In the widening gyre

For a detailed explanation on the origin and meaning of Sema, the Sufi ceremony replete with the dervishes who whirl, click here. We were treated to a private showing in an old wooden hall, and were amazed at how intently and perfectly the young adepts moved. The combination of the sweeping movements, the chanting of the master, and the accompanying ney (Turkish flute) was both transfixing and haunting.


Turn his merry note

Tree posers and tree huggers alike were spurred into action around Bursa's 600 year-old maple tree.



To begin our journey through this ancient city, a little bit of history brought to you by Samsung. Go, Korea!
Our tour guide was excellent. She pointed out the Temples built to various gods and goddesses, the small theatre, Curetes street, and the Gate of Heracles.
It wasn't until we got here, however, that the place really came to life...

But the best came near the end of the road, where the Esphesus Library stands. The oldest library in antiquity, it once held twelve thousand scrolls. The statues on the front represent wisdom, knowledge, intelligence and virtue, the last of which also reflects the ancient sense of irony, as an underground tunnel connected the library to the brothel across the way, thereby allowing would-be scholars to ignore those scrolls in favour of a different kind of pleasure.
At this point, it seemed like a good idea for all the loyal RISers to sit down and enjoy story hour with their librarian...


White hot rocks

Thermal spring at Pamukkale.


Let us lie

This pooch had the right idea on a very hot day, and didn't seem to mind when I shared some of his shade.



From the day we learned of our itinerary months before, many of us had become particularly excited about the prospect of staying in a 5 star spa resort in Afyon. The website of the Korel Thermal Resort speaks of the healing properties of the water and the mud, the first class hamam (Turkish bath), and the obligatory range of mani/pedi and massage options.

[Un]fortunately, both Rebecca and Cailin picked up stomach bugs and had to wait around their rooms for medical attention and intravenous fluids. This delayed our check-out time by hours, allowing Deanna and I to flounce longer in the pools, wander the beautiful grounds, and pay through the nose for some extraordinarily good Turkish coffee.



To say that we ate well and much in Turkey would be another massive understatement. On this particular day in Konya, we started with a vast breakfast spread at our home-stay (including, to Deanna's great delight, the local version of PB and J - sweetened tahini paste and rose jam), then continued a few hours later for two meters each [not a typo] of pide, Turkish pizza. We've had pide before at the Turkish restaurants in Seoul, but apparently in Konya, size matters.

The school had arranged for two of the nine nights we were in Turkey to be spent with host families, as a chance to give us a more intimate sense of Turkish hospitality and culture. Deanna and I had two wonderful nights, staying with lovely and interesting folks, who tried their best to fatten us up. In Konya we were fortunate to stay with Ayhan, our school's former business manager now back home to finish his Ph.D, and his parents. Ayhan's mom very discreetly and sweetly managed to pull Deanna aside after breakfast to practice some of the English she had learned for the occasion.


Piles of Pretty Painted Plates

Not a minute was wasted on the RIS trip to Turkey. The second the post-balloon champagne glasses were drained, we were off to the Pottery Barn. And by barn, I mean cave.

All of the pottery, Iznik in Turkish, is hand-painted and some of the larger pieces take up to 25 days to complete. We saw the craftspeople at work on a tour given by the Guray brothers, who are carrying on a family business that has been going strong for over 120 years. One of them gave us a hands-on demonstration of each step of the process, while the other explained the traditional artisanship begun generations ago.

And what tour would be complete without a little shopping before climbing back in the van?



Arriving late after a day of touring Cappadocia by land, we had a very short night in a hotel in Kayseri, an hour away from our balloon launch site. Alarms and wake-up calls at 3:00a.m weren't especially necessary though, as there was a spectacular thunder and lightning show, complete with torrents of rain, through the night. After some frantic phone calls to see if we were still going to the balloons (it turned out not to be storming in Cappadocia), we piled into the van at 4:00 for the drive.

We signed the "we won't sue you if something goes awry" forms, had the traditional pre-ballooning breakfast of coffee and a mountain of cookies, then watched the much-practiced crews get everything ready. Just as the sun was rising, we climbed aboard and began our slow ascent skyward.

We were all surprised at just how large the basket was. The pilot had his own compartment in the middle for his gadgets and instrumentation, and then there were two sections on each side for passengers. Each section held six adults, and our balloon was a full house.

The ride itself was about 90 minutes - we never rose higher than a few thousand feet so that we could stay below the remnants of the cloud cover. The sky was full of balloons - at one point Lee counted thirty or so, including, for all of our prairie readers, the ubiquitous Re/Max balloon. When he wasn't concentrating on keeping us all alive, our Spanish pilot answered some questions about the landscape, about balloon-piloting in general, and managed to flirt back with an enamored Rebecca.

We touched down very softly and were treated to a champagne toast, a group photo, and some commemorative certificates. To say that ballooning in Cappadocia was both serene and exhilarating would be to understate the experience.



It's vast. It's old. There are many caves. Christians used to live in them. Now tourists stay in cave hotels.

Or as the Lonely Planet says:

The Hittites settled Cappadocia from 1800 BC to 1200 BC, after which smaller kingdoms held power. Then came the Persians, followed by the Romans, who established the capital of Caesarea (today’s Kayseri). During the Roman and Byzantine periods, Cappadocia became a refuge for early Christians and, from the 4th to the 11th century, Christianity flourished here; most churches, monasteries and under ground cities date from this period. Later, under Seljuk and Ottoman rule, Christians were treated with tolerance.

Cappadocia progressively lost its importance in Anatolia. Its rich past was all but forgotten until a French priest rediscovered the rock-hewn churches in 1907. The tourist boom in the 1980s kick-started a new era, and now Cappadocia is one of Turkey’s most famous and popular destinations.


Dramatis Personae

The first part of our month away was a ten day tour of Turkey with the good folk from school. Seen here, on the morning of our first day in Istanbul with the Hagia Sophia obscured by umbrellas are HyeYoon, BokHwa, Rebecca, Deanna, Jill, Marcia, and Cailin. The next picture shows the indefatigable Altay being the Guide Par Excellence, which he did amazingly well for the duration of the trip.


And we're back...

In the last month, we've seen Turkey, Romania, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Now back in Seoul, we have hundreds of photos to sort through and eventually post for your enjoyment. Stay tuned, loyal readers, as we entertain with our follies. To begin, an attempt to answer the age-old question: how many goofy tourists can fit in a phone booth?