Friday, January 24, 2014

Margaret and Bebek in Istanbul

My little dragon, Bebek, traveled with me (and my husband and two teenagers) to Istanbul, Turkey over the winter holiday. (Bebek is ‘baby’ in Turkish.) We flew into Istanbul on Christmas day and remained for one week. Bebek, an agreeable adventurer and companion, accompanied me to many wonderful places in Istanbul. This photo was taken at Taksim Square, on December 28th. We were at the Republic Monument, which commemorates the formation of the Turkish Republic in 1923.  We walked a great deal each day, setting out from our lovely small hotel in the old part of the city (Sultanamet.) Bebek and I got a lot of exercise, and greatly enjoyed interacting with people and hearing numerous beautiful languages. We had special times with many new Turkish acquaintances, as well as fellow travelers from Sri Lanka, Germany, England, France, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, and more. We shared a meal with an Australian woman on vacation, who teaches English and Italian to high school students in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Our explorations, by foot and tram, took us to the Hagia Sophia Museum, the Blue Mosque and other mosques, the Topkapi Palace, the Basilica Cistern, the Galata Tower, the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, and to many unique restaurants and shops. There were fantastic discoveries when we visited the Islamic Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam. We marveled at the mazelike shopping environment of the Grand Bazaar. Our boat trip on the Bosphorus, and a later walk along the edge of the Sea of Marmara, were lovely experiences. The old city walls, some 1500 years old, were part of the rich history we enjoyed in this beautiful city. Bebek and I encourage anyone who loves to travel and be welcomed with great hospitality (and delicious food!) to add the great city of Istanbul, Turkey to your list of places to someday visit. I hope to go again; one week is not nearly enough time to experience this grand city, and its rich culture and history. 

Margaret Patton, Administrative Assistant for the Honors College 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Lloyd admires the view from his warm apartment.
Laura Silva, University of Oulu, Finland

Lloyd and I left for Finland on New year’s Eve, and landed in the evening on New Years after about 12 hours of flying and a seven hour time change. Finland was having a heat wave and there was no snow on the ground in Helsinki, with temperatures around 1C. After spending a few days there and learning my first phrase in Finnish – “Do you speak English” or “Puhutko Englantia?” – I navigated the train system and boarded a ten hour train north to Oulu. Oulu is a coastal town on the Gulf of Bothnia, and about as far North as Iceland and Fairbanks, Alaska. There was snow on the ground when I got here but it was still relatively warm, around -5C, and for the first week or so it was often colder in Greensboro than here. But now I’ve seen temperatures down to -23 And I don’t think I’ll ever complain about temperatures above freezing again.

When I arrived my Kummi, or sponsor student, met me at the bus station and showed me to my apartment. The first few days were slow -- figuratively, though, because the days only lasted about 6 hours with the sun rising around 10 and setting around 4. After orientation and a few international events I made a small group of friends. Last weekend, I and another American girl taught them the rules of American football while we watched the Panthers’ game. Classes haven’t begun for most of us yet so it’s been very laid back and we’ve had plenty of time to hang out and get to know each other.  At the university, every student belongs to a student guild based on their field of study, and each guild has a specific color of overalls. They look a little like a space uniform, but mostly they’re good because they’re waterproof and warm and there’s snow everywhere. The students sew patches on them for a lot of different events and wear them during student rallies and spirit events. For exchange students, they’re overalls are blue and we were all given some patches to spice them up. They also say that you can’t wash them unless you’re in them, so one of the only ways in the winter is to go ice hole swimming. It’s really popular with the students here, especially if there’s an opportunity to sauna afterwards. The sauna originated in Finland and it’s very popular, most people have them in their homes and offices. It’s common to sauna at about 150F and then immediately roll in the snow, repeating the cycle a few times, but I haven’t tried it yet!
Those overall might not fit you, Lloyd.
Lloyd considers the challenges of being a "northern" dragon.
I’ve gotten much better at converting gallons to liters, feet to meters, and Celsius to Fahrenheit because the United States is stubborn and the metric system is infinitely easier. In the past two weeks I’ve learned the essential Finnish words – I’m sorry, thank you, excuse me, I don’t speak Finnish, and of course, cheers. I’ve learned the bus routes, though waiting for them at -17C always make me feel like they’re running late, and I’ve found my way around the city center. There is so much more to explore, but I feel like I’ve learned so much in my first few weeks, I can’t wait to see what the coming months have in store!