Let me be explicitly clear in saying that I believe that traveling is not only beneficial, but also necessary for people, especially writers. (I should also be clear in saying that the title of this blog post is slightly misleading. I have four stamps in my passport. It’s pretty underwhelming, but I like the sound of the title–thank you, Dr. Seuss–so indulge me, okay?)
There is no comparable experience for learning and being exposed to new material. I’m especially a proponent for visiting countries in which you don’t know how to speak a single word, and spend some of the time you’re there learning how to speak it. Words are beautiful in any language, particularly ones I don’t understand. I also recommend getting lost at least once. Wander around and take in the sights, smells, and sounds and marvel at being in a completely different country. Try a food you can’t identify. Sit in a park and observe people who belong there. There’s just something about sitting on a bench in a completely new country and writing in a notebook.
Recently, I had such an experience. I traveled through my school to Turkey for a whirlwind trip of sightseeing, learning, and visiting Turkish families. It was an incredible, life-changing opportunity that I will never forget.
I don’t remember much of our first night there; we had been traveling for 18 of the last 19 hours and we were all exhausted and bleary from jet lag. I remember sitting in a very nice restaurant and being served an abundance of food, all of which was delicious (other than Ayran, a salty, yogurt drink.) I remember smiling and attempting to say, “Merhaba,” and feeling welcomed by everyone I saw…but that’s about it.
We hit the ground running the next day and didn’t really stop for the rest of the trip. In one afternoon, we toured Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, the Hippodrome, Basilica Cisterns, and the Blue Mosque. We were all ready for bed by the time dinner rolled around, but then our translator suggested a night walk along the Bosphorus Strait and Rumeli fortress so we instantly shook off our yawns and rubbed the sleepiness out of our eyes. It was a little chilly since we were right on the water, but the air was crisp and the spirit of adventure won out over our exhaustion.
Remember what I said about trying something you can’t identify?
SALGAM. Aka, the most vile thing you’ll ever put in your mouth.
My friends tried to convince me that it was grape juice, and, while I knew those unidentifiable objects in the basket were most definitely not grapes, I had no idea what they were. “Is it date juice?” I questioned.
There was the briefest pause before they all exclaimed in unison, “Yeah!…..DATE juice!”
It is not date juice, my friends. It is fermented black carrot juice.
When I finally discovered those tiny English words on the bottle and announced in loud horror what it was, there was such an uproar that our translator came in to see what we were doing. We asked him if he drank Salgam, and he took one horrified look at our faces and said, “With fish, sometimes; never by itself!” Anytime we visited a host family and our translator would be chatting in Turkish, we’d suddenly catch the word “Salgam.” He would look mischievously over at us and everyone would laugh and say what I’m pretty sure is the Turkish equivalent of, “Never by itself!”
On the second day of our trip, we visited Dolmabacce Palace, enjoyed a boat ride on the Bosphorus, went inside Suleymaniye Mosque, and met our first family! I lost one of the slip on shoes they gave us to protect the Palace and didn’t notice until someone pointed it out to me, so one of my professors told me that basically made me Cinderella and I was totally fine with that.
Remember what I said about new experiences?
I have been in everything from Catholic to Pentecostal churches, to Orthodox and Messianic synagogues. I had never once stepped foot in a mosque. It was an enlightening and incredible experience, although I did have issues with my head scarf; do you know how difficult it is to have all your hair covered and still be able to retain your peripheral vision?!
The next day, we toured Fatih University, Zaman Newspaper, and went exploring. We found the best public workout place, one of many that we’d seen around Turkey. Since we were walking and not just seeing them from our bus, of course we had to try them out before we caught our plane flying out to Izmir that evening!
In Izmir, we toured the ancient city of Ephesus, walked around the remains of the Temple of Artemis, toured a pottery place, and met with another family, where, as usual, we were welcomed with overwhelming hospitality, generosity, and food.
The next morning, we had breakfast with another family and headed off to the ancient city of Laodicea, where we walked among the remains and watched some excavations being done before we headed off to Pamukkale hot springs and visited a high school before flying back over to Istanbul!
Back in Istanbul, we toured a former synagogue turned museum, walked around Taxim Square, toured the military museum, visited St. Antoine’s Church, and met another family.
Remember what I said about getting lost at least once?
I guess technically, we weren’t lost; the church was.
Remember also what I said about just sitting on a bench in a park and just taking it all in?
Oh, man. Incredible.
The next day, we visited the Journalists and Writers Foundation (HEAVEN) and toured Samanyolu TV station, after which we spent the whole afternoon in the Grand Bazaar, where I learned that I am really, really bad at bargaining. We had dinner one last night with everyone in the restaurant we visited our first night there, and then headed home to pack up. The only thing we had time for our last day was breakfast with everyone, and then it was off to the airport. The flight back to the States was definitely not as thrilling as the flight there.
When I came home, people asked me the same question they asked me when I returned from the Dominican Republic last year: “Would you do it again?” I’m always amazed and slightly confused by this question. Why wouldn’t I? I guess because I love adventures so much, it’s a given that of course I’m going to travel again. Will my next trip be to Turkey? Probably not…the next places on my list are Italy, Israel, and Africa. Who knows where I’ll end up?
Oh, the places I’ll go!