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Travel Fib

While in Istanbul Turkey with a undergraduate study abroad group from St. Olaf College, we stayed in the dorms at Bosphorus University. The university assigned a sort of resident assistant who was a Turkish Cypriot named Kaya who was working on his doctorate in engineering. We became fast friends as I had previously been an exchange student in Turkey and spoke some Turkish and he always felt he had very poor English. His English was much better than my Turkish, but that is another story.

Anyway, Kaya asked me if I would like to go up onto the roof of the Aya Sophia. That seemed too intriguing to pass up, so of course I said I would. Ten American college students went to the Aya Sophia and Kaya talked us past the entrance fee stating we had business with the museum director.

I was prepared to mull around the courtyard of the museum while Kaya went and spoke with the director, but as he started walking away from the group he asked me to join him. I figured, what's the harm in that. It seems Kaya had as part of his doctoral research done a study on the effects of ship traffic in the Bosphorus on the ancient building along the shore. He knew the director because of that research and on this occasion brought her a copy of his research. He then introduced me, a 21-year-old college junior, as Dr. Dybvig of St. Olaf University, explaining that I was in the Middle East with a group of my graduate students studying the effects of earthquakes on ancient buildings. Since the intifada was going on, our plans to study the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem had been sidetracked and we ended up in Istanbul, looking for something to do, and would the director consent to our studying the effects earthquakes are having on the dome of the Aya Sophia.

The director initially suggested that a bit of a user fee (bribe) might be in order and after computing the fee to be about $.50 per person, responding in Turkish, I readily agreed. The director was so taken aback by the fact that I spoke Turkish, she waived the fee. A low-level employee took the necessary keys, led our ragtag group up to the window on the second level where one can access the roof and opened it up. Kaya then knew the path through the flying buttresses etc. to get all the way to the top of the roof. I still look at the pictures we took from up there and can hardly believe we got away with it. The low-level flunkey with the keys did not object when someone asked if it would be possible to go up in one of the minarets.

What a great time and a story to be remembered always.




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