My apologies for posting so infrequently — this trip is going by so fast I feel like I can’t even blink for fear of missing something so I’ve been trying to soak it in. Here’s a brief recap that won’t even begin to do the past couple weeks justice:
Theresa and I arrived in Paris and, after surviving our flights and layovers and navigating Parisian subways and terminals, experienced a picture-perfect reunion with Ryan and Kim as we emerged into daylight from the subway and heard Ryan call excitedly from their post at a cafe across the street where they had been anxiously awaiting our arrival. We waltzed into a nonstop itinerary that flitted sprite-like through the next five days. Ryan stayed with us for one more night before returning to Florence for class on Tuesday. Kim, Theresa and I stayed until Friday exploring the sights of Paris and embracing its leisurely lifestyle: basking in the sun along the Seine, watching the painters along the streets and the musicians in the subway stations and trains play for coins. We visited the major sites and had the opportunity to enjoy some time with a college roommate of Kim’s as well for a few memorable excursions.
To finish our Paris adventure, we had decided to take an overnight train from Paris to Florence. What an adventure it turned out to be. I’m not sure how much Theresa or Kim enjoyed our passage but it is certainly a tale to tell now. However, we made it safely and gratefully to the train station in Florence after a transfer in Milan and were, for the second time, delighted to see Ryan’s welcoming face as we exited the platform early Saturday morning. And the wonder continued — more storybook coffee shops, more cobblestone walkways and romantic architecture, more melodious Latin language, and more quality time spent as a foursome (Chris, we sure missed having you). More meet-ups with good friends and more time spent in beautiful AirBnB apartments. What a pleasure it was to explore Ryan’s life and to see where he spent his time, meet his host family, experience his favorite shops, and walk his favorite routes. We also were able to witness Easter Sunday as celebrated by Florentines (it involved a LONG ceremony with feathered helmets, much flag-carrying, some throwing of palm branches, and a grand finale in the form of an elaborate fireworks show in the plaza in front of the Duomo, or central domed cathedral). On our final full day in Florence, we rented a Ford Fiesta and drove it through the countryside of Tuscany, conquering traffic and crowds for the best gelato, exploring the beautiful city of Siena, stumbling across a bustling spring market, and singing along to nostalgic music from our collective childhood while we cruised through some of the most pleasant weather and picturesque sights I’ve ever seen. It was deamlike.
The dream couldn’t last forever, of course. Kim had to return to work in Madison and Ryan to his classes. On Tuesday morning, Kim left early for the airport and Theresa and I followed after making a final breakfast with Ryan to catch our later flight. We gambled with the available bus schedule and, due to an unfortunate mistake on my part, arrived too late to the airport and missed our flight to Izmir, Turkey. After much consternation and a painfully expensive second set of tickets (an occasion which I hope to look back at without cringing someday), we caught a flight later that evening and arrived at the Izmir airport at about 3:15am.
My habit of arriving at foreign airports and being picked up by men I’ve never met before is becoming almost routine. After arriving, spending a few anxious minutes waiting in a deserted terminal, and then buying a chocolate bar at a late-night cafe to persuade the shopkeeper to share their internet connection, we connected with our hosts (they had been waiting at a different terminal) and were loaded into a sporty little VW hatchback. Theresa and I, along with our two hosts Burak and Mehmet, drove through Izmir while attempting to make pleasant conversation through the language barrier and our mutual exhausted stupor. We arrived at an apartment complex and were given a brief tour of a beautiful two-bedroom flat before Burak and Mehmet left and Theresa and I, after a relief-fueled minute or two of celebration at making it through another transit adventure and landing in such a marvelous place, collapsed for the night.
The past three full days in Turkey have been like watching a time lapse. Rather than arriving with a detailed sight-seeing itinerary, this leg of the trip was difficult to anticipate because we stepped in as guests and contributors without a clear idea of how best to do so or what would be most helpful to our hosts.
By way of context: perhaps two months ago, I had been exploring various options for ways to experience basketball and make connections with coaches in Europe. I had sent emails to various coaches in several countries offering whatever input or collaboration I could provide as an American coach with a bit of time on my hands. I heard back from a coach in Turkey who was interested in taking me up on my offer to visit, and through our correspondence we determined a date range that worked for both of us. However, beyond casting initial ideas of ways I could help, we had solidified no formal itinerary when Theresa and I arrived. As we learned our schedule in tiny bits and pieces, waited at the beck and call of a text message or casual mention of the next event on our agenda, I have been able to settle into a relaxed rhythm of simply savoring each moment. Theresa and I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know our coach hosts, Burak and Serhat, as well as a number of new friends here in Turkey. Turkish hospitality is abundant and their culture is genuine and intentional. During our time here thus far, we’ve watched several basketball games, traveled around Izmir and seen a few of its sights, watched a practice or two, and spent a lot of time in conversation with my fellow coaches about basketball strategy and feedback on their practices, games, and philosophies. At Coach Serhat’s request, I also got to hold a question and answer session with about 20 of his middle-school and high-school-aged players who asked questions about basketball and America for close to an hour in their school auditorium before we were finally kicked out by the cleaning crew. It was an absolute peasure.
I’m not sure what the next three days will hold for us here in Turkey before we depart. Theresa and I will try to do a little bit of sight-seeing and exploring and I also hope to watch a professional women’s team play a game before we go. Whatever happens, I will remember with eternal delighted surprise at the wonderful treat our Turkey experience has been.