A New Year in Bologna

IMG_2073.JPGFor the first time since we’ve moved abroad, we were both off on New Year’s and the weekend before, so we decided to get off campus and celebrate properly somewhere; the question was where.

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As usual, we let Skyscanner decide and the cheapest flights outside of Turkey were to Bologna.  The times were perfect and the price was right, but we wondered if perhaps we shouldn’t look elsewhere because we had already been to Italy twice before and there are so many places nearby we haven’t seen yet.

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But c’mon.  It’s Italy.

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The more we talked about it, the more I loved the idea of wandering through narrow streets, eating amazing food, and drinking good wine.  After all, since we had already done the whole tourist thing a couple of times, we figured there would be no pressure to check off a list of sights to see and places to go; we could simply sit back and enjoy la bella vita.

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So. Freaking. Good.

We rented an adorable apartment from Airbnb (If you haven’t tried it yet, you should!  You can get $23 off your first stay here.) and hung out like the locals for a few days.  Of course, we did some sightseeing, but we also balanced that with trips to the local cafes for cappuccino or aperitivo (wine and appetizers) or strolling through the streets and window shopping.  We even went to a local grocery store one night and bought all kinds of tasty ingredients to see if we could make our own delicious Italian dinner since our apartment had a kitchen – it was one of the highlights of the trip for me!

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Once New Year’s Eve rolled around, we were ready to go out and see the annual fire in Piazza Maggiore.  Yes, fire.  They spend the days leading up to New Year’s building a paper sculpture in the middle of the square, and at exactly midnight on New Year’s Eve, they light it on fire and everyone watches it burn.  It was incredibly strange and incredibly awesome all at the same time.

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11:59

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12:00

Moral of the story:  Italy is always a good idea.

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The aftermath of a great party

The Ruins of Ani

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Can you see me?

Just east of Kars are the ruins of Ani, a once-bustling Armenian settlement from the 11th century.  The territory was often disputed and taken over in the centuries that followed, but the once-prosperous city of 1,001 churches has long since been abandoned.  What remains is a beautiful mess of rubble, mountains, sky, and one-of-a-kind architecture.

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The church of St. Gregory was absolutely stunning.

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I also loved the look of the old Armenian script

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Ani Cathedral

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We so rarely get photos together while traveling, so we were thrilled when a kind stranger offered to take this for us, even if it is a little dark.  

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The inside of Ani Cathedral.

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This river acts as the border between Turkey and Armenia.  Turkey is on the left and Armenia is on the right.  

I couldn’t believe how stunning this place was and I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day to walk around an ancient city.  Ani is honestly one of the most beautiful and unique places I have ever seen. IMG_2023.JPG

Better yet, it’s not nearly as difficult or as expensive to get to as I would have expected.  Buses run daily at 11:00 from Kars (in front of Antik Cafe) and it only costs 7 TL each way.  The bus returns to Kars from Ani at 14:00, which gives you a little over two hours to explore the site, which we felt was sufficient.  If you’re planning a longer vacation in Turkey, definitely don’t skip it!

 

A Cold Christmas in Kars

IMG_1953.JPGTurkey is so many things.

I can’t really think of any other way to say it.  It always surprises me.

One of our goals for this school year has been to explore more of the places in Turkey that are off the beaten path, particularly in the Eastern part of the country.

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A “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree spotted on the sidewalk.

We are fortunate that our school gives us a couple of days off to celebrate Christmas, in spite of the fact that school is still in session for students.  It is a difficult time to be so far away from home and family, and I’m always grateful for the time to get away and reflect and try to celebrate in my own way.

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We toyed with the idea of going abroad to really experience the Christmas atmosphere,  but after having visited Belgium and Germany and making an unexpected trip back to the States all within a couple of weeks, I was feeling pretty tired and burnt out.   We decided it was a good time to stay here and explore something new in Turkey.  We settled on Kars because it is known for being cold and snowy, which at least gave us a little dose of the Christmas spirit.

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We were thrilled to see a skyline full of snowy mountains and a healthy layer of snow on the ground when we landed at the airport in Kars.  Better yet, it was a short 15-minute ride to our hotel from there, so we lost no time getting started on our short adventure.

Our taxi driver – a former Istanbulite – pointed out that much of the architecture in Kars was left over from a brief period in the 19th century when it was occupied by Russia.  Turkey is well-known for it’s hodgepodge fusion of cultures, but I knew right away that Kars was going to take it to a new level.

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The remnants of Russian architecture throughout the city were indeed fascinating and it was nice to see that the buildings were still in use and were not just being left to rot.  One of the most interesting examples of the Imperialist style was Fethiye Mosque, which at one time was an Orthodox church.

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You can see what it looked like as a church here.

Kars was also once the medieval capital of Armenia and a few examples of that architecture can be found there as well.  One of the hallmark symbols of the city is a 10th-century church which is also now a mosque.

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One of the highlights of Kars for me was climbing up to the top of Kars castle.  The castle itself is not particularly interesting, but the views of the city from the top are incredible and admission is free.

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After walking around all day in the snow, I was pleased to find an abundance of cool cafes and even more pleased to discover a new type of Turkish coffee called menengiç kahvesi, which is  made from a type of wild pistachio.  Unfortunately, it does not have any caffeine in it, but the taste more than made up for that.

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I was totally charmed by our first adventure in Eastern Turkey and cannot wait to experience more.

2017

This year has ended on a really bitter note for me.  To be honest, I’m really ready for it to be over.  That being said, I don’t want to let the bad overshadow all the good that has come of this year.  Here is a look back at my 2017 in pictures:

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January

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February

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March

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April

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May

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June

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July

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August

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September

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October

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November

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December

Here’s to hoping for a brighter 2018.

 

Processing Loss

When I last left this space, I had expected that my next post would be about our trip to Germany to see the Christmas markets.  I had planned to write about sparkling Christmas lights, stalls of decorations, beautiful mugs of hot wine, and enough Christmas spirit to last a lifetime.  I did indeed go to Germany, but what happened next was not a part of my plans and this post is one that I never wanted to have to write.

Just a few short hours after arriving in Germany, I got a call from my dad.  My grandpa had passed away unexpectedly.

I left Germany the next day, made arrangements to take off work, and flew home as quickly as I could, broken-hearted.

My grandpa was one of the kindest, most generous, and hardest working people I have ever known.  Even as a child, I was always in awe of the way he would help those in need – even total strangers – without a second thought.  He was always lending people tools and going over to help friends and relatives fix their cars and houses (he was a brilliant handyman).  He was also incredibly thoughtful and fun to be around. My sister and I spent a lot of time with him as kids – especially in the summers when we would stay with our dad. He retired young, so he was always willing to watch us while my dad was at work. Some of my favorite childhood memories come from that time.

I will never forget scary movie marathons, watching TNT early in the morning, making crazy milkshakes, or driving the riding lawnmower. I will also never forget learning about collecting coins, trips to the Kansas State Fair, and all of the amazing things my grandpa built – especially the giant Jenga he made for my wedding day.

My heart breaks for everyone who knew him because of the wonderful person he was – his absence will be felt by so many. These last couple of weeks have been so strange and so hard.

I thought that going back home would give me some peace and some closure, but even there, it didn’t seem real. I kept expecting to hear him burst through the back door after some work in one of his shops or to hear him laughing in the living room after a refill of iced tea. It just doesn’t seem possible that he is gone.

Perhaps this is a testament to his ability to leave an impression on everyone he met. Perhaps his presence still shines in the love that everyone had for him.

This is going to be a tough time for my family. Peace to all those who are grieving this holiday season.

Decking the Halls

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I am FINALLY feeling better after two weeks of being completely miserable with a nasty virus.  Once I started feeling human, my Christmas spirit kicked in almost immediately and I had to start celebrating.

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I made plans with friends to check out a Christmas Festival in Istanbul, even though the weather was about as un-Christmas-y (that’s a word, no?) as it gets.  It may as well have been spring.

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This was actually made out of gingerbread.

It was so cool to see people from all over the world coming together to celebrate Christmas in a place where the Christmas spirit just isn’t most of the time.  There were little stands run by people from Spain, France, Syria, Thailand…you name it.  There were Christmas cookies, handmade decorations, mulled wine, and all kinds of delicious food.

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I came home with quite a few treasures, including some homemade cranberry liquor and some great hot sauce, but by far my favorite purchase of the day was this set of hand-painted ornaments.  They are painted with a traditional Turkish tulip pattern and I am hoping to keep them forever so I can always have a little piece of Turkey with me at Christmas, no matter where I may be.

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Of course, my day would not have been complete without turning up the Bing Crosby and decorating the lojman.

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Wishing a happy holiday season to all.

À Bruxelles

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Our time in Brussels was short, but sweet.  I was immediately struck by the Christmas decorations, which were much more elaborate than any of the other cities we visited in Belgium.  Lights everywhere!  My favorite part was watching all of the shop owners stepping outside to decorate their windows.

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Since I was still feeling terrible and our time was limited, I had only one thing on my list: The Magritte Museum.

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I got really into Magritte’s art and the Surrealist movement in general when I was in college taking a French Lit course.  I love the playful juxtapositions and philosophical suggestions in his work.

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The exhibition was well worth the 2 Euro fee and I was surprised at how reasonably priced the gift shop was.  I left that museum with a noticeable spring in my step, in spite of my cold.

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We ended our last night in Brussels (and the last night of our trip) by strolling the streets looking at all the Christmas lights and hopping in and out of cafes, where my husband continued to sample Belgium beer and I tried to soothe my sore throat with hot tea.  I’m afraid I didn’t do Brussels much justice, but that just gives me a reason to go back.  Perhaps next time I’ll even bump into Stromae.