“Wait, where are we going?”: Excursion #1

Turkish flag

Bleary eyed, I hit my snooze button on my “dumb” phone one last time, realizing that I only have eleven more minutes until I’ll be left behind at the dorm. With my room still not set-up nor organized, I caught myself as I stumbled over my half-emptied suitcase sitting in front of my door, yet I thanked myself for packing the night before instead of waiting until literally last minute.

Taking a pit-stop for this view

Why did I wake up at 3am, you might ask? Well, Duke in Istanbul was having their first excursion, of course! At 6:00am, we flew into Trabzon, a city on the northeastern coast of Turkey. It’s easy to say that we felt more at home on our bus than we did in the dorms in Istanbul. In summary, we saw a LOT. More than we realized and more than we were even able to take in at the moment. Here are some of my observations and thoughts that I had along the way.

1) Probably like any country, Turkey has its different faces, some unknown to the average tourist. 

Only having seen Istanbul for the first few days, we all assumed Turkey was more of a city-place with maybe some farms and suburbs in between. At least for me, I had no idea how gorgeous the rural areas of Eastern Anatolia (our main region) are. We hiked some killer mountains – mountains that pictures can’t even come close to doing justice for. Don’t get me wrong; I love a good hike, but some of the climbs were unlike anything I’ve ever seen both in physicality and in breath-taking views.

Eastern Anatolia yaylas; stayed in wooden bungalows that night

Eastern Anatolia yaylas; stayed in wooden bungalows that night

2) Do one thing you fear everyday. 

This ended up being my daily mantra. Whether I wanted to or not, I ended up doing something that brought me to the brink of my comfort zone. Granted, those moments led up to some of my favorite parts of the trip with the most breath-taking views. For example, in one of the first hikes of the trip, we climbed to the top of a mountain where locals have summer homes that have been passed down from generation to generation. To get there, however, you must climb a very narrow dirt path – about one foot wide – without any guard rails or path maintenance to guide you. I never felt unsafe or in danger, but it was definitely pushing my comfort zone a bit further than I would have done on my own.

On our way to a hike up the yaylas in Eastern Anatolia!

On our way to a hike up the yaylas in Eastern Anatolia!

3) History on history on history on history. 

This place is old! These lands date back literally thousands of years, and yet there are still remnants of villages and civilizations still visible today. Our tour guide was one of the most knowledgeable people I know. She had an answer to every question that was asked and never seemed to run out of information to share. Sometimes, I wished that all this information and history was presented a bit more generally or gradually; she threw so many details on us, it was hard to put all the pieces together sometimes! I truly wished that I could comprehend it all, but hopefully as I learn more about Turkish history, the pieces will fall into place.

Armenian architecture lesson

Armenian architecture lesson

This excursion made me realize that when I’m not in my comfort zone, amazing things will happen. The excursion was a surreal experience that I wouldn’t have been able to do on my own; I didn’t even know these places existed in Turkey! We’re coming up on the one-month mark of being abroad in Istanbul, Turkey, and it surpasses my understanding of how how many memories, stories, confused looks, and laughs we’ve all already shared. If this month is any indication of the semester, I think I’ll be satisfied; here’s to another three more amazing months! 

Lake Van -- Duke in Istanbul!

Lake Van — Duke in Istanbul!

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