The Heart of Turkey

Posted by Andrew Johannesen


During the summer, I backpacked through quite a bit of Central Europe in preparation for my fall semester at the University of Marburg in Germany. I visited many awe-inspiring sites and was able to delve deeply into German culture, but the highlight of my travels was visiting friends in the completely different culture of Turkey.

After taking a German language course at the Goethe Institut in Berlin for a month, I made several lifelong friends from all over the world: Brazil, Russia, Spain, Taiwan, to name only a few. I wanted to visit all their homelands and experience all the strange and wonderful things they described about where they came from, but decided the most accessible and culturally rewarding would be to visit my friends in Turkey. My visit blew my expectations out of the water.

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Turkish hospitality was in full force with my friends—they were very insistent that I have a completely authentic Turkish experience while I was with them, and it all started with the food. Oh! The food. From Mantı to Dolma, Menemen to İmam Bayıldı, everything was to die for. My absolute favorite hands-down was the handmade Keşkek which had the consistency of a creamy porridge but tasted of the best popcorn you’ve ever had. Along with all these delicious dishes would often come the intriguing anise-based liquor Rakı. It caught my attention immediately, as when combined with water, both clear liquids turn cloudy. After spending high school doing hundreds of chemistry demonstrations I felt I needed to get to the bottom of what just happened. Through the difficulties of a  language barrier and limited lab setting, I had my answer after about ten minutes: emulsion! After applying a small amount of hand soap, it became evident that there were oils in the liquor that created a nonstable emulsion. I had my small victory.

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Among other things, my inner archeologist was thrilled to be able to see Hellenistic ruins in their original state. One of my favorite side trips was going to Pamukkale, the site of ancient Greek city Hierapolis. What set the city apart from something like seeing the Pergamon in Berlin was the fact that I could climb all over the ruins if I wished. Fourteen-year-old me was absolutely thrilled. Adjacent to the magnificent ruins were the massive travertines jutting out over the plains. These massive limestone deposits outside the ancient hot springs were bizarre at first sight, appearing to be landbound clouds, but upon closer inspection turned out to be a cool place to relax—if you’re not shy of heights.

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My Turkish journey ended with a jaunt up to Istanbul to explore one of the oldest and largest crossroads of civilization on Earth. Between the petting of the (extremely healthy) street dogs and cats, I barely had time to enjoy some Turkish coffee by the sea and have my fortune told out of the grounds.

This trip was my second time outside of the United States. My first trip was to Mexico to do volunteer work in the seventh grade, thus my experience with foreign countries was very limited. But during my time in Turkey I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between it and Mexico: the landscape, the rhythm of the language, the hospitality of its people, its relationship with its more-industrialized associate (in Turkey’s case, Germany). This is most likely a product of my lack of exposure to foreign cultures, but it was interesting to find so much familiarity among a place so clearly foreign to me. After seeing more of the world, I cannot wait to return to my friends in Turkey and make more memories as well as see the country from a better perspective.

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