26 and A Weekend on the Rhine

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So, I turned 26 last week.  I guess time just really flies as you get older because it feels like I just turned 22 last year.

Fun fact:  I am exactly 15 days older than my husband, which means I get to tout my extra wisdom for a couple of weeks every year.  It also means that we normally try to do something extra fun together to celebrate.

This year, we decided to spend the weekend in Switzerland and France because who doesn’t love croissants and chocolate!  I also scored a sweet birthday discount from Pegasus and I never turn down a cheap flight.

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It just so happened that last Friday was a holiday in Turkey, so we had an extra day to explore!  We landed in Basel, Switzerland Friday morning and hit the streets right away. Even though the forecast had shown three days of rain, we completely lucked out and had nothing but dry, sunny weather!  We had the best time walking through the city and admiring the architecture.

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Now that I’m 26, my sense of humor is vastly more sophisticated.

We also couldn’t help but notice all of the playful sculptures and parks all over the city. We may or may not have spent a lot of time on playground equipment.

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Of course, we couldn’t leave without sampling tons of Swiss chocolate, but I ate it all before the thought of taking a photo of it even crossed my mind.  Just take my word for it…or go check it out for yourself!

The next morning, we got up bright and early to catch the train to Colmar, France -an adorable little village that has been on my radar for a few years.  I also had the good fortune of experiencing my first “cougar” moment, when my husband was able to buy a youth ticket and I had to pay full price for the regular “adult” ticket.  I guess this makes up for taunting him with all of my brand new freedoms on both my 18th and 21st birthdays.

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Although it’s only 45 minutes away from the Swiss border, Colmar is distinctly French. My heart leapt at the sight of all the colorful buildings and pâtisseries and at the sound of French being spoken all around me.  Though I studied French through part of high school and all of university, I’ve rarely had the chance to use it since graduating and moving to Turkey.  It made me so happy to jump back into that world.

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Seriously though, how stunning is this place!?  Each twist and turn of an alley led to even more beautiful, colorful houses.  I was in heaven, eating my weight in croissants and sipping on Alsatian wine.  I loved each and every second of our time there and felt so sad when it was time to leave.  I have such great love for all things Francophone and it is still a dream of mine to live in France someday.

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Lovely little nod to Magritte

Even though we only had three days, it was a pretty damn incredible three days.  26 is feeling alright so far!

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Pretty please take me back?

Serenity in Altınoluk

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Sometimes, amidst all of the chaos of work, crowds, wild traffic, and bureaucracy, I forget how peaceful Turkey can be.  Our Swedish friend, who we met in Stockholm last year, has a summer house in Altınoluk and kindly invited us out for the weekend, which we gladly accepted.

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Altınoluk is a lovely village on the Aegean coast, near Edremit.  We spent most of our time enjoying the wonderful weather and taking long walks throughout the village and olive groves.

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We happened to run into some of her relatives (her husband was Turkish) on our daily walk, who invited us in for coffee.  One of the things I so greatly admire about Turkish culture is the hospitality and sense of community.

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After a nice chat, we went down to the local fishery for lunch, where we indulged in some freshly caught sardines.  They were delicious.

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Much to my delight, we followed up our lunch with a visit to the local pazar.  I bought some delicious olives to snack on, as well as a couple of pretty summer dresses.

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Without a doubt, the best part of the weekend was sitting out on the patio drinking coffee and exchanging stories.  I learned so much about what Turkey was like in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s (which was fascinating) and about traveling through Europe in general. When the sun started to set, we exchanged the cups of coffee for glasses of wine and talked late into the night.    I felt refreshed in a way I haven’t felt in quite a long time and realized I haven’t been taking enough time for myself lately.  Some good company, village charm, and fresh air were exactly what I needed.

Türkiye’de Çok Kedi Var: Round 4

As I was looking through my photos, I realized I hadn’t posted one of these in a long time. I also realized that I take a lot of photos of cats.

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Diggin’ this guy’s vibes

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The only kind of cat fights I have to break up regularly…thank goodness

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This cat reminded me of a clock

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Also, there’s this.

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And who can resist a photo like this? ❤

I’m certain I’ve said this more than once now, but the cat culture is one of the things I have always loved most about Turkey.  I’ve always wanted a pet cat, but feel that my living situation isn’t stable enough to make that kind of commitment.  In Turkey, I feel like I can love, pet, and take care of cats without the responsibility of being a pet owner because they are such a big part of every city and not completely wild.

Tides of Change

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How the hell is it already May?

The sun is brighter than ever, often waking me up well before my alarm clock.  The weather is more bearable, the flowers are blooming…change is in the air and it all seems so sudden.

I feel like this second half of the school year has been blazing by at thrice the normal speed.  There is a part of me that is happy about that because all teachers naturally rejoice at the thought of summer, but there is another part of me that isn’t ready for all the change that comes with it.

Being an expat means that you have to learn to say a lot more goodbyes than most people.  Goodbye to friends and family in the motherland.  Goodbye to fellow expat friends who move on to other adventures.  Of course, being a teacher also means a lot of goodbyes.  Goodbyes to teachers and staff who leave or retire…and to all of the students who are off to do bigger and better things.

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Escape the room shenanigans in Istanbul…we succeeded, of course.

This year is no different.  We have quite a few goodbyes in our near future and are trying to soak up the present while it’s still here.  We’ve been sticking around campus more often than usual and going on adventures with friends who will soon be leaving.

As for us, Turkey is stuck with us for at least one more year.  We signed on for a third year at the school and are looking forward to what next year will bring.

In the meantime, we are trying to enjoy what’s left of now.

Tabletop Tag!

I’ve been a bit of a homebody these last few weeks due to a nasty illness and the usual pile of work that never seems to end.  Still, I’ve managed to pack in quite a bit of low key fun lately, such as binging on podcasts and dusting off my bookshelf….but my favorite pastime these days has been tabletop gaming.

I totally struck gold with my current co-workers.  My game collection was one of my top priorities when I moved to Turkey and I was so happy when I discovered that practically everyone else in our department also had an amazing game collection…and we’re not talking Monopoly here (although we’ve developed an affinity for a version of Trivial Pursuit from the ’80s).  Among the five of us, we have Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, Pandemic, and many other games of the like.  For the past two years, we have tried to get together at least once a week after school for an intense board game session. I pretty much live for Thursday nights now.

When I stumbled upon this Tabletop tag from A Geek Girl’s Guide, I knew I had to participate.  Here goes:

1. Favorite type of tabletop games?

I especially love strategy games, but lately I’ve been loving cooperative games as well.

2. Favorite time to play tabletop games?

Thursday nights on campus!  It’s the perfect way to gear up for the weekend.

3. Favorite game you have ever played?

Betrayal at House on the Hill!  It’s a different game every single time!

4. First game you ever played?

My earliest tabletop gaming memory is playing Sorry with my parents.

5. What’s the most recent game you’ve played?

Gloom!

6. What game have you played the most?

That’s a tough question.  Probably Mancala or Scrabble.

7. What game do you want to add to your shelf?

My friend has Pandemic and I’d really love to own it as well.  I also have my eye on Resistance.

8. Favorite game to share with non-gamers?

I like Farkle because it’s so simple.

9. Well-known game you’ve never played?

I have friends that rave about Magic, but I haven’t dabbled in it yet.

10. Show off your game shelf

I wish I could say I had a beautiful game shelf, but it’s really more of a game bag at this point.  In order to maximize the number of games I could bring with me to Turkey, I had to throw away all of the boxes they came in (it felt so wrong!) and instead, organize all of the boards, cards, and tiny pieces into a variety of Ziploc bags.

My collection currently includes:

  • Betrayal at House on the Hill
  • Fluxx
  • Gloom
  • Aggravation
  • Risk
  • Mancala
  • Clue
  • Scrabble Apple
  • Quelf
  • Cards Against Humanity
  • Story Cubes (also great for teaching!)
  • LCR
  • Uno
  • Tavla (Turkish Backgammon)
  • Werewolf

If you want to participate in the tag:

1. Favorite type of tabletop games?

2. Favorite time to play tabletop games?

3. Favorite game you have ever played?

4. First game you ever played?

5. What’s the most recent game you’ve played?

6. What game have you played the most?

7. What game do you want to add to your shelf?

8. Favorite game to share with non-gamers?

9. Well-known game you’ve never played?

10. Show off your game shelf!

I’m looking forward to adding to my collection this summer!

Back in Barcelona

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I was excited to re-visit Barcelona after almost a decade, especially because it would be the first time I ever returned to an international destination (unless you count Turkey, of course).  I was also a little nervous.  I fell in love with the city immediately the first time; I loved it even more than I loved Paris, which is really saying something coming from a former French major.  I wondered how different it would be, and even though I couldn’t possibly expect it to be the same, I hoped I would love it just as much.

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The moment I stepped off the bus and into the city, I wondered what I had even been worried about.  Even though we were exhausted and it was late, the second I set eyes on the beautiful Casa Batlló all lit up under the night sky, I felt elated to be back.  We struck gold with our accommodation, scoring an incredible apartment with a balcony in the city center with one of the kindest hosts I have ever met.  It was after midnight when we arrived, but she waited up for us, ready with maps and all the advice we could possibly need to explore the city.  I couldn’t recommend the place enough!

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When we woke up from a good night’s sleep ready to explore, we headed first to the famous Sagrada Familia.  I was curious to see how much it had changed since I had seen it last and was amazed to see how big the crowds were and how much had been added to it!  I really do wonder if it will ever be finished.

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We continued on to the other Gaudi essentials in our area and then headed to the Gothic neighborhood, which was something I hadn’t done on my first trip.  It was a gorgeous, sunny day and there were tons of people and street performers in every alley!  There were also a lot of delicious restaurants and we definitely overindulged on chorizo.

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We slowly made our way to the marina, where my husband – who is something of a nap enthusiast- took a nice siesta in the sunshine.

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Before the sun set, we made it over to Park Guell, another of Gaudi’s masterpieces.  We got some really great views of the city up on the trail.

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After a long and tiring day of trekking all over Barcelona, we ended our day perfectly with an enormous pan of paella!

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I was so not ready to leave Barcelona, or Spain in general, and I remember snapping this sappy last photo from our balcony window!  Barcelona, you still have my heart.

La Alhambra

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What a beautiful, magical place this is…certainly fit for royalty.  A feast for the senses, to be sure, with lavender-scented air, sunshine, a light breeze, and some of the most stunning architecture known to humanity.

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It is impossible to fully capture the beauty of this place, with its intricately carved pillars, arches, tiles, and ceilings…but seeing it in person was the real treasure anyway.

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I dare you not to pretend you’re on Game of Thrones when you see these chairs.

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If you want to visit, you have to be diligent and plan ahead.  The tickets often sell out weeks in advance, especially during peak season.  They also do not issue tickets anywhere but at the palace, so you have to be prepared to wait at least an hour just to retrieve your reserved tickets…and then you have to be sure you can make your appointment to the Nasrid Palaces (the most beautiful part by far) because you will not be allowed to enter at any other time.

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In spite of the logistic difficulties, it is more than worth it to see this small slice of heaven. Don’t forget to enjoy a cold Spanish beer in the courtyard after your tour and let it all sink in.