My Turkish has improved enough to understand that the 4th graders were going on a field trip, but not enough to understand the itinerary so yesterday's field trip to Gazientep was filled with unexpected surprises and delights. One hundred and forty of us met at 6:00 a.m. in front of the school and boarded three Mercedes luxury cruiser coaches equipped with individual DVD players, free WiFi, refrigerators, stoves for heating water, and an ever-so-attentive tea boy. The best part of the trip was that I had absolutely no responsibilities. And believe me, after taking countless 8th graders outdoor education camping in the Pacific Northwest for five days or "dive hotel" camping for three days in New York City, this absence of responsibility was so appreciated!
Our first stop was a cliff side tea garden/WC (think: American West outhouse . I passed on the pit stop and skipped the photo op due to the large quantities of trash littering the scenery. But, if I held my nose and only looked up, the scenery was impressive: towering mountains, steep cliffs, spring waterfalls, and budding trees.
Our next stop was for breakfast (kavahlti). The restaurant was located at the back of a very clean gas station. (There was a man who washed all the buses while we ate breakfast.) The bathrooms were spotless and worth every bit of the 1 lira piece charged by the attendant sitting at the entrance. The outside balcony of the restaurant was overlooking a beautiful lake and trash-free orchard. The food was traditional: three cheeses, black olives, sliced tomato, sliced cucumber, bread, honey, butter and jam. The tea was hot but many parents complained that the glasses were too big so their tea got cold so they kept the waiter hopping.
We got back on the highway and my eyes were glued to the window. We were entering the textile capital of Turkey and it was fun to see all the factories and brand names I recognize: Pierre Cardin, Levi, etc.The roads are smoother, the country side is cleaner, and it felt like I was entering a new country.
Our first stop in Gazientep (Antep as the locals say) was the zoo. We had one and three quarters hours to explore "Europe's Third Largest" so off we walked. The zoo was a great field trip for me to learn some Turkish words and to speak lots of English to any students who were interested. I was also asked by complete strangers to pose in their group photos. I was tempted to whip out my permanent marker and ask if they wanted me to autograph their scarves too, but I'm really just kidding. Basically, it's pretty awkward to pose with strangers...OK, but back to the zoo. It was beautiful and clean. Although many of the animals are still in traditional Bronx Zoo types of cages, they are building many of the new animal friendly/depression reduction types of
enclosures. Aside,from the giraffe eating figs (do our giraffes eat figs?) I also got a kick out of the Mickey Mouse trash cans. See the picture below.
For being "Europe's Third Largest" zoo, the time allotted was just about right. We saw everything except the aviary. They also have some really cute spotted dear and because of the warm climate they can reproduce almost all year long, so I'm guessing their enclosure will be too small by about next month...the large population reminded me of some of the government buildings in Montgomery County Maryland.
Our next stop was lunch. Now here's why I like Turkish private school field trips. No sack lunches involved..We stopped for a full three-course lunch will all the trimmings: lahmacun (Turkish pizza), salad and bread, chicken, beef, and lamb kebobs (yes, all three), roasted eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes, all followed by the famous Gazientep baklava made with native green pistachios. It was so delicious that I ate every drop of everything and was ready for a nap.
Unfortunately a nap was not on the itinerary, but a stop at the science museum was. This place is cool, new and modern, and the exhibits are still working. Go Turkey! They had some really cute robots that sang a song in English.
I figured our adventures were finished at this point, but no. Our next stop, the Mosaic Museum, was my favorite. This museum has full sized excavated mosaics from Roman villas that were discovered as recently as 2003 under water at an ancient town call Zeugma. Many of these mosaics are from the 1st and 2nd centuries and they are in beautiful shape. As a matter of fact, this place is a quilter's inspiration paradise...so many cool geometric designs. I loved this museum because I felt like I was walking in actual Roman houses and experiencing their beautiful floors and walls. If I understand the story correctly, the ruins were discovered when the water level dropped due to a the Ataturk Dam project on the Euphrates River. Imagine how fun it would be to look under a couple of inches of water and see these:
I slept most of the trip home, but I was a little cold because I was sitting right behind the bus driver who kept the window open in order to sneak a few cigarettes on the way. Also, today's story wouldn't be complete without a little description of the driving. Our driver, in typical Malatya style, preferred to straighten out many of the blind curves on the roads. Luckily we did not meet any oncoming cars as our big bus would induce great damage in a head-on collision. And if we were to meet another bus doing the same....I don't even want to imagine the catastrophe. I should also mention that one of our buses got a flat tire, so we all squeezed into two buses for the in-town driving. We were met with a new bus for the ride home because I don't think our original bus had a spare tire.
Aside from the crazy driving, it was a great, responsibility-free day.