Context Creates Life

My friends and I went to the Oregon Symphony recently and I was extremely pleased that the Conductor explained some of the background and history about the artists. Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen was suddenly more meaningful when set in the context of WWII and the destruction of the Munich Opera House. It was a nice reminder to me why context matters in everything.

As a Biblical Historian, I know that context is key when reading ancient tests. In order to really understand a text, you have to know as much as you can about the author, the audience, the sociopolitical situation, even the language and its nuances. The text holds more power when read in its correct context.

Context isn’t only relevant to ancient history. Mashable has printed an opinion piece on why context matters when judging images here. An image taken 5 minutes ago and tweeted can easily be taken out of context.

I can’t imagine travelling without understanding at least some of the context of the places I’m visiting. This can happen both prior to and during the trip.

When planning my trip to Turkey, I read news articles, histories, and travel books to understand more about the country.

While I was there, I learned the most from a private guide who I hired for a day in Cappadocia. From him, I learned that the gorgeous geological formations were formed from volcanic activity over a period of about 65 million years. Each of the unique formations and colors were created during a different eruption.


“Fairy chimneys” were formed when lava covering the tuff (consolidated volcanic ash) gave way along preexisting cracks of sloping areas and became isolated pinnacles. They can attain a height of up to forty meters, have conical shapes and consist of caps of harder rock resting on pillars of softer rock.


Each layer of rock was created by different volcanic eruptions over time, one on top of another.

Cappadocia was gorgeous, but with this information, it became both gorgeous and interesting. Have you noticed how context has made your life richer?


Beyond Being

When I think back on my trip to Turkey, now well over a year and half ago, I don’t necessarily remember all of the little details that I noticed in the architecture. I don’t remember the taste of the hot tea and how it cooled me despite the warm temperature outside. But what I do acutely remember is how alive I felt. Because I was actually noticing those little details, I was 100% in the moment, taking in every smell and sound. My eyes were wide open.

Last night, I took a bread baking class at Portland’s Culinary Workshop (a place I can heartily recommend). I was paired for the class with a gentleman who was probably in his 50’s, an Engineer at Hewlett-Packard who made a great conversation partner in between bread risings. Well traveled himself, we discussed his work trips to Asia, particularly Taiwan which he loved, and of course, we talked about my own travels and my desire for more. We also talked about career paths and in the end I kind of felt like I was talking to somebody who was a mentor, he was so intent on listening to me, and I thank him for that kindness.

Toward the end of the night, he said to me, “have you ever considered a job that involved traveling? You light up when you talk about your journeys.”

Hearing those words, “you light up when you talk about your journeys,” brought back a flood of memories of how alive I felt in Turkey. I was momentarily heartbroken to think that I’m not living every day lit up like that. It’s my best self, the person who I want to be. The person who is aware and in love with everything that surrounds them. I want more than to just Be for my life.

I’m going to try to start noticing things more. To slow down and actually SEE where I am currently. It seems a shame to only be “alive” in far aways lands when I live in such a beautiful place now.

“Maybe, she thought as she fastened her cloak, there was some middle ground to be had, a resting place between passion and practicality.”

-from “The Golem and the Jinni” by Helene Wecker

Finale…or is it?

Thanks for your patience everyone. Immediately after arriving home to Portland, my family arrived and we drove to N. California for my Grandmother’s Memorial service. There wasn’t much time to myself, and I was pretty focused on being with family. But I’m back in Portland and hopefully I still remember what it was I was going to write about in my final blog!

My final day in Cappadocia was probably the most exhausting simply because by then I hadn’t had more than 5 or 6 hours per night of sleep for the previous 3 nights.  Plus, we did a ton more walking. Cappadocia is a large place, and most people take buses to get from site to site, but we walked because we were awesome, or crazy.  We started at the Goreme Open Air Museum, which honestly was way too touristy for my interest, especially since I’d seen so many cave churches the day before minus all the crowds.  But of course, there was some great scenery regardless.

I make excellent scenery, no?
Seriously.  Amazing.
The highlight of the day was walking up to the Uchisar Castle. It’s about 6 km from where we were staying, but we got picked up by a group of French guys who gave us a ride for maybe the final 2 km (thank God). We explored Uchisar for a while, the castle was used by the Byzantine Army in the 15th and 16th century as a lookout for the coming Ottomans.
Uchisar Castle from below.
After the castle, I was pretty wiped out and decided it was a good time to stop for some Turkish Tea (my favorite). There were some dark clouds rolling in, but I really wasn’t too worried about them.  It was fortune that we waited for them instead of trying to beat them on our way back to Goreme, because let me tell you, we wouldn’t have survived. The wind came out of nowhere and then there were buckets of rain and hail. It all lasted about 30 minutes, during which we were able to take cover in the cafe. The poor workers literally had to hang from the rafters of the awning to keep it from flying away!
Brave souls.

The next morning I flew back to Istanbul for my final day. I spent the majority of the day resting, picking up last minute souvenirs  and finally I met my friend Kelly for a delightful afternoon of cheese and tea.  I could not have asked for a more perfect way to end the vacation, and the best part is that she and I started scheming a trip together. We’re thinking Morocco…so stay tuned.

Cappadocia Part 2

After the magical balloon ride, a nap was in order before being picked up by our private tour guide provided by Honeycomb Tours. I can not recommend them enough, they paired us with a tour guide who tailored the day to our specific needs and interests.  In Turkey, to be a tour guide, you have to have a 4 year degree specifically geared towards tourism, which is brilliant because you can ask them questions about anything from history and culture to geography.  We learned a lot about how the landscape was formed through the centuries of volcanoes leaving layers of various ash and magma on top of one another.  He explained how the rock is different colors based on the different minerals found in sediment and how the rock has changed with erosion over time.

We went to the underground city of Kaymakli, the second largest of the underground cities in Cappadocia. Some estimate that up to 50,000 people lived in the city for up to 1 year at a time, but I personally think this is agressive.  Most likely, a couple of thousand at most lived there for 2-3 weeks, just enough time to hide from the Ottomans as they passed through on their way to Istanbul.  I didn’t get a ton of pictures in the city, there wasn’t much to take pictures of actually…

Living area, each family would sleep in one of those holes in the walls.  
As we got to a lower level, we could feel a cool breeze which was being supplied from the air shaft, allowing people to breathe underground.  They’re still not certain about how smoke left the complex, but some of it was absorbed by the rock.
Next we went to Sobessos, a Roman-Byzantium city that was discovered just about 15 years ago. They are still in the process of exploring the site, it’s been a slow process, but what we did see what pretty impressive.  The city is from the 4th century CE.
Remains of the Roman bath
Tile floor of the city’s church
We also went to the village of Mustafapasha (once called Sinassos in Greek).  The town was primarily a Greek village until after World War I when all Christians (who happened to mostly been Greek) were forced to return to Greece and likewise all Turks (Muslims) in Greece were forced to move to Turkey.  So now the town is inhabited by Turkish people, but you can see the old Greek buildings, many of which are left empty still. 
Old Greek Church
Because of my interest in religion (which the tour guide was also very excited about), we went to a couple of old cave churches with some particularly spectacular frescoes. 
13th century (?) Jesus descending to hello to save those who are stuck there while stepping on Hades, he’s such a jerk like that.

Difficult to see in the picture, but here we have an example of an older mural (darker on the right) from the 4th century covered by a newer one (on the left) from the 13th or 14th century.  
Finally, on the way back to Goreme, we stopped a pigeon valley, aptly named…
It was a great day over all, although extremely exhausting. I would definitely recommend a private tour the way we did it, just simply because you end up seeing things that you might not have seen on your own! Plus, you get the history lesson along with it!
Part 3 and the final installment of Cappadocia to come…

Patience and Understanding

Something happened on this trip that I did not expect nor want to happen, yet it is what I will remember and cherish the most from this mini journey. As this is a public blog, I will not share many of the details, but if you have ever seen the movie “Before Sunset,” then you may understand. But as I tell you of the adventures I had in Cappadoccia, know that they are flavored and enhanced by this chance encounter and I am great full for what this encounter has done for my soul.

I arrived in Goreme, Cappadoccia on Friday and met up with two of the friends I had met in Istanbul. One had not intended on meeting me there, but she had left her passport behind and asked me to bring it to her. The other decided to meet me in Goreme after traveling along the Black Sea. Along the way, we met others, and eventually, there were six of us trekking through the red and rose valleys. The plan was to go to a viewpoint to watch the sunset, and as we ascended, we were constantly rewarded with more and more impressive views. Additionally, along the path we came upon hundreds of years old churches, carved into the rock caves. At one point, we were delighted to come upon a remote cafe where we could buy water, fruits, and nuts, all grown right there around the valley. We were treated to Turkish Tea and conversation with a man who spoke not a word of English, but still managed to portray himself through gestures and hospitality. After a rest, we continued up to the view point. In normal circumstances, this hike alone would have been enough for me, but the rest of the group wanted to go higher to the top plateau. Sensing my hesitation and fear (up is fine, it is down that I dread), my new friends were encouraging and supportive. That coupled with the endorphins I felt just from the views, I put my brave hat on and endured. It was incredibly worth it. I have pictures, see below, but they really can not do justice to what we actually saw from the top where we saw the sun set over the colored valleys.
Me on the hike up.
Just one of our views from almost the top.
It was dark as we hiked back down, fortunately we had one lamp with us. When I thought I couldn’t continue, we came upon another cave church and suddenly I was inspired again. One of my companions said, “your reaction to this cave is almost better than the cave itself!”
Jesus making the sign of the Trinity with his hand.
As we left the canyon and walked the country road back to Goreme, I followed my friends silently, watching nothing but the night skies. Even in the small city of Portland, it is rare to see so many stars so clearly.
I was so incredibly tired and yet more satisfied than I could have imagined over the course of those 8 hours of exploring.
See next blog for the continued story in Capadoccia,






Oh the People You Meet

A Physics Professor from New York, a Mechanical Engineer from Toronto, a Midwife from Adelaide Australia, a student from Bristol UK, a CPA from Los Angeles, another student from Portland Maine. Some of these people I will forget, some will forget me. But for a brief moment we share time and space as well as meals and experiences.

If I get nothing else from this trip, I will have this.


Last night, on a whim, I went with two of my new friends to the Hodjpasha Dance Theater to see the Mevlevi Sema ceremony (aka Whirling Dervishes).  Unfortunately, pictures (and clapping, as it turns out) are not allowed, so I don’t have anything to show you.  The ceremony is part of Unesco’s Intangible Heritage of Humanity, it is an 800 year old tradition representing the mystical journey of man’s spiritual ascent through mind and love to perfection. 

The dance was held in a 500 year old bath house (hamam), the ceremony starts with 4 men playing a Kodum (drum), Danun (strings), Ney (flute), and Tanbur (guitar of some sort).  Later, three men join who are the chanters, singing words from the Quran among other things. 
The Dervishes themselves spend a majority of the 45 minute ceremony spinning to the music with one hand up toward God and one facing down to represent the people. This means “from God we receive, to man we give; we keep nothing to ourselves.”
I’m really not sure how they spend so much time spinning without falling over. They don’t even use tracking like a ballet dancer would. By the end, you could see the sweat falling from their faces. The dance represents a journey towards nonexistence or Unity with God.
It is, in essence, a meditation much  like that of the Buddhists, just a dizzy one…
Today I will go back to the Cultural Arts Center and maybe take another class. I also need to buy a bigger suitcase (haha), but other than that I will take it easy. I have to catch a taxi at 5 am tomorrow to get to the airport for my flight to Cappadoccia! 

Catching my Breath

Please forgive the delayed update, this whole walking around and touring thing is pretty exhausting, by the time I get back to the hostel where I’ll have time to write, I’m too exhausted to do much. All is going very well, however (minus the darned heat rash).

Yesterday was eventful with a visit to the Aya Sophia, originally a Byzantine church, it was converted to a Mosque in the 1500’s and then a museum in the 1930’s. The outside is nothing amazing, other than the fact that it’s quite large, you wouldn’t want to spend the day looking at it. However, the inside is quite the opposite.  I’ve been into a number of places of worship, but I’m not entirely certain that any are as beautiful as the Aya Sophia.


Not only is it beautiful, but it’s absolutely massive!


The highlight, of course, for me, was meeting the Aya Sophia cat. There’s a whole other blog that I found prior to my trip about this cat.  He apparently deemed me worthy of his presence because  he jumped into my lap and started purring.


Later we went to the Archaeology museum, which turned out to be rather large, I would say the biggest I’ve ever been to, almost overwhelming in fact.  I was very excited to finally see the Treaty of Kadesh, which is the earliest known peace treaty. It was written between the Egyptians and the Hittites  in 1258 BCE.  I was particularly struck by how small it was.


Today so far I’ve just wandered the Grand Bazaar a bit, it’s HUGE, but pretty expensive, so I didn’t do any shopping there. Then walked across the Galata Bridge to see the city from the Galata Tower:
Truth be told, I am ready to move on to the next place. I leave on Friday for Cappadocia, which will be a nice change from the city. Before I leave though, I plan to see the Whirling Dervishes a spiritual ceremony called the Mevlevi Sema that represents the mystical journey of man’s spiritual ascent through mind and love to perfection. It’s an 800 year old tradition.








It is difficult to find alone time to focus on writing this blog. This is the exact opposite of what I expected. Not that I am complaining, not one bit. Meeting all of my new friends has been the highlight of the trip, and it is really sad as they move on to other places. I think there can be a special bond between travelers who are on their own, there is an understanding and camaraderie about it. With that said, tomorrow I hope to have a quieter day, I think maybe I will go to the Prince’s Islands then to another Hamam. 

Today was an adventure in the rain getting out to Chora Church, a Byzantine church West of the old city. It was quite small, but the tiled mosaics were simply stunning. 
Later we went to The Blue Mosque, I found it truly peaceful because of its massiveness paired with its simplicity. Compared to many old Cathedrals, I find it easier to simply be with God because there is little to distract you, no statues, mosaics, frescoes. 
Additionally, I had my favorite meal so far. It is basically chicken and rice cooked into philo dough then cut open. I did not get a picture, but here is one of some other fantastic food…

I keep getting notes from friends back home regarding the protests and riots. I assure you that I am staying far away (remember, Istanbul is huge). If necessary, I will leave and go elsewhere, but I highly doubt that will happen. The only way this is impacting me is that it is prohibiting me from going to some of the places I would like to go and from seeing my friend. I do really feel for the Citizens of Turkey, though. Being here has shown me how important free speech and democracy really are.

Ok, one last photo for the night and then I am going to bed early!
Valens aquaducts!!


In an attempt to avoid the riots, which I am sure you have heard of, my new friends and I embarked over to the Asian side yesterday morning. (I can now say I’ve been to 4 Continents, yay!) We started with visiting a Hamam (Turkish Bath) in the area of Kadikoy. This particular Bath House, called the Aziziye Hamami is only about 150 years old, and was quite simple, but still beautiful.  I suspect later this week I will go try another older one, just for the sake of it. Plus, it is enjoyable. It’s basically a sauna where you can relax and get a full body exfoliation and massage. 

Afterwards, we wanted to go to the local market. On our way over, we noticed a bunch of news vans and police and realized that there was a protest there that day. So we high tailed it back to the ferry and came back to the Old City. It was really disappointing to have to leave, the riots are really having an impact on how much  we can see and do. Granted, it’s a worthy cause, I believe, the Government is just trying too hard to control everything, and the people are not happy about it, which I don’t blame them for! 
Setting up for the protest, I guess it got pretty bad over there about an hour or so after we left.
We ended up wandering the Spice Bazaar, which is less spice and more stuff, but there were a few fun spice booths:
I do plan to go back and buy some teas and Turkish coffee!
We were all absolutely exhausted from the heat of the Hamam and the day, so we came back to the Hostel to chill out before dinner with a view:
Apparently, my body has decided it only wants to sleep for 5 hours a night, yet I’m exhausted. Today is really rainy, so it might be a good idea to just relax….