Day 32: Istanbul

Today is the last day of the semester work and therefore, my last blog post.

We began the morning with a visit to the Dolmabahçe Palace. This is a grand palace of the previous Sultans or the Turkish people. It is a large home with many rooms (all of which are enormous) that once acted as a home to the sultan and housed political and religious events. The compels was built in a French style with ornate details and many decorative motifs. I would compare it to the palace of Versailles. However, the gardens were not nearly as impressive. Once room in the interior must have been 3 stories tall with the largest chandelier in the world hanging in the center of the expansive room. It was truly a magnificent ballroom. Unfortunately, we were prohibited from taking pictures of the interior.

Next, we went to Buyukada island in the Marmara Sea. It is a small island and the only modes of transport on the island are horse drawn carriage or bicycle. There are very few cars on the island, mostly ambulances and government vehicles. The buildings on the island are mostly a colonial style which was surprising to me. I expected to see more traditional Turkish housing. On this island, we took a carriage tour. It was a really fun way to see the area!

Later, we had a group dinner in which we celebrated the end of the semester and one students birthday. We sat on a rooftop terrace and when we sang Happy Birthday they launched fireworks above our heads. It was really exciting! The meal was delicious! I had a chicken kabob with rice and vegetables. We all had the traditional Turkish dessert, Baklava, at the end.

Today was another busy, exhausting day but it was great to see more of the area! As I continue to travel, I will no longer be posting blogs. I hope my readers have enjoyed following my journey!


Day 31: Istanbul

Today was a really long day packed full of activities.

We began the day with a trip to the Grand Bazaar. It is a really large market with tons of kiosk type “stores” selling all kinds of goods including rugs, antiques, clothing, and jewelry. It is a covered bazaar so it was essentially in doors so there were many things hung from the ceiling which made the space feel even more grand. It was a fun place to shop and walk around! I found a few items to purchase as well.

Next, we toured the Hagia Sofia museum. It was built as a Catholic church and later converted into a mosque before becoming a museum. The exterior looks to be a complex of different spaces with different spatial accommodations. The complex has 4 minarets surrounding the mosque. It also has a central dome structure. On the interior, what seems to be a complex of spaces opens up into one vast room. The ceilings are so incredibly high that I felt insignificant in the space. The large dome is absolutely massive when viewing it from the interior. It is covered with intricate details and vibrant colors. This interior was the most impressive part of the building.

Afterward, we split up for lunch and other activities of our choosing. Another student and I toured the Blue Mosque which is adjacent to the Hagia Sofia and is an active mosque (as opposed to a museum). In my opinion, the exterior is much more impressive than the Hagia Sofia because the central dome is visible from almost all angles. The interior, although not as grand as the Hagia Sofia, was very ornate and beautiful. The ceilings and walls were covered in intricate Islamic patterns and motifs. It was very pretty.

Next, we went to the underground Basilica Cistern. This was a cistern built in the Roman times to provide water to the area. It is one large room supported by large columns. The floor of the cistern is filled with approximately 2ft of water. It is very cool and dark with small lights attached to the base of the columns. We walked on catwalks above the water. At the of the catwalk is the statue of Medusa. The statue is a large stone block with a carved face turned upside down. It was interesting to see.

Later, we met back up with the group and boarded a ferry for a tour of Istanbul from the Marmara Sea. It was a guided tour so every so often, the guide would introduce the area and the important buildings we were viewing. It was very interesting. We were able to see the Bosphorus Bridge light up with its dancing colors. It was really beautiful.

Today was a full day of activities. Although it was a bit exhausting, it was great to see all of the sites of the city. Tomorrow, we will tour a palace of the previous Sultans as well as take a tour of a local island.

Day 30: Istanbul

Today we flew into Istanbul.

We had a long day of traveling. When we arrived in Istanbul and got settled into our hotel, we went to lunch a delicious restaurant. Our Turkish student ordered food for us. It was a flatbread-like dish with vegetables and meat which we loaded with lettuce and rolled up to eat. It was one of the best meals I have had on this trip.

Afterward, we toured the Old City. We crossed a bridge that spans the separation line between Asia and Europe. It was fascinating the be standing in Europe and looking at Asia. Our Turkish student showed us around the city and the important monuments. Unfortunately, the language is really difficult to understand, so I had a hard time following what the names of each place was. We went up in the Galata Tower for a beautiful view of the city. The city is so big, it spread as far as the eye could see and beyond.

We ended the day in the Ortaköy Pier next to the Bogaziçi Bridge. We ate a casual dinner and wondered around the plaza. As it began to get dark, the bridge lit up with blue lights along its tension cords. Every so often, the lights would move and dance in different patterns. It was really cool! The nightlife in that area was really vibrant and fun.

The day was a good one. It was a bit tiring because of all of the travel, but it was a great way to see the city first hand. Tomorrow, we go to the Grand Bazaar and Hagia Sofia which is a mosque I have studied several times in school. It should be a really fun and interesting day.

Day 29: Cappadocia

Today, we were able to explore the area more.

We began the day with a very early morning hot air balloon ride. We were picked up at our hotel at 5am and taken to the building where we were given a small breakfast and tickets to the balloon. We were the drove out to the fields where the balloons launch from. The drive was exciting. When we first arrived last night, I thought the ground seemed mostly flat. This morning, we drove from the top of a plateau into the valley. As we drove, the ground began to give way to huge rock formations and canyons. It seemed to suddenly reveal itself to us and show us the amazing typography of the area!

Once we arrived at the site, there were hundreds of balloons from many different companies preparing for launch when we arrived. We found our balloon and climbed into the basket. Our basket could fit 20 passengers. We launched from the ground very smoothly and rose above the rock formations as the sun was rising. The view was spectacular. All of the other balloons were in the air at the same time and littered the sky with bright colors. The morning sun bounced off of the balloons and gave the the most beautiful glow. It was truly an amazing site. The ride was very smooth as we floated higher into the sky or dropped down near the rocks. It lasted for about an hour. Once we landed, the pilot of our balloon opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate our successful ride. It was a fun way to end the adventure!

After the balloon ride and a short rest at the hotel, we went for a hike in the valley. We began at the top of a plateau and hiked our way down into the canyon. We walked amongst the large rock formations and retried creek beds. We made our way to a nearby town where we stopped for lunch. The town is built around one of the large canyon rocks that once served as a dwelling space for ancient civilizations. The rock had been carved out to create small rooms and tunnels. I climbed up the canyon a bit to get a closer look. They were very interesting but a bit haunting to see where people once inhabited.

Later, we hiked to another nearby town to catch a bus back to our hotel. The town was a little larger and mostly full of shops.

For dinner, we went to a traditional Turkish restaurant. It was similar to dinner and a show. We sat in a large room shaped like a wheel with a central circle and spokes extending from it where the tables were located. Our group sat in on of the spokes together. We were served drinks and delicious food while dancers performed traditional Turkish dances in the central circle. Several of the dances included belly dancers which was really neat! A couple times they pulled us out of our seats to join the dance. The dinner was a lot of fun!

Today was a really great day. The hot air balloon ride was my favorite activity on this trip! I only wish my family and friends could have been there to experience it with me. Tomorrow, we fly to Istanbul. It should be an interesting city because it is one of the largest in the world!

Day 28: Cappadocia

Today was a travel day to Turkey.

We left Venice early this morning and boarded a flight to Istanbul. The flight was only about 2 hours but we were given a full meal and personal screens for movies on the flight.

In Istanbul, we had a 3 hour layover. Our Turkish student on the trip brought me and another student to the VIP lounge of the airport to spend our wait. It was really cool to be in the lounge! Some of the perks included free food and drinks as well as good wifi and comfortable sofas. It was a lot of fun.

Our next flight to Nevsehir in Cappadocia was a local plane. I took the opportunity to nap on the 1.5 hour flight. It was much needed.

Once we landed in Nevsehir, we drove through the countryside (where the airport is located) to our hotel in town. We were not able to see much of the great rock formations of the area but could see some of the distant mountains and plateaus. Our hotel is what I would consider to be very traditionally Turkish. The rooms are small, stone clad rooms with vaulted ceilings. The are really cozy and feel very authentic. It is neat to feel so immersed in the culture.

We spent the remained of our evening at the hotel as we did not arrive until late. We also have to get up VERY early tomorrow as we are taking a hot air balloon ride first thing in the morning. I am SO excited for this (more excited than I have been for anything on this trip). We will not only have a spectacular view of the area, but we may also get to see the sunrise over the valley. It should be amazing!

I don’t have pictures to post today as we were on the plane for most of the daylight hours.

Day 27: Venice

Today is our last day in Italy. We traveled from Verona to Venice in the morning.

After settling into our hotel, we took a bus to the island portion of the city. The bus dropped us off at the main entry to the island which is the Calatrava Bridge. This is the first bridge to be build across the Grand Canal in hundreds of years. It is a modern sleek design which contrasts the traditional style of the city but complements it’s surroundings. It is a grand entry into the city. From our drop off point, we boarded a water bus (ferry) on the Grand Canal. We rode the bus the entire length of the canal from the Bridge to San Marco Plaza. The ride was spectacular. It was truly the best way to see the city. It was interesting to see the side canals which act as city streets. There are no cars on the island so boats take their place. As we rode down the canal, we passed many gondolas and waterfront markets and restaurants. It was perfect.

Once we made it to San Marco Plaza, we gathered as a group to study the Doge’s Palace located near it. I had learned about this building in school. It has an intricate exterior of red and white bricks in diamond shaped patterns. The geometric pattern is contrasted with ornate windows and columns. It was interesting to see in person, although I don’t feel that I learned much more about it than I had from class and previous photographs.

Next, we went to see the Carlos Scarpa museum exhibit. The old entrance to the building is a bridge that crosses a small canal which was designed by Scarpa. It is contrasting to the heavy, ornate style of the surrounding stone bridges by using wood and thin metal for structure. It is very simple and clean with thoughtful details and joints. The exhibit in the museum was interesting as well. Several of Scarpa’s sketches and drawings were on display. The interior itself was also designed by Scarpa and included intricate details such as a travertine door cut out, sunken basin that allows flood water to enter the building, and a rear garden that let’s the occupant hear the sounds of nature. The building was very interesting in that it showcased the importance of designing down to the details.

Afterward, a few other students and I explored the city. We came across several glass shops. Mirano is an adjacent island that is known for blown glass. Unfortunately, I was not able to make it over to the island as I did not have enough time. We took some time to sit down and sketch a bit. We stayed on the island until the late evening allowing us to experience it at sunset. Sunset was absolutely beautiful. As the sun sank, the oranges and red tones of the sky reflected in the water giving it a beautiful mix of colors. The warm rays highlighted the brightly painted buildings along the canals so that they almost glowed. Everything seemed to intensify. It was really something special.

Today was our only day in Venice. I am really disappointed because I really enjoyed the city and would like to explore it more. However, tomorrow we leave for Cappadocia in Turkey, and I am really excited for this portion of our journey! I cannot wait to see what it will bring.

Day 26: Verona/Vicenza

Today, we took a day trip to Vicenza.

We began with a visit to a local architecture firm, Traverso Vighy. The firm is run by 2 young architects who work primarily in sustainable design. They gave us a presentation on their work, ideas, and struggles. It was interesting to hear about their struggles because they often are the same in the US. For example, working through variances or other legal matters takes much time and can put projects at a standstill. They mostly work on small buildings, but do so with a high level of design and attention to detail.

After their presentation, we toured their office which was one of their designs. The building is a net-zero building which means that it runs completely on solar energy and even can produce a surplus of energy to sell back to the electric companies. The building is situated on a hillside. The front is approached from a wood-slat walk to a large curtain wall system set back into an irregularly shaped box. The overhang of the box provides shading in the summer and maximum heat gain in he winter. As you step through the door, you are able to see through the building and out the large curtain wall at the rear. The roof line slants upward toward the hill to focus views out the back and accommodate the sun in the front. Attached to the main building is a small structure that serves as a conference room, kitchen, and 2nd story covered deck. Covering the deck is several PV panels to accept energy from the sun. The building is rather small but again is designed down to every connection and bolt. It was really interesting to tour a modern sustainable building in comparison with the ancient structures we have been seeing.

Next, we went to the Teatro Olimpico designed by Palladio. We entered the theater through a courtyard which once upon a time served as a congregation and social space for those visiting the theater. Inside the theater, the rows of seats curve in front of a central stage. The backdrop for the stage is a carved wood wall painted to look like marble. The wall has openings that give preview to a 3dimensional backdrop that appears to be a city street. The set is constructed in perfect perspective to give the illusion that the street continues on for several blocks. It is really a fascinating set and would have been great to attend a play there.

Afterward, we walked over to the Villa Rotunda, also by Palladio. Unfortunately, we were only able to tour the grounds around the building and not the interior. The building is square in shape and is symmetrical on all sides with grand staircases extending from each. In the center is a large dome roof. The grounds were expansive and gave a little bit of an overlook to the surrounding town.

Lastly, we returned to Verona for a few hours of free time and a group dinner. I was able to walk around the city a bit during the day while the streets are still alive with markets and people. It was great to see the city in the prime hours of the day since many shops and markets close for dinner.

Today was a great mix of old and new. I really enjoyed seeing the historical Palladio buildings and taking in the techniques they used despite the difference in technology. I also really enjoyed seeing the more modern architecture and getting an idea of what my future could hold.

Tomorrow, we leave for Venice. It is our last day in Italy. I have enjoyed Verona, but wish were given more time in Venice instead. I am excited to see the water taxis and other unique characteristics of the city!

Day 25: Verona

Today was a travel day to Verona with a few issues.

When we looked at our train schedule in the morning, we noticed that our layover between trains at the station in Milan was only 15 minutes. That was going to be a really tight timeframe to move everyone onto another train. Then, when we got to our station in Lugano, the time board said our train was 10+ minutes late. Leaving us with less than 5 minutes to make our next train. When we arrived in Milan, we all jumped off of the train and ran down the platform to the time board only to find out that our train had just departed. Fortunately, everyone was all together and we were able to switch our tickets for the next hours train. It turned out to be alright but was very stressful in the moment.

Once we made it on our train, arrived in Verona, and got settled into our hotel. We went into town to visit the Castelvecchio. This is an ancient castle that has been restored and renovated by architect, Carlos Scarpa. This building was very interesting because Scarpa did not try to replicate the existing style nor do away with it. He respected the history of the castle by adding modern elements that referenced the existing but with their own formal language. For example, he placed modern glass windows with unusual mullion patterns behind the existing ornate cutouts of the building. This preserved the history of the building but did not try to fool the observer into thinking it is original to the castle. This type of approach really accentuated both the new and old elements and brought them together in perfect harmony.

He also focused on the details of the joints and connections of the building. He took care to design every bolted connection between materials and each sizing of members. In this way, he extended the roof line using new materials that accented the old by using opposing scales. For example, he chose to use thin tensile poles to act as a counterpoint to the very thick, heavy outer wall of the castle. Details such as this really made a huge difference when touring the castle.

Afterward, a few other students and I walked to a near by Roman coliseum. This one is smaller than the one in Rome but is still very large in scale. The exterior is a pinkish stone which was really accented by the setting sun. It was really a pretty building. Unfortunately, the facility was closed when we arrived so we were not able to go inside.

Next, we walked to the house of Juliette and the house of Romeo from the old love story. Again these houses were also closed. It was interesting to see the context of these two homes. They were almost what I would equate to a row home. I had thought they would be grander homes in more isolation. Maybe at one point in time they were. But it was interesting to see the location of this great love story.

I really enjoyed seeing the Castelvecchio today as well as the surrounding city. I think Verona is interesting that it is a smaller town with a rich history that is relatively not well known. Tomorrow, we are taking a day trip to Vicenza. I am not sure what this town will have to offer so I will just have to wait and see!

Day 24: Lugano

Today was a free day in Lugano, so I didn’t do much.

I spent the day wondering around town. I visited a couple shops and walked along the lakefront. While in town, I stumbled upon a couple of buildings designed by architect Mario Botta. His style is a very brutalist if style with heavy materials, minimal openings, and solid forms. I did not find his style or designs to be appealing. They seemed out of place in the precise yet comforting nature of the context. We were able to enter one of the buildings. It was disappointing. The only space we could occupy was the central stairwell. The stairwell was almost completely enclosed by wall with only a few slits as windows. It was clad in marble and granite. Each flight led to a small floor with an elevator bank and locked doors to tenant suites. Overall, it was very dark and somewhat sterile with the shiny floors and walls. I was unimpressed.

After touring the interior streets of the downtown area, I walked along the lake and stumbled upon a nice park area. The paths in the park led to a boardwalk of sorts that rounded the corner of a small peninsula and crossed a bridge to the harbor. The boardwalk was made of uneven planks of wood laid in a flat, winding plane. There were moments in the walk where the path jogged and jutted with the shape of the peninsula as well as opened up for trees and vegetation to grow through. This area was particularly beautiful. From the end of the boardwalk, you can see great views of the town and others near by as well as the mountains enclosing the valley. It was a spectacular view.

I made my way back into town for some lunch before I returned to the hotel for the evening. Once back at the hotel, I took a short nap (for the first time on the trip) and caught up on some work. I had dinner with the group and played a few rounds of cards before bed.

I have really enjoyed Lugano. It is a fairly large town with a quiet, comfortable feel. The people here are so nice and helpful! It is a truly welcoming place with some of the best views I have experienced. Tomorrow, we leave for Verona, Italy. I am excited to see what it had in store as I do not know much about the area. I believe Lugano was our last relaxing city as we have much planned for Verona.

Day 23: Lugano

Today, I hiked a trail in the foothills of the Alps.

We began our hike with a rail car ride to the top of a mountain near Lugano. From the top, we had nearly 360degree views of the mountains and valley towns. It was really beautiful. The weather was a little cool and had just come off of a rain, so the sky was slightly foggy, giving the distant mountains a washed quality and the closer mountains a highlight. We then hiked down a path from the top through a couple cute, picturesque Swiss towns. As it was yesterday, most of the trail was in the woods, but when the trees parted to give us a peek of the mountainside, it was amazing. At one point, we came upon a clearing with a drooping tree. We sat in this spot for a bit, just taking in the beautiful view. It seemed to render everyone speechless as we sat and reflected at this resting place.

We eventually made our way down to the lakeside town of Morcote where we had lunch and did a quick sketch. The view from the harbor was great and we could see the small building where we had started our hike high up in the mountains. We had really come a long way! The total hiking time was around 3-4 hours!

We then took a ferry from Morcote back to Lugano. The ride was also beautiful! We sat in the front of the boat which gave us the best scenic views of the surrounding mountains. Having these different vantage points on the trip was a very surreal feeling, almost unbelievable.

Once we made it back to Lugano, we explored the city for a short time. It also seems to be an expensive area. But we did not spend enough time there to find other areas. We had to return to the hotel up in the mountainside because the buses stopped running fairly early. This again gave me the opportunity to relax a bit.

Today was great! I really enjoyed the hiking and great views. I hope to be able to explore the city more tomorrow and find more budget friendly areas for this poor college student! Lugano is a beautiful town with some of the most friendly and helpful people I have ever met! I cannot wait to see what else it had to offer tomorrow!