Sunday, November 15

Hoşça Kalın

Last night mom and I pushed through our exhaustion and went back across the bridge in search of some true Turkish cuisine. We went to a restaurant mom had found in the New York Times, written up as being absolutely delicious and in a cool area. Even though our cab driver couldn’t find the restaurant, he parked on the street to go in search of it, and he came back to the cab with the host, who brought us back to the restaurant, which was on a tiny street filled with outdoor restaurants. It was amazing. I had grilled eggplant with melted goat cheese for an appetizer, and a chicken dish with almonds, peanuts, date or raisin like fruit, in a creamy ginger sauce with rice. Mom had pureed eggplant (essentially like mashed potato consistency, but eggplant) with lamb and a special sauce. We had wine, and I tried a Turkish coffee afterward (YUM). When we left the restaurant, they helped us find a cab again. The restaurant was off of a road, but not for cars, for the above ground trolley, but the cab came to pick us up there anyway, and it was a mad dash to get into the cab before a head on collision with the trolley (of either direction). Of course.

We made it home (to Maine) safely, with no glitches– and by no glitches I mean NO glitches. Swiss Air was even accommodating, and put us in business class (once you go business, you never go back). We also learned in Switzerland it’s against the law for some who is handicapped to travel alone … so much for peace, love and equality (and independence).

Overall, my trip was so successful. I met THE nicest people, both Turkish and American, and got to see so much in the short time was there. CIEE made everything so easy, and all of their staff was so helpful in making sure that I was able to get up the 13 steps so I could see the blue mosque, or the HUGE stone “ramp” to help me get up to the second floor of the Hagia Sophia, or the two FLIGHTS of stairs to the reception/arts museum. The city is so beautiful, but there is absolutely no way I could have even pretended to do it on my own. So that’s it until my next adventure … Thanks for reading!


Friday, November 13

Spice up Your Life

I could bore you by telling you we woke up early this morning and made our way to the Tokpiko Palace before 10. Or by telling you about its incredible size, intricate tile design, or historical legacy of the Sultan’s reign over the 80,000 square meter grounds. Or even about the Harem, the area where the Sultan kept women, including his mother, one of the most powerful women in the empire, his wives, or wives to-be who were held in a certain section to essentially train to be the Sultan’s sex slaves. I could tell you about our incredible walk from the palace to the Bosporus, where we stopped in store windows filled with baklava and Turkish delight that would make your mouth water. Or about how we stopped under a bridge, filled with restaurants, where we had fresh fish sandwiches, literally a fish, on bread, with tomato and lettuce. I could try and explain the possibly hundreds of stairs we bumped up and down today, just to get from one side of the highway to another, in an underground walking tunnel. Or I could even attempt to explain the spice market, where there were tons of stores selling fresh tea, every spice, nut, and dried fruit imaginable. Not to mention the vendors, who were extremely interested in the fact that we were Americans. I believe one of the vendor’s comments was “Are you lost? Don’t worry … I’m right here!” Or another who said “Are you Miss USA?” and after I responded no, he said “Well, you are mine!” and offered me “Love” tea. Thanks, but no thanks. I felt like I was in some horror movie about super cheesy pick-up lines. We humored them by buying fresh “Relax” tea, and honey and pistachio sweets, but tried to stay away from “Natural Turkish Viagra” or “The Sultan’s Aphrodisiac” – which most of the time ended up just being Saffron.

Even though I could go on for days about all of the incredible things we did today, I would prefer to tell you that I saw my life flash before my eyes this afternoon. After about five hours on our feet exploring, we decided to grab a cab home. When we met someone who would give us a ride back to the hotel for 15 TL (Turkish lira, which is about 10 bucks) we called it a deal, crammed my chair in the trunk, and set off. The Turks drive like maniacs: worse then the French, the Italians, and anyone from Massachusetts. After almost getting into an accident because of our driver’s inability to use a blinker, we were inevitably pulled over. We sat awkwardly in the cab, while our driver got out and talked to the “polis”. We couldn’t decide whether we should stay and wait, or get out and find another cab. The fact that we were in the middle of a highway confirmed our decision of staying put. After about 10 minutes, the driver got back into the car, ripped up his ticket and threw it out the window, muttered something in Turkish, and lit up a cigarette. The next 7 minutes became the scariest cab ride of my life. Blinkers, stop lights, and people were minor hindrances, most of the time we plowed through all three, though somehow managed not to kill anyone. We arrived safely back at our hotel, where mom literally threw money at him, and the two of us ran inside before our interaction with this cab driver continued.

At the end of the day, if I could give you some advice about Istanbul, it would be: go to the palace, don’t take a cab, and when shopping, don’t settle for the first price someone offers you.

Turkish Delight

Today was the day of my speech – the whole reason I’m here … remember? This morning we went to a big breakfast with everyone from the CIEE conference, with again absolutely delicious food. And we were going to venture out, but my nerves took over and we decided to just practice my speech and chill at the hotel for a bit. We found an absolutely incredible view of the Bosporus, where you could see Asia, the Hagia Sophia, and the Blue Mosque, it was unreal. I then met Daniel, my resident director from Rennes, Cerise, a woman from Mobility International USA, Chris, another student who studied in Rennes in the fall with Asberger’s syndrome, and his study abroad advisor, in the conference room to set up our power points and go over the order of the afternoon. I was extremely nervous, but somehow managed to keep my cool for the presentation. There were about 30 people who attended, and they were engaged and really eager to talk to me, Chris, and Daniel after our presentation. It was a little after 3 and mom and I had realized that we hadn’t had lunch. We ventured out of the hotel to find a sandwich or something yummy. We were crossing the street, looking for a falafel stand or something quick and easy, when we realized, we were taking our lives into our own hands by crossing the street on our own. Two lanes of the street had stop lights, while the other didn’t. So it was somewhat of a “run or die” situation. A really nice Turkish man noticed our hesitancy and helped us across the street. He realized we were American and spoke to us about his sister living in Baltimore “amazing America city.” We told him about our hunt for lunch and he said “come with me, I show you.” He brought us to his friend’s kebab stand, got us sandwiches, and helped us back to our hotel, first having us stop at his family rug shop for business cards, of course. He is an excellent example of everyone here, so nice. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he was about the 50th person to ask me if I were Turkish? Thank you Mimi for my Greek blood!

I also met some one from a program called Diversity Abroad, which encourages students with diverse backgrounds to study abroad. So, after lunch, he interviewed me for his website, and was really great to talk to about my experience. They are launching a new website in January, and hopefully I will be a part of it. There was then a “Meet CIEE” fair, where all of the Resident Directors set up tables with information about their cities and countries, and lots and LOTS of candy. My mom and I completely raided every country, taking chocolate, key chains, pens, and essentially anything we could find. Everyone was so nice and eager to talk to us about their specific program. I spoke with the directors from St. Petersburg, Seville, Brussels, Ferrara, and Dublin, who all seemed dynamic and interested in their students’ study abroad experience. After getting a stomach ache from chocolate and cookies, we ran upstairs to change before the big cocktail reception at the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum. Before we went, our rockstar organizers Kate and Jill, gave us a heads up that the lift was broken and the bathroom was small, but how often do you go to a cocktail party in the garden of the Turkish and Islamic Art Museum in Istanbul? We took a van over with a couple guys from CIEE who were super helpful. We bumped up a good flight of stairs, and we were under this amazing tent in the garden with heaters, overlooking the lit Blue Mosque. There was traditional Turkish music (which the Resident Director of Istanbul assured me that she found off the street) and delicious Turkish hors d’oeurves. We had a few cocktails, tried traditional Turkish Raki (which is like Ouzo, tastes like black licorice, and is horrible), and explored the museum. Of course as I was on the lift up to the museum, it ran out of battery, so once again we recruited CIEE man power and made it up the huge flight of stairs, you know … just a day in the life. The museum was very cool - they had Turkish rugs, turban accessories and hand painted tiles from the 16th century. We indulged in appetizers which included dolmas and fried parmesan cheese balls (yeah, they are amazing as they sound), and I chatted with someone’s husband from CIEE who is really interested in feminist film, which rocked. Around 9 we left the party and headed back to the hotel, where we then turned right back around and went to a hookah bar with some of the CIEE staff. We tried apple, grape, and lemon mint, and trust me, it was no Purple Caterpillar. Everyone was really nice, and the Resident Director from Jordon was with us, so she was able to speak Arabic to the bar staff. I was really proud of mom for sticking it out. She and I also had a conversation about being a strong, American woman in Jordon, which was interesting and less scary than you expect she said. After a really long day, we called it a night and headed back to the hotel. We are in for a big day of sightseeing tomorrow. We are hoping to hit the Spice Bazaar and the palace, along with trying some more traditional cuisine. This entire trip is flying by, and I can’t tell you how much fun I am having, and how unbelievably nice everyone is. I’m so lucky to have gotten this opportunity.

Wednesday, November 11

How Bazaar...

After a delicious breakfast at the hotel (complete with any sort of cheese you could ever imagine, delicious fruit, omelets, cereals, and fresh honey) we began to conquer Istanbul. Although I do have to mention that I am a coffee drinker and my body is use to caffeine, after two cups my heart rate was so fast I thought I was going to start shaking. Note: Turkish coffee is strong. But my first official day, I can say I love Turkey. Despite the fact that just about nobody speaks English, and I saw about 5 women today, everyone is so nice, extremely helpful, and surprisingly proud. We went on a tour with other conference attendees to the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia (pic on the right). It was raining this morning, but everyone was too psyched to care – yay American tourists. We had a really nice and funny tour guide, and Istanbul native named Bora, who was so helpful and knew everything about his city. The mosque was beautiful with intricate tile design (outside picture on the right). Everyone had to take their shoes off because it was a functioning worshipping place. I even had to switch into a different wheelchair – one that wasn’t wet or muddy from the rain that came this morning. (Inside the mosque on the left). We then walked across the street to the Hagia Sophia, which began as a mosque, then converted to a church, and now sits as a museum. It is one of the largest religious structures in the world, compared to St. Peter’s in Rome, among others. It was built in the 5th, 6th, and 7th centuries – which is absolutely unfathomable. There was one pillar which had a big hole in it, and if you rub your thumb in a circle inside of the hole, all of your wishes will come true. It is called the “Sweating Hole” though that shouldn’t turn you off because it is just the illusion of wet that the marble gives off. (Me and the hole on the right). After the tour everyone returned to the hotel, but mom and I decided to venture to the Grand Bazaar. It was so cool. There are over 4,000 little shops selling rugs, jewelry, Turkish goods, and scarves, among hundreds of other things. (Pic on the left). We were told to visit one vendor, Jimmy, who takes great care of our Delta flight attendant friends. The minute we mentioned Delta, he lit up and took great care of us. He walked us around to bag and scarf places, and gave us great deals on his own jewelry. He spoke wonderful English, and had a photo album of all his favorite Delta people, which we are now a part of. He also gave us some heads up about what we should NOT say in English because it means something repulsive in Turkish – like “um.” It was so nice to be taken care of as the Bazaar is very overwhelming. He bought us lunch and called his taxi guy to come pick us up. We returned to the hotel for showers and a quick bite of baklava, (delish tower to the right) and then tonight we have an opening reception that sort of kicks off the conference. Everyone I have met so far is so nice and helpful. The city is extremely inaccessible, the “accessible” vans we have driven aren’t even realistic for anyone in a wheelchair, but if it takes twelve stairs to see one of the oldest mosques in the history of world, it takes twelve stairs. I am having such a wonderful time, but I have to start practicing for my presentation tomorrow! I’m not as much nervous as I am excited. This whole trip is flying by, and I’m just excited to start meeting people who are interested in hearing about my abroad experience. So I’m out for now, but more to come tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 10


We are in Istanbul! One of the marketing guys at CIEE came and picked us up, and after a somewhat terrifying cab ride through Istanbul, we got to the hotel. It is incredible. The hotel is really swanky, and apparently Ahmenajad was here last night (you know, no big deal). Everyone here is so nice, and while no one who works here actually speaks English, they are so accommodating. The CIEE staff is incredible, surprise surprise. Our room is unreal with two bathrooms and a huge bed, not to mention a cute little sitting area. All we want to do is shower, after traveling all day. Tomorrow we have a tour of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, and hopefully have time for a little Spice Market action? We are also going to meet up with my Resident Director, Daniel, from Rennes, which will be great. I spoke to him for the first time tonight in English which was really funny. Tonight we took a walk to grab some dinner. The city was so busy and it is incredible that there are about three times as many men as women walking around. Everyone is very nice, but nobody speaks English. We found a random restaurant and indulged in some falafel, some eggplant stuffed with vegetables, and some Turkish tea. It was really nice and I’m so excited to explore tomorrow.

Iyi Geceler! (or I guess Günaydın since it’s only 2 …)

Irony in Istanbul

It’s been a while since I have written, but now my travel blog continues! My mom and I are traveling to Istanbul, Turkey, as I have been asked to attend the 2009 CIEE Conference to share my experiences on a panel, as a disabled student on a CIEE program. I will be presenting with my Resident Director, Daniel, from Rennes, and another woman named Cerise, who works for Mobility International USA (MIUSA), a company that helps people with limited mobility travel and study abroad. I’m so honored to be a part of this because CIEE could not have been more helpful when I studied abroad. A large part of the reason I had such an incredible time was because of their staff. The conference will be from Wednesday through Saturday, November 11-14, and my panel is on Thursday afternoon, titled “Local Strategies for Including Students with Disabilities on Study Abroad Programs.”

So my mom and I drove down to Boston Sunday afternoon, in preparation for our flight to Istanbul, with a connection in Zurich. We found great rates on Swiss Air, and I couldn’t believe I could wake up one morning and say “I’m going to TURKEY today.” We checked in and approached the gate 45 minutes or so before boarding time. We were then informed that, even though my mom had called Swiss Air well ahead of time, there was no record of my wheelchair, and therefore there had been no accommodations for a on board wheelchair (to use for the bathroom etc.) and we had not had medical clearance, and we were therefore not permitted to board. Interesting … here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. I have flown internationally and domestically, a lot, and I have never, ever, been denied boarding, or asked to provide medical clearance before a flight
2. I have never heard of there NOT being a wheelchair on board for international flights.
3. The man who helped us was completely unhelpful, and in my own personal opinion, was less than accommodating and actually rude.

So long story short … we were put up in the Hilton Hotel at the airport last night (Monday ... what's today?), including dinner and breakfast, and we are flying Air France to Istanbul this afternoon (Monday) at 4. We will arrive in Istanbul around 2pm their time (8 am or so our time). We will be a full day late and unfortunately miss out on some opportunities we had planned for Tuesday. But looking at this as a glass half full, we get to fly through Paris! And while it is only the airport, IT’S PARIS! We are also going to Istanbul! How can I complain when I have this incredible opportunity? We will arrive in Istanbul with enough time to shower, and then explore the city. I’m looking forward to warm(er) weather, Turkish tea, and a mini vacation. But as my friend Taylor put it, it is ironic that I’m going to speak at a conference about integrating more students with disabilities on to Study Abroad programs and international travel, and I can’t even get there?! Very interesting.

That is all for now, I will keep you all updated with photos and stories these next couple of days – so stay tuned!