We are moving…

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Photo from Wikimedia

…to Chongqing, China!

After a few months of intense job hunting, we found a school that seems like a great fit for us for next year and were offered the jobs a few days before Christmas.  It still feels pretty surreal.

I am already daydreaming about misty green mountains, spicy hot pot, breathtaking temples, and cuddly pandas.

We are super excited to explore Asia, take another step in our careers, and immerse ourselves in a brand new culture.  We are also soaking up our last six months here in Turkey before taking off on this next crazy adventure.

Bring it on, 2019!

A Magical Christmas in Mardin – the edge of Mesopotamia

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At the edge of Southeastern Turkey lies an oasis of diversity and culture, smack-dab in the middle of where many of the oldest cities and civilizations first began.  Hardly anyone outside of Turkey seems to know that this gem even exists – and even those who do are wary of visiting because it is only about 20 miles from the Syrian border.  Let me assure you – Mardin is perfectly safe, full of some of the kindest people I have ever encountered, and stunningly beautiful.

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The architecture of Mardin is very unique.  There is a mix of several Middle Eastern influences as well as a local flair for building everything out of sandstone, which is abundant in the area.  The yellowish-brown structures look all the more stunning contrasted against the bright blue skies.

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Every part of the city offers a different perspective of its own beauty, like a strange sort of kaleidoscope.  The locals know how to take advantage of this with its many rooftop cafes and restaurants and shops in the old tunnels below.

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On the subject of food and coffee, Mardin has both in spades.  Mardin is a true melting pot for all kinds of cultures and ethnic groups, with particularly large groups of Kurdish and Assyrian people.  The people of Mardin are truly proud of their diversity and love to share their local specialties that have been preserved over thousands of years.  There are several Assyrian restaurants which serve delicious mezzes and wine (some of the finest I have ever tasted in Turkey), cafes serving Arabic-style mırra coffee, and all kinds of regional dishes that have developed through the cultural exchange that has taken place in Mardin over the centuries.

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Mardin proper has much to offer any traveler, but there are also many fascinating smaller towns and villages nearby worth a day trip.  Because Mardin is a little off the beaten path, it can be difficult to find an organized tour.  Since I am able to speak Turkish fairly well these days, I managed to negotiate a private tour with a cab driver for a good price.  He took us to Midyat and Hasankeyf, both well worth the visit.

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Hasankeyf, right on the banks of the Tigris River, is considered to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world; it is over 10,000 years old.  Due to its vulnerable position near many borders and along the Silk Road, Hasankeyf has changed hands among many different civilizations throughout history.  Sadly, due to the development of a hydroelectric dam, it may not be around much longer.

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Historically, the area of Hasankeyf has been valued for its caves, where people have been living for several millennia.  People still live in the caves of Hasankeyf today, with a few modern amenities (note the windows and the power lines).

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Efforts to remove some of the historic architecture to preserve it are under way.

Midyat looks much like Mardin, but with one key difference: the population is mostly Christian rather than Muslim (unusual for Turkey) and is home to many ancient and beautiful monasteries that are still active today.

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I was truly blown away by Mardin.  I have no idea how it took me four years to get there.  Very few tourists from outside of Turkey even know about it – but they should!  The architecture is stunning and one-of-a-kind, the people are some of the friendliest I have ever encountered, the food and wine are amazing, and there is just so much history and culture here to discover.  I hope to see more people adding Mardin (and Turkey!) to their bucket lists in 2019.

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2018

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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

As 2018 comes to an end, it feels good to look back on all of the beautiful things I have experienced this year.  2018 has been difficult, but transformative.  Big changes lie ahead!

 

Chernobyl

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Haunting, fascinating, and a testament to the very worst of mankind.  Where to even begin with Chernobyl…

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“Long live Communism – savior of humankind.”

I saw Chernobyl as another iteration of a dark monomyth – as Icarus and Prometheus and Pandora’s box.  We don’t seem to learn from our mistakes.  I want to believe that we can be better, but that’s pretty difficult to do while surrounded by the wreckage of what used to be innocent lives, needlessly sacrificed for the latest political agenda.  Just read the news.  It often seems like we haven’t learned a thing.

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I hope very much that I am wrong.

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Kyiv

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Gold-domed churches, pastel colors, a thriving art scene, autumn leaves, and any kind of food you can imagine – these are only a few things to love about Kyiv.

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It has been pretty warm in Turkey, so we were ready for a little cold weather.  The pastel buildings and bright-colored leaves were a welcome sight – we even got some snow!  Fall and winter in one trip.

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To be honest, we didn’t plan much (aside from our Chernobyl trip, which I’ll save for another day).   We were content to walk around the city and play things by ear.  We are in the process of interviewing for jobs for our next big move and I am also taking Master’s courses this year, so we needed the flexibility.

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The architecture was unlike anything we had seen before – particularly the churches.  We spent a whole day walking around the cathedrals.

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1900 – great coffee!

My favorite day, however, was the day we spent doing nothing but walking around the city in search of the best food, coffee, and bars!  We started at about 9 a.m. and didn’t get back to our hotel (very full) until midnight.

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A personal fave was Nikolay’s pies!  These homemade pies were the perfect comfort food on a cold day and they had both sweet and savory pies.  A must-try if you are in the area.

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We also sampled several chocolates (and grabbed a few for the road) at Lviv’s handmade chocolates.  The coffee and sea salt dark chocolate bar is to die for.

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We also found a cool gastro pub called Dogs and Tails where they serve fancy hot dogs, fries, onion rings, and any cocktail you can imagine.  Pictured here is the Kiev with pickled cabbage, avocado, and a sweet and tangy sauce.  The homemade ketchup was bomb.

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We rounded out the night at a cool witch-themed bar which might have been the coolest bar I’ve ever seen.  The drink you get is determined by the cards you draw.  Our cards represented the element of fire, meaning big changes are ahead for us..

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As if the cool architecture and great food scene aren’t enough, quirky Kyiv is also extremely budget-friendly.  Seriously, it’s crazy cheap, yet it rivals almost any other European city I have visited.  If you haven’t been, it’s time to add it to the list.

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Ankara’da

20181103_134559.jpgI am long overdue for an update, I know.

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I will spare you the boring details and get straight to the good stuff.

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After nearly four years of living in Turkey, I FINALLY made it to the capital city of Ankara.  A good friend of mine invited me to spend the weekend with her there (it’s her hometown) and show me around.  I didn’t have too many expectations, but what I found was a charming city with an abundance of good restaurants (I’m looking at you, Quick China!), cafes, shops, and TREES!

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I started off my trip by stuffing my face with the best Asian cuisine I have ever managed to find in Turkey and tucking in for some much-needed sleep.  I am still dreaming about the körili ramen.

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We started off the morning by heading to Atakule, which is a mall/giant tower from which you can get a pretty nice view of the city.  The orange and yellow leaves were a welcome sight.  We don’t get to see many green spaces in Istanbul, so we often feel homesick for that fall aesthetic.

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We stopped for a quick coffee picnic on a hill overlooking Seğmenler Park, which was gorgeous and peaceful and reminded me of my college days (picnics = cheap food and entertainment).

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My favorite part of the trip was wandering through the alleys in Ulus.  The traditional Anatolian architecture blended with cool vintage vibes and we happily spent a few hours strolling through artisan shops and taking frequent coffee breaks.

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On Sunday, before catching our train back to Istanbul, we stopped for a long, leisurely breakfast where I had a delicious cinnamon roll with cream cheese icing (again – not common in Turkey, which made it extra special).

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Ankara, you were a delight.

 

A Little Taste of the Cotswolds in Castle Combe

20180823_160248You can never go wrong with narrow streets, quaint houses, cafes, and great pubs.  Castle Combe – a veritable Shire –  did not disappoint.

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Logistically, it is not the easiest place to get to, but we managed.  If I were to visit again, I would probably rent a car.  Still, there are bus connections most days of the week – you just really have to watch out for the times because they are infrequent.

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If you are looking for excitement, you won’t find it here – but that’s okay.  It is enough just to be, to wander the cobbled side roads and wooded paths, enjoy the mossy green surroundings, and perhaps stop for a great pub meal or two and a cream tea.

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