Archive for the ‘ Interviews ’ Category

I am very excited about my interview with paper engineer extraordinaire, Bruce Foster. Read the interview here. If you love pop-up books like I do, you will be in awe of the painstaking process it takes to make a book like America’s National Parks: A Pop-Up Book.


© Bruce Fosster

Bruce Foster with a pop-up of Grand Canyon National Park

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Ben Franklin Image in the Public Domain

It’s an important day – Inauguration Day and Martin Luther King Day. These events bring to mind the many great people who have contributed to America and the entire world. It took me a while, but I came up with my wish list of the Top Three Historical Figures (no longer living) that I would love to interview today (if I could bring them back to life, of course). And if I could interview them, what 10 questions would I ask each of them? No question would be off limits.

Martin Luther King

  1. Where did you get your courage to stand up for what you believed in?
  2. Looking back on your life, is there anything significant you wish you would had done differently?
  3. What are your thoughts on the riots that ensued following your assassination, since you so often spoke about the importance of peace?
  4. What do you think of the state of racism and equality today as compared to the 1960s?
  5. Are you surprised that we first elected an African American US President in 2008?
  6. How would you rate the progress of America as it compares to your “I Have a Dream” speech?
  7. Did you ever imagine that your speech would be so eternally regarded and a national holiday would be established in your name?
  8. Were you faithful to your wife?
  9. If you were alive today, what would you be doing?
  10. What advice do you have for those out there who are trying to muster up the courage to stand up for what they believe in?

Benjamin Franklin

  1. What of your many accomplishments are you most proud?
  2. What is your opinion of the amendments that have been made to the US Constitution since you signed it?
  3. Who in your opinion is the best US President in history and why?
  4. Who was the mother of your illegitimate son, William?
  5. When you discovered electricity, did you realize how much your findings would change the world?
  6. What invention that has taken place since your death do you most respect?
  7. How does your list of Thirteen Virtues hold up in the world today, and would change that list in any way now?
  8. How do you feel about the current state of education at the highly regarded University of Pennsylvania, the school you founded it in the 1700s and the challenges students face today getting into the top universities?
  9. What was your reaction when you learned of the digital age and e-publishing?
  10. If you were alive today, what would you be doing?

Albert Einstein

  1. What happened to your daughter, Leiserl?
  2. Did you know at the time of your theories that you would change the world of science as you did?
  3. Can you explain your theories of relativity in layman’s terms?
  4. What of your many accomplishments are you most proud?
  5. What is your opinion about how the science of physics has progressed (or not progressed) since your death?
  6. If you could change anything you did in your life what would it be and why would you change it?
  7. What most surprises you about the changes in technology in the world since your death and how could that help you with your work?
  8. Why do you suppose there is such a shortage of scientists in America and the world as a whole these days?
  9. What do you have to say about how your brain was taken without permission from your family after your death to be studied?
  10. If you were alive, what would you be doing today?

Those are my top three choices for interviews with historical figures. If I could expand my list, I’d add:

  • George Washington
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Abe Lincoln
  • King Henry VIII
  • Alfred Hitchcock
  • Vincent Van Gogh
  • Frederick Douglas
  • Freddy Mercury
  • Rod Serling
  • Ayn Rand
  • William Shakespeare
  • Grace Kelly

Who would you interview if you could, and what would you ask?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Photo courtesy and © of My Bright Mountain

I had the honor of interviewing injured veterans who climbed Grand Teton on September 11, 2012. I can honestly say these brave soldiers changed the way I think about challenges and so-called limitations, and I’m sure they will change your views as well.

Please read my article on Wandering Educators, and you’ll see what I mean.

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I had the pleasure of interviewing Leah Sokolowsky, Film Location Manager and President of Film Florida. What I learned is that Florida is one of the hottest places in the country to film movies and TV shows.

Leah is currently working on the TV series, “The Glades” and shed some light on the process of choosing locations to film. Check out the interview here.

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Ryan Goodman is majoring in Chemistry and Hispanic Studies at The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA. This summer, he decided to expand his learning environment by studying abroad across the Atlantic in the classrooms and streets of Cádiz, Spain. His journey took him through Spain, France and Italy. We at Smart Poodle Publishing are always eager to learn about exciting travel experiences, and Ryan was happy to share his memorable summer adventures with us along with some fantastic photographs.

William and Mary Undergrad, Ryan Goodman

What made you decide to apply for the study abroad program in Cádiz?

To study in a country where I could develop my language and cross-cultural skills had always been one of my major life goals. With the rigid course and research schedule of a chemistry major, leaving during the academic year was not a possibility. So, Cádiz was the only summer option offered by my university where my credits would transfer.

How long have you been speaking Spanish, and how did you learn the language?

I learned Spanish after 20 years of living in South Florida and after years of classes, starting in grammar school. I’ve been speaking Spanish fluently for the past 3-4 years, albeit, my language ability has developed greatly in the past 2 years at the university.

 

 La Calle Ancha, the central commercial district of Cádiz

How did speaking the native language affect your experience?

Speaking Spanish and actually forcing myself to think in the language greatly enhanced my experience in Spain. It is the difference between merely visiting Spain versus living in Spain. Being able to speak the native language allowed me to connect with many people of diverse backgrounds and gave me greater insight into Spanish culture. It also made it easier to adjust and understand how Spanish culture “works” within the framework of society.

 

Part of your program was living with a host family in Cadiz. Can you tell us about the family and what it was like living there? Did they speak English?

Ryan (3rd from left)  with his host family celebrating their last dinner together at home

My experience with my host family is one of my fondest memories from Cádiz. My host mother was a nurse who worked at the local hospital and my host dad was a retired sailor and chef. No one in the house spoke English at all; so, we were immersed right off the plane. They live in one of the “ancient” homes in the historic district of Cádiz, right in the heart of the city.  The house was constructed in a manner typical of most homes on the peninsula. It had multiple floors, an Arab style patio and a large “azotea” or rooftop. These azoteas were used by colonial merchants to look for ships coming from the New World, and the construction materials reflect this connection, with walls made of coquina, a construction material used to build structures like the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, la Muralla in Havana and el Morro in San Juan. The daily family interaction was something I really treasured. Many interesting conversations were had over amazing food and among good company. I would argue that this was the most educational experience during my time in Spain. We would take walks together and enjoy a good “caña” (beer) or “tinto de verano” (Red wine mixed with Lemon Fanta) after siesta. It was a bond that was hard to break, but we still keep in touch online. I cannot wait to return to see them again.

How much class time did you have, and what did you study when you were there?

I attended class from 09:30 to 2:00, Monday through Thursday at the University of Cádiz. I studied the “History of Andalusian Art” and also took a “Grammar and Culture” class.

What did you do on Fridays?

Friday was a day reserved to conduct field research in preparation for our final thesis. Our program required that all William & Mary students perform an independent research project of their choice. In my research, I studied the mix between local culture and environmental policy in Spain by doing a case study on the relationship between Doñana National Park and the nearby town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda.

 

Sunset from the shores of Doñana National Park in Sanlúcar de Barrameda

What was the weather like when you were there?

It was very typical for the Mediterranean in the summer; every day, it was sunny and dry with no clouds. In fact, watching the weather report is almost a joke. Normally, this is a recipe for a desert-like climate, as is the case for most of southern Spain, but Cádiz is conveniently located at the intersection of two major wind patterns, El Levante and El Poniente. This makes for a constant 30 mph wind throughout the city. On a typical day, we generally enjoyed a pleasant 75 degree high in the afternoon with a 60 degree low at night.

 

The home where Ryan stayed with his host family

That sounds wonderful! What did you like most about the city?

By far the biggest asset of Cádiz is its people (the gaditanos), especially for someone who is curious and willing to learn about and participate in the language and culture. In Cádiz, the entire city is a large, inclusive family, and it was so strikingly common to talk to a complete stranger. Before you knew it, two hours would have passed, and then, every time you would see that person on the street, he or she would make a point to say hello and strike up another conversation. Every conversation always ended in making plans on the spot for the next meeting. Goodbyes were an hour event.  It is not to say that the gaditanos are a people of constant happiness, but a major staple of the culture of Cádiz is the motto: Life is too short, and this, too, will pass. Amidst the worst things in life, the true gaditano can at least break a smile and know that there is an open and supportive community all around.

What do the people of Cádiz enjoy eating and drinking?

Fried fish and calamari with a tinto de verano 

The gaditanos have lived with the sea for 3,000 years and, therefore, enjoy a diverse and extensive cuisine of seafood. Cádiz is especially known world-wide for its freidurías, or street side windows that sell fried fish and calamari. It is wonderfully cheap and served in large paper funnels, making it a pleasure to enjoy while walking the narrow, historic streets. Cádiz also has a deep tradition in soups, heavy with legumes, particularly garbanzos, which are often paired with fresh baked Andalusian baguettes for dipping. Although this is region wide, tinto de verano, as I mentioned before, is a highly popular drink during the summer.  It is a cheap, delicious and refreshing drink that the Spaniards drink in place of a drink that only “guiris” or tourists drink, sangria. More often than not, tourists are served tinto de verano and cannot even detect the difference.

Can you tell us anything interesting about the Cádiz culture?

By far, the most interesting part of gaditano culture is its international and historic identity. Throughout history, almost every major civilization has inhabited this small peninsula, ranging from the Phoenicians, to the Romans, Arabs, and then Napoleon. You can trace these influences in the architecture. It was the major port connecting Europe to Africa and the Americas. This resulted in a constant flux of new, foreign ideas and a characteristically liberal social climate that exists to this day. 2012 happens to be the bicentennial of the Constitution of Cádiz.

Cádiz also is the birthplace of Carnival. Perhaps it is the single most important event that happens in the city. People come from all over the world to joke and satirize the political, social and economic problems of the past year, and everything is fair game. This Carnival directly inspired the “Militancia de la Alegría” of Argentina that now serves as a means of promoting social change throughout Latin America.

Rome from the top of St. Peter’s Basilica

Did you travel outside of Cádiz?

Montmartre in Paris, with the Sacre Coeur in the background

Yes! I actually traveled quite a bit. I took weekend trips to Córdoba, Sevilla, Granada, and Sanlúcar de Barrameda. After my program, I backpacked across Europe, traveling through Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Bern, Venice, Florence, and Rome.

Can you share the highlights?

My personal trip highlights were, by and large, the things I did not plan on doing in the first place.  Here’s my list:

The Grande Canal of Venice

  1. Utilizing Europe’s fantastic train system. It’s really amazing how enjoyable and fast it is to travel across a country, get off where you want, and enjoy the beautiful landscapes and countryside.
  2. Going to a tapas bar “Ir de tapas” in Granada. Tapas are served the way they were meant to be enjoyed, free and accompanied with an alcoholic beverage of your choice. You pay for a drink, and a plate of food will come, no questions asked.  The caveat is that you cannot choose which tapa you will receive. The mystery is half of the fun, and you will experience a varied sampling of Spanish cuisine. Plus, you can enjoy a delicious dinner for a very cheap price. It is common to go from bar to bar, sampling the various tapas offered.
  3. Walking the streets of the Albayzín at night, the Arab district in Granada and enjoying a sweeping view of the Alhambra lit up from the Mirador de San Nicolas.
  4. Shopping in an open market and tasting fruits you’ve never seen before. Most store owners are more than willing to let you sample whatever you want.
  5. Seeing a Flamenco show spontaneously erupt on the street.
  6. Walking alongside a religious procession of the Virgin Mary in the street. Each neighborhood in Spain has its representative Virgin.
  7. Visiting the Prado in Madrid.
  8. Spending an afternoon at the Parque de Retiro in Madrid, a park perfect for escaping the heat, enjoying some coffee and watching the hundreds of street performers.
  9. Seeing Barcelona’s La Sagrada Familia in person. It is by far one of the most breathtaking cathedrals in the world.
  10. Getting out of the city to visit an authentic Spanish pueblo in the countryside.
  11. Meeting people from all over the world through hostels.
  12. Walking the extensive Catacombs of Paris.
  13. Enjoying the best Tuscan food I’ve ever had at Trattoria Zaza in Florence.
  14. Seeing Michaelangelo’s David.
  15. Celebrating Mass at the Vatican and enjoying the rich collection of art at the Vatican Museum, including the Sistine Chapel.
  16. Having gelato every day!
  17. Seeing the Pantheon. It may seem like any regular building in Rome, but the Pantheon is 100% original and well preserved. You are walking on the same marble floor that ancient Romans traversed daily. For about 2,000 years, rain and sun have passed through the oculus. That’s the kind of stuff that gives me goosebumps.
  18. Intentionally throwing the map out and getting deeply lost in Rome.

 The mountain range, La Sierra Nevada, from the Alhambra

 

What, if anything, did you find surprising during your trip?

Spain’s intimate ties to northern Africa surprised me the most. I think you could debate that Spain is partially the beginning of Africa. Traditionally dominated by the Arab empire, southern Spain retains to this day many African cultural traditions and customs. For example, after a few days of getting to know our host family, the father offered us Moroccan tea as a symbol of acceptance into the family. The tea was a contract, of sorts, that symbolized a promise that the family would take care of us and protect us as if we were one of their own.

And even though this might be silly, it really surprised me that everyone learns English in Europe with a British accent. In fact, American accents are highly coveted.

Escaping the heat and relaxing along the canals of The Plaza de España in Sevilla

How interesting! Did this trip change the way you think about anything in any way?

Very much so. Essentially, I realized that other countries in the world very rarely think about the US the way we think they do. Europeans don’t hate Americans; they just can’t imagine why anyone would have voted for a certain past President we had!

Granada’s Alhambra from the Mirador de San Nicolas

That can be life changing – to see the way others live and then think about your own lifestyle in the US the way others see it.

It was indeed life changing. I realized we Americans tend to worry so much that we often don’t really enjoy what is going on at a given moment. A good example is our intense obsession with cleanliness, academic supremacy, television and scheduling. Life in Spain is very public, and most of it is spent in the street. I find myself now living more actively and enjoying every opportunity to get out of my house to meet new people and celebrate local cultural events. I continue my daily tradition of taking walks in the late afternoon, and I don’t fight the temptation to take a siesta.

I have also come to appreciate the general kindness of people. I started out the trip, for lack of a better word, paranoid. Whenever I was lost, locals were always willing to help. In cities like Paris, I expected the worst, and in general, I think Europeans get a pretty bad rap.  The world is a pretty awesome place, and people will open their hearts to open minds.

Incredible landscaping in Gaudí’s Park Güell in Barcelona

So you must have had some adjusting to do when you got back home. 

I tell others who travel abroad to prepare for reverse culture shock when you return to the US. People at home expect you to be the same person they knew when you left. The fact is you have changed. Roll your eyes once when you pass a row of fast food chains, but then move on and transition back in. It’s harder than most people expect, but you’ll be the better for it.

What did you miss most about home?

By far, I missed my family the most. I learned so many incredible things, and I really wished that I could have shared this experience with them. I also missed communicating with ease. The first few days were particularly rough, since I felt brain-dead after a whole day of speaking Spanish. This eventually went away. As for material things, I really, really missed peanut butter. It’s an absurd thing to miss, but it is virtually non-existent in Europe.

Ha! My mother sneaked a huge jar of peanut butter in my suitcase when I studied abroad, and boy did I cherish every bite!

What advice would you give to another student who is considering applying for overseas study?

La Mezquita, or the Mosque, of Córdoba

Do it! You may never have this opportunity again, and I think that studying abroad is necessary for a complete education. It was the most fun I’ve had in my life so far, and I really hope I find myself overseas again in the near future.

All of that said, do it for the right reasons. Don’t go to Paris just because it is on your list. Go to Paris to live Paris. Do things that genuinely interest you, not just because someone somewhere suggested it. However, always make room for one thing that puts you out of your comfort zone. Traveling is about expanding horizons. I took a flamenco dance class in complete horror, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

Most importantly, don’t do things abroad that you can do in the United States. If this means breaking away from your American friends to do something more immersive, whatever you do will have much more personal value in the long run. There just isn’t enough time to be wasting it.

A Roman bridge crossing the Guadalquivir River in Córdoba with La Mezquita in the backdrop

Where would you like to travel next?

I would love to take a trip and explore the southern end of South America, “El Cono Sur”, namely Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, but when, if ever, the embargo is lifted on Cuba, I will be buying the first ticket to Havana.

                                                                                       

The Alcazar of Sevilla, a style called mudéjar

Thank you Ryan, for sharing your travel experiences and beautiful photographs with our readers. We wish you the best of luck with your education, career and future travel adventures.

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I have lived in South Florida since 1978 and visited often from a young age. I was so fortunate to have been here before the traffic and congestion, housing boom and strip shopping mall phenomenon. I used to drive from work – NW 36th in Miami to a special dentist in North East Palm Beach for 6 months in 1985 every Friday night. It only took a bit over an hour to drive those 75 miles during “rush hour.” There was never any traffic. Now that drive would be 2 to 2 1/2 hours easily.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Deborah Sharp, a Fort Lauderdale native and author, who grew up in the heart of Fort Lauderdale. She shared her memories with me and talked about her mystery novel series. I think you’ll really enjoy what she had to say about the way things wee here in the 1950s and 60s. Here’s the article.

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Dom Testa is a fascinating guy. He wrote the Galahad Series of YA books, co-hosts Denver’s most popular morning radio show and is the creator of an organization called The Big Brain Club. I promise you’ll be enlightened when you read my interview with him on Good Reads with Ronna.

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Please read my interview with science writer Beverly McMillan, author or A Day in the Life of Your Body. You will learn about all the work it takes to write scientific books and how fascinating the process is to create these educational titles. I now have ever greater respect for people who write these books and educate the world with their knowledge!

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Journey through Turkey

 

Dr. Tyler R. Tichelaar is an author, editor, book reviewer, and aspiring world traveler. He began his prolific writing career by publishing a series of novels set in his hometown of Marquette, Michigan that depict the history of the area and its significant role in American history, resulting in it becoming known as “The Queen City of the North.” The series consists of The Marquette Trilogy: Iron Pioneers, The Queen City, and Superior Heritage; Narrow Lives (winner of the 2009 Best Historical Fiction Reader Views Literary Award), The Only Thing That Lasts, and his newly published novel Spirit of the North: a paranormal romance. His interests have also led him to writing two non-fiction books King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition and The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption. Tyler is currently working on a historical fantasy series about King Arthur, the Fairy Melusine, and other medieval legends. He has visited many places in England and France that will be featured in his novels. Most recently, he journeyed to Turkey and was kind enough to answer some questions for us about his Turkish adventures.

Author Dr. Tyler Tichelaar at Ephesus

Out of all the places in the world where you could have traveled, what made you choose Turkey?

I’ve always been fascinated by the Byzantine Empire, and I can claim descent from some of the emperors including Basil I and Alexios III. Also, Turkey is the second Holy Land. The Virgin Mary lived there in Ephesus as did St. John, and the Seven Churches of the Revelation are there, St. Paul journeyed through Turkey, as did Saints Basil and George, and many other early Christians have connections or origins there.

You joined a tour with Insight Vacations in Istanbul to venture around Turkey. What were the benefits of touring with a group like that rather than on your own?

I prefer to go on a tour the first time I visit a country, especially if I don’t speak the language there. Our tour guide was amazing and showed us all the highlights. Someday, I may go back to Istanbul to explore it on my own, now that I know the lay of the land better. Many people in Turkey speak English so it would not be difficult. But taking a tour is an excellent way to be introduced to a country without the frustrations of trying to figure out how to get to places on your own.

Were there people on the tour from other parts of the world or were they all American?

We were quite an international group actually. Of the 28 of us, there were two men from South Africa, two women from Sri Lanka, a couple from England, a couple from Canada, and then while the rest of us resided in the United States, one couple was originally from Germany, another were Indian, and another were from Taiwan.

Traveling with people from other cultures really makes for a more interesting journey. I imagine you visited at least one palace in Istanbul.

Yes, I visited the Topkapi Palace. It was quite different from what expected a palace to be. I’ve been to palaces like Versailles and Buckingham, but this palace was much less ornate and considerably smaller. It was built by the Ottoman Sultans, soon after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, and it’s very open air, like a bunch of buildings built around a courtyard. Most of the buildings are only one, or at most two floors. A lot of it consisted of buildings or rooms joined by covered porches—the porches were ornately decorated and quite beautiful, but otherwise it didn’t strike me as looking like a palace. It did have a harem and also a large display of jewels, the Topkapi dagger and other items. I didn’t get to tour the Dolmabahce Palace, which was built much later and modeled after Versailles, although I drove by it and saw it when we went on a boat tour on the Bosphorus.

 

One of the many porches of Topkapi Palace

 

With all the mosques in Turkey, it must have been difficult to decide which ones you wanted to visit.

You’ve got that right! Everywhere you go in Turkey, there are mosques. The palaces could not compare, in my opinion, to the mosques. There are more in Turkey than all the other Muslim countries combined. It seemed like you can always see about a half dozen minarets rising up into the skyline, and they are all decorated in a variety of colors—blue, green, pink, gold, silver. The major mosque I visited was the 17th century Blue Mosque , which is the place that most took my breath away when I walked into it. And of course I visited the Hagia Sophia, which was originally a Christian church in the year 532, then converted into a mosque. Then after Turkey became a republic in the 1920s, it became a museum.

 

Interior domes of the Blue Mosque

The dome in the Blue Mosque is actually prettier—more ornately decorated than the Hagia Sophia, but it is not as big. Hagia Sophia is impressive as well and has second-floor balconies that allow you to get closer to the dome, although it’s still way up there. The church is dark inside but still glorious. When the Emperor Justinian built it, he said he had surpassed the beauty of Solomon’s Temple, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he had.

For me, Hagia Sophia was the most exciting place to visit because of its rich history and the fact that I discovered that some of my ancestors actually worshipped there. There are beautiful mosaics and the balconies upstairs are more like gigantic galleries. During Holy Week, the services would go on for days and the royal family would basically camp out up there.

Grand exterior of the Hagia Sophia

I also love the legend about how the people hid in Hagia Sophia during the taking of the city in 1453 and how the Turks broke into the church and the priests disappeared into the wall with the holy relics. The legend says they will return when the city is again Christian. Similarly, the last emperor, Constantine XI, is said not to have died but been saved so he can someday return. I wrote a blog about Constantine XI that you can read about here. If you’re interested in King Arthur, you might also be interested in my guest blog post about the Turkey-King Arthur connection.

Interior of the domes at Hagia Sophia

Surely you explored some ancient ruins while in Turkey. What was that like?

Yes, I visited Pergamon, dating back to 281 BC, Troy, and Ephesus both dating back to 3000 BC. I did not know about Pergamon before, but it was quite interesting—basically a sanitarium where people went to be cured. Troy was a bit disappointing because the ruins are fairly insubstantial, mostly small walls and rocks. It was difficult to imagine the place as home to Homer’s Troy, although I was surprised by how green the landscape was—not at all the desert look in the Brad Pitt film, which I love, but was filmed in Spain actually.

Ephesus was the most amazing ruin I could imagine. The entire main downtown section has been excavated, and it must go on for well over a mile. You can really envision what this marvelous city must have looked like at the time of St. Paul and Anthony and Cleopatra, all of whom visited there. The library’s ruins are still beautiful and the coliseum there held thousands of people. It’s amazing to think these people had running water—fountains, public restrooms. Until the time machine is invented, I think a visit there is the closest we will ever come to envisioning what it was like to live in an ancient city. At one time the Temple of Artemis stood here – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Ruins of Ephesus

I must commend our tour guide, Rashid Ergener, who was absolutely amazing—a true expert on Turkey in every sense of the word; there wasn’t a question you could ask him that he could not answer. He told us that Turkey has more Greek ruins than Greece and more Roman ruins than Italy. I am amazed more people don’t go to Ephesus, simply because it is so fascinating.

 

What kind of food did you eat there, and what was your favorite dish?

We ate lots of olives—even for breakfast—and kabobs. I really didn’t know what most of the food was called, but it was all very good. Probably my favorite dish were the figs drenched in honey. We also had some cheese pancakes that were good. I wasn’t crazy about the Turkish pizza—it was pretty bland compared to our pizza here. Of course, I ate a lot of traditional candy known as Turkish delight. I just had to try Burger King there to see what it was like, and the food was exactly the same as here! The Coke, however, was less sweet and less fizzy. The tour company had us stay at marvelous five-star hotels, but I suspect the food there was perhaps geared toward tourists, so not as authentic. That said, it was all delicious, and I can’t recall anything I had that I didn’t finish. I never felt squeamish about eating anything there, and yes, we ate buffets, so I’d frequently have three plates full, plus dessert.

Delicious cheese pancakes

Yum! What was the most interesting or surprising fact you learned about Turkey while you were there?

The history of the founding of the Turkish republic and the character of the republic’s first leader and President, Ataturk (in office from 1923-1938) is really fascinating. I had heard his name but knew nothing about him. He was an amazing man who believed in democracy for his people. Once when interviewed by an American reporter, he was asked whether or not he was a dictator and he replied, “Yes, I dictate democracy.” You might say he forced democracy upon his people for their own good, and the Turkish people revere him for it to this day. His mausoleum in the capital of Ankara and the museum there to the founding of the republic, could rival our monuments in Washington D.C. When you drive through Ankara, there are giant banners of him, several stories high that hang off many of the buildings, and all featuring different pictures of him. I would like to read a full-length biography of his life. We could use a few good, strong men like Ataturk today. He ranks up there with Winston Churchill and George Washington in my book, as an example of a man who did what was best for his country when the times called for it.

The Turkish people are very proud to be living in a democracy, proud to be a secular country freed from the problems that exist in the more religious Muslim countries, and the entire country is very Westernized – while at the same time retaining its Turkish identity that makes it so charming and fascinating to visit. Before I went I found things on line that said there was no toilet paper in many places and other misconceptions. I found none of that to be true. It is a very modern country and any Westerner would feel comfortable there. I was thoroughly impressed with the country and the people.

Many buildings in Ankara display images of revered former President Ataturk

 

Can you tell us more about the people of Turkey?

The people were wonderful. At the hotels the waiters and all the staff were super polite. They treated us like royalty. One of my traveling companions liked to try out speaking Turkish so he kept stopping people on the street to talk to them, and on those occasions, we found the people always to be friendly. Locals continually asked us where we were from and when we said we were American, they would say, “Oh, I went to school at the University of Michigan,” or “I have a sister who lives in Florida,” or my favorite, “My wife is from Seattle. She came to Turkey as a flamenco dancer, and we got married.” I felt nothing but good will from the people of Turkey and that it really is a small world.

If people get nothing else out of reading this interview, I want it to be clear that the Turkish people are a lot like us. They might be Muslim and speak a different language, but they are wonderful people and have far more in common with most Americans than they do differences. I always felt safe. I encourage everyone to travel because it breaks down barriers. If anything, I was a bit embarrassed because people felt alarmed by our current Republican candidates who want war with Iran. They said to me things like, “Have those people ever traveled outside the country? Are they crazy?” I had to apologize and tell them that most Americans didn’t want war. I was also impressed that there is no homeless population in Turkey. They take care of their people. We could learn a lot from this much younger democracy.

 

That really is great information for all us. Are you planning to use Turkey as a setting in a future novel?

Yes, as I mentioned, I’m fascinated with Byzantine history, so I wanted to see what remains of Byzantine architecture and the Byzantine city of Constantinople. I hope to set part of my historical fantasy Arthurian series around the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. I didn’t do significant research yet, but brought home many books to help my research, and most importantly, I wanted to be there, to see what the city looked like, to understand the lay of the land you can’t get just from reading books and looking at maps. I tried to block out the modern buildings and see what it would have felt like to live in Constantinople in the 15th century. We’ll see after I write those scenes in the novels, whether or not I succeeded! It’ll probably be a few years before I finish writing those books.

 

Where in the world would you like to go next?

I would love to go to Spain to see the fabulous monastery at Montserrat—rumored to have housed the Holy Grail, and consequently another location in a future novel—as well as other great places in Spain like the Alcazar and Alhambra. And I would also like to go back to France because I never got to Brittany, where I would like to see the Arthurian locations. These include the Forest of Broceliande where Merlin was supposedly hidden away in a cave, and I also would like to visit Lusignan where the fairy Melusine once lived. If I had the time and money, I’d also add in trips to the Netherlands, Germany, Egypt, Israel, India—and that’s my short list.

 

Tyler, thank you so much for sharing your experience and giving us insight into all things Turkish. I look so forward to reading your next novel and all that come after that! Readers, for more information about Dr. Tyler Tichelaar, check out  www.MarquetteFiction.com and www.ChildrenofArthur.com.

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An interview I did with Geographer Dr. Joseph Kerski 3 years ago was picked up by Science Buddies. Look for the link under the “Interviews” section.

I reviewed two cute books by Dawn Publications today on Good Reads with Ronna.

I took these photos in Tree Tops Park yesterday.

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