Tucked away in the Golden Horn of Istanbul is an often-overlooked piece of history, just far enough away from the main attractions of Sultanahmet to go unnoticed.  The old districts of Fener and Balat – the old Greek and Jewish quarters respectively – have somehow managed to preserve their minority histories throughout many tumultuous centuries.


As you walk along the coast from Eminönü, past the fishermen and heavy traffic, a different sort of skyline will come into view.  Along the sea, the imposing figure of St. Stephens, a newly renovated Bulgarian church made almost entirely of iron, shimmers in the sunlight.

Across the bustling streets, Rum Lisesi – a Greek Orthodox church-turned-school overlooks the tangled network of alleys.  The old bohemian streets beckon you in a little farther with their numerous charming cafes and quirky shops.  Before you know it, you are standing above it all, glancing down at rows of colorful houses, dotted with clotheslines.





It is a version of Istanbul unlike any I had ever seen before.  I don’t know why it took me so long to see it, but I know that I must go back.

A Mild Addiction


I remember in the months leading up to beginning my journey as an expat, I naively believed that I would become an instant minimalist, forever moving through life with no more than a couple of suitcases. As it turns out, I can fill up an apartment remarkably quickly. For the most part, we have tried to avoid accumulating more than what is necessary to live comfortably. That being said, we all have an Achilles heel and ours seems to involve coffee mugs.


It all started with this mug, a cool and thoughtful Christmas gift from my husband. Before that, we had been using drab, secondhand mugs left behind from previous teachers.



Just a few weeks later, I acquired this amazing, nerdtastic beauty as a New Year’s gift from a student. When I asked him how he knew I was a Game of Thrones fan, he simply responded “I didn’t.” To this day, I wonder what it was about FIRE and BLOOD that made him think of me. In any case, I love this mug.


Generally speaking, I’m not much of a Starbucks fan, but it is so ubiquitous that a frequent traveler can hardly avoid the place. I actually fell in love with the Istanbul “You Are Here” mug on an outing with friends and bought it for Dakota. When I went to NYC last summer, I couldn’t help myself.


We bought these lovely Gaudi-inspired pieces on our trip to Barcelona and I just love them. Perfect for cortados.


These were a cheap and frivolous purchase from our summer trip to Alaçatı. I love the colors and textures.


Our most recent addition to the collection is this set of mini mugs that we purchased in Jordan. They are slightly larger than espresso cups and have very interesting designs.

Sometimes I look at our cupboards and lament the fact that we have so many damn cups we don’t need. Other times, I stare at them all one by one as I am reminded that each one of them carries a story with it. I can’t imagine parting with any of them and yet I can’t imagine packing them all in a suitcase. That is what is so hard.

The thing about being an expat is that you never really know when you will move on until you do. We have gotten so comfortable in this stage of life, but something in the air has been telling me that it’s time to start thinking about the future. I guess this is my way of recording this time and these memories while I am still in this moment. For now, I can enjoy my collection just a little longer.

The Ruins of Ani


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.



The church of St. Gregory was absolutely stunning.


I also loved the look of the old Armenian script



Ani Cathedral


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.  


The inside of Ani Cathedral.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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:

























Here’s to hoping for a brighter 2018.


Decking the Halls


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


Wishing a happy holiday season to all.

A Weekend Long Overdue


Fresh juice all day, every day.

Wow, I have really neglected this space lately…not to mention myself.  My life has mainly revolved around work for the last month and a half, which has not been the most exciting.  My husband and I finally mustered up the time and energy to journey over to Istanbul for the weekend for some much-needed interaction with civilization. IMG_1599.JPG We didn’t want to make any specific plans, so we just went with the flow the whole weekend long.  After hitting up one of our favorite cafes, we found ourselves wandering over to the iskele to take the ferry over to the European side of the city.  After all this time, crossing the Bosphorus still feels like such a magical experience each time.



Even though it didn’t feel like it at all due to the heat, the city was showing a few signs of fall.  After eating and wandering the streets, we ended up in Sultanahmet and decided to check out some of the museums we hadn’t yet seen.


We stumbled into the Mosaic Museum, and for such a small museum, it was really impressive.  Even though the mosaics were from the Byzantine period, you could really see the fusion of east and west that has always been at the heart of Istanbul reflected in the imagery.  I can’t believe we’d never stopped there before…well worth the visit!!

We tried to visit the carpet museum as well, but we didn’t make it in time, so I guess that’s another plan for another day.


Pancake breakfast!!

I’m hoping this is the start of a few more adventures and a little less self-neglect.