protect the upper class from these gladiators with nothing to live for, the theater had a big mote in between the stage and the first row (the  VIP seats) that would be filled with fire.  Archers were also placed on the top of the arena to shoot down any gladiators that thought they might take out their captives with one dying leap into the first row.

Roman bathrooms were a communal experience.

Fun, right? (yes, I am a history nerd)

My last day in Izmir and Turkey was spent attending the ACI college fair.  The fair didn’t begin until after school, so a group of us headed to the bazaar to do a little more shopping (can you guess what I bought?) and have one more great meal, complete with baklava (yum!).  That night, I took a late flight back to Istanbul and headed out to Paris early the next morning.

Stay tuned for my report from Paris and don’t forget to register for Group Travel in the Caribbean.