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.

20180421_182721.jpg

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.

20180421_185906.jpg

20180421_185826.jpg

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.

20180422_150333.jpg

20180422_145031.jpg

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.

20180422_161503.jpg

20180422_161726.jpg

20180422_163941.jpg

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.

20180422_162649.jpg

20180422_172338.jpg

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.

20180422_193620.jpg 20180421_200422.jpg

The Divided Capital of Nicosia

20180402_152633.jpg

On our second day in Cyprus, we decided to take a day trip to the capital, Nicosia, which is the capital of both the North and the South (although you have to go through a border crossing with your passport if you want to go between sides).

IMG_3391.jpg

We chose to stay on the North side and do the blue line walking tour, which is quite possibly the most interesting walking tour concept I have encountered in my travels so far. Basically, there is a blue line painted alongside the road throughout the whole city and following it will take you to all of the main sites and then back to the main gate.  I felt a bit like Dorothy following the yellow brick road.

IMG_3369.jpg

IMG_3373.jpg

IMG_3376.jpg

IMG_3379.jpg

IMG_3372.jpg

20180402_152604.jpg

20180402_155213.jpg

IMG_3385.jpg

IMG_3387.jpg

IMG_3389.jpg

20180402_171148.jpg

IMG_3392.jpg

IMG_3394.jpg

The path took us through historic neighborhoods, beautiful houses, church-turned-mosques (I’m such a sucker for architectural fusion), pazars, incredible street art, amazing hipster cafes, artisan shops, and ridiculously beautiful floral displays.  I could say more, but I think the photos speak for themselves.

Soaking Up the Sun in Girne (Kyrenia)

20180403_163706.jpg

It has been one hell of a winter, in every sense of the word.  We have had a lot of ups and downs these past few months, not all of which I am ready to share in this space.

20180403_121630.jpg

Spring Break was approaching, yet nothing felt like spring.  We were desperate for an escape, but even traveling can be stressful at times.  We were really at a loss this time around.

IMG_3404.jpg

At the last minute (literally the morning of the start to our break), we decided to fly to Northern Cyprus, an island country (that is generally not even recognized as a country) just south of Turkey.  We had heard good things about it from friends and the weather forecast showed nothing but sunshine, which was exactly what we needed.  We based ourselves out of the coastal town of Girne, also known as Kyrenia.

20180401_123632.jpg

North Cyprus is only a partially recognized state that is loosely affiliated with Turkey, and as such, I expected it to feel very familiar.  While Turkish is the predominant language of the region and there are similarities in the food, I was surprised by how much North Cyprus is not like Turkey.

20180403_161813.jpg

Really North Cyprus is like a younger, more relaxed, and more liberal version of Turkey.  English is much more widely spoken, the cities are much more international and diverse, casinos (which are illegal in Turkey) are pretty much everywhere, and alcohol is very cheap.  As I said, there are similarities, but North Cyprus is definitely its own thing.

IMG_3424.jpgWe didn’t make too many plans for our trip.  Instead, we opted to go with the flow and see what we felt like doing each day.  Our favorite thing to do in Girne was simply walk along the picturesque marina in the sunshine and then stop for a drink or two at one of the many seaside cafes.  We also indulged in a lot of good (yet reasonably priced) seafood; I was especially pleased by the abundance of delicious grilled jumbo shrimp.

IMG_3344.jpg

We also made it out to Bellapais, a small village up the mountain from Girne and home to Bellapais Abbey.  Unfortunately, the abbey was closed when we arrived, but we still managed to get a good look from outside of it.

IMG_3361.jpg

Since we booked everything so last minute, we didn’t bother to look into car rentals, although I wish we would have.  There are some amazing views along the coasts and through the mountains.  Just be aware that they drive on the left side of the road like in the U.K.

IMG_3399.jpg

Girne was a great starting point for our North Cyprus adventure, and if you ask me, April and May are the best times to visit.  The weather is beautiful (~80 degrees with cloudless skies), but the crowds are still relatively small, so you can have this little slice of paradise mostly to yourself.

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.

IMG_2066.JPG

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.

IMG_2044.JPG

But c’mon.  It’s Italy.

20171231_133311.jpg

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.

20171231_144655.jpg

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!

IMG_2037.JPG

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.

IMG_2094.JPG

11:59

IMG_2108.JPG

12:00

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

IMG_2121.JPG

The aftermath of a great party

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:

dsc_0095

January

dsc_0071

February

20170305_112532

March

DSC_0063

April

DSC_0109

May

DSC_0035

June

IMG_0044

July

20170729_113550

August

IMG_0818

September

IMG_1188

October

IMG_1784

November

IMG_1979.JPG

December

Here’s to hoping for a brighter 2018.

 

À Bruxelles

IMG_1880.JPG

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.

IMG_1879.JPG

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

20171124_155659.jpg

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.

20171124_160303.jpg

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.

20171124_152936.jpg

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.

Ghent: Day to Night

20171123_143715.jpg

After leaving Bruges, I wasn’t sure if any other destination in Belgium could compare, but I was totally wrong.  Ghent turned out to be just as charming, if not more so in the sense that it was not nearly as touristy as Bruges.

20171123_164502.jpg

Ghent is a seriously overlooked city, full of life and personality.  Our adventure begin when we checked in to a cool little Airbnb in the red light district (yes, the red light district), smack dab in the middle of all the action.

20171123_161008.jpg

Ghent is by no means a bustling metropolis, but it had an energy to it that Bruges did not.  In fact, Ghent reminded me a lot of Moda, one of my favorite neighborhoods in Istanbul.  Every twist down an alley revealed a slew of delightfully hipster shops, quirky cafes, and plenty of pubs.

20171122_163722.jpg

20171123_152505.jpg

My Thanksgiving dinner

IMG_1863.JPGGhent is also the self-proclaimed vegetarian capital of the world (again…self-proclaimed), so it was nice to have some tasty and healthy options around.  One cafe in particular – BARISTA- has forever captured my heart with it’s unbelievable homemade soups and awesome orange chai lattes.  It also didn’t hurt that they offered me a free sandwich one evening right before closing that turned out to be one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever eaten.

IMG_1828.JPG

We decided to focus on city walks during our time there since I was too sick and exhausted to manage much of anything else.  The coolest walk by far was the Illuminated Walk, suggested by the Ghent tourism board.  This walk is meant to be done at night and to showcase Ghent’s unique cityscape all lit up.

IMG_1826.JPG

IMG_1865.JPG

Ghent was such a stunning place, both by day and night.  If you find yourself passing through Belgium, don’t miss out!

IMG_1869.JPG