TCFTurkey15 – Reflecting Upon Our Incredible Study Tour

TCF_Group_Bus The thirty people pictured here spent the last two weeks together traveling through western Turkey. Led by our incredible guide Orhan with assistance from our main bus driver Ísmail and his assistant Ercan, The group includes twenty-four teachers from around the USA (including representation from California, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, and Washington). We were also joined by a TCF (Turkish Cultural Foundation) staff member and two Turkish Teachers: elementary teacher Esra Ozer and math teacher Yunus Dogan. For two weeks, our senses were bombarded with new stimuli for at least 12 hours a day. At the end of the trip, this question was asked: “Twenty years from now, what memory will come first to mind when recalling your TCF Study Tour in Turkey?”  Below is a compilation of our responses. As you can see, students, even when everyone experiences the same thing, the memories we choose to hold onto can very greatly!


Balloons! Most of the teachers on the tour opted to get up at 4:15 a.m. and go for a hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia on the next to last day. Afterward, many wanted to change their favorite moment. Instead, we’ve opted to mention that incredible experience at the start of this final blog entry. A picture of that experience is at the bottom of this posting. In addition to the morning balloon ride, the participants of the 2015 TCF Study Tour suggest the following most memorable moments:

“Walking Stick Wonder” Award Recipient Anita Tucker.

Anita Tucker (California) – Visiting Gallipoli, Anzac Cove, and the Lone Pine Cemetery really took my breath away. It was the 100 year anniversary of the battles and standing on the beaches, in the quiet morning, knowing the tremendous sacrifice of young lives lost on both sides was heartbreaking. I spent a great deal of time looking at the headstones of men like, Frank Hubert Evans, age 20, or Mustafa Oglu Davut, age 25, and saying a prayer for them, thinking about their families, and the devastation of war. The memorial from Mustafa Kemal moved me to tears when he says, “In this country of ours…You the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears! Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.” – Atatürk, 1934

“Resident Legal Counsel Award” Recipient Cameron Sanchez.

Cameron Sanchez (California) – The interaction with Ezra, Orhan, and Yunus during our breaks. To hear of life in Turkey and share about life in the U.S. – just the everyday interaction over the course of two weeks has been incredible. Further previously I studied Paul in great depth, and to walk through Ephesus where he did was an experience I will never forget. Also at Ephesus came the bee sting, which was quite memorable as well!


“Group Jester Award” Recipient Mike Madruga.

Mike Madruga (California) – My favorite place was the Ataköy school – meeting and interacting with the children. It was an emotional experience for me. It appeared they were all waiting for Santa Clause to arrive. When we got there, you could see the appreciation and excitement in their hearts. We’ve seen some incredible sites, but that moment was incredible – I almost came to tears.

“Back to Life Award” Recipient Sherri Saucedo.

Sherri Saucedo (California) – Walking into the amphitheater at Ephesus, realizing I was standing on the same ground that Paul had stood on to teach and preach about his friend Jesus. And for me, this was a destiny moment as I realized I have been called to do the same!

“Cash Temple & Bazaar Empress Award” Recipient Stacy Maxin.

Stacy Maxin (California) – The Bosphorus boat ride – looking to one shore and then the other, seeing both Asia and Europe… and thinking about the history of migration and trade over this region. Being on the boat, on the water with the comforting breeze, the bridges connecting the two continents, and seeing the city from the water with the refreshing breeze… it was a natural high.

“Van Gogh Award” Recipient Jeanie Palmer.

Jeanie Palmer (Montana) – My whole life as an artist, I have dreamed of being in a foreign land and sketching the people and landscapes I see with no other English speakers around. So, I’ve been able to do that a lot on this trip, but the first time – at the Topkapi Palace in the courtyard – it was perfect. I could have sat there all day long.

“Wanna-Be Photographer Award” Recipients Leslie Rogers (left) and Kelly Elder (right).

Kelly Elder (Montana) – Somehow during the entire two weeks, Aphrodesia really sticks out in my mind. Indeed, when we, the TCF Teachers, found ourselves almost alone on the grounds (minus the workers excavating the central area), it was so much more powerful than the crowds at other sites had been. To lead the group up over the little rise and enter the stadium – and then to imagine the events there thousands of years ago and realize that soil had completely covered the facility and a farmer was actually growing wheat there when he stumbled across some protruding peaks of the structure (at the height of where we stood in the upper row)… this random event led to this entire civilization being discovered!

Leslie Rogers (Ohio) – I’ll never forget when Eric took his own time and volunteered to help me “learn” how to float- under a full moon in the Aegean Sea. It isn’t every day someone goes out of their way to help someone else do something like that. I don’t know, I’ve noticed that happening quite a bit on this trip, actually. Afterward, six of us sat on oversized cushions down on the pier, drinking wine and sharing stories late into the night next to the sea.

“Devout Vegan Award” Recipient Caprice Leidig.

Caprice Leidig (Nevada) – Travelling on the Bosphorus on the open deck of a boat was a spectacular moment for me as a geography teacher. I watched in awe as the sweeping landscape of Ístanbul passed by and I was able to observe Ottoman palaces, mosques and mansions along the way. On one side of the Bosphorus is Asia. On the other Asia. What an amazing experience!

“Chip Connoisseur Award” Recipient.

“Chip Connoisseur Award” Recipient Carol McGrew. Photo by Julie Wakefield.

Carol McGrew (Nevada) – I teach WWI in both US History and World Geography, so the Gallipoli sites showed me WWI through a different lens. I also learned more about Atatürk as a military leader.  

“Don't Worry, Be Happy Award” Recipient Chantay Jensen.

“Don’t Worry, Be Happy Award” Recipient Chantay Jensen.

Chantay Jensen (Nevada) – I would like to choose everything but given that is unlikely there are a few moments that took my breath away… Walking into the mosque of Suleiman was one of those such moments.  I have seen images of this mosque in my history books and watched documentaries that show the images but nothing compares to walking into the space, closing my eyes, and imagining what it must have been like centuries ago to have seen the ‘magnificent’ leader and his wife meandering around the grounds. This moment will hopefully stay on my mind forever. In addition to the historical moments that solidified my complete joy in the study of this region I will always cherish my newfound Turkish identity. As it turns out, I am basically Turkish and never knew. My life is forever changed for the better.  

“Man of the Sea Award” Recipient Ed Bischopink.

Ed Bischopink (Nevada) – To stand in the ancient city of Troy and learn about the facts of the civilizations that were once there in addition to the legends that we all teach. That was such a special moment. Troy is such a legend, but to be standing there listening to local expert Professor Mustafa Askin – he told us about the facts of what is known about the numerous civilizations there over the eras. It was amazing.

“Detail Queen Award” Recipient Julie Wakefield.

Julie Wakefield (Nevada) – There have been so many amazing moments and even more amazing memories. I think there are three moments I will remember forever: the amphitheater at Aphrodisias, and the vista of Nevsehir (Cappadocia). These sites are amazing in so many ways – breathtaking, overwhelming, and memorable.

“Palavra Award” Recipient Lynn Thomas.

“Palavra Award” Recipient Lynn Thomas.

Lynn Thomas (Nevada) – The ancient sites of Turkey are phenomenal and beyond description, my affinity for history has only grown. However, I must say that what I will cherish the most is the connection to our Turkish friends. Evenings eating, talking and laughing together. An impromptu water polo game in the pool is one of the best evenings. Ïsmael stealing the ball to make a point and then taking his goal and running away with it made everyone laugh. Not to be outdone, Dana then trying to avoid Ïsmael gaining the upper hand by swimming away with his team’s goal. Turkey has many irreplaceable sites, but it’s greatest resource is its people.

“Co-Conductor Award” Recipient Pamela Miller.

Pamela Miller (Nevada) – My take-away was that I will always remember Orhan – he is personable, has an extraordinary command of the English language, a sharp sense of humor, and impressive breadth of knowledge. He is the Ultimate Renaissance Man!

“Turkish Bath Screamer Award” Recipient Chris Cox.

“Turkish Bath Screamer Award” Recipient Chris Cox.

Chris Cox (Ohio) – Driving up the mountain to the Acropolis. Going up the mountain in the taksi, exploring the city. It was the first ancient city I’d ever been in and I was inspired by it.

“Turkish Impersonator Award” Recipient John Davis.

“Turkish Impersonator Award” Recipient John Davis.

John Davis (Ohio) – Visiting the mosques. I have not had many opportunities to visit holy buildings of faiths other than my own. Watching people worship, hearing the call to prayer, and experiencing the reverence that is expected in the mosques will definitely be memorable in 25 years.  

“Trusted Helper Award” Recipient Cheryl Healy.

“Trusted Helper Award”
Recipient Cheryl Healy.

Cheryl Healy (Washington) – Watching the skyline of Ístanbul and listening to the call to prayer while cruising on the Bosphorus. The lunch right after that, as we sat on the water and ate our multi-course meal. Oh, and (yes, I get two because I’m succinct) then I loved our visit to the marbling artist’s home. His wife told me the history of their home; a historic military building constructed for one of twelve generals in the 1800s. It took them a decade to restore their home. They both have such warm, gentle, and hospitable spirits.

“International Friendship Through Music Award” Recipient Dana Radcliffe.

Dana Radcliffe (Washington) – There are so many wonderful moments to reflect upon, but my thoughts now lean towards the ruins of Çatalhöyük. The open plains and rolling hills of Anatolia took my breath away. A feeling of space and a dusty breeze revealed to us a different side of this rich country. I was captured by the ruins of these prehistoric sites with dwellings built side by side, sharing walls, keeping there cooking corners, sleeping corners, and burials all under one roof, now deep in the earth, showing the lives of these early urban dwellers dating back to over 8000 years ago. I tried to envision what life was like for these early peoples and it brought a deeper understanding to the depth and breadth of the history here, tying together layer after layer of history until we reach the bottom – the very birth of civilization. The first rain fell during our time and I felt a sense of peace and calm in my new knowledge.

“Logistics Chief Award” Recipient David Blacketer.

“Logistics Chief Award”
Recipient David Blacketer.

David Blacketer (Washington) – The city of Aphrodite – the history still there that is yet to be excavated. I’ve seen museums before, but to see the original artifacts… a Roman God’s face still in the ground and I’m walking on him. Things started earlier, but it culminated… my mind was blown. Just how much is concentrated in one place and to walk on it – I felt it.

“Aquarius Award” Recipient Eric Ayrault.

Eric Ayrault (Washington) – The Microphone Hours are unforgettable. Specifically, Orhan’s love of history and especially music, whether it be Jazz, traditional, or even the hard rock as we drove through the formations in Cappadocia – and Yunus rapping– these times made the trip.

“Budding Turkish Linguist Award” Recipient Josh Parker.

“Budding Turkish Linguist Award” Recipient Josh Parker.

Josh Parker (Washington) – We arrived in the Ulucami Mosque in Bursa in the same way we had the others; carefully removing our shoes, covering our legs, and stepping into a cavernous space full of light. We were given some free reign inside the mosque, a bit of time to explore. On the tour up to this point, I’d busied most waking moments in delightful conversation with the dynamic individuals here alongside rapid-fire photo-taking, trying simply to soak it all in. Instead of jumping right into a chat or even finding a buddy to walk around with, I silently wandered, walking quite slowly, around the mosque until I came to an open space along a great marble column where other, local, men were sitting quietly, each in his own world. I sat and let my eyes wander, across sweeping calligraphy and kneeling worshippers, and my mind found some rest, some peace. Across religion and history and belief, I sat in that mosque experiencing what my brothers and sisters were – a pause from the pace of life, a pause to reflect and maybe even appreciate. In those short ten minutes of sitting I was as refreshed as after a good night’s sleep, glad at having shared in the common human experience of pause, silence, and reverence for something bigger than ourselves.

“Glamorous & Astute Listener Award” Recipient Tara Graves.

“Glamorous & Astute Listener Award” Recipient
Tara Graves.

Tara Graves (Washington) – My father told me an interesting quote when I was growing up – “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason – learn to understand the importance of listening.” And so my favorite part of Turkey would be the sounds- the call to prayer heard from our boat on the sun-glistened Bosphorus; our lunch çura serenade, complete with a chirping parrot; the imagined roars within amphitheaters/coliseums; Orhan’s musical gallery within the tour bus; laughing and drinking on a pier in the Aegean; a dervish singing singularly in an ancient caravanserai.

“Sugar & Spice Award” Recipient Tracy Green.

“Sugar & Spice Award”
Recipient Tracy Green.

Tracy Green (Washington) – The Bizimev Hanimeli Restaurant (the “home cooking” smorgasbord). Kate, recipient of the “Documentarian and Nightlife Consultant Award” (No image, Washington DC) – At the Süleymaniye Mosque, near the tombs of Süleyman and Hurrem, there was a balcony with a really nice view of Istanbul. It was cool to see the city from this point, since it was like I was seeing it for the first time again. There are always new things to discover in Ístanbul and I was really happy to be in that place with our group.

“Young Turkish Secret S****** Award” Recipient Esra Özer (we can’t say the full name of the award, or it wouldn’t be a secret)!

Esra Özer (Famiy from Izmir; now in Ístanbul) – In Çanakkale, we went to the beach after dinner and had a bonfire. We talked and sang Turkish songs with Orhan, Yunus, and Ísmail. At the end of the night, we were intoxicated and had a hard time finding our rooms. From that experience, we are better friends.

“Translator-of-the-Year & Native Expert Award” Recipient Yunus Dogan.

“Translator-of-the-Year & Native Expert Award” Recipient Yunus Dogan (right).

Yunus Doğan (Family from Afyon; now in Ístanbul) – At the Iskender Kebab restaurant for lunch (where everyone got to try a Döner Kebab). The Chef, who has worked in this place for seventy years, was named, Dede Usta. Mr. Usta was very excited about his restaurant, his food, the famous people who had been to visit – Presidents, Kings, and the like – he was excited about everything. Like a machine gun, he enthusiastically rattled off story after story without pausing at all for me to translate to the group. I felt very good by doing this and trying my best to share with everyone his words.

“Orhan the Magnificent” Sezener. Teacher of the Year (drawing by Jeanie Palmer)!

“Orhan the Magnificent” Sezener – the Master TCF Tour Guide/Teacher! (Ístanbul) – what did he decide? Stay tuned!

The inspiring morning many of the teachers spent on a hot air balloon ride over the unique landscape of Cappadocia.

The inspiring morning many of the teachers spent on a hot air balloon ride over the unique landscape of Cappadocia.

TCFTurkey15 – Day 10, Pamukkale to Konya

Our guide Orhan warned us this would be a long day… and it was… 13 hours from when we left our hotel in the morning until we got to a new hotel that evening!

Today we left the hotel at 7:15 in the morning. We went to Pamukkale (Calcite Hot Springs), the Mevlana (Rumi) Tomb, Catalhöyük (neolithic site), and finished in the night in Konya.

The drive to the Calcite mountain was only about 10 minutes from the hotel. We stopped at group of ‘Cash Temples’ along the way – Orhan’s term for an ATM. There were a half-dozen lined up side by side representing just about every back in Turkey I think. I got off the bus, and went to one with nobody else at it yet. At 7:15am, we were the only ones there of course, so it didn’t take long to get some cash. I withdrew 250 Turkish Lira from my account – which should be close to enough to get me through to the end of the trip.

The calcite pools looked a lot like white geyser pools we would see in Yellowstone National Park. Until about 2003, there were a number of hotels functioning at the top of the calcite hill. Then, because of the pollution concerns (asphalt on top of the calcite and, more importantly, the hill began turning grey) – the hotels were closed and removed. Today, only the outdoor pool of one remains. This was a weird situation – as people came by the hundreds to swim in the pools with submerged ancient columns and other artifacts submerged in the water!  I strolled through this chaotic scene and headed up for the theater on a hill above these other sites. On the way, I walked past a truck with a crane on the back and a group of laborers working on excavations.

Orhan is not impressed with the Turkish archeologist in charge of these restorations. The man, in his opinion, is cutting corners trying to impress the world with his speed and efficiency in revealing things. He is using heavy equipment to move things rapidly and is losing much site integrity as he does so. The men I saw by the truck were helping accomplish the archeologist’s goal of getting things done quickly.

The theatre was pretty awesome for a couple of reasons. First, the morning sun was not yet at full force, so it was only in the high 80s I’m guessing temperature-wise. Second, it was still early enough that there was only one tour group listening to a guide when I arrived, so I pretty much got the place to myself! And, third, the stage was in the most ‘reconstructed’ site of any we had seen. If you look at the pictures, though, you’ll see that some new blocks of marble are being placed in position to be carved. I asked Orhan about that, and he said much of what we had seen had been reconstructed in this fashion. But, he said, usually the blocks are carved first and then put up… often using what pieces can be found on the ground first and incorporating them – he said this situation was probably being done to speed things along by the over-eager archeologist in charge.

Next, it was a few hour drive to Rumi’s Tomb. This was the site of the origin of the Whirling Dervishes. We went inside the old mosque (now a museum, but seen as a holy site by many) by placing plastic liners over our shoes. Orhan reminded us not to take pictures of the people praying to respect their privacy. It was a pretty awesome place. As I stood looking at a copy of a large book (the Koran, I thinK) from the 1300s, an elderly short balding man came up quickly to stand beside me. He was breathing hard and shaking with excitement, much in the way Mr. Elder did the first time he was in the National Archives and got to see the US Constitution. Up he came and reached out to behold the book for himself. In his haste, he forgot that the book is in a case… he smashed his forehead into the clear casing, groaned, and then grabbed the case as it shook. It was so funny, I burst out laughing! He was so embarrassed, he began rambling in Turkish. The look on my face must’ve said I have no idea what you’re talking about, but he just kept going… I continued to chuckle as I went on through the museum and went out to join the rest of our group afterward.

After a few more hour drive, we drove through Konya and continued on out into the countryside for another half hour or so. This took us to Catalhöyük (neolithic site). This was one of the first recorded civilizations, dating back about 6,000 years. It was pretty amazing. For the teachers in our group who teach world history, I think was maybe the high point of the trip for them. Indeed, it was fascinating. When done, I bought a book about a day in the life of this early civilization for future reading.

Then it was back to Konya for the night. We got to the Anemon Hotel just after 8:00… indeed it had been 13 hours since our odyssey began – What a Day!!

TCFTurkey15 – Day 9, School Visit (rural) and Aphrodisas

We awoke this morning to another splendid sunrise out our windows over the Aegean Sea, with the added element of morning fog masking our view of the Greek Island across the water.  By 7:30, we were on the road, heading inland for a few hours to our neighborhood school visit.

About 20 students – obviously dressed in their best attire – came to the school to join their principal and meet us for a tour and visit. We teachers had each brought some goodies along to share with the children. My contributions were pretty basic. I had brought 30 of the pre-sharpened pencils (the ones with cartridges where you take the old one out and plug it into the top of the pencil when done, pushing out a new sharp one on the writing end). I also had a box of alphabet flash cards (‘A’ on one side, a picture of an Apple on the other). Finally, there were 12 bottles of bubble-blowers with the bubbles solution. When the Turkish teacher Yunus explained what that was to the elementary children, the joy on their faces was evident!

The high point for me of this visit was seeing a fellow futbol (soccer) fan. One of the boys had on a Turkey National Jersey. I saw it and soon thereafter asked Ishmael if my bag were near a door under the bus. We looked and found it right on top of the pile! Within a couple minutes, I had gotten into my suitcase, grabbed by USA jersey, and was back in the classroom. The picture on this post was the result!

After our school visit, we had lunch at a retired teacher’s restaurant. He played a turkish guitar-like instrument while we ate on a shaded outdoor patio. As he played/sang, his parrot sat on the man’s shoulder, on his guitar itself, or on empty chairs and helped with the singing. The bathrooms at this place were very nice. I took the opportunity to use an Asian-style toilet – that is to say, one of the toilets that are built into the ground level with a spot marked of where to put your feet when you squat down to go.

Following lunch, it was just a bit down the road before we came to Aphrodisias. These remains were EPIC!  The stadium may have been the high point. It was so cool to the THE ONLY ONES anywhere near the stadium as Orhan told the story of how this place was discovered in the mid-twentieth Century. There were people living here when it was found, and they were none to pleased in 1965 when they were told they needed to move. A man had been growing tobacco in a field right on top of where the stadium now stands. It was so raw and so real today… as cool as Ephesus yesterday, but without the thousands of cruise ship participants making the place feel like Disneyland! The final bonus was the museum at the end – if you take a moment to look at my pictures from the day, you’ll see the incredible original statues found within the museum walls of the Greek Gods/Goddesses (These pictures are not yet posted to the web – I’m still working on the collection of images from Troy… sorry!)

This evening, we found our way to the Richmond Thermal (a brand new hot springs hotel) in Pamukkale.  We are all excited to be in a plce where the internet works again… it has been tough to share much with the outside world the past few days… hopefully more will be coming soon on the other days and I will be able to get all of my pictures posted!

Turkey 2015 – Day 8 – July 29, 2015.

I’m having a hard time keeping up with the photos and the blog.  While I don’t have much written in the blog area yet, you can see my pictures using the links on my Travel blog page of my website: – click on ‘Travel Blog’ and then look for the photo albums. There is one album for each day of my Turkey Study Tour!

We’ll be back at the same hotel again tonight, so maybe I can get caught up this evening!  It is just after 2:00 a.m. early Monday morning now in Turkey, which means it is 4:00pm in Montana on Tuesday evening.

A link to the photos from Ephesus:

Turkey 15, Day 6

Yesterday, July 27, we spent much of the day driving from Bursa to the Aegean Sea. We stayed on the coast of the Aegean in the Tusan Hotel, located in Çanakkale. Dinner last night wasn’t served until 8:30, as we didn’t start eating until the sun was nearing the horizon. To eat earlier would have been far to hot, as the sun beat down on the outdoor patio throughout the day. At sunset, however, it was stunningly beautiful. I did not take in the sunset from the dinner deck. A few of us who had been swimming in the salt water were changing our clothes and caught the spectacle from our rooms – which also look to the west across the water! Dinner was excellent. The sea brought out a camaraderie in the Turks among us. Ezra, Yusun, Ishmael, and Orhan broke into song from their table, receiving a round of applause from all when they were done. Ezra, by the way, is a primary (elementary) teacher. Yusun teachers math. Ishmael is our bus driver. And Orhan, of course, is our guide. The four of them really outdid themselves last night, for sure!

The most powerful part of the day were our stops at a few of the monuments dotted through Gallipoli. I will add more to this entry later today, as I need to get ready to go now and the Internet is very slow… please check back!

I’ll also get a link to the pictures as soon as they finish uploading – running the computer through the night wasn’t enough time – there are still 100+ to go… sorry!