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.

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.

Istanbul Tulip Festival

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Every year in April,  colorful displays of tulips can be found all over the city of Istanbul.  More than a hundred varieties of tulips can be seen in almost any of the public parks.  After three years, we finally decided to see what all the fuss was about and we weren’t disappointed.  It made for a perfect afternoon and we couldn’t have asked for better weather.

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This is just further proof that spring is Turkey’s most beautiful season.

An Ode to My First Passport

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A grainy photo of my old passport the day before I moved to Turkey.

Retiring my first passport was like saying goodbye to an old friend. I still remember getting my photo taken at Walgreens, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at the prospect of finally seeing the world outside of small-town America.  I always found a certain comfort in turning to the first page and seeing my teenage self smiling back at me, full of dreams of faraway places.

My new passport is empty, and thanks to Turkish passport rules, the photographer refused to allow me to smile in my passport photo (in spite of the fact that said rule does not apply to American passports), so I look a bit more like a displeased psychopath than I do an eager world traveler.  Still, there is a certain thrill in all of the blank pages of possibility that will inevitably fill up with adventure (hopefully sooner rather than later – I am feeling the itch).

At the very least, I still have my old passport as a souvenir.  As I flip through its pages, I like to think that my 16-year-old self would be pleased to know that that passport would carry me to 27 countries, using every last page before it expired.  26-year-old me certainly is.

Fener-Balat

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.