The first excursion of the semester to eastern Turkey began at 3 am on my birthday. Granted, waking up at 3 am is not ideal and waking up at 3 am on my birthday would normally forebode a pretty miserable birthday. But in this case it was incredible. How many people can say that on their 20th birthday, they hiked up to a monastery that was built in the 4th century on the side of a mountain in a cliff 1200 meters high? Or admired the New Testament frescos of the Hagia Sophia of Trabzon?
We woke up that morning to catch a flight to Trabzon, where we boarded a bus that would become our home base for the next 9 days. It became more familiar than the hotels we stayed at because we moved from hotel to hotel every night, but boarded that same bus as we covered over 1000 miles of eastern Turkey. From Trabzon, we drove past the Black Sea and the borders of nearby countries, and through Van and past other cities, lakes, castles, mosques, and ruins. We were introduced to Turkish cuisine, which includes a lot of soup, tomatoes and cucumber salad, and fish, chicken, or beef as a main dish.
My favorite moment of the trip was the third night we were there. We stayed in a small hotel in Camlihemsin that had been renovated from an old school house and for dinner that night, we sat outside under the canopy of the mountains and full moon and ate a homemade meal prepared by the lady who lived next door. The dinner was finished by a mouthwatering homemade baklava. Afterwards, a neighbor came over to play an instrument that resembled a bagpipe. The music was harsh and discordant to my unadjusted ears, which were accustomed to music from Young the Giant or Mumford, but it was foreignly beautiful. As he played, one of the other guests, a grandma from the area, stood up and began to shuffle and dance. She was soon joined by the lady who owned the hotel and in no time after that, all 20 of us Duke program students were up and holding hands in a circle, trying to imitate the dancing steps to the discordant bagpipe music. It was the first real glimpse I felt I had into Turkish culture.
All in all, it was an amazing excursion with a unique view into Turkish culture away from Istanbul. It was an experience I would never have been able to have without the Duke program because the isolated places we visited were sites I would never have been able to travel to on my own, let alone places that I would think to travel to. Back in the states, my friends at Duke have been in school for a month now, but for me, that excursion finally marks the last of my summer and it was a great ending. Now I am looking forward to the start of classes tomorrow and the beginning of explorations in Istanbul.