Friday, January 29, 2016

36 Hours in Istanbul

We've had a few visitors and we're currently planning a few more in the next few months (shoutout to Karen and the Russo family!).  All of this talk of visitors got me thinking about itineraries and the "must-sees" of Turkey.  If you only have three days in Turkey, it's probably best to spend it in Istanbul.  While Istanbul is not the capital of Turkey, it's the largest city in the country and is FULL of sights to see!

Before you arrive, you'll want to make a hotel or AirBnB reservation.  We've stayed in both with great success and there are a ton of options throughout the city.  As a tourist, I recommend staying in the Sultanahmet part of Istanbul because that puts you within walking distance of the major tourist spots, like the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque.  Taksim is also a really cool part of town with tons of restaurants and bars  and isn't quite as touristy as Sultanahmet.  The drawback is that it's a little bit farther away from the tourist spots.  Istanbul has a great metro system and it's easy to use, so it's really all about personal preference.

Also, just as a note, you'll want to fly into Ataturk airport.  There are two airports in Istanbul, but it takes about three hours to get from the other one (Sabiha Gokcen) to the tourist spots, so just say no to that.

Day One

Coming from the United States, you'll get in around dinner time, which doesn't leave a ton of time for sight seeing.  I also find the flight exhausting and the thought of doing a ton of sight seeing after a ten hour flight is not appealing to me. In both the Taksim and the Sultanahmet sections of Istanbul, there are a ton of restaurants and places to eat.  We've been to what is ranked as number one on TripAdvisor and it was delicious.  Wherever you go, get something traditionally Turkish.  Start off with some mezzes (appetizers) and maybe some fasulye (soup) followed by a main course (I recommend Testi Kebabi, which is lamb cooked in a clay pot! Nomz!) and finished off with some Baklava.  Maybe it's because I'm writing this at dinner time or maybe it's just that it's all so good, but I am now craving ALL THE TURKISH FOOD.  End your night with a cup of tea before heading to bed.  It's a very Turkish thing to do.

Day Two

Today's the big day!!  There is lots to see and not a lot of time to see it.  I recommend getting up early and finding a restaurant that has a big Turkish breakfast.  Mike isn't a fan, so we don't do it that often, but I think it's an experience in itself. Cheese, bread, honey, tomatoes, cucumbers, and tea! All so delicious!
After breakfast, it's time to start sightseeing.  In the Sultanahmet area, the major sights are the Topkapi Palace, theBlue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia.  It's best to get to Topkapi Palace early because the lines there can be longer than the lines at Disney World.  I wish I was kidding... Topkapi is the Turkish version of Versaille and definitely worth it.  Plus, the views of the city are pretty awesome.
After Topkapi, head to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia.  The Blue Mosque is beautiful, but make sure you are wearing something that will cover your shoulders and your knees.  Also, women will need a scarf to cover their head.  They'll give you stuff to wear if you aren't covered, but I just feel weird about that.  It's better to bring your own stuff.  Hagia Sofia will be crowded and it's currently being restored, but I think that, if you can look past the people and the restoration, there is some true beauty there.  Make sure to go up to the second level.  We didn't realize there was an upstairs the first time we went and truly missed out.

Hanging out at the Blue Mosque

See, I think the Hagia Sofia is beautiful!!

Once you are done here,  you have a few options.  You can do the Basilica Cistern, which is within walking distance.  I didn't think it was anything too awesome, but Mike really liked it.  If you're nearby, it's worth stopping in.

At this point during the day, we usually are hungry and ready for lunch.  There are tons of restaurants nearby and any and all of them are good.  We have had good luck with TripAdvisor, especially since you can search by proximity.

After lunch, head to the Grand Bazaar for souvenir shopping.  There is literally everything you could ever want at the Grand Bazaar and I think it's the best place for souvenirs.  I got a set of hot plates that I absolutely love, as well as a few little bowls and nick nacks for around the house.  When Kelly was here, she got a tea set.  Jason got a cool plate to display and Poorna got a set of pants (among other things)! There is literally everything there. Make sure to haggle with them! We've never paid full price for anything! Ha!

After shopping, I recommend doing a evening boat cruise.  There are always a ton of people selling tickets outside of the Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque, but you can also book them ahead of time.  Try to get a time around sunset, just because it's so pretty.  You'll be able to cross from Europe to Asia, which is pretty cool, as well as see the city from the water, which gives it a different perspective.

Once the boat ride is over, finish the night off with a Turkish dinner and drinks at a rooftop bar.  There are a ton in Istanbul.  I'm a sucker for a rooftop bar! Make sure to order Raki, the unofficial alcohol of Turkey.  It's a social sipping drink and definitely not something you want to chug, but worth a try!

Day Three

Day Three is always a little flexible because we almost always have to get on the road or catch a flight, but there is usually time for at least one big sight.  I think Dolmabache Palace is worth it because it's so extravagant.   It's the second palace in Istanbul and, despite the fact that it's smaller than Topkapi, the amount of money and extravagance definitely puts it on top.  It is a little bit further out of the tourist district, but the metro goes right there.  If you don't want to do the official tour (which you must do if you want to go inside), you can still walk around the grounds and enjoy a cup of tea (do you see a trend??) along the water before heading out.

Istanbul is a huge city and we haven't even conquered all of it after multiple trips there.  There is a whole other side to the city across the water, which is probably worth a trip in itself.  The New York Times did a 36 hours in the Asian side of Istanbul, which we want to try as well.  This itinerary definitely involves a lot of walking and is pretty exhausting, but if you only have a few days, you gotta see it all!!

What would you add/subtract from this?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Five Favorites: Teaching English

When we found out that we'd be moving to Turkey, I knew that I wanted to try and do something in the education field, but I wasn't sure what that would be.  I emailed a few elementary schools about substituting with no luck (Turkey is apparently pretty strict about who is allowed to teach), so I knew I'd probably have to look outside of the classroom teacher role.  When we arrived in Turkey, I found an English language school that needed native speakers and it seemed to work perfectly with my schedule and what I could do.  I miss working with children a lot, but this job has been perfect for me this year and has been a great way to get out of the house and continue teaching.  So, this week, my five favorite things (linking up with The Big White Farmhouse) are about teaching English.

  1. It makes you think about what you're saying and how you're saying it.  I feel like my grammar and enunciation has gotten so much better since teaching English. I am a better English speaker because I am teaching English. If I use improper grammar, the students won't understand, so I really have to pay attention to what I'm saying and how I'm saying it.  Sometimes, if they don't understand a sentence, I have to think of another way to say something, which, in turn, makes me really think about what I'm saying and what meaning I want them to understand.  I've also started to notice that when I go home and speak to Mike after class, I speak slower and clearer than I normally do.  I think he's even told me once or twice that I don't need to speak quite as slow :)
  2. The social interaction is so nice!!  Y'all, we have a lot of great things going for us over here, but our social life is not one of them. Turkish classes are great, but they don't allow for a lot of chit chat and socializing (read: I must focus all of my attention on Turkish, otherwise I get lost).  Unlike Turkish classes, teaching English allows for so much socialization because the point is to get the students talking.   Plus, the majority of my students are around my age, so we just hang out, talk and occasionally play games like Taboo. It's fun and it's a great way for me to socialize.
  3. I get to learn about Turkey.  There are so many things I want to know about Turkish culture, from the food to the customs.  Whenever Mike and I have a question about something cultural, I always ask my class. Half the time, they look at me like I'm crazy, but they usually provide some sort of insight into the custom or tradition.  I probably learn as much as they do!
  4. I feel like I am becoming a better classroom teacher because of this experience of teaching outside of the traditional classroom.  I am really seeing and understanding the struggles that English Language Learners have.  I am constantly realizing how much of an impact this has on little things.  For example, I was talking about a quilt the other day and my students had no idea what the word quilt meant, even though they know what a quilt is.  This type of word is often used in math problems when learning perimeter and area.  How are students supposed to solve the question if they don't understand what the question is asking?  I feel like, when I return to the classroom, I'll have a deeper understanding of how to explain directions, problems and every day tasks because of this experience. 
  5. This last one is not necessarily for teaching English, but just for teaching in general. I love to watch a student struggle and work through something.  It's almost like you can see what they're thinking inside their head as they work through something out loud.  When they finish and realize they've gotten it right, they feel so accomplished and it's incredible.  Language is like math and it is easy to watch them work through forming a sentence, which makes teaching languages so rewarding.  It's definitely my favorite part of teaching!
So, there you have it! My five favorite things about teaching English! I'm sure that this list could be extended to be five of my favorite things about teaching, but I could probably add about a million more to that list.  Happy Wednesday!

Monday, January 25, 2016

Skiing in Uludag

After spending a few weekends just hanging around Izmir, both Mike and I were going a little stir crazy.  We've done most of the sight seeing in Izmir and our social life leaves a lot to be desired (Mike's two friends were out of town), so we were faced with a weekend completely free and nothing to do.   We had talked about going skiing sometime and this weekend seemed like the perfect opportunity.

On Friday, we packed up our car and headed north to Uludag, which is about four hours from Izmir and halfway between Izmir and Istanbul.  About halfway through our drive, we started to see snow...

 Our hotel was in the town of Bursa at the bottom of the mountain. We arrived at our hotel in the late afternoon and decided to spend the rest of the day exploring Bursa.  Bursa is the fourth largest city in Turkey and, let me tell you, we were both surprised at how nice it is.  Izmir, the third largest city, leaves a lot to be desired in terms of aesthetics and organization.   Little things, such as the walk signals at each corner in Bursa make sounds so vision-impaired people know when to cross whereas, in Izmir, people seem to cross wherever and whenever and people with disabilities seem to just have to guess, made a huge impact on us.  Also, the buildings in Izmir look decades old and it seems as though people didn't give much thought into what the finished product looked like.   In Bursa, the city looked well-designed and was much more aesthetically pleasing.

Bursa is known for being the hometown of the Iskender kebap, which is what I think of as the Turkish equivalent to a cheeseburger.  Because of this, we found a restaurant that only served iskender.  It was delicious, although I think I've had better iskender before.  After we finished, we set out to find a place to have a nightcap before heading back to the hotel.  When we checked into the hotel earlier that day, we noticed a sign behind the reception desk that said that no alcohol was permitted on the premises.  We thought it was a little strange, but didn't really think much of it.  After dinner, we walked around for a little while before we realized that there weren't any bars around and none of the restaurants served alcohol.  We were shocked that such a large city so close to Istanbul and not in the more conservative parts of Turkey would be so...conservative! We weren't upset, more just surprised.  So, instead of grabbing a drink, we headed back to the hotel where we read for a few hours and watch 'The Pursuit of Happiness' in Turkish on the hotel tv.

Iskender anyone?
We may not have found any alcohol, but we did find a Turkish deer

Saturday morning, we bundled up and headed out for a day of skiing.  We really had no idea what to expect and I think both of our expectations were pretty low. In order to get from Bursa to the ski resort, you can either drive an hour up a snow mountain (pass!) or you can take the teleferik (gondola) up the mountain!!  It was amazing! It claims to be the longest gondola in the world, although after doing some fact checking, we found that almost every other gondola claims to be this way, as well.  It did take 22 minutes one way, so I can't imagine one being much longer than that!

Once we got up to the top of the mountain, we rented skis for me and bought us both lift tickets.  We were at the bottom of the slopes, so we had to take a lift up and then ski down.  From what we could tell, there were only a few slopes and the only lifts were the pulley lifts where your skis are on the ground.  We took it up and skied down a few times before we got bored.  It was apparent that these were the beginner slopes where almost everyone was.  We did a very Turkish thing and took a break for tea.  By that point, Mike's hands and feet were cold and tea sounded perfect for both of us (I think we're turning into Turks!).

When we returned from our tea break, Mike asked one of the ski resort employees where the advanced slopes were.  While he was doing that, one of the other employees asked me if we were professionals! HA! I wish! I'm perfectly fine on my blues and occasional black diamond.  I don't know if I was more excited about that compliment or the fact that he asked me in Turkish and I understood! Anyways, we found the intermediate slopes and were immediately ten times happier.  Not only were there less people and actual ski lifts, the slopes were probably the best condition that either of us have ever skied in.   One of the slopes was knee deep powder!  How crazy!! That's a whole new skiing experience for me.  The other slope was more skied on, but still was covered in snow without any ice.  So cool!!

The resort was small, so there were only a few intermediate slopes.  We're pretty sure there were more intermediate/expert slopes, but we weren't sure how to get there.  Despite being small and a little easy for us, we were pretty happy with the experience.  The conditions were great, there were super short lines and it was a lot of fun.  I'm not sure if we'll go back again, but it would be a great resort for people who want to learn to ski or want to just take the teleferik up and back down (which a lot of people do!)  After a few hours, we called it a day and headed back to the hotel to warm up.  It was super cold and our tolerance has definitely decreased since living in Izmir!

Sunday, we stopped to see the famous mosque there and the Green Tomb, which is also a big site.  I thought the mosque was really pretty and had a few unique characteristics for a mosque (Mike and I have seen our fair share of mosques and churches!), such as stained glass windows! So pretty!  After a morning of sight seeing, we hit the road and were back in Izmir by mid afternoon.

It was a fun weekend and I'm glad we tried skiing in Turkey.  I don't think we'll do it again, just because the resort was small and there weren't a lot of slopes for intermediate/advanced skiers, but I'll never forget skiing in knee deep powder or riding that teleferik!

Friday, January 22, 2016

Book Review: Year of Yes

Growing up, we had a rule in our house that each child was only allowed to watch one television show during the school week.  This was before the days of DVR and watching shows online, so if you didn't watch it during prime time, you didn't watch it.  This meant that I had to choose my one show VERY carefully.

Sometime during my junior year of high school, that one show became Grey's Anatomy.  I fondly remember countless number of Grey's parties where my friends and I would gather at each other's house to watch the latest episode. Somewhere along the lines, I stopped watching Grey's, but my appreciation for the writing and creativity never faded.  Fast forward a few years and I've graduated from the one television show a week and am hooked on Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder (I know, lovely sounding shows).

There are a lot of similar characteristics between these three shows, but the main one being the mastermind behind them.  Her name is Shonda Rhimes and she's quickly rising to the ranks of Beyonce in my mind. The Year of Yes is her story of her decision to say yes to all things that make her uncomfortable. She spent a year doing all of those things that made her feel "squishy" (shoutout to City Year!) inside and the Year of Yes is all about that year and the change she underwent.

I loved this book for so many reasons. First, her writing is incredible, which should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched even an episode of her shows. The woman has a way with words. Her writing was on fleek as the children say these days, but really, it was her willingness to be vulnerable that had me turning every page. There were so many times where I just wanted to shout "YAAAASSS!!!" to the feelings she was describing.   She had my introverted self cringing at the thought of going to a big party or giving a speech, just as she did before the year of yes.

Throughout the book, she explores different areas of her life where she began to say yes to challenging things, from her social life to her family to her health.  She began to say yes to going to parties and giving speeches, she said yes to play time with her children and she even said yes to putting down the cake and working out (she lost over 100 pounds!!).

I did feel that some of the things she did and said yes to were only possible because of who she was and her income, which most people don't have.  For example, she hired a personal trainer and had a full time nanny, both of which cost a significant amount of money.  That being said, there are ways to get around that, but it definitely was easier for her because she could afford a lot of things the average person (and definitely single mom) could not.

Overall, I felt like this was such a girl power book and I loved it.  The admiration I have for Shonda Rhimes definitely grew as I was reading this book.  Throughout the year, she herself out of her comfort zone and by the end felt so empowered to do things she wouldn't have even thought possible before.  While I definitely haven't committed to a year of yes myself, I feel like there was so much I could sympathize with after these past seven months.

Do you have any autobiographies/memoirs that you enjoyed?  Why did you like them?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Five Favorites: Life Abroad

Things have been extremely quiet around here.  We've been hanging out at home in preparation for a busy February. The most exciting thing to happen this week (besides Mike and I using MLK Day as an excuse to skip Turkish lessons on Monday) was that it snowed in Izmir today!!! Huge snowflakes kind of snow! I don't think the people of Izmir really know how to react to snow and my cold tolerance has definitely decreased since moving here, but that didn't stop me from loving the snow.

Anyways, I'm linking up again with the Big White Farmhouse today for Five Favorites.  I love her post about her five favorite ways to get 10,000 steps.  I don't have kids to pick up toys with, but I definitely can put her suggestion to be more inefficient in order to get more steps.  I'll carry about 20 grocery bags at a time before I have to make a separate trip.  Ha!  This week, I've been thinking about my five favorite things about living abroad.  It's definitely not easy.  In fact, I'm pretty sure it's the hardest thing I've ever done. That being said, there are a lot of cool aspects of living outside of the USofA.

  1. The Food!  In the United States, you can get almost any kind of food you want, basically whenever you want. My parents even had Turkish food last weekend!  It's amazing.  I love late night pizza or take-out Chinese and the fact that I could have hot cookies delivered in college was truly a gift from God.   That being said, I can almost guarantee that the Turkish food my parents ate last weekend wasn't as good as what I'm eating now.  There's something about eating food in the country where it's from. And, as a substitute for my cookie for delivery, we've got a bakery at the corner of my street.  Baklava anyone?
  2. The language  Turkish is hard, y'all.  I sit through four hours of Turkish class every day and if I understand half of what is being said, I consider it a good day. It's challenging, but I think it's so cool.  I can now go to the grocery store and ask how much something costs, or ask someone what time it is. Plus, I've been thinking about language a lot and how fascinating it is. I mean, how cool is it that thousands of years ago, people completely isolated from each other all came up with words for things such as "love" and "happy"? Maybe I'm just a nerd who likes learning languages, but really, learning a new language is pretty cool. 
  3. Location I'm not always in love with Izmir, but it's proximity to major European cities is pretty nice :)  We can go to another country as easily as going to another state back home.  Not only is it close to other great places, we've really gotten to explore Izmir.  We've found little restaurants and museums that we wouldn't have found if we had just been traveling there for a few days or weeks.  We have gotten to know the ins and outs of our little neighborhood and it definitely is different from just visiting another country.
  4. Culture Going along with #3, learning a new culture is equally as fun. You definitely get a taste for it when you travel abroad, but let me tell you, you get immersed in it when you live there.  We now drink enough tea for the whole Boston tea party, take our shoes off when we go to someone's house, and aren't afraid to kiss someone new on the cheek when we meet them.  We also randomly say thinks like "afiyet olsun" (enjoy your meal) and "ins(h)allah" (hopefully) without even thinking about it. Y'all we're living the Turkish life. 
  5. My comfort zone  My poor comfort zone. It's definitely taken a huge hit since being here.  I leave it almost every day and it's tough.  It's probably the hardest part of living abroad. That being said, it's good.  Nobody should stay in their comfort zone all of the time. You need to push the boundaries and try new things.  I still get nervous to go to the grocery store and practically hide at the gym so I don't have to talk to anyone, but it's a million times easier than it was seven months ago and I'm a better person for it. 
There you have it! My five favorite parts of living abroad! It's an incredible experience, both in good ways and bad. I've cried more in the past seven months than I think I did my entire college experience and I still count down the days until I get to go home, but I'm glad to be on this wild ride. I know this experience is making me a better, more open-minded, grateful person and what could I want more than that?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Book Review: Room

We were supposed to go watch Camel Wrestling today.  Yup, don't reread that sentence again.  You read it correctly the first time.  Camel Wresting.  Apparently it's some ancient mating tradition for camels in Turkey.  I don't really know. I was more along for the ride and for the selfies I was going to take.  Unfortunately, due to the torrential rain we're having here, it was cancelled.  After that disappointment, we went out to lunch where it took them a half hour to give us our check because the rain was messing with their computer systems.  

On a rainy day, one of my favorite things to do is curl up with a book and read.  As long as I can remember, I've been a reader. I had the highest points in my first grade class in Accelerated Reader (until Andy Johnson moved across the street and gave me a run for my money, but even then, I think I still beat him) and read every single Baby-Sitter's Club book ever published. I love finding that book that you are completely engrossed in, that requires all of your will-power to put down, and that has you talking about it for days and weeks afterwards.

Room by Emma Donoghue was one of those books.  Room had been on my to-read list for a while, but I had put it off because it sounded creepy.  I mean, it's about a woman who is held captive and has a baby with a her captor.  Creepy, right?

Except that it's not.  It's told from the perspective of the little boy who loves Room.  It's all he knows and affectionately refers to everything by name (ex. Lamp, Rug, TV).  The only thing he doesn't like is Old Nick, who is named that because he heard that sometimes an old man named Nick comes to children's houses in the middle of the night.  How innocent, right?

Throughout the book, I found myself not only rooting and praying for their escape, but also fascinated with what life would be like if I only knew one room.  Shoes would feel really heavy, walking up and down stairs would be scary and my body wouldn't be equipped to deal with things like every day germs. Fascinating, right?

They've made a movie based on the book and I'm anxiously awaiting it's arrival in Turkey (probably via Amazon).  I always have low expectations for movies based off books because there are some things you just can't portray as well, but this movie is nominated for awards.  Big awards, like Best Picture, Best Actress and Best Director.  So, my expectations have been raised a little bit.

I still don't think it will be as good as the book, purely because the book was just that good. It was a requires-all-of-my-willpower-to-put-down, can't-stop-talking-about-it book. It was a great way to start off the year reading-wise.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, I'm reading Year of Yes by the great Shonda Rhimes and it's another requires-all-of-my-willpower-to-put-down, can't-stop-talking-about-it book.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Five Favorites

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After yesterday's post, I figured we all needed something a little more upbeat and lighthearted, so I'm linking up again with the Big White Farmhouse for Five Favorites!  This week, I was thinking about my five favorite books I read in 2015.  My goal was to read 15 books in 2015 and I easily did that.  This year, I upped my game and am always looking for book recommendations, so if you have them, send them my way.  I'm about to start the "Year of Yes" by the one and only Shonda Rhimes.

1. To Kill a Mockingbird
It's not a surprise that this is on my list, as it's probably my all-time favorite book and I have a cat named after the main character.  I read this book for the first time in 8th grade and I remember sympathizing so much with Scout and her views on her world.  Since then, I've read it so many times I've lost count, but I knew I had to reread it this year with the release of Go Set a Watchman.  Every time I read it, I find something else to love about the plot, the characters or the writing. This time, it was the quote 

“Atticus, he was real nice."
"Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.”
-To Kill a Mockingbird

2. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
After reading this book, I was ready to hike the Pacific Coast Trail.  I honestly thought I could do it....and then I did a four hour hike in Turkey and quickly realized otherwise.  I was amazed at how engaging and page-turning this book was, despite the fact that it's about a woman hiking by herself.  I admire Cheryl's ability to hike and her courage to do it by herself, especially with little experience. Girl power for sure!  I'm waiting for Amazon to put this movie on their rentable list because I definitely want to watch!

3. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I had so many people recommend this one to me and I kept putting it off because I'm not a huge historical fiction fan, but there is a reason this book is so popular.  Told from the perspective of two people, a German teenager raised in an orphanage who joins the Nazi army and a blind girl living in France during WWII, this book had me reading late into the night and early in the morning wanting to find out what would happen next.  It was long, but worth the number of pages the author took to tell this story.  

4. Still Alice by Lisa Genova
Another one of the books that was made into a movie! My mom recommended this to me and it was fascinating.  I'm lucky that no one in my family has experienced any sort of Alzheimer's/dementia, but this book had me in tears as I "watched" Alice slip away.   The movie is almost as good as the book, but the author's ability to describe the emotions of the family and of Alice was incredible. 

5. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
I've been telling Mike he should read this book because it's SO FREAKING GOOD!  I actually don't remember if I read this at the end of 2014 or the beginning of 2015, but it's so good I knew I wanted it to be on there.  It's another long one, but worth the time investment. The story starts out with a young boy and his mother who are at an art museum when a terrorist attack happens.  His mother is killed and he ends up stealing a piece of art.  Throughout the novel, the boy experiences many different life changes, all while holding the piece of art in secret.  Go. Read.

My question for you is...what books are you reading?  What was your favorite you read last year? What should I add to my reading list?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Istanbul Bombing

I like to give myself some time to process when something like the bombing in Istanbul happens.  I need a good 24 hours to get my thoughts together, otherwise it comes out like whydidallofthishappenandwhyarentpeoplemakingabiggerdealaboutthisandwhyandwhyandwhy.

Yesterday, there was a suicide bombing in Istanbul.  Ten people, including the bomber died. Perhaps the scariest part about this attack was the location, the Sultanahmed District, which is the hub off all touristic sites in Istanbul.  Just three weeks ago, Mike, Poorna and I were there.   Previous attacks in Turkey have targeted Turks, whereas this was a blatant attack on tourists.  While there have been other bombings and violence in Turkey, this attack definitely scared me a little bit more.

It's always interesting to watch the aftermath of something like this. Sometimes, I am overcome with the amount of love and support for the victims and the people of the country.  When the bombings in Paris happened, there was an outpouring of support for the victims via social media.  People changed their Facebook profile and updated their statuses with condolences. Other times, I'm heartbroken with people's anger and lack of understanding.

Recently, I've seen a lot of stuff on Facebook about how Islam promotes violence and that Muslims hate non-Muslims. That scares me more than the bombing yesterday or in Paris because it's just not true and beliefs like this are what is fueling the violence around the world. I think it's so important to know and understand the basics of the world's three main religions (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) because religion plays a huge role in our world. Not understanding the basics of each religions allows groups such as ISIL and Al-Qaeda to claim representation of Islam, when they are as Islamic as the Westboro Baptists or Hitler are/were Christian.  

As President Obama said last night in his State of the Union Speech, 

"When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that does not make us safer.  That is not telling it like it is, it's just wrong.  It diminishes us in the eyes of the world." 

His sentiment was echoed by Nikki Haley who gave the Republican response to the SOTU when she said "During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices.  We must resist that temptation.  No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country."

I know that people are scared.  I am. But I also know that people are scared in Syria, Iran, Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.  I think about the eleven year old in my Turkish class who is from Syria. She doesn't understand why her cousins must take a "jet ski" to move to Greece and why they must leave in the middle of the night.  I think of the Syrian scientist featured on Humans of New York who lost half of his family, but still wants to make a difference through research.  If I'm scared, I can't imagine how the innocent people living in these war torn countries must feel.

I don't believe that people are born bad.  I look at my former students, my God daughter, my friends' nieces and nephews, and the thousands of Turkish children every day and I know that people are innately good. I also know that a religion that says

Indeed, Allah enjoins justice, and the doing of good to others; and giving like kindred; and forbids indecency and manifest evil, and wrongful transgression.  He admonished you that you may take heed. (Al Quran 16:91)

and who's name, Islam, derives from the word "peace" in Arabic is not the cause of the evil in the members of ISIS.  It's not the cause of the ten deaths yesterday and the hundreds of lives that have been lost in terrorist attacks in the past year. Instead, it is a love for power that has caused these horrific acts. 

 I don't like to think of the members of ISIL or Al-Qaeda because that's what they want and that's what fuels their power.  I try to think about the Turkish newlyweds who provided dinner for 4,000 refugees instead of having a wedding reception or about my students who have welcomed me to Turkey and have spent endless number of classes trying to help me adjust to their culture while learning about mine. These are the people who are representing the true beliefs of Islam. So, while I am still scared and struggling to make sense of yesterday's attacks, I'm also trying to remember all of the good that has happened and of the millions of people both in the United States and around the world who exemplify the true meaning and beliefs of Islam.

I hope that yesterday's attacks are the last. I'm realistic and I know that they probably aren't, but I believe in a god who promotes peace and has the power to make anything possible.  My prayers and thoughts are with the families of the victims yesterday and for all of those who live in fear, both in Turkey and around the world. 

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace." 

-Jimi Hendrix

Monday, January 11, 2016

End of Semester Recap

Mike has officially entered finals week for graduate school and we have both started another month of Turkish lessons.  Since there's not much else going on in the Hogan Household, I figured this was the perfect time to give a little recap of how our classes are going.

First, let's talk about Mike's grad school  since that's the whole reason we're here.  When the semester started, Mike was unsure of how the workload would be and only registered for three classes + Turkish classes every day. His classes included Balkan Politics, Research Methods in International Relations and Theories of International Relations. It ended up being quite manageable (it helps that he's the only native English speaker!), although I think he was a little disappointed in some of the classes. He's done quite well so far and I think he's excited for some of the classes that are being offered next semester.

While Mike was taking his grad school classes, we both were taking Turkish lessons. Mike took the month of December off, but I kept going.  When I first started, there was one class for beginners, but there were so many people they split us into two classes on the third or fourth day.  My new teacher seemed great, but a lot of people were frustrated with her after the first month and asked to switch back to the other teacher.  I didn't for a multitude of reasons, but after the second month, our classes were combined back into one big class with the original teacher and I wish I hadn't waited so long to be in his class.  He incorporates speaking into the class so much more than my old teacher.  There is also a significant gap between the students who have been with him for a while and those of us who were with the other teacher.  There is talk of splitting us up again since my class keeps growing, but I hope I get to stay with my teacher. I can tell I'm getting better after just a week of being in his class. You know I'll keep you posted.

While Mike was at grad school classes, I was teaching at night.  I really enjoy it, despite the fact that I complain every night about having to go.  It's hard to leave the house at 7:00 after rushing through dinner!  I miss working with kids...a lot, but I feel like I'm learning a lot about working with English Language Learners that will help me be a better teacher when I get back home. I promise I like it though.  My students are a lot of fun and it's nice to have some social interaction besides Mike (love you, but really....).  Tonight (and I'll probably continue this all week), they told me the story of Little Red Riding Hood in English.  I wrote it on the board as they narrated and by the end, they had filled up the entire board.  They were super excited and were taking pictures to post on Instagram! ha! I am constantly looking for topics to talk about with them, so if you have any suggestions, send them my way!

It's been a great first semester for both of us.  Next semester, I'll continue teaching and taking Turkish, while Mike will up his grad school game to five classes, but no Turkish. Wish us luck!!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Five Favorites: Places We Traveled

I'm linking up with The Big White Farmhouse this week for Five Favorites.  In the spirit of reflection and the new year, I thought I'd post about my five favorite places we traveled last year, so here they are!

San Diego, California

The month before we left for Turkey was filled with lots of boxes, lots of time spent with family and friends and a few trips in the United States before we began our adventure abroad.   We were really lucky that we were able to squeeze in a trip to see our friends Matt and Katy get married.  We spent a lot of time with them during our time in Hawaii (I say ours because I feel like I was there enough, but really it was Mike's) and I was elated that we could have one last hurrah with them before we left.

I was also super excited because I had never been to San Diego before.  Mike (and a ton of other people) raved about it and it definitely lived up to the hype.  It's such a cool beach town with a lot of personality and I definitely drank the San Diego kool aid. We got to spend lots of time with Matt and Katy, as well as our friends Joe and Michelle who were there for the wedding (they met at our wedding!!).

Cappadocia, Turkey

Man, oh man do I love Cappadocia.  We planned for three days in Cappadocia and had heard that was probably enough, but I honestly think you could do at least two more if you're the outdoorsy type.  There is a ton of hiking there and the views and the landscape is breathtaking.  Add in the hot air ballooning and you've got me sold.  I know we'll be back at some point, probably with visitors, but I could have spent another week there hiking and just exploring the caves that have ancient drawings all over them. Another hot air balloon ride wouldn't have been bad either.

This was our first trip out of Turkey and it definitely didn't disappoint.  We spent 11 days in Cologne and driving around eastern Germany.  We were both drinking the German kool aid (it tastes very similar to beer)  within minutes of stepping foot in Deutchland and have dreamed of returning ever since we left.  The structure and cleanliness compared to Turkey probably had a lot to do with it, as well as getting to hang out with a bunch of other Olmsted scholars, but there were so many things we fell in love with on this trip.  Plus, Oktoberfest is quite the experience that everyone should have at least once.

Neuschweinstein castle.  A real life Disney castle!

Sicily, Italy

We are big wine tasters.  We try and do it everywhere we go.  It's such a fun thing to do and can be the start of good conversation.  Plus, wine is always good. I'd say at this point, we have done our fair share of wine tasting and kind of know what to expect.  Wine tasting it Italy, though, is at a whole new level. 

Prague, Czech Republic

Neither of us knew much about Prague before we visited, but it kept popping up on lists of must-see European cities, so we knew we had to visit and it didn't disappoint.  Prague was our first trip where we stayed with another Olmsted family and it was a ton of fun.  The Sullivans welcomed us into their home and made us feel like part of their family for a few days and outside of their home, we fell in love with the beautiful city.  We enjoyed the cold weather and the Christmas-y feel that Prague had and definitely want to go back and see what the city has to offer in the summer months.

Thanks to our travel buddy Claire for the great photo :)

We've had so many great trips this year, it was hard to narrow it down, but these five were definitely highlights of the year.  We've had some not-so-great trips as well, but overall, it's been a great year of travel and we're anxious to see what 2016 has to offer!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Mutlu Yillar!

Happy New Year from Izmir, Turkey! I know it's a week late, but better late than never, right?

The day started out kind of early because Poorna was leaving that morning.  Her flight was originally scheduled for 10:30, but when we woke up, it was cancelled.  She had a 2pm flight from Istanbul to Boston and when we checked the news and saw reports of a snowstorm in Istanbul, we knew we should get to the airport and figure out what to do.

When we got to the airport, we were able to get her a ticket for another flight that left around the same time as her original flight, which was a huge relief.  I left her after a sad goodbye and headed home.  Around noon, Mike got a phone call from a random Turkish number and when he answered, it was Poorna!  Her new flight to Istanbul had been delayed/cancelled (I don't remember), so they rebooked her entire itinerary for the next day, New Year's Day!  I was excited because that meant that she would get to bring in the new year with us.

She braved the metro by herself (it's actually really easy, but I'm always nervous to do things by myself here) and was back at our house by 1:00.  We spent the rest of the afternoon grocery shopping and relaxing at our apartment.  Entertaining is as exhausting as traveling, so I think all three of us were glad to just lounge around and relax after a busy week of exploration.

That night, Mike's good friend Murat, as well as a couple of his classmates and classmates' friends came over for New Years. I think altogether we had eight people.  It was fun to just hang out with them.  I pulled up the official time for Istanbul so we could count down and we stood out on the balcony waiting for fireworks.  There were other people out on their balconies, as well.  Our group began counting down in four different languages (English, French, Arabic, and Turkish), but around five, we noticed no one on the other balconies was counting down yet.  We continued since we had to official atomic clock pulled up and, when we got to zero, we wished each other happy new year. Then, about a minute later, we heard the people on the other balcony counting down and just laughed.  In typical Turkish fashion, they were late.  Or, I guess you could laugh and say in typical American fashion, we had to be first.  Either way, it was pretty funny.

Poorna's flight the next morning was at 9:30, so we had to be up early the next morning.  We both headed to bed shortly after we brought in the new year and said goodnight to our guests.  The next morning, we returned to the airport to find out that her flight was once again delayed, but only for an hour.  Once again, I left the airport with the instructions to come back to our house if she couldn't make it on a flight today.  I knew she wanted to get home though, so I was hoping that she wouldn't have to come back again.

Once I left, it sounds like things went from bad to worse.  She ended up being delayed for about five hours in the Izmir airport with poor customer service, no wifi or way to find out any information on what was going on, and just overall a miserable experience.  When she got to Istanbul, she did end up making her flight because that was also delayed, but was once again greeted by grumpy employees and a lot of chaos.  I can't imagine what that must have been like.  Turkey and it's people are good at a lot of things (food, history, etc.) but organization and logistics are definitely not one of it's strengths, so trying to rebook and reschedule people's flights must have been a mess.   She did eventually make it home to Boston and we were able to video chat with her to hear all about her travels, but it definitely wasn't easy.

It was a great trip and I LOVED having a friend here to explore and show around our new home.  I love Poorna for her sense of humor and appreciation for culture and I definitely miss her.  Mike and I spent the rest of the weekend hanging out at home.  We had a busy December and will have an even busier February, so we're trying to relax and enjoy a slower pace to start off the new year.  Let's see if that works!

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Cotton Castle

The literal translation of Pamukkale is Cotton Castle, which is perfect because it honestly looks like balls of cotton.  Or snow. I fell in love with it last summer when Mike and I went and knew that we'd be back at some point.  It's 2.5 hours from Izmir, so it's kind of long for a day trip, but definitely worth it. 
When Poorna and I were planning her itinerary, we didn't put it on there originally because it was January and I figured it would be too cold.  Then, one of Mike's classmates went and raved about how warm the water was, even in December when she went and that changed everything.  We quickly added it to the itinerary and didn't think twice. 
So, on the Wednesday of Poorna's visit, we jumped in the car and set out for the Cotton Castle.  Mike and I have driven a bunch around Turkey and at this point, we both feel very comfortable (Mike driving, me navigating/napping/DJing).  We have converted our spedometer to kilometers per hour and have gotten used to seeing goats and other animals on the side of the road in the middle of the road. What we hadn't experienced was getting pulled over by the police, which we can now say we have.  Lucky Poorna can now say she's experienced it too!
We were driving along and cruising with the flow of traffic.  Nothing too fast, but probably a little too much over the speed limit. So, we're driving and then we see a traffic police officer standing in the middle of the road signaling to us and a few other cars to pull over.  The officer approaches the window of our car, just like in the United States and says something in Turkish to Mike.  When Mike asks him if he speaks English (he asks in Turkish) the officer replied no (I understood this entire conversation! One point for me!).    The officer proceeds to talk to Mike in Turkish (which is where I got lost) and then leaves.  At this point, Mike says it's a registration check.  Then, the officer comes back and asks to see Mike's driver's license. Since Mike is military and here on orders, he doesn't need an international driver's license (I do, which is why I don't drive). The police officer didn't know this and seemed a little hesitant when Mike explained it, but let it go.  He did say that Mike needed to get out of the car and come with him.  Can you imagine if someone tried to get out of the car in the United States? They'd handcuffed and pinned down faster than you could say "speeding ticket."  Here, it was no big deal.  I had no idea what was going on at this point and Poorna and I were just watching from the car.  Luckily, there were other people who were pulled over as well, so I didn't feel too worried.    After what seemed like forever (really, probably not even ten minutes), Mike returned to the car with his first ever Turkish speeding ticket. Apparently, there had been guy a kilometer or so back with a radar gun and was radioing the officer who pulled us over. Instead of being upset or frustrated, I think we were all pretty intrigued.  The ticket comes to about 60USD and we get a 25% if we pay it within 15 days.  Not too terrible, although I think we'll be watching our speed limit a little more carefully from now on. 

So, after that whole ordeal was over, we finally made it to Pamukkale.  From the minute we got out of the car, Poorna was in heaven.  I mean, how could you not be when it looks like this?

Mike and I recommend starting at the bottom for a couple of reasons.  One, that's where the parking is and two, the crowds start at the top. If you start at the bottom, you hike through the water, and then reach the ruins at the top, and then hike back through the water.  You do have to carry your shoes with you if you do it this way, but we always have a backpack, so it's not a huge deal. 

I wasn't sure how this whole hiking-through-water-in-the-winter thing was going to work since it was especially cold for this part of Turkey (read: 45 degrees Fahrenheit).  Plus, they make you take off your shoes so you don't stain the rocks, which just seemed like it would be unbearably cold. I'm not going to lie, it was pretty cold at first.  I ended up putting my socks on for the first part because it was so cold, but then we got to the middle of the pools and the water started warming up.  It got so warm that we were looking for water to put our feet in.  The hot springs are at the top, so by the middle of the hike, the water is warm.  It was so fun!  

After we got to the top of the springs, we walked around the ruins that are there.  When we asked Poorna for feedback, she said she probably would have been fine not doing Ephesus and just doing the ruins at Pamukkale (there is an amphitheater at both locations).   Once we explored the ruins more, we were ready to hike back down and get some lunch.  We ate at the White House Restaurant (fitting for three Americans, right?) and it was delicious! I had iskender (Turkish street food) and it was the best iskender I've had.  Poorna had Manti, which is Turkish pasta with a yogurt sauce and let. me. tell. you. It was delicious beyond belief.  The bowl was huge and we probably should have split it (she didn't end up eating half of it), but I've dreamed about that manti ever since. Definitely a must if you go to Turkey, especially if you go to this restaurant.   

By the time we finished lunch, it was almost two and we were ready to head back home.  Poorna said it was a definite must for anyone coming to Izmir, which we'll remember. We're still trying to solidify an itinerary for visitors, but I am pretty sure Pamukkale will make the list from now on!

Sunday, January 3, 2016


The city of Izmir doesn't have a ton of sights to see in the heart of the city, but there is a decent amount to see if you're willing to drive outside of the city to see it.  Probably the biggest attraction to this part of Turkey is Ephesus, which is located about an hour and a half outside of the city.  The easiest way to get there is by train, which Mike and I have done.  Mike has also driven and said that it doesn't save that much time.  Poorna and I decided to take the train, but I'll admit, I was definitely nervous to do this without Mike.  I made him write out step by step instructions and explain it about a million times before we left.

We left around 8:15 on Tuesday and took a cab to the train station.  When we got there, we had to buy tickets and I knew it would probably be better to speak Turkish, even though hundreds of tourists come through here speaking English.  I put my two months of Turkish lessons to good use and asked for two tickets to Selcuk.  Not only did the man behind the ticket counter understand, he responded in Turkish, saying that two round tickets would be 20TL.  Guys, this was so exciting!  A small victory for me and the Turkish language.  

We found the train and were happy to see that it wasn't crowded so we were able to get a seat.  The train ride was extremely foggy, which made me concerned that we wouldn't be able to see anything when we got to Ephesus.

Selcuk is the town outside of Ephesus, so everyone comes through there.  It's interesting because it's so different from the United States.  In the US, towns near a major tourist attraction are huge.  There are hotels, restaurants and a ton of people.  In Turkey, the towns outside of tourist attractions are just like any other Turkish town.  There are a few restaurants and shops, but Selcuk is definitely not a major city.  They do have a bus station with dolmushes (mini buses) running back and forth to Ephesus, so we found a bus and made our way to Ephesus.

I think it's so much fun to travel with friends.  It's such an experience getting to witness all of these incredible pieces of history with friends.  I knew what to expect since Mike and I had been here before, but showing Poorna around and watching her reaction was so much fun.  The amphitheater is incredible in size, but the library wins the prize for most breath taking.  It's amazing.

Just a few little kedis hanging out at the amphitheater

I don't know about you, but I've never been to a library that beautiful!

The pillars of the library

Isn't the library in the background stunning?
 We walked around looking a different ruins and just admiring how much work and attention to detail was put in to creating all of these old buildings.  It's definitely a cool place to visit, especially if you are in to ancient history.

After we made it to the top of the site, we left and had to take a taxi back to Selcuk.  Apparently, the dolmushes only come to the bottom of the site where they drop you off, so you essentially have to walk all the way up to see the ruins and then back down without leaving the park to catch the dolmush.  Silly.  Once the taxi dropped us off at the bus station, we were both starving, so we found a little place to grab lunch.  We both got chicken pita type sandwiches and then split some yogurt/tziki and bread.  It was delicious and only about 4USD a person.  Gotta love the Turkish economy!

The only issue with taking the train to Ephesus is that you are at the mercy of the train schedule.  We went during the week in the winter, so there weren't a ton of trains coming to and from Selcuk in the middle of the day.  I think there are more trains that run in the summer and the weekends.  Once we were done with lunch, we still had two and half hours before our train came.  We searched on TripAdvisor (love love LOVE TripAdvisor) and found out that the Basilica of St. John was within walking distance.

Neither of us knew much about this, but it's definitely worth seeing.  It's believed that John the Apostle walked from Jerusalem to Ephesus and wrote Revelation when he reached Ephesus.  Pretty cool, right?  Even if you aren't into the Biblical aspect, the Basilica and the castle next to it have some incredible views.

I think we both enjoyed the Basilica and castle as much as we did the actual ruins of Ephesus.  We still had about an hour left, but we were both ready to just sit and relax, so we got some Turkish coffee and tea to kill time.   When it was time to get on the train, we were shocked at how crowded it was.  Coming to Ephesus, we hadn't had any trouble finding a seat, but this time, we had to stand almost the entire way. Where did all of these people come from????  The train ride back was less than enjoyable since it was hot, crowded and we were tired, but we made it back in one piece and were happy to be home.

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