Our week long excursion began in Trabzon by the Black Sea, and ended on Lake Van in the Southeast. Throughout the week, I was struck by how geographically diverse Turkey is— we visited the coast, the mountains, the desert, and a lake the size of Connecticut. We visited Sumela Monastery in Macka, which is literally built into the side of a cliff. In Camlihemsin, we hiked through the Yaylas (summer villages) to a lake on top of a mountain. Outside of Kars we visited Ani, the medieval “City of 1,001 Churches” on the Armenian border. We ended our trip by watching sunset from Van Castle, and ancient Urartian fortress with cuneiform inscriptions along the rock walls. The excursion is diverse in every sense of the word, and future Duke students should be prepared for that. Here are my suggestions:
Pack for both religious sites and physical activity. Bring a rain jacket, bathing suit, and a headscarf. Keep in mind that the areas you will be visiting are conservative. Bring workout clothes that will cover your shoulders and legs: tank tops and shorts won’t cut it the whole way.
Bring good walking shoes. This is so important that I had to separate it from my other packing suggestions. You will spend days hiking up cliffs and through mountains, so sneakers are a must.
Bring Medicine. You’re all going to get the so-called “Turkish tummies” (you can probably guess what that means). Be prepared!
Ask questions. I generally don’t enjoy traveling with a guide, but ours was the best I’ve ever met. Sevim is extremely knowledgeable and also just a really interesting person. Ask her any question you can think of, if just to hear some of her stories.
Have no expectations, make no assumptions. The excursion was completely indescribable, and each activity was different from anything else I’ve experienced. This can get overwhelming, but just go with the flow and trust the staff. In the end, it’s all worth it.