A Lovely Week in Sicily

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I just returned from a fabulous week in Sicily with some dear friends of ours and their adorable little girl.  I am officially on summer break and I couldn’t think of a better way to kick it off than a week of sunshine, beaches, Mediterranean villages, great food, wine, and good friends.

For such a little island, Sicily has a LOT to offer – easily two weeks’ worth of sightseeing.  We didn’t get to see everything, but we saw a lot of great highlights.

Taormina and La Riviera dei Ciclopi

Our first stop was  the little beach town of Taormina.  Though it is very crowded and full of tourists, it’s not hard to understand way.  Idyllic cliffs dotted with colorful Mediterranean houses tower over turquoise water.  We browsed the cute boutiques, had an incredibly picturesque picnic, and indulged in some delicious canoli.20180616_161640.jpg

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From Taormina, we moved on to La Riviera dei Ciclopi (The Riviera of the Cyclopes) where we enjoyed the views of the strange rock formations, enjoyed some cheap beers on the marina, and listened to a local band festival.

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Mount Etna

On our second day, we decided to head up to hike Mount Etna, an active volcano.  It was a little rainy, but stunning nonetheless; however, we had not expected it to be so cold. We all showed up in our shorts and t-shirts only to be met with wintry temperatures.  Still, the views were spectacular.  It reminded me a lot of our honeymoon in Iceland!

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Siricusa

Siracusa (Syracuse) is a lovely coastal town surrounded by ridiculously blue water, white marble architecture, and loads of sunshine.

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I pretty much went from freezing to sunburnt in the matter of a day!

Cefalu

Cefalu was a lot like Siricusa, but with more laid back beach vibes.  There was a ton of public beach space and the view from the sea was magnificent surrounded by cute houses and big, green mountains.  Drinking cheap summer shandy while floating in the water didn’t hurt either.

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This past school year was incredibly rough.  I’m so grateful to have spent such a wonderful time with my husband and good friends and to have started summer on a much more positive note.  Italy is ridiculously good.

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Metamorphosis

dsc_0051Things are changing.  am changing.  I can feel the beginning of the end of another chapter unfolding.  On one hand, I have become so comfortable here; I have forged a home and a tribe in an unfamiliar place and I am a better person for it.  On the other hand, I realize that I will soon run out of lessons to learn here and I did not come all this way only to become stagnant in a new location.

We have already decided that next year will be our last in Turkey and every time I think about it, I am flooded with a wave of emotion.  It will break my heart when I go.  As much as it has driven me to the brink of insanity at times, this place will always be special to me.  I have watched some friends come and go and others have children.  I have made countless memories.  I have experienced wonders beyond my wildest dreams and accomplished feats that didn’t seem possible.  I have proven myself to myself.

Just a few years ago, I was constantly daydreaming about the future, hoping with all my heart that I could make this big thing happen.  It has been good for me to learn to live in the present.  I guess that has been the first symptom; lately, I’ve been thinking about the future again for the first time in a while.

My soul is ready for its next transformation.

A Quick Break in Kosovo

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We made the last-minute decision to head to Kosovo this weekend to celebrate my husband’s birthday.  The moment school let out on Friday, we threw together a couple of backpacks, booked a hotel, and we were on our way.

So, why Kosovo?  Several reasons, actually.  First of all, the tickets from Istanbul to Pristina were incredibly affordable and the flight times were perfect.  Secondly, everything we read about Pristina mentioned that the cafe scene there is top notch – a fact that this coffee nerd can now attest to.  We spent most of our time in the city trying to find the coolest cafes and testing out all the coffee.  The city’s specialty is an espresso machiatto latte – and my god they were delicious.  I’m not normally into milky coffee, but the quality of the milk and the ratio of milk to coffee made this drink an exception for me.

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Not only did all of the cafes serve incredible coffee – they were also incredibly quirky and charming!

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In addition to an amazing cafe scene, Pristina has an up-and-coming food scene as well.  I was really surprised by the quality of all of the food we ate there – especially considering that we didn’t do any research about the food at all; we pretty much just wandered into whichever restaurants seemed appealing in the moment and were not disappointed.

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The whole city has a funky, eclectic vibe that will probably only get cooler with time.  It’s kind of crazy to visit a country that is only 10 years old.  Pristina has updated their iconic Newborn sign to reflect Kosovo’s 10th anniversary as a country.

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Kosovo’s ever-changing face is evident in its confusing mix of architecture.  Old, abandoned churches stand next to newly-built mosques; modern cafes line the streets next to Communist-era structures that look like the backdrop of a creepy sci-fi movie.  It’s very weird – in a good way.

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Another quirky-cool highlight for us was the Museum of Broken Relationships.  We actually wandered into it by accident, but decided to check it out and it was 110% worth the 2 euros!  It was very unique and surprisingly moving.  If you’re planning to visit Pristina anytime soon, definitely check it out.

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We really loved our little getaway to Pristina!  I highly recommend it as a very cool and budget-friendly destination.  With only two weeks left of school, I am already getting pumped up for more adventures very soon.

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Seriously though…how crazy is this library?

 

Cappadocia Part 2: Underground Cities and Breathtaking Monasteries

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After a good night’s rest, we were ready for another day of touring – this time, a little farther away from our home base. Our first stop was the famous underground city of Derinkuyu.

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Derinkuyu is an incredible man-made marvel 65 meters underground. This ancient and mysterious city is thousands of years old and was most likely built as a shelter to protect citizens from invasion. It has been estimated that up to 30,000 people could have lived in Derinkuyu, which had tunnels connecting to other underground cities in the area. Such a unique and fascinating place! Be warned, however, that it is not for the faint at heart; the tunnels are narrow, dark, and often crowded. If you are claustrophobic, it might be best to admire it from afar.

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After crawling around in a dark cave city, the fresh air and green trees of Ilhara Valley were a welcome sight. We took a leisurely hike along the trail, admiring a few of the churches along the canyon walls before stopping for lunch in a riverside bungalow.

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Our driver met us at the end of the valley to take us to our last stop: Selime Monastery…and holy crap! What an amazing place! I was immediately shocked that I had never heard of it before. This beautiful monastery carved into a giant fairy chimney overlooking a valley full of more fairy chimneys looks like something out of a fantasy novel!

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I was totally blown away by Selime. Petra fans, this should be your next stop.

20180513_150805.jpgAfter a couple hours of exploring, we reluctantly climbed back down to the cab to get ready to catch our flight back to reality. Since we got back a little early, we had some time to take in the views at our hotel with one last bottle of Turasan wine.

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I am so grateful to have spent such a wonderful weekend with such a wonderful friend! Happy Birthday to me! Here’s to another year of adventure.

The Perfect Birthday Weekend in Cappadocia Part 1: Turuncu Turu

IMG-20180512-WA0019.jpgThanks to one of my dear friends, my 27th year on Earth is off to an incredible start.

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How incredible is the view from our hotel?  Can’t recommend Hezen Cave Hotel enough!

We caught a red-eye flight to Cappadocia on Friday, checked into our hotel, and managed a few hours of sleep before getting up and around for tours.

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We hired a driver and spent our first day touring sites near our hotel in Ortahisar.  Our first stop was to see The Three Beauties (Üç Güzeller), followed by an incredible hike through Devrent Valley.

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Of course, we also had to stop for some wine because nothing says “Happy Birthday” like a little wine tasting before noon!  We picked up a nice bottle of red to enjoy back at our amazing cave hotel later in the evening.

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We got caught in a crazy downpour at the Zelve Open Air Museum, but it didn’t stop us from exploring.  We hopped into the old dwellings carved into the fairy chimneys to take shelter.20180512_132908.jpgAfter stopping to dry off with some coffee and mantı, we headed to the Göreme Open Air Museum, which is famous for its well-preserved frescoes inside of the ruins of orthodox churches.  It was a beautiful place, but a little too crowded for my taste.  I much preferred Zelve.

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Hobbit home goals.

Our next stop was a little ceramics shop, where we watched some demonstrations, learned about traditional pottery in the region, and bought a lovely Turkish coffee set for my husband and I.

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Our last stop before dinner was to Üçhisar Kalesi and the Pigeon Valley.  The views from the top of the castle were stunning and watching the sun set over the fairy chimneys through swarms of pigeons was nothing short of magical.

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We finished our first magical day in Cappadocia with dinner, dessert, and wine.  27 is feeling pretty damn good so far.

A City Break in Berlin

20180421_200854.jpgWhat does one do with an unexpected three-day weekend?  Check Skyscanner for cheap getaways.  Unfortunately, my husband was stuck on duty for this one, but I was grateful to have a lovely weekend to myself to explore a new city.

20180422_193258.jpgThe weather was unbelievably perfect the whole time I was there.  My first evening was simply spent watching the sun set at Brandenburg Gate with a beer and some currywurst.  After all, I needed to fuel up for my walking tour the following day.

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The tour began at Brandenburg Gate, where we learned about the Prussian period of the city.  Shortly afterward, we moved forward in both time and distance at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  The monument is made up of about 2,700 cement blocks, each made with different dimensions (perhaps intended to symbolize the unique beauty of each individual that was killed).  The monument is beautiful and interesting, but also very sobering.  Berlin does not have an uplifting history.

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I was also fascinated by Berlin’s Soviet history; though admittedly very dark, it was interesting to hear about how people managed to escape into West Berlin, how unceremoniously the wall came down, and how the divide impacted the city in terms of culture and architecture.  Honestly, I can’t recommend SANDEMAN’S tours enough.

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After my walking tour, I decided to explore a bit more of the city on my own.  I headed for the East Side Gallery, a strip of the former Berlin Wall that is covered in artwork, followed by a journey through the lively Kreuzberg neighborhood.

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Something that struck me about Berlin is how many green spaces can be found in the middle of the city.  There were picnics happening EVERYWHERE and it was amazing.  If I had had more time, I would have run to a supermarket and joined in on the fun.

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If I had to sum up Berlin in just a few words, I would call it a city in transition.  It has a varied and tumultuous history, though it is now one of the most progressive cities in the world.  It has changed very fast in a short amount of time.  I think my tour guide said it best when he said “Berlin is always in the process of becoming Berlin.”  It was a city unlike any other I’ve been to.  While it has a pretty dark past, it also has a very promising future.

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