Sunny Sevilla

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Perfect weather, fabulous food, and outstanding aesthetic that is typical of Spain were waiting for us when we arrived by bus in the early afternoon.  Right away we opened our city maps and started exploring.

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First on our list was the beautiful and enormous Seville Cathedral (the 3rd largest church in the world!).  The highlight was definitely climbing the bell tower to take in the panoramic views of the city below.  Fun fact:  the giant bell tower was once a minaret.

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Our next plan was to see the Alcazar, but unfortunately they were all booked up for both of the days we would be there.  We didn’t want to waste time on mourning, so we set our sights on exploring the rest of the city, including the cool and quirky Metropol Parasol.

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On day two, we spent most of the day at Plaza de Espana, which was  incredible!  We rented a rowboat for a better view and afterward, we rented a tandem bike and rode through the whole park.  Talk about a magical afternoon!

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We walked back towards the cathedral for a good dinner (pork covered in pork with a side of garlic and more pork…) and a pitcher of sangria.  We especially enjoyed watching all of the street performers, among which included some snazzy flamenco dancers.

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We only had two days, but it felt like we were able to do so much and easily could have stayed longer and found more to do.  It was an amazing leg of our journey and definitely a must if you’re visiting Southern Spain.

On the Streets of Andalucia

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I fell in love with Spain when I first visited in 2009 on my very first trip abroad.  The people were friendly and laid back, the food was delicious, and the architecture was out of this world.  I knew next to nothing about travel at that time, but even then, I knew that Spain would be a place to go back to.

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My husband – who is a bit of an architecture and street photography junkie – suggested it as a Spring Break destination and it just felt right.  I was stoked to see an old favorite place with more experienced eyes, as well as explore some new parts of the country.

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On my first trip, I only made it to Barcelona and Madrid; this time, I had my heart set on the sunny south.  I wanted to see the enchanting remnants of Moorish architecture and wander the streets in search of new tapas.

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From Granada to Sevilla and back again, every twist and turn looked like something straight out of a storybook.  If you find yourself on the streets of Andalucia (and you certainly should), don’t be afraid to get lost.  That’s half of the magic.

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B(eating) Burnout

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What a long, strange term it has been.  My life has pretty much revolved around nothing but work for the past two months and I can really feel it.  Now that we are reaching the end-of-term chaos, I am more exhausted than ever.  No amount of sleep or coffee seems to wake me up anymore and I find myself daydreaming about spring break at least twice an hour.

For the most part, we have stayed on campus this term, mainly because of work obligations.  After FIVE consecutive weeks of nothing but this tiny microcosm, I had to get out before I lost my mind, so we FINALLY went to Istanbul for the weekend for no other reason than to get the hell off campus.

Can you tell I’m a little burnt out?

Luckily, I dealt with it in the healthiest way I know how:  retail therapy and binge eating!  It was super effective.

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We started off with  breakfast at a new, hipster cereal restaurant in Moda called Crazy Flakes and it didn’t disappoint.  They sell cereal brands from all over the world, including my beloved Peanut Butter Crunch!  You can mix cereals with a variety of toppings, but I opted for a plain bowl with some sliced bananas on top.  SO good!  My husband went straight for the Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

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Afterward, we hopped on the ferry over to Galata, where we planned to spend the night.  We walked and shopped around Istiklal before taking a little detour to Cezayir Sokağı, known informally as “The French Street” for its pastel pink facades and floral decor.  It’s a fun-looking street, but there isn’t much that’s French about it.  After about five minutes of being harassed by waiters to come sit down, we headed back to Istiklal.

Turning back to Galata, we went to one of our favorite restaurants in all of Istanbul, Picante, for some delicious Mexican food and real margaritas.  After dinner, we were pretty much out for the count, so we called it a night and watched YouTube videos until we succumbed to our food comas.

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The next morning, we walked down to our favorite breakfast joint, Arada Cafe.  They serve a delightful mix of both Turkish and Lebanese foods and all of it is homemade and delicious.  We got the Turkish/Lebanese breakfast platter, which was basically an epic feast with all of the classic Turkish breakfast staples, as well as hummus, tahini, falafel, zahter, and all kinds of other delicious things I didn’t even know the name of.  Needless to say, I didn’t need lunch or dinner later that evening.

We tried our best to walk off the food babies while doing a little last minute shopping for SPAIN next week!  The end of the term is nigh and I am so ready!

Any teachers out there:  How do you deal with burnout?  I find it especially hard as an expat in a very small, sheltered community.

 

Sunlight

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in the far-flung corner of a dream,

i see myself and

the way the sunlight swallows wayward tendrils

 

i look older than i’ve ever been,

but there is beauty in the way i hold my cup

so intrepidly

 

from my unearthly vantage point, i watch the steam spiral

upward, like a great staircase

and i wonder where it would take me

 

if i followed.

 

***Hello, world!  I have been drowning in grading, duties, and exams, but I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t celebrate World Poetry Day, so here is my contribution to the cause!***

 

Happy International Women’s Day

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Gift from the art teacher, as per tradition.

This day always sneaks up on me and it sparks so many feelings all once.

Like my sophomore year of high school, when the guy they had hired to train the light technicians for drama club (I was one of two) would only teach the boy (meanwhile asking me to do menial tasks like hold ladders or grab lightbulbs), despite the fact that I had more experience. When I told the drama teacher about it, he simply said he was in no position to turn down free help and that I would just have to deal with it. I quit the next day.

Or my freshman year of college, when my Spanish professor would constantly ask where the female students were if not in class, would virtually ignore make students, and often made inappropriate remarks about clothing. I quit that too.

Or every time I’ve walked home alone ever…special shout out to the creep who followed me home while admitting he’d been watching me for awhile because he liked the way I dressed.

I also think of the good things. Like when I walked into my grandpa’s house and saw the sign that read “A woman’s place is in the House…and the Senate.” Or the time my little brother watched my sister get catcalled…and said how sorry he was that women were treated that way and vowed not to do the same.

I was pleasantly surprised today when I was wished a Happy Women’s Day by several colleagues, students, and pazar salesmen. I also had a good talk with my mentor students about the day; what it means, why we have it, where we go from here.

At times – when I hear sexist remarks, see sexist comments on the internet, or all of the horrible ilk that seems to be all of politics at the moment- I feel discouraged.  But then I see millions of women all over the world coming together to march in solidarity, people standing up and calling others out on their misogyny, and strong, powerful women breaking barriers every day and I feel hopeful again.  The world is far from perfect; we still need a day to remind humanity that it is shutting half of itself out.  It’s a work in progress, but at least we are moving.

Offbeat Ottoman Charm: Beylerbeyi and Kuzguncuk

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We just finished our THIRD weekend in a row of having to be on campus to work and holy crap am I burnt out.  Every now and then, I don’t mind the excuse to catch up on some housework and play video games, but I definitely didn’t move halfway across the world to play video games in my lojman.  While we were a little tired after our duty session at the Open House day, we decided to push through the fatigue and make the trek out to Istanbul for a little contact with civilization.  It took a taxi, two metros, a bus, and a good deal of walking to get there, but we managed to make it before dark and it was well worth the trip. When we go to Istanbul, we tend to spend most of our time in Kadıköy out of convenience, but we were craving a change of scenery.  We decided to check out some of the highlights in the neighboring district of Üsküdar.

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We got up early Sunday morning for some good spinach and potato börek  before heading to  Beylerbeyi Palace, used by sultans as a summer home during the Ottoman era.  It was an unbelievably gorgeous day – sunny, not a cloud in the sky, and warm enough to get by with just a light jacket.  We wandered through the gardens and stopped for a coffee in the cafe while waiting for the English tour to start.  Once it did, we were two of only four people on the tour!  We more or less had the place to ourselves.

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Unfortunately, since photos aren’t allowed (and the tour guide was watching us like a hawk the whole time), I wasn’t able to get any pictures of the interior…but it is beautiful in a very eclectic way.  Much like Hagia Sophia, it is representative of Turkey’s confusing cultural identity: vibrant colors mix with Rococo architecture, Arabic script contrasts with French floral  vases, and ornately carved wooden panels lay behind fairly derivative Euro-style paintings.  It was hodgepodge in the best way.

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After finishing our tour, we walked along the water to Kuzguncuk, a beautiful, peaceful little neighborhood that was once home to many Greeks, Armenians, and Jews in Istanbul. The houses there are unlike most that I’ve seen in Istanbul, with their brightly painted exteriors and Ottoman designs.  We had fun just wandering through the streets admiring the architecture.  Kuzguncuk is also known for its great selection of cafes and restaurants – especially breakfast joints.  Since we had already eaten breakfast, we opted for a light lunch at a vegetarian restaurant and it did not disappoint.

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Since it was such an incredibly beautiful day, many artisans were out in the streets selling their wares.  I picked up this little beauty, made of fake leather and quite unique compared to most of the street jewelry I’ve seen.  The center features an image of the Maiden’s Tower.

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I wish we could have stayed longer, but honestly, I’m just glad we got out!  It’s amazing how much there is to see in Istanbul…we could probably live there a lifetime and not see it all.  I love living near such a beautiful, sprawling city.

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The Best Coffee in Moda

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The European side of Istanbul is what draws many people  to Turkey, but it’s the Asian side that has my heart.  It’s quiet, it’s charming, and it’s the place to be if you want to feel like a local.  What it lacks in tourist attractions in more than makes up for in character…especially in Moda.

Moda is the hipster oasis of Istanbul, where one goes to find foreign food, quirky goodness, and a decent cup of coffee.  It’s also only about 45 minutes away from our campus on a good traffic day, so we have spent many a weekend there when we need to escape the microcosm.  We are always on the hunt for a new restaurant, good cafe, or fun shop.  After many months of trial and error, we’ve started to settle into our favorite spots in the area.

Our first priority when we step off of the service bus?  COFFEE.  We have tried countless coffee shops in the area, but now that we have been here for over a year, we’ve narrowed it down to a few favorites.

Walter’s Coffee

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This was our first big discovery in the area and still one of our regular hangouts.  I love the Breaking Bad theme (because who doesn’t love Breaking Bad?) and the coffee is amazing too.  This is one of the few places I have been able to order coffee with almond milk, which is usually my milk of choice.

Coffee Manifesto

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Conveniently located by all of the bars, they offer a delicious variety of coffee beans, mostly of Latin American origin.  I love stopping by in the morning for a strong cup of filtered coffee (sade) or for a cortado as an afternoon treat.  They also have pretty good cupcakes.

Cherrybean Coffees

This place opened up recently and has taken off better than most new things do in the area.  I love that they serve their filtered coffee in a good, old-fashioned mug.  Everything about it reminds me of home.  The coffee selection isn’t enormous, but they offer great atmosphere, with comfy chairs and plenty of art on the walls.

Food Project

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This is where coffee lovers can take their friends who don’t like coffee (but seriously…how do such people exist?)  In addition to a cozy atmosphere and good coffee, Food project has an EPIC hot chocolate menu, including flavors like pumpkin spice and lavender (my fave!). They also have a killer breakfast buffet on Saturdays.

If you ask me, no trip to Istanbul is complete without a visit to the Asian side, even if it’s only for a few hours…and while you’re at it, go get some great coffee (especially if you aren’t a fan of Turkish coffee).